Mon Ami Mishap

October 8th, 2009 |

Lately, things have been pretty crazy, but I’ll start from the beginning. A couple of weeks ago, I went to the beach in St. Louis for a few days, and when I came back to Thilogne, the grasshoppers had magically disappeared - they went away along with the rain. The rainy season is now over. Since it has not rained in close to three weeks, it’s been hotter than usual, though I can honestly say I will take scorching heat over grasshoppers any day.

Things were going well for a couple days and then last Wednesday night, around 8:00 p.m., as I was getting getting ready for bed (yes, I go to sleep early here), I heard a lot of commotion outside, so I went to check it out. There, I saw Mon Ami whimpering and limping towards me, her legs bloody and disheveled. A couple of kids told me she was hit by a car. I brought her into my room, blood dripping all over the place, and tried to get her bandaged as well as I could, with her squirming and yelping and nipping the air. I didn’t know what to do, if the leg was broken or not, so I had my mom call the veterinarian in America, and the vet said to change her bandages daily and give her antibiotics.


I did this for almost a week, although changing her bandages was so stressful because she was in so much pain and moved around so much. I couldn’t clean it well because she wouldn’t let me. The wounds were not getting any better, and they were obviously infected (one day I even found maggots crawling around inside two of her cuts) so I decided to take her to see the vet in Dakar. I had to rent out a car, because no Senegalese person would share a car with a dog. Of course, on the way to Dakar, the car broke down, but we eventually made it in a total of 13 hours.

I took her to the vet yesterday, and he put her to sleep in order to scrub her wounds well with soap and spray antiseptic on them, and today he’s going to do the same thing except she will be awake. He said I could not be there for the cleaning today because I am “too sensitive to watch.” Tomorrow he will remove the dead tissue and Saturday he is going to try to close up the leg.


What else is going on? Well, as I mentioned before, the PCVs in the North do health-related skits in Pulaar for the Matam region (Northern Senegal) Radio show. It is a great way to get information out, especially when everybody listens to the radio, even people in remote villages. Last Saturday, the theme of the show was pre-natal care. I wrote a skit about a pregnant woman who found out she was infected with HIV, but she was able to prevent her baby from being infected by taking the necessary steps. The problem with the show is that we only have female volunteers working on it, so we have to play the men as well as the women. This is an issue because whenever someone starts talking like a man, everyone laughs, and the shows are live so we really can’t afford to laugh uncontrollably. If you click the “click me” link below you can see Marisa and I broadcasting the skit I wrote. The first one is rated PG-13 due to profanity, and the second one is rated G.

CLICK ME radio part 1

CLICK ME radio part 2

You can also see a short video of my house and host family,

CLICK ME (my house)

and footage of the market in Thilogne.

CLICK ME (market)

Thanks for reading, everyone!

Night of the Flying Grasshopper

September 21st, 2009 |

Although I really don’t want to be negative, I pretty much have no choice because I am basically worn-out. I’ve been at my site for over a month without leaving, and the stresses of daily life have caught up to me. Usually, when people yell out ‘toubab,’ I go up to them and nicely say, “hey, the toubab has a name - it’s Hola - what’s your name?” But lately, ‘toubab,’ which means ‘white man’ or ‘whitey,’ has been grating on my nerves so badly that I have been yelling back at people, “MY NAME IS NOT TOUBAB… IS YOUR NAME BLACK?!” The main reason for this lack of patience is that my life is my work and my work is my life and there is no such thing as relaxing as long as I am at site, so any frustration I have on a daily basis just builds and builds. Besides the fact that I’m always on display when I walk out of my room, another frustration is the multitude of bugs.

Since the rains started 4 months ago, the bugs have been out of control. Every month or so there is a new kind of bug that emerges, and they seem to be getting progressively worse. First there were these little black bugs that would crawl and fly and stick in my hair, and they wouldn’t simply shake out, I had to actually peel them out. Then there were these other little black bugs that didn’t fly but ran really fast and hid in my room in large numbers. Now, it’s the grasshoppers, and they have succeeded in their attempt to be as irritating as possible. There is nothing less fun than dealing with these creatures, which hop or fly in my hair and clothes, before going to bed. Like the other bugs, they are most intense at night, at which time it’s like the plague. I try to set up my mosquito net as quickly as possible, while the grasshoppers are flying at me from every direction, and within minutes the whole net is covered with them. Because I am essentially living outside, there is no escaping these evil pests, and I’m constantly playing field hockey with my broom trying to get them out of my room.


