Monday, July 9, 2012

Goodbyes and all that Entails


Now let’s get to the heart of this post series.  GOODBYE.  Oh. My. Goodness.  Was it hard! There were so many goodbyes, it felt like it was unending. 

I had to say adios to many volunteers that have become close friends, knowing we would most likely all end up in Amerik eventually, but with no assurance that we would see each other again.  That part was hard but I could trick myself into believing that we would all be together very soon, because we were all going to the village of America.

The infinitely harder part was saying goodbye to my Senegalese village, family and friends.  When I started with my girls group and the tears came a-flowing, I knew this was going to be one of the hardest things I had ever done.   Then there was my refuge of Wassadou.  I said goodbye to the river, the hippos, the monkeys, my favorite ginormous tree and all of the workers of the hut-style hotel that have provided me with a cold beer and good company when I really needed a break from village.  Next up were my Catholics.  Illi, the man I have constantly gone to for advice or inspiration, took me to his garden and made me promise that I’d be back.  I said so many goodbyes to his daughters I can’t even count them, each of us always wanting one last hug or guarantee that we would see each other again.

The kicker.  Goodbye to my family and physically walking out of my village.  The night before I left my family decided for me how we were going to handle everything.  They made me promise I would stay for breakfast and that we could all walk to the road together and wait for a car for me. I had considered saying goodbye that night and leaving at call to prayer at 5a.m. to make goodbye less painful but they would hear none of it.  That night we sat around eating American popcorn (huge hit), drinking crystal light mixes and playing Parcheesi.  I was spoiled with a huge bowl of leaf sauce all to myself.

We hung out late into the night and my sister Hawa even moved her kids to my other sisters room so that w.  It was hard to go to bed, knowing that this would be the last night I would get to hang out with my sisters like this.  Issa said, “tomorrow I’ll be laying down passing the evening lonely without you…” This has always been one of the best things about village.  Laying next to my tokora (namesake) outside or in bed, with the babies and talking about life.  I knew that night that it would be one of the things I’d miss the most and boy has it proved true.

That morning I woke up super early, outside on my stick bed, under my mosquito net in my backyard and I couldn’t get back to sleep knowing this was the day I would walk out of my village and leave my family behind me.  I did some last minute packing and more give-aways, but mostly just sat outside with my family.  Several family members came in my hut just to look around and be in “my space” before it was not mine anymore. 
(Here is the video I took of my compound that last morning.)

Last breakfast was corn gossi (pounded corn boiled in salt water).  I can’t say I’ll miss that although I did eat up just to get the taste imprinted in my memory. This is the video I took of my compound before leaving.

When it came time to go, my brothers Souleyman and Diakari Yow got the donkey cart ready and took it to the road while the rest of us walked behind.  I said goodbye to my dad in my compound and to my mom at the edge of the village,  but Issa, Hawa, Djebou, Ruby, Gassimo, Ramatou, Fanta, Mamadou, Hawa Becky, Binta, Penda, Ami, and Fatou all walked me to the road.  Along the way we stopped at several houses to say last goodbyes and several people ran out to shake my left hand (a gesture that says ‘may God bring us together again’). 

There were a few times when the tears welled up as I looked back at my sisters, and our village behind them and the huge trees on either side.  I couldn’t believe that I was leaving my family, my village, my Senegalese life behind. 

We waited, all together, for about 30 minutes until I had a car.  As soon as the bus came I forced my hugs on everyone (a gesture uncommon in West Africa) and everyone was sharing their last words/goodbyes/left hand shakes.  The tears welled up as my best-friend/namesake/sister kissed me on the cheek (something I’ve never seen in Senegal) and told me not to forget her and how much she’d miss me.  I took a long good look at each of the babies and gave them a kiss on the forehead.  I gave Ruby the biggest hug and told her to study hard and stay in school.  Fatou made it a point to take my left hand and look into my eyes.  She slipped a bracelet on my wrist and before hopping onto the bus I choked up breaking into a full cry, took my bag from Gassimo, said goodbye to him and got in semi-sobbing.

