Thursday, December 29, 2011

Patton Family Takes on Portugal

Hello, family and friends! I hope that you all had a very Merry Christmas/great holiday season. My Christmas vacation has been amazing.

I flew out of Dakar in the wee hours of the 22nd and arrived in Lisbon around 7am. I was so excited to see my parents and brother! I was descending an escalator near baggage claim when I spotted my family, and my mom had her IPad open and ready to document our reunion. It was so great to see them again!

Our first day was spent catching up, resting and exploring our area. We rented a flat in the Chiado part of Lisbon from an apartment rentals by owner site. For our first dinner we enjoyed traditional Portuguese paella, prawns and SANGRIA!

On our second day, we walked around Lisbon. We trekked up to Castle Sao Jorge, a Moorish castle overlooking the city. My dad, James and I climbed up the walls and checked out the view while Mom hung out down below and took photos (which became a recurring theme throughout the entire trip). I also ran into a few Senegalese guys selling jewelry on the street. My parents got a kick out of me speaking Wolof with them.


Hanging out at Castle Sao Jorge

Pretty Lisbon

Mom on her IPad... she's obsessed.

Castle at night

Castle at night

Castle at night

James being a GQ model

Lisbon nightlife

We took a few awesome day-trips. One place we loved was called Sintra, which was the home of a few really cool palaces, and possibly the best meal I've ever had (shrimp in a creamy lobster sauce and the best sangria ever- aside from Doreen Higgins' famous recipe). We liked Sintra so much that after our first day there we decided to go back again the following day. And yes, I did force my family to go back to the same restaurant the next day so I could eat the same lunch two days in a row. Yum!

Moorish castle

Pena palace

James at a Hobbit's door

Just chilling in the palace

Mom and Dad being silly

Hanging out in the castle walls

Loving the BEST MEAL EVER!!

 Today was my last full day with the family, and we had a great day. We decided to do a private tour to go see a bunch of sites that we were interested in seeing. Our driver/tour guide was so kind, helpful, and easygoing. If anyone's planning a Portugal trip and needs a recommendation, let us know; because he was awesome. Our first stop of the day was in Fatima, a city famous for apparitions of the Virgin Mary seen by three children in 1917. I was kind of expecting a grotto-like area that still looked like what it would have been like back then, but the area now has a huge cathedral and a small chapel where the apparitions took place. We saw people crawling on their knees around the chapel as part of a pilgrimage. We were told that this time of year is quiet there, but that it's packed in the summer. I'm glad that we were able to see it.


Fatima cross

After Fatima, we went to Nazare, a beautiful beach town. Huge cliffs overlooked the water, which had killer waves and was full of surfers. Then we headed to Obidos, a walled city decked out like a Christmas village. Obidos was charming and has some delicious chocolate for sale. I bumped into another Senegalese guy selling stuff on the street and chatted with him. It turns out that he met my friend Sarah, another PCV from my region, the day before. Small world!

Cliffs at Nazare

Awesome waves

Such big waves!

Two Patton beach bums

F & J


Now I'm getting my act together to fly out tomorrow night. I'm hoping for one final amazing meal tomorrow, then it's New Year's Eve time! My friends and I are planning on heading up to Saint Louis, in the northwest part of Senegal. I'll let you all know how my first Senegalese New Year's turns out. All in all, my vacation was amazing. It was so nice to hang out with my family and it was so, so good for my mental health to get out of Senegal for a bit. And I was able to skype with a lot of my friends and family back home, which made my Christmas even better!

I was hoping that while I had this super-fast European wi-fi that I was hear the good news that my newest baby cousin arrived, but no such luck. Get a move on, Aunt Cindy! I'm dying here!

And HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MER!!! So glad I was able to talk to you the other day. Hope your b-day is amazing!!

Happy 2012, Everyone!! Love you all!

Monday, December 19, 2011

So I Guess I Dropped Off the Face of the Earth for Three Months...

So I need to apologize for the unbelievably long delay since my last entry. I'm sure by this point many of you have given up on me, but I promise I'm alive! Our internet modem in Linguere has been broken since before Halloween, and we still haven't gotten a new one yet. What can ya do? It's Africa.

