delicious ambiguity...

Trials and tribulations of a young American woman in search of adventure in Senegal...

Location: Senegal

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Day in the Life

This blog post is long over due and I’ll spare you all the schpeel about how sorry I am. I could say that from now on I’ll be a much more responsible and attentive blogger, but quite honestly, it wouldn’t be the truth. I love sharing my experiences with anyone who is interested—I’m not kidding myself that I have any kind of a following from this poorly-written excuse for a blog—but I just don’t have the time these days to write weekly (or more recently monthly) entries. This is not to say that I’m giving up all together; however, I only have three and a half months left and I’d rather spend my time finishing projects and hanging out with my Senegalese family than writing about the stories that I’ll have the rest of my life to share with you in person.

Now that that is out of the way, I’ll get to the blog entry at hand. I feel that the purpose of this blog is to give you all an idea of my life here and maybe tell you when something absolutely ridiculous/humorous happens. I have a daily routine and frequently run into difficulty coming up with blog entry ideas because I feel that the routine is not that interesting; however, the other day I had a pretty routine day that it now occurs to me may be a bit ridiculous to anyone that doesn’t live here/ have my life. So without further ado, I give you a rundown of my day…..

-Wake up at 7am (wanted to be up at 8am) because my family was standing outside my door looking at me in bed. They later explain to me that this is because a teenage boy has been sitting in our home compound for about an hour waiting to speak with me. I get out of bed, go to the door, and this kid that I don’t even know comes to my door and explains to me that he goes to middle school/lives on the other side of town and came over to my house to ask if I could buy him some new jellies (that’s right, those plastic sandals little girls used to wear back in the day) because one of his broke and now he can’t play soccer during gym class. Hm, NO? I don’t even know you and I don’t appreciate you coming over and thinking I’m going to give you money because I’m white/American (which is not just me being overly sensitive because my mother later clarified that he came into our house and asked if this is where the American lives).

-Before I can even eat breakfast and start the day my mom and uncle inform me that there is a family friend that I need to meet. She had been forced to marry and has since left an abusive man that had made her drop out of school. She now wants to re-enter school but is facing some difficulty and they thought maybe I could help.

-Get breakfast and on my way home run into the maid at our Peace Corps Regional House. She is riding her bike and I ask her where she lives and if she is heading to work. She tells me where she lives and then starts talking about how she isn’t happy riding a bike because women shouldn’t ride bikes but she lives too far to get to work without it. The rest of the dialogue goes a little something like this:

Me: What?! I think it’s great that you ride your bike. Why shouldn’twomen ride bikes? It’s 2008.
The Maid: I don’t like riding my bike. My parents don’t like it either. It isn’t proper for women to ride bikes. In Senegalese culture, it is wrong for women to be on bikes.
Me: I know that I’m American and our cultures are different, but a lot of Senegalese people also think girls shouldn’t go to school or work. That doesn’t necessarily make it right, right? I think it’s good that you bike.
The Maid: Yes but a woman can fall off her bike, get hurt, and never be able to have babies. They shouldn’t ride bikes.
Me: Well isn’t it true that men can also fall off their bikes, get hurt, and not be able to have babies with their women?
The Maid: Yes.
Me: Ok, so I don’t understand why it’s ok for them to ride bikes but not women.
The Maid: It just isn’t. People here think it is disrespectful for women to ride bikes. They can ride motorcycles but not bikes.
Me: Um, what?! I do not understand that but we have different cultures.

-I meet with the family friend to figure out how we can get her back into school after her two year break. Then I start the process of meeting with people at the Ministry of Education to get her re-enrolled. It looks like things will work out and she will re-enter school next fall.

-Eat lunch with my family and prepare for a busy afternoon.

-Stop at a restaurant to pick up Senegalese lunch for the twelve scholarship candidates I’m going to be meeting with after they finish school.

-Get to the school, serve the girls lunch and sodas, and explain to them that I’m there because they are the twelve brightest girls at their school and the Peace Corps will be giving one of them a scholarship for the next school year. Each girl then writes a small essay about her life and dreams for the future.

-I bike back to the restaurant to drop off all the empty bowls and silverware that are tied to the back of my bike.

-I then visit the houses of three scholarship candidates from another school that I’m working with. I interview each girl and explain the scholarship to their parents.

-Exhausted, I return home to take a bucket bath and call it a night. I get into my misquito net to listen to the BBC on my shortwave radio and read a bit before passing out around 9:30. I’ll have to get a good night’s rest so I can do it all over again the next day.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Things I don't Miss

If you asked most people, I think they’d agree that middle school is a tough time for the majority of kids. Everyone feels self-conscious, wants to fit in, and for the most part experiences a little bit of how cruel children and adolescents can be to one another. I thought that I was leaving all that behind when I graduated from high school but was in for a rude awakening when I started working at the middle schools here. For the entirety of my service, I’ve worked at the middle schools doing the scholarship, organizing the girls’ leadership conference, starting a girls’ group, mentoring, and facilitating pen pal correspondence with girls from my high school; and as fulfilling as this work is, up until a few months ago I’ve always dreaded actually going to the schools.

In order to talk to teachers or students, I must go during the recesses and at the end of the day when upwards of 1,000 rowdy teenagers are out in front of the school taunting me, calling me toubob, and being the obnoxious teenagers that we all know and never loved. Too many times, I’ve just gotten upset and left before finishing my work or talking to the people I need to talk with—effectively doubling the number of school visits I have to make for each project. On top of being upset about the treatment I’ve received when trying to do a nice thing for the students, I’ve beaten myself up about letting the kids intimidate and upset me—which is partly a product of the incessant harassment and ingratitude I experience on a daily basis from the general public.

Well, one day I woke up in a great mood. I couldn’t stop smiling and thinking about how great this experience has been for me and how—despite the stress and getting upset from time to time—I am truly happy to have decided to come and do this good work. I got on my bike and started the day’s work with a stop at the nearby middle school. I had been trying to start a pen pal program with my girls’ group, and after four visits the girls still hadn’t gotten their act together. This visit would be my final attempt to start the correspondence that they had so frequently asked me to arrange.

Entering the school grounds, I felt the imminent defeat but was pleasantly surprised when the principal presented me with all the letters, finished and ready to be sent. Success! I was on a natural high and could hardly contain my excitement. Now all I needed to do was find the girls to let them know when I would return with their correspondents’ responses. Up until this moment, the idea of looking for my twelve girls (none of whom are friends) in the crowd of obnoxious teenagers was dreadful; but today nothing would get me down. Without any hesitation, I went up to groups of laughing girls and perverted teenage boys to ask of their whereabouts and found all twelve without giving a second thought to the kids standing around watching and making fun of me.

Something happened that day. I don’t know what changed but I haven’t let the kids bother me since. Now I go to the school often, talk to kids I don’t even know, and have even volunteered to speak for a class of 80+ laughing teenagers. Maybe this is why they say Peace Corps is the hardest job I’ll ever love. We volunteers are faced with adversity and at the end of our service see how strong we are and how far we have gone and will go to do the work we care so much about. If I can do this, I can do anything.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Shout Out to the Ladies!!

No one denies that life is hard in a village; but village women are hardly ever acknowledged or appreciated for the difficult work they do and the impact they have on the lives of everyone in their compounds. This said, some very dynamic health volunteers in my region decided to hold two weekend-long celebrations for the women in their villages. They scheduled events and trainings to work their maternal health message into activities that celebrate and acknowledge the hard work of village women. Of course, I tagged along to lend a helping hand and show my support during one of the weekends.