The next hour, (and as I write this now) I could not quit crying.  Knowing that my sisters were walking back to our compound without me and that I wouldn’t see my family in years.  The babies will be kids.  So much will have changed.  I will eventually have trouble communicating in Pulaar…it was/is all so overwhelmingly emotional to think about.  My bus was full of people on there way to a prayer festival so they sang the whole way which was comforting.
video


Better Late than Never...

Yes, even in America, I am prone to falling off of the face of the Earth. PS…that’s where I live now…sweet home Indiana. In the past four months, so much has happened, it’s hard for me to sort out my emotions, let alone put them to paper but here’s my attempt to bring a little bit of closure to my peace corps experience and those of you who read my blog.  I’ll separate this baby into a three or four part series as it includes my last few months in village, goodbyes, travels, and coming home/adjustment.

One Last Shi-bang!

In my last month in village I was lucky enough to celebrate Easter with the Boubane’s, my Catholic family. Since becoming close to them at the beginning of my service and quickly becoming a part of their family, I have been looking forward to celebrating a religious holiday with them but never had the opportunity until now. Just like every Senegalese holiday, Easter involved braiding, makeup and new get-ups, greeting and praying, eating, eating, and eating. But Catholic’s celebrate better, which meant let there be daaaancing…

video
“Dimbude,” or shaking what God gave you, was the holiday theme. Even while cutting meat, we were shaking our butts in our seats and then ended the afternoon with a drum/dance circle and the evening with a outdoor disco.  This day was sisterhood at it finest, and assured me that I truly was part of their family.  Working and celebrating alongside the women I have grown to love made for a special day. 


Demyst:  Meet Anna!

 She is the new volunteer in Wassadou, the town that has been my home away from home while living in Medina dar Salam.  I was lucky enough to introduce her to her new family and village right before I left.  I am sooo excited for what the next 2 years will bring to her and Wassadou.  I know that her village rocks and that with her open, kick-ass personality, and motivated spirit, she will fit in in no time.

Monday, March 26, 2012

We've got a new President up in this joint!

After weeks of protesting and rioting about current President Aboulaye Wade's decision to change the constitution and run for a 3rd term in office , the big day finally came on February 26th. There were 14 candidates, 12 men and surprisingly 2 women. The rioting resulted in 9 deaths and divided regional capitals all over Senegal. Much of the population wanted to see Wade step down, but there were still plenty (i.e. my regional capital) that continued to support the president. Even my very own family was divided, half supporting candidate Macky Sall and half supporting Wade.

During the last year of his presidency, old man Wade (seriously 85 yrs), tried to create the position of Vice Presidency. The scam was that he would name his son VP and then step down, making his son President. Senegal caught on and said absolutely not!

All over West Africa/North Africa there have been tumultuous political problems or coups in the last few decades. Libiya, Guinea, The Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Mali, etc....everyone was saying that Senegal was different, but to be honest we were all walking on egg shells, praying that Senegal would succeed in safe democratic elections.

Some of the Senegalese people that I've talked to did not vote on Feb. 26th because they were scared to go to the polls. Many people who I have asked who they were voting for said that it was between them and God. Everyone was trying to prevent violence in their communities.

I was in village for the actual election. (Peace Corps had banned all travel to regional capitals.) The actual process on a village level was quite interesting. The voting in my area took place at the local elementary school. Voters walked into a room, guarded by armed military personnel, gave their ID's and voters cards to a person that checked the validity, then another person recorded the voters information in a book. Next, the voter picked up 14 slips of paper, each with a name and picture of a candidate and an envelope. They went behind a black curtain, put the picture of the candidate they were voting for in the envelope and disposed of the rest. Lastly, they brought the envelope out and put it in a sealed plastic container. Voila! Not as exciting as I thought it would be, but interesting nonetheless.

The next day it was announced that Wade recieved 34.8% of the votes and Macky Sall recieved 26.5% of the votes. As neither of these was a large enough percentage to declare a winner a runoff between the two candidates was scheduled for yesterday, March 26th.

Yesterday was very calm. Besides the fact that there was no public transportation, in the bush you could have easily forgotten it was election day. Voters were quickly in and out of the polls, even less exciting than round 1. At around 10pm, I was at my neighbors listening to thewolof election broadcast at an obsenely high volume (if it's not loud you are not in Senegal) when the winner was announced. Of course I didn't know what they were saying, but half the compound was happy and the others just went about their buisness. Macky Sall was declared president of Senegal!

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/world/africa/president-concedes-race-in-senegal.html?_r=1

I am proud of Senegal, holding onto it's democratic ways in the midst of its politically troubled region. I did not want to see Wade overruling the constitution once more, and therefore reigning over my family and friends here for another 6 years. It was time for a change and I hope that Sall is the guy who will work for what Senegal really needs, grassroots support and development.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tambacounda's Race for Education

After months of careful planning, countless attempted, failed, and successful meetings with local government officials and companies, a billion e-mails and phone calls, many lessons learned and so much excitement and stress, the "Tambacounda Race for Education," was finally made a reality. Check out this pre-race shot of the Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV's) who participated.



On March 4th, 2012, Tamba locals, including policemen, firefighters, military personnel, government officials, students and enthusiastic runners, joined forces with Peace Corps Volunteers from all over Senegal to raise money and awareness for girls' education by flooding the streets to run 5, 10, or 21k (half-marathon)'for the girls.'



People came from as far away as the capital Dakar, an 8-10 hour uncomfortable public transportation ride, to participate. One of these people was Djibby Sow, an all around amazing guy and marathon champ who represented the organization, Malaria No More (dedicated to erradicating malaria), in the NYC marathon last year. Here he is finishing the half-marathon in 1 hr. and 14 min.



The day of the race I was purely content. It became obvious that we had succeeded, not only in raising money for girls' education projects and scholarships, but in our bigger goal of getting people talking about girls' education and the obstacles (early marriage, forced marriage, money, housework, local gender attitudes, etc.) Senegalese girls face in receiving an education. We did radio shows, passed out and hung oodles of fliers, spoke in our villages and at schools and then swamped the Tamba streets race day, leaving people asking, "why are they running?"



(Some of the many school-aged girl participants finishing the 5k. This is what it's all about!)

Change here happens, 'seeda, seeda, tutti, tutti, dong-ding, dong-ding,' little by little, but in order to get the ball rolling people need to start talking and they are! During out pre- and post-race ceremonies, local government officials, educators and Peace Corps staff all spoke on the issues of girls' education. It was inspiring to see people in positions of power or respect speak up for those who have little voice here in Senegal, but who are the face of the future.

This project has been my baby for the past 5 months so seeing it all come together was satisfying to say the least. Here is a photo of me finishing the half-marathon with my PCV support team. I couldn't help but smile seeing all of the Senegalese kids, PC staff, PCV's and other runners joined together for the cause.




I am proud to say that the "Race for Education," will now be an annual event. We have earned the respect and support of local government and companies, as well as, that of Peace Corps Dakar. That, along with all of the lessons learned and mistakes made this year, will make next year epic! We have already had a planning meeting for next year and the brain juices are flowing.

Thank you to all of you who donated to and supported our cause. Donations are still being accepted at: https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=685-CFD (Write "Marathon for Education" in the comment section please.) Also, if you have Oprah or Ellen connections, we are still into harassing them to come and support us next year. If you haven't seen this video, check out how we tried to get their financial support and presence at our event. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ia8xgXyXBo4 (Since I can't upload videos from here, you'll have to check it out on youtube. It's worth it and will give you a glimpse of Senegalese life and the students you are supporting!)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

American Visitors!

Where do I begin? In 2005 I met two amazing friends in the ghetto building of Lafollette during our freshman year of college at Ball State, the rest is history. Who knew 7 years later they we would be reuniting in Senegal, West Africa? Oh the beauty of surprises.

Because of recent political upheaval in Dakar, Senegals capitol city, tortured L and K by taking them straight from the airport to the garage for an 8 hour station car ride to Tamba. It was cruel, but hey, safety is no accident. They were shocked at what we call the garage, essentially a huge parking garage with cars faced in every direction filling cars to head to different destinations. People are selling literally everything; shoes, batteries, toothbrushes, eggs, razors, bananas, etc. People are yelling, children are begging, it is pure chaos. Welcome to Senegal L and K!

Our time in Tamba was spent eating warthog (with Buffalo Wild Wing sauce-Thanks to Lisa!) and shopping at the market.

The marriage proposals started instantly, something that Senegalese men pretty much never stop doing. "Offer me your friends!" It was determined that Kristen was the ‘vrai’ (true) American because of her height (PS: being 6 foot does not translate to fun times in Senegalese public transportation.) and that Lisa was Rihanna...no explanation given. They said I was no longer American.

At the market we bought 3 chickens for my family and named them breakfast, lunch and dinner. We transported them back on a donkey cart and almost hit a sheep on the way. Three white people in the center of town with chickens, donkeys and sheep in the mix...we were quite the scene.


After eating some local foods, we headed to VILLAGE!

After our 4 hour bus ride we biked into my village under beautiful African skies as the sun was setting.

The children sang and cheered a warm welcome as we entered my compound (aka my family’s living space full of huts). The kids instantly latched onto Kristen and Lisa and a deep love affair between them began. Kristen and 3 year old Mamadou were obsessed with one another from the first minute. Just after meeting Mamadou Kristen said, "Mamadou, you are perfect in every way."

Our first day in village, K and L were involved in several murders. They watched my brother kill the chickens and even participated in plucking them. They were pretty nonjudgmental at my gross new habits until we got the chicken head in our bowl and I ate the brains. Seriously, try it people. Brains are wise and tasty!

TOKORAS!

One of Kristen and Lisa's favorite things that happened in my village was them being given Senegalese names. There is a name-sake system here. I am named after my sister-in-law Aissatou. In Pulaar a name-sake is your tokora. Lisa was named after my younger sister Fatou

and Kristen was named after my dad's second wife Penda.

The Fatou's and Penda's joyously celebrated, dancing and giggling and were all instantly bonded. "Mi weltike, mi hebi tokora!" There really is an unexplainable special relationship that develops between you and your tokora.

On Sunday I took K and L to Wassadou for Pulaar church and to pass the afternoon with my Catholic family. Our day was nice and relaxing with chicken and dancing. The most entertaining thing that happened this day was our encounter with a real live racist monkey. Here is what I wrote in my journal:

***So there is this monkey that a family in Wassadou owns and has tied to its tree. I have always felt it hated me and claimed it was racist but today my accusations were proven 100% accurate. Illi (the father of my Catholic family...PS: I only refer to them that way because Senegal is 95+% Muslim.) fed the monkey a peanut and the monkey ate the peanut and played with Illi, hanging onto his leg and acting pet-like. When I leaned down to pet him, he bared his teeth, hissed and backed up. Okay, maybe it's because he doesn't know me well? I take a few steps back and offer him a few peanuts. He takes them, looks at me disgusted, rolls them around in the sand, as if trying to get my dirty germs off of them and then glares at me while eating them. Maybe he specifically hates me for some reason? Lisa and Kirsten do the same offering of peanuts. He responds with distrust, the 'cleaning' of peanuts and pure hatred. Perhaps just a bad mood? A Senegalese woman joins the crowd that was now forming and gives the monkey a handful of peanuts; he happily eats them as fast as he can without ever rubbing them in the sand. It is a well known fact to Senegalese monkeys: only white people are dirty.

Illi, Kristen, Lisa and I could not stop laughing at this obvious, slap in the face, kind of racism possessed by a monkey! It was just as funny to hear Illi recount the story, "And then the monkey took the peanut from Aissatou's (me) hand and before he ate it he rubbed it in the sand to get of her white germs! Hahaha. It was not an animal of the forest. If not for its body hair and being tied to a tree you would have thought it was just a racist person!" ***

WEDDING!

Back to my village and the biggest event of the season: My brother Mamadian got married!!! I don't even know where to start in terms of the wedding story. Dancing, food, Pulaar customs, Senegalese outfits, music galore, etc.

I guess I'll start by meeting the bride. Ramatou is her name. The marriage was arranged and she is from a village far away, so I was pretty nervous about her age. Luckily, L and K estimated that she is approximately 17, so that is much better than 14. We met her at a sort of bridal shower. All of the women in the village went to the hut that she was staying in before she moved to our and danced. Ramatou mostly sat on the bed and it seemed like the shower was for other peoples enjoyment, not her own, but she looked more content than I expected. She was quiet but I am sure she was nervous. She was moving to a village she has never been to, living with a family she has never met, about to have sex for the first time with a man she hardly know, take on wife duties, etc. Scary stuff if you ask me.


That night was like a dance rave. My family rented HUGE speakers and the DJ was kickin' the base from before sunset until after 3 a.m. Lisa, Kristen and I all dressed in full Senegalese outfits and partied on with the one billion people who showed up to my compound. We got down to loud repetitive techno...you know I am getting sentimental about leaving Senegal because I loved it. The bride was not involved in the dance off.

The next day was the bringing of the bride. All of the women went over to the hut where the bride spent the night and my sisters led a procession, bringing the bride to our house. My tokora led the ceremony, carrying the bride and grooms dinner on her head. She had such a serious stoic expression on her face and just looked like an african queen. Ramatou was veiled with thick white fabric so that you could not see her face, but was led by an old woman and about 100 more of us. We sang and clapped, taking several pauses to dance about having a new woman in the house, a new sister, a new guest. It was beautiful to see my sisters lead this celebration and to see how excited they were. "Ay, Ay, men weltike! Yes, Yes, we are happy!"

The bride and groom, Ramatou and Mamadian, took turns feeding each other dinner as they shared their first meal as a married couple. After that a huge dance circle started. Family and friends gathered around clapping and dancing. Even my 80ish year old mom got to stomping. We filled a bucket with water, turned a bowl upside down on top of it and used sticks to play our homemade drum. It was more than powerful to see all the people I love most here celebrate so joyously.



That night was another bass bumping night that the girls and I did not have the energy to participate in. That was pretty much the entirety of the wedding minus some Pulaar customs I have no idea how to explain via blog.

Bride Update: Ramatou is an amazing addition to our family. Her and Mamadian seem genuinely happy and joke around a lot. She is a perfect sister and aunt to the adults and kids alike. She works hard and plays harder. Our laughter has increases since Ramatou's arrival...plus she loves Parcheesi!

Back to Lisa and Kristen's visit. The rest of the time we were in village we spent hanging out with my sibilings. The girls got their hair braided, we all hung out under the stars goofing around and talking about boys and teaching them funny things to say in English, like, bros before hoes fo sho. We helped the women with chores; pounding corn, pulling water and going to the garden and visited other families around the village.


Where do I begin? In 2005 I met two amazing friends in th

Saying goodbye was a sad preview for the real thing in April. Everyone was sorry to part ways. Everyone assured L and K how happy they were to have met them and insisted that they greeted their familes and my family in America. Fatu (Lisa's tokora) tried to get them to stay by faking sleep. Eventually she offered them her left hand, a foie pas (because that's your bathroom hand) unless you are saying a very important goodbye. It's said that you must meet again to fix this mistake. I teared up watching the goodbyes between people I know and love that do not share the same language, culture, ethnicity, religion, etc., and seeing the love that had grown between them in such a short time. POWERFUL STUFF.


Oh yeah, I took K and L to my escape away from village, the Gambia River. We went on little motor boat (that broke down several times) to get close to the hippos. Check this baby out.

After village, K, L and I spent another night in Tamba before heading to the desert. On the bus ride into town Lisa and I were suffering from cases of running stomach (diarhea) and Kristen got peed on through a window by a goat that was on the top of the bus. We called it her Senegalese baptism...it's a surprisingly common happening.

DESERT!


In terms of West Africa, Senegal is a baller country to be living in. Sure you have dirty cities, but the rural scenery is so abundant and unique. Kedougou is mountainous and full of waterfalls, baobab trees are everywhere in Kolda, in Palmarin there are mangroves all along the coast and then there is the desert. Lompoul is in the middle of the desert and I got to experience it for the first time with Kristen and Lisa. We stayed in Mauritanian style tents as the base of the sand dunes and spent the whole day hiking in the dunes...sand as far as you could see. We rolled down the dunes, did cartwheels made sand angles and hiked (naked). We rode camels at sunset, led by a Pulaar man (my people!). A night there was a drum circle and delicious Moroccan meal before retiring to our tents for the best night of sleep I have had in Senegal. I love this place of rolling sand dunes as far as you can see!

DAKAR!

We ended our trip in the capital, Dakar with a beach day. They are my favorite, duh. After souvenir shopping my brother Umar met us for dinner as a delicious restaurant with live jazz music. Win. Then after 10 amazing days, we took Lisa and Kristen to the airport to say goodbye.
I cannot believe how fast our time together went. I feel incredibly lucky to have had Lisa and Kristen as visitors. Every minute of our time together was priceless. I was continually surprised by their openness and laid back attitudes to whatever Senegal had to throw at them. They were easy going and adventurous as can be and sharing my village, family and life here with them was special every step of the way. I couldn't be happier to have re-united with such amazing friends that will now understand the weird me that comes back to America. I love you guys and count you as beautiful blessings in my life!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Snot, pOOp and giggles...Baby Update

Our babies are a-growin'. I think I might end up being that mom that takes out my wallet and shows people I just met pictures of my kids. Maybe not everyone is interested, but you should be because look at how gosh darn cute my babies are! (Compare these photos to the ones I posted in October. They grow up so fast!)

Hawa Becky, named after my momma, will be 5 months old next week. She is obsessed with chewing on my bracelets. Look at those deep eyes, identical to here sisters and mommy.


Binta is 6 months and also about to crawl. She fearlessly dives foward daily but hasn't made it past the fall to the actual crawl. Her hobby is laughing at her reflection in my sunglasses.



Ami, my name-sake is 7 months old tomorrow. This is a picture of her as her mom took her away from me right after she peed all over me. Ornery stinker. She is sooo close to crawling and head banging to music is an entertaining favorite.



All three girls are teething, Ami actually has two teeth that have come through. Lots of baby laughter and crying in my house. Most of my days in village revolve around them now. I've always got a baby on my back regardless of what I am doing. Snot, poop and giggles. I can't imagine how much I am going to miss these little boogers.

I'm still alive...

Masa, I’m sorry. I accidentally dropped off the face of the earth for y’all back home. Between the busyness of work, family, my Peace Corps service ending and unreliable internet that I do not frequently have access to, the last few months I have been off the grid. Here is an update of the most important happenings in my life here in Senegal.

Eye Clinic…

Once again I got the chance to work with a group of American eye surgeons who came to Senegal specifically to repair cataract affected eyes. This year all of the happenings were in a town called Bakel. This place has character! It is a picturesque river town on the border of Mauritania with a French fort, hills galore, all the green gardens you could ask for, music playing out of every shop and several bars.



My job was the same as last year; translating and hands on patient care. The masses came out and the two weeks were booked with vision tests, consultations, operations, and pre-operational and post-operational patient care. Bakel’s needs seemed far greater than Tamba, resulting in mobs of people, many of whom had to be turned away. Several volunteers worked simply as crowd control and twice the Senegalese military was called in to keep things calm.

As last year, I was re-inspired by the gravity of the instant results these patients received. People couldn’t see one day and the very next pronounced their sight, Alhamdulilah. I also loved my jobs as patient advocate and translator. For quite awhile I have been thinking about living in Latin America for a short time to experience the culture and gain Spanish language fluency. I know that when I come back to America, Aissatou Ba and her Pulaar self will cease to exist. If my passion or Pulaat could be translated to Spanish, my latin identity could actually be expressed in America. I could see myself being happier in America if I were able to live a bi-lingual life through either my work or personal life.

