Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dun dun dunnn.

Well – I’m home! I’m in California, at least semi-permanently. Alhamdoulilah. I actually arrived back on US soil almost three weeks ago now, but I’ve been putting this off. “This” being “the last Peace Corps blog post EVER.” Until, of course, I retire and serve as a PCV in Fiji. But until then, there’s only this. It kind of feels like a lot of pressure. It’s been two years! That’s a long ass time! Peace Corps, geez. I did it. Anne met Africa. Good lord.

…Anyway. I should start off by saying that my last couple weeks in village and in Tamba were really good for the most part. The building project kept me occupied until the very end, which was good for my mental state. Saying goodbye was really hard, though. My first plan was to host a big feast for my family and friends the day before I left, get through the teary goodbyes that night with as little embarrassment as possible, then bike out of village the next morning as the cocks crowed (or a little later, as they start crowing at 3:50 a.m. – dumb birds) but before everyone else was awake.  Well, we did have an amazing going-away feast, complete with goat and vermicelli and potatoes. Delicious. Souleymane kept telling me “We don’t even eat this well on Tabaski!” There was so much food, it took my host parents about 30 minutes to allocate different amounts to different bowls, with much arguing: “Ok, this bowl is for the masons, this one is for the teachers – put some more meat in that! – this one is for your brother, this one is – hey! There’s not enough sauce in there! – for the village chief, this can be for your sister, she’ll be mad otherwise…” And so on. Basically, it was a hit. We all lounged around in a food coma for the rest of the afternoon.
I named him "Lunch"
When night came, and I tried to say goodbye, they wouldn’t let me. They would only say “Fo saxooma!” (‘Til the morning!) which thwarted my as-little-crying-and-drama-as-possible exit plan. It was fine though, and probably better that way. I still left in the morning, but limited my good-byes to my compound. They were tearful but quick, and I got on my bike and biked out of village, trying not to cry too hard on the way out (the path is hard to navigate in the best of circumstances). I’m not trying to invoke sympathy, I’m just telling it like it was. I miss my family. I miss the kids. It was really, really hard to leave Bira.
Ami and Aileen examining my newly henna-ed feet

The fam. This photo is still missing about 5 kids
Biking out of village. Sniff.
After I was moved out of village, however, things were much easier. Sure, saying goodbye to my PCV friends sucked also, but I know that if I want to see them (and I do), I will. We have facebook and phones and airplanes and trains and a fairly reliable network of highways. Life here is easy.

That brings me to my next thought. I’ve been really happy since being home. This is a type of happiness I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced. I was trying to pinpoint what exactly was going on and I’ve come to the conclusion that the culprit is plain ease of living. Yes, sure, I lived here for 23 years before going to Senegal, and my life was easy. But I didn’t know any different. I took it for granted. In Senegal, although I certainly felt happy most of the time, it was just harder to do things. Even simple tasks like going to the store involved bikes or cabs, ridiculous heat, sweat, multiple languages, and frequently verbal harassment. Any longer sort of journey was an ordeal at best. Crowded cars and buses, heat (again), breakdowns, arguments, bargaining, reckless drivers and long waits made many trips a nightmare. I expected this, and it was never surprising, but it didn’t help much. Once I stayed in Tamba for a full 4 extra days just because I couldn’t face the journey back to village – and I was only 55km away. In Senegal, I was always subconsciously on the defensive. Before going anywhere or doing anything, you had to “gird your loins,” as I believe the saying goes. But not here. My subconscious’ defensive attitude is gone.

So, that is the root of my newfound, carefree happiness. I can go where I want to when I want to. The weather is perfect. Food is healthy and easy to come by. My showers are hot and I can wear real clothes without sweating through them in ten minutes. I’m not the most interesting thing walking down the street, and strangers don’t yell at me as a matter of course. My bed is comfortable and I don’t have to worry about if my mosquito net has holes. There are no rats having parties in my bedroom every night. Basically all the things that I took for granted before Peace Corps. I know this is unlikely to last, but I’m hoping it’ll hang on for as long as possible. It’s a background kind of happiness, but it’s great.

Add that to my more specific joys of seeing family and friends and good beer and you can imagine how I’m feeling right now. I guess this has a flipside too, though. I’m expecting America to be great in all ways (the “honeymoon phase”), so when something small and unimportant and unpleasant happens – the homeless guy cursing out fellow passengers on BART, for example – it’s kind of a rude wake-up call.  “Whaaaaat? I left Senegal for THIS?” Or, if I see a mosquito – “What is this s**t?!”

I guess no place is perfect. But I am going to enjoy my life here fully. I’m going to take showers that are just a bit too long, I’m going to sing along to the radio in the car, I’m going to drive to the grocery store and marvel at the simplicity of it all. I’m going to work in a nice office and wear close-toed shoes and go to school and forego using shampoo as an all-purpose product and look like a real 25 year-old American woman. I’m also going to call my host family every month. Baby Aileen is walking now, apparently, and they say they miss me.  I miss them too. I’ll always be Fanta Savane in their minds, and in mine.

