Monday, April 26, 2010

I live in the devil's armpit where everything goes to die lol

Ahh, electricity! I never thought I would miss you so much! Haha. So last week was our volunteer visits. We got to travel to rural Senegal and stay with volunteers in or near our actual village that we will be living in for the next 2 years. Since my village is a new village, there is no current volunteer there so I stayed with the next closest person who was like hundreds of kilometers away. His village had no electricity so that was interesting waking up and going to bed with the sun but most important, I got to see his daily life, which has been a complete mystery to me – what do volunteers do everyday? Anyway, it was a very enlightening experience, minus the fact that I was sick for most of the visit. Let me tell you, having a fever when it’s like 115 degrees outside is absolutely no fun. It wasn’t malaria or dengue fever or anything serious. Just fever and headache and body aches. Maybe I’ll get appendicitis in the next 2 years, we shall see. Another not so cool thing was the mosques. So mosques are alright in my book, except for when you combine them with loud speakers. Then they are the bane of my existence. I hope none of you ever have to experience a muslim man shouting chants at 5:30 in the morning… for a full hour… every morning. It is painful. Please dear god or allah or whoever, don’t let there be a very loud mosque right outside my window in my actual village. Umm, and there are scorpions in my village. AWESOME! And camels. I am totally buying one because it just doesn’t make sense to bike anywhere. My closest neighbor is 55 kilometers away, aka like 34 miles, on a terribly sandy, bumpy, and hilly road. It is a nightmare. I may just be the farthest person in our group from civilization. Awesome and scary. We shall see about my sanity. Especially if we have cherri for dinner every night. So it’s not that I hate millet but I just don’t really like it. It’s got the texture of sand for one. And two, it’s kind of tasteless. I couldn’t be more disappointed with a Senegalese meal, lol.

Um, so I have a pretty bomb ass tan… on my arms, lower legs, face, and neck. It may be the worst farmer’s tan known to man. I am as pale as a snowflake, the body parts that never see any sun. And the rest of me is pretty much bronze – sigh, beautiful bronze. We went to the beach yesterday to try and even out this terrible tan except all I did was burn myself and make my skin red and sensitive. But let me tell you. It is the same Atlantic ocean but it’s just so much prettier on this side. The water was aquamarine blue. The sand was clean. There were palm trees everywhere. It was really bizarre actually, going from rural hot-as-hell sandy Senegal to paradise coastline Senegal – such a contrast! You guys should all come here for vacation. It’s beautiful. And it’s affordable too. A few days ago, we went to Dakar for the first time and it was like any other big metropolitan city. Well let me rephrase. It’s affordable for you – not for me, on my pitiful peace corps meager salary haha.

The prenatal vitamins they make us take are awesome. The make your nails and hair grow faster. That is why my hair is like super long. Ive decided to continue to grow it out… until I feel like shaving it all off. I’m also breaking out like it’s junior high again. The heat that makes me sweat combined with the massive amount of dust and dirt and wind and stuff in the wind that clog my pores, is not really agreeing with my face. It’s tragic. What is more tragic is when you can hear the wind but you cant feel it. So it is f’ing hot in the region that I will be going to – even at night time. And when we sleep indoors, under a mosquito net, with the windows open, it couldn’t suck more to hear the amazing wind outside and not being able to feel any of it. The wind, what a tease.

I am tired of defending myself about being an American. It is such an outrageous concept to them that America is the melting pot of the world and that Americans are not just white but also black and orange and all other colors. I am tired of arguing that akon and jay z and obama are all Americans too. Especially in a language that I don’t know the full vocabulary to actually carry out a proper argument in. But what is more frustrating, and perhaps an opportunity where I can do some gender development work, is the perception of gender here. So gender is determined by 3 things and 3 things only (of course I’m boiling it down but essentially it’s what it is). First, hair length, second, what you wear on your head, third, whether you have earrings or not. Nothing else matters. Not even facial hair. You can have the biggest adam’s apple, the fullest beard, and all other masculine characteristics, but if your hair is long, you will be a girl. Or if you wear a bandana, you will be a girl – because our bandanas, in their opinion, resembles a woman’s headdress and not a turbin. It’s slightly absurd that there is no color association with gender here, like we have back in the states – or how certain postures or gestures are perceived as more masculine or feminine. None of that matters here. It’s slightly absurd when I walk around with a week’s worth of unshaved scruff and still get called a girl by the old grandmothers of the village, only because I don’t have a bald head, and instead have a head full of hair. But the explanations are always fun because I get to prove to them that they’re wrong and their perceptions of gender are skewed and mislead. It’s good much needed gender development work. Haha.

