Monday, August 12, 2013

Home Again

Hi Everyone!

You're probably thinking, "hasn't Fae been home for three months now? Why's she updating her blog now?" and that's a valid question. I've been home since May 1st, and haven't touched my blog or uploaded any of the many remaining photos I have of Senegal. I just needed a bit of a break, but I'm back!

Arriving back in the US after 26 hours of traveling

Happy to be home!

Being home has been wonderful. It's been great to see my family and friends, enjoy luxuries like hot showers and comfy beds, and get back in the swing of things. The transition hasn't been the easiest period of time for me, but I am happy to be home.

I've talked to my family in Senegal a few times since leaving. Two days ago was the holiday Korite, marking the end of Ramadan. I called them that morning to greet them and wish them a happy holiday. My host mother said that they missed me helping cut the onions and potatoes haha. Typical Diaw family. When I call, they always give the phone over to my sister Seyni to say hi. Out of everyone, I definitely miss my little sisters the most.

Dad with Maam Rama

Seyni and Maam Rama

"Other" Dad with Maam Rama :)

Maguette, Maam Rama and Seyni

I've been living in Cape May since I arrived home and I've been working at a beach bar/restaurant. It's definitely a different pace than Senegal, and it's been awesome to unwind, work and spend time catching up with friends and family.

I'm still entirely sure what my next steps will be, but I'm happy to be home and thankful for all of the love and support I received both while I was away and since I've been back.

This may be the official end of my blog, unless I get a new international job and want to keep you all updated... but I don't Liz Patton would be too happy about that :)

In any case, here's a look at some of what's been going on since I arrived home...

Kyle and Fae's 25th Birthday
Crazy Robinson ladies :)

CMP 4th of July

Glassboro Ultimate Frisbee- Next Generation
Silly Frisbee kiddos
Taylor in CMP
Molly & Emma at the beach

Senegal reunion in NYC

Team Djolof in NYC
AU friends in CMP

Four Pattons

Meridith's Bridal Shower

I got some wheels!

Again, thank you to everyone for your love. I couldn't have gotten through my Peace Corps service without you. Love you all!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Left-Hand Goodbyes

My parents and friends in the U.S. are counting down to May 1st, the day that I arrive back in the States; but for me these past few weeks, the date that I was counting down to was April 18- the day that I left my village for the last time. And that date has come and went, so I'm officially moved out of my village- and just in time because it has gotten pretty HOT! That will be one thing that I will certainly not miss when I'm sipping on icy drinks in air conditioning...but anyway...

Leaving a place that you've lived in for a while is always weird, but I've been doing a lot of that the past seven-ish years (leaving home before college, leaving college, leaving the U.S. to go to Senegal), but this goodbye was definitely the most permanent goodbye I feel like I've ever said.

But before the mushiness begins, let's get a little lesson on how people in Senegal say goodbye... Here (and in many other countries), there is a strict "right hand only" rule- aka if you're shaking hands, eating, or handing someone something, it all goes down with your right hand. No left hand interactions allowed. Why is this? Because your left hand is reserved strictly for bathroom purposes. In countries where things like toilet paper don't exist, your left hand and a splash of water are used instead. Therefore, your left hand is your "poop hand," and it's impolite (and nasty) to use your left hand for pretty much anything else.

The one exception to this right hand rule is when you say goodbye. In Senegal, the custom is that if you are saying goodbye (a real, long goodbye), you shake with your left hand. Before leaving my village, I had never left-handed anyone here before. My last week in-village, I was left-hand-shaking like it was my job. People here tend to not get too sad or weepy when saying goodbye. And, as I've come to expect with this country, there was pretty much a standard set of phrases that almost every person said to me, so most goodbyes were exactly the same.

I heard a lot of "Greet your parents for me," "May Allah watch over you in your travels," "It will be lonely with you gone," "If Allah wills it, I will see you again someday," etc. Lots of prayers, lots of people telling me to greet the people of America, etc. I was often asked when I would come back, and to that the only real reply that you can give is "Only Allah knows". I told them that I would like to continue working in development and with Africa, so hopefully one day work will take me back to Senegal.

