Leaving my small mark on Senegal

When I first got to country my fellow volunteers used to tease me about not wanting to get down and dirty and embracing the “tough” life of Senegal. In retaliation I told my friend, who is an Agroforestry volunteer, that if she found me a tree to plant I would come out to her village and plant it! I wanted to show people I could get down and dirty and I also wanted to do something tangible for Senegal. She agreed to it and then went about searching for the perfect tree for me, she found a fruit tree for me but she never told me what it was. She grew it from a seedling for me and took care of it by keeping it fed with manure (as much as I don’t mind getting dirty, I draw the line at poop!!) and when it got big enough to move to the ground she asked me to come out to village to plant the tree. I wasn’t sure if I could go because I had a little over a week left at site and I had to get everything packed up.   However, she texted me the reason as to why she chose this tree for me and after that I couldn’t say no. Here is her direct quote as to the reason for chose this it for me: “See its leaves come out in such a way that I am reminded of rungs on a ladder, always climbing up. This is the way I have seen you live and grow during your service and through the stories you have shared. You build up on the things you learn and your past, to push yourself to a new you, to the way you want to live your life. And the fruit, while it’s outward appearance is gnarly and black, when you break it open you find the sweetest, most tender fruit inside. Despite your tough attitude, I found you to be the most dynamic character with lots of love and a million ideas about the world, just bursting to share them with someone. The friendship I’ve had with you I’ll take with me forever. You are truly a unique individual that I am honored to have met. That is why I hope you still want to come out and plant a tree, if you have time.” So after receiving this text I had to go out and plant my sweetsop tree a.k.a. sugar apple which is a fruit that grows in tropical areas, and you can find it here but it’s not common.

This is the sweetsop fruit.

So to prove to all you may-sayers that I would never get my hands dirty, here’s a video of me planting my tree and leaving my small mark on Senegal!

So here I am with my little sapling!

Now she is safely in the ground and will hopefully become a beautiful full grown tree!!

And here is the video to prove that I was the one who did it!!

Planting my tree


The REAL Peace Corps experience

Entering this experience I thought, like most of you, that I had an idea of what a Peace Corps experience was, roughing it in a village while saving the world!! Looking back at mine time here, Boy was I wrong!!

Before moving half way around the world I thought “OK I’m going to Africa and it’s going to be hot and I’m not going to have water, but after some time there I will adjust and it’ll be like a second home!” And even though pulling water from a well doesn’t faze me anymore and it’s become second nature there is just so much more to all this. This post is not only a rant, something I need to keep me sane, but a way to try to explain my day-to-day trials to all the readers.

***WARNING: Some things I mention might not be pleasant but this is what I go through on a fairly routine basis!

First, the conveniences, or lack thereof! Yes, pulling water from a well is a typical thing for me, but how about pulling water in the morning after spending the whole night in the bathroom due to either diarrhea or vomiting? After a spending a sleepless night and all your energy is drained you still have to pull water to put in your filter, wash you face with, brush your teeth with, shower with, and flush the toilet. It’s not easy! Plus as the hot season ends I constantly worry about my well drying up (as it did last year), seriously, have you ever jumped up and down and shrieked like a little girl because the water from the faucet finally turned on, No? Well I have!

Then there are the power outages/surges. When the power goes out here I don’t have the luxury of calling up my local electrical company to find out when my power will be back, I have to just wait and hope it’s not an all day/week power outage. As for the surges I have to run around making sure that everything is unplugged (as my sister experience with me in Portugal, I constantly unplugged her IPad because I was afraid of the power going out) when I leave the house because God forbid the power goes out and comes back on and I’ve left something plugged in, the surge of power will fry anything that’s plugged in!!!

Transportation, now I know I talked about how to take public transportation in my last blog, but for my day to day needs it’s via bicycle. I know you’re probably think well at least it’s a healthy way to travel and I agree but you need to be aware that whether it’s a torrential downpour (during the rainy season) or 120 degrees outside (hot season) I have no other alternative. I can’t just get out of the rain/heat by sitting in my car, no I have to bike in the heat, rain, and mud on unpaved roads that would give even Xtreme bikers a challenge!

