Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Gem Sa Bopp- Believe in Yourself!

There have been times throughout my Peace Corps service when I’ve felt like I’m not making a difference over here. Then every once in a while, something happens that makes me feel like spending two years away from my friends and family is worth it. This past week was one of those glorious times.

About 17 volunteers from my Linguere area, and some neighboring regions, Louga and Saint Louis, (pronounced “San Louie”) all got together with around 44 middle-school aged girls for a week-long camp extravaganza. We spent the week at a university in picturesque Saint Louis. It was a week of tie-dying, campfire songs, educational lectures, sports, lots of theatre, and even a trip to the beach! I honestly don’t think I’ve been so exhausted.

I took two girls that go to school in my village, Aloucky and Comba. I’ve known these two for a long time now because they were both nominated for the scholarship program that I’ve worked on both years. Neither of them are actually from my village, but they both live away from their families to go to school there. Neither of their families have much money at all, but the girls are still in school! They are hard workers and deserved to have a bit of fun, and I think they had an AMAZING time at camp.

Hanging with my girl Aloucky

My other girl, Coumba
Getting our Education on...

As much fun as the camp was, there was a very strong educational component to it. The camp was entitled “Gem Sa Bopp,” which means “Believe in Yourself”. Each day of camp had a different theme. We started with Business Day, which included a session on banking, and a panel of university students who discussed what it was like to be in college in Senegal. Even though it seems kind of boring, the sessions were actually bit hits with the girls.

Girls getting seriously competitive in a banking game

PC Senegal employee Talla teaching about banking

Next came Environmental Day, in which the girls visited a local volunteers’ garden and learned about techniques such as compost, planting tree sacs (in which I’m a total expert now), container gardening, etc. Then, the big event of the day was that we took a trip to the BEACH!! We went around collecting garbage and explaining why it’s important not to litter (which is not a concept most Senegalese people understand). Most of the girls had never seen the ocean before, so it was adorable seeing their reaction.

Learning about compost! What fun!

Me looking like I know my stuff

Beach trip!

Holding hands to dip our feet in

Team Green getting wet!

Then was Health Day, which was eye-opening for us volunteers to see how little the girls knew about health. We played a nutrition relay game where the girls had to place certain foods in their respective food groups. Then, we had a female health worker come to answer the kids’ questions. They wrote down anonymous questions and the woman answered all of them. The girls lack of knowledge of health topics was astounding. It makes me appreciate the education that I received in school, as well as the more “open” culture in the US where children can ask health questions without being embarrassed or shamed.

Our fourth day was Gender and Development Day, which was pretty deep and focused a lot on the woman’s role in Senegal. The girls performed theatre (always a favorite over here), focusing on issues like abuse, girls leaving school, early-marriage, etc.

Our last day was Awa Day. I’ve mentioned Awa Traore on this blog before. She’s Peace Corps Senegal’s cross-culture expert and does AMAZING talks for Senegalese and American people alike. The girls absolutely loved her. She began by simply asking the girls questions about their education, life, family, etc. And then she delved deeper. She was talking about abuse and rape, why it happens here and how to protect yourself. She was even able to get the girls talking about these issues, which hardly ever happens. You could tell that some of the girls were deeply affected by the conversation (including one girl who began crying during the talk), which means that these kind of issues do occur in their lives and they have no one that they can talk to about things like this. As sad as it was, it was still great to see the girls opening up and talking.

Awa actually getting girls to open up

Such a celebrity

Getting our FUN on

Obviously camp was a fabulous educational opportunity for these young women; but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a ton of fun too! They were able to tie-dye, play in the Fitness Olympics, dip their feet in the water at the beach, perform theatre, sing songs at a huge campfire, and have a talent show. All in all, they freaking loved it.

Obviously we had to have a water balloon toss

So much fun!

Jenn and I got soaking wet afterwards

Toubabs tie-dying like pros

Our beautiful tie-dye work

Girls playing b-ball

We got to see beautiful sunsets

Dancing around the campfire

Equipe Vert!! (Team Green)

V is for VERT! (green)

Me with Aloucky and Coumba on the last night

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!

Now that camp is over and I'm able to reflect on it as such a wonderful and inspirational experience, I need to once again send out a huge THANK YOU to everyone who donated and made this camp a possibility. Thank you all so much. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without our generous donors in the US.

THANK YOU, EVERYONE! Love and miss you all. I’ve been having major issues with my cell phone lately receiving any calls/texts from the US. But I’m alive and in peace only, so no worries. Love you!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back in the Saddle Again

As usual, it’s been a while since my last entry… and quite a lot’s been going on since my little sister’s baptism in July!

