Sunday, December 5, 2010

god bless america and an unlimited supply and variety of food

New York City 12/5 - 12/8
Shanghai 12/9 - 12/18
New York City 12/18 - 12/25

let's put on some weight...

Friday, November 19, 2010

sleepless desert nights...

senegalese weddings should be on everyone's bucket list. well no, technically i didn't attend one. the pre-wedding bride sendoff should be on everyone's bucket list. within my young 23 years of life, this has been one of the most beautiful, most poetic, most touching ceremonies i've ever witnessed. part of me regrets not having a camera for this once in a lifetime occasion but i'm also glad i didn't. pictures cannot capture nor do justice to the 30 hours of energy and love, the closeness of each and every member of a village, the farewell and words exchanged. to experience it was the only way. in the end, watching my sister be taken away by the groom's uncle was heart wrenching.

i've always dreaded senegalese holidays or events. they're quite dreary to say the least - a lot of dressing up for no reason, a lot of sitting around, a lot of drinking tea, a whole lot of nothing. so when i heard my sister was getting married, i secretly dreaded the event. i knew there would be loud music all night that would keep me from sleeping and i knew there would be a lot of sitting around the next day, shaking hands with every single person, eating food that's been touched by numerous hands, washing my hands in a washbowl that has been beyond thoroughly used but cannot be helped because there's no clean water left, drinking out of a communal cup that's been slobbered over by strangers - all of this increasing my chances of getting an amoeba again (my last amoeba extravaganza directly followed a wedding i attended so i associate large gatherings such as this with really poor sanitation and hygiene).

but the dreary part was derived from attending baptisms and weddings and religious holidays. never had i ever attended a bride sendoff. it turned out to be quite the contrary to dreary.

i didn't find out that it really wasn't a wedding until the very last 6 hours. i blame this on wolof's inadequacy when it comes to vocabulary. for weeks my family has been announcing this event as a sey, a wedding. but the word sey, i finally realized, can represent all things related to the wedding, like the pre-wedding bride sendoff. such an event is still within the realm of sey, and thus my confusion. furthermore, i blame my fellow family members for not correcting my grammar. for days, i've been asking, "so the groom has not come yet?" their response has always been, "no, the groom has not come yet." what they should've said was, "no, the groom will not come, ever." that would've made everything clear.

the first night, the women of the village got together and cooked. 2 dinners. there was more food served than during the breaking fast of ramadan. i haven't felt this full in a long time. we ate and then we danced. experience had thus far proven that people don't really dance but just sit in chairs, in a circle, staring at each other. this time though, it was different. the young, the old, and all those in between, everybody danced. granted it took the teenage boys a lot longer to gather their nerves and get started but in the end, no one (or at least very few) remained in their chairs. it was such a beautiful mix of tradition and modernity that i couldn't help but smile. a pole was stuck in the sand and on top, a single light bulb hung to illuminate the proceedings. we danced under the stars and moonlight to the thumping of gourds and hand claps, songs perfectly arranged by the DJ and his sound system. women in beautiful wraps stomp away at the sand, kicking up a hazy cloud of dust that engulfs the surrounding. shadows dance across the walls, echoing across the hills. i am actually in africa - this is so surreal.

after only a few hours of sleep, the second day begins. day 2 began with my sisters invading my room because there were too many guests everywhere and they needed some privacy to get ready and prepare for the festivities. the hair braiding took a good 3 hours, then the make up took another hour, and then putting on the outfit and adjusting it and wearing the tons of jewelry took another hour. 5 hours... damn. it's really a bit sad though. my sister is naturally very beautiful but thanks to senegalese customs and traditions, dressing up for a wedding means wearing copious amounts of makeup until you, quite frankly, start resembling a clown. i don't understand where this idea of beauty originates - though im thinking the french had some influence, all with their haute couture and whatnot. but i guess she managed to pull it off in the end. there was more eating, and more dancing, and my sister changed for her second outfit.

as the sun began to set, my sister retreated to her room, followed by a couple of family members, and began the process of packing. a group of women, unmarried, ranging from teenage to early womanhood, sat in a circle outside of the room, banging pots and clapping hands to an intricate beat, singing songs that i could not understand. the older married women were sitting a little farther away watching the younger generations sing their farewells. at this point, men weren't around yet, but being a foreigner, i was allowed to observe, sitting with the grandmothers a little farther away. the men of the village finally showed up 2 hours later. the groom's uncle, along with other family members of the other party, then arrived on a car. dinner was served. my sister, up until this point, had remained in the room, and no one but close family members has seen her.

once everyone in the village had been fed, an eerie silence engulfed the gathering. the uncle of the groom stepped forward and announced that he must take the bride-to-be with him to the village of the groom. at this point, a group of local young bachelors, ran to block his path to the bedroom, demanding a payment for passage. the uncle discussed the payment with the other family members and ended up paying the bachelors off. then my sister's uncle stood up and demanded a dowry, a lump sum of 30,000 cfa or the equivalent of $60. this may not sound like much at all but here, that's a lot of money in bulk. a typical senegalese salary is way below 20,000 cfa a month, and that's if he doesnt spend any money or owe anyone anything. the groom's uncle had a long discussion with the other family members and my sister's uncle, growing impatient, walked away. my other sisters, as well as the groom's uncle, had to run after my sister's uncle, and after some more discussion, the groom's uncle paid up. finally my sister walked out, entirely veiled under a white blanket and there was a little girl following her very closely, also entirely veiled under the white blanket. they both sat down in the middle of the procession. according to a grandmother i was sitting next to, the little girl's job was to convince my sister to get married saying things like 'you are beautiful' and 'you are a good muslim' and 'the husband will be nice to you'. no one could hear any of this except my sister. all the while, the villagers began a group discussion slash blessing and words of advice. in the end, a prayer was said and my sister got up and walked toward the car. the women of the village began singing again; my sisters and brothers were all crying. we watched the car drive away under the moonlight. it was midnight already.

it's a very heart wrenching departure because in some ways, she will never see the village ever again. once you are married, it's like you belong to your husband's family - you celebrate holidays with your husband's family, you dont get to go on vacations when you feel like it. your job is in his home and leaving rarely is a possibility. mobility for women in this country is difficult and unless there's a wedding or baptism in yang yang, she probably wont see her family for prolonged periods of time. it's lonely. and it sucks if she's the second or third or even fourth wife. but luckily, the younger kids that are going to school in the other village will be able to visit her so maybe she wont be so lonely after all.

following the two days of pre-wedding festivities was tabaski. tabaski is a holy holiday where every family (that is capable) sacrifices a sheep to commemorate abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to god. according to this book i read, there was a survey back in 2003 that said 5 million sheep were killed in senegal, alone, on tabaski. think of the population increase since then and then think of all the muslim countries in the world. how many sheep are slaughtered within the span of a few hours on the morning of tabaski?