Pulling water from a well, pounding grain, and carrying firewood are hard work when you have your strength and a good deal of energy; however, they prove quite dangerous when you are pregnant—a condition that generally doesn’t lessen the work load for village women. For this reason, our message was to work less or with a friend when pregnant. We started the weekend by going to different parts of the village and challenging village women to a tug of war. In case you couldn’t guess, we five toubobs were schooled by the village women every time; however, we chose to further embarrass ourselves by starting a dance circle and showing off our not very good Senegalese dance moves in each compound. It got the villagers energized and spread the word about the “party” we would be continuing later. For the rest the weekend, the health volunteers mixed health causeries with activities aimed at including village men and showing them the difficulty of women’s work.

The most memorable events of the weekend were a grain pound-off and a water pulling race. For the grain pound-off, two women and two men pounded grain for a specified amount of time and then compared the final product. It was difficult to even get two men to agree to participate and after watching them pound for a minute I could see it was probably because they knew they were going to be beat. Then came the water pulling race which was the most entertaining event of all. Again, two women faced off against two male volunteers. A baby was strapped to each man’s back (like they almost always are for village women) and each team was given two big buckets to fill and run back to the village on their heads. Watching a village man run back to the village with a bucket on his head and a baby on his back was one of the funniest and most exciting things I had ever seen. Everyone in the crowd was so excited to see who would win that we all ran back to the village following the participants and screaming. Naturally, one of the men couldn’t or wouldn’t put the bucket on his head and the women won again.

After the events were over some of the men who would not participate engaged me in “conversation” about why we weren’t having a celebration for how hard the men work. I did my best to explain that we know men work hard as well but women also deserve some recognition and appreciation for their important work. Regardless of what they took from the weekend, I know that the men that participated or just watched were entertained and if only for a second, acknowledged how strong and hard working their women are. All in all the event was a success and something I will never forget.

Not only did the weekend give me a chance to enjoy myself with friends while celebrating Senegalese women, it also gave me the opportunity to see how much I have grown since coming here. I remember refusing to dance in front of people, thinking that everyone was always making fun of me—which they generally are—and feeling hurt. This past weekend I was able to dance all over a village full of people I don’t even know, enjoy myself, and not care what anyone thought. It was a great feeling.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Many Meanings of a "Fixed Price" in Senegal...

Every Tuesday my mom and I go to the market to buy vegetables. We generally try to arrange for a ride in my dad’s service truck but occasionally are forced to wait on the road for a cab or charette (read donkey cart). This past Tuesday proved to be one of those occasions and it gave my mother an opportunity to see the way I’m treated on a daily basis.

Thinking economically, my mother and I decided to take a charette—which is half the price of a cab—and each pay for one way. Because the charette price is fixed, we hailed one, got on, and were off to the market. It wasn’t until my mom got off and I went to pay the driver that he tried to jack up the price. This incensed my mom who demanded that I pay him the fixed price and get off the cart immediately. She couldn’t believe that he was raising the price because I’m a toubob. Until, of course, we tried to get a charette home.

Standing at the entrance to the market, my mom approached countless empty charettes and asked the price of a ride which was always the fixed price of 200 francs until they saw that we were together. Bystanders watched and laughed as my mom argued with the drivers for hiking up the price when they realized that she was with “the toubob.” At one point, I even tried to hide so that the drivers wouldn’t see me and I could just sneak on after my mom had agreed upon the final price but it didn’t work. Most drivers chose to drive away without any passengers rather than give the toubob a ride for the fixed price.
Thankfully, the ninth or tenth driver was a nice man and brought us home for the fair price.

I genuinely cannot understand why people driving charettes for the purpose of making money would rather ride around without passengers than pick up a white person for the fixed price. It makes absolutely no sense, but I guess I should just get used to it because it’s how life is here for me. Now my Senegalese mom seems to have a little more understanding when I come home from a long day and am extra sensitive about people calling me toubob.

LUCKILY, at the end of last week—which proved to be very long and hard—I got to visit my best friend in Kedougou and relax. While I was there, I tried warthog meat for the first time! It was DELICIOUS!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Some Work I'm Getting Into..

Before coming to Senegal, I remember watching Oprah’s show and listening to heart breaking stories about the lengths some ethnic groups in developing countries go to ensure the purity of their young girls. Atrocities such as female “circumcisions” or genital cutting and forced child marriages seemed like distant tragedies that I would thankfully never have to face. Unfortunately for me and many Senegalese girls and women, my first months here taught me otherwise.

It all started when I was assigned to give a presentation in Wolof about female genital cutting (FGC). This entailed interviewing female staff members at the Peace Corps training center and spending some serious quality time with my Wolof-English dictionary. I learned about the Senegalese ethnic groups that practice FGC, why they feel is it necessary, what affect they feel it has on their communities, and whether or not they feel it is a practice that is good for Senegal. I met women that had been “circumcised” and women that weren’t. I spoke with them about why they are proud to be circumcised and why they aren’t, and whether or not they will do the same to their daughters. I then spoke to some men about how they felt the practice affects development in Senegal. After finishing my interviews, compiling the information I had gathered, and rehearsing in my broken Wolof, I gave my controversial presentation to a sympathetic language class. Luckily, that painful experience is over forever but I must say my interest was sparked.

It just so happens that after this presentation, I learned I would be moving to Tamba—a region with one of the highest percentages of FGC and child marriage in the country—and would have an opportunity to get involved with the campaign to end FGC, child marriage, and other practices jeopardizing the human rights of children in Senegal. It has taken a little longer than I had anticipated but at the end of this month I hope to begin working with Tostan, a nongovernmental organization conveniently located in my neighborhood that works on literacy issues in villages and organizes village declarations to end the practices of FGC and child marriages throughout Senegal. Just yesterday, I attended Tostan’s first ever departmental declaration to end FGC and child marriages with hundreds of villages throughout the Department of Tambacounda attending to declare an end to the practice of FGC and child marriage.

In the coming months, I hope to write more about the Tostan projects and declarations I am assisting with. These are issues I feel need to be addressed and I feel entries like this give you an insight into the kind of work I am and will be doing and the life I’m living here in Senegal.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


In Senegal, going to school is difficult for girls. Only 29.2% of Senegalese women over the age of fifteen can read or write, due in large part to a lack of support or money at home. Many girls want an education but, instead, are forced into early marriages, or live in households where their parents cannot afford to pay for all of the children to attend school—and sons are always given priority. Being exposed to this blatant gender inequality and the negative effects it is having on the development of Senegal has motivated me to dedicate my Peace Corps service to providing Senegalese girls with the support they need to continue their education and make a better life for themselves, their families, and all Senegalese people.

During the last school year, I worked with three local middle schools to offer the SeneGAD (Senegal Gender and Development Organization) Michelle Sylvester Scholarship. I interviewed thirty-six scholarship candidates and went through the grueling process of trying to pick the one girl from each school with the most financial need. After meeting all of the girls, seeing where they lived, and getting to know them a little better, I realized they were all in need of a scholarship. Unfortunately, SeneGAD was unable to do outside fundraising at that time and all money for the scholarship was generated from fundraisers done within the current Peace Corps Senegal Volunteer community (made up of people, such as myself, that make about $12 a day). This being said, forty-three Senegalese middle schools applied for the scholarship and when it came time to distribute the money, SeneGAD only had enough to sponsor 35 girls. Luckily, many of the volunteers, myself included, have very supportive friends and family in the U.S. and we were able to raise the additional money (even though our former boss forbade outside funding because it “isn’t sustainable,” even at the expense of not providing some of the girls with the scholarships we had promised were available) necessary to provide every winner with a scholarship.

As of late, Peace Corps Senegal has a new Country Director, SeneGAD is now allowed to accept outside funding for the M.S. scholarship and our other activities and events, and I am the new Scholarship Coordinator. This said, the tide has changed and I am excited to spend my second year in Senegal working on youth and gender development projects that will contribute to the future and development of Senegal.