Speaking of heat, yes it gets really freaking hot here (try falling asleep when it’s 98 degrees in you room!!) but that’s not the worst part, the worst part is no escape from it, no way to control the temperature around me. That was something that I never realized in the states, we have the luxury of controlling the conditions around us. When it gets “cold” (about 59 degrees) there is nothing I can do. I know that doesn’t sound cold, but turn your heaters/AC down to that temperature and live in it! As for the heat, not much else I can do there, I have two choices one, turn on my fan, which blows more hot air at me, but be happy that there is some air moving around me, or two (and my cousin said this was disgusting but I’m going to share it anyways because it’s really something I do) lay on my bed until a pool of sweat forms then roll to another spot, wait till my fan cools my sweat spot and roll back into it! Yup I admit it that’s one of my tricks to beat the heat.  That’s another thing, you NEVER stop sweating!!! My neck looks like I have the black plague, as one of my fellow volunteers pointed out to me, due to heat rash because I’m constantly covered in sweat.

Not only do I get nasty heat rash but Senegal has not been kind on my body. My legs are torn up from all the mosquitoes bites I have scratched until they have bled (try keeping those dry and disinfected during the rainy season), every time I scratch myself, no matter where, I end up with massive amounts of  dirt underneath my nails, so at this point I just resigned myself to be a walking pile of dirt. Also, my hair is falling out in clumps due to lack of any nutrients in my diet, and I have rice for three meals a day, my Buddha belly in NOT liking that!

So besides the no water, power outages, the weather, and the toll this place is taking on my body there is something else even more difficult about being here, it’s the day to day interactions with locals. Yes, I can speak their language, and yes there are people here who know me and greet me, but every time I step out my door I can’t hide the fact that I am a foreigner. Of course, a big part of it is due to my skin color, but it’s not just that it’s the way I dress, it’s my mannerisms, it’s the way I think. Sorry I really don’t like having to wear shorts that cover my knees when it’s this hot, no I don’t like dressing up in traditional clothing or getting my hair braided!!! Yes, I think women have the same rights as men and are not just around to wait on men and be breeders. Imagine trying to go into a business meeting with government officials hoping to accomplish something and no one can get past the fact that you are a 30 year old woman who is not married and doesn’t have children. This is a true situation that happened to me recently, I was in a meeting with a government official (male) who couldn’t believe that I wasn’t married and kept asking what was wrong with me and telling me I needed to marry a Senegalese man. Suffice it to say I left the meeting with nothing accomplished and a huge headache! I am also sick of every other man asking me if I’m married and when I say no they then ask me to marry them. I also don’t appreciate men screaming vulgar comments at me while I’m trying to bike and take care of my daily errands.

If dealing with inappropriate adults isn’t bad enough I get to have little kids scream at me as I pass on my bike “Foreigner!” “Hey, give me candy!” “Give me a present!” Most of this doesn’t bother me because I have taken to biking with my IPod, but was does get me are when kids throw rocks at me (Yes it has actually happened to me) or they grab my bike as I ride by and try to shake it hard enough to knock me off!!

And if all this harassment by the locals isn’t enough, there’s the loneliness and solitude to deal with. First of all being thousands of miles away from you friends and family is hard enough, but when none of them can relate to what you’re going through it makes it even harder. Sometimes you feel like you’re the only one going through this experience and no one will ever be able to relate to you. Not only that, you have a lot of time with yourself and your thoughts which adds to the feelings of loneliness, yes there are often people around me, my host family, but they don’t understand what it’s like to be an outsider in this country. I have tried to explain to them many times but I feel like it falls on deaf ears. In American we are a society that is constantly bombarded with stimuli, here besides listening to the goats and playing goat or baby (it’s a game where you sit in your room and listen and try to figure out if the sound is being made by a goat or a baby, it’s not that easy of a game!) there isn’t much to do so you are left with your thoughts. I am not one who is afraid to be alone, but I can say at times it gets tiring and very, very lonely.

