Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"So what have you been doing over there?"

I might be able to finally answer this question with some substance.  One would imagine that after a year at a job, progress is long overdue. And I would agree, normally. But this isn't a normal job. And progress is sometimes hard to explain here. In many ways I feel ready to work now. My Wolof is starting to manifest what I want to say, not just what I need to say. My work partners trust me, understand how limited my time is here, and are encouraged to work. Finally, and likely most importantly, I'm starting to understand the brevity of my experience here. Two years is a long time but I can see this next year will be a quick one. I will not get done all that I want, but I'm certainly going to try. Although it's taken a year to get to this point I'm happy to start using these skills and assets to build a future for my work partners. Here is a little of what's been going on:

On October 15th I hosted an 'Open Field Day' with Cheikh Senghor. We invited 65 people with an expectation that 45 would actually make it. 90 came. The good news is Senegalese cooking accounts for about triple what one can eat. So there was plenty of food and the guests were happy. The day began with a light breakfast and tour of the field. Training and discussion topics included composting, pest control, live-fencing, and tree grafting. After the tour and training we took respite from the oppressive sun under the tent. I was given the floor to have a practical training and discussion on farm record keeping. I recieved a lot of empty stares but that's typical and I was told afterwards it was actually informative, hfeww! Overall the day was a success. It was the first one in Mboro and provides a base from which the Master Farm can be graded. It was also the first Open Field Day to incorporate financial training, putting me in my boss' good graces. Below is myself with Master Farmer Cheikh Senghor and my audience of tired farmers. 

After that I continued my work on the solar food dryer for "GIE Marché". This has taken a long time mostly due to miscommunications and delayed material deliveries. But finally the carpentry stage and glass is finished. Now what's left is the painting and it's new designated work area. Below is the day of completion and delivery. 

This past week on November 8th I was again hosting a training with farmers. This time it was a union of citrus producers who want to formalize and take on a larger project. Ideas they've been floating around include buying a car, making juice, exporting to America, and just getting free stuff from a new "partner." My job so far has been to bring some expectations down to earth. Ultimately we are making progress but it's slow. I'm recieving some very valuable lessons in patience. Conversely they're recieving some valuable lessons in expectations and responsibility. That established for us a great relationship and I look forward to seeing what they will accomplish. Below is a "double digging" training session. 

So finally (for now) I've been working with my artisan, Demba Mbow, on developing new products for two upcoming expos in Dakar. I've always loved working on stuff like this but certainly never on a commercial level. Despite my inexperience however, he trusts me. So we've got some new products to look forward to and maybe even a new image for his brand. More to come on that. Pictured below is our new headband and below that some of his smaller products. 

Work has been in full swing but will slow down for the holidays. I will most likely be gone from site for all of December so I'm sure I'll have more to say and show about that. Until then, happy holidays! 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Being Here

It's really hard to describe what being a Peace Corps Volunteer is like. Especially because it's hard to describe even to myself. I've tried to tell friends about this and I know it's a talk I'll have to give many times when I'm finished with service, but I think it will be nice to try and briefly summarize now and reflect on how it changes over the next year.

For one thing it's a dynamic experience, which inevitably causes a changing state of mind. In the first few months it was hard to form an opinion about anything since everything was new and shocking. But after time, maybe months 6-10, this new world became very old for me. I started to get frustrated with the culture, the people, and the things that used to be funny to me but then just seemed unhuman. Like seeing people dangling from busses on the highway, eating rice every day, and recieving constant verbal derision. Integration became a task of forgetting how weird it was for me to be here, something made impossible by my bizarre environment. That's pretty hard to talk about too. Because this is supposed to be a magical experience in which there is so much personal growth and peace. But the truth is, part of this is really difficult. I sometimes feel much less patient than I was. I don't appreciate everyday interactions as I should. And I'm still homesick. I am continually trying to embrace that reality and find out how to make it work. And it should be talked about. I shouldn't avoid these conversations just because the Peace Corps has been my dream. I have learned though that this will likely always be a transitive time of my life. I don't think I'll ever be completely unaware of how foreign I am here; something I pictured for myself before I arrived. I still have opportunities to thrive, impact, and inspire, but I emphasize my limited time here to work partners. After I'm gone, they will continue to do this work and they will have to thrive, impact, and inspire. In sum, that's how it feels to be a PCV for me; living in a transitional life-changing experience while trying to pass on some inspiration to those around me. 

