Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Closure with my one-hundredth post.

Where to start? Ive been putting this closing blog off for the last month during my leisurely travels back to the US of A, which may be the safe excuse to go with. Ive had so many undulating feelings since my big move out of village, my home for the last 2 years, to my most recent realization that the door to that gratifying life experience is only open by the key hole.
Nalli Samba and baby Jii, Nalli and little Hawa, Baaba Jii, Diebou & baby Homa & Tidiane, Neene Koumba & Houssae & Issatou, Aminata, Tidiane and me.
I stayed up as late as I could with my family that last night. We spent the evening reminiscing about silly things that Ive said and mistakes Ive made. They punctuated each consecutive ending with a heavier sigh that made its way to weigh my heart down a little more. I was determined not to crack like they say we Americans do so often. For one of the very few times, I stayed out in the compound later than most people in my family. But of course there are going to be those too stubborn and kind not to share one more dazzling night under the sweet Senegalese sky. I wish my pale face wasnt as distinguishable in the moon light- it was the only veil concealing my ebbing tears.

The night turned from lovely to long once I returned to my hut for the last time. With my walls now stripped of the letters and pictures from home along with the latest drawings and knickknacks from my little kids, I was the only thing left in this red, round room that could attest to the collaboration of effort and repeated failure that I ultimately grew with. Contemplative thoughts led my lucid mind to wild dreams. My brother Tidiane later said he didnt sleep either because "the mind cant rest without the heart."
My early-departure plans failed miserably. Mother Nature stuck it to me one last time with a heavy thunderstorm that threatened to wash the road away altogether. Instead, I sat at my open back door as I had done so many hot afternoons, fishing for a breeze, and so many early mornings, awaiting song birds and dawn. The air was still humid when Tidiane came with fresh breakfast milk and demanded that afterwards he would help bike my equipment to the road. My brother, my family made my life so much easier because of thoughtful things like this.

Everything just kept going forward. I was mindful and collected until little Jennabou looked up at me with eyes Ill never forget, asking, "Are you coming back?"
so much love
My family has a new volunteer now, Stephanie, who has recently been welcomed into the community as "Sira Diao." Im so happy to share such a wonderful and warm family, community, and (sort of) life with her. I feel like I have a new little sister that I get to watch grow up. She makes that key hole to our little piece of Senegal a little more manageable.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Peace Corps Senegal: the place where dreams are mefloquin induced and the vegetables are all greener on the other side.

Im nearly out. I can no longer count the years or months; I have weeks and am still in disbelief that the countdown will shorten to days. I think it safe to say that I am more surprised than anyone else in regards to my performance. Although resilience has played a grand role, it was a performance of great stature by the end.
Peace Corps Senegal began casting two summers ago, calling ag-interested applicants out of the wood-works. After proving our skills and dedication, not to mention health and legal reputations, over any where from a ten month to a several year span, we got the part. This new season would introduce 54 new (and still clean) faces to the program of 200. Peace Corps Senegal: the place where dreams are mefloquin induced and the vegetables are all greener on the other side. 
We gradually took on local characters as we stumbled through new languages and flattened words with our American tongues, furrowed our brows at cultural practices and realized we could explain ours no better, and felt the pit of our stomachs contract, hardly satisfied by the nonsubstantial staple. Our characters filled out as we were taken in by families and made new, very patient friends. We were assigned a dialect as part of the process to correspond with our new home and workplace in a community guaranteed to be comparatively curious about our ways as we were theirs. And finally, to seal our new identities, we were given names, which sprouting from weeks of hardship and training with the promise of mysterious but gratifying years.
The show began far before any of us realized it. We were right to feel like stars the moment we found crisp invitation letters waiting expectantly in the mailbox.
I am Homa Diao, an agfo PCV in the lush region of Kolda. I belong to the Casamance, which is made obvious by my sweet Foulakounda twang. Consider me a hardworking southern belle, my family still traceable to the herding lifestyle although we've been settled for a hundred years. I have a namesake and she is beautiful; She can walk now and soon will only know me by stories. Ive been given more babies and husbands than I care to count to take back to America with me. I have a hardworking Babaa and two moms that care for me in their own ways.
My days have taken on a slower pace to allow for greetings and hamming it up with the crazy old women; my days have slowed to patiently listen to kids explain themselves without the clues of body language; my sweet days have slowed just enough for people to show me what is important to them and for me to reassess, myself.

