I am a Preventative Health and Environmental Education Volunteer in Senegal (West Africa). My hope is that this blog will not only reflect the experiences and challenges that I encounter, but also provide my family, friends, and others with a new perspective of culture. I hope that my adventures will inspire you to think bigger and open your heart to the world around you.
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!
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)
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)
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. http://senegad.org/ 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!
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!