Friday, September 9, 2011

Special 6th Month Anniversary Update

As of today, I've been in Senegal for 6 months, so I thought it would be appropriate to do a special double entry.

Part 1- Dear Senegal, Happy Anniversary

Dear Senegal,

On this, our 6th month anniversary, I'd like to reflect on this past half-year and think about all of the things that I've learned, experienced, gotten better at, gotten worse at, miss about America, etc.

*Top 10 Things Senegal has Taught Me-
1) They aren't joking around when they say "hot season"
Seriously, staph infections are no laughing matter
2) Don't mess with a staph infection
3) Every person you meet will ask if you're married, why you aren't married, if you'll marry them, etc.
4) Having an awesome biking playlist is essential
5) Senegalese people are afraid of frogs
6) Most people here don't understand the concept of sunburn/suntan lotion, etc. and think I'm very odd for applying lotion multiple times a day
7) Dogs here aren't nice like American dogs. Do not try to pet them
8) People here have a hard time distinguishing between different kinds of toubabs. I'm frequently asked if I'm Japanese.
9) How to fix a flat bike tire- something I've used many, many times by this point
10) Punctuality means nothing and if something is supposed to begin at 4pm, then I should arrive around 6:30

My mural for making mosquito-repelling neem lotion
*Top 5 Things I've Gotten Better at-
1) Bargaining
2) Painting murals
3) Washing clothes by hand
4) French braiding my hair
5) My Wolof

*Top 5 Things I've Gotten Worse at-
1) Speaking English (not a lot worse, but I definitely forget certain words sometimes)
2) Being up to date on current events
3) Knowing what day of the week or month it is/having any sense of time
4) Being reliable (here it's very common to say you're going to do something and then not, so I'm technically just going with the flow, right?)
5) Driving (this one's just a guess, but I'm sure that if I tried to drive today I'd be pretty bad at it)

*Top 5 Things I Still Need to Work On-
1) My gardening skills
2) Getting angry/upset about things that I consider rude, but aren't rude here (comparisons, telling you that you can't do something, laughing at how you do something, etc.)
3) Figuring out an effective way to introduce behavior change in my village
4) Patience
5) My Wolof

*Top 5 Things I Miss About America-
1) My friends and family (obviously)
2) Anonymity & Privacy- the thought of being able to walk down a street and not have every single person immediately zone in on you and yell at you sounds amazing
3) THE FOOD!!! I could go on and on about this, but I'll save it
4) The simplicity of traveling in the US. The fact that you can just get in a car and drive yourself somewhere is amazing
5) Being able to wear whatever clothes I want (not that floor-length dresses and capris are the bad, but it's very hot and shorts would be nice)

*Top 5 Things I'll (try to) Never Complain About Again Once Returning Home-
1) The heat- nothing in the US compares to this
2) Any technical difficulties ever (Oh the power went out for a couple hours? I can't get wi-fi in this one specific place? Not such a big deal anymore)
3) Loud noises- again, nothing in the US compares to here
4) Lack of choices/variety in just about anything
5) Being bored/not having anything to do... there are SO MANY things to do

*Top 5 Things I Have to Look Forward to in the Next 6 Months-
1) Seeing my parents and brother for Christmas!!!!
2) Meeting up with my fellow American friends for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and New Years
3) My village has a big celebration in January, so it'll be fun to see what that's all about
4) Actually getting going on my work now that I've settled in and know the language
5) Linguere getting 4 new PCVs in November!

And now some silliness...

*Top 10 Favorite Things that I Have In-Country-
1) My laptop and basically all electronics
2) My ipod, speakers and arm band (who knew a little pair of speakers that I got at Dick's for $7 would be one of my favorite things here?)
3) My wonderful, fluffy American pillow
4) My bike
5) Pictures all over my room of my friends and family back home
6) My solar charger
7) My hanging toiletry case (Again, really? This is one of my favorite things? But it's amazing!)
8)My Swiss army knives
9) My headlamps!
10) Everything that anyone has ever sent from America  (especially food, tissues, and other toiletries!)

*Top 5 TV Shows That I've Gotten Into Since Being Here/Have Kept Up With-
1) Dexter (started watching here)
2) Mad Men (started watching here)
3) GLEE! (kept up with- duh)
4) True Blood (currently up to date)
Don't go chasin' waterfalls 
5) 30 Rock (re-watched every single episode while here- yup, it's possible)

*Top 5 Best Flavors of Drink Mixes (I'm an expert now)-
1) Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange
2) Crystal Light Lemonade + Peach Iced Tea = A delicious Arnold Palmer
3) Ocean Spray Cranberry/Pomegranate
4) Propel Lemon and any Propel Zeros
5) Crystal Light Raspberry Lemonade

So that's where I'm at, Senegal. We've had some good times (riding a camel, 4th of July, the trip to the waterfall) and we've had some bad times (my horrible toe, every single time I've had to travel here, language frustrations) but these past 6 months have been most exciting half-year I've had so far.