Just this past Saturday, some fellow volunteers and I organized a leadership conference for the scholarship candidates in and around Tamba. We arranged for the very inspirational Training Coordinator at our training center in Thies, who happens to be a Tamba region native, to come and lead the day long conference. She spoke about her early life in Tamba, how she overcame sexual harassment at school, evaded an early and forced marriage, and made the difficult but correct choices that led her to getting a university education, and a husband that supports her desire to work outside the home. Each of the thirty-five participants was encouraged to speak about controversial and rarely spoken about issues such as sexual harassment, sexuality, and early marriages, and to share their dreams for the future. Overall, the girls seemed to have a great time and the event was a huge success.

As the Scholarship Coordinator, I am hoping to encourage other volunteers to host the same kind of conferences and continue involvement in the lives of all the scholarship candidates. I’m also focused on working with even more middle schools across Senegal, to provide more girls with scholarships, and to support more girls in achieving their goals. At SeneGAD we believe to empower a girl is to empower a village. With some encouragement, I believe many of these scholarship candidates will one day become leaders in their communities and I am dedicated to ensuring that they get the support they need and deserve.

Interested in Making a Donation?
Please contact me or leave a message on this blog with your email address and I will contact you! A donation of $50 will sponsor a girl to attend school for a year. Anything you can donate would be greatly appreciated. Also, if you are a member of a service club or organization looking to make contributions, please consider SeneGAD. The girls and I really appreciate your support!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Strikes, Strikes, Strikes

It is sometimes frustrating to see a problem and know you are helpless to fix it. This is how I feel about the current state of education in Senegal. Not only are the facilities and materials seriously lacking, but the students know it and are continuously striking. In theory, striking is a good idea. If the government is not acknowledging your needs and at least trying to meet them, striking to protest their negligence would make sense. However, when you are striking every year with the same grievances and have not seen any improvements, it may be time to try other tactics.

In Tamba, the school year “starts” in October and ends in June. Not surprisingly, the students were on strike last week when I got home from my vacation. I had some stuff I needed to accomplish at the schools this week, so I kept my fingers crossed that the kids would be back in school by Monday, Tuesday, or some day soon. It wasn’t until yesterday, while the students were still on strike, that one of the teachers informed my friend that the strike would be until JANUARY—like every other year. Well, this news blew my mind.

All day, I was upset thinking about what the teacher had said. When I finally arrived home, I sat down with my teenage siblings and their friends to ask the questions I’d been thinking of all day. Unfortunately, they confirmed that indeed the strike would probably be until January and is pretty much an annual occurrence. The conversation went a little something like this:

Them- We don’t have enough teachers or materials, and there are no toilets or electricity.
Me- If you strike for the same reasons every year, do you see any results from all the time you spend striking and out of school?
Them- No. There have been no improvements.
Me- Ok. Well there needs to be improvements, but if the strikes aren’t working, isn’t it better to at least be in school? Isn’t there another way you can try to get the attention of the government?
Them- We need to strike, we need materials for school.
Me- The strikes aren’t working. You need to try something new. I came here to help Senegalese people develop Senegal. Education is very important for development. If you are the future of Senegal and you are not in school for half the school year, you can’t develop Senegal. You need to be in school.
Them- Shrug.
Me- Repeat of last comment over and over again.
Them- We need more materials.

This is a problem I can’t fix. I can come and encourage kids to go to school with leadership conferences, mentoring, and scholarships; but when I leave, what will it have done if the government isn’t providing the education children here need and deserve?

At least, now my 18yr old sister can come to the girls’ leadership conference I’m hosting tomorrow… since she doesn’t have school and all. Maybe if she gets the education she deserves, one day she’ll grow up and have a chance to do everything she dreams about.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this yet, but I have the absolute cutest siblings EVER. My two year old brother Papa and five year old brother Souleyman are my boys. We play every day (partly because they are the only ones I can beat at soccer), and they are with me almost the entire time I’m home. Naturally, I’ve given them nicknames since we spend so much time together. Once they step into my room it’s nothing but Papichullo and Souleymizzle. At first they didn’t get it, but now, I occasionally hear my mom or the other kids calling them the same.

Well, the other day Souleyman was looking at one of my books and I slipped and called him Souleyman. You better believe he corrected me and said, “It’s SouleyMIZZZLE.” Apparently, he doesn’t mess around…

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Better Reallyyyy Late than Never? Sorry!

Just a little preface: I’ve had this entry in my computer for FOREVER. Here is a little bit about Ramadan. I’m sorry it took me forever to post. Enjoy!

My sincerest apologies for being such a poor blogger! I really appreciate that people are interested in what I’m doing over here, unfortunately it is difficult sometimes to find the time to write. I’m currently in the process of wrapping up some work I’ve been doing, assisting with the training of new Volunteers (in Thies), and trying to finish up my graduate school applications; and all before I get home for vacation next Wednesday! I’m going to be away from Tamba and my work there for almost a month and want to make sure I haven’t left anything undone. Add into the mix that most of the Senegalese people I’m working with are fasting for Ramadan, as am I on occasion, and you can understand the kind of stress I’m experiencing.

But as promised, I’d like to give you a taste of life during Ramadan for a seasoned Peace Corps Volunteer such as myself. In Senegal, and throughout the world, Muslims fast from sun up to sun down for the holy month of Ramadan, and the Senegalese celebrate Korite, a grand feast, on the last night of the month. This entails waking at around 6am to eat a large breakfast, praying seven times during the day, and abstaining from food or water until 7:10pm, when the sun goes down and everyone drinks kinkileba, mint tea, and juices, and eats dates and a big dinner. Due to the extreme heat, and the lack of water intake, this leaves most Senegalese Muslims, and occasionally me, exhausted and resting most of the day, every day, for the entire month.

As you can imagine, most Senegalese people still need to work in order to provide for their families, so by around noon the majority of people are pretty testy. For this reason, it is recommended that whether or not you are fasting—something that your host family will surely try to guilt/nag you into—you do not eat or drink in public. In addition, my experiences in Senegal have shown that most everyone will ask if you are fasting, why you aren’t fasting, or complain about how tired and hungry they are; feelings I can understand when they haven’t had anything to eat or drink all day.

Conversely, it seems that fasting in Senegal, which in Orthodox Christianity is a sacrifice you make and keep between you and God, is not viewed as such a private practice for the Senegalese Muslims I have encountered. People talk about whether or not other people are fasting, inherently judging them, and complain about the hunger and fatigue they are experiencing due to the independent choice they have made to fast. This environment makes working quite difficult.

I think fasting is great, and these observations clearly do not speak to the behavior of ALL Senegalese Muslims, or Muslims in general, but this is the first time I’ve ever encountered such a unique practice. I joined my host family in fasting for the beginning of Ramadan and to say it was tough is an understatement. It is definitely a challenge and sacrifice that I have a great deal of respect for. On occasion there are people who go to extremes, like fasting while they are pregnant and/or breast feeding, which I do not agree with, but for the most part it is a really special time in Senegal. I just thought these musings would give you an idea of what my life has been like for the past three weeks. Whether or not some people have been especially nasty to me during the past month, there are also people that invite me to join them in breaking the fast. All in all, I am still thankful to be getting this experience and a greater understanding of the Islamic faith.

Anyway, I’m back from my vacation in the States! It was great to see everyone. I’m working on a post for this week. I’m a better blogger starting TODAY.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I intend to write an entry about Ramadan and what life is like in Senegal while everyone is fasting. Unfortunately, I am also fasting and therefore am unable to formulate a coherent thought. Stay tuned for something thoughtful... after I've had something to eat and drink that is.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Exciting Exciting!!