In typical Mbeuleukhe fashion, my village didn't do anything special as I was leaving, or even really acknowledge that I was going. It was me going around to people's houses to say goodbye, not the other way around. My last night with my family was a completely normal night. Nothing different at all. I woke up early this morning to arrange all of my clothes and stuff for my family. They lucked out and received a TON of stuff that I'm leaving behind. I'm bringing back little to none of the clothes that I brought with me here, so they hit the jackpot with that.

It doesn't feel real to me that I won't be seeing my family again. I still don't feel like I'm leaving. I keep hearing the same from other departing volunteers. I think the consensus is that it will feel real on the plane/in the various airports I'll be in during my insanely long travels back to the U.S. As unbelievably excited as I am to be going back to The Promised Land, I do think I may get a little homesick for my Senegalese family once I'm back.

The good thing is that I took a lot of photos and videos my last few days with my kids. The internet here is too slow to load all of them, but once I'm back in America I can upload a lot of that kind of stuff. I'm looking forward to that. Here's a little preview...

Messina taking a bath

Sisters playing with finger puppets

Maam Rama eating the finger puppets

Seyni cheesing for the camera

My babies, Maam Rama and Messina!

My attempt to take Seyni in my backpack :)

Happy Lissa 

Maam Rama in a pretty dress

Such a cutie

Seyni playing with M.R. as our mom naps

Love these girls!

As always, thanks to everyone who has sent any letters or packages to me the whole time I've been here. My host siblings have so much American swag now. They're definitely the coolest kids in the village. And I have really appreciated the goodies that I've received as well.

Now I'm headed off to Dakar to get all of my stuff in order. I have a couple med appointments to make sure that I won't be bringing any fun tropical diseases back to America, a lot of annoying logistical stuff (spending the morning in the bank to cancel my bank account, meetings to sign off on official documents, etc.) and plenty more goodbyes to say. Luckily, saying goodbye to other Peace Corps Volunteers isn't that sad because I know I'll see them again in the U.S. 

Also, a happy anniversary to my amazing Mama and Dad!! You go, guys!! And happy birthday to my lovely Mama :) So if you don't hear from me again in the next week and a half (which I honestly have no idea whether or not you will), I'll see you all soon in the USA!!!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Surviving my LAST MONTH in Senegal

Ladies and gentlemen, my time in Senegal is finally coming to an end. On April 30, I'll be hopping on a plane and saying goodbye to the country that's been my home for the past two years. Here's what's been going on lately...

In my village, Mbeuleukhe...

I've had some stuff going on in-village, and I'll fill you all in. I had my last site-visit from a Peace Corps employee, Daouda, in January. At that point in time, I asked Daouda if he could talk to my host father about hosting a subsequent volunteer, because he kept avoiding the subject when I would bring it up.

*Tangent-In Senegal, villages typically host 3 volunteers, then the village closes out. Villages feel very honored by having PCVs and generally go all out, showering volunteers with hospitality. As I was the first-ever volunteer in my village, it was assumed that there would be 2 more after me*

So Daouda talked to my dad and he later told me that my family still wanted to host my replacement, but they would live in another room than the one I'd lived in. No problem. All's good. Fast forward to mid-February at a Peace Corps conference in Thies- at one point, Daouda pulls me aside and tells me that my host dad had called him and told him that actually they can't host another volunteer. Sorry. So, Daouda had been in contact with other men from my village to try to locate another possible host family, but no one in my village was expressing any interest.

Imagine my surprise when I hear this news- a month and a half after the first conversation with my dad. Also imagine my surprise that all of this was going down 100% without my knowledge. I then scheduled a meeting with my Associate Peace Corps Director (who is Daouda's boss) and talked over the situation with him. He was under the impression that I knew about the situation and was actually trying to find a new host family for my replacement. Because Peace Corps employees live in Dakar or Thies, it usually falls to PCVs to do the village-based stuff like locating host families before a PC employee approves them.