our family slaughtered 2 sheep and i helped skin them and clean out the innards. i definitely lost my appetite the rest of the day. watching your food decapitated, skinned, chopped up, i should really become a vegetarian. then for many following days, sheep meat was all we ate. i watched my family tear through the skull of one.

otherwise, tabaski was uneventful as all other senegalese (religious) holidays are. we wore traditional outfits and walked around the village greeting everyone and that was about it. i guess the only other interesting thing was my outfit that i had made - i asked the tailor for red stitch work and he gave me hot pink.

go figure senegal...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

hypothermia in senegal?

totally possible.
it's been dropping to 60 degrees every night
which requires me to wear sweat pants and a hoodie and sleep wrapped in a decently cold-proof comforter
oh, still under a beautiful star studded sky of course...
maybe my body has acclimated too well to the desert heat
or i dropped too much weight from ramadan and the amoebas, though im working on it
it is actually cold in senegal. northface anyone?

ps - 25 days until my new york city and shanghai recuperation.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

this roller coaster is fun but it's no six flags or cedar point

still no camera. i think visual aids will resume january 2011 (when i come back from the land of plenty after my little vacation/recharge and have bought a new sand/dust proof camera). life in senegal is like one long roller coaster ride. some days are up days and others are down days. other times, you can have ups and downs all within one day, or even both by 8:30 in the morning. anyway, things ive done in the last 3 weeks and thoughts that have crossed my head...

1. i drank from a bottle that used to contain car break fluid. my breath smelled of sulfur. something i shouldve been worried about?
2. harvesting peanuts is awesome. i legitimately feel like a farmer. it gets monotonous after a while but i brought my speakers and ipod into the field and it was just fun working right beside my family listening to great american music (i listen to enough senegalese music to deserve these breaks). but it got me wondering... being here has made me think of things i never would've thought of back in the states. like picking peanuts for example. there's so much man labor required to pick peanuts and then weed out the bad ones. how do we do it back in the states in such large proportions? it seems almost impossible. i know machines do a lot of the work but how do they separate the bad peanuts? how do the machines differentiate? and then i thought of where the stuff we no longer use anymore - where they go. giant billboard posters for example. answer: they end up here as someones tent or someones roof or covering for trucks loaded with wood. "a diamond is forever", "the fast and the furious 3", "burger king" - a reminder of america and things that weve taken for granted.
3. riding a horse without a saddle or anything is harder than it looks. but fun! next time, i'll use a pillow.
4. i used to think - if i am only allowed to eat what i can successfully grow by myself here, i wouldve starved to death a long time ago. which is absolutely a true statement. but finally my garden is pseudo blossoming. i wish i could take pictures but allah has not granted me a working fixed camera yet. but, i have finally tasted the fruits of my labor! well not fruit, vegetable. okra, to be more specific. and moringa from my moringa bed. my sister made it into a sauce to eat with millet. my moringa was delicious. the millet, still not. fresh vegetables is such a luxury - to be able to pick it and cook and eat it, all within 2 hours. delicious. so i have a decent amount of okra growing. the eggplants and tomato plants are massive but haven't fruited yet. the mint are carrying on as usual. and now in addition, i have a massive plot of bissap (roselle) that will eventually grow to be used in food, and also to make a deliciously sweet beverage. awesome!
5 for a time, i thought the amoebas were back. or something else entirely, like giardia. my symptoms relapsed. it was really depressing - the disappointment at my body. the staph also came back from a while. but now everything is gone (i hope) and all is well. still trying to fatten up. im doing my best but it just isnt working.
6. we went to the local bar at 10am to return a couple of beer bottles and lo and behold, people are already wasted with empty gin bottles lying about. i wonder what alcohol means to people here and what they see as its purpose... curious.
7. here a free range chicken is shared amongst 10 people. in america, a factory raised chicken (and therefore 4x the size, 4x the meat of a senegalese free-range chicken) is shared amongst maybe 3 people. the gluttony that is america is appauling but i miss it so very much. sometimes my body craves protein so bad that when i have access to eggs, i consume 7 or 8 of them in a single sitting. rice is just a space filler - im starving all the time. i wont even mention cassava which has zero nutritional value whatsoever. my family is starving me. instead of buying vegetables and more nutritious items, they waste their money on new clothes. my family is relaively well off - if you only just look around the community and compare it to others. but it is definitely poor by Amereican standards. so stop wasting money. stop malnourishing yourselves. stop starving me.
8. sometimes i think america is destroying their culture. middle of nowhere rural desert africa is no place for american rapper inspired baggy jeans, tasteless profane tshirts, and rocked flat-billed caps.
9. the ny minute vs waiting - i have always been a fast paced kind of person. this slow paced lifestyle and work ethic is killing me. sitting around gives me more stress than working with stressful people. this snail crawl is so hard to live with...
10. i walked around (and sorta got lost) in the desert, by myself. it's quite a feeling, being so alone. i was visiting a village about 5k away that had no water, no electricity, no health facilities - basically a village i want to work with. it required forging a stagnant stream which was really gross (i feel like definitely caught something new) and following a barely visible tire track in the sand that criss crossed and diverged and converged every so often. it was cool though. i'll never be able to do this again in my life so gonna enjoy the isolation.
11. my project will fail. my boss (well sorta, not really) finally came up to hold a meeting with all the important members of my project and for the last 3 weeks, that was what i was doing - getting people to come to this meeting. i wanted 2 representatives from the 9 villages, preferably matrones and ASCs but if they dont exist, i set up potential relais, women with motivation that want to help their village. i also invited my chief of village, my ICP, my counterpart, the president of the health committee, treasurer of the health committee, a USAID - plan NGO worker in the district, and my sous-prefet of my arrondissement. i continuously had trouble getting charette rides or car rides. and when i met these people, they always told me "enshallah" meaning allah willing, meaning maybe - the worst response you can get when you really want definite answers. up until the morning of, i really thought no one was going to show up. and they didnt for the first hour and a half. of course it's senegal and when i say a meeting starts at 9am, it means show up at 11:20am. i literally had people showing up 3 hours late, but i guess they eventually did come which is what really matters. it's a slow progress and most likely my project will fail because it's so timeline based but i will try my best. i also realized i failed at language acquisition. my wolof still sucks. it's unfortunate.

went to halloween. tamba is a magical place. our region is really deprived. we live without anything in life.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

so this is what death feels like!

