Back in America!!

April 22nd, 2010 |

Hi Everyone,

Sorry I have not posted anything on my return until now!  I have been busy enjoying the comforts of good ol’ US of A.

Hiking with sister, Megan, in Shenandoah:


Family stroll  through cherry blossoms in DC:


I brought Mon Amie with me on the plane, and she survived being cooped up in her crate in cargo for 20 hours, not without trouble, of course.  When I decided to fly her back with me from Senegal to Virginia, I knew it was not going to be easy, so I wasn’t at all surprised when things didn’t go smoothly.  I couldn’t get on a direct flight from Dakar to Washington DC because of Peace Corps regulations, so I had a layover in JFK.  When I arrived at the JFK airport, I heard through word of mouth that my dog had to be cleared at customs.  The problem was I couldn’t find my dog.  I asked around and no one knew where my dog was.  Like typical New Yorkers, they were angry with me, as if I were playing a game with them.  Each time I asked where my dog was, the reply would be, “WHERE’S YOUR DOG?! YOU NEED TO CLEAR YOUR DOG!”  I said, “I KNOW! I CAN’T FIND HER!”  One security guard eventually got on the phone and ordered a Delta rep to come to the baggage claim area.  After repeating the announcement four times, a Delta rep finally came and told me calmly that I did not need to clear my dog through customs and the dog would be transferred to my next flight.  I thanked her and left.

Five minutes before boarding my flight to DC, I heard my name on the loudspeaker, telling me to go the front desk.  I went there, and (surprise, surprise) the dog was not on the plane because she needed to be cleared at customs.  I was transferred to a later flight, and I spent the next two hours traveling around one side of JFK to the other with the lady in charge of DSL, named Joan, who tried to get the dog cleared.  There were a bunch of complications: they wanted to send the dog to an airport that I was not arriving in, they wanted to keep the dog overnight because of some kind of DSL rule, they wanted to do this and that, etc.   Joan talked with a bunch of people, and in the end, Mon Amie made it to DC alive and well.

Click the links below to watch Mon Amie arriving at the airport in DC:



Everyone was happy about Mon Amie’s arrival in America…everybody, that is, except our old dog, Gracie.  She did not take well to a new dog invading her house, and she was very hostile toward her for a few days.  Now, Gracie is tolerating Mon Amie, but she really doesn’t like her much.  If Mon Amie sits next to her on the couch, Gracie will move to the other side of the room, just to get away from her, and any time Gracie isn’t getting as much affection as Mon Amie, she starts barking.  However, considering how territorial Gracie is they are getting along really well.


Dad with Mon Amie and Gracie:


Thank you for reading my blog and for all your support this past year!

Family Feuding and Senegalese Comfort

March 5th, 2010 |

This week started with a huge ordeal. When I came back from a run in the morning, I noticed that everyone in my family was somber, just sitting and staring in front of them. I asked my host sister what was going on and she started to speak but stopped when Demba, my blind, evil host father started walking toward us. She gently pushed me away and put her finger to her mouth, motioning me to be quiet. The whole morning, the air was tense, and no one was talking. I later found out that Demba had accused his wife, Jeniba, of stealing money. They had argued, and she had left the house to stay with her mother. When a woman leaves a Pulaar household, everything falls apart because the woman of the house does everything. So that day, there was no lunch, and everyone was generally walking on egg shells because Demba would blow up at the smallest thing. After a couple days, Jeniba was, of course, found to have stolen nothing and she returned to the house.

Just to give you an idea of how Demba may have thought his wife stole money from him, I will tell you a little about the way his brain works. He is blind and therefore extremely paranoid all the time. The other day, I walked near him while winding my wind-up flashlight and he yelled at me saying he did not want to be filmed. I told him it was not a camera, it was a flashlight, but he continued to yell that he didn’t want to be filmed until five people came and corroborated my statement. Even then, he did not apologize to me for yelling, or even acknowledge the fact that he made a mistake. This is the kind of guy we’re dealing with. If you click on the link below, you can watch one of the tense moments..