The entire situation was a fiasco. The next batch of volunteers arrived in early March, so there was little to no time to find a new family. I was and still am extremely hurt that I wasn't informed about any part of this situation until too late. As a female volunteer, it's hard to be taken seriously a lot of times, but I thought that at least my host father respected me enough to talk to me about this. And the fact that the Peace Corps employee didn't even contact me to tell you about the change of plans so that I could look for another family was equally insulting.

So, consequently, my village will not be hosting a second volunteer. Truthfully, my village is very unlike most other Senegalese villages, which bend over backward to have a PCV; but, regardless, it's still disappointing. It's mainly sad for me because the hardest part of being a "first" volunteer in a site is sensitizing the village to the role of Peace Corps: why we're there, that we're not there to give them money, etc. First volunteers spend their 2 years getting the village used to Westerners and getting them ready for work projects. Every time I struggled at-site, I would remind myself that I was still making a difference because I was paving the road for the 2 volunteers that would come after me. So, obviously, I'm extremely sad my village won't be getting another volunteer.

On a somewhat happier note, I've been working hard these past few weeks to try to get my replacement put in a neighboring village 4k away. Even though it's not my village, they'll still be working nearby and may be able to keep doing the scholarship program that I've done both years. It's not what I wanted, but these things can be unpredictable.

I'm going to host that new volunteer on their "volunteer visit" in early-April. I'm excited to meet them and play the role of the seasoned, wise older volunteer and show this newbie the ropes. After that I'm out! So that's what's up in village... now let's learn about my Close of Service conference...

COS Conference-

Back in February, I went back to the PC Training Center in Thies (where I lived my first 2 months here) to attend a Close of Service (COS) conference with my group that came to Senegal together. When we arrived in-country there were 48 of us. About 35 of us made it through to the end.

The conference that we went to was really informative and helpful. They went over the obvious stuff, like what paperwork we have to fill out to end our service, travel plans, etc. But they also touched on things that I hadn't thought about before, like "how to tell your story".

Apparently one of the biggest problems that Returned PCVs (RPCVs) face is explaining their story to people back home. People will ask "how was Peace Corps?" and people either respond "good," or they launch into a 3 hour story and the person who asked regrets asking in the first place. We discussed how hard it is to try to put the past 2 years into words.

So, I apologize in advance if I either talk way too much about Senegal/Peace Corps/my host family/weird topics like bowel movements, or if I do the opposite and don't say anything. Feel free to tell me to either shut up or give a real answer. Here's an article about this topic:

They also gave us exercises to help us figure out what skills we've gained throughout our service, which included things like writing what our biggest challenges and accomplishments were. I thought you guys might find them interesting, so here's what I came up with:

·         Being so visible. No anonymity. Everyone can always see what you're doing. No privacy.
·         Isolation/loneliness- even though you're with your host family, you're still different. It can be very lonely.
·         Lack of control- you have very little to no control over what's going on in your life. You can't just hop in a car when you want to and go somewhere.
·         Having little free will- "having" to do things that are expected of you day in and day out regardless of what you want to do (like drinking tea after lunch every day)
·         Things getting lost in translation- it's hard to explain all of this to people back home

·         The knowledge that I made it. I lived over here for 2 years. I didn't leave early.
·         Integrating with my family and village. Basically being a family member with them.
·         Made life-long friends here, both American and Senegalese
·         Gaining confidence that I can handle pretty much anything now. Not much will be as difficult as there 2 years have been.
·         Grasping the language enough to have a personality here

Most Frustrating about Work Projects Here:
·         Being viewed as a young female who needs a husband, rather than an individual who is capable of doing real work
·         Having to completely adjust everything that I've learned in the US to fit this culture, i.e. things will start late, people will not show up to stuff, people will need to be reminded so many times about meetings
·         The slow pace of things that there's nothing you can do to speed things up
·         Having to come up with ideas all on my own. No one ever giving me one of their ideas to work from

Most Rewarding about Work Projects Here:
·         How the smallest accomplishment can make a huge difference to you. Every tiny victory is massively impactful.
·         When people follow through with work things, like watering trees
·         How thankful people can be when something works out

COS conference was really useful. And it was great to spend time with the people I came here with. I'm excited because now I have a close group of friends from all over the US and (the best part) is that we're all at the same point in life. Most of my friends back home have been working for years now or are engaged or married; but all of my PCV friends are the same place I am- going back to the US without a job, having been out of it for 2 years, etc. All of us are able to "get started" at the same time together.