To top it all off, yesterday was Korité, the end of Ramadan (their version of Thanksgiving, except the food is gross). My host family bought a cute goat (the one pictured below) and had it slaughtered in the back yard. As I was washing my clothes, I got to watch some guys slit its throat, drain the fluids, skin it, and chop up the parts. After I was nice and tired from doing laundry for two and half hours and angry that my host brother played with the goat’s head then started eating without washing his hands (after I specifically told him he should wash his hands – I mean, as a health volunteer, I feel like it’s my responsibility to say something), I went into my room to eat lunch and got a lovely surprise from Mon Ami. I didn’t notice her come into the room, but I heard her crunching away at something by my feet, so I looked down and saw her chewing one of the goat’s bloody legs. Not only that, there were drips of blood all over my room. I told her to get out, and she left, leaving me to take out the leg and clean up the blood.


One positive thing that happened recently is that I finished a world map mural at the high school. People up here cannot point to Senegal on a map, nor can they point to any given continent. I showed this to a group of girls and they enjoyed seeing where different countries were located.


Given my current stress level, I plan to spend a couple days at the beach, and hopefully I will return feeling calmer. Until then, enjoy the photos, although I do warn you that there are many of the goat being slaughtered – yes, this is partially an attempt to convert you to vegetarianism.


September 6th, 2009 |

Since my last post, the dog situation has improved quite a bit.  Demba has been bizarrely nice to me, and Mon Ami has actually become friends with the “mean” street dogs because she has been escaping from the compound whenever I’m not keeping her under strict supervision.

Ramadan is in full swing right now.  We are in the 3rd week of fasting (no food, no water) from 6:00 AM to 7:20 PM, and by “we” I mean everyone in Thilogne except for me.  People ask me every day if I’m fasting, and I tell them that I fasted for one day, which is true, and half of them laugh and tell me I’m too weak to do it every day, and I’m fine with that.  However, the other half of the population gets angry that I’m not fasting and they accuse me of not liking Muslims and not wanting to integrate. So, just recently, I have been telling people that I am fasting to avoid being hassled.  I feel slightly guilty about this, of course, because people will ask if I’m fasting after I’ve downed a cold Coke or eaten a huge piece of bread with Nutella.

The one part of Ramadan that I do participate in every day is the breaking of the fast.  My host mother makes delicious bissap juice with ice, and we all sit around drinking that and coffee when the mosque announces sundown.  I’m really not sure how people go without water in this sweltering heat, but one of their strategies is to stay up until around 2 AM and to sleep in until around 10 AM and then rest as much as possible during the day.


One problem with Ramadan here (in addition to the numerous people complaining of terrible headaches and stomach aches) is the fact that mothers do not cook nutritious meals for their kids during the day.  I held a nutrition/cooking class for 28 mothers on Friday and asked them what they were feeding their children, and they said they were giving them Gosi, which is rice mixed with sugar and water, or just plain milk.  Marisa and I showed them how to make an easy, cheap, and nutritious porridge, made with millet flour, oil, sugar, bananas, and peanut butter - all local ingredients.  It was really successful, and everyone loved the recipe, so we will continue every Friday and can only hope that the women will make it themselves at home.


Aside from Ramadan, the Humanitarian Assistance team from the US Army paid a visit to Thilogne last week, as they may fund a project here, and it was fun to show them around the town.  Also, thanks to generous donations of art supplies by teachers in America, I will be able to do an art camp when school starts!  If you are interested in donating, please check out the “School Supplies for Sukaabe” page, as the more supplies we have, the more kids who are able to participate in the camp.  Now, I’m just going to eat some spaghetti…

Mon Amie

August 23rd, 2009 |

I’m back in Thilogne once again, and I brought a new dog with me. She’s a 9-month-old African Terrier who I adopted from a volunteer who ended her Peace Corps service. I named her Mon Amie, and although she doesn’t understand the concept of chasing a tennis ball and she would rather eat trash than the dog food I bought her, she is really sweet and docile.