A lot of people have asked me what the greatest thing I took away from this experience is. I would say: people. People are people, no matter where they live or in what state. Whether American or Senegalese or Amazonian tribesman (just guessing on that one), we all love our families and have wonderful friends. We have communities that support one another. We are joyful, sad, angry, amused, and frustrated by turn. It doesn't matter whether your roof is made of straw or, or...carbon fiber (I tried to think of something high-tech). We are the same in all the things that matter. Realizing this, for me, makes the whole world seem a little less foreign than it did before.

So, Peace Corps: the hardest thing I've ever done, but incredibly worthwhile. As a fellow RPCV (who got back from Ukraine 10 years ago and is now a lawyer) told me: "Whenever I face a problem here, I think, is this as hard as my first six months in (insert country here)? Nothing has been." I think my experience will continue to serve me well in that regard. I'm more fearless and confident that I ever was pre-Senegal. I've done things that most people only dream of (some of them in their nightmares). It's not bragging; it's the truth. I feel good.

 BUILDING PROJECT – Final report!

So the classroom was almost completed as I left Bira. By now, it should be open for business! I will call my counterpart to get confirmation.  I wasn't able to raise enough for two whole classrooms, but you guys donated enough for one classroom plus a bunch of other things that the school needed. My school director and I sat down and worked out a way to pay for A) an office and office furniture (right now the teachers use their own huts for work and supply storage… and they burned down a couple weeks ago), B) Solar power for all the classrooms, so that students can study at night, and C) a gift of school supplies to every student in Bira at the beginning of next year. I would say MISSION COMPLETED – and another huge THANK YOU! to all the donors.  Thank you thank you thank you! Here’s the price breakdown, if you’re interested (this is in CFA):

TOTAL AMOUNT: 2, 955.000

400.000 to mason
90.000 – bricks
497.000 – roofing materials
820.000 – cement
100.000 – transport
10.000 – personal transport
40.000 – pulling water
17.000 – unloading fees
30.000 – scrap metal, soldering/painting
216.000 – more roofing
65.000 – door and windows
670.000 – solar power, bureau, school supplies

Til next time -

The classroom, almost complete, from outside

...and from the inside

The mason and his assistants goofing off

Sunday, March 10, 2013


It's been a ridiculously long time since I've updated here... but long waits lead to good things (right?) because the classroom is fiiiiinally being built! To all of you who contributed to this project, expect some more appropriate thanks as soon as I set foot on American soil, but for now, just know that you're making this happen, and my community thanks you a million times. As do I. It's not finished, but here are a few photos of the process so far - as well as some random ones. Enjoy! Oh, and I'll be in America in less than a month (inchallah). Crazy. Surreal. What a trip it's been.

The mason measuring out the foundation for the classroom
This guy was there. 
Praying over the foundation. Stay away, evil spirits! The school director assured me that the reason a classroom in a neighboring school collapsed was because it was built on "the devil's highway" and the foolish mason didn't think to sacrifice anything before starting construction. Duh! 
Work is starting. Alhamdoulilahi!
I was heartened to see actual levels being used here.
Bricks bricks bricks. Hard work. The brick makers are paid about 9 cents per brick, or about 180 dollars in total. That goes a long way in village!
Host sisters Aissatou and Khadiya adorably demonstrate the height of the walls so far. Yes!

They're excited.

 Now onto the randoms:
Ever wondered what I eat in village? This, about 80% of the time. Corn (or millet) with peanut sauce (or "tiga jio," which means "peanut water," which is exactly how it sounds). This sauce in the photo is actually thicker than usual. The other 20% of the time it's pounded peanut cooked with millet or corn, no sauce. If we're rolling in dough, we eat rice. My appreciation of village food has followed a pretty accurate bell curve over the length of my service.

Late afternoon by the well

Dragonflies hang out in my backyard at night. I've been trying to get a really sharp shot but can't quite get there.

The newest Savane family member, Fatoumata Binta, and her proud mother Fanta (one of my three host moms). Baptisms are held a week after birth. The village males get together to pray and decide on the baby's name, the women cook a fancy meal for dozens of people, and the mother gets dolled up and fussed over. Everybody comes. It's quite the party.
Cooking part of the baptism feast

Aissatou and Gundo. I wish I could take them home with me.
Bathtime for Ousmane

Aileen in her fancy American dress

Yes, they did draw on her eyebrows for this glamour shot

Breakfast porridge

This is the American soccer ball I brought back in June, well worn and well loved and amazingly still intact.

Veggies from the garden!

My unsuspecting school director.  

Donkeys and a goat hoping for a drink at the school well.

That's all for now! More to come. Thanks again to all you donors! See you soon, America!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rain, and it's crunch time!

Let me tell you a little bit about rainy season in village. It. Is. Magical. It is also my excuse for not writing for the last three months; take it or leave it. 

