Closing Time

Just a shot of comedy before we get all serious. The take away?.. “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” And also that Andy is hilarious and should be given more credit. But that’s just one fan-girl’s opinion.

 

Closing Time

When you start your journey as a Peace Corps volunteer, two years seems like such a long time. So much can happen in two years. You are excited to see where this adventure will take you and ready to get your hands dirty in the process. Whether you applied to Peace Corps on a whim, or it was something you wanted for a long time, the day that you step off of that plane in to your country of service is a huge milestone. You have made it. You’re doing it. This will change your life.

My personal Peace Corps experience was definitely one of self-enlightenment. These last two years have shaped me in to a new person in so many ways. Maybe ‘new person’ isn’t the best way to put it. Let’s say it helped my realize who I really am. These experiences; moving away from everything and everyone you have ever known, learning a whole new language and culture, integrating into a new community, learning to be a self-starter with projects in your community, struggling with loneliness and feeling like you have lost yourself; all of these things are extremely formative and truly help you realize who you are.

One thing about myself that has changed for the better, much to my surprise, after two years here, I am much more in tune with my emotions. I used to be a person that held it all in. I didn’t like to show emotion and wasn’t a huge fan of sharing how I felt about things with anyone that wasn’t my best friend, and even then, I held a lot back. I don’t really know exactly what it was about my service that changed this. Maybe it was simply getting older. But also I think it had a lot of do with having to just figure things out on my own. You don’t have anyone to physically turn to, no one to hold your hand and get you though it. You have you. This means that when you do get a chance to talk it all out with someone, another volunteer, or someone back home, it all comes poring out. It’s what Cady Haron struggles with in Mean Girls. Word vomit. It happens to the best of us. Don’t try to have a 5-minute conversation with a current PCV. It will be much longer than that no matter how hard you try. Sorry world!

So now I am on my way out. Only a few months separate me from a plane ride home.

Throughout my whole service when a group of PCVs would be getting to close to their completion of service I always wondered to myself “why are they so sad? I cannot wait to be where they are. Heading back to America, or off on the next adventure.” I was honestly weirded out by how emotional they always were. I liked service, but wasn’t wishing the days were longer. I was enjoying my time, but also looking forward to the next step. Now that I am the one COSing…I completely understand and sometimes think that I am worse than anyone before me. Two years is a long time and like many others, I was counting the days, but in all honesty, the end creeps up on you. You’re either ready, or you’re not.

COS Anxiety

Most of my anxiety about closing my service comes from looking back at my time here. “Did I do enough? Why didn’t I do more? I really wish we could have gotten X project off of the ground.” And the one that hits hard, “I don’t know if I would call myself a good volunteer.” These things, for me, along with preparing for the future are great combinations that cause anxiety attacks like no other. But I had a bit of an epiphany while talking to my host brother the other day. Samba is probably around 32 years old. He has been here for all of the volunteers that came before me in this village. He has watched all four of us throughout our service and has formed his opinions. That’s scary to think about.

Samba sat in my doorway as usual and we talked about how I would be leaving soon. How he really wanted me to give him one of my blankets, particularly my plush blue one with the college logo on it. He loves it. Then I asked him, “If I am replaced with another volunteer, would you prefer a girl or a boy?” No one really has any say in the matter, but it’s a conversational question. He replied, “As long as they’re like you, I don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl.” Insert surprised/nervous/what the heck do I say now emoji HERE. I just did what I normally do when people compliment me and said something along the lines of “no, I am not special, you want someone better than me.”

Samba’s face turned from smiley and jokey to serious right quick. He looked up at me an asked “Why do you guys always do that? The other volunteers did it too. You say you’re not good, but you have done work. You talk to the people of the community. You go to wedding and baptisms. You dance, and you laugh and you sing and you help your sister cook. You are good.”

I went on stammering and trying to explain to him that as volunteers we come here thinking about all of the things we could do to help our communities. We want to do as much as we can to improve the lives of our communities, and when things don’t work out like we hoped, we get discouraged and think that we didn’t do a good enough job. When I had finished he said confidently, and I quote, “That’s stupid.”

WHAT.

Luckily my sister called him for lunch so I didn’t have to reply, because my mind had just been blown. You’re telling me that the way that I define my worth is completely different from the way you define it? How can that be? You should be telling me that I haven’t done enough! That I should have tried harder to make gardening work. I should have planted more trees. I should have started that girls club that we talked about but never actually got around to having meetings. But instead your telling me that since I tried to be a part of the culture, I learned your language and I did a few projects, you are happy with me? Wow.

Now, this doesn’t take away all of my COS anxiety by any means. I still feel like I should have done more. However, it does help me remember the things that I am really going to take from this experience. The things that I’ve learned, the people who I have connected with, and those projects that I did get done. Those are the things that really matter. When I think about my life in 10 years, I try to think about how I will picture my service at that point. Sure, I will remember the chicken projects. I will remember the school sanitation projects and all of the kids smiling faces when I handed them their solar lamps to use for studying. I will remember teaching women how to build tree nurseries and how to properly transplant a tomato plant. But I know that what I will think about most are the kids that I watched grow up for two years. I will remember moments of laughter and joy. I will remember surprising people with my ability to speak Wolof, and I will remember how much people laughed when I told a make suitor that I didn’t want to marry him because he was ugly.

