Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, May 5


I finally hosted my first party in Africa. A number of things came together just so… and a good time was had by all.

Last year about this time, the volunteers in my area decided to spend a day walking from one volunteer’s site to Mboro, as the crow flies, and ending up on the beach. The trip is somewhere around 20 miles. A few guys participated and they celebrated with beers at the end. A number of people showed interest in repeating the activity… but wanted to have a bigger celebration party at the end of the line. The volunteer whose site serves as the kick off point for the march is celebrating a birthday this past weekend… so, many more volunteers were invited to the after party on the beach in honor of said birthday.

It was left to me to organize a house on the beach where we could have a great time, and spend the night. I told my Dad weeks in advance I’d need to do this, and he promised to help by talking to one of my predecessor’s friends (who knew someone who knew someone…). We were looking for a house that could sleep 15 and was reasonably priced. A week out Dad and I went to look at a house. It was a 3 bedroom, with living, kitchen, bonfire, rooftop, and pavilion areas… not to mention the western toilet and shower. Only problem was that they renter wanted a lot of money for the house, more so than one would pay in an actual resort town, and was claiming it was because of the cost of bringing water and power from town down to the beach. Hmm… begin purchasing negotiations.

That week ended with the impression that we had secured the house I’d seen for just over half the original asking price, and a deposit was paid to secure it. This week I was focused on putting on a 2 day long class in town, and wasn’t too worried about the house or organization. When 4 other volunteers showed up Friday morning for the 2nd day of class, I got more excited to show off my town. That afternoon we started the shopping for the Mexican salad we were to make for the party. Pounds and pounds of veggies were organized. Drinks were reserved, as well as ice sellers located.
Saturday my father was working the morning shift at the factory, but we called him to arrange a car to take us down to the beach early. That’s when mass confusion started to become apparent. Turns out we’d actually rented another house near the original one. This one didn’t have much in the way of kitchen supplies. Mom was gracious enough to let us raid our family kitchen for pots, pans, bowls, strainers, utensils, and even a cake pan. We secured lunchtime sandwiches, meat for dinner, ice, and 9 jugs of 10 liter filtered water before the driver was schedule to pick us up. However, when he arrived with possibly the smallest car in town, my mother was kind enough to negotiate 2 trips down to the beach for a decent price. The beer was loaded first, then I and 2 other girls, and some of the other supplies and away we went...

The driver had not been informed of where our house was. I directed him to the first house I’d seen, which was “next to” the new one. The guard at that house had no idea what was meant by “next to” and we began more mass confusion. We unloaded all our stuff into the sand, and the driver went back for the other girls and the rest of our supplies. I pulled up a chair with the guard and our food and ice while the girls I’d come down with went off to find our house. Unfortunately, when they got back they reported that our house had no water or electricity. Not acceptable. I called Dad in a panic (for probably the 5th time already that day) and asked him to call the first guy and see if we could have the house I’d originally seen and was currently sitting outside of (with all of our melting ice). At this point, we didn’t care if he was over charging us, and I just wanted my friends to have a good time. While waiting for him to get back to me, the second car load arrived, another renter appeared out of nowhere soliciting girls to check out his house, and two more volunteers arrived from elsewhere in Senegal to start partying. Our driver tried to demand more money claiming we had too much baggage… but wouldn’t be respectful enough to listen to my argument as to why I disagreed. So I told him to fuck off and refused to acknowledge him after that. He eventually left, and my not-so-finest moment passed. I continued to sit with the ice.

When Dad got off work he drove straight to us stranded foreigners on the beach. Some Wolof was thrown around, and Dad said he needed to go find the guy who could rent us the house we sat outside of, but in the mean time we could bring everything in and relax- he’d be right back. And he would work out changing the deposit around so that we wouldn’t lose it. After dragging everything in, beers were cracked and food preparation was started. That first beer went down so fast it was gone by the time Dad got back with more Senegalese guys in tow.