Imagine this: For the last 9 months, the landscape has been brown and barren. Dust coats every surface. The air is hazy from the fires started to burn last year’s vegetation, which by this time is nothing but colorless straw on the ground. It’s so hot that you’re sweating by 8 in the morning, even doing nothing but sitting in the shade. The animals’ ribs are showing, and villagers climb trees in an effort to provide them with something green to eat. Then – THEN! – one day around mid-June, when the heat and humidity has reached a point that makes the little voice in your head say “Alright, that’s it, it’s time to kill something”  - something miraculous happens. Clouds roll in, the wind roars through the village in a determined attempt to blow the thatching off your roof, and the rain comes. It always happens like this, in the beginning of rainy season. It’s never a light summer shower. It’s like the sky has decided to declare World War 3 on the ground (or, in your perspective, your hut only) and it’s a little scary and a lot thrilling. The wind sounds like a freight train, the lightning lights up the sky like a strobe light, and the rain pours down like God turned on a faucet. You may not be able to hear yourself think, but you notice with delight that you have goosebumps for the first time in your recent memory, and you find it’s necessary to sleep with a sheet on. There is nothing I enjoy more in village than a good, violent rainstorm. My favorite mornings have been spent sitting in my hut with my back to the wall, drinking a liter cup of coffee (don’t judge), and enjoying the sights and sounds of rain turning my back yard to mush.

Goats, on the other hand, hate rain.

AND, as if that isn’t great enough, the color green starts to make its reappearance after a long absence. First it’s just a light shading of green on the ground, then a carpet, then a shag carpet, then before you know it, the grass is knee-high – then to your waist! The ugly, desolate landscape is transformed over a couple weeks into something truly beautiful. I’m happy because I like greenery and a cool breeze. The people are happy because rain means they can plant their crops, which means that they’ll have something to eat next year. The animals are happy because they’re given access to an all-you-can-eat buffet. And here’s a perk: the weeds hide the trash and refuse that covers the ground. Ignorance is bliss, right?

To be living in village during rainy season also means being intimately acquainted with rainy season’s work – farming. Every day, Bira empties as everyone heads to the fields with water on their heads and hoes hooked over their shoulders. First it’s plowing, then planting, then weeding, weeding, weeding. Finally, it’s harvest time – that’s actually taking place right now. The corn harvest is like a weeks-long corn festival. Corn is being roasted 24/7 over coals or open fires, or boiled in salt water, and cobs litter the ground like some great corn massacre has taken place. I love it. Roasted corn for breakfast? Sure. Would I like some lunch with my corn? I guess so. Afternoon snack? After-dinner snack? Here’s a couple more cobs. Hey, bring Fanta some corn, she’s only had two today! And so on. You get the picture. The peanut harvest has not quite started, but they’re already bringing back “new peanuts” – tigo kuto – from the fields to munch on. They’re pale and slightly translucent, and they taste fresh – like a raw soybean, or a pea. Did I know peanuts existed in this form, at any point in their lives, before I came to Senegal? No. But I certainly prefer them this way.

As excited as I am to complete my service and return to the US – only 6 more months! – I can say that I’m already mourning the loss of rainy season. Never again will I sit in my village, in my own thatched hut, with my oversized Nescafe and powdered milk creation, and experience the thrill of an African rainstorm. Unless, of course, I extend for a third year in village, which will happen never ever ever. Sorry, Senegal, but I am way too excited about way too many American things.

On that note – the “I’m leaving in 6 months” note, that is – I am still looking for donations to build those two classrooms in my village (see previous post). This needs to happen before I finish my service, so it needs to happen nowww! My plan is to build at least one of the classrooms if I can’t find a way to fund the entire grant. I really do not want to leave my village with nothing, especially when they need this so badly.

First, thank you so much to everyone who has already donated! You’ve been very generous. I am grateful, my awesome work counterparts are grateful, the kids who don’t even know you are grateful. When this project does happen, it will be because of you. On that note, for those of you who haven’t donated, or feel open to the idea of donating more, please do! We still need at least 1,500 dollars to build at least one classroom, though if we can raise more than that, so much the better. In fact, I’ve had a pledge of 1,000 if I can raise the remaining 500. That’s doable! Come on, people! Thinking of making your yearly donation to a charity? Donate it to this project, and improve a few kids’ futures with a couple clicks of the mouse! Easy. Considering buying your unappreciative coworker (or family member, or friend, or parole officer) a Starbucks (or Peet’s, or Panera, or Target) gift card for the holidays? I bet these kids are more in need of a classroom than your intended recipient is of another caramel latte (or scone, or soup bowl, or…body lotion?)

Usually I’m very uncomfortable asking people for money, but in this case, I’m doing it for the community that welcomed me, a strange ignorant foreigner, into their midst. They have fed me and housed me and laughed at me and taught me for the last 18 months, and for them I’ll annoy the heck out of each and every one of you. Sorry I’m not sorry. Also, they named a baby after my mom, and who doesn’t want to see Aileen grow up to study in a real classroom? And by the way, she is ADORABLE.
Right? Right?
Thanks for reading! Here’s the link, again, to where you can donate. For a refresher on what exactly I’ve been talking about for the last couple minutes of your life, check out the post directly before this one. Inchallah, before long, I’ll be able to write a blog post titled “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!” Godspeed, nin allah sonta, alhamdoulilahi, jerejeff, etc. etc.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Let's build!

