Monday, November 22, 2010

1 part of 3 Part Blog WEDDING!

This is a three-part blog that entails three big cultural events within the span of a week. All of which were spear headed with the birth of my niece, Averry Rose, back in the states.  A birth, a wedding, Tobaski, and a death all took place. These events, the experience of each broke me open and allowed me to reach deeper into a new understanding of this culture, it’s people and my place within it all. . A new moment of awakening was triggered within me as I took a ride on a wave of humility. This wave engulfed me in awkwardness as I learned to swim steadily to the surface.  The lesson was not as simple as I would have liked it to be, but diving into life never is.

The birth of my niece caused a war between excitement and regret.  I badly wanted to be apart of it and being stuck in the bush while attaching my phone to a tree branch to get reception felt like the last place I wanted to be.  It taunted me with questions and sucked me into a state of doubt.  I, however, had little time to embrace all the emotions I was feeling because I was soon swept into the madness of my host sisters wedding.  And this would officially be where my blog starts.

Day 1:
Mamouna, known as Mouna, has been my best friend in village. Her patience, love, and sense of humor has made my life so much easier.  Facing the fact that she would be leaving was sad. It meant no more candlelight girl talks, complet sharing, and morning coffee.  Upon feeling this sadness I was reminded of how beautifully life supports me. I can strongly identify those whose purpose has been to play a particular role, to help me discover something inside myself and possibly aid them simultaneously. The reality that I am never truly alone is something that requires some time to think about.  Even if our conversations were shallow and our true understanding of one another could not be expressed in words I am accustomed to, Mouna and I shared a beautiful friendship. One that will not end, but only change as life constantly does. 

The night before it all began, we spent the night doing Fudda “Henna”, talking, and laughing. Morning came and she was whisked off to Koun Kane for a salon makeover. When she returned she resembled a princess with loads of glitter, hair extensions, and colorful makeup. (See photo below)  A women (whose relation I am unsure of) took care of the cleaning and food preparation.  The day progressed as guests started to arrive.  It was a lot of sitting around, listening to music. Occasionally one or two women would stand up and dance, but for the most part it was a mellow celebration.  There were a limited number of guests for the first part of the party because our villages were busy winning the final match of the local soccer tournament.  After a costume change by our beautiful bride (picture 2) the dancing increased and I was given booty shaking lessons. I can now officially shake my Jayfunday (big butt) pretty decently.  The third costume change took place later in the night at the time all the kids came into the compound with their trophy cheering for their victory.  It was then the party began. The third costume change was into a white dress (pic 3)  A table was set up and everyone gathered to take pictures with the bride.  The groom  (my school counterpart) arrived and the two sat and enjoyed the celebration. I lasted until about 1am though the music and dancing continued well into the early morning.  I did take a moment to sit and absorb the moment. The more I watched the dancing (men and women separately) the more mesmerized I became. It was as if everyone was taken over by some music god and it was directing their every movement in conjunction with those around them. It was an incredible outer body experience as the beat of music vibrated through my entire being. I felt so alive, and yet so alone.

One of the most difficult parts of this whole experience was understanding where I belonged.  Sure Mouna and I were friends and I had a matching complet with my other sisters, but I was, and still am an outsider.  No matter how long I spend learning the language, eating their food, and immersing in their culture, I will always be a foreigner.  I often forget I don’t belong because my family is so wonderful and most of the time I feel at home, but in moments like this the reality of it hits me hard. It is in these times that I long to feel normal.  It is moments like this that I am reminded how strong I have become. It is then that I realize this strength must be used to fight the weakness that summons me to battle.

Day 2:

The ceremony continues the following mid-morning and is initiated with the beating of the Tam-Tam’s (drums). Today is no longer a time for joy and happiness for there are very few smiles. Instead there are tears and looks of sadness. A very strange experience which leaves the outsider unsure of how to be.  Do I cry too? Is that okay?  Mouna is bathed and washed clean of all her fancy makeup, hair and jewelry.  She is then wrapped in basic material and a white drape covers her head. She looks at no one, sheds tears and immerses in the sadness that she is leaving her home.
Out side the women dance and chant to the tam tam and then enter her room. The chanting consists of marriage blessings.  They then lead her through the village tossing rice as she finds her way to one of the biggest trees.  She then sits on a mat and one of the women does laundry from each room of the household.  (When asked why, the response:  “It’s our tradition” I am on a mission to find significance.

The day continues like such full of little things that are symbolic in a way I have not yet learned. I could try and guess, but it would be providing mis information to do so.    After lunch (greasy rice and meat) I took a nap, but was awoken to the tam tams and someone talking into the microphone.  (all electricity is powered by a generator). The Marabou (Ihman or spiritual leader) talks for about a half hour about the history of the family.  I could not understand much due to the rapid pace in which he talked.  There is more Tam Tam’s and then all her baggage and gifts are brought out in front of the guests.  They count each meter of material and show it to everyone. (Material is usually the gift of choice)  Then they prepare all the bowls, spoons, pots, pans, etc that she will be taking with her (some gifts, but mostly purchased by my host mother). They wrap up everything in Gourds.  Each Gourd has some type of gain in it.
This takes a couple of hours and then a prayer is said and all the women drink a spoonful of fresh cow milk. Mouna retreats to the room but then reappears to be bathed  (still in pagne) in front of everyone.  She is then wrapped in new material (to tell you the truth looks exactly the same) Then dinner is served. All the men gather around the Ihman on mats.  This is the official giving away of the bride. He asks the father and mother to say something and says a prayer. The bus arrives shortly after and It is loaded with all her stuff.  Then 30 of us squeeze into a 15 person van/bus. There is chanting, singing and clapping until our bus gets a flat tire and we are stuck on the side of the road exhausted. 

We finally arrive at the grooms house (in this case velingara) where we are met with singing.  Her baggage is unloaded and she is brought water to clean herself. She washes and then washed some type of cloth. Next  she enters the room of her mother in law. There were so many people that I could not see exactly what happens. Mouna is the second wife so next she enters the first wives’ room and is then led to her room.  We sit and they bring us food. It is about 2 am and everyone is tired.  We sleep like Sardines on the floor.

 In the morning her baggage is opened and recounted by her new family.  There is more dancing and singing. Mouna finally gets to remove the awful white cloth and dunks it into a bucket of water. She smiles for the first time and is then hauled away to the salon to become beautified once more. There is lunch and more dancing. She returns and then all the women from her home village leave her with her new family.   Her new life has begun!

I am exhausted after the 3-day fete.  No time to rest though for now it is Tobaski….Part 11 coming soon! 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A 13ft Snake and a Cow Party!