So yes, I've had some really dark times that are likely to continue. And yes, I was pretty scared of Ebola for a few days after the case in Dakar. But no, I'm not going home. I am one year into this and at times my coping strategies still don't work. But I'll persist out of half dim-wittedness and half stubbornness. As corny as it sounds too, I signed up to help people and to serve my country. That job's not yet done. And possibly never will be. But I've found out that's hardly the point. 

For those in the Northeast who I haven't been in touch with, I am sorry. Keep doing what you're doing and know that I care. Although one year really felt like a year, I'm sure the second will go by quicker than we think. Cheers to another  (plus some). 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Another Picture Post (Mangrove Edition)

Here are some photos of the mangrove reforestation I was involved in a few weeks ago. You can read a lot about it at but here are some pictures from my POV. 

Some friends getting excited. 

Me and my bucket. 

The sunrise.

The breakfast spread. 

The sunrise encore.

Toucan-ish bird. 

This one is dedicated to Katherine LaRegina because I figure she would want to see what Senegalese pigs look like. Adorable. 

An inventive parrot cage. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

The last few weeks in pictures

Senegal's social media response to Ebola. I was quite impressed. 

New barriers broken with my host sister. (Those are my sheets below her underwear).

Planting field crops in the sun.

Which actually isn't too good for my skin. 

Planting field crops in the rain. But mostly just watching it rain. 

My birthday on the beach. Quiet. Relaxing. Delicious. 

And making soap with some friends!

 I hope everyone in America is having a great transition back to school. Here school does not start until October so we still have some time for vacation here. 

This weekend I am off to the beach and then some meetings, reporting, and medical appointments after that. I will likely have much more to say afterwards. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

And Then It Poured

Many people have been asking me what it is exactly that I do here. Surely after close to a year I should have an answer to that.'s a bit complicated. So for simplicity's sake, I can summarize for you. I'm working with a few different small business owners, women's empowerment groups, and artisans to innovate, plan, record, and generally improve their ideas/businesses. It's a huge challenge since many of my work partners do not think about business the same way I was taught. So that means I must essentially throw out the degree I just spent four years earning and rethink my approach. I have to craft a balance between technical aspects of running a business and the informal way of life that constantly pervades. For instance try to think a little about how you would teach marketing principles in a place where their go-to method of advertising is yelling, "Hey! Come buy some mangoes." It's certainly been frustrating, both in terms of misunderstandings and in that my priorities get confused. But it's work, kinda. 

I've also been taking heavily to gardening. Both personally with a container garden on my roof and especially with my Master Farmer. We are preparing for an upcoming "open field day" to show other farmers in the area and the Peace Corps how things are coming along. Recently we have been trying to get our millet, corn, and beans planted but we've been waiting on the stubborn rain. Until finally we just decided to plant and pray. So with the help of nearby volunteers and some other farmers from Mboro we got our white corn and white beans planted. Then it rained. But only a little and not the downpours I've been promised since mid-July. So we went out again yesterday to get some more done. It was a cloudless day which here means it was HOT. We ventured out to the field in the afternoon so we could catch a break from the high heat. We worked for about an hour plotting and digging. And right after we finish preparing an area for red beans I felt a gust of wind on my back. I turned around slowly to a black sky and turbulent scene of shaking trees and flying dust. I look to my right to where Cheikh (the Master Farmer) was just a second before but he's gone. He grabbed the seeds and ran for shelter. I followed. After we found cover in his tool shed we sat there for about another 40 minutes while the storm roared and waned. Finally we saw our chance to finish the work and head back home. But once we could see the town, Cheikh noticed something was off about the town. The wind had knocked something around and the city's electricity was out. Everywhere. When it rains, it pours. And it's been pouring since. 