I know that this is a rant about my service but I really don’t think people get the full extent of what it’s like to be a volunteer. I know I have talked to many of you reading this about my difficulties here but I wanted to put them all together so maybe you can start to see how difficult my life has been here for the past two years. However, with all this said I would never give up this experience in a million years, through the good (yes there have been a lot of good times!) and the bad I have learned so much about the world and myself. I know that had I not done this I would never have realized what a strong person I am, what I can deal with, and learn that I can overcome so much!

And you thought dealing with TSA was a pain

If you think that dealing with long security lines at the airport, delayed flights, or road construction are a pain while traveling in the United States, you’ve obviously never had to travel through West Africa. I have made several references in past posts to these things called 7-places but I don’t think I’ve adequately described just how everything works here. So to catch a 7-place one must go to the “garage” where you are bombarded by 20 people all asking you where you want to go and pushing and pulling you in several directions trying to get you to buy a ticket for their car. Once you have found the car that is going to your destination you purchase a ticket at a flat rate, hopefully from the man in charge, you’re never 100% sure you’re giving the money to the right person. However, if you have to misfortune of having any baggage then you get to bargaining with the head person as to how much you need to pay for the baggage. Now there are many different techniques as to how to get a good price, there’s always just paying them the price they ask, which is ridiculously inflated, after that there’s the reasoning technique, here you try and appeal to their sense of fairness and tell them that their price isn’t resonable and that you’ll pay X amount. If that doesn’t work then you can always use the nepotism tactic, find out the head guy’s last name, see if it’s the same as yours (of course I’m talking about your given Senegalese name) and if it is tell them you’re “family” and it isn’t fair to rip off family. If all that fails then the final technique is to throw a temper tantrum, as I demonstrated so well a few days ago at a garage. A few days ago I was trying to get home from The Gambia, I had traveled for 12 hours when I got to the last garage I had to go to to get home. The man tried to overcharge me for my bag, I reasoned with him, he wouldn’t budge, I tried to pull the family card, no luck, finally I cut him off mid-sentence and told him to listen to me, I hadn’t eaten nor drank anything in 12 hours, I was tired, and I just wanted to get home, I then started stamping my feet and yelling that it’s not fair!! Yes, I admit, I, a 30 year old woman was standing among a bunch of Senegalese men stomping my feet yelling that it’s not fair that they are trying to rip me off, not one of my proudest moments but it worked and I got my price!!
So after you have negotiated everything you get to wait around to see if 6 other people (hence the name 7-place) show up trying to go to the same place you are. It’s a toss of the coin as to whether you will be leaving the same day, it’s never 100% sure. For example, I waited around a garage for 5 hours in the heat of the day to see if my car would fill up. If it doesn’t then you go back the next day and try again, doesn’t bode well if you are travelling on a tight schedule. If you are lucky enough to have another 6 people travelling in the same direction you get to pile 7 grown-ass adults (not counting the driver) into a station wagon from 1970 that is being held together with random wires and duct tape and pray that the car makes it to its final destination. Another note about travel, this is all over roads that are either paved but have potholes so big I’ve seen cars brakes their axles in half or what we call bush travels, which are naturally formed roads by mother nature and are more suitable for an ATV then a station wagon.
Now even though these cars are called 7-places it is not a hard fast rule that there are only 7 people in them, recently I have been privileged to sit in a 9-place, which isn’t too bad you just have to know where to sit, but the best is crossing to boarder from The Gambia to Senegal I counted 14 people in the car and two on the roof!! Yes, true story, and people think this is a normal way to travel.
So next time you’re cursing long lines, airline delays, or road construction remember you could be travelling how I described EVERY TIME you want to leave your city!!!

This is not the 4of us getting close to take a picture, this is actually how close we had to get to fit in the back of a cab.

OK so I took this picture in the back of the 7-place. My knees are the ones in the middle and notice how little space there is between mine and my neighbors.