CLICK ME! (Demba Yelling)

After the host family episode, Marisa and I did a project with the Senegalese government organization, Counterpart International, going around to different villages and painting hand-washing murals. It was quite fun because we were driven around in a private car and all the supplies were paid for. Because the project lasted several days, Counterpart put us up in a hotel room near their office. Sounds great, right? Maybe in America it would be great. We got to our hotel room the first night and not surprisingly the sheets were dirty and the towels were even worse. We were expecting that to be the case, however, so we had brought our own sheets with us.

We were unpacking our things, complaining about how disgusting the room was when all of the sudden Marisa screamed. Then I screamed and asked her what was wrong and she said she saw a mouse. We both ran out of the room and got the kid who was in charge. He came up and started moving furniture around and not one but TWO huge mice started running around, crawling over the bed and everywhere. He couldn’t kill them so he came up to us and casually said, “There are just a few mice, it’s not a big deal..” We told him we were not staying there and he seemed dumbfounded. Finally, Marisa explained that it is forbidden in America to sleep with animals in the room and he then seemed to understand. We left and stayed with a PCV in the area. Below are some photos of the murals we did (you can see a couple more if you click on the corresponding link, under ‘Photos’)!

Marisa and I hard at work on mural #1


Me, signing our Senegalese names on #3


#5 - we thought they kept getting better and better!


West Africa Invitational Softball Tournament, or WAIST, and Other Stuff…

February 19th, 2010 |

This past week, all the PCVs from Senegal, as well as a few from Mali, Nigère, Burkina, and perhaps other countries, participated in a two-day all-volunteer conference in Dakar, followed by WAIST. Each region had their own softball team, and there were also several teams not affiliated with Peace Corps. Our team, The Dangerous Mimes, from the Fouta region, is notoriously bad - the worst, in fact. This year, our goal was to not lose by as much as we did last year. Ultimately, we did better but still did badly. We got beat by a team of 8-year-olds and two teams of 14-year-olds. The only team we beat was one that did a beer bong before each hit. In any case, it was fun hanging out with a bunch of Americans for the week.


My second piece of news is maybe a little more important, maybe not. I have decided to end my service early (after a year) rather than stay the usual two years. This was not a decisions I made lightly, and I believe it is the right decision for me. I have done a lot of work that I am proud of, and I feel fulfilled in my service. There are many reasons for leaving, but mainly, my Peace Corps experience turned out to be different than I had expected. It is more debilitatingly hot than I thought it would be and development work is a lot slower than I imagined.

I think if you keep working at something, it’s eventually going to get somewhere, it just takes a really long time. I think my personality is more suited to work with fast results. For example, I liked teaching swim lessons because on day one the kids (or adults) couldn’t swim, and on day eight they could. Here, I’ll teach people a concept over and over again but they won’t apply what they’ve learned. Change is possible, it just takes years. In the end, I feel that it’s not worth it to be so far away from home and to feel like I’m accomplishing so little.

I don’t regret coming here in any way. It has been a positive experience for me, and I feel like the people of Thilogne have really appreciated my being here. I think we have learned a lot from each other in a short period of time. I will be leaving Thilogne the end of March, and I will then be in Dakar for a week or two before heading home (and yes, Mon Amie will be joining me). Until then, I have HIV and Gender Development classes to teach, as well as a couple other small projects to work on.

On another note, if you have sent me something recently, I will likely receive it before I leave; however, anything you send from this point on may not make it to me in time. Thank you for all your support thus far, and be sure to keep reading, as I will continue to update this! Photos to come…

Letting Girls Play Soccer or, “Changing Cultural Norms”

February 4th, 2010 |

Girls in Senegal, especially here in the ultra-conservative North, are not encouraged to exercise.  In fact, exercise is pretty much reserved solely for the boys.  Often, it is not even important whether or not girls excel in school, because their main purpose is to marry young and raise children.  Women are undoubtedly second-class citizens, and it would be a joke for anyone to claim that they are even close to equal to men.