Hi Guys,
It’s time for me to ask you, my family, friends, and random good deed enthusiasts, for monetary donations toward the one big building project of my service.
 When I first got to site, the project that the village members thought was the most critical was building two classrooms for the village school. I could see their point: the elementary school has 240 students in six full classes, and half of them do not have a proper classroom to learn in. The two worst classrooms are temporary sheds constructed yearly of crentin, a type of wood fencing material, purchased by village parents. Not only do these annually cost money that many families can barely afford, they are poor learning environments. They do not shelter the students from the oppressive heat, dust storms, and constant village distractions, animal and human, that interfere with learning.
 These temporary classrooms are the ones that we hope to replace with sturdy cement-block rooms, relatively cool, quiet, and fully functional, that the school and the village can be proud of. The current school director, an especially dedicated man, and the village leaders know that education is crucial to their future – that is, crucial to their children’s future. But the skill and dedication of both the teachers and students is stymied by the poor learning environment. It is known that pride in one’s school is often part of a student’s inspiration to succeed – to break the circle of early drop-out / marriage / kids / fields that their elders are resigned to – especially for the women.
This project requires a particular kind of Peace Corps grant, a PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Program), relying on outside donations to augment funds the village is prepared to contribute. We are looking for outside donations totaling $8050, to leverage the $3200 that this subsistence farming community of 1500 is able to raise. I know this is a lot of money to ask for, and I’m actually a little nervous to be doing so, but the need is real, and the result would be real and sustainable development via education. Not all of Bira’s schoolchildren share dreams of becoming teachers, or doctors, or the president – but for those of them that do aspire to leave the village and to do something great, I’m not about to let a lack of decent classrooms stand in their way.

So: please consider donating if you support the development of Senegal and/or feel an affinity for adorable African children, and would like to see them lead enriched lives full of more opportunity than their parents could have ever dreamed of. 
No pressure, though.
 Here is the site where you can donate (remember, tax-deductible!) and where you can read a little more about the project. Please, if you feel that this project has merit, consider sending this along to your friends, neighbors, co-workers, in-laws, and anybody you think could do with a little karmic pick-me-up. We’re going to need all the help we can get!
And please, if you do donate, send me an email ( so I can personally send you a thank-you note. Donor lists for PCPP grants are notoriously hard to get hold of, and you all deserve thanks.

Thank you so much for reading, and if you have any questions about the grant or the project, please feel free to email me! I can respond to email about every two weeks when I visit the regional capital (with internet service!) and I would love to hear from you.
Here is my translation of the appeal letter the school director (and close friend), Monsieur Ndour, has written. From the start of my service, I have been overwhelmed and impressed by his work ethic and commitment to improving education at the village level. He says it best.
From Monsieur Badara NDOUR, director of the school of Bira, Educational Department of Tambacounda
To you who are willing and of good heart, to NGOs, and every person or organization that is occupied with the building of school classrooms:
Messieurs, Mesdames, our school finds itself in a rural zone and welcomes about 250 students. But unfortunately the school has only three constructed classrooms out of the six that we use. We have therefore three temporary structures at the school. The students learn with great difficulty. We do not have the means to construct a new classroom. And we are counting on your help.
Messieurs, Mesdames, please know that the classrooms would be a great help for our students. They will allow them to have a welcoming environment and one favorable to their studies, and therefore help them to thrive in life.

Monsieur Ndour's class, in one of the temporary classrooms, showing off their new pencils and crayons (thanks to a donation by the Visalia Girl Scouts!)

(L to R) Good classroom, bad, bad. 

Inside a concrete brick room. The future of Senegal!

Madame Diatta shows off some new folders (again, thanks to Visalia Girl Scouts)
Monsieur Ndour and Monsieur Marr experience M&Ms for the first time, and discuss the advantages of teaching with a real roof and walls

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Going home

Imagine, for a moment, that you have just lived for over a year in an African village. You have survived reasonably well without running water, electricity, toilet paper, regular English. You have co-existed quite peacefully with rodents, bugs, and reptiles of all kinds (except for the part last month when the rat peed on your leg when you were asleep, that part sucked). You have “integrated” pretty well. You eat peanut water on millet daily and find it comforting. You have looked forward to this one trip home to America for literally 10 months. You have spent hours in the last 100 or so days making lists: things to eat in America, things to buy in America, things to do in America.

Now, imagine that you are finally, fiiinally (FINALLY!) stepping off the plane onto American soil. What’s your first move? Is it:
A)   Kiss the ground of the airport; make a scene,
B)   Skip to the nearest coffee shop, order a latte, cry tears of joy,
C)   Become emotionally overwhelmed in the cereal aisle of a grocery store, or
D)   Walk calmly towards baggage claim; you’re not actually hungry... those are some interesting new art installations right there… haven’t I seen that somewhere before? Hmm. There won’t be traffic at midnight on a Wednesday, right? I’m tired.