So this is what it looks like from the back seat of a 9-place, 3 people up front (you can’t see one of the guys), 4 in the middle, and then 3 more in the back, where I was. Remember we never count the driver in when we’re talking about how many seats are available.

As we were getting a ride in a cab the driver realized that we may have had too many people in the car (hence the picture of 4 of us squished in the back) so he told two people to ride on the trunk.

And just because now both the car and the trunk are full doesn’t mean we can’t pick up more people, why not just have them hop on the roof of a car!!!

My work in Senegal

So after about 17 months at my site I have finally got some really great projects going. I am helping to build a compost facility, I am working with the chamber of commerce on adult education classes for current entrepreneurs and those looking to start a business, and I am teaching businesses classes at the technical high school. These businesses classes are the most challenging project I have had so far. I am working with a group of students who attend the technical high school to learn a specific trade, such as metal working, masonry, carpentry, etc, then they work in the community as an apprentice in hopes of having their own business. These boys are a challenge because not only do they have little formal education, which means that they speak basic French and not all speak the same local language, but half of them cannot read or write. I have been working with them as to what an enterprise is and I am trying to get them to look at their local businesses in a different way, I want them to try and see if they can improve upon the local businesses and possibly differentiate themselves among all the other metal workers, carpenters, masons, etc. It’s been a challenge and it’s still a work in progress but I have resigned myself that if they can just stop and question current businesses and start thinking outside the box than I have succeeded.
Working with these high school kids has opened my eyes to the education system here in Senegal and why they are having problems developing. First, these kids are not taught to think, they are only taught to regurgitate what the teach tells them and never question it. For example, since arriving in my host family I have been telling my brothers that we have 50 states in the United States, for some reason they are taught that we have 52. I have told them on several occasions that there are 50 and yet when I asked one of them last month he said “Well there’s a discrepancy because you say there are 50 states, but my teacher says there are 52.” Even though they know that I come from the U.S. they take what their teacher says as the final word. When I assured them there were 50 states and got out a map, they agreed with me and I asked if their teacher said there are 52 states would they now correct them, they said NO! Another example, my one brother is an English teacher at the local high school, he once asked me to help him type out his English exam for his students because he knows I’m more familiar with Word then he is. I sat down and started typing out the exam at the end the students were given the directions “Choose one of the two following questions and write a response.” I then proceeded to write:
1) Blah, blah, blah
2) Blah, blah, blah
When my brother, the teacher, saw this he said “No you have to write Question 1)
Question 2)
or otherwise the kids won’t understand what they are supposed to do.” I was shocked that kids in high school wouldn’t understand directions that were so basic, but if their whole lives their teachers have been hand-feeding them information why should they be expected to think for themselves? Also these kids are not supported in the educational endeavors by their parents or their parents don’t see how important education is. For example, if the family doesn’t have enough money to send all their kids to school they pull the girls out and have the boys continue even if the boy is not the better student. Another example is when wast week I was supposed to come in early to teach my class, I showed up at 8am to start, by 8:15 I was asking the teacher where were the students, he just shrugged his shoulders said he didn’t know and hopefully they’ll show up soon. I have also seen boys walk into my class and hour and a half late (it’s a 3 hour long class) or just not show up to class at all, it’s always a guess every week as to how many people I’m going to be teaching. I’ve had conversations about kids being tardy or absent and I ask what the school does or the parents do to combat this and he told me there was nothing they could do, the parents just don’t seem to care. I have seen this in my own host family that is by comparisson well educated, I have a brother, Joey, whom I see studying all the time, he wants to suceed and works hard in school. When I spoke to my older brother if Joey was going to go to university after he was done with high school this year he said that he probably won’t go because his father doesn’t want him to, he wants him to start earning money and contribute to the family. They don’t see that the investment in those few extra years of education will give him a high earning potential in turn providing more for the family, his father just sees his education as something Joey should do until he can make money. I have spoken to his father and will continue to talk to him in hopes of seeing Joey in university next year. However, it saddens me to see someone who’s trying to make their lives better not given the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately this lack of education and motivation from one’s parents is one of the reasons that Senegal is having problems to develop.