What started out as a performance became intertwined with my life. 

I have an "Obama" and "Chris Brown" in my group

“How are you? Are you fine?”
International English books and every surrounding munchkin and adult alike cling to the routine response- Fine! Although we Americans hardly ever mean it when we exchange a polite greeting (or when a woman expects you to decipher when she is employing the “fine red flag”), it seems to take on a more playful flavor here. Fine, Nice, and Cool are hip phrases in metropolitan areas, folded in with the local languages. Im not sure that we have an equivalent in the US since there is miraculously a common language across the huge country (Senegal compares to South Dakota in size). Plus, it would be inappropriate to racially profile someone passing at the grocery store with a – “Que paso?!” Fortunately, Senegal and West Africa are still culturally rich with more than 2000 local languages dominating the perhaps official,  colonized languages. They are also nonchalant about different ethnic groups and races. Its not that they haven’t had rifts, religious and political, or slavery, they simply aren’t resentful and hypersensitive. Their curiosity converges with the need for conversational stimuli with outspoken tendencies, which can be perceived as hospitable or, on the wrong day, hostile and aggressive.
With one month left in Senegal, I dedicated a week of it to teaching at English Access Camp, a program organized by the US Embassy and carried out by PCVs in conjunction with local school teachers. Kids are chosen from underserved districts far and wide across the country to participate (with a 2 year limit) to hear our American accents, practice in a semi-submersive environment, and like many summer camps, to have fun! The kids are eager to compare our accents to the British and Jamacian-like Gambian accents. Its amazing to hear them push through to express themselves and surprising how advance their functional classroom English is. Much like my grander PC service, I hope that I, as an extension of the Access Program, can help some of the kids continue in their studies or even pursue a career previously thought unattainable. Volunteers across Senegal, and Africa for that matter, have similar aspirations of seeing their work contribute to the positive rippling effect for deserving kids. This year, 755 middle school Senegalese students played baseball, translated cultural folk stories, and practiced English through a variety of games. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dear future me,

I've resolved to write a note on my current situation, place in life, and arrangement of mental furniture to be delivered to me 365 (and a quarter) days after a web-cation. 
I like the idea of taking a journalistic snapshot. Where will I be and what will I be doing in a year? How will my priorities shift and how will that affect my decisions?  These questions, easier to ask than answer, are often shot between volunteers and although they evoke anxiety, perhaps they're continuously asked for communal reassurance. You're not alone.
Maybe it's okay that plans seem to abstract with the brush of every sunset; It's okay that goals linger in the long term place, always cutoff by spontaneity; It's okay to live without creating a trivial buzz of routine and distractions. And together we put the anxiety back on the shelf between societal expectations and time's hourglass. 
It's time for an introspective hour (or 3) to make a web of options for those questions. Until next year- 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Baptisms and Birth Control