What do you think I did? Well, yes, I did cry a bit when I saw my parents, but come on – I missed them. And you KNOW you can’t not cry if your mother is crying. Try it. Anyway.
I went home, ate some leftover chili and half a beer, took a shower, and went to bed. The beer and the chili were delicious, of course, and the water was hot and came out of a showerhead, but it wasn’t exactly the emotional experience I had been expecting. I MAY have had more of a “moment” when eating fresh strawberries with Greek yogurt and honey the next morning, but even that was pretty minor compared to stories I’ve heard. Why wasn’t I crying in Trader Joe’s and bemoaning the irresponsibility and cluelessness of American over-consumers and refusing to buy bread for more than 40 cents? Why wasn’t I looking around, thinking “Who ARE you people?”

Obviously, I didn’t experience much reverse-culture shock. Sure, I am more aware of how much we have in America, and how little so many people have in other parts of the world – how could I not be? And don’t get me wrong – I fully enjoyed the foods and luxuries and climates of America. I kept thinking, “Well, this is awesome!” But I felt right at home almost instantly. I was a little disappointed, and worried. I was looking forward to reverse culture shock! And what does this say about me? Maybe I didn’t really integrate at all. Maybe I haven’t been experiencing and living la vie Africaine as I should have been. Maybe I’ve really just been living in my head, in America, for the past 14 months, just waiting to get back to my natural habitat!

I thought a little more about this, and I’m coming to a different conclusion. I know what I’ve experienced over the past year and a bit, and while the first part was certainly very hard, in the last 5 or 6 months I’ve really started to “get it” and truly enjoy life here. Truly! I love my friends, and my host family, and sleeping outside (for the most part), and the lack of electricity or running water is not something that really ever occurs to me as a problem. Even the heat is something that I don’t actively curse. Sitting in a pool of sweat is no longer noteworthy. Evidently, I am not “living in America” in my head, or whatever I feared I was doing. So here is my new theory: perhaps I just adjust really well. Maybe I’m just really even-keeled? Coming back to Senegal the other day after a month of American luxury was just the same: it felt normal. The offer of marriage while waiting to go through customs in the Dakar airport was not only unsurprising; it was almost pleasantly familiar. I welcomed the sound of French and other languages I don’t understand. The less than desirable odors of Dakar I welcomed less, but still - it felt like home. Therefore: since my second theory makes me feel like a better person than my first theory, that’s the one I’m going with. But I’m always open to your theories, if mine don’t make sense.

America was awesome, though. Almost everything about it is awesome. The food is awesome, the cars are awesome, and the grocery stores are awesome. There aren’t enough synonyms for “awesome” to describe more articulately how awesome America is. I traveled a lot during my time at home, but even that was splendid (see, I’m trying!) I loved seeing my brother graduate from Whitman, and even the three-day drive back to the Bay Area. I loved hanging out at home, and going to Hawaii for a long-awaited family vacation, and even a daytrip to Orange County to visit my grandparents. Side note: while in Hawaii, I developed an incredible urge to eat seaweed salad and raw tuna, which I did in large quantities. Why the sudden urge? Was it because I was in the land of amazing seaweed salad and fish, or was it my body’s attempt to combat vitamin and protein deficiencies that I may have racked up over the past year? Scientists, weigh in.

Seeing my family and friends was definitely the most memorable and worthwhile part of my trip, though. Peace Corps absolutely makes me more thankful for my family, who I know will always love and support me, and my old friends, who I can have very little communication with over a long period of time, and find them just as I remember – insightful and funny and one of the best parts of my life. Even in the moments when I feel like life is passing me by back in America, I know that some things, like the best relationships, won’t have changed when I get back. So thank you, family and friends, for being – you guessed it – awesome.

I’m spending a few days in Dakar for my mid-service medical appointments, then heading back down to beloved Tambacounda. Can’t wait to see how big Aileen has gotten in my absence! 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Stuff, stuff, stuff

Hey y’all. (I actually do say y’all here, due to the abundance of Southerners. Sorry. It’s science.)
To start off this month’s blog, here are a couple common village insults and why they do not work on me:

“You eat so many beans! Beans only! So many, all the time!”
“Yes, they’re delicious on sandwiches.”

“You don’t grow corn/peanuts/rice, but you eat it!”