If there is one chair available between a man and a woman, the man always gets the chair.  Women cannot enter mosques here, as they are built for men only.  Women, including young girls over the age of four, do all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry, while the men relax, drink tea, and do whatever they want.  I could go on and on, but my point is that women are not treated fairly, and life is unarguably harder for women than it is for men.  For this reason, I felt grateful to be able to start a girls soccer club, where girls could feel special and enjoy themselves for a change.  In a society in which men feel entitled to just about everything, it was a relief to do something fun exclusively for women.

Thanks to Long Beach Crew, a girls’ soccer team from Long Beach, California, I was able to start the girls’ soccer club here in Thilogne.  The CA team sent great-quality used jerseys, soccer balls, cleats, socks, shin guards, and shorts, among other things.  I also had soccer balls donated from my former employer, Lee District RECenter, in Virginia, which contributed to making the soccer club possible.

Luckily, I had a lot of support from the P.E. coach, who agreed that there was not enough emphasis on women’s sports.  The main goal in starting this club was to promote girls soccer and raise awareness for the fact that girls can and should participate in sports.  I believe we accomplished this goal.  We had two-hour practices, twice a week, for a month, and there were a number of students, both male and female, who came to the school to watch the practices. Below: a photo the 16 girls in the club.


Yesterday was the big game (8 vs. 8).  The winning team was to receive two jerseys per person, good-quality American soap, and other prizes for those who scored a goal.  The game almost didn’t happen.  I set the date and the time a month ago, put up posters at the school, and had been in constant communication with the P.E. teacher, the principal, and the vice principal, who all said they were on board with me and that there would be no problems.  Every time I saw the P.E. teacher I mentioned the date and time of the game to make sure we were on the same page.

However, when we got to the stadium at 5:00, the P.E. teacher said that the boys were currently playing, and they wouldn’t be done until after 6:00.  Needless to say, I was heated aggravated - I am used to getting little respect from men here, but he acted like we had never spoken before!  I explained that we had planned this, that the girls were prepared and excited to play, and that this would be the only time the girls would use the stadium field the entire year (probably for the first time since it was built).  He eventually said he would end the boys’ game at 5:30, as if he were doing me a favor.  In the end, it was a great game!  Team “Brazil” beat Team “Egypt” 2-1, and we had a pretty good fan turn-out.  Below is a photo of the winning team, Brazil, along with the fickle P.E. teacher, Mr. Ndiaye.


The girls seemed to have a blast at practices and during the game.  I am going to start teaching the second round of the HIV/AIDS and Gender Development classes, so I won’t be able to continue with the girls’ soccer, but the P.E. teacher said he would like to coach them, and I hope he does.  Besides the working with soccer club, I have been doing hand-washing demonstrations at the elementary schools and painting murals.  I’m running out of space to paint in Thilogne, so the mural below was painted at the newly-built health post in Kobilo, a neighboring town.


Just as a reminder, there is a photo album that corresponds to every blog entry (look on the right side of the page, under “Photos”).  Thanks for reading!

Senegal Vacation: Not Your Mayan Riviera Experience

January 11th, 2010 |

My parents flew from Virginia to see me right after Christmas, staying in Senegal twelve days.  They said they had a great time but they also said that the conditions in Senegal are a lot worse than the fairy tale image I’m apparently projecting on this blog.  They were able to see what life is really like here, from the good to the bad to the appalling.  We stayed in five different cities/towns/villages in Northern Senegal, going to really touristy places, like Gorée Island, and also going places where probably no other tourist has gone before, like the small villages around Thilogne.
In St. Louis, on their second day here, my folks witnessed how culture and law and security are one in the same:  I was mid-conversation with my parents and opened the door to a bank, forgetting to say ‘hello’ to the police officer standing outside.  He put his arm in front of the door to block me from entering and said angrily, “you didn’t say hello to me!  You can’t just walk by me without saying hello!  I’m here to tell you that if you want to change money, you need to go through the door on the left!  If you said hello to me you would have known that!”  Then he gave the lecture I’ve heard countless times about how ‘here in Senegal, you need to say hello to people…’  My parents were pretty shocked.  They don’t speak French, so they just saw me getting yelled at for no apparent reason (and me yelling back); they had no idea it was over such a trivial issue.  That was not the first time I have gotten yelled at for not saying hello to someone as I was entering a room, and it probably won’t be the last (sometimes I forget!)