That's all for now...

So that's all for now. Sorry if that was a lot of intense info. Now I'm in-village until April 18, when I say goodbye to my family and village of two years. Then I spend a few days in Linguere getting my stuff together, and head to Dakar on April 21. I spend a week getting med tests done and filling out a huge packet of paperwork, and then I'm good to go! On April 30, I'll be heading to Brussels, then Chicago, and then finally arrive in Philly on May 1st (if you're wondering why on Earth my travel schedule is like that, it's because I let Peace Corps book my trip back... had I known that's what my flights would have been like, I probably would've taken the cash-in-lieu and booked my own flight).

Thanks to those of you who have sent letters/packages/postcards: Anne Marie, Maureen and the whole Nixon fam, Kyle & Mer, etc. All of the things that you've sent have meant a lot to me. FYI- it's now too late for any more mail for me. If anything does get here after I leave, the other PCVS in my region can get my packages, so at least they won't go to waste.

Almost done! It's all happening!!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Family Visit, Last Gammou and the Future

Once again, I need to start off with a huge apology- it's been forever since my last blog post. So much has happened since then... my parents and friends Dug and Peggy came to visit, I celebrated my second Mbeuleukhe gammou (a crazy religious celebration in my village), and I'm actually starting to wrap up my time here. So let's do a little recap of what's been going on lately...

Patton Fam in Senegal-

This December I received my first (and last) visitors here! My parents and our family friends Dug and Peggy Levin came to spend Christmas in Senegal and visit my village.

Dug and Peggy arrived bright and early on the morning of the 23rd, and my parents arrived a few hours later, after a delay from JFK. I had two cabs waiting for us (and they ended up waiting about 4 hours because of the delay) to take us to a beach town about 40 minutes away from Dakar. My parents seemed delighted when the drivers helped each other push the cabs to get them started. Hey, Welcome to Africa! I shared the cab with my parents on the way to the beach, and they both commented on how hot, arid and dusty it was. My mom had a hard time breathing with all of the dust in the air.

The weather was pretty hot for December. I had been warning them ahead of time about how freezing it was here, but apparently my internal thermometer has adjusted to Senegal-settings. You try living in 100+ weather for months on end (without any A/C or anything fancy like that), and then cold season arrives and the nights dip down to the 60s (without any heat or anything fancy like that). You'd be freezing too.

We had a great Christmas in Toubab Dialaw. We met up with my best friend Jenn and her parents, who were also visiting. On Christmas Eve, the hotel had a performance of traditional African dancers. Then for Christmas Day lunch, we went to a restaurant on the beach and had a huge feast. They served us shrimp, chicken, amazing grilled fish, scallops, rice, onion sauce, grilled veggies, etc. It might not sound that exciting to those of you living in the Land of Plenty, but I assure you it was amazing.

Then we headed up to my village! After a six-hour drive from the beach, we arrived in Mbeuleukhe. It seems funny now, but I had actually been nervous that my little siblings would be shy around 4 strange adult toubabs. Oh how wrong I was. Everyone was so excited. The presents that my parents brought didn't hurt.

I was excited for the opportunity to get photos of both of my sets of parents. I know that they'll be photos I'll cherish once I'm gone. And we Pattons got the unique opportunity to get a photo of us in Mbeuleukhe with James, even though he was back in the US...

The Story of James the Horse- at one point last year, my host dad popped his head in my room and asked, "Mariama, what's your younger brother's name in America?" and I responded and then my dad left. Out of curiosity, the next day I asked my dad why he wanted to know James' name. He replied, like it was completely normal, "Oh I wanted to know his name because we have a new male horse;" so about a year ago the Diaw house acquired James the Horse. Everyone calls him James, except they pronounce it like "Jims"

There's James in between Mom and me :)

Dad, James and Me

So, though the real James wasn't with us, we were able to get photos of all of us with James the Horse. We all had a lovely time in my village, but after two nights (of very bad sleep for my Mom and Dad) in-village, we headed to Dakar.