And lastly, my job here in Senegal is becoming more and more clear with passing time. Although I will dabble in all matters of health and environmental education, I think I will be trying to eradicate (or as close to eradicating) malaria in my village, do some AIDS/HIV sensitization work as well as testing, and pre and post natal care, which includes vaccinating and weighing babies – cute. Anyway, everyone should watch the video we made below. We had to give presentations on the ecology of our region so we made it as a little joke of how terribly hard our region is to live in. It’s amazing.

and pictures!

a women's group meeting in a village... pretty much sitting around, drinking tea, a little dancing and some talking... maybe, lol. the volunteer i visited (brian is his name) is giving a discussion about diarrhea.

this is the baby back packs i was talking about... adorable!

what an actual garden should look like. ours is so pathetic compared to this one, sigh.

so even out in rural senegal where there's no electricity and the closest beer is an hours worth of bike riding away, there are obama pins... so awesome!

brian's hut. it's kinda really sweet and cozy.

the bachelor pad. probably what my room will look like in a few weeks...

brian's host family. they were so nice. unlike my practice host family, they did not make fun of me when i was sick. but then again, my practice host family is just so amusing that i will definitely miss them... =(

the dreaded cherri. it doesnt even look appetizing.

louga region! my closest neighbors! and by close i mean like 55 to 120 km away. we are at our regional "apartment" aka hallway having a group dinner. um, the bar (if you can call it that) in lingere is epic. it brings all other speak easies to shame. i will for sure update more on this when i move there in a few weeks.

umm, buying a camel!

the desert. dont be fooled by the "trees" you see. they are acacia trees, aka more like large cacti. there are spikes everywhere, it's kinda ridic.

so even though i am the farthest person from civilization, my village is kind of baller. it's like an oasis in the middle of the desert, or vegas in the middle of nevada. i get my own compound and courtyard and shade tree and bathroom and gardening space. there's electricity in the village (although not in my room, but still) and my village overlooks the land around because it's on top of a hill.

this will be my bathroom / shower. a huge upgrade from my practice host village bathroom that could not be grosser. there are very few places in the world that i would classify as gross. my current bathroom pretty much embodies the word. go figure...

our bean plants! they're so big!

and the acacia from the pepiniere are coming along too! look at the thorns, yes!

also very proud of our moringa bed, although sometimes eating some of the moringa... murder!

my brother and sister. i was named after him! he's the original ass diop (ass job!) they're such jokesters...

my other brothers and sisters and people that live in my compound... they are a lovely bunch, braiding each others hair's all day, sweeping sand... you know, the usual...

um, so we went to Mbour, aka the beach aka beautifully amazing. the clear skies, the clear water... it's just unreal!

palm trees and shade huts! paradise much?

and... sand! lol, stupid sun burns. um, and you can totally fry an egg on the sand midday. it's that hot...

training is almost over... i am not fluent in wolof yet. my french could not be worse. totally worried but hey, life is a ball (because my new name in my village is going to be... BALLA Fall.) Like it couldnt be more on the opposite end of the spectrum going from ass job to balla. life is justified.

Monday, April 12, 2010

yangiy noos? waaw, mangiy noos bu baax!

we just watched this earlier this morning. it is AMAZING!

anyway, it is so cold here. even as i am typing this entry outside in what should be a very pleasant high 60/ low 70 degree weather, i am shivering... in a hoodie and sweatpants. my body has kind of acclimated to the 120s and 130s that when some nights roll around and it dips below 85, i am just uncomfortably cold. this is slightly ridiculous because i actually will die when winter rolls around in the states.

we leave for our sites tomorrow, to visit. cant be more excited! i get to meet the community that i will be working with, hopefully bettering their lives in the process. what new adventures await?
oh ps, i watched encore and funktion dance mix and some greek week variety. everything looked awesome! good job guys!

and thanks for people that are sending out music - it is such a godsend. OH and i found the best hangover cure ever, easily makeable. i will teach yall when i get back! or rather, i can write it now, in wolof! you can figure it out...

assalam mallekum! nangeen def? naka ngeen yendoo? ahumdillilah! tey, diinanu leen waxtaanal ak wonn ci mbirum naka ngeendi dimballee seeni bopp ci biir buy daw. mungiy tudd njarum xetali walla solution de rehydratation orale ci francais. bu njekk, diingeen soxla benn liiter u ndox mu sell ak benn kuddu xorom bu ndaw ak jaroom netti bekk walla kuddu suuker yu ndaw. xorom bi, ngeendi njekk def ci ndox. gennaaw loolu, yengalal. apres, mos leen ka - suffekkee dafa saaf xorom torop, dolil ndox. bu loolu weeso, dolil suuker bi. war ngeen ko naan ba ngeen tane. jefandikkal njarum xetali por mag ni walla xale yi apres jaroom benni wer. por leer baala jaroom benni wer, nampal leen rekk. njarum xetali taxawlowul biir buy daw waaye biir buy daw, dafay naqlo seeni yaram ndox. kon njarum xetali, diina ko dimballi. am ngeen laj?

