Friday, May 22, 2009

Its been a while

Ok so I am not good at this whole blog thing but if anyone is still checking this I thought I would give you a little update. Currently I am in the land of plenty taking a little vacation form Senegal but before I left I got a little busy with work. After all my trees got eaten at the school, myself and the school director decided to build a wall around the school so that future environmental activities will be better protected from the hoards of animals (and children) in the village. While a wall sounds like a simple thing to build,let me tell you that nothing is as simple as it sounds. To fund the wall I wrote a grant proposal which required me to submit a budget for the project and it turns out the estimate is just that an estimate. Because once I recieved the money and we started buying things i had a sinking feeling that we would not have enough materials to finish the project. The vilage was required to donatea percentage of the costs and materials and they decided they would provide the sand to mix with the cement. I assumed this would be an easy task since you know, we live in the desert but something that was schedualed to take a few days took several weeks. We had originally schedualed to finish the construction by the time I left for vacation, but due to several delays they had just begun to make the bricks when I left. I am kind of la I am not there while this wall is going up because I have visions of crumbling bricks and the materials running out leaving us with a rather shot and ineffective wall. I'll just have to wait and see when i get back what actually happened.

Despite the struggles with the wall I started a second project before I left. Currently there is no health care facility in the village. People have to walk either 2k to a private health facility or 7k to town to the public health facility or rent a horse cart. Due to these obstacles many people dont seek medical care when they are sick and women give birth in their homes. During a meeting members of the village declared that they wanted to have a health facility in the village and also have a way to get to town if there is a medical emergency. So we decided to repair a building in the village to serve as a helath hut where the trained midwife in the vilage would work. They also decided that wanted to purchase a converted horse cart to serve as an ambulance to transport people out of the village when necessary. The village is funding 25% of the costs for this project, but I need help to raise the rest of the funds. Check out the project at:

Also Peace Corps Senegal is trying to bring 20,000 mosquito bed nets too Senegal. malaria is one of the major killers in Senegal and bed nets are an easy and effective way to prevent malaria. I am trying to get 1625 nets for my village so that every person will be able to sleep under a treated mosquito net. Thanks to a partnership with each net costs only $2 which is the lowest cost in the world for nets. Please try and donate if you can, for the cost of a cup of coffee you can purchase a mosquito net and help protect two people in my village from getting malaria. thanks for your help!

I'll try and be a better blogger in future

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I was out of the village for a little while - went to Dakar to get a shot/ watch Obama win and when I returned I found that some things had changed. First there were giant piles of sand in the school yard (on top of some of the trees I had just planted) and I learned that the state is paying to have two new school classrooms built. Which means I won't need to raise money for a new classroom after all. I also learned that Baaba Maal may be coming to my village in December to hold a concert help raise money to build a health hut which should be fun if not overwhelming.
Currently I am at the regional house in Ndioum where we recently got internet so hopefully I will be more in touch with the world. I am here because the volunteers in the region will be holding a meeting to create a regional strategy to try an organize our work in the north. After I return the village my boss will visit my village to hold a meeting with the villagers to create an environmental action plan. Hopefully I will get a better idea of what work I can be doing once these meetings are over with. Also we are hosting Thanksgiving at our regional house this week, so i have have been baking up a storm in anticipation.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I'm a bad blogger

Will write more eventually I promise but the power has been out and well I live in Senegal so be patient. Anways quick update because I have 3 minutezs left of internet time
1. I have been spending the last two weeks trying to plant about 500 trees in the Sahel. Its about as difficult as it sounds
2. School started this week so I havebeen hanging out there a lot. Got assigned a group of ten kids to be my environmental team. I'm making them plant trees. I love free child labor!
3. Will need your help soon to fundraise money for a new classroom at the school
That is all.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I'm back

After a whirlwind trip to Thies for IST I find myself back in the village and in the midst of Ramadon. I headed to to Thies via a night in ST Louis and a couple of nights at Toubab Diallo hanging out on the beach and catching up with friends. My time in Thies was a mix of accomplishing important things like eating hamburgers and catching up on Project Runway and then sitting through sessions at the training center trying to figure out what my job actually is. After the three weeks of training were up I went to Dakar for an EE summit where I got to stay in the lap of American luxary at the house of someone who works for the embassy and while it was hard to say goodbye to the hot showers, cold air conditioninng and real ice cream I knew I needed to get back to village before Ramandon started.