Although my parents loved Thilogne and found it very interesting, they realized how exhausting it is to be followed everywhere and stared at constantly.  I told them that I am still getting this kind of unwanted attention after living here for months, and I’m nowhere near used to it.  It’s tiring to the point that I have to mentally prepare myself to leave my house each day.  One day in Thilogne, my Mom played my guitar, and I taught a couple of kids how to dance the Hokey Pokey.  Everyone clapped along to the songs and it was a lot of fun – a huge treat for all of us.  My Dad brought a rubber spider all the way from America and scared all the kids with it, which he was really proud of (my dad reminds me a lot of Michael from ‘The Office’).  Both Mom and Dad loved my host mother, Jeniba, and they saw what a greedy, mean man Demba is.


On the way to the Lampoul sand dunes from Thilogne, we took a car whose windshield was so badly cracked it was caving in, held up by a rug, a stick, and an air freshener can.  At the start of the drive, the driver shut his door and the window shattered into a million pieces.  He drove on, and each time the car hit a bump or a pothole, he brought his hand to his mouth and kissed his gris gris (good luck charm).  We somehow made it to our destination without the windshield collapsing, so I guess the gris gris helped.  Though this particular car was in the worst shape, we didn’t ride in a single car whose windshield was not cracked and whose speedometer was not broken.


The worst part of our trip was Popenguine.  I had reserved a house on the beach two months early, and then confirmed my reservation the day before we arrived.  When we got there, we were told that it was no longer available, but there was another place we could stay that was double the price.  We were tired and said we would take it.  We waited an hour for them to clean the rooms, and with a sigh of relief, we finally walked in, ready to put our bags down and relax.  To our dismay, the place was filthy - the bathroom looked like someone had just thrown a bucket of water over everything and there was tons of sand on the floor - and there were no towels, no clean sheets, and no toilet paper.  We asked for these things twice, and by the end of the day, were given one towel only.  When we complained the next day, we realized that their motto was ‘the customer is always wrong -’ a motto that seemed to reign in the majority of places we ate and stayed.  We were blamed for not having asked more times to be given clean sheets and towels.  And as for the all-night hip-hop dance party that took place in the hotel lobby that we weren’t warned about?  Well…the workers at the hotel didn’t get any sleep either, so we had no right to complain.  That morning, when we arrived at the other hotel in town, I was exhausted, frustrated, and upset that things weren’t going well, but more than anything I just wanted to lie down.  I plopped myself down on the bed, and the mattress collapsed through the bed frame, and I fell to the floor.

We finished the trip in Dakar, where we stayed in a nice hotel and relaxed a bit.  Nothing went smoothly the whole trip, because that is an impossibility here, but we still had a great time, and nothing seemed to faze my parents.  They had a good sense of humor about everything that went wrong, and I admit I was surprised and impressed with their flexibility and easy-going attitude.  They took bucket baths, drank the local water, and went without cell phones, television, movies, and Internet for two weeks.  I’d say they managed better than a lot of people half their age would if they were plunged into the same environment.  Having said that, I think they are grateful to be home and are looking forward to going back to work.


Girls…teaching them more than how to wash clothes

December 20th, 2009 |


Last week was all about the girls. On Wednesday, Awa, a Senegalese woman who grew up dirt-poor poor in a tiny village and now works full-time for the Peace Corps, came to Thilogne to talk to thirty 14 and 15-year-old girls at the school. Being that she is a Senegalese, Muslim woman, she had more credibility and was given more respect than I probably would have been given if I gave a talk on the same issues. She talked to them about taboo subjects here, such as girls’ periods, rape, unwanted pregnancy, and sex – things that should be taught in school, or at least mentioned between a mother and daughter, but are not. I first realized that there was a problem when I was teaching the HIV/ AIDS class and discovered that the majority of the girls did not know what sex was. I’ve heard of several instances here in which a teenage girl got pregnant because the guy told her she couldn’t get pregnant from having sex. Awa did a great job talking to the girls on their level and made everyone feel comfortable talking about these subjects that are swept under the rug.