I'll have more updates soon as to what kind of work I'm doing exactly. A lot of my time has recently been spent on the scholarship/girls camp I'm doing and to organize this open field day. But in between and after that I am doing some other exciting work. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Turtle Watch

This past weekend I had a great opportunity to travel to a beach south of Dakar named Samone. A group of 10 PCVs and I were guided by a local eco-guard to look for sea turtle tracks in the sand. The purpose is to monitor and protect these animals so that their populations can be prolonged and the Reserve can lobby against further development of the land. Unsurprisingly we didn't see anything but a few possible tracks on the morning watch. Despite that dissappointment though, it was a great experience and the true definition of an eco-tourism weekend. Low negative impact, locally empowering, and even damage reversing, this trip showed me how possible and positive an excursion like his can have on an area. I encourage all who are planning vacations to take some time and seek out at least a day for garbage collection, nature monitoring, or education. I assure you it will deepen your relationship with and weirdly enhance the relaxation at your favorite spot. Plus you could have great moments like the ones highlighted by the photos below. 

Getting stung by a jellyfish!

A really nasty jelly fish...

Soothing pregnant dogs!

And "sleeping" outside to the sound of the tide coming in. 

I hope you're all getting out to some sunny destinations this month and resetting your brains, responsibly of course. Happy vacationing!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Eid al-Fitr

It's called Korité here and it's a holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Like every other gathering I've been to here it was characterized mainly by the gathering of family and eating of a lot of food. It seemed people really enjoyed drinking water in public in the middle of the day, something they haven't been able to do for a month. One part I really enjoyed was that the standard greeting upon seeing anyone was "baal ma ak" which means "forgive me." You respond by saying "baal naa la" which means "I've forgiven you." This and the visiting of friends and family while dressed especially nicely made the holiday fun to be part of. Of course there was lots of praying all day and kids walking around dressed flashy, asking for money. Overall it was a great way to end a spiritually and physically challenging month. I presume things mostly go back to normal as we wait for the much needed rain. 

Here are my host siblings and cousins dressed up to walk around town. 

Friday, July 18, 2014


The time is 7:35PM. I'm sitting in our dimly lit hallway/living room/dining room listening to my host mom bark orders at the kids as she prepares "dogu," the afternoon snack to break fast. The sun is almost set and in the distance I notice the Mosques quiet down as they prepare for the approaching belch of prayers. This has been my favorite time of day for the past two weeks. The city slows down and all the families get together to pray and eat. Sweet symphony. 

I must admit I had never given Ramadan a moments notice before this year. I suppose I had heard about it and knew that it was a time of prayer and fasting but that was the extent of my knowledge. Well I certainly know about it now. I have tried fasting from both water and food for two days in a row and that is no picnic. So I really admire my people here who do this for a whole month. The way it works is you cannot eat or drink anything while the sun is risen. So you can wake up at 5:30 to eat but after that you must wait until 7:43. Then you break the fast with a date, sandwich, coffee, and juice. Then you go pray for a while. Dinner in this house is around 9:30/10. 

I think the reason I've enjoyed this so much is because Ramadan is supposed to be a time of forgiveness, friendliness, and prayer. People have been very curtious or at least quiet. Visiting other homes has been a treat as well since many people break fast with pastries and delicious juice. But it has led to a little stir-craziness so I've been out exploring the rural parts of Mboro some days. Here's what I've found. 

Anyway it is time for me to go eat my date. Bon Ramadan!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Greatest is Love

         Our month-long tour of my current life came to a brief halt yesterday morning when Lizzie boarded her 11AM Delta flight 271 for JFK. I had no idea how quickly a month could go by. And I had forgotten how happy I could be just having a conversation with her. Being together here that long had me almost believing that 8 months apart was no time at all. Which made it even harder to see her walk away into the terminal. I was slapped back to realizing 8 months WAS a long time and 12 is an even longer time until we will see each other again. But as I kept saying throughout her stay "I signed up for this." Which is true, and I am still fully committed to my stay here in Senegal. But, beside gushing, the actual purpose of this post is a suggestion from Lizzie. She encouraged me to write a post to other people considering the Peace Corps while in a committed relationship. So I guess the best I can do here is tell a little about our story and how we make it through the tough times.