After almost a year in Senegal, I’ve begun to narrow my interests and activities down to those I feel most passionately about. In past entries, I’ve alluded to the fact that gender inequality is a major issue in Senegal, and one that touches close to my heart. I am a Small Enterprise Development Volunteer and must meet certain sector-related goals; however, Peace Corps. allows its volunteers to work with secondary projects in areas of their interest—in my case, youth development and gender equality. Luckily for me, there is a Peace Corps. Senegal Gender and Development organization (SeneGAD) that organizes an annual scholarship for girls in middle schools throughout Senegal and made getting involved in my first gender and development project quite easy.

In my opinion, the only thing worse than the state of schools in and around Tambacounda, is the lack of opportunities given to girls living and trying to go to school in and around Tambacounda. Therefore, it would be an understatement to say I jumped at the opportunity to offer girls in my schools a scholarship and some support in continuing their studies. Over a two month time span, I visited three area middle schools, interviewed twelve scholarship candidates at each, read essays about their hopes and dreams for the future, and visited their families to get an idea about their home lives. From there I sat down to start a recommendation process of comparing poor girls with poorer girls, trying to decide which one of the twelve girls at each of the three schools deserved and needed the scholarship most. To say the least, it was one of the most emotionally draining experiences of my life. Working on the scholarship application process at these schools, I got to know the girls, see the conditions they lived and learned in, and gained a greater understanding of the obstacles they face and the things they can accomplish if they are given some support. It was one of the hardest and most fulfilling things I’ve ever done, and I now realize it is something I will continue to work on long after my Peace Corps. service is completed.

Naturally, I voiced interest in continued involvement with the scholarship application process and last weekend I attended and assisted with reviewing the applications from the other 40 participating schools. I also heard that the National SeneGAD Scholarship Coordinator position was up for election and decided to apply. I’m excited to report that the SeneGAD committee chose me to coordinate next year’s scholarship and scholarship related events! I have a lot of work ahead of me, but my whole heart is in this and I look forward to more opportunities working with great people and meeting more promising young Senegalese girls.

Currently, a fellow volunteer and I are organizing an all-day leadership training to recognize and celebrate the hard work and potential of all the scholarship candidates in the Tamba area. I am also planning to coordinate a French language penpal network between the scholarship candidates and promising young American girls also studying French.

My experiences working on the scholarship and with women and girls in Senegal have shown me that gender equality is the key to sustainable development for Senegal. Senegalese women are strong, bright, and with support, can contribute substantially to the development and betterment of life for all Senegalese people. I look forward to the rest of my service and getting the opportunity to learn from and hopefully assist more Senegalese women and girls in helping themselves.

If you have any ideas for providing support to scholarship candidates, please contact me! I’d be glad to hear any suggestions.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Just another reason you should come visit me.... :)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

All in a Day's Work

Every day in Senegal provides new opportunities for cultural exchange and discussion. My job as a Peace Corps. Volunteer is to work on projects with interested parties and to form lasting relationships with members of the community both to learn about their culture and teach about ours. Living in a foreign country and immersing yourself in a different culture gives you a great deal of perspective about American culture and the roles different groups play within different societies and our own. If I accomplish nothing else in my service here—which isn’t really even a concern of mine at the moment—I will surely have many meaningful discussions about life here in Senegal and abroad. I’ve never been one to shy away from a discussion, no matter how controversial the topic, and I’m especially passionate about the rights and treatment of women which makes just about any otherwise ordinary day here a little interesting.

During last week’s trip to Kedougou, I accompanied my friend to a high school Amnesty International club meeting in a small village outside of town. My friend interned for Amnesty International before coming to Senegal and I was pretty impressed that there would even be a club like Amnesty International in a high school so isolated from everything, so we decided to check it out and hopefully help them get the ball rolling. Naturally, we showed up about ten minutes late for a meeting that was scheduled to start at 10am and didn’t end up happening until after lunch, which provided the perfect opportunity for the aforementioned cultural exchange and discussion.

In my nearly 11 months here, I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot about Senegalese culture. Admittedly, I’ve dropped the ball in terms of Senegalese cuisine and it’s preparation and plan to remedy this by cooking lunch with my host mother this weekend—not because I am a woman but because Senegalese dishes are a big topic of conversation and have thus far isolated me from many a scintillating conversation. To make a long story short, during the four hours that my friend and I waited in a village compound for the meeting to start I asked the AI club President what we were watching his host mother make for lunch. Instead of just answering the question, he started to laugh and asked if I don’t know how to cook; which I naturally answered with an honest “no.” He was shocked and said, “What? You are a woman. Women are supposed to cook.” I was shocked and said, “What? And YOU are the President of your Amnesty International club?!” Luckily for him, this happened around hour two and my friend and I had an additional two hours to explain why things like that may be ok to say in Senegal but are very offensive and inappropriate in other cultures, namely in Amerik.

Granted, not all Senegalese people feel it’s inherently a woman’s job to cook and I acknowledge that there are American men that would share the belief that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, but all in all I found the discussion to be a success. There was a cultural exchange and even on my personal day I got the job done!

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Remember all those times growing up when your mother told you to finish all your food because there were starving children out there that wish they had what you have? It’s true, Senegal has officially entered the “hungry season” and I’m sure all the people eating rice and water or a piece of bread for lunch and dinner would love the opportunity to have so much food that they can’t even finish it all; although, even if they did they would never waste it—people that know on any given year they or one of their family members can starve to death generally have a little more respect for food. Luckily, I live in a big town with a relatively well-off family and don’t have to worry about any shortage of food but I recently spent some personal days in Kedougou visiting my friend’s village and it was quite eye-opening.

Before I left, a friend who just returned from a trip down south warned me I should pack some food because there is nothing to eat and all the volunteers down that way are loosing a lot of weight. I assumed she was exaggerating but packed some snacks just incase. Between the 100k I biked and the daily watery and/or oily rice we ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I can honestly say I don’t know how the villagers find the strength to work so hard. Peace Corps. Volunteers have the money to buy necessary dietary supplements but their villagers don’t and in many villages people die every year. My snack supply was exhausted in no time and I was dreaming about bread with mustard—generally pretty gross but surprisingly delicious when you are starving.

Understandably, this entry may be a bit of a downer but now you know someone that is actually living where there are starving people and it’s my hope that you’ll be a little more aware and definitely more thankfully for our way of life in the U.S. In Spain, I ran into some Americans and someone asked why I’d want to go all the way to Africa when there are people in America that need help. I’m here because I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to help Americans but I won’t always have the freedom and independence to live abroad and try to help people with issues the majority of Americans don’t even know about and/or can’t sympathize with. I’m here because I’m American and they are Senegalese, but more importantly, we are all people.

In other news.. I've added a bunch of pictures from my time here on my shutterfly account! Check it out or send me an email and I'll give you my info.

I thought this was a particularly pretty picture from my recent trip to Kedougou.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

No Time Like the Present

With a little extra time on my hands while school is out, I’ve decided there’s no time like the present to learn new things and acquire new skills. Senegal is a predominantly agriculture reliant country and there’s no better place than here for me to learn how to farm. I understand it may come as a shock to many of my loyal readers and a good number of my fellow Peace Corps. volunteers that I’d voluntarily sign up for manual labor and/or getting dirty, but I assure you I am not a completely different person than I was before I left the U.S.; I’m just a bit cooler, if that’s even possible. Besides, I’m here to provide a helping hand, whether it be with my awe-inspiring hoeing techniques or the comic relief I provide for the hard-working village women when they watch me work.
In all seriousness, I’m learning about the crops and how to maintain a healthy field while hanging out with the women, and picking up some Mandinka language skills. I’ve only been helping for the past week and have already seen some really cool insects and some scary millipedes and spiders. Yesterday, I actually had a rather large, hairy fellow on my foot and brushed it off with only the tiniest of shrieks, which I call a significant improvement! Hopefully, I’ll be able to tap into this new found toughness and utilize these skills for my own personal garden during the next rainy season. The possibilities will be endless!
As a town-based small enterprise development volunteer, the majority of my work is done at a desk, but I’m really enjoying working outside in the fresh air. It’s a really refreshing change of pace. Between biking to and from my neighbor’s village and helping in the fields, I anticipate learning a lot and getting a hell of a work out! I’m excited to continue this for the rest of the rainy season and hopefully improve my technique, which will be evaluated on a scale of hysterical laughter to an occasional chuckle—I’ll keep you updated.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Back in Action

I’m a year older, a bit wiser, and ready to be a much more responsible blogger. In other words, I’m back! Vacation was amazing, Northern Spain is absolutely beautiful, and I’m feeling refreshed. Forgive me, but I’ve only been in Senegal for about four days and therefore have nothing terribly interesting to share at the moment. I’m going to start working on some juicy stuff for my next entries, so brace yourselves!