I returned to village one morning to find a 13ft snake skin being dried out inches from my hut door.  It took me a few seconds to comprehend what exactly it was and upon realizing this thing was once alive, a shriek of panic crossed my face.  My family, intently waiting my reaction burst to laughter. I came to find out that my brother had killed it the night before in the cow fields.  Following the slaughter there was a big feast in which the, once extremely, large snake was consumed. He was then drying the skin to sell  in the market.  I didn't have a camera to capture this event so I will leave your imagination to do the work. It reminded me of that childhood book I used to read "The day Jimmy Ate the Wash".
The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash

Following this whole episode, I was then invited to a cow party (direct translation) in the cow fields where the snake had been found. At first I thought it was a joke because my family gets a thrill out of teasing me; however when the women spent the whole afternoon pounding salt with leaves and Guava, I discovered something was definitely going on.  Despite my fear of going out into the land of snakes, I had to see what this cow party was all about. My family told me they were leaving at 6am the following morning, so at 5:45am I was drinking my instant Starbucks coffee (Thanks cay and mom) ready to party with the cows.  Of course, silly me, 6am really means 8am so at about 9am after a 3 mile hike, I was there. It was the first time I had taken this new road and I found it absolutely beautiful.  At times it became a river because of its proximity to the rice fields, but as we traveled further and further the scenery changed into a sparse forest where honey bees were busy working and the aroma of a sweet something was dancing in the wind.  Just as I was enjoying the peace fullness of the moment, I started to hear the moos.

It was harmonious and the closer we got, the louder it became.  My brothers explained that the cows  could smell the salt and therefore they were singing to celebrate. Once we arrived, we dug ditches that were filled with water and mixed with mashed leaves, guava, salt and a type of tree bark. It became a gooey substance intended to give the cows good health. After this was prepared and the cows were milked, they untied them. With in seconds there was a stampede into the forest   One of my brothers did a little dance while shouting at the cows. It was hysterical to watch and I wish I had a camera to video. After the cows drank, my brothers threw some other leaf salt mix water on them because, quote "it's good for their bodies".  One of the ditches happened to be next to a swamp and I think i actually witnessed quick sand. The cows started sinking and my brothers had to rush in to help them.  I was curious to find out more about quick sand so I have included a link to an article written about it.

After it was over they sat in a circle with their hands facing the heavens.  They shouted thanks to Allah and asked for the cows to be happy and healthy. I still don't know if this whole event was the result of the snake being found or just a coincidence, but it was all quite a bizarre and interesting day.  Seeing as I did not run into a relative of the dead snake next to my hut it didn't end too badly.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Part 3 of 3 Circumcision Time

Part of my job is learning about this new culture and its exciting traditions. .  Lets talk about circumcision!  Right now, during the rainy season, it is the time when the young boys  get the small fore skin of their penisis removed.  Ouch!  I share with you what I have  learned based on information that was provided by fellow volunteers and then confirmed by my host brothers as well a BBC article which I have included.

This practice is a  Rite of Passage where a boy becomes a man. It is a tradition that has changed throughout the last couple of decades, but is still an important part to many of the Senegelese communities. The cutting takes place after Korite. Traditionally the soon to be teenagers would leave their villages and unite together to be circumcized. (An act that is much more painful the older you are)  As the boys healed, they would go through a series of trainings that initiated them into manhood.  I do not have information of what exactly took place but BBC does ellaborate a little more.  Previously, During this time the boys were forbidden to see any women including their mother.  IThis was explained to me as having two reasons. The first is to break the connection with their mothers and the second is that any other women may cause they boys to be aroused which would hinder their healing process. 

Today it has changed a little because boys do not wait until they are teenagers instead they can be anywhere from 5-11 years old. To represent this rite of passage, a person dresses up as a Konkoran. (photo above taken by Cara Steger) His costume is made of bark or yarn and when he enters the village all the women must hide and throw money under the door. (money is later used to buy lunch for the boys). The boys who have been circumcized can interact with him and do not fear him while the ones who have not hide away with the women.  The boy's spirits are thought to be vulnerable so part of the Konkoran's job is to patrol the village and protect them from any evil spirits that may be trying to hurt them.  There was no KonKoran in my actual village, nor did the boys leave. Instead they stayed in their houses. I did however see a KonKoran in Kun Kane along with many boys who had travelled in from their villages to stay for their healing period.     They wear white robes (as shown above) and eat lunch together out of a special bowl decorated by their mothers.   For their mothers, this also symbolizes a significant moment in their lives.  From this moment on they are no longer allowed to discipline their sons. This means when the boys get in trouble it will be a male who takes care of them; ie: no longer can a mother hit her son.  To represent this they get their hair braided and put these beeded type of ornaments in their hair. They leave it in for the first week or so. I was unable to get a picture of the mothers. But here is one of my sister Mouna and her son Boubalye.  After the healing period ends there is a big celebration where you give money to "new" men of the village and celebrate their manhood.

Part 2 of 3 Koritie and Soccer (Ballon in Pular)

Koritie signifies the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of prayer where no one eats or drinks from sunrise to sunset.  It was an interesting experience to partake in this tradition and I learned  a lot about the mind and how powerful it can be.  Needless to say everyone was very excited for the moon to re-appear, indicating that they could finally stop fasting.  The day my village saw the moon, there was shouting and hugging and lots of congratulating. The next morning I woke to find everyone dressing up in their fanciest outfits, heading to the mosque, and preparing an amazing feast.  I joined in on the fun and helped my sisters prepare lunch.  They don't really trust me to cook so i got to chop the vegetables  (whoo hoo)  Before lunch was served I joined my sisters in getting dressed up.  It was fun, we painted our nails, did our makeup, and yes they even convinced me to wear a wig.  (see pic)

After lunch, I spent the rest of the day greeting the village.  I went from household to household both blessing and getting blessed by every person.  The blessings are "May god grant you a long life" May god give you many children" "May god give you good health" etc. The reply to all of these is Aa Min...AaMin...which means "and you also"  It was a very happy day with lots of love and smiles.  Another interesting thing to  note is that all the children also go household to household but along with the blessings, you also give them change. "Coodie" It kind of reminded me of Halloween, but instead of costumes, its beautiful African material, and instead of candy, it's money. 