lol. i wish i could post videos... some day! im also not very pleased with coming off of doxy (for malaria) because my face is not enjoying the heat and sweat and dust. im breaking out like it's high school all over again, UGH. what to do...

and... some pics!

this is my peace corps issued bike. it's all shiny but i havent ridden a bike in like a decade. and it's all sand here... screwed much?

rats are the size of cats here... the fam woke dad up to kill this one. amazing...

beautiful silhouette!

i heart baobab trees. theyre like inverted trees!

this is mom yelling at me in the morning for taking a picture of her. she was either putting in amazing chocolate or this mayo onion thing in the bread. delicious! she laughed so hard when she saw a still of this...

our garden is growing stuff! these are bean plants!

we are not absolute failures, a whole bed of moringa aka sap sap!! supposedly it's delicious but i have yet to have it.

no idea what this is. fail! but it looks cool...

i think up until this point, i havent posted any pictures of my stagiere so here's one, after the bar, throwing gangster signs... awesome!


my sister sweeping the courtyard. yes, she is sweeping sand. yes, she is sweeping... sand. (it actually makes a lot of sense once you realize why but i'll let your minds twirl around this one.

planting carrots and eggplants and other veggies that i cant remember... nothing grew out of this plot =(

we found out we were all going to (near) linguere. exstatic! gonna wreak havoic much? (picture courtesy of emily)

the tassette and casadaro fam groups getting picked up to go back to the center. wolof for life yo! wolof por dund! (pic courtesy of jillian)

and this is us trying to hitchhike. sorta. it's quite the emo process if no cars drive your way for hours.

ok, that's good for now. will write when i get back from the cow cow of senegal (rural back bush) and know what the hell i'm doing for the next 2 years...


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

and drum roll... SITE!

so you'll need to google map this yourself because my internet is not fast enough to let me use google maps but i will be going to a town called Yang Yang in the region of Louga. i am ~15 miles from Dahra, ~45 miles from Linguere, and roughly 120 miles from St Louis. i am a days journey to mauritania (EXCITED!)

my village is roughly 3500 people. there is water in my village and parts of it has electricity. it will be hot. phone service or internet? bathroom situation? i guess i will find out in a week and a half.

most common illnesses are chronic malaria, skin diseases, and diarrhea. my work will potentially be in the areas of pre and post-natal care, and HIV testing. i think i want to fix diarrhea and malaria instead... hmm

and that's about as much as i know...
so many questions, who to ask?
kind of excited though!!!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mefloquine gives me ADD

I will be so shocked if I don’t get pink eye at least once a month for the next 2 years of my life. So we pretty much use manure for everything – to garden, to build mud stoves, etc. The amount of wind here blowing up the feces is… quite bountiful. If it’s not sand in my eye, it’s manure. Can you get pink eye from feces of other animals?

Babies are carried on mothers’ backs here. They look like little Jansport backpacks. Underwear is totally different here too. Theyre more for… display than anything. But then again, if you think about it, we wear nice underwear for display too. Why else would I Calvin Klein it up? But yeah the women’s underwear actually doesn’t cover anything. It’s like mesh but the wholes are huge. Anyway, the reason I bring this point up is because I have seen plenty of women’s underwear… and women’s genitalia in the last week. Senegal is a conservative Muslim country, hands down. But theres also this underground culture in villages where by our standards, it is not conservative at all. So we were able to attend a women’s microfinance group meeting the other day and by meeting I mean dance for 2 hours and meet for like 15 minutes, lol. But the dancing involved lifting up your “boo boo” (aka dress/shirt) and revealing the sexy underwear you have underneath – and this underwear, by no means, covers the genital area at all. So… yeah, I’ll leave it at that. In some regard, if youre amongst your own gender, then I guess privacy is no biggie. Look at locker rooms of gyms. If you have one and I have one, where’s the embarrassment? Stigma? Taboo, whatnot? I guess I just wasn’t expecting to see such a display. The wolofs are totally the hippies and liberal democrats of Senegal… There are boobs everywhere. But it was like this in Paraguay so I’m not as shocked. Their purpose is for nursing. Nothing else special, haha.