Usually the Yang (short name for my village) is great - peaceful, calm, serene - an escape from constant harassment from people who dont know you and all the worries associated with larger towns and traveling in this country. the last 2 weeks however, have been... quite an adventure. never have so many things gone wrong in such a short time span. i dont want to rant for an entire entry but since my camera is (still) broken, i can only hope to document my life in a pseudo-interesting and painless light. where to begin:

thursday - the culprit of my subsequent misfortune came in the form of, potentially, a gritty concoction of millet, yogurt, and sand sold at a local street-food stand
friday - problems of my gastrointestinal (GI) tract begin - trying to spare yall details (hah)
saturday - GI problems worsen
sunday - made the horrible (in retrospect, absolutely regretted) mistake of biking back to my village. usually it's a 6 hour bike ride. this time it took 10. many factors contributed to this abysmal biking time: because of my GI problems for the past 2 days, i havent really eaten anything substantial, nor have i been sleeping well. this overall weakened state of my body along with exhaustion, some dehydration, and the heat ended up with me riding into the Yang looking as if i died a couple of times that day. and indeed i probably almost did... i wasnt fully over my GI problems but i decided against common sense and biked anyway. luckily no "accidents" occurred on the bike trip, but i thoroughly destroyed my body
monday - this day was probably rock bottom #1. i have chest pains and back aches from the bad posture my body was in during the horrible bike ride on the previous day. i then discover that there is mold everywhere in my room, covering all my clothes and sheets and bed stuff. the electricity has been out for the last 2 days and since our forage runs on an electric motor (the village didnt think this one through) and there arent any wells, the family was running on dwindling water supplies so couldnt wash anything. then i discover that a few days ago, goats got into my garden and wreaked havoc on all my trees and moringa and crops. some okra, tomatoes, eggplant, and watermelon survived but the entire tree pepiniere as well as moringa bed were destroyed. in addition, there seemed to be an influx of mosquitoes in my village - and 2 of my brothers had malaria
tuesday - body is still recovering from physical stress but i was able to go over to the health post and discuss different prerequisites for my project with my ICP. i intended on visiting all the other health huts in the coming days, as well as acquainting myself with each village's matrone and ASC. supposedly a couple of matrones were coming in on wednesday so i was advised to wait around and meet them tomorrow. electricity, water, and cell phone service still out.
wednesday - the matrones never found a charette to bring themselves into the Yang. i waited around all day for nothing. i decided then to start my visits on my own the following day. electricity, water, and cell phone service still out. my siblings are starting to disappoint me. theyve always been intrigued by my book reading habits and when they found my learning-french books, they were all very excited. so i brought back le petit prince for them to read. my sister read 10 pages, got bored, and put it down. they are not interested in reading. nor movies with any depth or meaning - they just want action sequences where no dialogue is needed. they dont want to learn any card games - the 2 they know is just plenty. they detest my classical music and would rather sit silently all day than listen to it. they are so set in their ways that it leaves me wondering: am i imposing my culture? am i forcing smiles in pictures? where's the cultural exchange and learning? ive accepted theirs but they dont really like mine...
thursday - the sous-prefet is still in dakar so no car is available to me. my counterpart's charette is in the fields. our family has a charette but my brother still has malaria so once again, my life is controlled by transportation. i cannot bike because these villages are only accessible via paths with beach-like sand. electricity came back on for a few hours which allowed us to stock up on water again and i was finally able to do some laundry to wash the mold out of my clothes. i probably will have respiratory problems due to the mold, years from now. on top of it, i've had pretty much only had beans for the last 4 days. it's bread with beans for breakfast, rice with beans and dried fish for lunch, steamed beans with afternoon tea, and then rice with beans and dried fish again for dinner. i am terrified of the harvest season now because of the ridiculous amount of beans we are eating. on the bright side, i attended a football match in the middle of the desert. this was a real lifter in a crappy week. picture little boys running around chasing each other near the field. the older boys who arent playing in the football game are sitting in clicks, fooling around, gossiping. the girls are sitting separately and slightly further away, sometimes carrying or surrounded by younger siblings. they are giggling and gossiping as well, of course. i obviously value comfort a lot so i brought my mat with me and the instant, i put my mat down, it is swarmed with children and their caretakers. wow, i am in rural africa. im fitting in, being accepted, just hanging out with the youths of my village. sometimes, i feel like im in the village too long. when i go to the cities, i find myself staring at other white people. it's just weird seeing white people around. sometimes i forget im not black.
friday - once again i cannot visit any health huts because there is a wedding in my village and i got tricked into going to it. haha, it's not that i wasnt happy going - attending events in the village is an important part of being in with the community - it's just that weddings and baptisms are so... unexciting for me. there's a lot of sitting around, drinking tea, and eating greasy rice - 3 things i dont particularly look forward to doing for an entire day. and i still couldnt do anything for my project. i decided to transplant some eggplant in my garden.
saturday - as luck would have it, there is a baptism that i had to attend in the morning - so another day lost. but it wouldve been lost anyway because i was starting to have GI problems again... oh and the electricity, water, and cell phone service is out, again...
sunday - i did not sleep much saturday night because my GI problems took a turn for the worse and i was having pretty severe abdominal cramping and pain. it got a little better sunday morning but then came back in full force. sunday was probably rock bottom day #2. i decided to call it in and was advised to start some drugs and also took a sample of my stools to bring into dakar for lab results. all of sunday and sunday night was spent pretty much in a fetal position, teeth grinding from the pain, unable to eat and barely being able to take in liquids - even though it was extremely important, my body was unbelievably dehydrated from all the...
monday - i left for dakar. it was not a fun day. traveling when you have GI issues requires a lot of physical and mental restrain. i had to take a couple of imodium's to stop it up a bit. thankfully, i did not have any "accidents". however the ride was somewhat terrible. for some reason, people here dont understand common courtesy when traveling in public transportation. this kid threw up. but instead of throwing up in a bag or out the window, it was right onto the floor of the bus. this has happened numerous times to me already. i think people just dont understand taking care of things, even if it's theirs. and then there were also sheep tied onto the roof. i guess the sheep needed to urinate, so it did. and it came in through the windows as a mist/drip. sheep piss has a pungent smell - i smelled like it for another 24 hours...
tuesday - turned in my results. had soup for the first time in 7 months. the pain has lessened but still... pee-ing from a place where it doesnt normally come out of.
wednesday - the results are in. i have amoebas!

so now i am on amoeba-killing medication which in total is a 13 day process and hopefully in the next couple of days, i will feel better and my body will return to normal, enshallah.

lessoned learned: amoebas, or any GI parasites, are absolutely no fun - so be careful

so maybe the last 2 weeks weren't that bad - they were just disappointing. my body failed me a couple of times, and i feel terribly stalled because i wasnt able to do very much for my project, but i have learned a lot from this experience.
to be able to work and do something well, in this country or i guess anywhere else in life, especially in terms of aid work, i must fit into their schedule. i cant expect them to fit into mine. im sure that in the next year and a half, i will come across plenty of situations where the schedules will not align up and i will feel frustrated, like im completely wasting time, but really im not. the community is accepting me more, feeling more comfortable with my presence, getting used to the idea of a foreigner just hanging around all the time. once i can get the ball rolling, whenever that happens, it'll just continue to roll and things will fall into place. if i fit into their schedule, they'll be more eager and more cooperative.
i can do this.
well... let's get better first, haha.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

half anniversary in-country post ramadan, some staph infections, and a camera tragedy...