I think what I am really trying to get at here is that my Peace Corps experience has changed my life in so many ways. My passions have gotten stronger, and my love for people has grown exponentially. I had many bad days. Many days when I wanted to give up and many more days when I just wanted to sit in my hut and not have to talk to anyone. There were even a couple of days when I kept going simply because I knew I would hate myself if I gave up. I have realized now that that is OKAY!

I have experienced so much in the last two years. So much new. A lot of pain and a lot of Joy. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my fellow PCVs, and all my friends and family back home. I couldn’t have done it without my journal and my iPod. I couldn’t have done it without reminding myself daily why I was doing it in the first place. As Matthew McConaughey said in the Pandora commercial that convinced me to join the Peace Corps… “Life is calling. How far will you go?”

Well Matt,

Life called..

I went.

And I am so glad I did.

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since we are surrounded

I know it has been a long time since I have written. When I started this blog I didn’t want to be one of those people who consistently writes, then just randomly falls of the face of the blogosphere. But sometimes life happens. The last time I wrote, almost three months ago, I was just starting to see some progress in a new project. I was also preparing for my Christmas vacation back to America. A lot has happened since then. Life has happened.

Work wise, things are great. The chicken project that I started with my community is thriving. Large, healthy chickens are being produced which provides the producers with income and the community with access to food that they didn’t have access to before.

The water project that I started in October is in its completion stages. We installed two water lines before I left the country for Christmas and it was a huge success. When I returned from vacation we fixed the bathrooms and built the fence for the school garden. The garden is not yet in production, but that will be my next task.

It is funny how milestones in service make you feel, versus how you thought they would make you feel. In my experience, the completion of a project is not the “Finally! I have archived something!” feeling that you hoped it would be. I think that can be because of the constant, in your face reminder that no matter what you improve upon there will always be a list as long as your leg of things you could work on next. It could also be our cultures ideal that no matter what you do, you can always improve and take it to the next level. I am by no means saying that this philosophy is completely flawed. But it does make me consider what success really means to me.

So this idea plays greatly in to why there has been so much radio silence as of late. As I mentioned multiple times above, sometimes life happens. Things get busy and priorities get out of line. In addition though, I think volunteers have a tendency to only publicize the good things that are happening to them. Whether it is to give friends and family a positive outlook on their host country, or because they are afraid to let people in on how life really is, I don’t know.

Well really I do know..because I do this a lot. But if we’re being honest, service sucks sometimes. Pardon my frankness, but every now and then things happen that really just make you say to yourself “Why am I here? What good am I doing? This wouldn’t be a problem in America because America is a beautiful wonderful place, and my real life is there.” I had a lot of those moments leading up to my vacation in America. I told myself that all I needed was a system reboot. A break from the monotony of life in Senegal to remind me that what I’m doing is worth while. Some time in the developed world to remind me how lucky we are to have been born relatively wealthy.

Unfortunately, my trip to America didn’t do that for me. It was an amazing trip. I spent time with family and friends,ate all the Taco Bell I could ever want, got to share my experiences in Senegal with people I love. Those three weeks in America were so amazing. I was incredibly happy. When it came time to leave I was sad, but I knew that I would be home with those that love me in 11 months. That doesn’t seem long when you start out with 27 months! I was ready to get back and complete my service.

But the feelings that I had when I got back to Senegal were completely unexpected. I broke down. People who know me best know that I am not a crier. I am an emotional being, yes, but crying is not a thing that I do often. My mother thinks I’m just cold most of the time. I don’t show my emotions and tend to keep my feelings in. Or at least I used to. When I sat down on my bed in the regional house in Dakar on January 4th, it was like all of the sadness, all of the loneliness and the hurt and the anxiety and the pain, it all came flowing out of me. I texted the people who I cared about most, I called my friends in Senegal..I just could not stop crying. Eventually after many, many people telling me that it was okay and things would get better, I just cried myself to sleep. I can not say that I had ever done that before.

In the days to come I cried myself to sleep more often than not. Some things happened on my way back to village that I would not wish upon anyone, and those events caused me to enter in to a spiral of emotions.. anger, fear, depression, anxiety.. you name it, I felt it. I had been holding in my feelings for so long that when they finally came out I could not control it.

There was a good three day period where I was convinced that I was not going to finish. I was going to early terminate my service and go back to America to continue the life that I had going there. I think it’s really hard for PCV’s to admit that they have been at this point. We are told constantly that what we are doing is great. We’re doing such good work and should be proud of our accomplishments. But what about when we don’t feel like these two years are benefiting anyone? Or those times when literally being in the country for one more day feels like a nightmare? Those moments happen for some of us, and frankly, they suck.

The next couple of weeks were a roller coaster for me. Life in village got a little easier day by day and I started feeling a little bit normal. I was finishing up the water project with my community and that made me feel a little better. Then some events in my personal life plunged me right back down to the depression that I was trying desperately to crawl out of. Luckily I had returned to a good state of mind about finishing my service. I had reestablished why I was here and what my next steps would be in village. Those next couple of weeks were still some of the hardest in my life.

