Ramadan and Goat Thieves

So yes hello every six months I update my blog!

Ramadan just ended on Monday, and I just realized that two posts ago I also wrote about Ramadan,  but now with the fresh perspective of another year in Peace Corps,  I’ll use this opportunity to walk you through a day in the life of me during Ramadan.


Day One


4:53am – My sister knocks on the door to wake me up. I of course don’t hear her because I’m sleeping outside, but my dog does and goes crazy barking because he’s smart and knows that only axe murderers knock on your door at 4:53am. (Editor’s Note – I realize now that an axe murderer probably wouldn’t knock, they would just axe down the door.)


4:55am – I stumble into my hut and throw on the muumuu I wore the night before. It is inside out and backwards. I don’t care.


4:58am – I come outside to eat some breakfast before the sun comes up. My mom is very concerned and wants to make sure I washed my face. I have not. I lie. I chew on half a loaf of bread and drink what my mom calls “jio kando”, which translates literally to hot water but is actually Kinkeilliba, a delicious tea.


5:05am – I stumble back to bed and squeeze in a few more hours of sleep.


7:30am – I go running because I know by the evening I will feel like death. We’re not supposed to drink any water during the day either but I’m a wimp and sneak whole Nalgenes in my room.


9:00am – I join everyone in my family who is cracking peanuts, because the rains are coming and it’ll be time to start planting them soon. My 7-year-old sister, Kady, swears she is going to fast this year.


9:17am – Kady cracks and eats a peanut. She then declares fasting is over and proceeds to eat all last night’s dinner as a morning snack. I stare at her in open mouthed jealousy.


11:46am – A direct quote from my diary on May 28th: “I’m so hungry I want to eat my own hat”.


3:18pm – I’m lying on the floor of my hut in a hunger fog. I chug a whole Nalgene and then poke my head outside to see if anyone is doing anything. My whole family is lying on their mats. It looks like someone spread sleeping gas through my village cause nobody is moving. It’s 105 degrees Fahrenheit. I lie back down.


5:45pm – I take stock of my friends in my village. They are all very impressed that I am fasting. They remind me that you can’t drink water or eat anything all day for 28 days. I say yes, I know, I did this last year. They restate the facts. I go back to my hut and guiltily drink more water.


7:30pm – The sun finally sets and my whole family is sitting around our water jug, waiting for my dad to take his first drink of icy cold water. We chug as much water as possible and then barely have any room for the coffee, bread, and macaroni my sister has prepared for break – fast.


9:45pm – I had fallen asleep outside and my mom wakes me up. She prepared me a special early dinner because she knows Sata is a child and goes to bed before everyone else. The rest of the family, I assume, eats at midnight. But I am soundly asleep by this point, ready to do it all again tomorrow.


Which I do, for a few days, and then I give up and go on vacation. I’m weak and I know it, but I got to lie on a beach and camp on an uninhabited island made entirely out of seashells (no joke! A whole island made of seashells!). I’m at peace with my decision.