The week or so before Koritie, all the villages throughout  Senegal prepare for a national wide soccer tournament.  The boys spend the late afternoons training and working out in order to prepare for their upcoming matches. There are 4 teams in my village and they all play against each other. The best team then competes with other villages. I am not exactly sure of the details from then on out, but it is quite amusing. (especially because I got some soccer skill and that has become known to everyone).  In fact, one of the teams named themselves  Fatuamata Tobaka  "Fatu the White person" after me.  Kind of crazy but a little flattering!  The goals are made out of two wooden tree trunks that have a rope attaching the tops of them. Before the matches start the boys clear the fields with machetes, so the boundary of the field is marked by where the grass is not cut.  Some have cleats and shin guards, but most do not.  Some have shoes or jellies, and some play barefoot.  They have jerseys and the lines men use tree branches, but other than that it's a pretty normal game of soccer.
wood goal posts

lines man :)

PART 1 of 3! Frustrations...Staying Balanced!

As my adventure continues to unfold, I find myself constantly amazed at all there is to learn.  Everyday I am faced with a new challenge or obstacle that forces me to step outside myself and approach matters with a different perspective.  Because I am the first volunteer in my village, it has been difficult to communicate what exactly my role is. I am constantly faced with people asking or rather demanding money and it becomes tiresome.  The last 50 or so years since Senegal has embraced their independence, they have also received millions of dollars in aid. I am no expert, but living here I have somewhat of good idea of how NGO's  work and most of the projects initiated have failed to meet the needs of the people targeted.   Instead we have created a system, much like welfare in the United States.  People want free handouts and they often lack the drive or motivation to work.  I am generalizing of course, because there are many people who do work hard and serve to make their country better.  My point is to rather shed light on the fact that free handouts (in excess)  hinder a communities capability to advance rather than to stimulate it.   When people invest their own money or land, they are investing a part of themselves and are more likely to commit to making whatever it is successful.  They are also more concerned with taking care of it and making sure other people respect it.   Long story short...  Peace Corps attempts to use this strategy throughout the communities it serves, but as I am learning, people don't get it.   In my case, for example, they came to me asking for $600,000 to buy a new millet machine because the first one was given to them they felt no need to put money aside in case it breaks. Another frustration is that they don't want to pay the equivalent of a penny for mosquito repellent or learn to make it, they want it for free.  And we have no one to blame but ourselves for creating this type of dependency.

 Lately my biggest inner challenge is my rational vs. compassionate thinking.  Take for example the mosquito repellent.  It is rainy season right now and malaria is a huge problem. Despite the fact that  every person has a mosquito net and claims to sleep under it (thanks to a recent Malaria Prevention Campaign, see for more info),   mosquito's come out at dusk so nets give little protection when eating dinner or chatting with your neighbors.

  The last few weeks I have been working to promote a natural repellent made from leaves, soap, water and a little oil. It is a lotion that works well in deterring mosquito's.  My compassionate thinking (or maybe its guilt) prompted me to give out  the first few batches for free. I gave one to every household and then taught whoever wanted to learn how to make it.  One of the girls really liked it and decided to sell it for the equivalence of a penny.  I was really excited until I was bombarded with requests for more.  However no one wanted to pay for it because they claim to have no money. And I sympathize with them because right now is the most difficult financial time of the year. However rationally, if not getting malaria is really important to them, they will find the 25 cfa to purchase it.  This is the sort of thing I find myself tangled up in.  These people are my friends and I don't want them to get sick, but at the same time I do not have the funding or resources to take care of everyone nor is it my job.  In short, it is a constant battle to remain balanced, think clearly, and remind myself what it is I am doing here. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In Service Training, Goree Island and English Camp

It has been a busy month away from  sight and even though I have enjoyed the luxuries of running water, internet, diverse food choices and english, I am itching to get back to the calmness and quietness of village life.

My month started with a visit to Mbour to see my old host family and then a two week training in Thies. Training was intense and for entertainment sake I will not go into too much detail.   I now have new motivation to turn my backyard into a perma-culture dreamland, build some latrines and organize some health trainnings One night we ended up going to a hole in the wall dance club. It was in a completely shady part of town, but the live music was incredible. Here is a picture, hopefully i can get a video up soon.  The band is Waflash and the artist is Ma Sané.

After the madness of training,  I was fortunate to take a day and play tourist in Dakar.  A brother of one of the volunteers was in town so I joined them for a trip to Gorée island.  Gorée actually translates to "Good harbor".  After learning about its history, the name "good" is far from anything this place represents.  Between the 16th and 19th century, it was used as a transit island for slaves who were shipped across the Atlantic.  There is no need to go into detail about what the conditions were like because we have all taken history and know the terrible things our past entails.  It is now a tourist attraction as well as a place of residence for many.  The island is made from volcanic material and the coastline is absolutely stunning.

The next week was spent volunteering at a high school in Dakar at an english camp. This was by far the best thing I have done since being in country.  We spent a week teaching kids english through games and songs.  I got the chance to talk with the girls and ask them about their dreams.  Many of them wanted to be doctors, policemen, pilots, and teachers.  We talked about challenges they may face as women and how they felt about them.  It was really interesting to hear their responses and I felt lucky to witness such strong, intellectual, and motivated young girls.  We talked a lot about expressing yourself and being proud of who you are.  We got a bunch of magazines and had them design their own flag. We wanted them to create something that represented themselves. It turned out to be a great success and something I plan to do again in village.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with a school in Dakar, especially because it is so different than village. It allowed me to see the extreme contrasts that exist in this country and how different city life is.

Playing Steal the Bacon....It was Hilarious! 

Today is the start of Ramadan and as I prepare to re-enter my small oasis, I am a little nervous of the difficulties fasting may bring. I am also excited for this challenge and plan to embrace the spiritual qualities it has to offer. My own personal quest to be content and the gratitude that comes from this place will be my point of focus for the next month.  So until then my friends, Happy Ramadan!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An Island, a healer and a little more!

Someone related this experience to an Island.  An Island, that when you look closer, actually becomes a representation of your life. I am on a journey and discovering the beauty that makes this island radiate.  Each flower, stem, and leaf has a purpose and though it seems like they have been hidden for a long time, they now seem to be blooming full force.  Sometimes the thorns are not so fun to find, but they also have a place on this island and are an intricate part to its ecosystem.

The last week was a break through for me. I am not sure what made it happen but I, for the first time since arriving, felt as if things are starting to fall together. Life here is starting to make sense and I don’t feel so out of place or confused as I once did.  I am happy with my family and feel lucky to have the capability to connect with people on such a profound and intimate level.  I dance and laugh a lot which brings a lot of joy and a simple reminder that such things are important to appreciate.