a week ago was our 6 months mark. it really doesnt feel like i've been here that long. but thinking back to the life i had 6 months ago and comparing it to now, i cant help but smile. i think i've become somewhat of a dirty hippie. i was thinking the other day, how hard it is to truly describe the life here. one can only live it to fully understand the absurdities of such things as riding in cars that swerve continually for hours upon hours dodging potholes every feet or so, or biking through mud and sand to villages where children have never seen a foreigner, or being ok with not having electricity for days at a time, or living paycheck to paycheck to the point where you only have 1 US dollars worth left in your pocket. public transportation is predictably unpredictable. having skin problems during the rainy season is so commonplace - the combination of the humidity and moistness in the air with undernourishment, as well as constant flies wreaking havoc on your open wounds made from mosquito bites, makes me look like i have leprosy or the bubonic plague or herpes or gangrene all over my legs. i have spared yall the pictures of my pus-ing open wounds but the doc claims they are all staph infections since they havent healed after months. getting meds for them now so hopefully they'll look better soon. i digress... but anyway, ramadan, the month of fasting, has finally ended in the culmination of a holiday called korite, which wasnt as exciting as everyone made it out to be, except for the fact that now i can now resume eating breakfast and lunch at somewhat proper hours. i have survived my very first ramadan! (and gained lots of street credit as a result)... so i fasted for 15 days out of the 29, which included not drinking water. the rest was spent talking to my counterparts and figuring out details about my project, reading 5 books, and doing a ton of bush biking around my village, which added up to around 320k or close to 200 miles. pretty sweet if i may say so myself... although i've lost close to 15 pounds. any protein that i eat goes straight to my thighs/calves, thanks to biking.

we got a new dog and dubbed her helen keller (go figure)... though she is a serious needle in all our asses so we may have to part with her soon, enshallah.

i decided to go herding with my brother one day (crossing this one of the things to do list before i die!). herding... is like taking a dog for a stroll in the park. except its a herd of sheep. and you're in the middle of nowhere. it's a very solitary life and i feel slightly saddened that people have to do it. i, for one, cannot herd as an occupation - it's just too lonely.

there's no one to talk to, not even fellow herders because you dont want to get your animals mixed together, so you stay apart from other people. and then it's a lot of sitting or standing around watching them eat, rest, frolic, fornicate with the occasional moving to the next patch of fresh greeneries... quite the life huh? haha, it's overrated but cool nonetheless. the isolation and beauty of the open wilderness is breathtaking.

on one of my bike trips, my friends came up to visit me in the Yang and we decided to do a back bush tour all the way through the forest/desert back to our regional house in the Ling, some 50 odd kilometers away. the night before, it rained an ungodly amount - which in the long run we are thankful for because it packed the sand, that would have been unbikeable through, had it been dry and too sandy - but as it occurred, sucked because my roof leaked (yeah it was raining that hard) and i felt like archimedes, the owl, in the sword in the stone cartoon in merlin's tower putting teapots underneath leaks. the morning of, and i guess throughout the day, we had a ton of bike problems but all in all, it was quite an interesting bike ride. we had to bike through puddles that were a little under knee deep - the puddles were... probably filled with animal feces. at some point, there were no roads, just barely visible tracks on the ground that criss-crossed and split off. we had to ask random pulaar compounds the direction toward the next random pulaar compound in hopes that we would come across something. but wow, is it beautiful out there. untouched by civilization, no electricity or telephone poles, no planes flying overhead. it was as if we werent living in 2010, where across a small ocean is a booming metropolis called new york city.

an unfortunate sight, the upside down bike - during repair...

covered in mud toward the end of the day...

my tomatoes and eggplant and okra pepinieres grew pretty well that i had to expand my garden, pretty much doubling it's size for space to outplant. it required a ton of weeding, but my garden is starting to look like a real garden...
a shot of my entire plot...
dont be deceived by the over-green-ness of my garden. there are a ton of weeds so actually my garden is less productive than it looks...
mint is growing well...
my random tree pepinieres are coming up... i have no idea what trees they are. although some are leucena, and i like those...
when my friend said dont plant watermelon too close to other things, she wasnt kidding. the watermelon are spreading like weeds, overrunning an entire section of my plot!
a shot of the prosperous eggplants...
a shot of the tomatoes...
my brother planted SO MANY OKRA... firstly you dont pepiniere okra. you plant them individually and apart from each other and let them grow big. you cant move them. they are so going to die after my transplanting...
my moringa trees are getting pretty massive...
now would you look at that... is that a... baby watermelon?!
i found this rascal hiding behind a ton of leaves... umm so my garden is actually somewhat productive and things are actually growing... who knew i could grow stuff in the desert...
i found a baby scorpion outside my room... i wonder if it's stinger can cause pain already...

now this is... a life experience. so, ok we get milk and yogurt in the middle of no where, where refrigerators dont exist. ive accepted this fact. but the other day i had a substance called diiw u noor that my family bought from pulaars. at first, i compared its taste to that cringing expression when you enter a locker room after a football game. repulsive? diiw u noor is yogurt that has been left out, and when the top of the yogurt turns yellow (im assuming from going bad), they scrape it off and boil it and turn it back into an oil. unappetizing i know. but the 2nd time, my sister made it, and it wasnt so bad (?)... the flavor is close to saganaki cheese. like if oil was saganaki cheese flavored, youd have what i tasted. (saganaki cheese is that cheese you light on fire in greek restaurants, fyi). and actually, i think that's how you make saganaki cheese. after the oil boiling process, there's some residue at the bottom of the pot and i tasted it and it was pretty close to cheese... curious...

ps - segue is spelled s-e-g-u-e, lol. um, there was one morning when i woke up to it raining outside and there were goats on my porch area, just like 2 yards from my face. it was... entertaining. i put on my ipod and sang my heart out to numerous songs. the goats looked at me as if i were crazy. later that day, i showered in the rain because all my brothers were doing it. it was cold.

thank you sasha for this AWESOME backpack. i literally go everywhere with it now! it's tougher than my jansport so it totally gets me through all the mud and bush car rides. plus, i look hipster.

i have finally made my room more friendly by putting up pictures! im sure some of you will recognize your silly faces. i have tons of photos in a photo album too so that i wont forget you guys. and thanks cat for the subway map... helps me remember my roots and gives my siblings something to look at when they hang out in my room. it's fun explaining a subway system to them - cars that are underneath the earth that carry people to very far places... i should also thank kidd for the tshirt sent from taiwan, yuping for a postcard from taiwan, and vivi from when she was in america for her care package of goodies too. everyone is awesome!