Thanks to everyone who sent me birthday wishes! This was my first birthday away and it really meant a lot to me. Miss you all!

PS- My vacation pictures are up!

Saturday, June 30, 2007


Hey folks,

The past month has been quite hectic and whenever I have free time the electricity conveniently goes out. In other words, please accept my apology for neglecting the blog. I’m alive and everything is going pretty well, I promise! Besides, it’s officially summer vacation! Woohoo! For all of you in the States who will actually be getting the opportunity to do fun stuff, I’m excited for you. Here in Senegal, kids work for their parents when they aren’t in school and I work whether school is in session or not. After my long absence I guess an update is in order.

Where to start, where to start… Lately, I’ve been very busy. I just returned from an almost week long trip to Dakar for the quarter-annual Volunteer Advisory Committee meeting; an opportunity for myself and the other regional representatives to voice the comments and/or concerns of the volunteers in our regions while getting a little face-time with our Country Director. Over the weekend I had the opportunity to see my old host family in Thies and go to a Youssou N’dour (basically the biggest music star in Senegal) concert with them which was really exciting. N’dour was great and, being close to the stage, I saw and enjoyed all the different Senegalese dancers. Randomly, I also got to meet and take a picture with Laura Bush when she visited Senegal on her mini-Africa tour, which was kind of cool. Overall, my time in and around Dakar was a really nice and interesting break from work in Tamba.

With the exception of that little trip, all of my time has been spent working in Tamba. Now that the school year is over, my somewhat painful Wolof marketing class at the Centre des Handicapees has come to a close. Happily, I can say that by the end of the year it wasn’t that bad, I loosened up a lot, and it was good practice for next year’s classes. I also attended some great end of the year celebrations/award ceremonies at the different middle schools in town, I watched their talented dance troops, and made some new and useful contacts. I’m proud to report that my English student was announced the top student in her grade—an accomplishment especially laudable when taking into account the major difficulties and responsibilities for girls trying to attend school here.

In addition, I was fortunate to watch “Binta and the Great Idea,” a short film about a little girl living in the Cassamance region of Senegal. It was funded by UNICEF, nominated for an academy award, and is highly recommend if you want an idea of where I’m living and what I’m doing. I attended a huge UNICEF/Tostan event in my region and some of the kids performed skits like the one in the film. They were really moving and I hope you all get the same experience, even if it is just through the film. A friend told me you can watch it for free online. I’m not sure if this is true but I’d advise checking it out.

All in all, I’m having a great time and feel really grateful to have this opportunity. Now that we are all caught up, I’ll be going to Spain for vacation in a couple of weeks but look forward to some new entries in the near future! Again, I’m sorry for my negligence! Happy Early 4th of July!! Stay safe and have fun!

Ciao Ciao

PS- I got a new camera so look forward to some new pics also! Thanks Mom and Dad!

Thursday, May 24, 2007


The Peace Corps. says this is the toughest job I’ll ever love; I wonder if when it’s all over I’ll feel that way. I often find myself thinking about my life after Peace Corps. and how what seem like hard times now will shape the person I am when I get home. Maybe I am changing more than I realize.

I woke up yesterday, ate breakfast, and prepared to go about my day as scheduled. I have a routine and, with the exception of having to introduce a new volunteer to Tamba, everything was business as usual. I met up with Matt, the new volunteer, to go to the market and buy everything he will need for his hut. Everyday I go to the market, and every day I run into the Baayfalls (adult Talibes[1]) that follow people around shaking their bowls of change and harassing you to give them money. They are known to grab you or your clothes if you try to just walk by and I generally scream at them and/or cop an attitude if they touch me. I don’t have a problem if they choose to spend their days begging for money, but putting their hands on me because I don’t want to give them anything is crossing the line.

Naturally, walking around with a big white guy attracted a lot of attention from the Baayfalls. Matt is new and can’t really communicate, so I took it upon myself to tell them to go away and leave us alone. Unfortunately, one very persistent “gentleman” would not cease and desist, causing me a great deal of agitation. I began to voice this agitation when he put his hand in my face and told me he wouldn’t talk to me because I’m a woman and he only talks to men. Apparently, my “ignorance” was comical to him and he proceeded to laugh in my face while telling Matt that he doesn’t talk to women because “they are too stupid.” Did I want to hurt him? Yes, but I decided to just ignore him and walk away.

Later in the day, I had my second class at the Center for Handicap students in Tamba. There are about 10 illiterate, female students of varying ages attending the class and yesterday I had planned to get into the meat and potatoes of marketing the things they make at the Center. Not being a teacher, not having any experience teaching, and having a great deal of anxiety about speaking in front of people led me to believe this would be a very stressful experience. I told my Supervisor about these reservations and he assured me that I’d be fine with prepping and teaching in French, which is much easier for me when dealing with business related matters. The Peace Corps. gives us a lot of teaching materials and suggestions for how to structure our classes; unfortunately, everything is centered around hand-outs, reading, and other strategies unemployable when working with illiterate people. All I could do was take my French notes, walk to the Center, and hope for the best.

After about two minutes of notes I could see they were uninterested and/or confused. Finally, one of the most dynamic girls said, “We don’t understand French! Speak in Wolof.” Long story short, I totally choked. I was scheduled to teach for two hours, which is a ridiculously long time even if I am a fluent Wolof speaker and not deathly afraid of speaking in front of people. After about three minutes of silently reading my French notes and translating them aloud into Wolof while trying to stay on topic and make even the slightest bit of sense, I gave up. I told them that I hadn’t been prepared to teach in Wolof and would have to start next week. It was a pretty horrible feeling. For the next two hours I had to sit there in front of them chatting about boys and clothes and arguing that in fact I don’t have a Senegalese boyfriend and right now I don’t want to be married with tons of babies; of course, while trying not to cry.

If this wasn’t enough, at one point during our two hour hang out/ chat session one of the girls said that the Peace Corps is in Senegal trying to help now because our country used to come and steal Senegalese people to make them slaves. I don’t agree with that assessment of why we are here, that is certainly not why I am here, but many early Americans did have slaves, many of which were probably Senegalese, and I’m sure enslaving a great deal of Senegalese people didn’t support their early development; needless to say, it was a very awkward couple of minutes. Finally, one girl said that she knew it wasn’t me and another said, “No it was her grandfather that had Senegalese people as slaves.” I stopped arguing because I could see it was going no where, but it makes me sad to think that people here have to feel that way. I can’t imagine meeting someone and feeling like their ancestors thought they were so much better than me that they would come to my country to steal people and make them slaves (although I know many cultures have those feelings towards one another).

At the end of the “class” we all left together. It didn’t really seem like the girls minded that they hadn’t learned anything, but I still felt horrible. As I was walking home, the director (a darling handicapped Senegalese woman that will sit in on all the classes) drove by on her motorized wheel chair. I told her how sorry I was and how I promised that I’d try to do better next week. She just smiled, said there is nothing to be sorry about, and thanked me for even wanting to come spend time with the girls and try to teach them something that can help them in the future.