I met one of the traditional healers from my village. This happened all by accident but ended up being such a beautiful exchange of information that I just have to share it.  I have been spending time going around to each compound and finding out how things work. It’s been absolutely fascinating and I could write a section in itself about the food production of my village, how companies exploit it, how hard everyone works, and how poor they still are. I could also talk about the programs that are being implemented to attack such issues. They in theory, have great intentions, but tackling such complex problems are quite complicated with no real concrete answers.   But I won’t go into depth because being pessimistic does not help anyone and there is already too much negativity in this world.  They are however, important to note because they do play a role in my work.

This post will be dedicated to the good things. They are happening and though they may seem insignificant, they do matter. Like having a conversation with the traditional healer.  He is roughly in his 80’s and spends most of his time lying on a bamboo shade structure or in his hut because his body is to frail to tackle the challenges of African life he once had the strength to. He is good humored and his face is filled with lines of happiness. It is a happiness found amongst those who have experienced life, accept it, embrace it and are ready for it’s end.  His grey hairs are few and decorate his balding head like tinsel on a Christmas tree. His wife sits beside him with missing teeth and black gums that remind me of licorice. Her days too, are limited but her presence is awakening. She holds my hand as she tries to convince me that I should marry her grandson.  They are both happy I am there, asking them about their lives, and curious about their work.

 They were gracious enough to teach me about Kankiliba which is a tea used for tummy issues. They also showed me another leaf that they grind and then use to heal injuries. This knowledge was taught to him as an adolescent from his uncle.  His children now collect the leaves and he prepares them and gives them to those who come seeking his treatment.

I have also spent some time working in the fields, which makes me appreciate massages and chiropractors a whole lot more. Once harvest comes and school starts back up I will get to spend a lot more time in the classroom working with the kids. I have some project ideas that the school director is really excited to work with me on regarding health and nutrition.  The health committee was finally changed and I have a great group of people wanting to work and educate their community. As the Pulaar’s say “seda seda” little by little!  As the discovery of my own personal island unravels so do the things that make life here special. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pulling Water

One of the biggest challenges is getting water from the Well. It seems
so simple right? Put the bucket into the water and pull it out.  I
think it is some sick joke because it does not work like that. There
is this technique to flicking the rope to get the bucket to turn over.
I cannot tell you how frustrating this process is. After about attempt
number 15 someone usually comes over laughing and does it with one
flick.  The worst is laundry day because not only does doing laundry
take forever by hand, but also I have to get 6 buckets of water! That
is 6 times of trying to fill up the bucket. Then if you add water for
gardening or oh man. It's like all I do all day is pull
water.   My family also thinks I am crazy because after I pull the
water I filter it and bleach it.  You too may find this strange,
however you may change your mind when I tell you a bat flew out of the
well the other night.  Yes, no joke!  A BAT!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

5 Top Pulaa Sounds!

I am on a mission to not only master the Pulaar language, but to perfect the ridiculous sounds that accompany it.   This was inspired the other day over Cosan and Lycherie.  I was making  fun of my brothers and told the five things that make them Senegalese.

# 1 Saying Yes with a click, a double click.
#2  A High pitch, short "Aie" sound that is in response to something exciting.  Example,  someone almost scoring a goal.
#3 The dragged out "Yo"when they agree with what you say..
#4 The "NAM"   "NAM"...and this continues, when they want you to eat more
#5  The "WHYYYY"  usually used when stretching (similar to our mmm moan) and also used when they have a headache.

And there you have it. Top 5 Pulaar sounds by Jenae! 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Wedding, Baptism, and Tropical Rains

Wedding, Baptism, and Tropical Rains

My life in the village has been quite busy and I am constantly learning about new customs and traditions. Within the span of three days, I attended a wedding, and a baptism as well as surviving my first tropical storm. 

Senegalese weddings are quite interesting and with my limited language skills I did my best to observe the kaos. My sister Mouna (pictured to the right) has become one of my good friends and shares my fun and enthusiastic outlook on life. She attempted to explain the process of the ceremony. 
Day 1: The day before the bride arrives, all the women get together to prepare food for the upcoming festivities.  I have unofficially named it the “pounding party” because it is a lot of women laughing, chatting, and pounding. .  My site mate, Cara, and I joined in on the fun; but found our lack of arm strength and inability to keep a beat resulted in entertainment for the party.  It’s amazing how harmoniously the rhythm of pounding sounds. I am convinced someone should make a music video of it.  ( I did make a video but it takes so long to upload! )
Day 2: Along with continuing to prepare food, this day initiates the start of a never-ending dance party. Don’t ask me why, but they start dancing to the drums mid afternoon when it is hotter than you can even imagine. They dance to the drums in front of the house and in the room where the bride will stay. I think to create good energy! As the day moves along everyone slowly finds their way to the house of the groom and future bride.  The men and women socialize separately and eat Cheb or Lacherie.  (Or if you are me, you eat both). When the sun gets cooler, they set up a generator for cheesy DJ music.  The dancing continues until about 10 or 11pm when the bride finally arrives on a bus with her family.  The men of both families get together and talk.  It consists of lots of shouting. My guess is they are negotiating the bride price or something to that extent.  While this is happening, the bride accompanined by the women of her family sit and wait. The bride wears white and her face is hidden behind a thick and lacy material. I wanted to take a picture, but I did not get a chance.  After the negotiation finishes they take the bride to her room. She stays there with the women of her family while the dancing continues until 3 or 4 in the morning.
Day 3:  I was so tired from dancing all night that I only returned to greet people and eat lunch. This day is also spent dancing while the bride remains in the room. Finally that night she leaves the room to join her husband in their new hut.  I didn’t stick around for this so I do not have too many details, but I am sure there will be plenty of more weddings. It was fun to actually look pretty for a day, though all my makeup sweated off as soon as I put it on.

The night of the third day, I experienced my first tropical African storm. It was so scary that I ended up sleeping in a room with my whole family.  The wind was incredible and the thunder and lighting was unreal. The next morning I spent two hours cleaning all the debris and sweeping the 2 inch layer of dust out of my hut. Not to self : when family warns “there is a storm coming”  shut and lock doors!  Here is a picture I took right before the storm. It was pretty erie and I really love the lighting.

After the storm, I attended a baptism for my neighbor. It is customary to bring soap or money so I gave the mother soap and got to hold the baby. It was so tiny, only 3 days old.  The way this ceremony works is all the men meet in the morning to decide on a proper name.  In this case, he was given the name Ibrahima. Once this is decided, everyone hangs out and talks.  (Akward times for the white person for I always seem to be the entertainment for the party) Anyways the day is spent eating and dancing.  