Fast forward a few weeks to now…I don’t know exactly what I am feeling, but somehow I think that is okay. I was able to take a short trip home which was very healing. I do not feel as helpless as I did a month ago. I have some new drive to finish what I started. However, I am still nervous for what is to come.The unknown is one of my biggest fears. In Peace Corps you are literally walking right in to it.

Throughout my adult life I have had some rough times. In each of those times certain things have helped me move forward. Family and friends mostly. But aside from that, one passage in Hebrews has always helped me gain perspective.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the righteous right hand of God.  – Hebrews 12:1-2

Through everything. All the pain. All the fear. All the heartache. Through everything. I know that this is the path that I am supposed to be on. I can not simply cast that aside. I know that I am surrounded. Not only by people, but by the love of God. I can press on. I can persevere and I can finish what I came here for. But this is not saying that it will be easy. I have to remind myself of this every day. Every hour at times. Even with the words ‘since we are surrounded’ permanently tattooed to my body, I still find myself forgetting. Moral of the story, life just sucks sometimes. But in the end, we pull through. With love, we will always pull through.

 

Need a Laugh? Read This.

The last few months have been a little crazy here in Senegal! I have been doing a lot of traveling, and working on quite a few different projects. Overall, I am really happy with how my first year as a Peace Corps Volunteer has turned out. One of our biggest challenges as PCV’s is feeling like we aren’t actually making a difference in our communities. Often the work that we do does not have immediate results, so it is hard to feel successful.

I have managed to do some bigger projects throughout my service, and those projects have made me feel like my time here is worth something. You can read about my chicken project in previous posts! It was my first big project, and is going so well! Now, my village is knee-deep in our new project which I so creatively named…Women, Water, and Wee Ones. Which in all honesty is a terrible name because it is not at all descriptive. But hey. It’s cute.

The project was designed by my counterparts and I over the last few months. I wrote the grant and now we are in the implementation phase. The project is three-fold. One, run a new water line to the school in my village so that they have water for the first time, and also run a new water line to a section of the village that has also never had a water line. Two, rebuild the school bathrooms so that the teachers and students have a clean and safe place to use the restroom. Three is to build a school garden where the children can learn basic gardening techniques. In theory, the garden will also supply the school with some extra funds for maintenance and supplies.

We just recently acquired funding for the project, and since I am going to America in two and a half short weeks (insert me freaking out with excitement here) we won’t be able to get it all done while I’m in country. This worried me a little because I knew that my community would want to have everything as soon as possible, but as my wise and wonderful sister Alyssa reminded me,  Ron Swanson once said,

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So my counterpart and I talked it out and we will be constructing the water lines while I am still in the country since they are first priority, then moving on with the rest when I get back. This got me thinking about how many moments in the grant process could be described by hilarious Parks and Recreation moments.. So here is this. You’re welcome America.

It all starts with an idea. An idea brought to you by someone who wants to make a difference or get something done in the community. And you’re like..

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Then there are the meetings where everyone has an opinion on how things need to go and you’re like..

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And because everything is done in Wolof ..

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And when anyone asks you any questions at all about the project..

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No matter how hard you try, every large gathering of people talking about the project ends in someone asking you to marry them..

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But then finally, the project is planned and it’s time for you to head to the city and write that grant! Then you remember that grant writing is

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You get half way through the application and say to yourself,

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You may ask some staff members, or other older PCV’s for guidance, and while usually you get help, sometimes it’s like..

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But then you finish the application! Complete budget done, goals written and ready to send in for your boss’s approval and you feel pretty great!

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Your project is approved! Yay! But then Peace Corps tells you it could take 2-3 weeks before you get your funding..

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One week later

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Then Two weeks later

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Finally! You get an email notification that your grant funds have been deposited in to your account!

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No matter where you are, or what you are doing, any of these reactions are appropriate..

 

If you run out of your hut dancing like I usually do, your family looks at you like Tom is looking at Jean Ralphio and Mona Lisa..

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You go to the bank to withdraw the grant funds so that you and your counterpart can buy all the supplies when you realize just how much money you are responsible for keeping track of..

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But you’re a rock star! You buy all the supplies and it is time to start implementation..

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Two weeks in, a friend calls and asks how the project is going. You respond

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There are a few hiccups with the implementation and you are basically Craig all the time.

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When you are sure that the project will not succeed you tell your PC bestie..

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And finally, after weeks and maybe even months, the project is almost finished..

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But then it is finished..and you have something to look at and say ‘hey, I helped do that.’

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You realize you still have to close the grant and it’s back to..

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If you made it this far, I hope you enjoyed that ridiculousness! As mentioned above, I will be in America very soon! I am so excited to see my family and friends back home, and also to eat so much ice cream. Thanks for reading, and as always, Peace and Love!

400 Days

Think back exactly 400 days. Can you remember what you were doing that day? I can! 400 days ago I was stepping off a plane in Dakar, Senegal. I had no idea what I was getting myself in to and I was very nervous. It was hot. I was tired. Everything was new. Flash forward 400 days..I have been in Senegal for 13 months! I can speak Wolof (to an extent), I have made countless new friends, integrated in to a new culture, tried new foods, slept under the stars, and learned sooo many things that I never could have imagined I would know.