            I'll start way back in October, where I left off since last time. October was a busy month for Fae Patton/Mariama Diaw. I was just about  to leave for Thies for a Health/Environmental Education Summit, when the Diaw household welcomed a new member, baby Mariama! These photos are from the day she was born.

A few hours old

My baby!
            Unfortunately I couldn't skip my summit, so I had to miss her ngenti (Muslim baptism a week after the birth). I went to Thies for a few days and learned about possible future projects, best practice guides for existing projects and, most importantly, I ate like I'd never eaten before. One memorable evening the seven member of Team Djolof (the people from my region) who were in attendance went to Thies' fanciest restaurant and shared seven different entrees. Probably doesn't sound like much, but it was AMAZING!
            By that point it was October 27th, and I had to be back in Thies on November 1st for a SeneGAD (our gender and development initiative) training. So instead of going back to site in that short time (which, if you understood travelling in Senegal, you'd know that that would have been insane), I decided I might as well live it up a little. I went to visit some of my buddies in one of the other regions, Kaolack. I visited my friend Aimee's village, which speaks Seereer, another of Senegal's many local languages.
            For just a second, let me indulge myself by talking about the different regions of Senegal. As I've mentioned many times, my region is dry, sandy, desert-y and full of camels. Kaolack was green, not as unbearably hot, and was full of massive pigs. They say the grass is always greener on the other side, and whoever first said that was clearly living in the Djolof region of Senegal. Just kidding though, I wouldn't trade my desert for anything.
            So after spending a few days being jealous of Kaolack, I went down to yet another region, Tambacounda, to celebrate the age-old American holiday of Halloween. Some of my friends and I went as Nice Cream girls. Nice Cream is THE ice cream shop in Dakar; famous among PCVs and any expats. The girls behind the counter wear colorful aprons and hats with ice cream on them. Really not the most exciting costume, but hey- I'm in Africa. We had a grand old time at the party, but I'll spare you photos because we all look like sweaty messes.

            Then I did a quick trip back to Thies for a GAD training, and then finally it was back to site for the biggest Muslim holiday of all, Tabaski! On the biggest religious holiday of all I did not expect to find myself participating in a mass murder, but that's exactly what I ended up doing. We slaughtered EIGHT sheep in my compound. Though it may seem weird, it was kind of fun and I actually took a lot of pictures. Again, I'll spare you the photos, but here are some of the non-bloody ones...

The women watching the killing spree

My brother Ada getting this poor soul ready

About to begin!
Baby Mariama in a the Tabaski dress I bought her

Little sisters looking great
Me with my turrando (namesake) 

My "beautiful" braids that hurt and itched a lot

After I took the braids out. I know I look great.
            After two days of eating way, way, way too much meat (especially for a girl who never ate red meat before setting foot on Senegalese soil), I managed to escape to Linguere for some vegetarian meals. All of us Linguerians came together to welcome our two newbies, Bonnie and Erin, into the family! I'm very excited to have two new members on the team, and I know that these two are going to fit in great.
            So then after about a week in-village, I went into Linguere to prep for a pre-Thanksgiving bike trip! A few of us from my region planned on heading "up north" for Thanksgiving, where the PCVs in the northernmost region in Senegal host a party. Some of us crazy kiddos decided it would be fun to try biking halfway there. And it was fun until it wasn't anymore. So instead of getting all the way to our desired destination via bike, we made it as far as we could and then took a bush taxi the rest of the way.

At least the view is pretty!

Bush taxi stuck in the sand. Of course.

Dirty, tired, and sore. But we're about to eat Thanksgiving dinner!
            Getting to Thanksgiving was quite the adventure, and the party up North did not disappoint. It was no Patton/Robinson Thanksgiving, but we did have turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole! (my fave), biscuits, and every kind of pie imaginable. So even though I was sweating my butt off and I wasn't with my family and friends, it was still a lovely holiday.

            After Thanksgiving, it was back to village to get going on work. One project that I'm very excited to work on is a correspondence program between children in my village and students in the US. I'm currently working on a letter program with some elementary schoolers at Eleanor Roosevelt Elem in my hometown, and a French class at Pennsbury High School. Here's a big shout out to Mrs. Royal and her students and Mlle. Kiryluk and her French kids! I'm so sorry that everything is taking me so long here, but the school system in Senegal is slow, slow, slow. As is everything here.
            I also got going on a garden at my village's elementary school, went to a garden training that my friends Justin and Abby were doing, and witnessed a huge fire in my village (everything was fine, they set it themselves to clean up hay). Lots of excitement in my life. And my family also welcomed a new horse, which they decided to name it James, after my brother... except they spell it "Djims" haha.

"Djims" aka James

Jamesy Boy
            And right before I came into Linguere to write you all this beautiful blog entry, I went to visit my bff Jenn for her village's Gammou, which is a religious event. It was actually really fun, even though they had the speakers cranked up maybe 200x too loud for my listening pleasure.
            So that's what's going on in my world. I've been trying to watch Christmas movies to get into the spirit, but it's kind of difficult when you're sweating, surrounded by sand and camels, and no one else around you celebrates Christmas. But luckily I'm not going to be spending Christmas alone. I'm flying out in a few days to Lisbon to see my parents and brother!!! I'm so unbelievably excited! I can't wait to see my parents and James. Can't wait to eat seafood and sample the delicious wine and Port and sangria. Can't wait to walk down a street and not have every single person scream out "toubab," ask me if I have a husband, try to charge me 4x the normal amount for things, and criticize my Wolof. Can't wait to speak English with my family. Can't wait to be called by my actual given name. So, basically, I'm really excited.
            Right now I'm packing, baking brownies for my buddies here, and getting all of my stuff in order. Before I leave, I need to send a huge thank you to my Aunt Anne Marie, Kathy Royal's classes, the Hayner family, the Park family, and my parents for the wonderful and generous packages and gifts that I've received lately. You're all so kind!

Happy Holidays, everyone!!!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Camps, Talks, Trees, and Sleep-Texting

So six months in Senegal came and went. I spent two great days in Dakar eating delicious foods and getting to know the city a little bit better. Then I went to Thies to do some GAD (gender and development) trainings with the new Agriculture trainees. It was nice meeting the newbies, especially since we're getting 3 of them in my region in the beginning of November. So here's what's been going on since my last entry...

Girls' Leadership Camp
World maps take FOREVER!!

After going to Thies, it was back to Mbeuleukhe to tie up a few loose ends (like finishing a mural of the world map at my local elementary school, which took me FOREVER!) and to prepare for our Girls' Leadership Camp. Nine girls from my village's college (middle school) were chosen to attend; so I spent a few days tracking them down, getting stamps and signatures on award certificates, frantically sending invitations out on bush taxis, etc. Basically the standard Senegalese way of organizing events.

Since Mbeuleukhe, my village, is one of the larger villages in my area, a lot of kids from neighboring villages move in during the school year and go back home during the summer. The girls who attended our camp were chosen based on academic merit and financial need, so the majority of the girls from the school in my village were from the poorer neighboring villages. So, the day before our camp, I had a few of the girls from these villages meet me in Mbeuleukhe and sleep over at my compound so we could all leave bright and early the next morning.

Then we were off to Dahra, which is a town about 40k from my village. We had a 2-day camp for the girls with lots of activities like motivational videos featuring successful Senegalese women, a true or false HIV/AIDS game, a guest panel of local Senegalese career women, etc. Kids here don't get to do a lot of things like this the way American kids are used to, so camps like this are a really rare, special opportunity for them. That being said, I think the girls' favorite part might have been at night when we screened a French-dubbed dvd of "Bend it like Beckham," but who cares.

The lovely ladies of Mbeuleukhe decorating flower pots

Showing off their English skills- "I love you my mather"

"I like my job"

Kim helping decorate pots

The second day each girl had one parent come and they were able to participate in sessions with our fabulous cultural liaison from Peace Corps, Awa Traore. Awa is amazing. She's able to really get through to people and the parents loved her. As the parents were doing that, the girls were performing skits about staying in school, living with AIDS, women's empowerment, etc. People here looove their theatre. Then we had the award ceremony where we gave out the scholarships to the girls. All in all, I think the camp was a success. (I promise as soon as the internet is fast enough, I'll upload a bunch more photos on Facebook- it's just too slow right now!)