Besides being quite the social butterfly, I am actually doing work, I promise!  I painted a mural at the school and am working to get a causerie about hand washing for the kids.  (picture below)  I am a little frustrated with the Health post. It turns out there is some controversy with money and medicine so I am trying to figure it out before rainy season starts (when illnesses are the highest).

 I have also planted about 50 trees and am excited they are starting to sprout.   I am looking to get watermelon seeds and plant them for the rainy season.  Gardening is sooo fun!!!  (a great stress relief) 

I am also working on creating a map of the village.  I did not realize how difficult it was to hand draw these things. I could sure use a hand held GPS and some GIS hardware right about now.  I hope to digitalize it eventually. I think it would be cool, geographers, let me know if you want to help me out with this.

Anyways sorry for such a long note. Busy times here! Lots of love <3
Until next time, Jenae

Friday, June 4, 2010

Made it through the Wilderness

*Have been trying to post pictures all night and its not working. I will try to post some soon!
Hello Friends,
 I hope this email finds you well wherever you are. Things here are good!  I am learning to embrace a life much  slower paced than I am used to. My village is great and I really like the family I am living with.  My host father is a cattle herder and owns an ample number of cows. I got to help round them up the other day and will be helping  milk them next week.  I have come to love these cows because they provide the most delicious milk, which after being left to sour is then mixed with sugar to create, what they call, Coasn.  It is then usually  added to rice or letcherie and, oh my, its the best!

  My host father is not only the village chief, but has three of his children living in Spain thus my family is a little more patron then others.  He is a very quiet and content man who is extremely interesting to observe.  I was watching him make rope the other day and it was absolutely fascinating. I am amazed at how the people function here and how they find a use for everything.  For example, after unpacking all my stuff i had some cardboard boxes. I told my mom i did not need them and gave them to her to throw away.  A couple hours later I saw one of the little boys running around pulling the box by a string.  Then the next day it became a trough for the donkeys. 

My host mom is a gentle giant. She is loving but I would no way want to be enemies with this huge Pulaar woman. She is the president of the women's group and holds a lot of ground in the community. I  got to accompany her on National Women's Day (of Senegal) where i met a lot of the local officials.

My host parents have 10 children aging from 9-30. 3 of them live in the village, 3 of them in spain, 1 in darkar and 3 in Vellingara.  One of the sons who lives in Spain has a house in Velingara where his wife and their children live. (accompanied by some of his siblings)  It's really nice and they have a TV. Which means soap operas with english subtitles.  I can't tell you how nice it is to watch TV after a long day of speaking Pulaar.  I am also addicted to the TV show GLEE which is apparently popular back in the states.  PC's have a remarkable collection of downloads.

So besides drinking lots of Cosan, my meals consist of laicirri, rice, and millet.  My family makes me eat so much,  It has has actually become a game.  Before I understood how to play this game I would  find my self extremely full.  If you say you are full, they laugh at you and say "no eat more you are too skinny".  Then I respond, "no really i am sooo full i can't eat anymore, my tummy is too big."  they say "no eat". i say "no". They say "take two more bites", i say "okay" and take two more bites and then they say "they were small bites take two more". It goes on like this for about 15 minutes.  So I have just learned to say "I am full" when I am about really half way full.  It works quite well.

I got to help with a vaccination campaign and meet the health workers in the two villages next to mine. I have been very stimulated meeting so many new people. They are all very excited to get projects going and work with me. Another volunteer and i are working on a bike project for the health workers. I will be emailing about that in the next couple of months. Right now my work consists of learning the language, adjusting into a new community and connecting with it's people.

It has only been a week, but I find that  going to sleep under the stars and rising with the sun is quite wonderful.  Though I could do without the biting ants, and scorpians running around the dinner bowl, I am leaning to embrace this new simplistic lifestyle.

Miss you all! Thanks for reading. There is so much more to share about my new family, but so little time. Hope to give you more details soon.
until next time,

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Boobs OKAY? No Knees!

Humans are a funny creation. I often find myself laughing at the situations that arise and pondering why and how things become habitual habits.  I thought it would be fun to share some observations that are different than what I am used to in America.  
            When someone wants your immediate attention they do not politely ask you something. Oh NO they do not, instead they snap and hiss repeatedly until you acknowledge or answer them.  I think most would agree that this would be considered rude in the states; however here it is completely normal.

# 9
            At first getting proposed to on a daily basis was a little annoying but now it is one of my favorite things because I have learned that telling someone NO, because they are ugly, is totally okay!  I love this and they think it is hysterical.  If they ask again, which usually happens, I tell them that men in America clean and cook and if they want to be my husband they have to do this.  And if they still say they want to be my husband, I tell them that I already have one husband but I want three.  One to cook for me, one to clean for me, and the other to do my laundry. Their reaction is priceless!

            In places with electricity, the mosque will initiate prayer time. This happens 5 times a day!  The people are so diligent about it that it amazes me.  They have a ritual in the way they wash themselves.  I actually learned this and was praying with my family at the pray before dinner. It was really cool to learn about and also to show respect for them.   You rinse everything 3 times. Starting with your hands, mouth, face, head/ears, right arm, left arm, right leg,  and left leg. This is to wash your impurities away. Then if you are a woman you cover your head and put on a long skirt. Then you stand on a mat behind the men. Usually the eldest man leads the prayer.

            Moderation does not exist here!  I bring a family a kilo of sugar and a huge package of tea. No joke, it’s gone by the next day!  There are no such things as left over, for you eat until its all gone.  If you try to say you are full, they say you are too skinny and need to be fatter.  “A falat reedu hewdi” –“You need a big Stomach”  or they say you need a bigger but.

            Greetings are the foundation of this culture. If you do not greet everyone individually when entering a room or a place, all hell breaks loose. They will give you such a hard time!  And greetings are not just hi, how are you! They go like this…
How are you?  --peace only
How are you? (phrases a little differently) –-Peace only
What’s up? –Nothing
You woke up? (for morning)  --Yes Peace only
You slept?—yes I slept a little
You ate lunch? –Yes Peace only
Hows the family—Peace only, good
Hows the work—Peace only or okay
Hows the sun?—very hott!
And it goes on like this for a couple minutes! With each person..back and forth!