Having a dog here is a lot harder than I thought it would be. Mon Amie is under constant threat of the mean dogs and the herds of goats and cattle. Nobody has a dog for a pet and the street dogs are aggressive and they bite. So, when I take Mon Amie for walks, people stare at her and sometimes run away. As if I wasn’t enough of a freak already in the town, I am now an alien who has a pet lion. However, people are starting to learn that she is a good, American-style dog who can sit on command and likes to be petted, and they think that’s pretty cool.

Mon Amie also follows me around everywhere, which caused major problems with my host father/landlord. Before I brought the dog, I called the house, and my host mother said I could bring a dog, no problem. The day after I arrived, however, my host father started yelling at me after I said good morning to him, speaking in Pulaar so quickly that the only words I understood were ‘dog,’ ‘house,’ ‘bad,’ and ‘Muslim.’ To give some background on Demba, he yells excessively, especially at his 14-yr-old daughter, who is really nice and spends all her free time cooking and cleaning. For this reason, I have not taken a liking to him.

I found out later, from Demba’s nephew, that Demba did not want the dog to stay in my room with me because the Kur’an forbids dogs to be in the home. He told me that it wouldn’t be a problem if it were a goat or a cat, but dogs are not allowed. He said that the dog must stay up against the wall in the yard because the rest of the space is for humans. The idea of Mon Amie having to stay against a wall at all times really upset me, so I tried talking to Demba, explaining that the dog would be in my room for just a few hours a day and that I would build her a cage for when I was out during the day. He refused, saying it was against his religion.

Then, as I was sitting in my room, wondering what to do, Demba barged in with a meter of hose in his hands, yelling that I needed to get the dog out that instant. Demba is blind, so he tried feeling around for Mon Amie, but she was luckily under my desk. I finally got Demba out of my room, and I locked my door. I thought about moving but I had paid a lot of money for the construction of my bathroom, and I also really liked the other members of my host family. I went to Demba and told him that I was willing to compromise. Then he changed the subject and said he had been angry for a while because he felt that I didn’t respect him. He said, “In Senegal, I am your father, and you must respect me.” I told him he was not my father, he was my landlord, and I offered him 5,000 cfa (about $10.00) extra per month to keep the dog with me in my room, and he agreed without hesitating. It’s a shame it had to become an issue of money but at least now everyone is happy.

Dakar and English Camp

August 8th, 2009 |

After a short stint in Joal with all the Heath and Environment volunteers in Senegal, I zipped to Dakar to help out with English Camp for a week.  The camp was located at a high school in the Dakar suburbs, and we had 150 teenagers and 12 PCV camp counselors.  It was a really fun and rewarding experience and I was so impressed with the students’ enthusiasm and knowledge of America.


Throughout the week, we played American games and had discussions about the culture, history, geography, and politics of America.  I thought it was funny that during our cultural discussion, we had two vocabulary words written on the board:  competitive and competition.  While explaining the branches of government, we hesitated while thinking of the number of members in the House of Representatives.  We finally gave up and just said that there were over 300, and almost in unison the kids told us there were 435 members, putting us to shame.  Because all of us PCVs were given Senegalese names upon moving into our villages, we decided to have all the students give themselves American names on the first day of camp, and it was amusing to see what they came up with.


In Jeopardy, they knew our current vice president and what the stars and stripes represent on our flag, but they did not know about Starbucks or the Super Bowl.  The highlight of the week was the day we held the Olympics, in which my team, The Winners, won.

Apart from English Camp, I have been having a lot fun in Dakar, staying with an American host family, eating cereal for breakfast, watching American tv on the Armed Forces Network, and sleeping in a real bed.  Today, Marisa and I are off to the beach in Popenguine for a couple days, before I go back to my village.  Below is a photo from Isle de Madeleine, off the Dakar coast.  Check out more pictures of Dakar and Joal on the right.


In-Service Training (IST)

July 27th, 2009 |

The past two weeks was spent in Thiès, at the Peace Corps Training Center, learning about gardening, tree planting, teaching in the village, grants, Pulaar, etc. - things to help us be more effective and competent volunteers. Below, you can see us at work during a session on how to make mango jam and Bissap Juice, in the case we want to work with a woman’s group and try to sell it. Right after the picture was taken of me, I was told I was not stirring the bissap well enough, and the trainer lady took over, lol.