For real though, the past 400 days have been long. There were a lot of days when I wanted to give up and go home. Days when all I wanted to do was sit in my hut and read a book, or watch endless episodes of whatever TV show I was binge watching. While I did allow myself to do the latter a few times, I am still here, and I think that is something to be proud of. Peace Corps is unlike anything I have ever done, and probably ever will do. I feel lucky that I have had the opportunity, and excited to see what my last year in Senegal has for me.

It’s been a while since my last post, and a lot has happened. I have moved in to quite a few new leadership roles in Peace Corps, including Peer Support Network Co-coordinator, Work Zone Coordinator, and Kaolack house treasurer. I am very excited to be in these new roles and to learn new things along the way! In village, things are moving right along! I have a new project in the works that the community is very excited about. I have worked with my counterparts, school personnel, and the local water agency to plan this project and so far it has been a success. The project mostly benefits the school, and the children that go there. When funding is acquired, we will be installing two new water lines, one at the school, and one in a separate part of the village. This will give water to the school, and to families that don’t have close access to water currently. We will also be rebuilding the bathroom at the school as it needs a little TLC. Lastly, we will be installing a fence and purchasing supplies for a school garden! Currently, the school doesn’t have a garden because they didn’t have water. Now, with the success of this project, they will be able to have a garden, and also have water for every day use.

My community is very excited about this project, especially after the great success of our chicken project! The village has seen that with a little hard work, some patience and dedication, great things can be done. The motivation that my village has is the main reason why I like it so much. That being said, I am crazy excited for my vaca in America! In just 39 days from today I will be stepping off a plane in Columbus, Ohio! I can not wait to meet my precious baby nephew Eli, and play with my ever beautiful niece Christy. I will get to hug my mom and dad after over 14 months away. And I’m real excited to eat some Taco Bell after we leave the airport at 10pm.

I hope to be writing more posts soon to highlight some of the new things that I have learned and experienced over the last two months..there are a lot of them! But for now, see ya later and thanks for reading!

2 Rams, 3 Goats and 20 Loaves of Bread

When I was a kid in Sunday school we learned the old testament tale of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham was very old and had no children, so when God blessed him with a son, Isaac, it was a true miracle. Abraham loved Isaac with his whole heart. Then one day, God decided to test Abraham. Genesis 22 is the account of Abraham’s test. God came to Abraham and told him to take Isaac to another land, and sacrifice him on a mountain. Abraham did as he was told and took Isaac to the mountain that God pointed out to him. Abraham built the altar and placed Isaac upon it, But when Abraham reached for his knife the angel of the lord called to him and said,

“Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

When Abraham looked up he saw a ram stuck in a thicket. He sacrificed the ram in the place of his son and rejoiced in the goodness of God. The angel of the Lord came to Abraham a second time and said,

“I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,because you have obeyed me.”

Abraham went from that place, and as the angel promised he lived a prosperous life with his son.

So what the heck does this bible story have to do with my Peace Corps service in Senegal? Tabaski, baby! Tabaski or Eid al-Adha, is a massive celebration of Abraham (Ibrahim’s) willingness to sacrifice his son, and God’s (Allah’s) goodness in providing Abraham with a ram in Isaac’s (Ishmael’s) place. As you can tell, the name’s are slightly different, but the story is the same. Abraham was faithful and willing to sacrifice what meant most to him.

So what exactly is Tabaski? Basically, Tabaski is a big party. Typically it is a three-day event. Because the holiday is based on the Islamic calendar, it is not completely certain what day the festivities will begin. If you read my post on Ramadan and Korite it is the same concept. Everything depends on the lunar cycle. So in order to describe Tabaski as best as I can, I’ll start a month before the actual event.

There is a phrase that I heard a lot leading up to Tabaski, “Dangay prepare Tabaski?” or “Are you preparing for Tabaski?”. Preparing for Tabaski is a big task, especially for women. Everyone is expected to get new clothes made for Tabaski. I’m not talking just a simple new outfit. Tabaski outfits are fancy, and generally expensive. Fabric has to be purchased far in advance, and you have to give your tailor plenty of time because this is the busiest time of the year for them. It is very common for a woman to spend 50 to 100 dollars on a new outfit. That is very common in America, but basically unheard of here. On top of that, all women and girls get their hair done, many with fake hair which can get expensive. They also like to have new shoes, and all new jewelry. All of that adds up very quickly, especially when a family has a lot of girls!

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I amazed my family by helping them braid this girls hair! My Aunt would tie and braid in the fake hair and stop at about three inches, then I would take over. The whole process took two days! I only helped for a few hours, but I can’t imagine sitting that long to get my hair done.

Men also get new outfits made, usually with the best and most expensive fabrics, but the biggest thing men do for Tabaski is to buy a ram for the “sacrifice feast”. Each male head of the household is expected to buy a ram for Tabaski. In many cases, especially in rural areas, men do not have the money for a ram, so goats are a cheaper alternative. Men that are more wealthy very often buy multiple rams. In the weeks leading to Tabaski, I definitely noticed a rise in the amount of rams that I saw on a daily basis. One day I saw a horse cart traveling from village that was loaded down with at least 7 rams. Those carts aren’t that big either! Rams and goats are put on the tops of cars and busses in order to get them where they need to go. It is definitely an interesting sight to see!