On Sunday, the Peace Corps volunteers from the Matam region (5 of us) hosted a girls’ leadership conference for the region’s applicants of the Michelle Sylvester Peace Corps academic scholarship (around 25 girls). At the conference, we talked about the difficulties girls face in school, gender roles and stereotypes, self-confidence, and planning for the future. We had two women speak to the girls as well. One was Kumba, a 35-year-old woman, never married, no kids, who has a good job at the Matam radio station. There are very few women here of her age that are not married with kids, so it was interesting to hear her story. The other woman, Marie-Thérèse, used to have a high-paying secretarial position in Dakar, but she quit her job when she decided to have a baby. She said she would like to go back to work when the baby turns two. The main message given was that girls have a choice: they can be stay-at-home moms, they can work, or they can do a bit of both, but they shouldn’t feel destined to any particular life. When the projector wasn’t working, I stepped in as a distraction and led the girls in a short game that shows how quickly HIV can spread.  It was a little chaotic in the beginning but I think everyone learned something in the end. You can watch it if you click below.

Click Me!

Aside from that, the weather was nice for a couple weeks, and it was so cold at night that I had to sleep inside.  Now, it’s hot again, but Jeniba assured me that the cold will come back soon (please be right!).   Mon Amie is doing really well, and Demba continues to try to demonstrate his power by finding a problem with just about everything I do. He also hurt Jeniba when she tried to stop him from strangling his daughter, which made me extremely angry, especially since there was nothing I could do about it without making the situation worse. Anyway, I hope you all have a great Christmas! My parents are coming in just a few days, which I’m excited about for many reasons, one being that Demba will have to be nice to me when they’re here because I’m going to tell him that they are Obama’s personal friends.

Permaculture - Feeding the World one Garden at a Time

December 5th, 2009 |


This week I was in Thiès for a permaculture workshop, where there were about 15 other PCVs, representing each region of Senegal. Going back to Thiès is like seeing an old friend again - It’s where my Peace Corps life started, and it was nice to go back because I realized how far I’ve come in a few months. When I first got to Senegal, I thought Thiès was the filthiest, most disgusting place I’d ever seen in my life. Now, it’s paradise. I can get banana splits, diet coke, and chocolate; and there is less trash here than there is in Thilogne.

I am always worried about leaving Mon Amie with my host family, for obvious reasons. It’s like leaving my only child with a babysitter who throws rocks at kids, and thinks it fine to kick them. I called my host mom today and she said the dog is well, but one never knows. If I’ve learned anything about Senegalese culture, it’s that they would rather lie to you than respond in the negative, whether it’s about something simple, like not having a certain item on the menu at a restaurant, or something really serious.

The workshop was great because we spent only a couple hours in the classroom, and the rest of the time was spent actually building a bio-intensive garden that will last forever. A permagarden expert from Tanzania came to teach us a new gardening method that maximizes natural resources in a small space, close to the home, which yields bigger and better crops than the traditional method. Although there is more work in the beginning using the new method, the soil actually improves over time and requires far less work in the long run. When building a permagarden, we learned to plan ahead - observe the rain flow on the ground and start a compost. We double-dug the soil to enable the roots to go deeper, thereby allowing the plants to be planted closer together, eliminating wasted space. We added charcoal, ash, and compost to the soil in order to hold carbon dioxide and water, re-mineralize the soil, and enrich and compact the soil, respectively.