         The topic of the Peace Corps came into our relationship a couple months after we started talking to each other. We weren't "going out" but whatever it was, I wanted to end it. I knew I wanted to do the Peace Corps and I knew a relationship would not last. I'm glad I was wrong. She insisted that we don't worry about that but rather see where we end up. Two and a half years later I was offered the ticket to Senegal. I accepted and the relationship did not faulter. And I guess that's due to the honest conversations we had leading up to that decision. We actually did the corny Peace Corps relationship scenarios and read the literature they had on how hard it is to maintain one throughout service. We consulted volunteers' blogs and talked about some strategies for when I left. And I really think this all paid off. We had fights, especially in times of transition and around holidays when stresses were high. But despite that, we tried to understand each others' lives. We don't downplay each other' challenges and we don't judge. We trust each other. I know those sound like general good traits to have in a relationship but this is what held things together and it started before I left. 

           Additionally it's been extremely helpful to have some hope down the road. For me, looking forward to Lizzie's visit to Senegal was torture but the only fuel I had left. While she was here we talked about plans for another trip so we can have something not so far in the future. From now on it's going to be important that we don't keep our plans vague but rather have some kind of vision for the next year. 

           But I don't want to make it sound like it has been all struggles and hard times. Today is tough and maybe the next few days will be just as hard. But her visit here has given me a new energy and a new perspective on this country. She looks at frustrations differently than I do and she gave me new ideas for some of the work I'm doing here. And I know she will tell people from home all about the journeys we had here. If I can learn to look past the pain of not being with her for another year and look forward to doing good work here and staying in touch with home, there is definitely a bright side to all the struggle. For those thinking of taking this on like we have, I'll only give one piece of advice: don't go into this half-hearted. All or nothing. 

Monday, June 16, 2014


One of the aspects of Lizzie's visit I was really looking forward to was the food. Both in timing and variety. Although I don't know how exciting it has been for her, I have quite enjoyed going out and even enjoying some occasional dessert. At home this past week my host mom prepared us a great "salade ordinare" but for me it always feels extra ordinary. 

Also last night Lizzie had her first Senegalese "dibi" experience. Dibiterie or "dibi" for short is barbecued meat in an open fire often in seldom washed pits (for flavor). We went to "Sans Rival" in Thies, a choice location for Peace Corps volunteers dining-in and Senegalese nationals take-out. As you can see, the atmosphere is just right for those romantic nights with that special someone. 

In addition to the food, travels have been good and my host family has been very kind. So much so that they are getting a little aggravated at me every time I steal "Lizzette" away from Mboro. We are both here in Thies for another night to watch the USA vs. Ghana World Cup game with some friends. Tomorrow we are back at site to enjoy family time, work, henna, hair braiding, and some surprises. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Good times rollin'

I'm very pleased to say that Lizzie is still healthy and sane. She is slowly emerging herself into the culture, meeting my families, and trying local foods. Highlights include:

First sept-place ride

First cheb-u-gen

Baby holding

And attaya!

The good times are rolling. Lizzie is catching me up on terrible American pop music while I rant about a wide range of topics on my mind. I think we both would not change a thing. Moments of normalcy are becoming almost a daily occurrence and spirits are high. Feeling blessed. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The girl has landed!

As much as I hate pausing in the moment to update the world on my emotions, right now seems particularly notable. Lizzie has arrived! We are currently at the French Institute in Dakar enjoying another red martini and some great live music. Cheers to some of the best feelings I've had in quite some while. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014


So I will start this by saying that it's meant to be a direct criticism of only myself. In fact I am even a little reluctant to write this post as it's not really my style of saying these things. But here it is since the feelings are fresh in my mind. I am in Senegal. And I've been wanting to say this for a while. My problem with aid:

I've been thinking about how to phrase this blog for months. I have told myself not to offend people and to be careful what I say to the (maybe) broad and opinionated audience reading my posts. But I think very recent events will serve as a great example for what needs to be said. A few weeks ago PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) in Senegal were contacted asking if they would like any soccer balls given to our country through some organization. My site mate and I said "yeah, sure" thinking there are plenty of schools here and plenty of kids who would like soccer balls. Fast forward a few weeks and I have 5 soccer balls and no idea what to do with them. I quickly realize how bad of an idea it is to just give these out. I want to do it in a way that does not look like I'm simply giving away free goods but I still need to take pictures of these kids with the soccer balls for the organization. So weeks go by and my little brother keeps asking me for one. 