Ramadan #2

July 21st marked the first day of Ramadan this year. Luckily for me, I was only in-village for about a week for my second Ramadan in-country. Not that I was intentionally trying to skip out on the holiest month of the Islamic year, but I certainly didn’t mind that my schedule only allowed me to be at site for a week of fasting.

For a little refresher, the Ramadan schedule goes a little something like this:
4:30am- Wake up, eat breakfast (usually leftover dinner, like rice and fish)
4:40am- Back to bed
Day- Wake up, lay around a lot, nap, read, watch movies on my laptop, basically do nothing
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.)

Needless to say, the going without food and water (though I would sneak water when I could) is difficult, but this year I felt like the sleeping schedule was even harder than the actual fasting. I was mainly just really sleepy the week that I was in-village.

BUT the good news is that (even though I feel like I can barely say I went through it, because it was only a week) that was my *LAST RAMADAN! Who knows if I’ll ever experience a Ramadan again, but I’m glad that I got the experience while I was here. I definitely wouldn’t consider it one of my favorite parts of my Peace Corps service; but it taught me a lot about Islam and I’m glad that I took part in it.

*PS- I’ll now start to obnoxiously point out when I’ve experienced my “last” things in Senegal, as I have about seven months left and things are starting to wind down.

Out of site…

I left my village in the beginning of August to head to Dakar for my mid-service medical appointment. I’m happy to say that I’m actually two thirds of the way done my service now, but I scheduled my appointment then because I was just about to fly out for AMERICA!

And it turned out that my timing was excellent, because the day my appointments started, Senegal was graced with a visitor. Hilary Clinton came to visit and PCVs were allowed to go see her speak. My photos of the event are pretty bad, but here they are anyway…

Mrs. Clinton being introduced

Sorry these pictures stink!

America the Beautiful

After a long almost-year-and-a-half, I got off a plane in Dulles airport on August 6th, and was greeted by my super-tanned Mama and my Dad rocking a “Peace Corps Dad” t-shirt. I had an unbelievable two weeks back in the U.S.

I’m so grateful that I got a chance to go home, and was so happy to see all of the friends and family that I hadn’t seen in such a long time. Thank you to everyone who took off work or traveled to come visit. I’m so glad that I was able to see all of you. And for anyone that I was unable to see- I’m sorry! It was a quick two weeks, but soon enough I’ll be home for good and able to see you.

My trip ended on a lovely note. I was able to see one of my dear friends, Kristin, get married. She was an absolutely beautiful bride and I still can’t believe that everything worked out and I was able to make it home for her wedding. Congrats, Mr. and Mrs. Kliefoth!

Kristin and Bryan's first dance

I wasn’t even sad getting back on the plane to Senegal, because I know that I’ll be back soon enough. Overall, it really was an amazing time!

Au Revoir, Amerik. Bismillah, Senegal

And now I’m back in-country. Spent a few days in Dakar getting my toe fixed up (the zombie toe of last year struck again), then went to Linguere to see all my friends that I missed while I was away. It’s funny, but we all talk so regularly here that even spending two weeks away feels like a long time.

It was really good to see my Senegalese family again too. I brought back a ton of American goodies (simple things like pencils, baby powder, a baseball cap, and photos), and they LOVED them. Here’s my new baby sis in a her new hat and socks.

Styling sister

She's not too happy, but Mom loves it

Right now, I’m in Linguere for the weekend because one of our wonderful Linguere volunteers, Abby, has decided that instead of leaving after her two years of service that she’s going to extend (yay!!). This weekend, she’s packing up and heading to bigger and brighter things in Thies, the city where we have our training center. So while we will be sad to see her leave the Linguere area, we’re definitely happy she’ll only be a few hours away, versus a plan ride away.

I’m really excited because the girls’ camp that I’ve been writing so much about is finally approaching! I’ll definitely write a good entry about the camp once it’s over. Thanks again to everyone who generously contributed to it!

Alright, folks. You'll probably be hearing from me next after girls' camp. Love you all!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Baby Crazy

Little Sister #4 is Here!

Well, the biggest news in my life is that I'm a big sister yet again! The Diaw family has welcomed their fourth beautiful baby girl into the world on July 9, 2012. Let's rewind...

I had gotten back to my site on the eighth, after having been away for a bit for Senegal's huge Fourth of July celebration down south. The morning of the ninth, I was waking up and getting going with my morning. I told my mom that I was going to use the gas burner in the pantry to heat up some water... (I eat lunch and dinner with my family, but I eat breakfast on my own. I usually eat America food like granola bars or oatmeal for breakfast. This was an oatmeal morning). So I told my mom that I was using the gas and she said okay.

A few minutes later I went to get my hot water and realized that someone had locked the pantry. Kind of a problem because there was a burning fire on the gas burner in there... uh oh... So I ran out and saw my mom walking away from the house. I ran after her to grab her key and unlock the pantry. No big deal, but kind of funny since my mom knew I had the gas on. Anyway...

That afternoon, one of my aunts pops her head in my room and says, "Mariama, your mom had a baby," to which I responded, "What?! When? Where is she? What? BOY OR GIRL?!" I was clearly much more excited than anyone else. So I asked my aunt if she would walk with me to the health post to go see the baby. My aunt then told me that she couldn't go because it would be bad luck. This confused me because apparently it wasn't bad luck for me to go see the baby. My aunt then pointed to her own protruding belly and I learned that it must be bad luck for a pregnant woman to go see a woman who had just given birth at the health post. Ya learn something new everyday.

So I enlisted my little sister Seyni (age- around 5) to walk with me to go see our mom. We went in and saw her and met our new little sister! At that point, she didn't yet have a name, because names aren't given out until a week after a baby is born at their baptism. Mom looked good and seemed very calm, which is pretty much how it goes here. She said to me, "Mariama, this morning when you needed to get the key from me... I was having the baby then". And she hadn't mentioned anything nor did she seem even slightly flustered. Very cool and collected, Mom.

 A few hours old

My new little baby

A week later, the Diaw house held an ngenti (Muslim baptism) for the little one. I had three friends come visit to help represent the Toubab presence in new little sister's life. Shout out to Jenn, Mac and Bonnie for coming over for the ngenti and helping peel the thousands of onions! Sidebar- we were made to put onions on our heads to stop from crying. Interesting.

Jenn with an onion on her head
Crying onion-heads

Thanks for the sweat and tears, guys!

In the morning, the Imam (village religious leader) and a large group of old men came over very early and blessed the baby. Then her name was revealed: Maam Rama (pronounced like Mom). Then there was lot of cooking, as usual. Then eating. At one point, a group of women handed out pieces of fabric and money to the important people in Maam Rama's life. I was shocked to be presented a few meters of fabric! Of course, all of the women made me dance before I was able to take my present, but it was still really special. 

Just got my special fabric!

Then my mom made her grand entrance. At baptisms, the mom is usually MIA until the afternoon, when she appears fully decked out in a beautiful outfit and makeup (well, not really our idea of beautiful makeup, but still). My mom looked great. Also worth noting, is that the baby's outfit isn't at all significant, but they do get their head shaved and eyebrows drawn on for the event. Go figure.

Then that was really it. Overall, a pretty chill occasion for Senegal standards. 

Beautiful mama

Pretty hair

Mom and Maam Rama

Look at that shaved head!


Don't cry, little one!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Before I leave, I just want to send out a HUGEEEEE thank you to everyone who has donated to my projects lately!! I am so grateful for such thoughtful, generous friends and family! Thank you so much to Clare Hayner, Aunt Kit, Dug and Peggy Levin, my Nan, Aunt Susan and Uncle Charlie, Uncle Bobby, Aunt Anne Marie and my parents!

I am so grateful to all of you! And thank you to my love Kristin for the wonderful package that I received! 

As always, I love and miss all of you! 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Desperate Plea from a Poor PCV

Hey Friends and Family!

No time for a long post today, but just a small request... Check out this website for an amazing Girls' Camp that a bunch of us PCVs will be conducting in September. It's a camp for middle-school aged girls called Camp Gem Sa Bopp, which means "Believe in Yourself". I didn't get a chance to participate last year because I was just getting going with my work, but I'm thrilled to participate this year.

I'm planning on bringing a few of the girls from my village. It's going to be an unbelievable opportunity for these girls and for the PCVs involved as well.

So check out the website and (if you're feeling super philanthropic) make a donation. Even the smallest amount will help me reach my goal!

Thanks, Everyone! The link is below:


Every little bit helps!!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Trees, Birthday, and Continuing Girls' Education!

Greetings, Friends and Family!

It hasn't been too long since my last entry (Crazy, I know. Me up to date on blogging? Whattt?), so I don't have a ton to report on...

I'm Becoming a Tree-Hugger...

I've spent the past two and a half-ish weeks in-village, so I was able to get a lot of work done; which is awesome, considering I'd just been away on vacation. The big news to report from Mbeuleukhe is that... MY TREES ARE GROWING!!!!! My parents and my fellow volunteer friends in Senegal can attest to the fact that I have been FREAKING OUT over my 1,000 tree sacks that I seeded in April. I've been so worried that they weren't going to be watered while I was away, but luckily the guardian at the school totally hooked me up and watered like a pro. I can't even describe my happiness and relief! Now let's just hope that they keep growing once they're all actually in the ground. That will be the real challenge.

My wonderful, wonderful trees!

The front group died a bit here

Look at this beautiful moringa!

Let's Send Some Girls to School, Yo!

The other main thing going on in my world at the moment is that I began conducting a yearly scholarship we have here in PC Senegal, the Michele Sylvester Scholarship. Created for a former volunteer who was particularly devoted to girls' education, the scholarship supports nine middle school-aged girls per village, and is definitely the largest-scale project in PC Senegal. We focus on girls in the middle school age group, because that is the age that many girls start to drop out of school.

The scholarship pays all nine girls' school entrance fee for the next school year; and three of the girls win the "grand prize," around $30, to buy school supplies for the next school year. To send nine girls to school for a whole school year and to give three of them the "grand prize," only comes to $180; which seems like such a small amount by American standards, but is a huge amount in a Senegalese village.

These past two weeks, I've worked with the school in my village to choose the girls (3 per grade in the 3 "middle school" grades, totaling 9), interviewed the girls, gotten teacher recommendation letters, visited the girls' homes to access their need, etc. In July, I'll submit all of the forms to a committee to help chose the three grand prize winners. It's a really rewarding project, especially since I get to know and see the girls when I'm at the school; and in September, we hold a girls' camp for all of the winners.

Ndimo, one of the scholarship girls

My Mbeuleukhe girlfriends

She lives right next to my compound

Aloucky, who was participated next year

I'm doing well with all of my work for the scholarship at this point. The only thing I need to work on as of right now is fundraising; which is where all of you lovely people come in...

 If you would like to help support the lovely ladies of Mbeuleukhe in staying in school, please click on the link below to make a donation and MAKE SURE TO WRITE "PCV Fae Patton- Michele Sylvester Scholarship" IN THE COMMENT BOX! This ensures that the donations will go to the girls in my village, and if there is any excess money, then it will go in the general scholarship fund for girls in other villages. Thanks in advance to anyone who donates!!!

 **Make sure to write "PCV Fae Patton- Michele Sylvester Scholarship" in the comment box. THIS IS VERY, VERY IMPORTANT!!**

My First (and last) Birthday In-Village...

So I entered Senegal at age 22, and I just celebrated my 24th birthday in my village. That means that next year for the big 2-5, I'll be back in Americaaaa! Woo!

My birthday was verrrrry low-key because people in Senegal don't celebrate birthdays, so I didn't tell anyone it was my b-day. Jenn came to hang out in my village and we did some work on the scholarship program. I need to say a big thank you to everyone who called or texted all the way for the USA! Thanks, people!! It made my day!

And obviously I was missing my birthday buddies, Kyle and Dani. Can't wait until next year when we'll all be togetherrr! Last year, I had my host family kids film a video saying "Happy Birthday from Senegal," and they still to this day will randomly say it aloud. Recently my sister Bassine made a drawing and asked me to write "Happy Birthday from Senegal" on the bottom. So though she did not know that it actually was my b-day time, she was right on schedule.

"Happy Birthday from Senegal"

And I'll throw in one of Seyni on my ipod

That's All for Now...

So I'm heading back to village tomorrow. My host mom is verrrry pregnant so there could possibly be a new baby brother or sister when I get back! I'm really excited! Everything has been really good in-village. Now that I'm in my second year of service, I feel like everything is slowly starting to fall together and work is actually happening.

As always, I miss all of you and appreciate all of the love I've received here. And a very Happy Fathers' Day to all the dads out there, including my amazing Dad, Pop, and all of my uncles! Love you all!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Lovely Little Italian Getaway

So last time I blogged, I had just reached my year-mark in Senegal and celebrated it by planting 1,000 trees in my village. Needless to say, my friends and I decided that it was time to get out of Senegal for a bit and relax. So what's the best kind of vacation for a couple of poor, smelly PCVs? Why, a Mediterranean cruise followed by a couple weeks traveling around Italy, of course!

Part One: I'm on a BOAT!