When I finally got home, I cleaned up, ate, finished some work and called it a night. It wasn’t until this morning that I realized how crappy yesterday actually was and how well I handled it. Before coming here, if I had a day like that I would have gone home and cried. Making friends with the girls in my class and seeing how genuinely appreciative the director was for me being there made my day. I came home with a smile and had forgotten all the upsetting things that had happened.

I’ve found that this experience teaches you to appreciate the small things. I guess I’m starting to realize how strong being here has made me. This may just be the toughest job I’ll ever love.
[1] Reference my entry about street children to learn more. In my understanding of the system, the only difference is that the Baayfalls are men who make the choice to continue to beg for the Marabou.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ahhh... Just Another Day

The Japanese government has a program like Peace Corps. which sends volunteers to work in developing countries. Long story short, there are some Jigga volunteers living in Tamba that don’t speak English or French. Yesterday, I had a quasi-conversation with them in Wolof while standing in line to find out about internet access at my house. Needless to say, it was interesting being American and speaking to Japanese people in Wolof. I thought it was quite amusing and I’d bet all the Senegalese people watching agreed. And for the record, I schooled them in Wolof. I’ve been here about seven months longer than them but that is just a minor detail.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Aren't you impressed?!

As a Small Enterprise Development volunteer, I have a great deal of flexibility in terms of work partners. Personally, I am most interested in working with girls and women’s groups. This being said, a good portion of my time thus far has been spent working with women’s groups in and around Tamba.

I have been helping some women in my neighborhood get their group back together and organized, I’m assisting a fellow volunteer with creating linkages in the capitol to sell the jewelry her village’s women’s group makes, and I’m working with a USAID project called Wula Nafaa to help some women’s groups better market their baobab powder. Some of these groups are walking distance to my house, others are about 10k (a half hour bike ride), and the majority are 35k-40k from Tamba (an almost impossible bike ride in the current heat). The villages that are farthest away are those assigned to me by Wula Nafaa and are work I think I am really going to love. Unfortunately, taking a car back and forth will start to add up and Wula Nafaa has said they are unable to provide me with and/or pay for my transportation. They suggested I try to bike back and forth; an idea that I’m not opposed to, as long as it isn’t 125 degrees.

Until today it was over 100 degrees every day (the rains finally came! Alhumdilalay!) but I knew I’d need to start preparing for the future bike rides that are going to make me a BAD ASS (if I don’t mind saying so myself). Yesterday the opportunity finally came. I hadn’t been on my bike in about three weeks and I was planning to take a car to a town 35k from Tamba to interview some scholarship candidates at their middle school when I learned there are no cars to town in the morning. This left me with no option but to get on my trusty bike and wing it.

I’m happy to report, I SURVIVED! Barely…. Without any prior preparation, I biked all the way to the neighboring town (35k away) and lived to tell about it. Upon arrival, there were about 10 minutes where I wasn’t sure if I was dying of heat exhaustion but I’m alive! Today, I’m not even very sore. I’m not a biker and I successfully biked 35k! Surely, many of you are unimpressed, but I think I’m pretty damn cool.

When I got back to Tamba my mom yelled at me for not taking a car. Apparently, the road I’d taken has a lot of bandits. My dad asked if I knew karate and if I was planning on using it (he thinks I’m stupid/stubborn for always trying to do things on my own, but he also thinks he’s funny; clearly he has no idea what he’s talking about). Anyhow, the purpose of this entry was to let you all know I’ve successfully biked 35k for the first time (without dying or being attacked by bandits)!!! To think six months ago I was afraid to even get on my bike…..

OTHER EXCITING NEWS: The rains finally came last night!!! It has cooled down substantially and I’m praying it stays this way for awhile.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

No Cobra Bites.. THANK GOODNESS!

This past weekend I attended a village initiation ceremony in South Eastern Senegal. Not only was the landscape breathtaking, but the ceremony was incredible and getting to see my friends was great. It was a weekend of firsts. Before this trip I had never been south of Tamba, I hadn’t seen a scorpion, I hadn’t met any animists, and I definitely hadn’t been around a ton of drunk Senegalese people. It was also pretty damn cool seeing village boys “become men.”

The annual ceremony took place in Salemata, an absolutely beautiful animist village in Bassari Country. I live in the flattest and driest part of the country, so seeing hills and mountains with bodies of water running through them was a bit overwhelming. My friends and I rented a truck and I got to sit in the back for the two and a half hour drive out to the village. The ride alone would have made my weekend but getting to see and learn about the Bassari lifestyle was also quite interesting.

We stayed at a pretty nice campemont and each day walked about 25 minutes up into the hills for the festivities. Most of the events took place in what seemed to be a village center but we later learned was the place where village families sent all their teenage children from the ages of 14-20 to live. It was a little collection of closely laid huts overlooking the rolling hills and about a 10 minute walk from the rest of the village.

Throughout Saturday night, all the men of the village dressed in their tribal costumes and circled the youth village, drinking, dancing, and blowing whistles, while the boys being initiated drank and danced behind them. Animals were sacrificed and a chicken was killed for each boy. The testicles of each chicken were cut open to learn the outcome of the next day’s initiation. If the testicles were fine, the boy would become a man, but if the testicles were black, something bad would happen in the next day’s fight and the boy was not permitted to proceed. After midnight all the men and boys went up into the hills.

In early morning, the boys and men descended on the youth village where we and other onlookers had gathered to watch. This time the boys had bows and arrows and were ready to fight the spirits of the village and be initiated as men, while the men representing the spirits were covered in clay and mud with masks and shields. All the men ran through the village, covered in mud and ready to fight; and in a valley down below the men or spirits and the boys met. At this point, the men and women in my group were separated. Only men were allowed to go to the valley to watch, while women had to look on from the hills up above. One by one a “spirit” covered in leaves and mud called each boy out to fight. Even from up above, watching the fights was really exciting. I watched boys get body slammed and have to take a second fight, while other boys beat the spirit down and won immediately. Regardless, they marched down as boys and marched up as men.

All in all it was a good and exciting time. I saw some scorpions and thankfully wasn’t bitten while I slept outside without a mosquito net. I also didn’t see any cobras! Alhumdalilay! I’m still alive and now I have some cool experiences to talk about.

Ps- My camera broke a couple of days before the trip so I don’t have any pictures at the moment. I’m hoping to get some from a friend. If it all works out I’ll post them soon.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Fatou is still tied up outside my room. My neighbors said they have been feeding her although evidence may point to the contrary. There is an adorable little boy with Down’s syndrome living on my street. He generally roams the streets unsupervised along with most of the kids here. Usually, this isn’t an issue; of course unless there is a wild monkey tied up in one of the compounds and quite possibly a little hungry. Long story short, Fatou took a little nibble out of the boy’s ear yesterday. He needed to go to the hospital but I think he’ll be ok. Who would have thought allowing a five year old child with Down’s syndrome to roam the neighborhood unsupervised (especially when he is known to go into peoples’ houses and there happens to be a wild monkey in one of the yards) might be a bad idea? Shocker.

LESSONS LEARNED THIS WEEK: Letting small children (especially with special needs) roam the streets unsupervised is not always the safest idea; ““particularly when there is a wild monkey tied up in someone’s yard; keeping a wild monkey tied up in your yard unsupervised is also not the safest/best idea; hungry/agitated wild monkey + small unsupervised child = recipe for disaster/hospitalization.

In other news, my darling mother informed me that in recent entries my English has gone to crap. I hope you all accept my sincere apology and understand that being here and continuously speaking Wolof has made it quite difficult to speak and write properly. I find myself speaking English with a Wolof accent; and yes, I am sure some of you may think that is better than with a New Jersey accent but nevertheless…SORRY!