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Sheep waiting to be loaded on the top of these busses. The car owners tie the animals legs, or put them in rice sacks with their heads sticking out.

About 5 days before Tabaski I went to my regional capital to do some work. I walked through the market on the way to our regional house to pick up some supplied for lunch, and I was absolutely amazed..and a little afraid. The market was packed! Taxis were bumper to bumper and no one was moving. Daring motorcyclist were weaving in and out of cars and people. Supply trucks were everywhere unloading things like potatoes, onions, mayonnaise, garlic, and various seasonings. I got the things that I needed and quickly retreated to one of the less busy side streets. I can only imagine what that same market looked like the day before Tabaski began!

The few days before all of the events my host father went to the larger village about 3 miles from ours and purchased potatoes, oil, vinegar, mustard, and the holy trinity of flavoring in Senegal… garlic, onions, and Adja powder. Here is an interesting tidbit of information, the price of staple goods needed for Tabaski sprockets around Tabaski. Supply and Demand y’all! Pair that with the fact that vegetables are already expensive during rainy season, and you’ve got a very expensive bowl of onion sauce.

Tabaski: Day One

Like many other events in Senegal, the first day of Tabaski was very anti-climactic. In the morning the men go to pray all together. Men in my village went to the larger mosque in the next village. As soon as they returned from their prayers, they began preparing their animals. My uncle dug a hole in the middle of our compound and I realized that they were going to kill the animals right there where we normally eat lunch. My father pulled out his new knife which he told me he spent a whole 2,000 CFA on. This is about $4.00, which may not seem like a lot for a big knife used to kill sheep, but it is a lot to pay for a knife in Senegal! Each male head of the household brought their animals over and tied them to the fence. My brother had the biggest ram, and my uncle had a second slightly smaller ram. My father and two other uncles each had a goat. I am not exactly sure if there is a particular order that the animals should be killed in, but they killed my brothers big ram first, then the goats in descending size, then the smaller ram. I didn’t watch when they were slitting the animals throats, but I definitely feel like I got enough of the experience.

 

Once the animals were dead and most of their blood drained, each man took his animal to a different place to skin and clean it. I stayed away from those areas too..weak stomach. Not too long after that, my brother, father and uncle gathered with their meat and began dividing it. The meat is typically split into three parts. One third for the family, one-third to be shared with friends, family, and community members, and one third for the poor. Since I live in a small village, it was more of a half and half for our family and for other families in the village. They divided the meat into neat little portions of different cuts of meat, including stomach and intestines. Then they sent one of the older boys in the family to distribute the piles to other families. Throughout the morning, may boys were coming and going offering their meat to us. So in the end, you basically get your whole animal back through other people.

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My cousin with his platter of meat to take to other families in the village.

The liver is kept separate and is cooked first. My mother cooked our ram’s liver in my room on my small gas cooking unit, and then my father offered me a portion of the meat. Since I’m not an expert in the cooking of ram, I respectfully declined. But maybe next year!

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Probably one of the funniest and most surprising moments of my service was when my three-year old cousin Aliou came around the corner with a full ram liver in his hands. That thing is almost as big as his head! Almost…he has a big head 😉

Once all the meat was distributed it was around 12:30. The women of the families began to prepare the meat. Instead of having lunch at the normal 2:00 time, people just eat meat around 1pm. While the meat for lunch is cooking, women begin to cut the onions and potatoes for the 4:00 meal. On the first day of Tabaski I cut eight pounds of onions and three pounds of potatoes. All of this with no cutting board. Lets just say I bet I can cut an onion faster than with just my two hands and knife than any of you reading this could in an American kitchen.

Senegalese Tip: When you start cutting onions, take a generous piece of onion and place it in your head scarf, or just on your head and you won’t cry or get a runny nose. lol. If only that actually worked, but I still find myself doing it every time!

After a couple of hours of chopping and cutting I took some time to go get the bread that I had ordered from my brother, the local baker, earlier in the morning. My father told me to buy 20 loaves. Each loaf of bread is 100CFA. So naturally I payed 2000CFA for 20 loaves of bread. remember that knife my dad bought for 2000CFA? Yep. $4 bought 20 loaves of bread. That is just so crazy to me! Once the bread was picked up, my jobs for the day were done, so I took some time to relax. All the men and boys were getting hair cuts and the little girls were getting dressed in their pretty new cloths. My mom brought my personal bowl of ‘lunch’ to my room around 4:30.

 

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My cousin shaving his younger brothers head. All the boys got hair cuts, and even some of the older men.

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Baby Omar getting his hair done! This has to be one of my favorite pictures thus far!

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I bought my niece, Fatu and I matching hair scrunchies! She loved it, and so did I! PS they were less than 25 cents each..so if you want one..I can hook you up. 😉

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My younger brother and baby Omar hanging out on the morning of Tabaski.

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My sister-in-law, Nyakkanah, bringing lunch out for the men and the children.