The wolof language itself is quite interesting. There are verbs for “to pick lice” or “to pretend to be stupid” but there is no verb for “to enjoy” or an expression for “good luck”. The term for hill billy is “cow cow”, how fitting. And the term for city slicker is “boytown”. How fitting again. Wolof culture is also… frustrating slash entertaining. So I hate it when people state the obvious or say unnecessary things but it is ingrained into the culture here, as a form of greeting or dialogue. All my conversations have some aspect of this, but to give you an example, as I’m sitting on a bench drinking water, someone passes by:

stranger: hi
me: hi
stranger: you’re sitting?
me: … yes I’m sitting. You’re walking?
stranger: yes I’m walking.
me: Ahumdillilah

I’ll let that soak in your head for a minute. So the food is still delicious but I can see why people say they get sick of it. I have the same thing (usually) everyday. Breakfast consists of a loaf of bread with butter and cafĂ© with milk. Lunch is fish with rice and veggies. Dinner is soggy rice with beans and smoked fish. On occasion, we’ll have chicken. As a side note, and a more serious one, I have a greater appreciation of being an American – having choices and varieties, coming from a free and prosperous country, all the things that make our country great. The food tastes amazing but it would suck not having variety in my life, being restricted by the cost of food and living. We will see if I can handle food monotony for the next two years. I don’t want to give in to instant mac n cheese from a box… just yet. But this experience does make me appreciate the rare occasions when we deviate from the norm. Sometimes for breakfast, I’ll get this mayo and onion concoction which is to die for. When there’s a baptism in the village, we’ll get this couscous and yogurt thing. Sometimes for lunch, we’ll have fish balls in an onion sauce, which may or may not be my favorite dish here. The way onion is done here, couldn’t be done better. And sometimes for dinner, we’ll have this really really soggy rice in like this mango sauce with fish. It’s really good but what makes it more awesome is its name. In wolof, it’s called baxal goorjigeen… literal translation = boiling homosexual. For the life of me, I will never figure out why. And lastly, sometimes we’ll have fonde if we’re still hungry. Fonde is this concoction of couscous and butter and milk and sugar. It’s quite good but supposedly it gives you a fat ass. There’s even a song for it!

Jaay fonde amul “pertement”
Boo ci amul “benefice”
Am ci sa wan, wan, wan, wan…

So the song pretty much talks about this girl who sells fonde but when no one buys the fonde, she has to eat it herself so as not to waste it. As a resutlt, she gets a fat ass, ass, ass, ass… lol how lovely!

I learn wolof which I think will be decent in a couple of months but I don’t get a lot of French practice. I want to speak decent French in 2 years. English, Chinese, French, wolof… not bad. Throw in some Spanish from high school and survival Hindi and I feel pretty good about it.

Taking the “cab” in rural areas is awesome. These cars are so broken down, the doors don’t stay closed, you can tell the car was put together from 20 different car parts, there is masking tape and thin wire holding things together… fucking awesome! What makes it even better is the amount of people they shove into each car. So the cars can comfortably seat like 6. Of course 11 is the norm for a shared cab ride.

Wrestling sucks balls here. So theres like a build up of hype on tv for like a month, literally people just talking about the upcoming wrestling match, some dancing here and there and that’s it. Then during the actual match, 5 minutes is spent on hand slapping and the actual wrestling lasts about 5 seconds and then it’s over. Like… what the fuck. Haha. Look it up. You’ll understand. There’s a lot of things that I feel are half-assed here. Like the cameramen that work events. I can totally do their jobs better than they can. And the backup dancers during concerts. Terrible! But I am so intrigued by Senegalese drumming. And dancing. The knees! It’s… phenomenal. Like out of this world.

Umm… picture time!

Yesterday was easter and our LCF (language and cultural facilitator aka teacher) who happens to be catholic (in a predominantly muslim country - awesome!) invited us over for easter lunch and dancing festivities. it was awesome! the food was delicious as you can see from above but it made me sad that there were about 5 of us to a plate this size whereas in my village, there are 16 of us to the same. disparities!

local beer. it's terrible but necessary for stress relief.

random children in our village. they were cute.

my 'ponytail'... it's getting there... slowly but surely.

my favorite dish ever. yassa boulette (sp?) fish balls in an onion sauce over rice. SO good...

classroom. unconventional. LOVE IT. the chairs are usually for decoration. you can find me in the sand or on the mat, lol.

the mural we painted for our school. pretty senegal!

a typical day walking through our village. we are such tuubaabs, pronounced two-bobs (the senegalese word for white folk)

our lovely garden that we worked so hard to start. nothings really growing except beans. hopefully when we go back on thursday, it will be lush. enshallah!

and a school building fell on one of our garden patches (which we had to relocate). c'est la vie.

ok i think that catches yall up on my life somewhat. ive been slowly and painfully downloading the funktion and encore dance mix videos and some greek week variety videos and lady gaga's music video. will watch soon to catch up on life!

what's going on in your life?!