Monday night the new moon was spotted so on Tuesday the fasting began. From sun up to sun down adults go without eating or drinking anything. Everyone enjoys asking me if I am fastinbg (I am not) so my new catch phase has become "mi wona juldo" ( I am not Muslim). Despite this being the month of the fast I find myself eating more than before, as I am still given lunch and then at sunset I am given food to break the fast. Basically my family tries to fit all the meals in after dark, as I am handed bread and coffee right as the sun goes down and then tea is made followed by rice and fish (traditionally lunch) all eaten before the time dinner is typically served. I am not sure if dinner is still made because I go to bed right after I eat the rice and fish, but it wouldn' surprise me if it was.

Now that I back at site and finished with training it is time to start working. My main job focuses around working with the teachers at the school to create lessons based on envioronmental problems in the community. I will also most likely start a youth club at the school focusing on projects such as gardening and tree planting. I also may try and help the school get a new classroom built, but all of this will have to wait until October when the school year begins an dthe teachers are back in the village. Outside of the school I the main thing I want to try and do is build biodigestors (google it) to reduce fuel consumption and lighten the workload of women but I will have to wai t and see how feasible this is in my village.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Electricity has been working against me as the last two times I have tried to use the internet the power has been out. But I posted a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago below and I have added a link to my picture website on the side. Time has been flying by and I will be headed back to Thies in two weeks for a month worth of training (and ice cream and wi-fi cafes and trips to the beach) which I am looking forward to, and not just just for the ice cream but because that means when I get back to the village I can actually start working which is kind of why I am here. Besides that nothing too excited has happened, still trying to get used to the pace of village life and the struggles with the language. I did see my first snake that fell down from my family shade structure while I was sitting under it, but don't worry one of my brother's killed it with a big stick. Also the sand storm I mentioned in the previous post turned into the first rain storm of the season. Apparently once the rainy season starts my village turns in to something like an island, when I went for a walk with my brother out into the fields the other day he informed me that is where they fish during the rainy season, so thats something to look forward to, I guess.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Parties and more trees

I am writing this entry holed up awaiting the onslaught of a sand storm which is exactly what it sounds like. This week brought me two good days in a row, on Wednesday I went to a nearby village and did a presentation on tree nurseries and then on Thursday the kids in my counterparts class threw him a surprise going away party.

Ill start with the tree nursery presentation. Well the word presentation may be a bit of an exageration but it makes it sound like I am actually doing work. Anyways I headed out to this tiny village on the island across the river from me via about an hour plus trip on two different charettes (horse carts). Once I got there I sat around for a while, drank some tea and milk, and from about six different bowls of rice and fish for lunch, sat around some more, drank more tea and then around 5:00 spent about half an hour constructing a tree nursery with about twenty people helping out. During this whole "presentation" I said less than twenty words and then my final speech about why this is good and what other work we could do together in the future had to be translated from French because they were laughing too hard at my Pulaar, so my language is coming along great if you were wondering. Even though it wasn't the most informative way to go about this whole environmental education thing, it was something resembling work which made me feel useful and hopefully a couple of those seeds we planted will turn survive and prosper. We planted what are reffered to as Never Dies (I think the Latin name is Moringa) so hopefully the name is right. They are the same trees that I am growing in my own tree nursery of that I posted a picture of.
Thursday was my counterparts last day in the village, teachers in Senegal are assigned schools to work in, so most do not teach in the same place they are from, so they only live in the village during the school year and go home for vacation, I tend to spend most days at his house because I like his and his family's company (he has a wife, two boys who are 8 and 6 and a baby girl who was born in September and who absolutley hates me) and begun to eat most meals at his house because they eat at good times which is important here (they eat lunch at 1 and dinner at 8:30, where as my family eats lunch around 2:30 and dinner anytime between 9:30 and 11:30- anything thing after 10:30 I refuse to eat when they knock on my door seeing as I am asleep) anyways, I was sitting with my counterpart before dinner when his entire class (he teaches the equivelent of 4th grade but the kids are around 11 years old) walks into the compound with a tray of snacks. They ended up hanging around to midnight singing and dancing. My favorite kid in the class, who finished 1st in the class is also quite the rapper so he did a few renditions of his favorite songs. It was probably my favorite night in the village so far, not only to see the kids get a chance to hang out and have some fun but also to see how much they cared about their teacher. These are the kids I will probably be working with the most next school year so it was pretty cool to see how they came together for their teacher.