Sheets were dragged out of storage, the cooking gas was refilled, and money was organized for another trip made by Dad to town for supplies (more ice, more water, and gas to work the water pump). Dad would be back in a few hours. The 6 people who’d walked the 20 plus miles arrived in tact; dehydrated and tired but proud. Their walk had been successful. Salsa, guacamole, and tortilla chips were served. It was like heaven without the euchre. There was even birthday cake- which never technically made it off the oven rack (pulled out of the oven) before we devoured it hot with spoonfuls of melting icing. 3 other volunteers also arrived. A hookah was set up and enjoyed. We continued to party and cook food.

When Dad did come back he brought everything we’d asked for plus my Mom and 4 youngest brothers. I was really proud to show off my family as the boys carried all the supplies in from the car and my Mom became a social butterfly while Dad got the water pump running (does this sound anything like my childhood to anyone else???). But after introductions and chatting a bit, my family had to take off to continue with their own Saturday night plans.

The cooking continued. In what was the first and probably last time in my life that I hosted a party and had minimum, if not zero, contribution to the food. I was there when we bought it. I did offer to help, but the girls of the Thies region were on top of it all. It was incredibly relaxing; mostly because it means I wasn’t stressed, but also possibly because I don’t like Mexican food so that would have added to normal food preparation chaos. They did an amazing job of cooking beans and rice over a gas tank with one pot. They fried up ground beef and diced more veggies than I could imagine. They even bleached the lettuce so that we had an end result of the tastiest Mexican salad I’ve had in quite a long time. We all over ate and I give special thanks to the chefs.

Around dusk it became apparent that somehow the electricity wasn’t working. We called my Dad in a panic again (this may have been the 12th time already that day?). He and Mom came back out. We gave them food. My mom (who’d been interested in this so called Mexican food that was not the Chile my predecessor had made) was delighted and asked me to make it for the family another time. Then Dad once again focused on fixing our party to perfection. Turns out the solar panel that normally powered the house had not been set up to charge during the day as the house wasn’t scheduled to be rented… so it was empty. Batteries were found to power portable LED lights and something somewhere was jury rigged so that we could power the speakers for our music. I tried to stay out of the chaos while the importance of music was communicated to my family. My mom did mention later that usually they have drum circles at their parties on the beach… and that’s why they don’t have to bother with electricity and speakers of their own. Thanks, but we do it like crazy Americans. When all was right with the world, my parents took off for the last time (and yes, we stopped calling them). The dance party got started. And for the guys who didn’t enjoy that, we brought in an incredibly large communal table for beer pong.

And if that weren’t enough, at some point we decided it was time for a dip in the ocean. I threw on my bathing suit and headed for the beach. There wasn’t a moon in sight and the trudge through the sand wasn’t easy in the near total darkness, but as we hiked within in eye sight of the ocean all we needed to see became apparent. Each wave rolling in seemed to be radiating white light. Then as it crashed into the shore the light would spread across the sand in the most hypnotic way until it faded moments later. The ocean was literally glowing! Someone who enjoys biology would tell you that it was bio-luminescent microbes or something like that, but none of that mattered. The water was somewhere between just cool enough to be refreshing and warm. And each wave splashed us with tiny twinkling lights like nothing I’ve ever seen before. After falling down in the waves too many times I stood for a few extra minutes on the shore just staring, but eventually it was time to get back to the party.

And that’s when flip cup started… and shortly after that we ran out of beer. Although we did try to solicit the house guard to buy us some more from the neighbors, he came back with only a liter of soda. Hmm. It didn’t matter; we were sufficiently happy and entertained. I stayed up dancing and talking to fellow volunteers a bit longer before passing out sometime around 2am.

The next day I was in a bad place. A cold plus a hangover equals a totally useless member of the cleaning crew. Luckily I seemed to be the worst of it… even the walkers were doing better than me. Maybe they’d paid more attention to hydration. In any case, the house got put back together and volunteers began to trickle out. My Dad came and drove the rest of them to the garage… then came back for Christine, Chris, myself, the pots and pans, and the rest of the water we didn’t drink. We left the empty bottles there and Dad (amazing miracle worker that he is) arranged for a car to go back, load up the bottles, and return them to the boutique by the house.

I can’t wait to have another party as even though at times it felt like a disaster and I couldn’t apologize enough, it was a great experience. One made all that much better by the support I didn’t know I had from my African family. I hadn’t realized just how a part of the family I’d become until I needed them. And they were there.

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