            You share EVERYTHING! No joke!  A kid will be sucking on a candy and they will take it out of their mouth and give it to their siblings.  You buy someone a coke and they take a sip and then save it to share it with their family. It was difficult to adjust to at first, but I am starting to embrace it. And no I do eat the candy!   Also it is extremely rude to eat in front of someone and not offer it to them.  And if someone offers you food it is rude to decline.  It is funny because if you don’t offer food they will call you out on it.  “Cuamba, you did not give me your food”

            Showing your boobs is totally fine, in fact a lot of women are topless a lot of the time, especially if they are nursing. However, don’t you dare show your knees! That is a huge NO NO!!!  Your knees to your waist is for your husband’s eyes only!  Most women also wear beads around there waist. They are very sexual and not talked about openly with the opposite sex.

            Yes this happens in the states, but here people are not ashamed! I am convinced Senegalese are the best Snot rocketers. They may have possibly invented the talent!

            The majority of people eat with their hands!  Everyone sits around a big community bowl. Most of the time the women sit with the other women and children and the men sit with the men.  Before a meal they put a bowl of water out. Everyone sticks there hands in the water to rinse them.  No Joke! The water will be brown and people still wash them, with no soap!  Germ Heaven, to say the least! It would not be so bad if, # 1 did not happen!

            There is no toilet paper, instead pot that looks like a tea kettle filled with water.  You go to the bathroom by squatting over a hole  (a lot of people just piss outside)  When finished, you use your right hand to hold the kettle and rinse yourself, using your left hand to wipe.  Then you rinse with water!  Soap is a difficult concept!  My  biggest challenge is to convey the importance of using it.   However, you don’t eat, drink or shake hands with your left hand. If you do so, you are thought to be possessed. 

The last week was a break through week for me!  I stayed behind an extra week, in Mbour, to work on my language and I can officially admit that I am now able to communicate at a decent level. I am nowhere near mastering this language, but I can, with confidence, stand my ground. I feel very content and look forward to the next week of officially installing into my village.  It feels like I have  been waiting for this moment for way tooo long. It’s finally here! KOLDA…here I come!  

Friday, May 14, 2010

"I am a part of all that I have met"

My last week in Mbour was quite an emotional one.  I experienced the beauty of connection and how bitter sweet it is to say goodbye.  We express ourselves through words, yet the power of connecting beyond and without them is absolutely amazing. (My Pulaar is improving, but communicating is still limited)  I lived with this family for two months and throughout this time I was awakened to Senegalese culture. I shared many akward moments, most of the time resulting in laughter and smiles. I was constantly greeted with warm hearts and lots of love. 

It was strange because I did not come to fully understand the depth of my connection with these people until it came time to say goodbye.  It was really sad as I started to realize that I would no longer be eating cheb with the ladies,  helping my sister study, or dancing by moonlight during the blackouts.  My appreciation for them was also overwhelming and I felt the need to thank them somehow. 
Kelly, Wilma, Dave, and Myself got together to celebrate our last day in Mbour. We made Morringa Benyays for all of our families.  Morringa is a leaf that contains a lot of nutritional value and we learned in training how to better implement it into the Senegalese diet. Now I am not sure how healthy it is after it is mixed with flour, sugar and then deep fried, but it sure does taste delicious. They are very similar to donut holes but, in my opinion, much better.  My last lunch in village was spent with a lot of fish and Bissap juice. Here are some pictures of my family!  
Stay tuned for my next blog. I will be discussing the things that happen here that would never happen in the states. It should be fun, but until then!  Peace 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mangroves, Millet, and Mangos

Mangroves, Millet, and Mangos
For pictures go to my FB sight:

I will attempt to recapture the past week in a way that will credit this experience accurately. My adventures through the mangroves, while adjusting to a diet of millet and overdosing on mangos was a small glimpse on the distant, but near future that lies ahead.
Gambia was the topic of conversation that was discussed among us trainines in the van, early Tuesday morning. Each of us boiling with energy and beyond excited for the upcoming week It was the first time since arriving in Senegal that we were able to get out of the northwest and, in doing so, go through another country. Little did we know that an estimated 7-hour trip would turn into a grueling 12 in a half?  The first few hours were a lot of fun. We played scramble, sang Disney songs, and practiced our Pular with one another.  Our driver, a huge African called Camille, supplied us with a soundtrack of stimulating African music. As I let my mind dissolve into the beat of the songs, an amazing energy engulfed me. It was real!  I was in Africa and words couldn’t explain the surreal feeling of it.  I was sitting in the back of the 4x4 staring into the desolate landscape that slowly became more luscious as we headed south. I swear it was a like experiencing a scene from a movie.  My heart and soul were alive and I was dancing in a magical moment that was illuminated by the beauty that surrounded me.  I am reminded of a line Ben Harper sings in one of his songs.  “ I am blessed to be a witness”.  This past week I was a witness to a completely different reality. People, animals, plants, and things I have only dreamed of encountering faced me head on.

Continuing down the half paved, pothole road we slowly started to find ourselves surrounded by mangroves. I, personally, have never seen a mangrove bed so closely and it was an indication that the Gambia River was soon to follow.  OR SO WE THOUGHT!  As the sun increased in temperature, so did the number of people trying to board the ferry. 5 hours later, after sitting with no air conditioning and fighting to get one car length ahead we made it to the ferry. There we enjoyed the 10-minute ride (yes we waited 5 hours for a 10 min crossing and no I do not know they just don’t build a bridge.)  

We arrived at the Kolda regional house to find a power outage and 10 very hungry volunteers waiting for us. They took us to the local catholic bar (its part of a church and they are found throughout Senegal, also known for their cheap beer and food).  Every region where PCVS are placed there is a regional house were when sick of the village we can go to escape. It looks similar to a frat house but has running water, electricity (when the power works), a kitchen, and a library.  Because it is the hot season and way to warm, we all slept on the roof under the stars. 

The next day we took a 2-½ hour car ride to the area where I will be living. I am equal distance between Kolda and Tamba and the nearest city (which is more like a few building that have electricity) is Vellingara, a 30 K bike ride from my sight.  I stayed with Olivia in her village, which is 5k from mine, and we spent the week at health trainings, painting murals, and eating lots and lots of Millet.   I have never eaten so much millet in my life! We didn’t eat breakfast with the family so we enjoyed some good American oatmeal, but lunch consisted of non-sifted millet with peanut or leaf sauce and diner was sifted millet with peanut or leaf sauce. Each meal was shared with 8 other women so the quantity was not very filling. Fortunately Olivia has a stock supply of protein bars so we managed to survive. Maybe the one good thing about the hot season is the vast supply of mangos. There are mango trees everywhere and once you make it known that you enjoy eating them, every morning you are given a daily supply.  When it is 130 degrees outside, there is nothing like eating this amazingly delicious fruit. I won’t go into details of how you know when you’ve eaten too many, but lets just say certain things change color.