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My lunch bowl had so much meat! The sauce was onion sauce with chucks of potatoes. This is served with bread so you can make a nice meat and sauce sandwich.

Similar to Korite (end of Ramadan feast) all of the women and older girls ate in their own area. They put on their fancy clothes and all bring their bowls to eat together under a neem tree. I went along to give everyone candy when they were done eating. The rest of the day was fairly normal. I helped my sister pound millet for dinner, and played with the kids until around 7 when I normally shower and change into comfortable clothes.

Tabaski: Day Two

Day two of Tabaski is exactly the same as day one, except the morning activity of sacrificing the animals is already done. I cut more onions and potatoes, bought more bread, and ate more onion sauce with chunks of meat.

Night time is different on day two though. This is one night when kids get to go around to differnt houses in the village and ask for small coins, candy, or anything else someone wants to give them. This is not unlike our Tick or Treat in America on Halloween. I gave kids little candies, and the word quickly spread that Khodia was giving out candy! But it was very fun!

Tabaski: Day Three

Day three is exactly like day two except along with the kids asking for things, there is also a little dance with the women around 6pm. Everyone in a circle with a few women beating on plastic buckets and metal bowls with their rubber shoes. It is a blast, but can also easily give you a headache!

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Fatu getting down at the dance! In these dances, the dancer controls the music. If she speeds up, the drummers speed up, and if she ‘backs it up’ they know she is almost finished and end it with a few hard beats, and a lot of laughs from the crowd!

By day three most of the meat has been eaten, but some may be left over depending on how much you had in the first place. My family had some left and continued to eat a little meat with every meal until it was gone. This was a total of five days where every meal contained meat!

Tabaski: Wrap up

If you have made it this far, I congratulate you! I am obviously not a person of few words. But to sum it all up, my first Tabaski was an awesome experience. I learned a lot about Islam, and had a lot of fun with my family. I tried to ask a lot of questions, and I found that in some cases the real meaning of Tabaski has been lost, especially for women and children. Sound familiar? When I asked some people why we have Tabaski it took them a while to get to the story of Abraham and Isaac. While Senegal is still part of the developing world, its people have certainly succumbed to materialism in some ways. The holiday was a lot about having new clothes, shoes, jewlery and hair. But this fact also made me think a lot about consumerism in America. Here, the only time people do get nice, new clothes is for big events like this. In America, if I wanted to, I could go out and buy a new outfit just because I am bored on a Saturday afternoon. So if you only got a new outfit once a year, wouldn’t you be excited about it too?!

This experience has been a world of new opportunityies and knowledge for me. It is hard, and very different from what I am used to, but I am thankful that I get to do it, and share my experiences with anyone who cares to listen! Bon Tabaski y’all!

 

Half The Battle

Maybe it’s just that I recently started reading Game of Thrones..but for some reason, a war reference was the only way I could think to properly describe what is going on in my service at the moment.

Drum roll please….   We have chickens!!!

On a hot day at the beginning of August my host father and counterpart approached me to say that the last chicken coop would be done the next day and that we should go by chickens the day after tomorrow. My jaw dropped.

Let me tell you why.

Despite my constant urging and complaining, that last chicken coop had sat unchanged for the last month and a half. All it needed was some screen for windows and a cement stucco covering. At least once a day for the last month random people in the village would ask me, “Khodia, when are the chickens coming?” I would reply kindly, but with a little sass and obvious annoyance in my voice, “The chickens will come when the coops are finished, and one is not done. That was the deal.”  On August 1st the project was a little over a month off schedule which is not uncommon for projects here, especially for first year volunteers. This made me nervous, and also a little angry. Volunteers can only have one grant at a time which really limits the projects we can do, but it is also necessary since grants are hard to manage. I have other projects I want to get started on and I knew those could not progress until this one was closed.

So the next day I ventured across the village to see if progress was really being made on the final coop. Sure enough, my work partners were hard at work trying to finish the coop. I was told it would be done by the next evening. My father insisted that we go get the chickens the next day. But due to an unfortunate bout of biir bu ndow (running stomach) I suggested that we hold off one more day in hopes that God would look kindly on me and end my suffering. While that didn’t exactly happen, we did end up taking the 3.5 hour trip to Kaolack on Saturday August 6th. The day was quite uneventful. A lot of sitting, and a lot of walking. By 11am we had made all of our purchases! We were now proud owners of 250 baby chicks, and 800 kilos of chicken feed. I was very nervous about getting all of this safely home, but as always in Senegal, they figured it out.

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This man carried 16 sacks of feed on his head to the top of the car. Each sack was 50 kilos!

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Trying to fit 16 sacks on the roof of the car along with all the other baggage was quite a job for these guys.

After waiting a long while for our car to begin its return journey, we began the over 5 hour trip home. If you know much of anything about chickens, you might know that they don’t like stressful situations. They also don’t like heat. So over five hours in a hot car on an extremely bumpy dirt road in a cardboard box with 50 of your new friends probably wasn’t fun for the little guys. I was very nervous, but everyone else seemed to think it was completely normal. So as I have done many times in my service, I put a smile on and tried to remind myself that my ideas of what is best are not relevant here.