Mostly, not much goes on during this month because everyone is fasting. However, one night we did have one big commotion. After break – fast, my neighbor comes to my compound looking for my dad. He’s the chief, so he’s in charge of handling all the interpersonal problems in the village. My neighbor is talking really fast and gesticulating wildly, but I pick up that there are some guys around who were trying to tie up goats in a nearby field. Apparently, because we didn’t recognize these men and because we don’t tie up goats in fields at night, my neighbor knew instantly that these guys had stolen said goats. My neighbor, Yera, screamed “Hey! You stole those goats!”, and the guys took off. However, they left the goats behind. At this point, all the young men in my village come to my compound, dragging 7 screaming goats behind them on ropes. The rest of the village follows them in, because this is the big thing that’s happened today and we all want to see it. “Look at the goats!” my friend Tunko says. “They were stolen!” There are approximately 60 people in my compound now. My dad calls the gendarme (local police), and we store the goats in our backyard and give them some food. Nobody knows whose goats they are. The gendarme appears in a huge truck, and they ask to see the goats. Everyone waits patiently outside. The gendarme calls Yera into the backyard to describe the event. The gendarme then decides to take the goats back to their post, which is in our road town 3 kilometers up the road. We all stare helpfully at the gendarme as they load these 7 screaming goats into the bed of their pickup truck. The truck leaves and we all stand around talking about the thieves for a few minutes, and then go back to our respective compounds. Ten minutes later, a man and a woman pull up on a motorcycle. The woman is speaking pulaar (traditionally, Pulaar villages make their living herding livestock), and is frantically shouting questions at my dad. She describes a big female goat with a beard, and asks if we’ve seen them. The whole village comes back to my compound to tell the woman that yes! We found your goats! We sent them to the gendarme! She is extremely grateful. Now that my whole village is back in my compound, a fight breaks out. I have absolutely no idea what happened. The fight ends, everyone looks happy and is friends again, the pulaar couple leaves to retrieve their 7 screaming goats. (Editor’s Note – I have no clue how the couple actually got their goats back to their village, because they were on a motorcycle and I assume its difficult to carry 7 screaming goats on one motorcycle, but what do I know?) And that, my friends, is how the citizens of my village saved the day.


Bonne Ramadan!



Guess Who’s Back, Back Again

Im baaaaack! Sorry for the long break, but to be honest I’ve been at site for over a year now (as of December 9th hooray!), and I forgot about blogging. But last month, I went home for three weeks and people would be like…what happened to your blog? I liked your posts! Which inflated my already healthy sense of ego enough for me to post again. So hey. I’m back.
While I was home, people kept asking me “How is it? How’s Senegal?”, and if you have ever been on the recieving end of one of these questions, you know how hard it is to summarize an entire country and life experience and culture to someone who has never been there. Usually I would resort to telling my hilarious story about that time I ate monkey, or I would say “oh I just read kindle books in my hut”. Both of these things are very true, but don’t really say anything about my actual job or what Senegal is really like.
My official position is an Agroforestry Extension Agent, so I extend agroforestry techniques to farmers in my area. Mostly, this just means I plant trees. So we make tree nurseries, do tree care, collect seeds, that sort of thing. This all usually happens between April and September, so now I’m doing “cold season” projects. I mean it’s not really that cold, its just cooler and not rainy and not good for planting trees. So I’m starting a garden with my local elementary school, a scholarship and leadership club for middle school girls, and I’m planning a few formations on pruning and citrus trees. Whoopie! This is why when people ask me about my life here, I rely on funny short stories and irrelevant facts. Because I like my job here a lot, but its just like other jobs, where the more you talk about it, the more technical and specific it gets. If you really want an in depth analysis of my work here, I can just send you my Volunteer Report Form (VRF). Monitoring and Evaluation are like huge parts of this job as well, so you can nerd out on my numbers if you really want.
People when I was home would also ask me if I felt any different. I don’t know that I’m actually that different, but I have learned a few things throughout my service here:

  1.  Peace Corps is my first job right out of college, so I’ve learned important things about meetings. Like unless you have something original to say, don’t say anything because otherwise the meeting will last 8 hours because everyone likes to hear the sound of their own voice. Also, I learned that you probably shouldn’t combine your meeting notebook and your diary. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been looking at my notes for the last meeting and then said “Dear Diary…” out loud. (Just kidding, I don’t say Dear Diary. I’m an adult, so I write “Dear Journal”).
  2. Bike racks can carry so many things. I’ve carried: farm supplies, 20 mango saplings, 5000 tree sacks, a dog in a bucket, three humans, a desk, paint cans, a hiking backpack, and a banana shoot on my bike carrier.
  3. Shaving is overrated
  4.  Drinking tea with your neighbor counts as work in Peace Corps
  5. Comparing your service to anyone else’s is pointless, because your site, sector, and personality change everything and so there’s no common bar to compare yourself on. (And if there were a common means of comparison and we could make it a competition, I would obviously win)
  6. Playing soccer is super fun in Senegal. I think my biggest accomplishment so far has been convincing my village’s soccer team to call themselves Equipe Sata. Which would be like convincing my hometown team to call themselves Team Abby without actually playing in any games. I’m the best mascot ever. Actually sometimes I do kick around with them at practice, and since I’m the only foreigner and also only woman playing on the field, they give me a lot of space and I can pretend the reason I can carry the ball for so long is because I’m just as good now as I was in my high school glory days. We have a big game against another village coming up on New Years Eve and I’m crossing my fingers for some second half playing time (if we’re ahead, they say). Go Equipe Sata!
  7. Education is important. I think this is something I’d been told in the past, but I see it more here.
  8. I feel super badass when I speak another language – and also it makes me more integrated into my community. Everyone loves a good joke in Mandinka.
  9. Kindle is the best invention of all time. I have like 175 books in my backpack right now. I read so much here that I actually even swapped out some of the young adult vampire forbidden love romance novels that I usually fall back on for some adult fiction, non-fiction and classics. In the past month I’ve read Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. (That last one is because the copyright is out on old classics so I can get them for free on Kindle. Plus if Bella from Twilight loved it, maybe I will too). I mean I loved books before, but I love skipping my afternoon nap and reading even more here than I ever did at home. Send me all your reccomendations and let me virtually contribute to your upcoming book clubs.
  10. There is no such thing as a car that is too full

Maybe I’ll update my blog again in the next few months – but until then, everyone go to my Facebook and look at Cricket

The Ramadan Report

Hello darling public! Have you missed me? Its time to give you the ultimate Ramadan update – who’s excited?

In case you didn’t know, Ramadan is a month of fasting that Muslims participate in each year. It is, in fact, one of the five pillars of Islam. Each year the dates for Ramadan changes because it follows the lunar calendar, so much like Easter for me, I literally have no idea when its going to fall each year until someone smarter than me actually pays attention to the lunar calendar and figures it out. It begins the day the Imam (religious leader) sees the moon appear after it has been a new moon. So for me, on June 6 we saw the cresent moon, and began fasting on June 7.

Fasting means no food or water during the daylight hours, so from sunrise until 7:30pm you literally can’t eat or drink anything. This sounds terrible. And it is. I don’t even do the whole thing, because to my Anglo-Saxon mind “fasting” just means no food. I drink copious amounts of water and still feel like dying. I’ll copy here an entry from my journal from June 7. It reads, “Ramadan. Day One. 11:37am. I’m hungry.” This is ominous, because we don’t usually eat lunch until 1 or 2 pm.

The first day, literally everybody fasted. And by everybody, I mean everyone who is not a child or pregnant or breastfeeding. I also fasted (and by fasted I mean didn’t eat but sat in my hut and guzzled water because I felt like my body was desiccating). So the first morning my mom woke me up at 4am. Let me repeat – 4am. And I threw enough clothes on to be decent and stumbled outside and tried to eat as much food as humanly possible but have you ever woken up from a dead sleep and then tried to eat as much oatmeal as possible? Its not easy. (Its also not exactly oatmeal but its pretty close for comparison purposes). I then fell back asleep and slept late because my stomach was so full and I’m lazy. Then you don’t eat all day. In the morning, everyone proceeds with work as usual, but after the time we would have had lunch, people just give up. They take a lot of long naps, and then sit around and stare at the women who start cooking around 4pm. As evidenced above, I struggled with this. I get hangry. But by 7:30 pm my mom and sister had made a whole feast – there were loaves of bread and manoo (a sweet porridge) and coffee and drinks and cold water and it was beautiful. Then we have to stay up late until we get hungry again around 10pm, and then we have dinner, which is rice and either a sauce or fish or both, just like regular lunch.