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Heading home for lunch the other day, I turned onto my street and found it completely deserted. There is generally a great deal of activity, with women selling produce and kids everywhere; but this day it was just me and the open road… or so I thought.

It only took a couple of seconds for me to realize this was because there was a monkey on the loose and everyone had gone into their compounds for shelter. Unfortunately, the seven foot tall walls proved an ineffective barrier between the compounds and this crazy beast. It wasn’t an exceptionally large monkey but it terrified everyone nonetheless. I’m embarrassed to say I definitely ran and screamed like a little girl while it chased me into my house (and all my neighbors laughed at me through their windows). When I finally got into my room, I went to the window and tried to take some pictures; but it jumped on my screen. Eventually, one of my neighbors was able to catch it and, I later learned, tie him up in his back yard (which is right outside my window).

I just moved into a new room and my family kept teasing me that if I didn’t keep my door and window shut the monkey was going to come in. Well, yesterday I opened my back door to test out the lock and to my surprise the tied up monkey jumped on my door. I guess they weren’t kidding.

With no prior unleashed monkey experiences, I can honestly say that my first was quite scary. Now that it is tied up and we’ve learned it’s a girl, we’ve named her Fatou and she’s living next to my room. I suppose we can grow to be friends…

Sunday, April 01, 2007


It seems that everyone is always on strike in Tamba. Teachers, students, cab drivers, the list could go on forever. The Tamba volunteer before me said that this is a problem and at least once a year during her service the teachers or students held a strike that turned violent. Well, I’ve had and heard some experiences about the strikes, and they aren’t even remotely as disturbing as the state of schools in this region.

After returning from Thies, I began visiting the schools with some computer-related work ideas. I promised to help with some English classes/club activities and I wanted to get a feel for the teachers and students. First and foremost, there are only two high schools in the whole town of 70,000 people. None of the schools have electricity, let alone computers, and the high schools which do have electricity only have it in the staff rooms.

The newest middle school in my area consists of two tin roofed cement structures and a make-shift straw building; each containing two classrooms and seating 60-90 students (of varying grade levels). I don’t know how anyone can be learning or teaching anything with only six classrooms and 500 teenage kids; especially when there are no bathrooms, no running water, and no electricity (which means no fans in the sweltering heat that is Tamba). I can understand why students might have complaints about the conditions in their schools and I sympathize with the difficulties teachers must face in trying to control such large classes in these conditions. A friend of mine has been interested in helping me but didn’t know where the school is located. The other day we were biking through some villages and rode passed it on the way to her house. She was passing the school three or four times a week and didn’t even realize it was a school (I’ll need to take some pictures and post them).

Needless to say, my first visit to the school made me want to cry. This past week the teachers were on strike and now with the holidays the kids will be out of school for two weeks. I’m wondering if they’ll have to make these days up or if they’ll just be tested and subsequently penalized for the government’s inability to provide suitable schools and learning/working environments for the children and teachers. My guess is the latter.


Recent books I’ve read:
The Secret Life of Bees- I loved it!
The Paris Years of Rosie Kanin- Eh..
The God of Small Things- Hard to get into but definitely a good read.
Their Eyes Were Watching God- Good book.
War and Peace- LOVED IT.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Random Notes

I am currently reading War and Peace and admit I have been slacking on my blog entry responsibilities; so, forgive me and I will have a better entry next time I get to the cyber café! In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of my recent experiences.

- I saw my first lunar eclipse and thought it was pretty neat. I know nothing about that sort of thing but it was entertaining.
- On my way home to Tamba from training in Thies a ton of monkeys ran across the road in front of our car! It was my first time seeing cool (read- not farm variety) animals which was kind of exciting.
- My one year old brother Papa is in his hitting stage and has made a habit of hitting the sheep in our compound. The other day he made the mistake of hitting one of the rams and I watched him get head butted in the chest. Naturally, he was crying and I freaked out while my family cracked up laughing at how concerned I was. Apparently, it wasn’t a big deal for them.
- A couple of days ago, I saw my two year old sister playing with a razor blade. Again, I freaked out and was met with laughter. Apparently, I’m just an over-reactor (according to them).
- I’ve seen my one and two year old siblings sucking on batteries. They suck on shoes and everything else, which always grosses me out; but a battery is crossing the line. I’m the only one around here that thinks that’s a bad idea though. If they really want to suck on all kinds of nasty and sometimes toxic things, they can do as they wish; but not in front of me!
- Yesterday, I visited a nearby village and got to sit in on the bargaining of the bride price for an upcoming marriage. It was pretty cool watching the village chief and elders count and recount the kola nuts the guy was giving as payment for his new (and second) wife.

Again, I’m sorry that this wasn’t very interesting but I’ll be sure to have something good on Saturday! Hopefully, I will have finished War and Peace by then (which I love!!).

Thank you to Aunt Celeste and Aunt Joanie for being so thoughtful!! I loved the package and the card!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Misconceptions About Beauty

I’d like to meet and then slap the person that started telling women in Senegal, and most likely throughout Africa, that lighter skin means more beautiful. There are attractive and unattractive people in every race and ethnic group around the world, but it has nothing to do with their skin color. I’m sure most people agree with me on this point; of course, excluding the many Senegalese women that bleach their skin in the name of beauty.

In my short time here, I’ve seen many otherwise beautiful Senegalese women with very unattractive scars and burn marks on their skin. Apparently, you run a high risk of massive scarring and burning when you bleach your skin. Go figure! For those lucky women that don’t get burnt or have scars, I’ll be the first to say that their new, “lighter” or reddish skin looks many things, none of which being natural.

During our training in Thies, the other volunteers and I had the opportunity to visit the beach on weekends and attend a weekend long softball tournament. Needless to say, I returned quite “sun-kissed” if you will, and my family in Tamba welcomed me back with many compliments about how beautiful and dark I looked. I found it especially interesting to receive these compliments from my newly married and newly skin bleached (for the second or third time!) aunt. I jumped at this opportunity for “cross-cultural exchange” and called my aunt out about her skin bleaching practices. I asked why I looked better because I was darker but she felt she needed to be lighter; and explained to her that I thought light and dark were equally beautiful and skin bleaching was bad/gross/stupid. It may not have been my most sensitive moment but this is an issue that really gets me heated.

Both my host mother and host aunt in Tamba have bleached their skin more than once and both have a great deal of scarring. I can’t help but look at them and get upset thinking about why women feel it is necessary to do this to themselves for beauty. Especially when dark is just as beautiful as light!

Also, thank you to Aunt Linda and Uncle Peter, Aunt Cleo, and Amo for your wonderful packages! I love you!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Street Children

I’ve been in Senegal for five and a half months. With the exception of this past month I’ve tried to give whoever actually reads my ramblings a little taste of life in Senegal; at least life in Senegal through my eyes. Admittedly, I haven’t given you too much of the meat and potatoes and I’ve tried to keep it light hearted (mostly because I know that I am far from home and my one or two readers are family members that I’d rather not scare or give reason for unnecessary worry). I think it’s time to start talking about some of my observations and major issues with life here.

I love kids. Anyone that knows me knows how excited I was about coming here and having the opportunity to work with kids. With this said, there will be many blog entries related to children in Senegal but today I’ve chosen to address the Koranic school/ Talibe system.

Senegal, like other developing countries, has cities flooded with people begging for food and money; and I’m sure if I were to visit any of these other countries I’d be just as heart broken as I was when I arrived in Senegal and saw so many dirty, barefoot, underfed and/or starving children, unattended and begging throughout the cities. What differentiates the majority of these children from those in other countries, and quickly turned my heart break into outrage, was the fact that the majority of these children are not homeless but rather "Talibes" or Koranic school students.