i wasnt kidding about thorns on the ground, in the sand. everytime i take a short walk, i have to stop after awhile to scrape off the thorns that jam into my flip flops. one needs a good pair of flip flops (or really thick skin) to survive here. they hurt...

just some other thoughts...
1. who thought tin/zinc roofs was a good idea? it couldnt be louder when it rains. you cant sleep through a war like that...
2. the MSG is literally killing me here. everything has MSG in it, and in turn, i crave everything. my body is slowly dying i tell ya.
3. most nights, i sleep under the stars. i forget how serene and awesome it is.
4. i think my gender equality work is working. my actions are actually rubbing off on other people. you always do a double take when you see men in this country do laundry. the other day, i saw my brothers washing their own clothes and the girls just sitting around. TASK COMPLETE! this happened too toward the end in my training village. my insistence that i do my own laundry has made the women realize that men are capable of doing their own share of work around the house. maybe i am making a difference around here...
5. some aspects of this culture are just simply awesome. i love seeing adults stick out their heads from their compounds, psst over a random kid from the street and order then to run to the boutique to buy something and bring it back. complete strangers! the way this society is run where any adult can order around anyone younger than them is phenom... the obedience and patience is phenom too.
6. sometimes, i think it's us americans in the peace corps that's keeping cultures surviving (big head syndrome). wolof is an unwritten language so it's passed down orally from generation to generation. especially in a country where the official national language is french and people are starting to use french more to work on the global market, i feel like people are moving away from wolof. you can tell how even now, french words are invading the wolof language. very few people speak pure wolof. i speak purer wolof than most people in my village. it's almost like a dying language. the other day after a rain and the sun came out, i asked everyone how to say rainbow in wolof and only dad knew. sad...
7. one evening, i spit a beetle out of my mouth. it was crawling around in the food and i guess i spooned it up.

went to dakar for some office work, to get meds for my staph infections, to take a break from village life, and to eat since ramadan has seriously starved me. i appreciate food more and more each day. my camera stopped working one morning. i will see if i can fix it. otherwise, it will be terribly depressing.

til next time!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

ramadan - fiji water sounds amazing right about now...

ramadan has only just begun - not more than a week and a half ago - and already i am tired of it. literally. physically exhausted. it's not really a fast but more like changing your eating schedule and habits. every morning, i would wake up around 5am and have either leftovers from dinner last night (which is usually something rice based, no surprise there), or this millet porridge with yogurt (which is quite good if i may say so myself), and tons of water. let me go back to the yogurt. so you're probably wondering how i have yogurt in the middle of a desert. well, 2 factors: one, being that it's rainy season right now and it actually does rain here, the rains have seriously changed the landscape of my area.

it looks more like a golf course than anything else. i got home after training and didnt recognize it at all. it could almost be country side america, no?

going along with the first factor, there's plenty of vegetation (i cant say grass because it aint grass - it's more like spiky weeds) so the cows or eating well and producing lots of milk. so how do the pulaars turn this milk into yogurt? i honestly dont think they buy yeast cultures. what more likely happens is they just leave the milk out a few days until it goes sour and voila! yogurt! add some sugar and chill it a bit... pretty much the same... right? haha, anyway back to drinking water. all eating and drinking stops at 5:45ish and then it's back to sleep. i'll wake up around 7:30 or 8 because im used to it by now, water my garden, and then go back to bed, to get up around 930 or so. then my long day begins of no eating or drinking until 7:35pm at night. surprisingly i dont get that hungry, and im thirsty, but not that thirsty. but this, i think, is largely due to the fact that i dont do much all day. i mean, how could i? everyone else isnt doing anything, except feeling miserable, and no one has the energy to do anything. everyone just sits around, takes naps, chats with each other, plays homemade board games or cards, or if lucky and there's electricity, watches tv. tempers are shorter; i find even myself snapping a little at kids who are being too loud or obnoxious. i went to my health post a couple of times and the doctor was just sitting with his kids watching tv or taking naps. ramadan really isnt the month to start projects. what bad timing for us... on the bright side, farming has to continue so sometimes i go with my dad out into his fields to weed or repair the live fencing. we work slower and dont really exert ourselves because we know we cant drink water or eat so we shouldnt overly tire ourselves out.

the field is amazing. it's massive and things are actually growing wonderfully. no wonder people laugh at my garden and my incompetencies. theyve been doing this their whole lives. i never saw myself living on a farm, which is kind of really where i am. there's livestock everywhere and fields of crops... im in farm country. weird...

anyway, back to ramadan. since i dont do much all day, i spend it all, mostly reading or hanging out with the family or someone else in the village. just from a week and a half, ive done a ton of reading on gardening and also literature relevant to my project - but ive also done a lot of leisure reading as well. when you have like 12 hours to kill everyday, that's a lot of books after a while. currently im blasting through anna karenina. by 5pm, i start feeling the effects of thirst. i cannot tell you how much more i appreciate drinking. even warm, not so great tasting water (think of evian but much much worse). some 2 and a half hours of waiting around later, which is occupied we finally break fast, and for the first few days, i couldnt stop smiling at this time. it is such a magical experience to quench thirst and satisfy your hunger after a whole day of abstaining. we break fast with a cup of coffee, some dates, a cup of bissap juice, and bread with some spread inside (onion sauce, homemade mayo, butter, or if lucky, this onions meat french fries thing). then sometimes around 8:15, we'll have pre-dinner, which is usually some sort of pasta - but this doesnt always happen. then we get dinner around 9:30/10 which is usually rice with other things. once done, you repeat... for 30 days. i eat slightly less than pre-ramadan but theres no significant difference in intake (although my sister says i will get really skinny after this month, which i dont know how that's possible but im starting to see the effects... i am getting skinnier, if that's even possible). it's just the timing of intake as well as my sleep wake cycle that's throwing everything off and making me so tired and exhausted and energy-less all day everyday. my body is dying... i already dont sleep well with my malaria meds, and now ramadan. just great. i seriously look forward to my first peaceful, wakeless night of sleep in america 20 months from now. it will be glorious!

my garden was practically non-existent when i came home - except for my tree pepinieres, and even so, not so great. apparently there must have been numerous sand storms while i was away because my garden looked pretty flat. the moringa aka nebedaay (or cleverly coined "never dies" because apparently they dont) were massive and the roots were extending into the ground so i had to move the tree sacks. 2 days later, i realized that moving them this late, and breaking the roots, i killed them. i killed my never dies. how pathetic. well, ok maybe not killed them completely. they just got really weak and lost all their leaves but some of them are growing back now, yay! those mystery seeds that i planted were flamboyants - really beautiful trees. much needed in this area though i dont know how well they'll grow in deserts. i also brought back a mango and papaya tree to plant on my family compound. the papaya didnt survive the journey but the mango is doing pretty well. in a couple of years, maybe my family will have mangoes and think of me.