Abby, Ann Marie and Justin showing the girls how real theatre is done

Abby, Ann Marie and Justin 

Abby, Ann Marie and Justin

And now theatre time for the girls



Justin and I presenting the Mbeuleukhe girls their awards

Yay awards!

Awa Talk and Tree Planting in Mbeuleukhe

I stayed in Dahra the next day to help some other volunteers plant some trees (and the highlight was that night I was able to watch the season premier of Glee- yay!), then I headed back to site. I had Awa come speak to the women's group in my village on Oct 1st about family planning, making money, the role of women in the family, etc. It's really nice to have people around that can not only reach out to Senegalese people, but also fully understand the role of a Peace Corps Volunteer; so needless to say, it was great having Awa come and talk in my village.

One funny thing about Senegalese people, especially Wolofs, is that they are incredibly loud. Every simple, calm conversation sounds like a full-on fight. So, it was funny sitting listening to Awa's talk because it sounded like the women and Awa were having a ferocious argument, then at the end they all clapped and smiled and thanked her for coming. I definitely want Awa to come back again another time, maybe with a group of men or younger kids.

Awa doing her thing

She rocked it as usual

And, one final work thing, I think I've finally figured out what I want my big project for my village to be, and it only took me 6 months! My village has a beautiful new lycee (high school) with plenty of yard space but no shade trees, (and ya gotta have shade trees or else you'll drop down dead during the hot season) so I'd like to plan a huge tree-planting event. Ideally, I'd like to write a grant for the project, begin working on the tree sacs in January, continue working on them throughout the year, then have a huge tree-planting weekend around the beginning of September. I'm hoping I could raise enough money to plant over a thousand trees. So that's what I'm thinking of doing as of right now. I have a meeting with some of the Peace Corps bigwigs in the beginning of November, so we'll see what the response is to this idea. I'm going to be optimistic and believe that it's possible for a girl who has absolutely zero tree-planting, grant-writing, huge village-wide event planning experience can make this happen. Go team!


So for some reason, possibly because the phone company is on strike or something, the cell phone reception in my village has been down for the past few days. The day before Awa came to speak in my village, I didn't have any reception at all except for about half an hour around 12:45am. I usually fall asleep in village around 9-9:30pm (I know, I'm lame), so when the reception came back my phone was going crazy with all the texts I'd missed.

Most of them weren't urgent, but one was from Awa's assistant, Stacy, asking about how to get to my village and what time the women were meeting for the talk; and I wanted to get back to her while I could. So I wrote a response back and kept trying to send it, but it kept saying "message sending failed," so I guess I kept waking up every few minutes to try to resend it.

Well it must have gone through at some point because the next morning when I checked my phone, the text explaining how to get to Mbeuleukhe was in my sent messages. Oddly enough that wasn't the only text in my sent messages. There was also a second one to Stacy which read "123 Leroy St. Sorry my reception's so bad..." So, I sent Stacy a real text and then must have sleep-texted an additional, perfectly-spelled, imaginary address (and we don't even have addresses here, just villages). But the kicker is that the text definitely wouldn't have gone through the first time, so I must have kept waking up to try resending it all night. Needless to say, I have no idea what "Leroy Street" means or why I was thinking of it in my sleep, but I do think my malaria meds are starting to make me very weird.

Currently Craving Candy Corn

Now, switching gears- it's October and officially fall in the US, a truly wonderful season, but Africa hasn't seemed to get the memo. It's still insanely hot. Almost as bad as hot season, but not quite that bad. Apparently it finally starts to cool down here around the end of November/beginning of December, so I'm very much looking forward to that. But until then I'll just have to continue melting and dreaming of pumpkin muffins, hot apple cider and candy corn. If anyone feels like sending anything pumpkin-flavored or any Halloween candy, please be my guest. At least we can still watch Hocus Pocus and cheesy scary movies here and feel like we're home. I don't know what I'd do without my Hocus Pocus.

So that's what's going on with me right now. I'm in Linguere for a few days catching up on stuff. Before I go, a huge thank you to my Aunt Cindy and Uncle Marty, Aunt Anne Marie, and dear friends Terri and Sophia for the amazing packages that I had waiting for me in Linguere this trip. Thanks so, so, so, so much! Love you all!