Friday, June 20, 2008

My future revealed

So I guess I lied when I said I would be getting to internet more frequantly. It takes a while to get into a routine here and while I have not been working per say I have been busy hanging out in the village which is kind of my job for the first couple of months. It is also hard asserting my self as an independent being as someone in my family or my counterpart tends to accompany me where ever I go and my first solo trip into town earlier this week was a bust because the power was out. I am posting an entry I typed up a couple of weeks ago below.

Since then I have been doing much of the same of trying to get to know my village a speak some Pulaar but I did have one interesting day this week when I visited a private health care facility outside of my village. The previous volunteer at my site was a health volunteer and she spent some time at this man's disponsaire helping take blood pressure, so last Tuesday I decided to spend the day there helping out and getting to know him and some of the people in the area a little better. His name is Daude Fall and everyone refers to him as the doctor but Im not sure what his actual medical background is. He does both Western and traditional medicine and is pretty well known for his herbal medicine (he has been invited to do a seminar in California next year). In between patients he informed me that he reads fortunes and so he did mine. I will apparently live to the age of 82, get married between the age of 25 and 26 and have four children, two girls and two boys. I will be marrying some with the initial of either M, D, or S because those are the only men who do not lie to me and if I am not careful I will have problems with blood pressure and sugar around the age of 45. Also everyone Monday I am supposed to give out milk until I am 24 or 25 and if I do this I will get a good job. He also does fortunes over the phone so let me know if you want his number or if you are in need of any herbal remedies because I believe he ships his medicine internationally.

Also one of my host sisters had a baby on Monday. Names here are really important and children tend to be named after someone, when I got my name in the village I was named after one of my sisters. Well the family has decided to name the new baby after my father, so he will be called Baaba Joe (they will also give him a Senegalese name). One of my other sisters had a son when the previous volunteer was here and he was named after her father so now there is a Baaba Steve and a Baaba Joe in the village. Baaba Joe is having his baptism this weekend so I will try and take some pictures and update about that at some point in the future.

I'm going to leave this post with a riddle of sorts. Well it sounds like it could be a riddle if it wasn't an actual problem I was facing: How do you keep monkeys from eating a garden?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Two Weeks In

Its hard to determine where I should start trying to describe the last two weeks in my village but I guess it makes sense to start from my install. I arrived in my village to the entire school gathered in the courtyard singing, which has to go down as one of the most surreal and overwhelming experiences I have ever had. After a few brief speeches in one of the classrooms we proceeded to my family's compound in the form of a mini parade. Again surreal and overwhelming. I am living in the compound of the village chief and it was he who gave me my new name (Mariame Niang) on arrival to the compound. My hut is pretty big by my standards (ie bigger than either of my rooms in Montreal) and came furnished with a double stick bed, a trunk and a shelf courtesy of the previous volunteer. My bathroom is attached to my hut and while my village is lacking in foliage I have a large neem tree growing out of the wall of my bathroom.