Today is day 22 of fasting. By this point, most people have been taking rest days or breaks. The group of people waking up early is getting smaller and smaller. The food at my house has been mostly fish balls and bread for break-fast, and leftover dinner for the early morning meal. I have started falling asleep between breaking the fast and dinner, so my mom started giving me dinner early because I’m a sleepy baby.

People in my village like that I fast, and it brings up a lot of conversations about religion (naturally). At first, I avoided conversations about religion because I was nervous about my language skills and you know people say you avoid the whole religious/political discussions with people you don’t know so well, and I have the conversational skills of a first grader so I stuck with that rule. However, the conversation usually goes like this:

“Are you fasting?”

“Yes, I’m fasting”

“Ah, Sata! Fasting is hard! It hurts! You can’t drink or eat water all day!”

“Yeah, I know! But everyone here is doing it and I am too!”

“But if you fast, do you go to the mosque?”

This is a reasonable question, and at first I was nervous about answering it. But I just say truthfully that no, I don’t go to the mosque because I’m Christian. So while I’m fasting and they go to pray at the mosque, I go read my Bible in my room. And do you know what they say? “Oh, ok!, that’s good!”. That’s it. Least dramatic religious conversation ever. It’s awesome.

I have learned several tips and tricks about fasting. One day, I had some work to do in the next village over, which is like a 10 minute bike ride away. I was running late, so ended up breaking fast at this village. I was passing by people I knew on my way home, and they all invited me to have some juice to drink or a piece of bread to nibble on. I must have had about 6 cups of ice cold bissap juice really fast and then speed biked home before dark. As soon as I got home I scarfed down a whole bowl of manoo because I was starving. After I finished eating I patted my stomach and realized it was a taught as a drum, and then I immediately went to my bathroom and stomach rejected the approximate gallon of liquid I had consumed. Note to self – EAT SLOWER!

One day I got caught cheating. Now I know for a fact some people cheat, because I see them sneaking peanuts and then say they’re fasting. I also had a few cheat days myself, where I bought about twelve bananas and then ate them (SLOWLY!) in my room like a starving hermit. So one day my mom was roasting peanuts for a neighbor and they’re my absolute favorite snack. So I looked around and assumed that I was alone and immediately crammed as many handfuls in my mouth as humanly possible. I then looked up and made direct eye contact with my fifteen year old sister Sona and her friend Arama. I knew my goose was cooked. Hoping maybe she didn’t notice or wouldn’t say anything, I winked at her and then went into my hut. No such luck. As soon as my mom came back I heard Sona telling on me!  So I came out and my brother Elhadji was like…are you fasting? And I was like…uh….He was like, because if you eat peanuts, you’re not fasting. I stammered again, but my mom jumped in “I didn’t see anything!” she laughed and walked away. Nice. Mom has my back.

Next week, Ramadan is ending and there’s a huge party! Everyone in my village is stoked. I got my hair braided and bought a new complet – so I’m ready.

The other great thing in my life right now is the rains are starting to come. From the time I got to site in December until probably the end of May, it rained exactly one time. Now, the rainy season is coming in earnest. People are getting ready to plant their field crops, we’re about to start out planting all the trees my village has been planting in nurseries, and the humidity is back – just like living in Maryland!

Rains here are not like rains at home, however. As I’ve said before, during the hot season I started sleeping on my outdoor bed. The first time it really rained, it came at around 2am. I woke up because the thunder was so loud and rolling I actually thought I was going to be attacked by aliens. It sounded like the beginning of every time a disaster comes in the movie 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UQ7MnpHgtc  or the very beginning of the song The Hills by The Weekend right before he starts singing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzTuBuRdAyA

This sound, coupled by all the stars disappearing behind huge clouds and a big wind storm, was enough to wake me up. I hurried up and grabbed Cricket and rushed into my hut, but I had to physically push the door closed because the wind was so strong. It blew enough sand into my hut that when I woke up in the morning I could see the imprint my body left on the mattress – Interstellar style. But it’s so much cooler after the rain comes, and all my plants are finally getting enough water without me pulling hundreds of buckets from the well for them, so I’m happy.