The majority of Senegalese people are practicing Muslims and followers of the Sufi Muslim movement; which compromises a number of Islamic brotherhoods in Senegal. Each of the brotherhoods is led by influential "Marabouts" or men responsible for teaching Islam and overseeing Koranic schools in their communities. Many families, most of whom live in villages and can’t afford to send their children to school, send there young sons from the ages of 5-18 to live with their chosen Marabout and attend Koranic school. The idea is that once these children reach the cities, they will live with their Marabout, study the Koran, and work for the Marabout as payment for their studies. It has been explained to me that in many cases what ends up happening is the children spend most, if not all, of their days begging in the streets for money (that they will give to the Marabouts), inhabiting cramped and overcrowded rooms, and living what seems to me to be a horrible life for a child (or anyone else for that matter). I’m not saying that all Marabouts mistreat their students. I haven’t done extensive research on the topic and therefore can only rely upon the experiences I have had with the Talibes in my short time here. Whatever the case may be it seems quite evident that there are some kinks in the system.

Last month, on my way to training in Thies, my traveling companion and I stopped at a "rest stop" for some breakfast. Immediately I was surrounded by Talibes and decided to buy a kilo of oranges to hand out. In trying to hand them out I was basically attacked. I don’t even know how to explain what ensued other than to say that all the Talibes were fighting, pushing me, and trying to rip the oranges out of my hands. Something leads me to believe these kids weren’t fed on a regular basis if they were ready to trample a Toubob and start brawling over a handful of nasty yellowish green oranges. Not to mention most of them were shoeless, filthy, and suffering from a nasty case of pink eye (which I thankfully did not contract after being mauled). Afterwards, I was in shock but also quite upset at the conditions these kids must be living in to act in such a way.

A week or so later, a little boy (who I later learned was only five years old) asked me for some money while I was on my way to meet friends for dinner on a dark, poorly lit street. Coming from a culture where you never leave little kids alone, especially to roam the streets, I was immediately moved to see him all by himself and agreed to walk to the main road and buy him some fruit. When we finally made it to the main road and were about to cross a big truck came and I instinctively put out my hand to stop him from crossing in front of it. The little boy thought I was trying to take his hand and he held my hand the rest of the way to the fruit stand. After I bought him something to eat he kept holding my hand and I still can’t help but get upset just thinking about having to leave him on the side of the road and go on about my business. Here was a little five year old boy, so far from home, with no shoes, no food, no one taking care of him, walking the dark streets, and CLEARLY not studying the Koran.

Everyday upwards of 100,000 Talibes take to city streets throughout Senegal begging for money ( Bakker,Nisha. "In Senegal, UNICEF and partners work to end the practice of child begging." 07/14/2006, UNICEF At first it was painful to say no to all the sad little kids following me every where I went, but day after day it got a bit easier and coupled with the other stressful and upsetting things I’ve dealt with on a daily basis, I admit I began to forget that these kids are really just kids. Now I try to remind myself that most Talibes are sent to their Marabouts by their parents at a young age, they are far from home, they have very little if anything, and in most cases they aren’t being given the attention and affection every child deserves. I refuse to give them money because I have serious issues with what I know about the current Koranic school/Talibe system, but I try to give food and conversation to at least one Talibe a day. I can’t say whether the system should be eliminated or not, and I know that it is important and good for kids to learn about Islam and the Koran (if they are actually learning), but this is a little look into what I experience on a daily basis. In giving a little something each day, I’ve had some very memorable experiences.
DISCLAIMER: This entry reflects my personal experience and NOT the opinions of the Peace Corps., the U.S. Government, or any other persons.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I'm Alive!!!

I'm sorry that I've been away so long! I had a month long training in Thies and now I'm back in Tamba! Everything is well and I will be posting my next entry in the next day or two. I hope everyone is doing well!

Friday, January 26, 2007

It's Just Tough..

I’m a volunteer. I make the equivalent of around eight U.S. dollars a day. I’ve chosen to live and volunteer in a developing country for two years, making basically no money, and by American standards living poor.

Naturally, I am perceived as very wealthy because I’m “white” or Arab (depending on whom you ask). On a daily basis I am followed down the street, asked for money, asked for gifts, asked to be brought to France, Spain, America, or whatever country the particular person thinks I’m from; and on a daily basis I am aggravated by being asked for money and perceived as rich. I generally respond with the fact that I don’t have money or gifts because I’m just a volunteer, and I can’t bring them home with me because Senegal is my home and I live here just like them. What I’m wondering is, how do I explain the concept of being a volunteer to people, some of whom have “good” jobs, that I make much more money than them on my measly volunteer living allowance?

“Kid, I’m American, and I could be making big bucks (relatively speaking) if I were in the States but I’m here ‘volunteering’ and making more then your father does to support your whole family of 15 people. I’m broke, sorry.”- That just doesn’t cut it.

Being here, living with more money than most people here but much less than people in the States, it’s hard to find my place. People here, and I’m sure throughout the world, will try to rip you off if they know you are a foreigner, which means almost always for me since I’m fair skinned--aka not Senegalese.

After being ripped off a number of times (something that made me feel quite crappy), I became very good at the art of bargaining. Now, when I’m at the feggjaay (read: tables with heaps of clothes you and people from Europe have donated to goodwill and are sent here and re-sold), I’ll scoff at the three dollars the toothless, totally filthy, hungry looking feggjaay salesman is trying to charge me for your old college t-shirt because I know that’s the “toubob price” and I should only be paying a $1.50. I have the three bucks and could pay the jacked up price, he could probably use the extra cash, but then he’ll probably also continue trying to rip people off because they aren’t from around here which in the long run will be doing everyone else a disservice. So I bargain him down, pay my $1.50, go home, and lounge around in your old college t-shirt feeling guilty that I talked a poor salesman from a developing country down from a price I could have paid because I didn’t want to be ripped off.

My options are feeling crappy that I was taken advantage of and ripped off (this generally occurs just when I’m starting to feel happiest/most accepted in the community) or feeling guilty because I talked someone down to a Senegalese price when I could have paid the “toubob price” (although they probably wouldn’t have any respect for me) and everyone could definitely use the extra money around here.

And I thought snakes and spiders would be the toughest part about living here….

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I'm not sure if this will even make sense...

The other day I came across a Peace Corps ad while flipping through an entertainment magazine my family sent me. It was a photo of a Namibian village (which at first glance I thought was Senegalese) and the PC slogan “Life is calling. How far will you go?” This may sound funny but I think for a while I may have forgotten I am a Peace Corps. Volunteer.
I’ve been here for a little more than four months and I finally feel integrated. I know that I’m a PCV, but living here, making friends, working and having my daily routine has really made my time feel more like time in a new home rather than part of any kind of service. Now that I live here and I’m not moving all over the place I feel settled in and I like it. I remember being back in the States and thinking about how cool the Peace Corps. would be. Sometimes I guess it’s just hard to believe I actually took this huge leap of faith and moved so far from my family and everything I know, but given the choice again I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
This is a short entry and I know I’ve been slacking but I just wanted to let everyone know things are going well! Sometimes it’s a challenge but I like a challenge, so everything is working out just fine.

Some More Books I’ve Read:
Gone With the Wind: A
The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc: B, Pretty damn funny!
Girl, Interrupted: C+, I wasn’t a huge fan but it wasn’t horrible.
My Sister’s Keeper: B+, definitely an interesting and easy read.
The Secret Life of Bees: B+, Good book.
Pride and Prejudice: B, I was really excited to read it and couldn’t really get into it. I wasn’t a huge fan.

I also want the thank Lara and Aunt Joanie again for sending me some AWESOME stuff!!! I love you! Everyone is jealous of how much my family CLEARLY loves me more than theirs love them!!  hehe, Just kidding about that last part but they definitely are jealous of all my goodies!