The heat was difficult to adjust to but I absolutely love how from 12ish to 5, everyone hides in their huts or under trees to escape the blazing sun.  Most of the time this is when I would take my second of 3-bucket baths, lay on the hut floor and fan myself.  One of the most fascinating things I discovered was the adaptability of the human body.  We as humans can be thrown into pretty much any situation and find a way to survive.  Learning how to adapt to the cockroach family that lives in my douche and the rodents the scurry through my hay roof at night, are another story.   It’s like I am on a two-year camping trip!

This blog is getting a little long so I will end it hear but not before I share with you my new name.   I am now named Fatumata Mballo after my host mom, who is the president of the women’s group.  She is a very powerful person and it is a good omen to be named after such.  I am excited to get settled in my village and start my work.  I have one month to go before that happens!  For now, my energy will be spent learning Pular.
Until next time

P/S/  If you want to be awesome and send a care package or a letter here is my new address. Anything from this day forward should be sent to:
Also if you send stuff, don’t list the articles you send, instead mark “educational materials”  and on the box write  “Dieu voir toute!” It means God sees all and will hopefully discourage people from opening the box!
If you are sending anything of value , out it in a tampon box!

Jenae Woodward
B.P. 157
Velingara, Senegal
West Africa

For care packages here are some good things to send, and I will love you forever!

-A variety of yummy protein bars (cliff, power , etc)
-A variety of Juice packets (lemonade, Gatorade…crystal light packs)  (These things are amazing especially when its hot and im sick of drinking water)
-good granola
-oatmeal packets
-nuts other than peanuts
-dried fruit
-chex mix
-mac n cheesse or top romon
-starbursts, skittles or gummy worms
-peanut m n m’s
-cross word puzzles
-yoga magazines
-pictures of us 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

To the Unknown

The energy that engulfs a person who it about to embark into the unknown is so strong that at times it feels like you are being sucked into a new dimension of reality. Learning how to control this rush and channel it into a practical and positive manner is a daily challenge.  Every moment is intense yet the survival of each second gives new confidence to move forward and embrace the obstacles. Taking one step at a time, even if it’s an inch, and directing all your conscious energy to that moment brings the most amazing freedom.  It is this lesson that I am constantly faced with.  I will not say it is easy, nor will I say I have mastered it though the glimpses of freedom that I have experienced encourage the continual effort.  Meditation, prayer, and yoga have become my lifeline and I am entering a new realm of discovery within myself. I don’t mean to make this sound romantic because it is quite challenging. There are many days that I cry and question my motives, ambitions and goals; however the moments that balance these out are so powerful.

The anticipation leading up to the discovery of our future sights was intense amongst all the trainees. We were blindfolded and left waiting, for what seemed like hours, before we were led to our region that was located with in a large painted map of Senegal on the Training site’s basketball court.  We were allowed to talk so we could tell each other where we were, but it was not until we took the blindfolds off, that we were allowed to open our yellow envelopes that contained the information about where we would be living the next two years. 
(see video link)

My site: Mballacoumba Thierno,   (doesn’t exist on Google)  
Region: Kolda 
Department: Velingara
Population: 444
Distance from Department Capital: 37Km
Language: Fulakunda and French
Ethnic Group: Peul
Distance from Paved Road: 0-3km
Religion: Muslim
Schools:  One French with 6 classrooms and one Koranic
Sources of Income: Peanuts, Millet, Rice, cotton, corn, and animal husbandry
Community:  (structures) Health Hut (since 2006) , school, storage room, millet machine
                        (Groups)  Garden group and women’s group
NGO’s nearby: World Vision, Paderba, and Sodagri
Main diseases: Malaria and Diarrhea
Condition of living conditions: ???? No information yet, still being built. (not sure how to feel about that) 

Here is a link to the malaria work that is going on in this department. It is really the only information I could find about this area.
We will be going to our sights next week to visit for a couple days and will have the opportunity to meet volunteers who will be near our villages. My closest neighbor is Oliva Kenna and according to some of the volunteers, she is awesome, I can’t wait to meet her.  I am pretty excited and know that this is the place I am supposed to be.  I have a great feeling about this and though it is scary, I am very excited.  One of my fellow trainees, Rachel, has her sight very close to me. We are both very passionate about encouraging gender equality and working with girls. Our intention is to start a soccer program for girls and possibly incorporate yoga and volleyball.  We plan to work with SENEGAD.  This is an organization that works with Gender awareness. It was started by Peace Corps but is partnered with the NGO 10,000 Girls.  One of the programs that they do is giving out scholarships for girls.  In the last blog entry I talked about my frustrations with the gender roles.  After finding out about this program, I am very inspired to get involved and work in this field.    My health assignment will be my main project, but this will definitely be my passion.   Some of the other work I will be doing consists of helping the local health post by encouraging baby weighing, vaccinations, and sanitation activities.  More to be said about these projects at later date! For now its about enjoying training (which is possible) and practicing my language.  Thanks for all your support, love you all!
Until next time,

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Dancing under African Skies

Dancing under African Skies

Daily routines are quite fun, here in Mbour. My favorite is “Mariam” the nightly Brazilian soap opera dubbed in French. Televisions are not uncommon for Mbour since it is one of the nicer (still a ton of poverty) parts of Senegal. It is also touristy which is a pain in the butt when trying to get a cab. Anyways, in the beginning I would study or read while the show was on, but now, I too… am addicted to finding out when and how Mariam will get out of jail.  My other favorite daily routine is the blackouts. I enjoy them because I get to sit outside with my brothers and admire the amazing sky. This is usually when we bust out some music and dance, well at least I try…they just usually laugh at me. Though I must say a neighbor of mine really likes Bob Marley so I have been trying to teach them how to dance like a Rasta-man (because I totally know how they dance…right) 

I celebrated my three-week mark here in Senegal with a beautiful full moon or Lewru (as you would say in Pular). It is crazy to think a month ago I was celebrating the full moon with my sister, Robb and some friends in my parent’s backyard. It feels like months since that has happened! I feel very distant from home and at times and it is difficult.  I have to remind myself that I have 2 more years to go, which is an insane thought.  Though I am adapting to the fish and rice, no toilet paper, and gender inequality lifestyle, I feel incredibly fortunate to have come from such an amazing place. The opportunities that Americans have are un describable to someone who lives here. I often question why I was able to grow up in a place where seeing a doctor was a 10 minute drive away and yet people here don’t ever get the opportunity to see one and things like diarrhea (not even a problem in the states) is one of the main causes of infant death.   It’s a thought I wrestle with often and something I won’t ever understand.