Finally one day my mom comes to me and asks if a group of boys could have a ball for some planned activity the following afternoon. I figure, that's a good way to do this, have kids share it. So they get a ball. I take pictures. They play with the ball. And thanks to this, every day, every time I pass a kid in the surrounding kilometer of my house I get asked for a ball. That is not an exaggeration. Now I can deal with the question. I get requests like that almost 10 times a day from grown men and kids alike. It's a product of this joking culture and me being perceived as a rich "Toubab." What I get furious about though is the attitude behind these requests. By giving out this soccer ball I have contributed to the barrier of good work here in Senegal: the idea that "Toubabs" will give you things and you do not need to pay for them. 

I have had this conversation many times with Senegalese friends who understand my situation here. And I even got a sense of this before I came into the Peace Corps. But what I'm realizing more and more is that foreign aid that simply gives goods out is terrible for a community. I am not usually polarizing on issues like this but I now feel very strongly that way and want you all to know. So I'll repeat. Foreign aid that simply gives goods out is terrible for a community. To clarify what I mean exactly; 'foreign' in the fashion that it does not really know the country it's helping. It does not know the culture, language, or true needs. And like wise the host country does not know the donor or it's reasons for giving. 'Simply' means the gift is not accompanied by any knowledge or taught ability to get more of the good in the future. 'Goods' are finished products that have no ability to add capacity to a country. 'Terrible' is exactly what I mean to say. These communities end up worse off than if nothing happened at all. Not only does the good not last long but the community is left with the trash, the false perceptions, and the dependence. It is damaging in SO many ways. There is the attitude it leaves of dependence. That is harder to prove. But what I can prove is the awful prospect it creates for true investment. What legitimate company or entrepreneur can possibly thrive in a place where it's customers would rather wait out the next foreign giving session? None. 

The last of the negative I have to say is that I am very guilty of this. Years ago I started The Running Exchange (which I still believe has potential for a few reasons. To be continued...). But the main purpose of that was to send used running shoes to Kenya and to relieve some of the personal guilt I had. I did not research where they were going. I did not learn if anything else would work better. It was ignorant. Like I said, Kenya ended up with shoes that won't last, thankfulness to this mystery kid from CT, and no increased capacity. And now I'm in Senegal and nothing is continued. So, failure. 

But what can we do about this? Here's the good news. Help locally. Find an organization in your own community that has identified a need and solves it with local goods and local people power. This is the very best approach if you truly want to give to those who are in unfortunate positions. But if you really feel that you want to help Africa or developing countries on other continents, please do your research. If you are coming here please learn some local culture, language, and norms. And most importantly understand the needs of the community and assess the potential impacts of your work. If your option is monetary giving, the Peace Corps is a great option alongside host country-run NGOs, or American NGOs working in capacity building. This is why the bulk of my work here is in information sharing and market linkages. I will be helping some people in great financial need but only with the understanding that I work on useable skills with them afterwards. Because this is what lasts long and contributes to development. Knowledge and information get people ahead here. Not soccer balls and not used shoes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My First Ngenté

I just recently attended my first Senegalese naming ceremony or what's known as "Ngenté" in Wolof. I was fortunately given the cultural play-by-play from my friend and work partner Pape (pronounced 'pop') who invited me to come along. It was actually a pretty low-key affair considering how often these family gatherings evolve into large boisterous dance parties. We arrived to the event around 10AM. The baby's name had not been announced yet. Pape told me it is typical of Senegalese people to wait a week or two before announcing the name to friends and family at a party like this. So around 11:30 the "grands" (important older family members) came to the party to sit down and "waxtan" or discuss about family matters. The  name was announced as Baya Senghor and officially the party was over. But there was still much waxtan to do and food to eat. So the grands sat for another hour and a half to discuss and a dish called laxh was served to the crowd. It is a base of cooked millet balls (a little like grits) and topped with a sour milk and copious sugar mix. When I had this stuff for the first time back in October I was not too happy with it. But now, I love the stuff! I had two large bowls and didn't feel too good afterwards. But luckily I had some time to wait before lunch. 