With Ramadan ending next week and the rains really starting to come, I feel like my work load will start to pick up, and I”m really excited about my upcoming projects. Yay Peace Corps!


Did I Ever Tell You About the Time

Did I ever tell you about the time when I discovered I was a hipster?

I think since I just hit my seventh month in Senegal, I’ve become like a caricature of what a typical PCV is like. I just came back to internet after three weeks at site. A few days into my latest stay at site, I ran out of shampoo. And then deodorant. And then money (at site, I have plenty in the bank in my regional capital, which I can bike too, but with me for those three weeks or so it was ZILCH). I forgot my razor at the regional house as well, so no shaving for me. I wear big thick black frame glasses because its too dusty for my contacts. Actually, I’m dusty all the time because its the dry hot season, so unless I literally just showered, I’m sweaty enough that the slightest breeze sticks dust to me and my clothes. I keep my hair in a ponytail with a big thick headband to keep it from getting too sun damaged (plus the big thick headband keeps my big thick black frame glasses on my face). I started applying sunscreen instead of lotion, and the only makeup I’ve put on in more than three months is chapstick. I ride my bike every where. My dog has never once been on a leash. I wear long skirts that were tailored specifically for me by a guy I know. Most of the time I don’t wear a bra. All of the furniture in my room is made from bamboo and sticks and also made by a guy I know personally. I sleep outside, under my mango tree, on a mattress made of rice sacks that were hand sewed together and sometimes I listen to artists like Shakey Graves and Fleet Foxes. I devour books. I drink a lot of tea and all of the food I eat, except for rice, comes from within walking distance of my house. I’ve become the ultimate hipster. But also by saying that I’m a hipster probably makes me the anti-hipster, so maybe I’m not.

Did I ever tell you about the time when I found a scorpion in my bathroom?

One time I tried to grow a small vegetable garden, and theres a bamboo privacy wall around my bathroom (its a hole in the ground that I call a bathroom) with some shade. So I started my vegetable nursery there, but my dog one night dug it all up in an impressively deep hole. While investigating said hole, I noticed a pretty sizeable brownish yellow scorpion. The scorpions here aren’t particularly poisonous, but they still hurt and I have no idea if they’re more poisonous to dogs. So like any sane person, I speared it with a stick and then threw it down my pit toilet. Problem solved!

Did I ever tell you about the time when my family ate monkey?

One time in January I was in the garden with my counterparts wife and we were just joking around when all of a sudden the dogs started barking and going crazy. So me and Mariama go outside the fence and she goes “look! Up in the tree! Don’t you see the blah blah blah?!” She didn’t actually say “Blah Blah Blah” but I didnt know the word for monkey yet. Since I was as of yet unaware of the word for monkey, I had no idea what to look for, until I looked up in the tree and saw a fairly large monkey making terrified hooting noises. All of a sudden the kids come out of the bush and the dogs are still going crazy so the monkey goes all quiet and tries to make a run for it. Please keep in mind that the conclusion of the story involves us eating said monkey, so if you don’t want to hear this next part just skip ahead to the next story.

Anyway so the monkey tries to make a run for it but the kids have sticks and rocks and the dogs are too fast (not my dog, Cricket is a coward and spent this whole episode hiding under my skirt) and so the monkey doesn’t make it. I watch while peeking through my fingers as the children beat said monkey until its unconscious and then hog tie it and carry it back up to village. At this point I think they’re just going to kill the monkey and hang it up in the field like a scare crow, so I just take my time and help Mariama finish watering the garden. However, because my dad is the village chief when I return to my house I find the monkey with its throat slit. Still working with the scarecrow theory, I ask my brother what hes doing as he begins to butcher this monkey. He laughs and says “look at all this free meat! This is dinner!” and I was like oh ha ha very funny. He was like…no really we’re eating this for dinner. And we did.