Speaking of things I don’t understand, one of the most challenging things I have dealt with is the gender roles. I don’t particularly fit into the male or female category because I have much more power than your average Senegalese woman, yet I too am a woman.  Having multiple wives is not uncommon, though my family just has one.  The women of the family are in charge of taking care of the children, cleaning and preparing meals.  There is nothing wrong with this; for woman are great caregivers and in every society this type of activity exists to some degree. However, for all the work they do, they should have some equality. I wont go further into this issue for numerous reasons, but it is something I am challenged with daily.  My sister, in particular, has taught me a lot and our bond is definitely growing. There is a definite balance to when to speak up and when to be an observer.

On a lighter note, I would just like everyone to know that the vampire goat killer may exist though cats are probably the ones crawling on your roof and waking you up at night.  Long story! Lets just say I don’t sleep very well and I have a crazy imagination though I am currently blaming it on the Methoquin. 

Language…language…language!  Still learning a language Senegalese style through broken French, with no dictionary, and multiple ways to spell each word.  Though after observing a 2nd grade classroom, I feel fortunate to even have the ability to work one on one with a language teacher. No joke one classroom has anywhere from 75-120 kids! Can you even imagine??? Not only are they jam-packed into the classroom, everything is taught orally because there is not enough funding to buy supplies.  Picture books? Workbooks? Reading?  These things do not exist!  When experiencing this, I have no room to complain! If a second grader can learn French then I sure as hell can learn Pular even if you speak in the past tense all the time.

There is so much more to write and share but I am getting tired, this blog is long enough, and I have a book to finish!  This weekend is Easter I hope you all have a wonderful one. It is not only Easter, for the Catholics, but also the 50th independence of Senegal. I have to say I am sooo excited to celebrate!  I even have a Senegalese ofit to party in style. (see photo)  Take care; lots of love <3 Jenae
P/S Happy April Birhdays.Everyone!!! .Steve, Sasha, Robb, Dodi, Maris, Eoin, Jamie and Grandpa! 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Home Stay!

The hour bus ride to Mbour was one of the most anxiety stricken adventures I have ever endured. What will it be like living with an African family? How will I communicate when I only understand two questions? What will the food be like? How will I manage with no toilet paper? What if they don’t like me? And the questions went on. I staggered off the bus water filter in one hand, first aid kit in the other, my beautiful positive poster under my arm, duffle bag attached somehow and my backpack full of material to learn and study. People
swarmed around me like I was exiting a space ship. I waited patiently as my three counterparts were introduced to their families. Then finally they called my name and a man stepped forward. My father? My uncle? My brother? I was not sure! I said goodbye to my friends and followed him through the sandy streets to the family compound and my new place of residence for the months to come. It was not a quiet walk by any means for groups of children followed us singing songs about the Tobab in their village. (Tobab =white person) 

I arrived at the compound to find several men, a few children, and one woman.  They greeted me and I responded with my two sentences of Pular.  A little French was spoken and they showed me to my room.  The room was spacious with a bed in the corner and a table placed under the flickering florescent light that illuminated the soccer pictures that were taped to the walls.  I was actually doing this! I was actually moving in with a Senegalese family.  My heard was swarming with assumptions, ideas and questions when I was led to a chair told to sit and presented with a bowl of rice, fish and veggies. A different man sat across from me and shared the meal. There was no talking, but only silence.  An awkward silence that presents itself in new situations where communicate skills are limited.  It was in this silence that we all were smiling and trying to pretend that it was just an ordinary meal.  However, looking deeper I could tell they were just as excited and nervous as I was.

The awkwardness would continue throughout the week, as we would communicate through hand gestures, sounds, and facial expressions. The fried fish and rice also continued and my ability to eat it everyday, twice a day slowly diminished.  In fact, after visiting the fish market and seeing the way the fish is handled, It is very unlikely I will consume it ever again.  (a story in itself)  Protein deprived I searched desperately for an alternative.  It did not take me long to discover gods greatest gift to PC’s…the one and only bean sandwich!  And yes it is only beans and bread, but it is the most delicious tasting thing ever!  I have not been able to express to my family that I don’t eat meat and prefer beans so I politely eat my half loaf of bread and sweet milk in the morning and then run to the bean corner before language training.  I then sneak oranges and peanuts to fill me up so I only have to eat a little rice. I say sneak because if you have an orange and someone else sees it you are expected to share it with everyone. 

I still have not figured out who is who in my family. I know I have two dads.  (we call our dad’s brother dad also)  one mom and a lot of bothers. I think there are 7 of them but many more come in and out.  Everyone is welcome in a Senegalese home and everyone is considered family.  My Senegalese name is Kumba Balde and slowly the children in the village are learning to chant Kumba instead of Tobab.  It doesn’t really matter either way because every time I was down the streets people run up to touch me or shake my hand.  One thing I really enjoy about this culture is the strong community. Everyone looks out for everyone else and if someone needs help there are arms everywhere to lend a hand. There is no sense of yours, or mine but rather ours. It is an amazing concept and one I think we all can learn more about.  There are always new faces joining us for a meal or tea and every night dozens of neighborhood children gather in our kitchen/living room to watch the cheesy Brazilian soap Opera. 

There are a few things besides the food that have been difficult to adjust to. It is the cold season right now but temperatures still go into the 100’s. It makes sleeping a difficult process, however it allows for amazing bucket showers. I thought I would miss American showers, but I have to say bucket showers are my new favorite things.  I am also enjoying the absence of toilet paper, which I thought would be a lot more difficult. It turns out that it’s pretty darn sanitary!

Another interesting aspect of my village is the mosque.   They not only pray 5 times a day over the loud speaker but it starts at 530 am and is right behind my compound.   It also seems like there is dancing and singing all night long. I have yet to figure out what it is exactly, but it is loud!  It doesn’t bother me too much, but is something I am trying to adjust to.

Training is going well. I am learning a lot and it is overwhelming at times.  We are working with the local school building a garden and observing how the hospital works. I also learned how to make mud stoves, which is awesome.  I am very excited to find out the exact location I will be in for my permanent site. Our program is one of the best in the Peace Corps and the goals we have for the next two years are extremely inspiring. Our work focuses on working with communities to meet their needs.  It is cool because we are not implementing what we think will work but rather help them with the goals they set for themselves. I could go on forever, but I think this blog is long enough! Goodbye until next time!

P/S please dont give me crap for  spelling/grammar errors it is 3 am and i don't have time to edit!

To see more photos check out facebook: