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!