It actually tasted mostly like the onion and garlic my sister cooked it in, but I couldn’t get over the whole disease thing and the possibility that I might be like 99% cannibal now, so I only ate a bite just to keep from insulting my family. But everyone else seemed to love it.

Did I ever tell you about the time when I realized most people here dislike dogs?

I mean they tell you at training that culturally, most people here dislike dogs. Not necessarily dislike them, they just don’t feel the same (very american) adoration for their pets that we do, so it seems by comparison that they don’t like them. This in itself isn’t a huge problem. The problem here is that dogs love me. This could be due to the fact that I can’t bring myself to physically discipline them and usually sneak them extra food. This could also be due to the fact that, as previously stated, I had ran out of deodorant at site, so it could also be that they could just be following my stench. The dogs have followed me on short bike trips to the local middle school (college) and thirty kilometer trips to Tamba. They’ve followed me on runs and to the next compound over. Its pretty impressive considering that I try not to pay too much attention to them. “Is this your dog?” is one of my frequently asked questions here.

Did I ever tell you about the time when I realized people recognize me by what I wear?

One time I was at the Master Farm about 15 kilometers from my house. Since I biked 15 kilometers to said Master Farm, I wore pants and I met some women from Madjaly. The next week I returned for a small formation, but a bunch of volunteers had spent the night before at a very close volunteers hut, so I didn’t have to bike more than a kilometer and I wore a slightly more formal skirt. The same women from Madjaly were there again, but they all reintroduced themselves to me. When I commented on something we had talked about the previous week, one women looked confused and then finally she recognized me. “I’m sorry,” she says, “but you were wearing pants last week so I didn’t recognize you today.”

Did I ever tell you about the time when I realized what shooting stars were?

I really don’t see the stars that much in America*, but here I see them all the time. Sometimes at night I just turn my chair after dinner and stare at them, so I notice often that they seem to move very slowly as I stare at them. At first I was convinced I was going crazy, but then I realized that I was probably seeing shooting stars. “Damn Hollywood,” I thought, “always dramatizing things. ‘Shooting stars’ are really just ‘stars moving at a moderate pace'”. One night as I was watching my star moving at a moderate pace, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that looked like a huge sparkler moving around. When I explained this to someone they were like “Oh wow! A shooting star!”. I realized that shooting stars really do shoot across the sky. I had been staring at satellites.

* I made this footnote next to America because I think that some concepts seem really intuitive to English speaking Americans that are not so to people from other cultures, and I am certain that things seem intuitive and completely obvious to people here that I really struggle to figure out. For example, I have explained to more than one kid that “America” and “North America” and “South America” are different things, but you call each of them America. To be accurate, we really should say “United States of America”, because then you differentiate it a little bit. As it is, some of these younger kids think Brazil is a state in Southern America.For someone learning geography about a totally foreign place in English, which is usually not their first language, or English translated into French, which is also not usually their first language, this is a pretty logical conclusion, but when I first heard it I was totally blown away because that line of thought had never even occurred to me!

Miss you, United States of America.



Hot in Tamba

I know that I moved to a Sahelian climate, but its hot here. I mean like…really hot.

People don’t do anything between the hours of about noon and four. I mean, the women still cook lunch in kitchens that are usually 15 degrees warmer than the rest of the world, and then they shell peanuts or prepare vegetables to take to market or chase children around or do the dishes, but the men and children and me just sit under the mango tree in my compound and drink tea and eat mangoes and also shell peanuts or read. Its a hard life. I do actually do work as well, just before or after these times.

Yesterday afternoon I was in the city of Tambacounda, which is definitely warmer than my little village by the river, but it was 115 degrees. One hundred and fifteen degrees. So it makes sense that people here take the afternoons off. They’re always very aware of where the sun is. Last week I gave a formation on how to do a tree nursery for the men in my village, and they were so aware of the sun that they would move their chairs as the shadows moved, every 15 minutes or so. Which everyone here does, shade is everything! (On a positive note, this makes my job a little easier. Everyone wants to plant trees because being in the shade is at least 50 percent more comfortable than being in the sun).