Finally we arrived back in my village and managed to get everything unloaded. After many hours dealing with Senegalese transportation paired with my lack of energy from previous days illness, also paired with a current state of exhaustion made for an interesting distribution period.

Four coops, all different sizes and capacities needing their share of chicks and feed while my brain could not be trusted to remember the word for bucket in Wolof. But hey..buck up because Omar needs his 80 chickens, and those 80 chickens need their food. So my math issue was as follows. 4 sacks of starter feed each sack at 50 kilos split between 250 chickens. So 200 kilos..each chicken gets 0.8 kilos. Omar’s coop has 80 chickens so he gets 64 kilos of feed. One sack and 14 kilos. Can this be considered GRE prep? Because I haven’t done a word problem since junior year of high school.

At 7:30pm, 14 hours after I had left my hut that morning, I returned extremely exhausted. After a good nights sleep, I spent the next day visiting the coops and speaking with their owners and operators. Things seemed to be going well. The chicks were eating and drinking, and everyone had their supplies. Yet I did not feel that sense of great accomplished like I had hoped. This was my first major project, and when we released those chicks into their new homes I expected to feel something, but instead my feeling of complacency remained.

Finally, my village had something tangible that I could look upon as an accomplishment. I soon realized that just having the infrastructure and materials necessary for success is not grounds for immediate satisfaction. Having these things is half the battle. Something that is even more important than these things is the drive to success, and the means to get there. The next 45 days are a bit of a test for my community. Will they be able to meet and exceed my expectations? My hope is that they will. They will go above and beyond allowing me to have that sense of accomplishment that I crave.

At this point, there is not much more that I can do. I can bring information and knowledge. I can offer expertise, but no more money is coming and that means that the resources available need to be used as efficiently as possible. I feel that as a community, we have set ourselves up for success. We brought in an expert to tech us the ins and outs of chicken production. We have the materials. We have the chickens themselves. We held a financial literacy training for the project leaders to get them thinking about the future and what they needed to do to ensure that the project will not stop at one round of production. Now the work must be done, and it must be done well.

My concept of development has changed dramatically since being here in Senegal. As much as we try to deny it, the developed world gives us a chip on our shoulder, and as much as we don’t want it there, it is really hard to shake. Personally, I thought that by “developing” my community with infrastructure and physical things would be a small step towards total development. While in ways this is accurate, that is not at all how development truly works.

Development is about more than money, or machines, or good policies – it’s about real people and the lives they lead. -Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda

As President Kagame so eloquently puts it, physical things do not insure development, people do. It’s similar to the old ‘give a man a fish’ saying. So you want to help someone by getting them food. You can ‘give the man a fish’ and feed him once. A hand out you could say. You could also give the man all of the things that he needs to catch a fish, but not teach him how to actually fish. He could figure it out, or he could abandon the idea and your resources were wasted. You could also provide the supplies and teach the man to fish. Even better than all of that, you could speak with the man and come to understand his life and his struggles. By doing that you might learn that he already knows how to fish and is quite good at it, but the river is too far away and the road is not in good condition to transport fish back to his home.

This is why development does not happen overnight. As a person working in rural development, it can be difficult to remember these things, so the job really can feel like a war in itself. These are the times when we need to remember the people. The people who we meet and the people who impact our lives every day. As a result of this project, my village now has 250 more chickens than they had on August 5th 2016. But even more important than that..over 35 people were formally trained in chicken production, and 13 people participated in financial literacy training. Countless community members are gaining knowledge every day, and there is a newfound drive for progress in the community. As much as we want it to, development doesn’t happen overnight. It is our job to recognize this fact and stay motivated even when it seems as if the war will never really end. It’s hard..but no one said it would be easy.

 

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Some of the community members discussing how to best install the screen windows.

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My brother Samba and I posing by the coop as it is being built

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Samba and Omar getting to work.

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My host father standing in front of the partially finished chicken coop.

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Our presenter working hard to make the people of my village understand the ins and outs of chicken production.

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The co-owners of this coop pose together in front of their newly finished chicken house.

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Separating supplies to take to different location. Supplies included feeders, waterers, lamps, buckets, shovels, rakes, and wheelbarrows

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Distributing supplies to their new owners was fulfilling, and fun!

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Each carton shown here contained 50 baby chicks! It took all my energy to keep the kids..and curious adults from opening the cartons. I think I did a pretty good job because I only had to chase down one chick!

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My host father separating feed based on my mathematical calculations.

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The chicks once they were released into the first coop. They immediately took to the waterers. I was thirsty too after that 5 hour car ride.

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It has been a little over two weeks since we got the chickens. They are growing rapidly and are starting to have feathers!

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My good friend Michael came out to my village to help me with a financial literacy training! We trained 13 people, including 2 women in record keeping and money management.

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It’s always a party when Cheikh comes to town! Thanks for your help Michael!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small Time Units

“The split second has been growing more and more important to us. And as human activities become more and more intermeshed and integrated, the split tenth of a second will emerge, and then a new name must be made for the split hundredth, until one day, although I don’t believe it, we’ll say, ‘Oh, the hell with it. What’s wrong with an hour?'” -John Steinbeck – East of Eden

Time is a concept that has not quite caught on in village life. Rather than a clock, it is things like prayer, meals, and weather that dictate activities and when you manage to get where you might need to go. Schedules are not necessary, and with the exception of school, and occasionally catching a bus, people are never worried about being ‘on time’. The split second is not even a blip on the raider of people living in rural Senegal.