Last Sunday I went to Keur Moussa, a monastery near Thiès that was founded in the early 60s. There was some nice artwork in the church and they sold really good goat cheese (I was told), jam, and not-so-good (in my opinion) bissap wine.


The whole second week of training I was sick, but I’m proud to say that it’s the first time I’ve been sick in-country. I had diarrhea for 6 days straight, and I couldn’t keep any food in my stomach for longer than an hour. I’m finally better, however, just in time for the 2-day health summit on the beach in Joal and English Camp at a lycée in Dakar - I’m really excited about the coming weeks. There are not too many extra pictures this time, but they’re there on the right.

Bringing America to Kédougou

July 13th, 2009 |

For the 4th of July, the majority of the Senegal Peace Corps volunteers headed down to Kédougou to celebrate all things American. The weekend started with a 5K race and ended with my being exhausted, to the point where I actually enjoyed the 2-day crammed sept-place ride back to Thilogne.  Kédougou is where I had pictured I would be when when I was told I would be going to West Africa.  The area was beautiful and green with hills and plateaus, waterfalls, monkeys and warthogs - a lot of life in general compared to the desert, where I live.


On July 5th, a group of us biked 28k to the village, Dindefelo, where we hiked to a nice waterfall. We then biked 7K to a neighboring village to look for the Ségou falls, where we found a guide - a 10-year-old boy who almost got us lost on the way back but who was otherwise really good.  The hike was one of the funnest hikes I’ve ever done because we got to climb over a lot of rocks and hold on to vines and follow the river through a tropical forest to a falls which few tourists would ever be able to find.  We also explored some caves that hid many people because they were along the slave routes.  They hid the Bediks, fleeing the Jaxanke and the Pulaars, and at one point, the caves even hid the Pulaars who were running from Guinean colonialism.  We were lucky to have Daniel take us everywhere - he is the PCV in Dindefelo and consequently knows the area really well.



That night, as we were eating with Daniel’s host family and explaining the day’s activities and our plans for the morning, one of the brothers said, “hold on, let me get this straight:  you biked for two hours this morning, hiked to the Dindefellow falls, biked to Segui and to to another set of falls, and tomorrow you are going to hike to the top of the plateau before sunrise before biking back?


He laughed and said, “Only an American would do something like that.”

I thought it was a pretty accurate statement.  I can only think of Americans (and a few of my Canadian family members) doing something like that.  Now, I am back in Thies for in-service training (IST), which will last two weeks.  The pictures of the Kedougou explain things better than I can, so check them out (click on Kedougou under ‘photos’ on the right).


Work, a Wedding, and a Birth

June 27th, 2009 |

Sunday, June 28th, will mark my 4th month in Senegal. Much has happened in these past two weeks, and like most things I have experienced so far in this country, the events have been bittersweet. I’ll start with the lightest subject: work.

Now that the rainy season has begun, it is time to start preparing for Malaria, which hits people hardest August through October. This past week, I helped out with the National Bednet Distribution, sponsored by USAID, which provides mosquito nets to every child who is between 6 months and 5 years old. In Thilogne, this was successful, and everyone who was eligible for a net received one. To do my part in trying to prevent Malaria, I did Neem lotion demonstrations once a week this month, and I will continue to do them when I return from IST in August. The goal is that people will actually make the lotion for themselves and for their family after learning how to make it.


Last weekend, I attended my first Senegalese wedding. The bride was the 17-year-old sister of a girl I know from Thilogne. The wedding was different from American weddings in that the groom and men barely played any part in the ceremony, and it was almost exclusively about the bride and women. When we arrived in the village, we made our way to the bride who was getting her make-up done in a room with all her friends watching. After her hair and face were done, she had her picture taken in a bedroom alone, then with all her girl friends.


All the women then processed to the groom, and the bride and groom sat on a mat with all the guests encircling them. The marabout wed them and the bride went off somewhere while the guests ate rice and goat meat. Then, after a couple hours, all the young girls went to bathe and change outfits and redo their make-up. We then watched the bride get her hair and make-up done for the second time, and we took more pictures as the sun set. I left at 8 PM, right before the all-night dance party.