so i re-did my garden, planting tomatoes, lettuce, bitter tomatoes, eggplant, hot peppers, more moringa, watermelon, sunflowers, flamboyants, and other random tree seeds that will be a surprise in a month or so. i also transplanted some mint. i left some weeds to create a more natural habitat and to distract the insects from eating my crops. enshallah, my garden will do decently well this time. ive attracted some natural pest controls - there are frogs and spiders and wasps and birds in my garden. the other day, i even saw a praying mantis! all these great pest control agents!

my mint is doing pretty well as of now...

the eggplant are growing and hopefully will survive much longer than they did last time...

just a shot of the baby flamboyants...

watermelon... (if i ever eat the fruit of my labor, i will die happy)

never dies... hopefully ready for harvest and eating in a few weeks

and my random tree seeds...

some random thoughts that ive had in the last couple of weeks:
1. im sorry i didnt take pictures of these but this may be the most amazing thing about senegal and how our world works in general. you know those old tshirts you donate to good will or the red cross? tshirts from childhood like ps 143 class of 1997, or springfield baseball, or johnson's family reunion, or riverdale elementary school math league? you get the idea. you know where they end up? i will tell you. they end up in senegalese markets in large piles. people pick through them, bargain a small price for these second hand tshirts, and wear em. it's so beautiful. if i ever run into a shirt i know, or even a shirt that ive owned, i dont know what i will do... life works in mysteries ways, you never know...
2. thanks to ramadan, all i think about is food that im missing back in the states. perogies from that one eastern european late night afterclub diner? chicken pot pie? lobster dipped in butter, crab cakes with tartar sauce, ginger ale, spinach and artichoke dip, soupy dumplings, dim sum, budejigae... the list can go on forever. sometimes during the long hours of the day, i get cravings. they are terrible.
3. it hit me why i would crave senegalese food sometimes. weird huh? i should be sick of it by now, the lack of variety, the same greasy oily rice base. but i figured it out. theres MSG in everything. EVERYTHING! they dont know how to cook without it and by now, it's so built into their culture (with commercials advertising its use) that i cant think of a good way to get rid of it (telling my family that it's bad for their health doesnt do any good). no wonder i get cravings sometimes... mmm maafe...
4. flies are unrelenting as always. and thanks to the rainy season, theyre out in full force. my mosquito bites from july 4th never fully healed. theyre open wounds now and thanks to the flies landing on them, they became infected and are now pus-ing. quite pleasant really...
5. the senegalese idea of a good movie baffles me. it doesnt have to be in french, it can be in any language really (it dawned on me that their french isnt all that great and its senegalese french so real french dubbed in movies is quite different - think of brazilian portuguese and you get the idea). if it's a series or tv show, it doesnt even have to start from the beginning. all they care about are fight scenes and the occasional gag humor scene. my brother somehow found a copy of prison break season 3 in french or something and they didnt even start from episode 1. they just started on episode 6 and scrolled to all the fight scenes. what a bizarre taste. i thought bringing pixar movies was a good idea because i'll be with kids and all... NOPE. they only want movies with fighting in it. anything else and they lose interest. the other day when i got tired of reading, i gave in and watched a few episodes of mad men season 3 on my laptop. my siblings came in and asked if it was good. i said it was really good. they asked me if there was fighting. i said no. they looked shocked. they asked me what it did have. i said lots of dialogue and talking. they lost interest and walked away... how did senegalese culture become so obsessed with violence? theyre not a very violent people, but this obsession (they love watching senegalese wrestling) is inexplicable.
6. already i am running into problems with my project. apparently when i was away, my doctor trained a couple of relais in surrounding villages... maybe i'll just collaborate with him and see what he's training them on and extend the training program to more villages and more topic areas.
7. about two weeks ago, i was able to bike 90k (roughly 55 miles) in one day. of course my body died the next day but it's doable. i plan on doing a lot more biking from now on... during the next 4 days or so, i plan on biking about 200k so we'll see how this goes...
8. dont believe people when they say the camel spiders are harmless. i was rudely awoken one night to this sharp pain in my toe and low and behold, a baby camel spider as big as my thumb pinched me hard. theyre just so ugly and scary looking, no matter how small or big...

well i'll write again in a few weeks... i really want to go to shanghai to visit vivi for xmas and new years. i hope i can make it happen. need serious big city therapy...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

my grandiose 2-year idea that will probably fail

hi all! i didnt take that many pictures this month so it's gonna be a wordy entry. since july 4th, i've visited Dakar and gone to 2nd rounds of training - both deserve separate entries but this'll have to do for now.

Dakar was... amazing. it felt like being a little kid in a candy shop. perhaps Dakar is no different and not more special than other large cities but i guess i just forgot what it's like on the other side of the atlantic. i forgot what being in civilization feels like - my small village of 300 in the middle of a desert doesnt quite resemble anything back home. i forgot that tall buildings actually exist, that electricity can be had consistently, that water actually runs and you can choose hot or cold, that people actually own air conditioners and nice cars, that people dress up and go out. i forgot what its like to have choices in what you eat, not even just cuisine but what specific meals you want. i forgot what its like to be able to grab a cold refreshing beer, or ice cream, or even fresh fruit. i forgot what supermarkets and cafes looked like. it's these small, almost insignificant experiences of life that really make me appreciate what being an american and living in america really means. there were many a times when i didnt understand just how prosperous our country is and how lucky we all are to have the freedoms and opportunities, things that weve took for granted. it takes experiences like these to really comprehend why americans really do have it all. finally after 4 months, i have had real chinese food. real... chinese... food. food made by people from china who couldnt really speak french, definitely didnt speak any of the local languages, and the only way to communicate was in chinese. how bizarre is it to find a group of americans in a chinese restaurant that only speaks chinese... in the middle of senegal? case and point. so what do a group of deprived americans do when theyve been in rural villages for 2 months? they go wild and eat everything! lol, we had chinese, american, italian, french, thai... next time we're doing indian and korean. there were even pastry shops and gourmet chocolate! you dont realize what youre missing until it's gone.

ive never had desperados beer before even though people say you can find it in the states. it's like a corona-y beer, with tequila. pretty good actually.
hanging out with our teacher and her friends during a christian holiday (celebration of st anne?)

ill skip the telling about training part because theres not much to tell. except that we learned all these cool new gardening techniques and ive decided that im going to convert my desert patch into a lush permaculture. and also what my overall project goals and plans are for the next 2 years of my life. but anyway, after training ended, we went to the beach for one last time before heading back to our desert (the complete opposite).

the ocean is just so beautiful. and the sunset. and even better! that night, the power was out so everything was super dark and there were dinoflagellates (word courtesy of jess lee!!) in the water so our bodies glistened with fluorescent plankton. we couldnt get pictures because of how dark it was and the flash not being able to catch anything but it was amazing. it was like glow in the dark body glitter!

now, back in my regional house, as i type this in our hot, HOT (like feels like 115), and humid weather, i plan on going back to my village in a couple of days after i finish a few last minute errands. what will i be doing in my next 2 years you may be wondering. thus far, ive really done nothing except for acclimate and assimilate. which i guess is an important aspect because you need to gain the trust and confidence of your community before you can actually do anything. and find motivated people to work with (lack of motivation is a killer here). now after my 2nd round of training, i have a better idea of the project i want to do...