I've spent most of my time in the village trying to get to know my new family which has about 20 members, spending time at the school, and hanging out with my counterpart and his family. What this translates to is a lot of sitting around on a mat, drinking tea and eating a lot of rice and couscous. Throw in some time spent swimming in the river and a couple of afternoon naps and you have accounted for about 95% of my activities here. While it can get frustrating sitting around talking about how hot it is (ina wuli jaw is my most used pulaar phase next to mi faamani (I don't understand)) I have actually gotten out and gone to a wedding (which required a canoe and a horse cart to get to) and spent a night in my nearest town with the teachers when they were proctoring an exam. I have also started thinking about some projects I could work on and learning about the problems my village is having and yesterday I started my tree nursery with the help of some of the kids in the village.

I think I am going to leave this post with a few of my favorite things seen and heard in the village:

Favorite article of clothing: While the guy who was wearing a Texas t-shirt, a pair of pants with the French flag on them, and a pair of sandals with the Union Jack comes in a close second the winner of this has to be my counterpart's 8 year old son who was wearing a pair of jeans with a picture of Ahmandihijad on them. When I asked my counterpart if who knew who that was he responded by saying, "yeah, the terrorist."

Favorite reason for wanting to go to America: the winner of this one goes to the 20 year old guy who hangs out at my house. I have a really hard time understanding what he says normally (I have a hard time understanding what anyone says) but I was glad I caught this. He would like me to take him to America so that he can go to 50 Cent's house (who apparently lives in Washington) where they will eat meat and drink milk.

Favorite thing seen: Donkey Jail. On a walk to go see the fields I noticed a chain link cage containing a donkey. Now donkeys are everywhere in my village so what was more shocking was the chain link fence which seemed like a bit of an extravagance. Since fencing in all the fields is not really an option, people are responsible for keeping their animals out of other people's fields and if you catch an animal in your field you can bring it to the cage where the owner comes to bail it out and if no one bails it out it is sent to the regional capital.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New life, new address

I have been at site for about two weeks and everything is going great so far. I am currently in the town nearest to my village where there is actually an internet cafe. I believe the cafe owner said that I can bring my laptop and use it, so I am going to try and do that within the next week and write a real post about my life. Right now one of my brothers is waiting for me on the horse cart outside the cyber and the french keyboard is driving me crazy so I m going to leave you guys with my new address:
BP 16
Medina Ndiatebe

Oh and in answer to Katies comment you buy buckets for a hut, that is all

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Intermediate Low

I passed my language exam which means that tomorrow I will be swearing in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. On Sunday I will be heading up to the Fouta to start buying things for my hut and then on Wednesday I will move to my village. Its pretty crazy that its finally happening. PST was a whirlwind of emotions and while I'm sad to be saying goodbye to some of my friends heading to other parts of the country, I am excited to finally go to my site and start working. I know I should write more, but at lot is going on right now. I will try and upload some more photos on Saturday if I have some free time.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


I survived the Fouta! For the last ten days I was living with a current volunteer named Caitlin seeing what her life is like and working on my Pulaar. If you want to get a good idea of what my life will be like up north you can check out her blog: its a lot more in depth than my blog plus she has posted a lot of pictures. Speaking of pics, I uploaded a couple from the beach and training ( but I don't have my camera with me to upload the ones I took last week but I will try to upload them at some point.