I would love to build a permagarden in Thilogne, but the problem is finding motivated workers who want to learn new techniques. I’ve noticed from talking to other PCVs and traveling to different regions, that the people in Thilogne are far less motivated than people from other areas. I think the main reason for this is the heat. The north, where we live, is not only the hottest region in Senegal, it is the hottest inhabited place on earth during certain times of the year. The heat is debilitating, and gardening is not in their blood like it is for people in the South of Senegal. That said, I will talk to the farmers and see if they are interested.  Even if they are willing to incorporate one of the techniques of the permagarden, they will benefit a lot, so I hope I can encourage even one person or family to try it.


Legs Project

November 24th, 2009 |

In Northern Senegal, people sleep outside for most of the year (February-October) to escape the unbearable indoor heat. Because they don’t have the necessary equipment to properly hang their bednets, they either do not use them or they hang them ineffectively. I observed several compounds using sticks to prop up their bednets, which proves a feeble structure, and several other compounds had only two corners of the net hung so that the bednet was touching the person inside, meaning he/she was not protected from the mosquitoes, as shown below.


I decided to propose a project to the US Army’s Humanitarian Assistance Team, which would help reduce malaria in Thilogne by providing a sturdy yet portable structure to suspend the bednets. I proposed that we build 200 sets of “legs” that would stand at each corner of the bed. The base is made of cement, and in it there is a steel pole that stands upright with a loop at the top. We use these “legs” at all the regional houses in Senegal, and they have proven themselves to be effective and necessary.

My proposal was approved, and last week I went around to almost 100 compounds, handing out tickets for these “bed legs,” explaining to each family that they had to contribute one bucket of water to the project if they wanted a set of “legs.” Everyone seemed very excited and promised to come on the given day with a bucket of water. When the project was underway, however, not even 25 families brought the water; I still have people coming to me with their tickets asking for the “legs,” though they contributed nothing. Most people respond, saying, “sorry, I forgot.” In fact, I’m glad that the majority of people forgot because the project did not go according to plan, and we ultimately made only 40 sets, instead of the proposed 200.

The problem was the mason (pictured below). He was by no stretch of the imagination a professional, and he did not understand basic arithmetic. Even though, on the day the project began, there was a great translator who explained the project to the mason (after I had explained it to him countless times with pictures and detailed descriptions), and helped the mason determine how many supplies to buy, the mason did not understand. He was told he had three days to complete 200 SETS of “bed legs” but in the end he only made 150 LEGS. He used all the materials, though, because he made the base way too big and he built a metal “grid” for each leg, which was unnecessary and not part of the original plan.


Now, our yard is filled with these bed legs because only two families who brought water have come by to claim their set. It’s been three days since the project has been completed, and people were supposed to have come on the 21st. I’ve been trying to spread the word that they’re finished, so hopefully people will start taking them away.


Nonetheless, I want to wish all Americans a Happy Thanksgiving and all Muslims a Happy Tabaski! We will be eating goat meat with potatoes and onion sauce, and if it’s like Korité, we will eat the same un-refrigerated meat for about three days afterward. I bet you wish you were here to celebrate! :)


Thilogne’s First Hands-On Art Classes

November 12th, 2009 |

After several weeks of planning and preparation, I was able to bring art to Thilogne this week.  Using the art supplies donated by teachers from White Oaks Elementary School in Virginia, I taught a total of 150 7th grade students the very basics of color and line.  More importantly, the class gave them a chance to experiment with crayons and markers - a chance they’ve never had before and most likely will not have again.  Here in Thilogne, students are sometimes taught art theory, but it does not go farther than that.


The first class was two hours long and after the first hour the kids would not stay in their seats and would not stop talking.  For positive reinforcement, I had been putting some good drawings up on the wall.  However, these students are not used to positive reinforcement, they are only used to getting beat if they do something wrong.  So after I had put a few drawings on the wall, kids starting shouting at me to put theirs up as well, and before long kids were putting their own drawings on the wall themselves .  On top of that, the kids had no idea what to do when I said “be creative and use your imagination” because they have never been told to do that before.  What happened, was everyone ended up just copying the example I did on the board.  It was basically out of control, and when I got home I was so traumatized all I could do was stare at the wall for a half hour.