Just yesterday, Marisa’s host sister gave birth to twins. There are tough women everywhere, but I think African women take home the prize for the toughest. This woman, Penda, is 25 years old, and was giving birth for the third time. Marisa and the midwife helped her deliver the first baby in the village. When the second baby would not come out, Penda walked to a horse charette with a clamp still on the umbilical cord and rode 45 minutes on the bumpy charette to the nearest health post. Once there, she was told that she would need to go to the hospital in Ourossogui to get help. She rode in an ambulance for 30 minutes to get to the hospital, where she gave birth to the second child. There were not enough incubators for both premature babies, so the second one died. Marisa and I went to visit her in the hospital and the first thing she said was “please, sit down. How are you?” Her husband is in Dakar and said he will return in two months for Ramadan.



June 20th, 2009 |

Congratulations to all the kids who have completd another year of school! Because school is out and Summer vacation has begun, I wanted to write a special post about the kids here in Thilogne! In Pulaar, the word for kids is Sukaabe (soo-KA- bay).  Kids have a lot more freedom than kids in America for a few reasons, and they also have more domestic responsibilities.  For example, the 6 year old girl in my compound does a lot of the cooking for her mother and younger brothers.

Kids walk to school by themselves, buy groceries for their parents, and they often roam around unsupervised. One reason for this is that we live in a village (albeit a large one) in which everyone knows each other, and to a certain extent there is the practice of communal parenting. The adults will watch out for all the kids and they will also discipline a kid who is not their own, if they see fit. Furthermore, there are not many cars that go through the village, so the only things one really needs to watch out for are the charettes, which are usually going slowly enough for people to move out of the way.

The thing I lik most about the kids here is how happy they are playing with the simplest things.  They don’t have Playstation or Wii or even board games or dolls or sports equipment.  It’s really cute to see what they come up with.  Here are a few things I have seen on a regular basis around the village:

kids attach a pole to a can push it around,


they dig a small hole in the ground and try to throw rocks into it,erins-photos-006

they play a game similar to field hockey, except they use their flip-flops to hit a tennis ball and score a goal;


and a game of marbles is by far the village favorite.


If you are interested in donating school supplies to these kids, check out “School Supplies for Sukaabe” on the right.  Hope you all have a great summer!

St. Louis and Radio Show

June 13th, 2009 |

It’s taken me a while update this because every time I came to Ourossogui to use the internet the power was out. Yesterday, we had our first rains of the season! It was really exciting and everyone living in our house stood by the windows and watched the downpour. Now it is hot AND humid and the mosquitoes are out. :)

The last week in May, in order to escape the 120 degree temperatures and to check out the Jazz Festival, the volunteers from the North of Senegal, as well as a number of PCVs from Mauritania, took a trip to the beautiful and cool St. Louis - that’s in Senegal, not to be confused with the one in Missouri. The city is great because it has both a river and an ocean, it is full of energy, not packed with tourists, and is inexpensive - I’d say it’s a cross between Brooklyn, Long Beach, and Venice, and about half the price of all three. Unfortunately, we didn’t listen to much jazz because nobody in St. Louis seemed to know when exactly the festival started and where it was. Nonetheless, I had a lot fun exploring art galleries, the beach, and restaurants.

Before St. Louis, I was a guest on the Thilogne radio show. Pierre, a volunteer from France volunteering for ADOS (a French NGO), comes to Thilogne once a month to get a copy of the Pulaar radio show that he sends back to the Ardèche region of France, where there is a decent-sized Pulaar community. We were both invited to be on the special show, which was dedicated to Pulaar music on this particular day. I listen to this radio show every night at 5:00 like the rest of Thilogne, and it’s the worst radio program I’ve ever heard. The hour consists of people from the city calling in and saying ‘hello’ to their family and friends. However, the show Pierre and I were on was actually semi-informative and interesting. Trying to speak Pulaar as much as possible, I greeted callers and explained what the Peace Corps is about.  I had a lot of fun with it, and since then, three other PCVs and I have started doing health-related skits for the radio show in Matam twice a month. To see more pictures of St. Louis and life in Thilogne click the link on the right.