Friday, October 30, 2009

Going, going....

It's been a full week in Dakar, me wandering through the Peace Corps Office with my check-list in hand, marking off the various administrative tasks and getting the right people to sign on the lines. But it's all done now! I turned in my completed Close of Service packet, and now (well, as of November 1st officially) I am an RPCV. "Returned Peace Corps Volunteer", for those who haven't been using our strange jargon for two years. It is anticlimactic, which I suppose is to be expected. Why should I feel any different just because I officially finished my service? It's one of those things that will take time to sink in. But already, as I enjoy pizzas and sandwiches and good wine and short skirts here in Dakar, the village lifestyle seems almost dreamlike. Did I ever really pull water from a well? Did I walk barefoot in a peanut field? Did I sleep in a mud hut? I KNOW I did these things, but they are so unlike my current reality. The whole thing is rather surreal. Still, it is satisfying to know that I accomplished all the paperwork so fast.

This will be my last blog entry, since soon I will no longer be a rich white girl in Senegal...I'll be a relatively poor one in the USA. Peace Corps was a grand challenge. It was difficult and frustrating and rewarding and most of all eye-opening. I've learned that you can adjust to just about anything, and that learning knows no limits. My village was wonderful to me, and I won't forget them, though that might not translate to me sending gifts and money as they seem to hope. And I hope they will remember me fondly, as well. I will miss all the good friends I've made here, and the amazingly supportive PCV community. I'll miss the Kaolack hosue library especially! And the special feeling of being so different, so noticeable on the street or in the dance club or on public transport. I dreaded sept-place taxi rides and cramming into alhum busses, but I think I will feel nostalgic even for sweating in such crowded autos. It's just been such a unique, uncomparable experience! I know it has changed me.

Paris is a moveable feast, as Hemingway said, and I know that to be true. But maybe Senegal is a moveable bowl of ceeb u jen. And in the future, maybe, I can come back and feel again the connection that will always exist now, between me and Senegal, and especially with that little village of Keur Ali Gueye, existing discreetly and warmly in its spot in the Kaolack peanut basin.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I have left the village for good. It happened at 5:30am. I sat on the charette with all my things, moving away into the murky pre-dawn. I had spent the days previous walking around the village, saying goodbye to everyone, and popping inot each compound one more time. It was very calm and easy. People were appreciative; they said all sorts of nice things, thanking me for staying all two years and for the work I did and for being friendly with everyone in the village. For me it was odd to think that I wouldn't be doing that ever again. The whole thing hasn't set in yet, that I'm really and finally leaving. I have read over 150 books. I have attempted many diverse projects. The village is using hte latrines my friends and family gave money to build. My last lunch with the family was okra mafe. For dinner, millet with fish. They appreciated the gifts I brought. And it all ended with left'hand shakes (different from the typical right'hand shake. Using the left hand means you hope to meet again) and watching a horse trot along the dirt road into the dark. Now that it's done, I am having toruble thinking of things to say...this blog has gone way downhill! But leaving was bittersweet. I'll think about it for a long time. I am both ready and nervous to be home.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Applying myself

This is my last weekend in Kaolack! I plan to do the final village stretch for a full ten days, to say good bye to everyone in the surrounding towns that I have worked with, and to visit with everyone in the village before I go. I bought gifts for the family - school bags for the kids, fabric for the women, a nice briefcase and address book for my counterpart - and a bunch of kola nuts for the village elders. How strange, to be leaving soon....I can't quite wrap my mind around it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Close of Service - so soon!

I spent the past couple of days reviewing my service, via the writing of reports I have to turn into Dakar. It is strange to list, one by one, the various things I have done over these past few years. So many of my projects didn't last, but I tried a lot of different activities. And some of them - the latrines, of course, and the school paintings, and the vetiver grass, and the Bookmobile - will actually continue to improve peoples' lives for awhile at least, in whatever small ways they can. In three more weeks, I'll head to the capital for my final medical review and administrative paperwork. And then it's done.

Ramadan finished last Sunday, with a huge lunch of village "sauce". This is kind of like a beef stroganoff: chunks of meat, lots of diced onion, fried potatoes, and macaroni, all cooked together in an oily dish that we scoop up with bits of mud-oven bread. It was greasy and delicious! After lunch I walked around the village to each compound, to say "bahaalma ak" - to ask forgiveness for whatever I might have done in-between Korite's. This is a nice tradition. We did it after Tabaski, too, and I love the feelings of peace and goodwill I get from wandering around, greeting people in this way.

The rains are still not done, though they have tapered off a little. Still, not reliably enough for me to trust the Bookmobile on these washed-out dirt roads. I think the next time it goes out will be with my project replacements. Two year-in Volunteers are taking over the Bookmobile, and I think they're going to do a great job. Everyone wish them luck!

Some peanuts are ripe, and people are getting ready for the big harvest which is just around the corner. The beans I extended are producing like crazy, as they always do for farmers who properly weed their fields. One guy has four rice-sacs full of dried beans! From only a kilo that I gave him! Sometimes, little successes like that make my whole week.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


The rains are ridiculous this year! Here the millet, corn, and peanuts are nearly ripe, and it's pouring almost daily! All the dirt roads are now mud pits. In Kaolack, entire roads flooded up to the knees in places. Truly it's something. People are worrying now that too much rain will hurt the harvest, cause moldy grain etc. I'm worried because I want to do one more Bookmobile run before I leave, but until these roads dry up it's just not possible. So everyone pray for a speedy end to these crazy rains!
In more exciting news: I am going home in a month!!! Just bought my tickets. One to Paris for a week, then home to Seattle. It's something of a countdown here now, but I am keeping more or less busy, fantasizing about crepes and Mexican food all the while...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rain and Ramadan

The month of September is notorious for erratic weather, and so far it is living up to expectations. It is the middle of Ramadan, so no one in the vilage is eating or drinking anything from sunup to sundown. They wake up at 5:30am to eat a few spoonfuls of "funde" - millet porridge - and then wait until around 7:30pm to drink a cup of coffee, a glass of bissap, and maybe a loaf of heavy village bread. The days pass extra slowly for me, since there is a low energy level all around. I spend a lot of time reading. Crops are slowly ripening, but not quite ready to harvest yet. Meanwhile, the rains have made cell phone service uncertain, and Internet nonexistant in Nioro.
A few days ago something happened to add some spice to this Ramadan schedule. In the evening, rain and speeding winds started to arrive. Before long there was lighting, heavy downpour, booming thunder right overhead, and the wind roared against my thin aluminum door. I lay in bed listening to the storm.
The next morning, when I tried to open my back door, I found all my millet-stalk fences lying on the ground. When I opened by front door, I encoutered an entire tree right on my steps! The storm had torn it down. Several of my backyard trees were snapped in two, and the family's fencing was all plastered to the earth, the fenceposts pulled from their holes. But our compound was lucky. Some peoples' roofs blew away; some older huts collapsed under the pelting rain. Almost all the village trees had some damage. Plenty of people are now missing walls.
It took a full day to put up all the fences, clear out the fallen timber, and salvage bits from where they had been scattered. Still, Keur Ali Gueye was fortunate in my mind. Despite all the destruction, most houses are still more or less intact, and miraulouly, no one was hurt that I know of.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Coumba ting-ting

My favorite rainy season bird has come again! In Wolof they call it "coumba ting-ting"; I think it may be named the Senegalese fire finch, but I'm not sure. In any case, I love to see them perched on the dark green millet stalks. Every time I see a coumba ting-ting I can't help but smile. They are so shocking to the eye! Their head and breast are perfectly black, but their neck and sides are a vivid, almost electric red. They just pop out of their surroundings like neon. and when they fly; it is only short distances, with a funny jerky motion accompanied by trilling chirps. Whenever I go out to the fields nowadays, I keep my eyes open and watching for that flash of vibrant crimson in the millet.
Village life is going on as usual, ndank ndank. All my prep work is done, since at this point the seeds I gave out have either been planted or they haven't; the nebedaye trees put into the ground or else they have already been made into leaf sauce. So I stroll around, taking notes on the state of the fields that I'm monitoring, weeding a row or two when I feel like it. The kids stay out working all morning, and sometimes the afternoon as well. Soon, though, that will stop, because Ramadan is coming again. It could be any day now. They are just waiting on the moon to decide when to begin the month-long fast. Last year during Ramadan I painted the maps and murals in the school. This year I think I will just enjoy the village, and maybe try to get some end-of-service paperwork out of the way.