All in all, the eye clinic was successful in giving sight to almost 400 people and renewing my interests in nursing and translating. I feel so lucky to be exposed to all of this. Even though my life after Peace Corps is just a bunch of ???????? I feel as though the world is my oyster shell.

Here is a picture of our award winning team:





…Christmas at the beach…
Yep, I am that far behind. What a special Noel away from home. I was really worried about my first Christmas not spent with family. I mean, I am that nut who starts playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving (okay, Halloween) and never stops. I love the smells, the foods, the comfort and closeness of family, the pure coziness of the season. It is simply the most wonderful time of the year.
This year was no different. Sure it was a bit warmer than winter in the mid-west and it was spent with friends, but lucky for me, these friends are the kind that have turned into family. Also, we went to the beach. Win.

Kim, Anna and I, along with Kim’s American visitors Jen and Jenny, spent Christmas Eve gathered around a single gas burner concocting a delicious Mexican meal. We told stories of traditions and Christmases past. As simple as it was, it was perfect.


In the morning, Christmas day, we woke up to stockings embroidered with our names that Kim had made for us and had our breakfast in a nook filled with the fake snow that Lisa had sent.
We spent the day on the beach in bathing suits and Santa hats singing Christmas carols. Cards, cocktails and calls from back home=happiness.


We shared a delicious Christmas dinner, seafood spread with a random group of other Americans celebrating.

Christmas this year was simplicity at its finest. I didn’t buy or get a gift over $5 (except from back home. Thanks Mom, Dad, Lisa and Lindsey for all the decorations, sweet treats and LOVE). Although I look forward to Christmas at home this year, I feel lucky to have spent a Christmas in Senegal with friends turned family.

Our amazingly talented chef and friend Max and I. Merry Christmas!






...Biking the Gambia…

The Gambia is literally inside of Senegal so I found it mandatory to visit before leaving this place. You may be asking, “What better way to see a country than by bike?” Our crazy bike gang felt the same. Tamba’s finest; Josh, Marie, Anna, Julie and myself, set out on the Eastern border of Senegambia on December 27th in hopes of making it the Western capitol of Banjul come New Years Eve.

We biked the length of an entire country and boy did we make some memories along the way.
Gambia = fried chicken, Pulaar and English=Pulish, Julbrew (locally brewed draft beer), scary political advertisements suggesting dictatorship, really rich Peace Corps houses, development in terms of health facilities and schools but definitely not roads (ouch) and so much more. I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

During one of our numerous rest and refuel stops.


We were diiiirty!


One night we camped in a bar. Literally set up tents inside a bar...



By day 3 we were starting with the sunrise. Much smarter than our 2pm start day 1.



Our first ferry crossing to get off of an island in the middle of the Gambia.


Nearly every night we ended our day close to the Gambia River.


We started our trip avoiding the border police and camping out at bars and ended it much classier. Our last day of biking was by far the best. We had had one of those nights before hand where we were so happy we spent most of the night in giggle fits, laughing until snorting. That definitely carried over into our last morning of biking. We started by sharing the we had left between the 5 of us for breakfast; 3 power bars, a pouch of raisins, 2 cookies and 2 cups of coffee. In Peace Corps sharing becomes an automatic assumption that is not even thought about, just done.
The Alabama song, “Dixieland Delight,” sums it up best with the phrase, “free feeling as the wind.” Most of the ride I couldn’t see a soul ahead of me. With fields on either side, giant trees and an ocean breeze, I felt so at one with nature, so at peace.



We made it to the ferry crossing by noon and had beers waiting for our ferry to the capitol and celebrating our vitory. 366 kilometers/228 miles/5 people/5 days/one country. The capitol was all celebration. Good food, draft beer, amazing people and a decent hotel= an epic way to ring in 2012.



Sadly that only catches you all up to the 1st of Janruary. My thoughts and hands are tired but I promise to write another entry ‘joonie, joonie,’ soon, soon. Get excited because the topics include Kristen and Lisa’s visit to Senegal, my brothers marriage, the Tambacounda Race for Education and perhaps a sappy bit about how I feel with my service coming to an end in just over a month.

Until next time…