Here’s a quick update on the Tamba Run for Education, which took place in early March: IT WAS AWESOME! Thank you so, so much to all of you who donated!  We’re trying to get a list of donors from Washington so we can send out thank-yous, but there’s a lot of red tape involved – so if you’d like a personalized thank-you from yours truly, please reveal yourself, you wonderful, wonderful person. There were about 150 runners, including PCVs, students, firemen and gendarmes, and many random Tamba sports enthusiasts. A professional runner, Djiby Sow, came with his personal photographer and was amazingly nice (and fast, duh). Expats came all the way from Dakar to run, as did a cavalcade of PC/Senegal staff in their fancy buses and cars, ready to help manage, chauffeur, and ensure nobody succumbed to dehydration. Even Tamba’s portly prefet d’education ran the 5k! It was great. Many PCVs were involved in all aspects of organizing the race, from hand-made race numbers to hydration stations to prizes to tent/speaker rental. I have to say that watching some of these students finish the race, especially the girls – who had probably never had this sort of opportunity before - was one of my favorite moments of my service so far. Annnnd, in addition to spreading awareness through the marathon, we also managed to raise nearly 4,000 bucks for girls’ education – not bad for the first time!
First time, I say, because we wholly expect this to be a yearly thing.  We’re already planning the next race, which will take place on December 9th, 2012 – and it will be even better than last time. It’s never too late to start training/saving up money for your trip to Senegal, people!

A quick and dirty update on other projects that I don’t feel like writing about: LatrinesMasonTrainingGirls’LeadershipCampSchoolGardenMoringa. BAM.

So, I was looking through my journal the other day, and I found an entry from last June – right after I installed – that I want to share. It definitely affected me at the time, and still does (because now I know the aftermath), but illustrates some of the problems with healthcare here, especially for women. It’s a little gross, so don’t read it if you can’t handle amateur descriptions of injuries. You’ve been warned, wimp.

“June 6th
I guess this is going on 3 weeks now – 2 weeks and 5 days?
It’s hard to say if much has changed. I still have moments when all I want to do is give up and go home. I figure that will last the entirety of my service (note to past self: so far, yes). I think the 3 nights I spent in Tamba did me good, though. It’s comforting knowing I can go back there to escape village for a while.
A weird thing happened today. Kind of disturbing. A man who works at the health post – not a doctor or nurse – as far as I can tell, he just does bandages – told me to come with him to see this woman’s wound. He said he has just been dressing it every day, and she hasn’t been to the hospital. When I got there, the woman limped in – though there was nothing wrong with her food or leg – and sat down. She looked young. She hiked her shirt up and her pagne down, and the guy took off the bandage. I couldn’t believe it. In the lower left side of her abdomen there was a gaping hole. It looked like somebody had opened her up for surgery, changed their mind, and left it like that. The wound must have been 6 inches long, and over an inch wide. When the bandage came off, the room immediately filled with the smell of rotting flesh. I could see right into her belly, but the flesh was grey and obviously very infected, rotting. It looked torn, like the infection had eaten holes further into her. It was horrifying, and combined with the smell, I thought I was going to puke. I backed out of the room.
As it turns out, the woman had a small sore or boil in that area some time ago. One person said two months, another said last year. She had hid it from everyone, including her husband. Over time, the small problem had turned into this monstrosity – something that would surely need surgery and lots of drugs to heal. She had gone to the doctor, who wrote her an order to go to the hospital in Tamba, but she didn’t go. She continued to do all the work a Senegalese woman does, suffering God knows how much, and didn’t tell her husband.
Finally, the day I saw it, we called the husband in. And yes, he had no idea. This woman had this huge, open, infected, rotting wound in her belly, and no action had been taken.
Was she afraid to tell her husband, the one who makes all the final decisions for the family, because she didn’t want him to get angry? It costs money to go to Tamba. Treating the original problem would have been simple and cheap, but now treatment will cost them a fortune. And she had let herself suffer for all this time. I could hardly believe the stupidity of the situation, but that’s an American view. This is one of the first real illustrations I’ve had here of women and healthcare, and the problems there.
She went to Tamba, or at least her husband said she would. I never heard her speak a single word.”

A couple months ago, I remembered this incident and asked my host dad what had happened. So here’s the story: Her husband did not take her to the hospital. He made her try traditional medicine for a long time. When that failed to work (surprise!) he finally took her to Tamba – but by that time it was too late. She was sent back to her parents’ village, where she died soon after.
I have some new questions: Did the husband really not have a clue? Is it possible to live with someone and not realize that they’re rotting inside? Did he just ignore it? Was he just really reluctant to spend money to take her for treatment? Sure, I don’t know the whole story here. Maybe I’m being too cynical. But after living here for a year, and hearing numerous stories like this, usually with the same ending, it’s hard not to be. Laziness, superstition, false information, and ignorance lead to so many easily preventable deaths. Sure points to the importance of health education in village. But deep-held beliefs, such as trust in traditional medicine and distrust of modern medicine (and unwillingness to spend money) are not easily shaken.

On a much brighter note – I will (inchallah) be in America in a month! I’ve been thinking about little else for quite a while. I keep making lists, usually about what kind of food I want to eat there. It’s a great way to pass the time in village. My last list was 46 items long; I counted. I’ll spare you the entirety of the list, but here are a few highlights: Sushi. BBQ tri-tip and roasted red peppers. Latte. Salad. Summer squash soup. Chili. Panini. BURRITO. Thai food. Pho, Etc, etc.