Its so hot that two weeks ago when I was on a long bike ride, I sweat so much while listening to music that my iphone got water damage and broke.

Its so sunny that last weekend I was playing in an ultimate frisbee tournament, and I got sunburn on my lips that still sting now, a full week later (sorry mom, I swear I wear sunblock daily!)

One of my friends randomly looked up the hottest places in the world at that exact moment a few weeks ago, and Tambacounda was number four. In the world.

I now understand the long sleeves and long pants look, if its light enough fabric its actually cooler to have your head and arms covered than expose them to the mean, hot sun.

This all considered, things are pretty good here. My family is very aware of the limits of working in the heat, so we get all of our work done early and then can spend our lazy, long, hot afternoons hanging out together. Plus, now that it’s hot season the mangoes are starting to get ripe, and there’s nothing better than eating a fresh mango straight from the tree in my backyard. I just have to keep the door locked so the kids don’t knock them all down before they’re ripe – hooligans! Its very relaxing, and honestly I’m getting used to it. Its kind of nice, like sitting in a sauna. Plus it gives me something that I’m comfortable talking about in my local language: I have many ways of expressing how hot it is in Mandinka.

The only time the heat is unbearable is nighttime, but I’ve got my outdoor bed and rice sack mattress set up now so that I can sleep outside, which does help! My poor dog though, Cricket just lies around all day. At least I don’t have to wear a fur coat.

Stay cool my friends!


Things That Have Never Happened to me Before

Let me preface this post by stating the obvious – I am a white, college educated female between the ages of 18 and 25 from suburban America. For the first time in my life, I am living in a community where I am virtually the only person who fits this demographic. So things happen to me that have never happened to me before.

Everyone assumes I’m rich and French. When I pass random people (often in larger cities, most people in my village and nearby town know who I am now) they greet me in French and ask me for presents or things I’m holding. Give me your bike! Give me your shoes! Give me 100 CFA! (That’s the equivalent of less than 25 cents). Last week, I went to the market to buy some rope to use as a backyard clothes line. The salesmen tried to charge me literally double what the price should have been. When I told him in Mandinka that I know what the price should be, and that’s what I’m going to pay him, he smiled and said “Oh you do know!” As I’m not usually an assertive person, bargaining like that can be difficult for me, but I know that most of the time when people see me they automatically hike the price up a few hundred CFA. I’m getting street savvy!

One of my favorite things about this country is that literally everybody knows everyone. I can go 20k down a road and when people learn who my dad is, they tell me to greet him and ask about my family. Its crazy, because I’ve never seen my dad actually go there, but people are very good at remembering each other. Once, I was riding my bike into the road town and my dad caught me before I left and gave me money to buy some credit for his phone (all phones here are Pay-as-you-go). To do so, you just give the boutique owner your phone number and money and he transfers the credit to your account. When I got to town, I realized that my phone was dead and I didn’t have my dad’s phone number memorized. To fix this problem, I found someone who knew my dad and asked if they had his phone number. He didn’t, but he sent a kid next door to ask the neighboring boutique owner, and the kid returned moments later with my dad’s number on a piece of paper. It was quite convenient for me but something that has never happened to me in America.

Plus, once you know somebody here they’ll always look out for you. There’s a mini-bus that drives by my village every day and when I drive to town instead of biking in, I usually take the same car. One day I was waiting for the car to load up and had my bag on the ground. The driver, whom I hadn’t seen in a month, came by and greeted me and then carried my bag to his car. He knew exactly where I was going and which car I would get on, and I didn’t even have to follow him to know that he was going to put my bag on top of the correct car for me. He had my back and saved me the trouble of lugging my bag around the car all afternoon.