After the sheep was ceremoniously slaughtered, Pape and I went on a long walk to work up our appetites. We came back to a pleasant smell filling the house and making all the sitting men salivate. Once we had eaten our fill of 'cheb u yapp' or rice and meat we said our goodbyes and made for the walk home. 

I had been to many gatherings before this one. I had even dressed up in a similar fashion and eaten similar foods with friends. But something about this reminded me so much of family celebrations back in America. The atmosphere was almost parallel. I met family from all over the country. And although quite complicated by different men having multiple wives, I just got the sense everyone had their roots in that place. There were crazy uncles, unruly children, hard working mothers, and the usual mixture of love and political disagreements. It made me miss that feeling back home. With Easter approaching I am a little sensitive to pick up on these things. But just like this large family I got to be a part of today, I know my family in he US will be thinking of me. The Ngenté gave me a deep sense of the universal bond families have. We can be across the world but distance and time haven't separated me from that sense of connectedness. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

New Endeavor

      Today I started on an endeavor I've been looking forward to for a while. I am starting a mini garden next to my new house. It turns out I was a little ambitious in the planning because the soil is a little bit rockier than anticipated. But regardless I think we will end up with something nice in the end. Here is the "before" picture. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Been Awful Crazy

       As I write I lay quietly on the floor surrounded by a mess of clothes and a head full of emotions. But I'm happy. Here's a little more about how I got this way:

       About a month ago I started out on the long journey that was our second round of training. It started with language seminar where I learned that I still don't know squat about Wolof. From there we ventured into some "optional" seminars including all-volunteer conference and the West African International Softball Tournament in Dakar. I say "optional" because they just seemed too much fun to possibly pass up. I saw many people I've been missing and enjoyed some western pleasures I've been missing. Most notable: warm clean shower and pizza. 

     After our few days of Dakar galavanting and reality altering we returned to our training center in Thies for 2 weeks of constant learning and little sleep. After about 100 hours of sitting in classrooms, listening to lectures, and being fueled by Nescafe alone, we were deemed fit to begin working in our respective towns, villages, and cities. Goodbyes were bitter-sweet. We all love each other but it was a long time to be cramped in one place with 55 grumpy compatriots. For me going back was a little complicated though. There was some trouble waiting in my beachside paradise. 

    For many reasons I have decided to switch homes. I was having some struggles in the old one that I was trying to work through but ultimately decided were not worth the anxiety. After going back and forth for weeks, laying awake in bed one night I asked myself, "do you want to live here?" And as you might have guessed, the answer was no. There are many difficulties inherit in the work here and I have been navigating them every day. I finally realized that it was not healthy for me to be facing even more challenges in my own home. So I made this aware to my good friend Talla Diop of the Peace Corps and over the course of training they arranged for me to move. And last night I did! Which I why I'm surrounded by clothes, sleeping on the floor, full of emotion, and couldn't be happier. 

      TBC, I have lots to say and lots to show. 

With peace,
                   *Omar Senghor 

PS, please pray that the third name sticks. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Super Bowl

The Senegalese equivalent of the Super Bowl, that is. Yesterday morning started with a CPA from admin stating volunteers should avoid about 10 quarters in Dakar because there was a big lamb fight that day in the city. Now, that did not mean much to me but what I hadn't realized at the time is that one of the fighters is actually from Mboro. And the fight is one of the biggest of the year. This had everyone buzzing all day about the fight scheduled to start at 8PM. And in classic Senegalese style there were hours of discussion on TV leading up to the fight. When I joined my little brothers around 8:15, their eyes were already fixed on the action. Typically fights are very short but this one was particularly long-lasting. The two best fighters in Senegal were very well matched and there were many close calls. But then, just like that our man from Mboro threw his shoulder under his opponents leg to throw him on his back. The streets instantly lit up with kids and I could hear screaming from across town. It was only then that I found out the winner was from Mboro. 