Here’s another list I made in village:
Future Blog Post Titles

“The peanut in Senegal: Its many faces; also, get used to it”
“Sheep or human?: The art of differentiating screams in the night”
“Arguments for ‘The Water Method’”
“SPAM and its growing role in PCV food culture”
“Social customs surrounding care packages”
“The vague reassurance of wearing a bike helmet on public transportation”
“Pigs: everywhere, and yet no bacon”
“’I have good catch’: PCVs’ worrying loss of their native language”
“We’re expected to integrate, but aren’t meant to hit children?!: Guilty thoughts I may or may not have had”
“Signs it’s time to leave village (see above)”
“Toddlers, knives, and fire: village parenting techniques”
“Dirt: all over, all the time” (also: resignation)

Til next time.

Becky's guest post

So I’ve sat down many times and attempted to write this guest entry, and writer’s block has struck me each time. Part of it is fear of sounding boring, as I lack the entertaining and witty writing style that Anne seems to naturally possess. (note from Anne: she’s being modest and is a great writer!) Another part of it is a fear of not doing justice to my experience in Senegal, or to the people there. And, perhaps, another part is nostalgia, for each time I try to write about an experience there I want to recall every intricate detail, and I hardly think Anne’s audience (you) would appreciate me going into elaborate detail about my mosquito bites and the crazy olfactory experience I had in Senegal. So, I have decided, at last, to write about my top 10 experiences or memories from my time with Anne in Senegal. This is by no means a list of must-sees or must-dos, but instead is a list of what stands out to me the most from my time visiting my friend of more than 20 years in the country that has been and will be her home for at least another 15 months or so. As a quick background before list, I am a second year law student in the States, and this was my first trip to Africa. I have known Anne for almost 22 years, and couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit her while she was in Senegal. (note from Anne: Becky is awesome)

10. People find out your marital status at lightning speed: One of the first questions asked of me upon entering Senegal (besides “Do you want some money? It’s good. Black market.”) was “Are you married?” followed quickly with some variation of “Do you want/need a husband?” At first I was taken aback, but after a while I just expected it to come up in any conversation with a Senegalese person. Answer it as you like, it doesn’t really matter. The only reason that this stands out to me is that within 3 minutes of talking to someone in Senegal, they would know my marital status, while it took me a month or two before I realized one of my friends in law school was married and had been for 5 years. I’m not sure if that says more about law school interactions and my attention to detail or more about Senegal, but there you have it.

9. You better be quick at simple math: Our primary form of transportation in Senegal was in taxis. If you can’t calculate the exchange rate quickly in your head, you’ll probably end up getting ripped off (a) because you’re a tourist and (b) because you couldn’t figure out that you had been ripped off until it was too late. People make fun of law school students for being bad at math, and as a whole, it’s true, we suck at math. My time in Senegal reawakened that part of my brain that hasn’t been accessed in a while, and it took me longer than I’d like to admit to get used to doing quick arithmetic in my head. You’ll probably still get charged more because you’re a tourist, but if you can catch the disparity upfront you’re more likely to be able to negotiate them down to a lower price.

8. High school French will only get you so far: I’d like to say that I was pretty fluent in French. In fact, I was commended for my impeccable accent and pronunciation. However, after not having spoken French for at least 4 years, and not studying it for over 6, I found myself wondering if I actually remembered any French at all. Part of it was actually forgetting my French, but another part was the fact that African French is quite different from French French. The pronunciation is different, the syntax can be different, and inflection as well. Overall, I could get my point across, but I did get made fun of (good-heartedly) for my pronunciation. Getting my point across in Senegal became an exercise in my garbled French (or Franglish if I was really struggling), hand gestures, and some attempts at charades that generally seemed to garner more laughs than understanding.

7. Patience certainly is a virtue: I live in New Orleans, where things happen at their own pace, but Senegal certainly took this to a whole new level. All I can say is, go with the flow, and you’ll be fine. Things will get done (usually) and worrying about it isn’t going to get you anywhere. Sit back, grab a good book and a Fanta, and enjoy the ride. Patience came in handy many times during our trip. If you get impatient, you won’t enjoy yourself, and you’ll just be grumpy. No one likes a grumpy person. Patience got me through a transportation strike and a sept-place ride from hell (including 2 flat tires, 4 tire changes, and a grumpy driver). If patience is not a virtue that you possess, Senegal will either break you completely or force you to develop that much needed skill. It’s worth it. J

6. You will leave Senegal with at least one new name: Before going to Anne’s village, she told me that I would be given a Senegalese name, and she mentioned that it would be probably one of four names that are quite common (Mariama, and I 3 others, which I can’t remember right now). However, when we were stuck in her regional city of Tamba during the transportation strike, I was named by a Pulaar woman selling fabric at the market. She named me Adamatoulai, after herself and her daughter. Adamatoulai is the feminine version of Adama, which is Senegal’s version of Adam (as in Adam and Eve). Once in Anne’s village, I was named Mariama Savanne, after one of Anne’s host moms (and one of the four names Anne said I would likely be given). Incidentally, Mariama recently gave birth, and her child was named after Anne’s American mom, which is super sweet. I like both my new names, and they’re a special thing I brought home with me that I didn’t have to worry about fitting in my carry on luggage.