The highlight of Dakar was our trip to Goree Island. Goree Island, just off the coast of Dakar, was used during the African Slave trade. My host uncle set us up with a guide who gave us a great tour... although the great tour was entirely in Wolof, so Fae the Translator worked some overtime that day. Everyone should go online and check out Goree Island. Very interesting.

The view from the ferry

Goree Island

The "door of no return"

Shackles from the slaves

Really cool sand art on Goree Island

The artist with the finished product

Sand art

Our last night was very exciting. Right as we were walking back from our last dinner together, the Pattons and Levins were involved in a mugging! I won't go into a lot of detail. Let's just say that everyone got all of their belongings back, and we were all fine afterward. Needless to say, we all sat and had a much needed glass of wine after that was all done.

I had an amazing time with my family and friends, and I'm so glad that they were able to visit. I was also glad that all of the plans I made (i.e. transportation, hotels, etc.) worked out and that I didn't have any language/translation issues. Thankfully they all came to visit near the end of my service, because it definitely would not have gone as smoothly this time last year. All in all, it was a great time together- and the next time I see my parents, I'll be home FOR GOOD!

Dad's highlight: watching an axle change on the road

Mbeuleukhe Gammou #2-

January 12, 2013 was a BIG day in Mbeuleukhe. It was my village's annual Gammou- a huge religious "learning," in which basically everyone from my village comes back from wherever they're currently living (like Dakar or even abroad) to reunite and celebrate. My wonderful friends Jenn, Mac, Sarah and Tegan all came and braved it with me.

The day of the gammou began with the women cooking (we toubabs were given the job of peeling the skin from about thirty chickens), then getting our fabulous outfits on, greeting people, and drinking lots of soda. The actual religious learning happens really, really late. Jenn and I tried to wait it out and we made it until about 2:30am, but then we had to call it a night. I have no idea when the learning did eventually begin, but I was passed out by then.  I do know that all of us toubabs looked great though.

Skinning chickens is awesome!

Love skinning chickens

Looking cool with our soda cans

Toubabs lookins FIERCE! 

Oh how beautiful we are

The Diaw girls

With Jenn.. love our hats

Hanging out late at night

Just a Couple Months Left-

On March 9th, Senegal and I will share our two-year anniversary together. Time felt like it had been dragging on for a bit during the fall, but now it's flying by! Even though it seems completely unreal, I'm actually starting to prepare my village for the next volunteer that will live there after me. I was the first volunteer in my village, and Senegalese people LOVE comparisons, so from now on any newcomers to Mbeuleukhe will have to live up to their first toubab, Mariama.

I have a Close of Service (COS) conference in February, and that's when I'll choose my actual end date. I want to stay long enough to host my replacement on their visit to Mbeuleulkhe, so chances are I'll be out of here by the end of April. There's a pretty good chance that a group of us might squeeze in one more trip before we head back to the US; but even if that happens, I should still be getting back by early May.

I can't believe it's almost time to go. I know that I'll miss my family here, and that there are a lot of things that I'll miss about Senegal, but I'm SO EXCITED to be coming home! I know I haven't mentioned it very much on this blog, but living here has been a really trying experience. It's been hard. I'm so ecstatic that I'm approaching my two-year mark and that I still have (most of) my wits about me. I might be a crying wreck when it comes time to leave my village, but I'm definitely going to have a huge smile on my face when I touch down in the US!

And some shout-outs...

Before I go, I have a few shout-outs I need to make...

To my beautiful Aunt and Godmother, Cath- Congratulations, I'm so happy for you, and I wish I could have been there. Love you!

To my silly, soccer star Goddaughter, Tess- Happy 13th birthday! I can't believe you're a teenager now! I can't wait to hang out once I'm back home. I'll make sure we spend plenty of quality time together :)

As always, thank you so much to everyone who has sent me any packages, letters, cards, e-mails, etc. You have no idea how much it means to get something in the mail here, or even online.

Love and miss you all!