My friend Jenn and I had been planning on going on a cruise for a while, and then two of our other friends (Nicky and Hailey) decided to join in! Obviously, we were looking forward to leisurely cruising along, seeing the sights and to all of the amenities of the ship: the plush beds, hot showers, pools, hot tubs, and the buffet. But, as per usual, Senegal decided to make the start of our vacation a little rocky.

First, Jenn and my flight to Rome (where we were leaving from) was cancelled. Then we had to wait about three and half hours to get our bags back at the airport. The next day, Jenn and I were able to get out and actually made it to Rome. But Nicky and Hailey's flight out (only supposed to leave about 45 minutes after ours did) was late, so they missed their connection flight and we have no way of contacting them to know what was happening. THEN, my bag didn't arrive in Rome but decided it would rather hang around in Lisbon. Normally, I wouldn't mind too much if a bag didn't arrive on time, but when you're leaving for a cruise the next morning and you are a dirty, nasty PCV who has been looking forward to wearing real clothes for months... you get a little sad about it. Luckily, the bag made it to Rome the next morning just in time for us to grab it and hightail it to the port.

So our trip to the cruise was pretty crazy, but the actual cruise was perfect. We went to Sicily, Kusadashi (Turkey), Athens, Crete and then back to Rome. I won't go through an entire blow-by-blow of the trip, but I'll some it up in a few sentences...

There is a lot of pollen in Sicily; not the best place for someone with allergies. Turkish men are certainly charming, and Ephesus is definitely worth seeing. The Parthenon is currently undergoing renovations, so it was kind of disappointing right now; but I bet at other time it's spectacular. Crete is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I would happily live there forever.

My girls Nicky, Hailey and Jenn in Athens

What the Parthenon looks like a the moment

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful CRETE!

Crete was definitely our favorite

We could have lived there forever

So lovely


We also managed to get a bridge-tour of the ship, where you can see where the captain works. Pretty cool!

View from the bridge. Not too shabby.

Me playing captain

Part Two: Viva Italia!

After our lovely cruise, we had one night in Rome with Nicky and Hailey and then they headed back to Senegal. Jenn and I decided to travel throughout Italy. We didn't get everywhere, but we saw some fabulous sights. Rome was first...

Jenn and I at the Colosseum

Trevi Fountain

After Rome, we made our way up to Florence. While we were there, we went on some amazing day-trips to Pisa and Chianti to do some wine-tasting! We were among lots of lovey-dovey couples and honeymooners, but Jenn and I didn't mind... we were too busy with all of the wine, olive oil and delicious cheese.


Whitest legs ever!

Gotta have a Leaning Tower photo

Pizza in Pisa!

Beautiful Chianti

With my vacation-wife, Jenn

We then traveled to Cinque Terre, one of the most gorgeous places in the world. Cinque Terre means "five villages," and the villages are situated around cliffs on the coast of Italy. Sadly, they experienced floods and mudslides this past October, so a lot of the area was damaged.

Normally, you're able to hike between all five of the villages, but most of the trails aren't operational at the moment. We were able to do one long hike between Monterosso and Vernazza, and then a little one from Manarola to Riomaggiore. That little hike is called Via dell'Amore, the Path of Love. People write or engrave their names on padlocks and then lock them throughout the path. It's a very cool sight, and the view of the water and houses from the path is beautifullll!

Riomaggiore, the first village. Lovely.

So pretty

Entrance to the Path of Love. Heart-locks.

The end of the Path of Love. So many padlocks.

Goofing during our longer hike.

Our last stop before heading back to Rome was Venice. Unfortunately we had pretty bad weather there, but it was still awesome seeing the gondolas!

Very cool to see this in real life

Just as awesome as you'd think it would be

Then we went back to Rome, checked out the Vatican and the Colosseum, ate our last amazing Italian meal and said goodbye to beautiful Italy (I think I've written the word 'beautiful' about 20 times already in this entry, but it's true). 

Now we're back in Senegal. One great thing that happened since we went away was that we reached the glorious half-way mark in our service, so we're on the downward slope now! I can't believe that I'm over halfway done my service. Definitely looking forward to what this next year will bring.

I need to send huge shout outs to my Aunt Anne Marie and my parents for their vacation gifts, and a thank you to the Edwards clan for the awesome package that I received when I got back from vacation. Loving it! Also, thanks for my dear friends Amanda and Derek for the b-day card and Kyle for the letter! It's always nice getting mail, so thanks!

And thank you to everyone who actually reads this and keeps up to date on my craziness over here. It's nice to know that people care what's going on :)

Love you all and happy belated Mother's Day to the mamas out there!