Pictures from Senegal

Tuesday, May 24

Soapy Situation

Laundry Soap!
People who haven’t heard from me in a while ask how getting back to basics has been. When they think of Peace Crops they think about an experience without all the technologies and comforts available in the United States of Heaven. A place where mornings are spent sweeping my hut, washing laundry by hand, and tending my garden. Then I help cook meals over a fire whilst chatting in a cluck based language with the local women. I pull water in from the well, carry it on my head back to my hut, and use it to take a bucket bath. In the evenings I read Tolstoy by candle light.

Yeah, it’s not really like that.
I do my laundry by hand, but that’s because I’m stubborn and don’t want to pay our maid to do it for me. I had to spell check Tolstoy because I’ve never seen a copy of War and Peace here. But, I can say that the idea of running on less is still with me however less glorious. And one such example is the simple idea of soap here. Now don’t let your imagination go wild, we still have soap and we don’t have to make it from the fat of the animals we kill each season. The oils can be bought, local women’s groups make it as a cheap means of income, and it’s available at every boutique around. But still, the utilization is different. Let me explain.

Soap in the US

American Soap
Thinking about the different types of cleaning products or soaps that I had, it kind of blows my mind. We buy products for one specific function. I have product for my hair, a different one for my face, my dishes, cleaning the toilet and another for floors, for the laundry and my car, for the windows… this list isn’t ending soon. And each type can come in a number of different physical states. Take my face wash for example. Is it a bar? A liquid? A foam? A disposable towellete? I choose a liquid version… but is it then creamy? Scrubby? Age defying? Acne fighting? Made for dry skin? Now, I implore you; think about the scope of what I just outlined. Pick a function, then a state, then other adjectives… that’s a whole lot of possible combinations! That’s a whole lot of soap… a whole aisle worth at the grocery story. Probably more.

Liquid Multi Purpose
Soap in Africa

The best way to characterize the soap in Senegal is to skip all the functionalities and go directly to the state of the soap. We have solid, liquid, and powder. One is invited to buy any of these three, which can be produced by a few different competitors (half of which aren’t even in Senegal), and use it for any task in life requiring soap. That goes to say there is no marketing for it in Senegal. It’s soap, everyone knows what it’s for: to clean! You can wash your person, cloths, or household with any form you see fit. The world is your oyster; choose your soap.

My Soap

How do I choose?
What do I do? I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. I landed here nearly two years ago with separate special face wash (scrubby liquid), shampoo, and body wash. I quickly bought dish soap for my cup and spoon. I bought powder for my laundry. And I bought a bar of natural stuff from a friend in town, just to make her happy. Slowly I started to run out of the items I’d brought. There’s a western store a few towns over that sells soap by the functionality, but I don’t find myself there all too often. So to make due I started using the liquid dish soap for more functions like body wash and cleaning my room. When the laundry soap ran out I started using the bar my friend had sold me. I had way too much of the scrubby face wash sent over in care package from the US, so occasionally I use it as full body scrub after a particularly hot and yucky day.

If this makes you say “Ohhh” and think about sending me either a) soap in a care package or b) money. Stop. I’m saying I’m doing just fine. We don’t need fourteen million different soaps to rid our lives of dirt and bacteria. If I didn’t have stock of multiple different kinds I’m sure I’d be just find with my bar or bottle of liquid stuff covering all functions. After all, that’s what most Senegalese families do and they get along just fine.
I tip my hat to the marketing executives that came up with a million and one different “necessary” household soaps. Excellent job you’ve done getting the masses to spend hard earned money buying the same thing over and over again in different packaging. Had I never come to the simpler life of Senegal perhaps I would’ve never realized just how much is thrown into this single industry alone. Which begs the question: where else in life have we naïve Americans been duped into buying more? I can only hope this is one of those lessons that stick with me long after I’ve finished my service and gone back to the land of plenty. Realistically I’ll always have a unique shampoo for my hair. And if I have a washing machine I’ll probably have a type of soap for that. And the dish washer, too. But perhaps the rest can be accomplished with one single bar… A girl can only hope. Or she can continue doing dishes and laundry by hand; I guess it remains to be seen.


  1. Hey I just found out I am going to Senegal in August. I see that your blog is very helpful and informative. Do you have an ideal packing list for volunteers going to Senegal? I am trying to figure out what to pack. Could you give me some pros and cons? Also, I read that you take a lot of pills everyday, could you let me know what kind of vitamins, medicines, etc. you would suggest bringing? I know that you had a section about water purifying... what would you suggest I bring (ie waterbottle, etc) or is most of that provided by the Peace Corps once in country... Thanks for all your help and congrats on making it so far!

  2. estimated 9 million out LGBT people in the US alone. That estimate reflects only a slightly less thคาสิโนออนไลน์an 4% of the entire population, yet we hear that more than 9% of the population is actually gay. Our community is still struggling for equal rights, to marry legally, to be out without discrimination and all the other legal rights afforded to straight people.