Anyways, the north. Well it was hot thats for sure. It got up to 137 F (53 C) one day, that means that you do not do anything between the hours of 11 and 5. We would have class or do an activity in the morning and then spend the rest of the day sitting in a puddle of own sweat. But its really not as bad as it sounds. I stayed hydrated by drinking a good 8-10 litres of water a day and by the end of the week the heat did not bother me nearly as much. Its going to be an adjustment but its possible. While we there I met someone who had worked on development projects in my village, which got me excited about the work possibilities. We also visited a garden in her town and I got to see that stuff actual grew in the north and that is another area of work I could venture into. Caitlin is a health volunteer so she taught a class at the elementary school about germs and the importance of hand washing and we got to observe a class at the middle school to get a better idea of what the Senegalese school system is like. Other than that most of our time was spent in her family compound or visiting her fiends in town. Everyone was so welcoming and patient with us trying to speak Pulaar and accomplish the tasks we had to do during the week. Oh and I got my hair braided into corn rows. It looks pretty ridiculous but is so much easier to manage. Pictures may or may not surface at some point in the future.

Training is almost over, swear in is May 9th (that is if I pass my language test, so far no one in my class has reached the level but hopefully that will change during the next two weeks). The last bit of training is packed with a trip to Dakar and workshop with our counterparts who shall becoming to Thies from each of our sites to meet us and learn about the work that we will are supposed to do at site.

Lastly I have to mention plastic bags. Before I came to Senegal I was on campaign against plastic bags. I would bring my own bags when I went shopping and would pester everyone I knew to do the same. Well now I am in the country of plastic bags. Everything from water, oil, peanut butter to plastic bags themselves come in plastic bags. And since there is no waste management system here these bags just line the streets. I know that as a Peace Corps Volunteer it is out of my means to tackle this problem on the scale I would like, it is something that I will try to work on on some level. But the next time you go shopping just think of me drowning in a sea of plastic bags and bring a reusable one with you. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

sites and stuff

Time continues to pass quickly here, as I now find myself in the middle of week five in Senegal. A lot has happened in the last week and a half here. Last Friday we all found out our sites for the next two years. At the training center there is a basketball court with a map of Senegal painted on it, so our trainers had al of us close our eyes and they positioned us on the map approximately where our sites are, so when we all opened our eyes we would not only see where we would be living and working during the next two years but also who our closest neighbors would be. My site is in the north of Senegal on the river, its a village of about 2000 people located about 5k from the river. Tomorrow my language class is heading to a town in the north to spend ten days of training with a current volunteer in her village, so I will be able to get a better idea of what life up north is like. Up to now I have yet to have a conversation with anyone about the north without the other person mentioning how hot it is there. Apparently evenings there currently drop to a nice and chilly 95 degrees F (33 C), but at least I will have the river running by my village for me to swim in (and get schistosomiasis from).
Other than site placements the other exciting thing to happen was my trip to the beach last weekend. It was the first weekend that my training group was allowed to the Thies area,s o we made the most of it by renting a couple houses on the beach Saturday night and spending 24 hours hanging out, swimming and relaxing. It was a much needed break from the hectic training schedual.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Today is Senegal's Independence Day and I have the day off from class, so I am currently sitting in a cafe with free wi-fi where I just ate a crepe with icecream. Yeah my life is sweet. The training staff let us stay at the center last night rather than at our homestays, so I have had some time to hang out with the other trainees and decompress a little bit. I typed up another entry but apparently only saved it to my usb key and not my harddrive so I will try to summerize it the best I can.
Two weeks ago I moved into my homestay, I am living with a family in a town about 20k out of Thies. My family consists of my mother and father, an aunt, two brothers who are in their late 20s, a sister who I believe is younger than me and then two more brothers who are about and 13. There are more people in the family who live in other parts of the country as well. My brothers speak french which is nice since they are able to help translate for me, since my parents only speak Pulaar. Our house is pretty nice, it has two buildings with bedrooms in them, but most of our time is spent outside in the courtyard area. there's electricity and a faucet in the compound for water and we have a tv that we watch outside at night under the stars.

Week three in Senegal is almost over and I have found myself in a nice routine. i've begun to accept my language shortcomings and have settled into my home stay. Its hard to think of what to say since my daily life now seems almost monotonous now, so I am going to take a cope out and just explain what a typical day in training is like.