Jingles of the mortar and pestle resonated across the compound reminding everyone that we would step out of monotonous chores for the day to celebrate the newest member of the family. By the time I opened my door to the world, the young ladies already fetched water from the well and had a choking fire prepared for the mid-morning feast. The 3.5 kilo/8 lbs baby was exactly 2 weeks old and therefore ready to be blessed and named. His mom was allotted the standard week of rest and he was able to cuten up a bit before crowds of in-law visits. Typically, the family organizes the party and then sends verbal invitations with traditional Kolda Nuts for the elders.
In the late morning, as soon as the last of the dew evaporated, guests filled ready-made benches and neighbors hoovered to see the "baby shower" gifts. The more intricate gifts sent by distant family or village groups are gift large bowls filled with rice and basic ingredients, sheets of patterned fabric, and baby care products. Village style gift baskets. The women also open the floor for monetary donations by holding a collection sheet in front of the hut entrance. The outspoken women tend to find their place guilting freeloaders into donations and then prodding them to dance with a melodic "Thank You!" song. I can never slip through before my name is put into the song for a quick shag. 
The action really starts when the Griot announces the baby's name, shouting it in every cardinal direction. Sometimes the parents have separate (special) names that only they use for the child. They proceed by shaving the baby's head, careful not to loose any of the hair that could be used to curse the baby. 
After giving the name, the festivity rolls on with treats and the first meal. The men slaughter a sheep or goat and the feast continues through the day. There is always a debate over the best way to divy up the meat to insure that all households receive a share. I finally was not delivered the prized organs. 
This particular naming ceremony was exciting since it was put on by my immediate family. My sister was in full bloom for what seemed like months, as Im sure she would agree, and I just knew she was going to give birth every time I went into town. Finally I have been present. During the last two years in Sare Meta, all three ladies of my house have had a baby and our village population has increased by about 25, a significant number for only 350 inhabitants. 
Planned parenting education has shown successful as women are speaking up and taking action to control pregnancy (and young marriage) within safe measures. The latest WHO survey in 2005 indicated that the percent of married women using modern contraceptives increased to 10% with trends projected to continue increasing.  The average Senegalese woman has approximately 5 surviving children throughout her reproductive life. The high, yet ideal number reflects the demand for physical labor on family crops, insurance of reverse caretaking in old age, and high perinatal mortality rate, which accounts for stillbirths and neonatal mortalities. Again in the 2005 survey, WHO reports an average perinatal mortality rate of 45 per 1000 pregnancies with rates twice as high in rural areas. Comparatively, while there is a 1 in 3,600 chance a woman will die from maternal causes in the developed world, sub-Saharan women face a ghastly 1 in 31 chance of dying from such causes. (Data from PRB’s  2011 World’s Women and Girls Data Sheet)
With progress both visible and reported in family planning, current government and NGO projects continue to press the women's health agenda by addressing maternal malnutrition, low birth weight, and continued developmental requirements. 
“Public health is like sex. Thinking about it and talking about it is not the same as doing it.” -Dr. Daniel Singer, Director for Global Health Research and International Activities at National Institutes of Health

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hunger & Heat... for what?

Like water trinkles to the depths of its watershed, people flow down trails and clay roads that cut through the woods to the community mosque. Last night's new moon sighting announced the end of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid or "Korite."
The morning was kicked off with holiday mugs of cafe sweetened with condensed milk *cringe* to chase hazy skies away followed by traditional bowls of rice topped with tidbits of fried beef. The richness filled a shriveled and unexpecting spot now accustomed to waiting until dusk. Fasting combined with seasonal farm work has stripped most down to bones. In the fervor of Eid, they seem determined to replenish those hollow cheeks, that can attest all too well to the last 30 days.

As we near our humble mosque, the Jumanji pounding of the drum synchronizes with my heartbeat.  My brothers and the elder women discussed how old western films can attest to a day without cars or high technology. At some point we all have to slow down and walk to get where we're going (old man talk). They removed a few degrees between us as they reminded each other that we're all flawed, vulnerable humans. (Did this conversation really start with horse-drawn carts and wagons?) And here I am, calloused hands and sunburned shoulders, adorned in flamboyant, tailored drapes and tight braids, sharing another bookmark holiday in what finally feels like my corner of Senegal.

We rush for cover in the small mosque. The usual picnic spot in the mango courtyard was only slowing the rain. I haven't been inside this mosque before. Like most village structures, its simple by design and somehow offers a comfort in its patterned floor mats and quaint blue shutters. The men file inside and the women shuffle along,
beneath the periphery overhanging, situating prayer rugs and offering the better real estate to tardy elders. Enduring a life in the Sahel entitles them to such privileges. The elders, or "mawdos," can be recognized first by the several meters of fabric layered head to foot, then by the respectable wrinkles that tell stories of their own, and finally by the grandparent twinkle in their eyes.

The last month has been enlightening as most volunteers are non-Muslim Americans. We are all faced with the opportunity to fast with our families and communities, if even for a few days, which could respectably respond to the daily question: "Are you fasting?". The hardships, especially this year as Ramadan fell during the long, farming days of July, outshine the richness and depth of the religious practice nine times out of ten. Its understandable that at the surface the practice seems intimidating and unhealthy. Beneath, however, this core duty of Islam is a reminder designed to promote service, appreciation and empathy, self development of character and spirituality, and devotion. I was told regularly (as everyone grows grumpy and eager to bicker) that the smallest acts of kindness would return the giver with mercy and blessings. What I took away with the closing of Ramadan and glorious Eid celebration was that in this scope of Ramadan, we finally let the demands of our physical being ease up a bit as we serviced our overdue spiritual needs. Ive now closed my third Ramadan, only partially participating, with a clear mind and open heart.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Spilling the Guatemala beans!