1. my village counterparts want me to give causeries, in general to everyone about HIV/AIDS, and to women about the importance of pre- and post-natal consultations.
2. after visiting a few surrounding villages, as well as going through the village doctor's consultations book to see where people are coming from and with what ailments, i have noticed a lack of accessibility to medical care as well as to general knowledge on certain prevalent problems of the region.

proposed project:
because my village health post is in charge of roughly 15-20 villages (probably more... 30?), i want to do a 2 year series of training of relais. relais are the name given to community health workers. they are unpaid, and therefore volunteers, and work out of the goodness of their hearts. i will be going to each village to find the existing relais (who probably hasnt been trained in a very long time) or set up new ones, and each month, one relais from each village will come to my health post, where we will cover a variety of subjects ranging from simple first aid, to hygiene, from how to deal with dehydration, to malaria (and also malaria net distributions after these talks and proper handling and care of the nets), from pre- and post- pregnancy health of mother and child, to child nutrition and vaccinations, from STDs and HIV/AIDS, to family planning. i will leave the HIV/AIDS and family planning and other sensitive subjects toward the end of my service when the relais and myself are more comfortable with each other and the sensitive subjects can be breached. after each session, each relais will go back to their village and find a group of suitable villagers to talk to and we will schedule an in-village causerie to do, on the subject we just talked about. the relais will be doing most of the causerie and im just there to help out. if i teach the relais how to make niim lotion to protect from mosquito bites and prevent malaria, the relais will demonstrate to villages how to do the exact same. in this way, when i leave, the knowledge will be passed down and hopefully people will continue without my presence, or any aid group's presence for that matter. peace corps philosophy emphasizes sustainability and this is the only sustainable solution i can come up with. of course this is just a project idea in the making - thinking about all the details, it will be a logistical nightmare scheduling all these causeries and transporting the relais to and from my village. transportation is already such a huge problem in my area and the concept of planning ahead and making schedules doesnt exist here. how will i carry out my project? this is what i have to figure out.

but in the mean time, i have to prepare for ramadan, the month of no pleasure between sun up and sun down. no one can drink, or eat, or smoke, or doing anything fun or pleasure related during the day. the senegalese value their coffee and tea, both of which are extremely caffeinated and sweet - so imagine the caffeine and sugar withdrawal. compound that to smokers who will have nicotine withdrawal and everyone just being hungry and hot and dehydrated. tempers will flare. bon chance to me...

Friday, July 2, 2010

I survived 2 sandstorms and a worm-infested river

and we will get to those a little bit later once you scroll down to the pictures.
just some random thoughts:
1. i swear, if another fly lands on me again, i will go crazy. and hence going crazy. i dont know which is worse for me, mosquitos or flies these days. it's quite the tolerance and patience test which i will sooner or later fail. little do i know that being in the desert, i have it pretty good compared to the luscious dirty south.
2. eating on the ground has it's advantages. anything that falls in the sand, you dont really have to clean up because well, it's in the sand. and it's just more comfortable to sprawl out on the floor (even though you dont really get to sprawl when theres 15 people around a bowl) but at least you dont get butt cramps from sitting on a hard wooden chair. the disadvantage, though, is that when it's real windy, you get sand in your food. and i guess it's fine, the crunchiness and all. sand has never given me any stomach issues, yet. oh the other hand...
3. the other day, i had eggs. bad eggs. and like i said in the past, they dont keep eggs in fridges and i never really understood how that's possible. what's wrong with our american eggs that they need to be refrigerated whereas in india and senegal and everywhere else, the eggs seem to keep forever? well, maybe they dont keep forever. at some point, they start to spoil and i guess there's a fine line for when that happens. i had some bad eggs which results in peeing through my butthole. diarrhea is one thing but it's a totally new experience to urinate out of a body part that normally doesnt urinate. anyway... it then becomes such a momentous occasion when your excrements turn solid. celebration anyway?
4. my first pseudo sandstorm (which later i found out was nothing compared to the actual sandstorm a few days later) was on a bush taxi ride back to my village. sitting on top of a pickup truck when wind and sand is blowing in your face is quite unpleasant. add that to the fact that you have to keep your eyes open because you need to duck away from branches and spines and thorny trees, makes sand in your eyes a sucky position. then compound this with it being night time in the "forest" with no lights except for the car headlights shining some 10 feet in front only. it was quite the wild wild west adventure. and people live here! we passed villages that i didnt even realize we were passing until i saw the faint glow of remnants of their late dinner fire, lightly flickering in the distance. how unbelievably hard it is to live a nomad life. i appreciate so much more. at this point, i appreciate everything more.
5. wolof is a terrible language to give directions in. when you ask where something is, people usually say it's over there. over where? and then they just point and say, over there again. there is no concept of giving directions, nor is this language sufficient to give directions in. theres just never been the need to say, "well turn right at the next building, walk 2 minutes and find the white door". streets have no names here to begin with, if there even is a street. the good thing though, is that everyone knows everyone, so getting lost will be quite difficult, i hope.
6. the universality of life is beautiful. kids in my village were playing tick tack toe with different colored pebbles and drawing in the sand. there were many other variations of simple board games easily playable by drawing the board in the sand that were quite similar to games we've played when we were kids. even language is sort of universal, similar idioms and whatnot. the other day, i learned a wolof tongue twisters: fokki bokki guddi fokki bokki becceg bokki mbokk bunt bunt ben begam. the translation goes something along the lines of 10 hyenas at night, 10 hyenas during the day, the hyenas share eyes, eyes, teeth, something. lol. humans are universal.
7. the teenage girls here play a game where they take a tennis ball and peg each other in the crotch until someone drops the ball, and then the the that threw it runs and the girl that dropped the ball has to peg the girl running away. if the girl gets to a post some distance away, she is safe. otherwise, she has to continue to peg with other people. there are other members of each team that distract or whatnot. i really dont understand the game. it falls into some form of tag team dodge ball but i just dont get it.
8. my family hired a herder to help since now it is the raining season, and their attention has turned towards the fields - growing peanuts, millet, beans... i plan on tagging along one day and herding with him.
10. brands of senegal are quite interesting / intriguing. they have saddam hussein attaya (tea), osama bin laden lighters, and obama rice and underwear. anyone interested in advertising? look at all the fun you'll have in senegal!