In a world where a bus can sit in a village for two hours before it takes off, people cannot afford to be impatient. The Senegalese way of life is so slow paced that very rarely do people worry about things like this. I, on the other hand, am not this way. When I get on a bus I want it to leave, and not stop until I get to where I am going. Obviously this is not a luxury that I have here. Being in Senegal has forced me to reshape the way that I look at time and generally; I have become a slightly more patient person. Slightly.

I was reading one of my favorite books of all time the other day, East of Eden by John Steinbeck. If you’ve read the book, you know what I’m talking about here. Aron is coming home from college and his father Adam, brother Cal, girlfriend Abra, and live-in life coach, Lee, are all waiting for him at the train station. As they look down the tracks, waiting for the tracks to change, and the train signal to turn green, John Steinbeck introduces the genius that is the quote above and below. As I sat in my hut reading this paragraph I couldn’t help but laugh! The culture that I have grown up in my entire life has been one of the split second, tenth of a second, and split hundredth of a second.

The best way I can think to express our culture’s obsession with time is a race of some sort. With the Olympics coming up, how about this example? Think about the 100-meter dash or the 50-meter free style swim. You, with your naked eye watching on a screen or even in person, very often would not be able to tell who won any particular race. It is just too close. In 2008 Michael Phelps won gold in the 100m butterfly by one-sixth of an inch. He literally won by a fingertip. In 1992 five women competing in the 100m final were so close at the finish that slow motion recording had to be very closely analyzed. In the end, the difference between 1st and 5th place? Less than one-tenth of a second. For more examples, check out THIS article.

Now, these are obviously extreme examples, and you might be thinking “I don’t care at all about the Olympics, or any type of race/competition for that matter.” First, get yourself together; the Olympics are life once every two years. But second, you have to be able to think of a time when a bunch of split seconds where things didn’t go as planned for you, ended in disappointment or frustration. Don’t feel bad. It is the American way, and as John goes on to say…

“But it is not silly, this preoccupation with small time units. One thing late or early can disrupt everything around it, and the disturbance runs outward in bands like the waves from a dropped stone in a quiet pool.” John Steinbeck – East of Eden

In the developing world, our lives revolve around our clocks. We plan our days by the minute and if something doesn’t go quite as planned, you might as well call the day a disaster. I was definitely this way in America. Especially in college, I would go from an early shift at work, to studying for a test or a quiz, to class, to work at a second job, back to class, and then to homework or social/religious events. This is the life of a student. For those working a demanding job and trying to raise kids, the clock’s pull on everyday life is even stronger.

So, for some more examples, that little 2 minute conversation on the sidewalk with a friend makes you late for Biology. You missed a bonus quiz, which effects your grade, and your education as a whole. The 10-minute traffic Jam makes you late for work, which effects your record and could eventually mean a lost promotion or even a lost job. A 2 minute conversation mixed with a 10 minute traffic jam, and the fact that little Jimmy took a whole 3 minutes to tie his shoes and get in the car made your kids way late for soccer practice, and now little Jimmy isn’t going to be able to start in Saturday’s game causing him to lose interest and the child who was once bound for the World Cup is now thinking of trying his hand at golf. (sorry Jimmy, but good choice in your next endeavor).

Sometimes big things happen in a very short amount of time. Other times a lot of little things compile and cause a big mess in our lives. So it is not wrong to be concerned with time. After living here I am definitely missing being around time sensitive people. When you become a PCV in Senegal you go through over two months of training on how to be a successful volunteer. In this training, we are enlightened about the Senegalese lack of interest in time, and what we can do to mitigate frustration with this issue. Things like telling people a meeting starts at 3pm when it really starts at 5pm, or being very cautious of cultural factors when planning a meeting in the first place. It is our duty to tell people about a meeting or event two weeks, one week, 4 days, 1 day before and the day of that the event is happening. It’s not like in America where people write meetings down in their iCalender, or their weekly planner to be sure they don’t miss it.

Just as in America, when things do not go quite as planned, it is frustrating. When people show up late to a meeting and you have to rearrange the schedule including teatime and snack break (essential things when having a long meeting in Senegal) it can throw a wrench in your entire plan. When the village chief takes way too long to great everyone and give his opinion on whatever is being talked about, the meeting now is cutting in to evening prayer time meaning you will have to break for 20 minutes and come back. Things very rarely go as scheduled, and that is extraordinarily frustrating. Especially when you come from a culture where all of that disrespect of the schedule is basically unacceptable.

So I suppose there are two extremes here. On one side, time is nothing more than numbers on a clock. On the other side, time has begun to rule everything. Being here has forced me to look at time in a whole different way. I see now how my obsession with time, while sometimes necessary, is extreme. This experience has helped me to see time in a whole new perspective. I know when I return to America my perspective of time will most likely go back to the way it was before. I can only hope that every now and then I can say, “Oh, the hell with it. What’s wrong with an hour?”