T-minus 2 months and I'm in utter disbelief. I remind myself daily of the precious time I have left with my host community, of the impossible span that remains to square off work, and that I have to start thinking about my many goodbyes. These reminders are often necessary to fish myself out of post-close of service (COS) daydreams. As I mark the days down, literally scribbling them out of my calendar from h, it's increasingly difficult to sit idly in the dirt with such exciting plans approaching.

Immediately after COS, I plan on touring the splendors of Spain for two weeks with a couple of my favorite people, Robert and Becca. We're just a couple of countries away with locals always talk about that uncle that left for work in "espain" to better support the rest of the family. Maybe we will run into some of those admired Pulaar folk!  I try not to let my expectations get away from me these days, but it would be a complete shame not to pass through now.

A Few Things I want to do in (e)Spain:
  Parc Guell and Temple de la Sagrada Familia
  Las Ramblas
  Casa Mila, La Pedrera 

The two week span should be long enough for a decent visit without engulfing our limited volunteer funds. We have a dear friend, who also works here in Senegal, to visit in Barcelona along with CouchSurfing hosts. By November 10, we will meander home to the east coast on a transatlantic cruise. Once again, now or never, right?!

If we dont pull a Titanic, we will hide away from the rest of the world for two final weeks at sea aboard the "Navigator of the Seas." I plan to fully enjoy myself and my company. Im going to explore the fitness arena, test my taste buds and tummy with fine dining and room service, lounge about in the coolest breeze, remember how to appropriately interact with people and be a shameless hermit, and remember how to do what I actually want without guilt.

The real news:
After reuniting for the holidays with our overly joyous families and rediscovering intimate conversations with friends, Robert and I will be off to our next adventure in Guatemala. We're trading Pulaar and endless bowls of rice for Spanish and tortillas. We've got a plan scribbled in my journal and enough wanderlust to carry it through.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Jam Tan

“Jam tan”

Peace only, the habitual response to greetings both light and serious
any time of day. Even as I hide in my hut to write this, my host
nieces chant this over pretend phones.

It has been two years since I graduated from USCA with a B.S. in
biology and just under that since I received my official invitation to
serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). I pursued the lengthy
application my senior year after looking at a range of study abroad
options. I qualified under the Agriculture program in Sub-Saharan
Africa with my science and French studies at USCA , field internship
at SRS, and tree-loving nature.

When the much anticipated invitation packet arrived, I nervously read
it over twice in the privacy of my room before finally sharing the
news. I was nominated to serve the following fall as an Agroforestry
Extension volunteer in Senegal. I received continued support and a
matching curiosity from family and friends. At the time, I only wish I
could better explain the approaching position, but there was no way of
knowing details. There are too many external (not to mention internal)
factors that contribute to this ultimately unique experience like
local language and site placement, prior NGO presence and relations,
perception of foreigners, and motivation for change.

Over the summer, I did everything I could to prepare for the vague job
description and terrifying PCV blogs that squeezed into my nightly
reading. PCVs were mugged by knife point and by tropical birds, they
fell into old latrines, and fell in love with new cultures. The
stories were rich, unexpected, and promising of wonderful
(mis)adventures. It was then that I first received the best and most
annoying advice that would carry through my service: “You’ll…figure it
out.” I had a plan, a prayer, and not much more, but was ready to put
it to work with real-world experience in an international environment.
The first two months of training consisted of “figuring it out”
through culture shock, intense emotions, and homesickness out the
wazoo. I was the exotic fish, the toubab, brought in from across the
Atlantic, and everyone tapped on my glass to ensure that I wouldn’t
forget it.

That misinterpreted thing that made me crumble early on was the same
thing that encouraged perseverance- Senegalese hospitality, or
Taranga. They shared with me their family name, their tongue-in-cheek
jokes, snotty-kiddy colds, bowls of white rice, and seemingly
redundant customs. In return, I have humbling discretions and shared
stories that change stereotypes on both sides. It seems silly to
entertain everyone I bump into with the automatic response “Peace
only!” It wasn’t until I was dropped in my rural village of 400 with
my shabby Pulaar language skills and time that I would understand.

I spent my days in the gossipy gardens and cotton fields with the
women, the afternoons making tea in the shade of mango trees with the
men, and any transition in a paparazzi swarm of kids, the most
forgiving of my Pulaar mishaps. Although the last two years of
classroom French would be next to useless at the village level, good
ol’ biology never let me down. I started off slowly, encouraging tree
nurseries and discussing deforestation, branched into sanitation
trainings about the abstract concept of ‘germs’ and ‘bacteria’, and
put my Pulaar to the test with nutrition, malaria, and sex education.
The trainings are high-points between the most basic form of
networking and connecting local needs with feasible solutions. I am a
facilitator trying to hack it out in the local community.

The water shortage makes the most routine tasks taxing, the lack of
electricity limits the day length, and the heat is only good for small
talk. How is the work? Peace only. Yes, I found the strength to make
it through another trying day and I’m just brave enough to do it

My host family says that two years isn’t long enough, even though I
was intimidated by the length of the commitment while applying. Over
that span, Peace Corps has proven to be an express life-training
program. It truly is a unique environment in which the energy put into
the system is multiplied tenfold. I now recognize subtle and profound
changes in my patience, flexibility, and my problem solving skills. I
am confident that with a deepened appreciation and curiosity for life
I will preserver in the next adventure.

I figured it out after all.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Jazz in Senegal

      The deadline to my PC bucket list is approaching with the last 5 months I have left in Senegal. I was able to make another tick mark with my most recent trip north to the annual Saint Louis Jazz Festival. Five days of African infused jazz took me to the affable side of Senegal I don’t see often and was just as wonderful as I imagined. I passed through St.Louis during the off-season and learned to appreciate the carefree atmosphere and European architecture. While everyone commented that there was a smaller crowd this year due to the unfortunate Mali travel advisory, top jazz artists still poured in from the U.S, Germany, Tunisia and other countries. 
Our trip started out slowly, a pace that nothing can escape in this country, even though we were the ones travelling by LandRover for once. Instead of the car being our saving grace to Dakar land, it was just the opposite. There was a reoccurring problem with the fuel injection that cost double in fuel along with two flat tires, one of which was the spare. In hindsight, it could have been worse... but those words are hard to utter for fear that “Inshallah” wouldn’t go far and a lightning storm would come out of nowhere.

While we waited for the second tire repair, we searched for lunch. Travelling in company not accustomed to daily scheduling outside of the big city, we missed the street lunch window. At an awkward 3:30 we found this tucked away home with a "Resto" sign out front that happily bought and cooked more rice for us and served dinner chicken.Robert took full advantage of the down time with a quick laundry session. Our humble resto owner provided a bucket, fetched water, and hung a line; southern hospitality has nothing on that. I still think this interaction is at the crossroads of an (somewhat) acceptable task and getting away with doing crazy things. Plus, they dry time was cut short and supplemented by the “holdin 'em out the car window” technique. This pick-me-up wore off as we trudged on to Dakar and just made it before midnight. 
After a few days of Dakar business, never the cheery kind, we drove a few hours north to St.Louis for the first day of Jazz Fest. We made hotel reservations a few weeks earlier, a rookie mistake preceding any international festival. So we took the last place available at the central location. It was a little grungy, a little buggy, and in the heart of downtown. Maybe Im too forgiving or maybe it was the night band, but it grew on me. Opening night starred Baaba Maal, a Grammy Award winning Senegalese musician, and his Dande Lenol (Voice of the People) Band.
Tourist shopping! 

Langue du Barbarie National Parkjust 18 km south of Saint-Louis in the “onion capitol,” Gandiol, is at the intersection of mangroves, sand dunes, tidal wetlands, the Senegal River and the ocean. The park was established well before my time as a sea turtle nesting area. We came by to check out the hubbub on the nesting island for migratory birds. We took a pirogue down the river and looped the island to see billed gulls, Caspian terns, royal terns, and others taking their turn at this stop along on the European route. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

115 km, 3 hours flat.

I may have made the most efficient trip into town ever. I hope my return trip doesn't counterbalance it. 
I slipped out by the light if the full moon at 6 a.m. and only startled one person, my Babba, who spotted me with the flashlight as I was locking up.  A familiar bush path, a herd of roaming cows, and two new blisters later, I ended the trip to the road with a run. With my retuned (hardly finesse) senses, I heard a car clunking down the road a little faster than I was moving. I got by the regulars with a quick hello, signaled the car with a hiss and jumped into the open backdoor like a boss. Gratifying win.
If only I had a picture of my situation for the next 25 km. The full car offered an unoccupied oil-bucket between inward-facing benches as a seat, which punctuated me with 11 pairs of knees and three chickens. 
I got my nature walk in and then played a balancing game on the kOLDa road all before 8! 
I didn't mark my luck until I got the sixth seat of seven in the next and final car. Just enough of a window for an egg sandwich. 115 km in 3 hours flat, I think we have a new record. 
2 points Homa.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Who opened the oven... Wind.

Hello world, 
Mood music: Sunrise by Norah Jones

It's bedtime, so tucked into my mosquito net I am. I just want to review some of the highlights of the week. 

1) Thursday has been deemed my village tour day. I'm central to 9 villages of interest in a 5 km radius. To keep work pinned to a timeline and people somewhat accountable for their work interests, I more or less make rounds to see them all. It's no small task with everyone insisting to hang out until the next meal.  I think they appreciate my "quick" stops judging by the thank you gifts I've been receiving. After playful banter, anyone at a garden or field will surely offer leaves or okra for sauce, seasonally ripe mangoes and cashews, and anything I show interest in (mint). I've also received sacks of the staple corn and rice, alive chickens, and hunted bush bird. Sometimes it's easier to accept such things. I need veggies on days when we only have plain rice at home; I crave the fruit when my water bottle isn't enough. 

During one of these days, I hung out for tea and a surprise breakfast while we talked about future village developments. Typical village breakfast is nothing to write home about, but the bowl they set out was not regular white rice. After a year and a half, I finally discovered the low sugar Guinean rice. It has a better taste and texture and is more nutritional. Year and a half. 
There are so many grain alternatives available at competitive prices, but for reasons I can't understand, plain white rice seems to be preferred. The monotony, the bland diet is what drives me to poor choices. 
Latest: eating spoonfuls of Gatorade powder. Red and delicious. 

2) We joined forces in my dear friend, Sarah's village to put on one last health event before her departure. We (wo)manned 4 stations: diarrhea and simple ORS, family planning and birth control, malaria and homemade repellant, and first aid. 
Why was there a sound system at the school at 9am?! The morning was noisy since the teachers agreed to toss in a last minute World Vision AIDS event. Whenever a situation with the chance if confrontation arises, it's ignored as long as possible. Under the bed it goes.They are incredibly peaceful people, but at the cost of simple problem solving. After the initial annoyance,  we continued mostly as planned since the other representatives were fashionably late. At the diarrhea station I got to practice bathroom humor in Pulaar with the ~75 kids that came through.  That will cheer you up. 

The giddiness nearly dropped from that air. Sarah has put in 2 years, so was also packing up and saying bitter sweet goodbyes. She had a bucket of giveaways that we couldn't take enough of under her peer pressure. I'll think of you every time I use a Qtip.? 
The Goodbye Cycle is for another blog. 

Safe travels my love monkey.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

To bring a little balance

I love when preconceptions fall short. I love stretching a foot out beyond the warmed sheets. I love stopping in my tracks to contemplate nature. I love my toes buried deep in sand and my hands coated with the earthy smell of soil. I love both the fondness of a familiar place and the excitement of exploring somewhere new. I love the deep, filling breath before a sigh. I love when I'm brave enough to be vulnerable. I love when people close their eyes and smile to let the sun dance on their full face. I love when those eyes realize they're loved. I love sleepy mumbles and fluffy morning cheeks. I love awkward silences that don't need to be explained. I fall in love with people when they're beautiful disasters. I fall in love with their honesty and their quirks and their foolish impulses.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

a Rant not gone to waste.

     It's been a while since I've taken the time to really crank out a complete blog-thought, complaint, or... Joke.? I split my most recent vacation time between South Carolina and Texas, so my southern drawl and country twang is recharged and liable to slip on out. I'd like to talk about a few things that are down right annoying ;).
     I don't think I have many pet peeves, but the few I claim are justified (even if only in my mind). To what degree or range of irritation does something have to reach to earn the badge of pet peevery? The bothersome buzz must be annoying enough to generate a physical response (I.e. wide or rolling eyes, grunting or growling, puckered lips, tightened chest, etc.), preventable by surrounding knucklehead-friends, and overlooked by most people. 
     I can't stand when people leave the faucet running the entire 2 minutes as they brush their teeth. Yes, it takes that long or should and I don't care who pays the bill. I hate unnecessary packaging material that fills up my trash can. I hate running small loads through the washers, dish or laundry. I also don't like when the milk jug gets crusty but I don't think that's relevant. In short, being wasteful is my nail-scratching, deeply-rooted pet peeve... Because I can't just say stupid people. 
     The majority of these nuisances live in developed countries and identify themselves as contributing community members, yet they have the audacity to call the less fortunate people of developing countries lazy, unwilling to work, and even backwards. Are they the backwards ones? 
     Those people work their tails off everyday to provide their families and even neighbors with the appropriate amount of resources- food and water. The field crops are a product of their blood, sweat, and more sweat (they don't show much emotion). They eat what they need and dont know what obesity is. They would gladly take the 1,400  calories wasted per American per day (in 2009) [4]They walk to a well to pull buckets of water for bathing, drinking, washing, and cooking daily. If you were pulling water in front of everyone and then carrying it back, maybe you would rethink that long, steamy shower session. I guarantee you the household water usage is still less by a family 5 folds larger than the typical American family of four that uses up to 400 gallons a day (EPA). Im not spending all day at the well for that. 

     You've got me on the trash. A modern waste management system is slow to come together with littering as the norm, leaving city streets lined in trash. They recognize the growing problem, however, and retaliate by collecting the debris from homes, streets , and shop fronts to burn weekly. Trash day Wednesday! Dont forget to dump your bucket out back. Maybe you didn't get me as good as I let on. Nobody likes the smell of burning junk, the chance of a wildfire, or adding more carcinogenic compounds to the air, but its that or watch it pile up.     Dont get too cozy. America’s biggest export is trash — the scrap paper and metal we throw away. The Chinese buy it, make products out of it, sell them back to us at enormous profit, and we turn it into trash again. America, the country that once made things for the world, is now China’s trash compactor.-  from the LA Times, speaking on  Edward Humes’ new book, Garbology.  The average American discards about 4.5 pounds of trash a day [2]. The total volume of solid waste produced in the U.S. each year is equal to the weight of more than 5,600 Nimitz Class air craft carriers, 247,000 space shuttles, or 2.3 million Boeing 747 jumbo jets [3].  Albeit, recycling is on the rise (and finally catching on in the south) but we have no room for our own trash, much less to talk about others'.

Bring more sustainable habits into your life and to the attention of others. You can calculate your ecological footprint and DO something about it. Below are some of the easiest ways you can reduce your impact. Even small actions. 
WaterSense, a partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeks to help families and businesses reduce water use in a BIG way with a few simple steps, like upgrading to more efficient products. For more info, visit!

And for God's sake, turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth!
[1] Sorensen, M. (2010, Mar 1). A Lot to Digest. Waste Age. (
[2] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2009, November). 
Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States Detailed Tables and Figures for 2008. Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery.

[3] R.W. Beck, Inc. (2001). “Size of the United States Solid Waste Industry.” 
[4] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2010, March 1). Statistics on the Management of Used and End-of-Life Electronics. (

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

First World Problems... you guys are killin me.

On my way out of Dakar, volunteers that recently visited the states shared a "First World Problems" video along with other current memes to catch me up on the notable events and maybe ease the shock during my visit home. Although the video should have been humorous, I could hardly watch it. Im not saying that Im not guilty of making undeserving complaints, but not to this degree. 
First World Problems, White Whines, or if you want to be correct, Developed World Problems are not problems. My Peace Corps service in Senegal has broadened my worldly perspective and understanding of cultures at different stages of development. No textbook, teacher, or video had a chance of making a lasting mark beyond the initial, yet genuine, interest, which only the experience itself could do. Now I see  live with people in less fortunate situations (if that does it justice) that have to take leaps and bounds everyday instead of just surviving the long Starbucks line and unnecessary McDonald's calories. Get out of your comfort zone, care about something bigger, help someone out... In return, you might find the self-satisfying feeling that no prized electronic device can offer. (thats a topic for another day). 

video summary: 
Your phone charger wont reach your bed? 
     These kids dont have electricity and probably share a bed/a floor mat with a few other kids. 
Your house is too big... for one wireless router?
     They live in rickety buildings or huts that might have doors. 
You left your clothes in the washer machine too long? 
     They wash in the creek or pull well water and wash by hand. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Ten days in Dakar is too long for a village kid. I said it. My bag is packed, I just finished the perishables-- travelling supplied ample justification, and Im ready for the 13+ hours back to site. Ive had my fill of  city hustle and the abrasiveness of the Wolof language; I miss the kind people in village, made with hours of love and an open fire food, and the reassurance of overseeing work being done. 
In the last week, however, Ive made up for a load of lounging time. After three days of medical checkups that covered ever infection and every ailment Ive reported over the last 18 months, we retreated to Ngor Island, a sliver of land a dollar canoe ride off the Dakar shore. We actually stayed in the red house in the photo for the equivalent of 30$ a night. It was easy to get to, provided exactly what I needed for a couple quite and relaxing days, and the restaurant cooked plates of fish that made me feel like a real person. If that doesn't make sense, I dont care. 
I emerged from the seaside getaway for a little fun with other people because apparently being an old lady is only okay to some extent. I have no prospect of being a cat lady, I dont care for them much. So, back in the city we kicked off WAIST weekend. We dressed up to our appropriate themes and the games began! My team of superheroes was seriously lacking power for home-run hits (no offense to the ladies), but we still played... even after the mercy rule set in. 
We didnt slow down for two days of softball, one night of bowling, and quite a few family dinners. Im happy to say no volunteers were seriously injured during this weekend of noosing (FUN in PC Senegal lingo).
 I gotta roll out for now, until next time!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dakar week

I'm not as excited about this trip as previous getaways to Dakar. Its still very much a weird bubble of foreigners speaking a handful of languages, real supermarkets and apartment buildings, street vendors of all sorts, swarms of taxis and hustling drivers, electricity and temperature controlled water on demand... It's just not as new and shiny. 
Maybe I don't trust myself at arms length with these ideas that basically make up 1/3 of my dreams. I'm fully aware of my tendency to binge (action verb) and I don't think I can afford that temporary pleasure and guilt. I'll be in the Dakar area for a whopping week for a range of Peace Corps plans. I'm wrapping up my MIDservice med appointments now: Tb results TBD, teeth clean, heart ticking, mind there, spinal & ear canals reportedly small, bugs not too many. Have I really been here for 17 months?
As long as I don't get ran over or poisoned by fine cuisine in the big city, I'll be returning to the Thies training center for the all volunteer conference. I'm not gonna lie, from the perspective of a fresh, bright-eyed volunteer, last year's conference did not leave me bubbling over with inspiration. I've moved to the next column now that I've had a little work and a little more experiences. Even if I don't take anything away, at least I can share something of use. After these 2 days back at summer camp the 200 volunteers will shift back to Dakar for a weekend to makeup for all lost weekends.
We're joining the U.S. Embassy, students from local schools, and plenty of volunteers from other the West Africa Invitational Softball Tournament. Peace Corps teams tend to take the noncompetitive route; this year we will only be playing each other due to the lack of competition among other things. Each PC region forms a team and picks a theme - we don't miss any costume opportunities. My dear Kolda Kalabandits will swoop in as SUPERheroes and villains, Kedougou will be our geriatrics, Tamba settled with high school cliches (a step up from their "softball" theme last year), and so on. 
It's gonna be a long, anything but ordinary week that my village will hear 3% about.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


My house has mice. After a sleepless week of squeaking and scurrying, nibbling holes and and stealing peanuts, and most importantly twilight plundering, something had to be done. I threw one deceivingly cute mouse over my fence at 3am-- only to realize he'd be back in no time. I did what any desperate volunteer would do- I bought poison for the price of a loaf of bread and mixed it into a hardy serving of peanut butter.
I'm sure it wouldn't have taken much more than a taste of the chemical concoction but my greedy mice cleaned the plate. Three days later, I'm paying for my peaceful sleep with a stench worse than autoclave cell culture waste. I've found three, but the smell is still permeating from my straw roofing. How fast do you think ants can carry off a mouse?

Speaking of the downside of straw roofing, I just watched one burst into flames in the adjacent compound. There is a little controversy concerning the fire's ignition. Was it ash on the wind, kids-play, or someone passing by?  I saw it across the way from my back yard. Everyone filled the compound quickly to remove the thatch-fuel and stop the fire with buckets of water straight from the well. The excitement only stretched  across a few minutes and left the hut in ruins.

My hut currently has a small construction zone in front. My brothers are building an outside sitting area/cement slab. Maybe I should teach them to build castles! I feel like it will soon annoy me as it attracts rambling kids in the afternoon and chatty men at night. The benefit might be a cool place to sit, stretch, and read, but in what degree of peace I'm not sure. Its okay, my "leave me alone" vocabulary is well-practiced.