What interests me is how much people, especially kids, and most especially orphans rally behind these characters. Lamb wrestling is the pride sport of Senegal. Everyone loves futball but lamb wrestling was invented here and it is ingrained into the culture. The characters are larger than life, full of ego, and very wealthy. People here love to talk about the crazy amounts of money these wrestlers make. From what I've experienced with the Talibe (basically Senegalese orphans) they have hope and confidence in the wrestlers. When they play, it's wrestling. When they talk, it's about wrestling.  I can see why so many people pursue the sport in so many ways. And it's also why I could hear celebratory chanting all last night.  And this is why I compare it to the Super Bowl. It is the Senegalese equivalent not just in viewership but in the way people rally behind their athletes. Despite the exorbarent amounts of money they make, it is where our respective fans place their hope. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Quick Update

It has been a while and that is mostly because things are very slow here. I am still researching and doing my needs assessment. Very soon though things will be picking up with language seminar, All-Volunteer Conference,  WAIST (West African International Softball Tournament), and our second round of training all happening in February. And although things are slow now, it's still pretty tiring with the heat and persistent culture shock. So here is a picture of the secret of how I got through my first month at site. 

And a quick sneak peak of blogs to come: 

African stereotypes disproven, or maybe proven. 

Cheb u Gen - the Senegalese fuel. 

How to stay sane. 

Until then,  


Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Years

It is hard to adequately describe in detail how my New Years was and what I felt but what I can say is I've never done anything like it before. 

Myself and two other volunteers went to Dakar on the 30th to get settled. We spent the day exploring and orienting ourselves in the city. We went to the shopping mall called Sea Plaza which made us feel very out of place among all the wealthy French people. But once we saw the grocery store, our minds panicked because of the wide variety of western products. For me, I did not think I would see anything like it for two years so I was not quite sure how to handle it. In reality it was about the size of a small town grocery store with similar prices. But for having eyes starved of that feeling for a few months, it felt like we had walked into the world stockpile of food. We bought cereal and milk and went back to the hotel. 

New Year's Eve was spent similarly; exploring Dakar scenes and cuisine. Chicken and pepperoni pizza for lunch and ice cream afterwards. For dinner and celebrating we descended upon a known hit: Ceasars Fried Chicken. We all of course enjoyed fried chicken and reminisced about past years as the New Year slipped by without much event besides the kids running through the street lighting firecrackers. 

After dinner we went out searching for our other friends. Since there is no good way around the city other than word of mouth, we spent an hour wandering and asking strangers with our still fledgling Wolof where "Calypso" was. We ended up in "Place de Independence," the Times Square of Dakar. There we were confronted with more wild kids and teens lighting off little firecrackers and rockets. It felt like we were in a different lawless world where there are no inhibitions or rules. There were fights breaking out beside us. Little bombs were making us jump ever other step. All we could see were people running around wildly as we clinched to each other. I felt like I had watched the scene in movies before but never actually been there. There is no way it could have taken place in the US since the national guard would have been called in way before it escalated to what it was. The whole experience brought me way back from the feeling that Dakar sometimes creates; that you're not actually in Senegal but a whole other European city. 

We eventually found our friends and danced until we were exhausted. The whole night was a continuous realization that I'm in a unique and unforgettable time of my life. I know I probably should have had this moment by now but being in the madness of Place de Independence on New Years called me to really enjoy this place in the coming year. I may miss home and I may be excited about my prospects for after service but my goal now is to take in as much as I can here. I have had many days of frustration already. I'm sure there are many to come. But I don't want it to fly by. I want to encounter every day knowing this is what I've wanted to do since I was a kid. And that is what I encourage everyone reading to do-enjoy where you are. Don't wish you are someplace else until you are someplace else. Bonne Anne!