now some pictures...
i finally found where the village bread is being made! this is what a real oven looks like.

it's quite the process, and when i learned that there's really only flour, water, salt and sugar in the village bread, i thought "hmm... how simple"

here the balls are being rolled into the long bread.

french braid anyone? the kids take the left over scraps and add an elephant ton of sugar to the dough. older volunteers keep telling me to make friends with the baker so that i can sneak cinnamon and raisins into mine. anyone want to ship me cinnamon and raisins? haha, cant get those here...

and the final product. it's actually quite tasty. so much village love is put into it.
the world cup is terrible for senegal, at least for those that can afford electricity. people do nothing but watch futbol games all day. productivity has gone out the door. but i guess it's fun and quite alright. why did i not watch this in 2002 and 2006? totally was missing out. everyone's always curious which team foreigners support. of course i would have to say brasil... duh!
my brother killed a goat. we then ate it. technically, the meat here is all organic and the animals treated much better than in the states so i should be able to eat this more. but im just really turned off my meat here. it's... chewy and skinnier. which makes me think, "how processed is our meat?" chicken here is skinny. chicken from KFC is ridiculously meaty. it's quite sad to think about how the chickens got that way, getting fat and all. when you realize where your food comes from, watching it being killed and skinned and cut up, you just dont want it anymore...
a group of nomadic pulaars i met in the desert... their home is coming up.
just 2 small huts... with no one else around around a 2 kilometers radius. pulaar families live separately from other pulaar families so you just find these small families dotted across the desert.
even farther out. plastic is amazing. and yet it's just so terrible. i cant imagine living the solitude life. what would my world be like?
every time my garden fails, i remember that i am gardening in the middle of the desert. how bad-ass is that?! if nothing is growing, i just look around to my surrounding fields and see that nothing is growing really anywhere so it's ok that i dont succeed everytime. but when things do grow, i just feel so accomplished (haha). below is a moringa seedling/leafling.
my tree pepiniere that i have shielded away from the world. the mosquito net protects from birds and flying insects and frogs and whatnot. the wood ash and niim leaves that i sprinkled around and underneath the pepiniere protect from other burrowing insects and beedles.
i gave my brother some tomato and eggplant seeds. i wonder what those things poking out are...
so below is a watermelon seedling/leafling. i hope with all my heart that it will survive. things keep eating my watermelon and moringa. my mint all died or got eaten, and the lettuce and hot peppers just wont sprout (after 1 week). this may be a project that i will work on - large scale organic pesticides that are cheap or free and readily available. all the farmers in my village complain of insects and birds and other roaming animals destroying their crops and decreasing their yield. i want to fix this. i have some methods that i will try next month... LIVE MY WATERMELON! til then...
i think this is baobab tree. or papaya... surprise!
another shot of my moringa...
and lastly... some unknown plant that i will discover months from now... a flowering one? maybe this one is papaya? we shall find out...
my brother was playing with my camera so he took a picture of my even younger siblings. cute...
now this is the exciting part! so the other day, i got out of my afternoon shower and the sky was getting mighty dark and orange. i thought, yay rain is finally here! so i quickly changed and got out my camera to take pictures of the dark and mysterious sky. it looked like a tornado in the distance so i attempted to capture it on camera (it doesnt come out very well but you can vaguely see maybe if you look carefully or i pointed it out to you)... and then...
my dad runs out of the family compound and yells along the lines of "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?! LOCK YOUR DOOR AND GET INSIDE NOW!" i still had no idea what was coming, but the urgency in his voice made me follow his instructions. as i finished locking up the door, i realized why. the sky got intensely more orange and the wind picked up tremendously (but not enough, just yet). i realized that maybe this is going to be a sandstorm, as i would imagine since i was in the middle of a desert. i began to run to the family compound and just as i entered it, the worst came. it was terrifying hearing the wind howl and sand blowing through every crevice and hole of the room. it grew pitch black. at one point, being the unafraid american foreigner that i was, i decided to open the door and take a quick picture. it was pretty darn dark and my camera was immediately whipped by sand. (i finally knew why none of my electronics would last the 2 years). i forgot to close my window in my own room so lesson learned... later i found a massive layer of dust and sand over everything... EVERYTHING. but anyway...
as the sandstorm died down only a slight bit, i went out and snapped away like any tourist would. the eerie orange that set upon the village is quite what i would imagine mars to look like.
the wind was strong enough to tear down small fences, as you can see in this picture. usually you can see very far if you were standing there facing that angle, but this is as far as you can see in the lesser sand storm.
what followed was a massive rainstorm. there was lightning almost every second that it looked like bombs going off in the distance and surrounding. or at least how hollywood depicts bombs and war scenes. surprisingly there was no thunder. because of my curiosity throughout the ordeal, my family thinks i'm fearless... except for horse scorpions... ::shudders:: the next day, i went around and surveyed the village - the sandstorm wreaked havoc. let the rebuilding (or upgrading) begin...
my garden fence also could not withstand the horrible wind. sad.
a human's view on the bush taxi. it wobbles so you're on an amusement park ride.
usually there are 500 sheep and goats below our feet. i was lucky this day not to have to step on livestock.
decorating your public transportation vehicle in senegal with american christmas tree wrapping and chinese new year lanterns. how... odd.
and then we went to the south for july 4th. WHAT a contrast going from desert to forest. so much green everywhere! this was the river we swam in and let the current drag us from tree branch to tree branch. i most likely caught schisto (schistosomiasis) so i will keep you posted on whether or not i start peeing blood. but aside from that, there were definitely little worms in the water that i, unfortunately, noticed and started picking off my body. i wonder what they were... definitely swallowed a couple of mouth fulls of river water but as of yet, no major intestinal issues.
the "route" to get to and from the river. there was no route. we freehanded the hike. it was beautiful.
i grew slightly jealous that this might have been my sight. comparably, this is much more beautiful. but then i remember that i am more hardcore. and also, there arent as many mosquitos in the desert. i probably got 1000 mosquito bites in the course of 3 days...
what i believe kenya looks like. but still the dirty south...
freehand hiking through the forest
celebrating the fourth of july with a ton of volunteers throughout senegal.
in retrospect, it was quite the hippie meets white trash party. (LOVE IT!) welcome to america, senegal!
and to end with i heart africa... cola. haha
oh and some videos!
my brother rapping. i will translate it for yall someday...

and another of just a video of my brothers dancing... sort of.

in a few days time, i will be exploring dakar since i have to go there for a regional meeting anyway. afterwards is a short 2 week training session in Thies to give our initial observation reports and to learn more in-depth gardening and health skills and training. we will develop our 2 year project plan and begin what we came here for. hurray!