5. Stop complaining about stupid things: Seriously. Your soy latte doesn’t have enough foam? Get over it. Stop complaining. It doesn’t matter! Unless you have been to a developing country, it can be easy to get caught up in the minute details of American life, like coffee shops and parking spots and designer jeans. Heck, even if you have been to a developing country it can still be easy to get caught up in these kinds of things. But really, these things don’t matter, these things won’t make you happy, and complaining about this stuff make you sound rather silly. In Senegal, you’ll see people with nothing (granted, you’ll also see people driving Range Rovers there) who are happy, and who aren’t worried about what their butt looks like in their new $200 jeans.

4. Quiet does not really exist in Senegal: The quietest place in Senegal was our hotel room for the first couple days, and there you could still hear people yelling down on the streets or hoof steps on the pavement. I slept like a baby there compared to elsewhere in Senegal. I can’t tell if my restless sleep in Senegal was due to jet-lag or to the noise, but I’d wager a bet it was a noise. When I would point out the blood-curdling screech coming from somewhere near the Tamba house, Anne would just say “What noise?” I guess the constant cacophony of sounds is something you get used to, but I had a hard time blocking out the noise of what sounded like a goat meeting a very unhappy (and prolonged) end. Even in Anne’s village, which has no roads, electricity, or running water, there was always something going on. In every place we visited, the call to prayer would sound regularly, and in Tamba it seemed to be a competitive sport to see how long (and how atonally) someone could yell on for.  

3. Come hungry, leave happy (unless you order Chinese food): Senegalese food is delicious. You have to try Thieb, a national specialty, and you must try Yassa (poulet if you can). I wasn’t the biggest fan of Thieb, except from one place in Tamba, but Yassa was delicious and I will be hounding Anne for a recipe. Also, if you are the guest of a Senegalese family, they will feed you until you pop. I have never been offered so much food in my life, and I found myself in several food-induced stupors post-mealtime in Senegal. Hamburgers in Senegal, while bearing only a slight resemblance to American hamburgers, are delicious and possibly worse for you than any burger I have ever encountered in America (but I’m sure there’s a heart-attack hamburger somewhere in Texas). Same goes for Fatayias, which contain similar ingredients to burgers, but with pastry instead of a bun. Delicious but super unhealthy. Unfortunately, the worst meal I had in Senegal was also my last. Anne and I ordered some Chinese food in Dakar before my 1:00AM flight, and what I got looked like gumbo but tasted nothing like it. It was disappointing, but overall, my culinary experience in Senegal was very good. I even brought back some peanuts with me, which were meant to be gifts for people, but they never made it out of my house. J

2. Wax fabric is the only souvenir you need to bring home: Senegalese fabric is gorgeous. It is vibrant, creative, and even quite strange (dismembered fingers featured in quite a few designs). Go to the markets, buy yourself several yards of fabric, and you’ll be a happy camper. You can get pagnes or pretty much anything you can think of made for you, or you can just take the fabric back home with you. I wish I had checked bags with me on my trip, because I easily could have taken a whole suitcase of fabric back home with me. I want to decorate my house with the fabric, put it on the walls, and make pillows and sheets and bathrobes made out of it. It is just gorgeous and colorful and unlike anything you can find in America. If you do manage to find something like it in American, it will probably be many times more expensive. I wish I had brought back more fabric with me, but I was limited to a carry-on bag, so I think I did pretty well for myself.

1. Good friends are awesome: I have been friends with Anne for pretty much my entire life. We’ve lived apart for quite some time, but whenever I see her it is like no time has passed at all. A friendship like this is something to cherish, and if it means visiting them in some strange country, do it. I would visit Anne anywhere on Earth. I would go to the Arctic just to hang out with her, and I’m not such a big fan of being cold. If you have a friend who is living in some distant country, go visit them! It’s a great chance to see your friend and it could likely be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a country where you actually have someone who knows the ropes a little bit. Granted, I would have been perfectly happy just hanging out with Anne in Senegal, but I also got to see a good deal of the country, which for me was just the icing on the cake of getting to see my best friend. If you have a friend in the Peace Corps, I would jump at the opportunity to go visit them. You’ll get to meet other volunteers (and all the volunteers I met were awesome) and you’ll get to see your friend’s life in that country, which no matter how hard you try you cannot even begin to imagine without having been there. Plus, it’s nice for you PCV friend to have someone back home who knows exactly what she means when she says _______.

So, there you have it. This list is by no means exhaustive. It doesn’t even mention our experience buying and transporting chickens to Anne’s village, or the crazy smells we encountered, or the dirt and trash, or the children, or the mindboggling transportation system, but it’s the best I can do for now. Law school steals far too much of my attention, and has currently inflicted me with some kind of shoulder ailment that makes typing uncomfortable, but I am happy to write this instead of reading the 200 pages I am supposed to. I haven’t ruled out writing another guest post, but I think Anne will have the final say in that matter. J