So yes, sometimes the kids try to follow me on my evening runs and I have to tell them they can’t come because I like my evening runs as alone time. And yes, sometimes I have to tell my entire village that I’m just going to the next town over for the day like, 100 times before I actually go. But when I get there, people remember me, and the people look out for me. I have a tailor, and a boutique guy, a fruit vendor and a sandwich lady that all  give me fair prices and ask after my family.  Once they know my name they don’t call me Toubab anymore.

I’m working on adding pictures to Facebook now – love and miss you all!


My Actual Job – Now what?

So now that I’m back from in service training, my site mates and I have to actually do our jobs. For all of our language, culture, and technical training, and the first three months we’ve actually been living with our host families in villages, my stage hasn’t actually done much work. Our job has just been to integrate, which really is the best job ever because you just get to meet people. But now that we actually have to start projects, we (me) are panicking. A little bit. Luckily, little by little, jobs start to show up naturally. And luckily for you, I’m going to tell you about them.

Try as I might to integrate, there are still some aspects of me that are very American. Let me tell you my master farm story. A Master Farm is a Peace Corps supported farm that serves as a training and demonstration tool for surrounding farmers. The Master Farmer usually has both a Sustainable Agriculture and a Agroforestry Volunteer working with them, and they receive fencing, tree sacks, water, and garden tools from the Peace Corps. In return, they have a beautiful farm with great gardening and tree practices that the Peace Corps encourages them to extend to surrounding villages, so that they too may have beautiful farms. Like all projects, there are pros and cons to the Master Farm. I personally do not have a Master Farm, but my two nearest sitemates do and it’s about 15 km from my village. Some days, I’ll take a bike ride up there to help out (or sometimes just hang out) for the day, and then I’ll ride back in the cooler part of the afternoon, for 30k round trip. Last week, I was taking a ride up there, and my dog Cricket and his mom started running behind me. This happens sometimes because and I assumed they would turn around, but they did not. They followed me in the 90 degree morning heat for 15k. I have no idea why they like me so much, but if I had to guess it’s probably because I don’t physically discipline them, which is the common way to train dogs and other animals in Senegal. Cricket was getting tired and we were too far to turn around, so I had to put him in my backpack for most of the way there and the whole way back. The villages I passed through, and people I saw in the following days remembered me and told me “Hey! You’re the toubab with the dog in the backpack!”. My wish to not be remembered as the crazy dog volunteer is not going well.

On the other had, we did hold a Master Farm Open Field day that went really well – farmers from the surrounding villages came and toured the farm, and then attended short volunteer lead demonstrations on composting, tree nurseries, intercropping, double digging, organic pest management, grafting and pruning. My counterpart, and several other volunteers counterparts attended as well. It was the first time I got to see / assist with a formation, and I think it was so cool to actually be responsible for holding a successful one, and I believe it really did motivate my counterpart to start trying to work again!

Unfortunately, two days before I returned to my village from my in service training, my counterparts whole garden and fence burned. Fences are a huge deal here, without them monkeys, cows, donkeys, rabbits, shrews, and even children get into and eat everything in the garden. A garden without a fence doesn’t last very long. Often, fences are  made by cutting down trees in the forest and then digging holes and putting them back in. That’s the benefit of using live fencing. Live fencing is the technique of planting trees so that they create virtually impenetrable walls, either with thorns or with trees planted so close together that you can’t pass through them. By planting trees as a fence instead of cutting down trees you can halt deforestation, improve the soil, implement windbreaks and increase the biodiversity of the area. So even though my counterparts entire garden and 30% of the fence that he spent four weeks building, we can start building part of a live fence. The master farm open field game was a good way to re-motivate him, because losing the garden was a rough blow.

Later this month we have girls camp, where volunteers in Tamba invite a college (middle school) aged girl and her father to a four day workshop on women’s empowerment. The classes include sports, health, environment, and professional development. I’m bringing my sister and another girl in my village, and I can’t wait to see how they like the camp!

So while most days I wake up and still have no idea what I’m doing, I just generally pretend that I do and hope people believe me. I don’t feel like a sheep anymore though, I can even barter for prices now! It’s the little victories.