Thanksgiving dinner was pot-luck, spent at the ambassador's residence. This is where I first started to notice and fully embrace my new eating style. That being to take whatever is in front of me and mix it into a big mash, then eat. So I'm afraid my engraved porcelain plate looked more like a dog bowl. In spite of the social degradation we enjoyed our new dinner manners with lively discussions about which intestinal bacteria have the worst side-effects. We spent Black Friday with a morning of shopping and iced coffees (at this point I felt the full affect of being in a group of girls) and the afternoon watching a dog show and decorating the Christmas tree (somewhat more gender neutral).
A week later I was down in Tamba for the "Half-Marathon for Girls' Education." I had hurt my foot two weeks before so I was in pretty poor shape and very tempted by the optional 10k race. My friend Aaron won the half-marathon with an impressive time and I finished with no pain in my foot, so it was a day of accomplishments. Unfortunately though my friend Anna collapsed with heat stroke. She was air lifted to Dakar but is doing well now, Alhumdulilah! I really enjoyed my stay in Tamba but particularly because it's the cold season. I'm not sure how well I would do there this coming July and August.
I had the opportunity to visit Scott Le in his Kolda village, Sinthian Kortiba. I had not previously been to a village so the experience was a little shocking at first. However because of the gentleness and sincerity of his family, I felt at ease shortly after meeting them. I got to see what life entails in a village for a window of time. The stilness of the land and passion in the food were nearly tangible. Life is quaint there but it's also a daily battle. It's a battle similar to the one we all face every day but sometimes this village has to do it with no clothes, shoes, nutritious food, or clean water. I don't say this to insight pity because that allows us to degrade them and they don't want it anyway. It did however make me consider all the things I buy and the living conditions of those at the bottom of the supply chains. For instance Sinthian Kortiba spends a lot of time growing and picking cotton. Their wage system sounded exploitative and contrary to anything I would want to set up for a production cycle. Additionally it's made me conscious of the important roles we each play in the Peace Corps. I hope we all in our unique ways someday help other Americans understand more about Senegal. Because it's not a place to fear or about which to make nasty assumptions. It's a place where people live their lives and go through daily struggles like anywhere else.
Afterwards we had the annual Master Farmer summit in Thies. I was there to help represent Cheikh Senghor as a CED volunteer. It was a great opportunity for the farmers to all get together and exchange ideas from across the country. People who would have never met otherwise get to do this every year and expand their repertoires of knowledge. Volunteers too benefit from great ideas exchanged and support given. Some of the major topics were the new selection process for members, repercussions of underperforming farms, and better data collection methods and procedures. I also had a few opportunities to mingle with farmers from all over the country. I made some friends who I'm planning to see in February.
Christmas was spent in Dakar with many friends. Volunteers were in the city for travel, med appointments, and general amusement so we were taking up sidewalks with packs of Americans. I got to spend Christmas dinner at the Country Director, Cheryl Faye's house with her family and friends. I again did some food mashing but tried to make it less noticeable. I met some interesting people and felt grateful to be invited into her home.
New Years was celebrated probably a few seconds before or after it actually happened. Hopefully that's a good summary of how my weekend was. Long beach walks, friendly people, no watches, foliage, and lots of memories I won't forget. That's all I got to say about that.
Finally to bring things full circle we had a gathering on the beach this past weekend to celebrate 5 weeks in site for our friends in the new stage. We discussed some struggles, progresses, and funny moments from scenes in America and all over Senegal. Now I'm in site catching up with work partners, making plans, and tracking progress. This coming week I will be in Kolda for our CED sector summit where I'll catch up with friends, learn some new stuff, and ideally figure out what I'll be doing with my service in May. Oh by the way, For those who haven't heard, I am getting replaced in May but I won't be leaving Senegal early. So we are trying to figure out what the eight of us will do for the five months after that. Of course I will keep you updated as plans develop.
That's it for life-event updates. I'm posting a lot on Instagram so give it a look at TJohnson240. As for mental status, I'm doing well. Part of me will never function normally here because of how far I am from people I love dearly, but the rest of me is still making this work. I want to be truly involved in people's lives here and for me that entails being mentally present. So I'm taking the whole thing in one day at a time. Since I already feel the fleetingness of my time this next year, that will become more and more important.
Finally I want to send everyone the sincerest holiday wishes. I am sad I didn't get to catch up with everyone but those who did get to say hi I'm delighted to hear from you. I hope 2015 brings everyone peace, prosperity, and joy. Before too long I'll be home and we'll all have some good times together.