6:30: I wake up, get dressed, brush my teeth and head out to the main road to wait for the Peace Corps land cruiser to pick me and the other volunteers in my town up.

7:30 Arrive at the training center in Thies were I shower and eat my breakfast of baguettes and nescafe.

8:15 Class begins. We tend to have language classes in the morning, so this means that I stumble through pulaar with the five other people in my class while trying to wake up

10:15 Coffee break

10:45 more class, usually another language class, more stumbling attempts to speak pulaar. I now know how to conjugate to classes of verbs in the past tense but am still waiting to learn the present tense.

12:30 lunch, we eat family style around large bowels with spoons, at some point soon we are only going to be allowed to speak the language we are learning during lunch which will mean more stumbling through pulaar and lots of awkward silences.

2:15 first afternoon class, this tends to be anything from health, safety cross cultural or tech. We started our tree nurseries in my EE tech class the other day, I am supposed to keep 80% of it alive, I will let you know how that turns out.

4ish tea break

4:15 second afternoon class which tends to be another tech or cross cultural but sometimes they through another language class at us. Those days are not fun.

5:30 the land cruiser takes me home

6:30 arrive home, greet the family and attempt to study some pulaar before it gets too dark.

7:30 "Au Cour du Peche" a brazillian soap opera dubbed into french, otherwise known as my favorite part of my night

8:15 dinner time. We eat around a large bowel, some with spoons and others with their right hand. I prefer a spoon. Dinner tends to be rice and either fish or beans, its pretty tast\y. I sit next to my father who spends most of dinner telling me to eat more. I try to oblige his urgings the best I can, but dinner usually ends with me repeating mi haarii, mi haarri (I'm full) my most used Pulaar phrase.
After dinner Malick my younger brother makes attaya. Attaya is a type of tea that is served in shot glasses and consists of three rounds, with each round getting progressively sweeter. The whole process takes a while so I tend to only stay up through the second round.

9:30 bed time!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Im here and happy and hot

I am going to keep this short and write a longer update later on my laptop so I dont have to deal with the french keyboard. Anyways, I am in Senegal and life is pretty sweet. Since we have arrived our group has been staying at the training center. They started us off with a little survival wolof, since wolof is the most prominent language in the countrythen on Monday we were placed in language classes for the language that they speak at our site. I am learning Pulaar du Nord, which means I will most likely be heading to the north of the country, but the dialect is spoken in other parts of Senegal as well, so I will not know for sure until we get our site placements in a few weeks. They have changed training so that trainees live in villages and small towns outside of Thies in order to better prepare them for village life after training, most people moved in with their host families yesterday but myself and a couple of other trainees aren't moving until after class tomorrow. I am going to be living less than 20k away from Thies and Peace Corps will pick us up each morning and bring us to the center. I am sure I will have some intersting stories after I move in with my family. Right now time is ticking away and I have too much pulaar running through my head so I am going to leave it there.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Packing List

Even though I am leaving tomorrow and have not finished packing, I figured I would type out my list. Maybe it will help me remember things that I would have other wise forgotten about.

3 plain t-shirts
3 other t-shirts
1 polo
1 button up
1 long sleeve t-shirt
1 hoodie
4 tank tops
1 pair of jeans
1 pair of tech khakis
1 pair linen pants
2 long skirts
2 below the knee dresses
1 bathing suit
3 pairs of socks
all the bras and underwear that I own
1 pair of chacos
1 pair of reef flip flops
1 pair of sneakers
1 pair of black slides for staging

sheet set
sleeping bag liner
flash light
head lamp
digital camera
shortwave radio
flash drives

There is probably other stuff scattered around my room that I is slipping my mind at the moment, but thats the gist of it. Now I just have to pack it all (1 book bag, 1 medium sized backpacking bag and 1 medium size duffel).

Now after last minute changes, I will be taking a train down to Philly tomorrow and then flying out of JFK on Weds to Brussels and finally landing in Dakar Thursday night. Maybe I should get on that packing now...