My first camel ride

So happy

And now, part 2 of this special double-entry...

Part 2- Let's Talk About Ramadan...

Okay, so I have officially experience my first Ramadan. One down, one to go. So let's start with the basics... Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, and this year it was from August 1st-August 30th. During Ramadan, Muslims are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. They also aren't supposed to smoke, gossip, look at unlawful things- really every part of the body is supposed to observe the fast; not just the stomach.

So my daily schedule during Ramadan went a little something like this...
4:25am- Woken up by my brother to come eat
4:30am- Eat breakfast (usually leftover dinner, like rice and fish)
4:40am- Back to bed
Day- Wake up, go about activities, lay around a lot, nap, read, etc.
7:30pm- Break fast time! We usually had dates, coffee, milk, fruit juices, and COLD WATER!!
10pm- Dinner(standard Senegalese foods- rice and fish, rice and beans, etc.)

So did I actually fast during the day? Most of the time, yes. Would I sometimes cheat and drink water? Oh heck yes. The not eating part really wasn't bad at all because you were eating, just not at the normal breakfast/lunch/dinner times. But not drinking water...during the the desert? Not the easiest thing I've ever tried. And what really stunk were the days when I actually would go all day without drinking water, like days when I was travelling. It's not like in America where you could go into a public restroom and sneak some water in a stall or something... here you're kind of screwed. So, unfortunately, there were some days when I did go without food or drink all day long. Those were not my favorite days. Also, I didn't observe fasting whenever I wasn't in-village, like when I was in Linguere or in Thies at training, but I wouldn't eat or drink in front of any Muslim people.

So what was it like being a non-Muslim during the holiest Islamic month? Well, for starters, pretty much every single person I met asked me if I was fasting. And not just family and acquaintances, I mean random strangers on the street yelling out, "Hey Toubab, are you fasting??" And then, often, when I would tell them that I was fasting they would ask if I was praying too. I never quite knew how to respond to this, so I would usually say that I was saying my Catholic prayers. People didn't really seem to care how I was praying, just that I was observing the fast.

Helping cook my special Korite lunch... how delicious!
Ramadan ends with a celebration called Korite, which is the first day of the new moon. So to figure out when Ramadan's actually over, people look to the sky to see when the moon has fully disappeared. This year, the last day of fasting was August 30th and Korite was the 31st. I was really excited for Ramadan to end (not in a bad way, just in a I'm-so-over-fasting way) so I was extra-excited for Korite, my first big holiday in-village.

All in all, I think I was probably more excited about Korite than everyone in my entire village. I guess I'm just used to American holidays where there's a bunch of fanfare, food and drinks, family visiting from far away, etc. I started out my first Korite with a bike ride, a breakfast of porridge, then I helped cook lunch with some of the women in my compound. As dumb as it sounds, one of  the best things about Korite was being able to drink water during the day out in the open. So, most of the day, I sipped water and helped cook. Here are some pictures of us making lunch (I apologize for how gross our food looks here).

Little sibs playing with bubbles from the US (thanks, Mom!)

My sister, Bassine, in her Korite attire
There's a special greeting the you have to say on Korite, which means "forgive me," then you respond "I forgive you," so I said that to people all day long. The most exciting part of the day was probably after lunch when we had some soda. Then we chilled around the compound all day. Around 5pm I put on some sweet Senegalese clothes and walked around greeting people. (*Another apology- people here are really bad at taking pictures, so I often have a really hard time getting pictures with me in them) And that was pretty much it. We made lunch, drank soda and greeted people. Then it was back to normal post-Ramadan life.

My youngest sister, Seyni, cheesing for the camera

So now that all is said and done I can say that...
1) Ramadan isn't too bad when you're able to sneak water
2) Ramadan stinks when you aren't able to sneak water
3) I wouldn't mind taking a vacation during Ramadan next year
4) Compared to American holidays, Senegalese holidays are kind of a let down

So that's all for now. I'm off to Dakar tomorrow for a few days of celebrating our 6 month mark in-country, then I'm going to Thies for training the new Agriculture trainees. I'm going to be in Thies until around the 19th. I'm really excited to meet the new trainees and can't wait to find out which 4 are going to come to Linguere.