Thanks to the advice of my music-teacher mom, I shortened the following classes to one hour, simplified everything, and took out the things that didn’t work, and they went much more smoothly.  Since each student who participated received a small bag of new crayons, I now have every kid and her mother asking me for crayons.  Crayons are non-existent here so I can see their appeal, but I really didn’t like how the majority of students did not say thank you and instead asked for more crayons or complained that they didn’t get markers as well.  The problem is that people here have learned to expect things from outsiders because they have been given things by development workers their entire lives.  Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of people not being grateful for things, since they think they are entitled to it.  In any case, the kids seemed to enjoy the art classes.


All the left-over supplies (and there were tons), I donated to the pre-school, which has almost no supplies to work with, and I imagine the kids do not do very much the four hours they are there.  This week, I also started teaching an HIV/AIDS Prevention and Gender Development class to a small group of girls ages 14 and 15.  I’m looking forward to working with these girls, as they seem eager to learn about the subject.  Thank you to everyone who helped make the art camp possible!


Happy Halloween!

October 30th, 2009 |

Thank you all for your kind words regarding Mon Amie.  She and I visited the vet in Dakar every other day for two weeks, and now we are back in Thilogne.  Mon Amie is barely limping, is almost up to the level of energy she had before the accident, and she should be fully recovered by the end of December. Now that she is doing well, I feel a lot better as well, which has enabled me to focus my energy on my work instead of her health every day.  I’m still changing her bandages, but since the wound is no longer infected, she is no longer in pain, so cleaning it is at least manageable.

Mon Amie really wanted to dress up for Halloween so I let her choose what she wanted to be, and she insisted on being a Pulaar woman.  Below is a picture of Mon Amie..


…compared to the real thing:


I thought she did a pretty good job putting the outfit together and balancing the bowl on her head – she even picked Halloween colors!

I’m not sure what Demba is going to be for Halloween, but I think I heard him saying he wanted to go as Darth Vader from Star Wars.  Speaking of Demba, he seemed to be in good spirits for about one day only after I got back from Dakar, then he was back to his old self.  While away from site, I had bought a guitar from a PCV who had completed his service, and I was teaching myself some chords one day, in my room in Thilogne.  It had not even been 20 minutes, and I probably only strummed the guitar ten times since it was the first time I had ever played and I was trying to get the fingering down, when Demba came by and said in an irritated voice, “Hola! Give the guitar a rest for a while!” I was stunned how little tolerance he had, considering I not only listen to his chanting at 5:00 every morning, when he is shouting about five feet from my ear, I also listen to Muslims chanting on the radio for a good hour a day, and I listen to it with the volume on full blast because the controller is broken.  I wanted to tell him he should be grateful I didn’t buy a trombone or a violin, but I didn’t know how to say that in Pulaar.  In any case, the rest of my host family loves it, and they often come in my room when I’m playing and tell me how great the music is – I mean, they should all love it because it’s the only real music in Thilogne (unless, of course, you consider Akon to be real music).

One spooky thing that happened recently is that my bike was stolen!  However, for every bad guy in Thilogne there are about ten good ones.  All I had to do was tell a few people at the garage to keep their eyes open, and two days after it was taken, it was found by the garage manager.  Just as my host family and I suspected from the start, it was an inside job.  23-year-old Samba, Demba’s nephew, who lived us, stole it and then sold it to his friend.  He left for Dakar the same day, and apparently he has left for good.

If that story doesn’t scare you, maybe this video will.  Actually, apart from the teacher yelling at his students to “hurry up” (dépêche-toi!) when they are writing on the board, the scene is not bad.  The day before, however, I saw him hitting his students with a stick when they took too long to respond or answered a question incorrectly.  Not surprisingly, he did no such thing when I was in the classroom filming.  Sadly, numerous PCVs have seen this from teachers in their villages, and it is heartbreaking that it happens because the kids do not learn better or faster from it, they just learn to be afraid to answer the questions and to hit people themselves.

School in Thilogne video (Click Me!)

Hope you all have a fun Halloween!  And just for the record, Halloween is not celebrated here…unfortunately.