Below are some pictures of my students coming up with local businesses in Kedougou.

And you thought American politics were a heated debate

I am not sure if what is going on here has been covered by the US media so I thought I should bring you all up to speed. Right now we are in the midst of election season and it’s a very unstable time. Why? Because current president, Abdoulaye Wade, is seeking reelection for his third (aka second) term. In 2000 Wade was elected president under the old constitution that said a president could serves 7 years in one term; however, it never said how many terms he/she could serve. While Wade was in power he changed the constitution to say that a president could only serve two 5 year terms. In 2007 Wade ran for reelection on won. Now in 2012 he is saying that his first year didn’t count because it was under the old constitution and that if he wins this year it would be his second term under the new constitution. Of course there are people who do not agree with his logic and have shown their disapproval by demonstrating. There are also other people who believe that Wade, at 85 years of age, is too old to finish his term should he win.
Last weekend the high court of Senegal ruled that Wade is eligible to run for his third term, this news brought about protests, some violent. In Dakar it is said that one person has already died due to the riots and in Kaolak, a region to the north of me, people burned half the market and the national radio station. Luckily no one was hurt because this happened in the middle of the night.
On February 26th we will have our first round of elections, should no one win by a majority we will have a run-off in the beginning of March.
I am sure that around election time we will have a lot of protests, most turning violent; however, do not worry about me, I live over 700km (over 430 miles) from Dakar so most of these protests won’t affect me. However, I still live in a regional capital so there is a chance for some unrest here but if anything happens it should be minimal here. Please do not worry, Peace Corps is taking every precaution necessary to ensure our safety. We have been briefed on what to expect at this time and we will be put on high alert during the elections. I feel very confident that nothing will happen in my region, I just wanted to bring you up to date as to what’s happening in case you’ve seen something in the news. I am alright here and I’ll keep everyone in the loop should something really happen!!

Mali – What an experience **Beware, long post**

Another reason that it took me so long to update my blog is because I decided to go on vacation to Mali. My friend and I heard so many great things about Mali that we decided to go and visit right after Thanksgiving. So the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Sam, my friend, showed up in Kedougou, she lives in another region, and we left on Sunday. I asked my family here what was the best way to get to Mali but seeing as how they have never been they couldn’t really help me. However, my brother called up a friend who travels to Bamako, the capital of Mali, often and she helped us out. She called up some of her contacts at the boarder and told them we were coming and asked them to help us out. She organized a ride from the boarder to Kenyaba, the first city after the boarder, and then a ride into Bamako. On Sunday we took a sept-place (those old station wagons that I talk about) to the boarder of Senegal and Mali where we had to get out of the car and walk across the boarder. Once we crossed, per my brother’s friend, I was supposed to call one of her contacts to come and pick us up; however, she forgot to mention that my Senegal SIM card doesn’t allow me to make calls in Mali! Thankfully I could still send texts, so I sent the people who were supposed to pick us up a text but never received an answer, so I sent one to the girl in Kedougou, she must have recieved it because 20 mins later a car pulled up and asked if I was Ania (my Senegalese name). They drove us into Kenyaba where we tried to find a bus leaving for Bamako that day, our ride to Bamako had to go to Kedougou for a funeral. Unfortunately, no car was leaving that day so we spent the night with the people who picked us up, don’t think I’m crazy for staying with random people, they were police officers. Now a side note, the hospitality of West Africans is unmatched, we just met this woman at the boarder who was supposed to help us get a ride to Bamako and when that didn’t work out she not only allowed us to sleep at her place, which is just a room, but took us out for dinner!! These people are some of the most generous that I have ever met. So we crashed at her place and she even got up at 4am, on a work day, to take us to the bus station where we waited for the bus to take us to Bamako. I must say traveling in Mali is some what better than in Senegal because you travel by bus so there’s more room; however, they aren’t too luxurious and the floor of the bus Sam and I were on kept opening up under our feet!

We finally arrived in Bamako mid-afternoon and went straight to our hotel to clean up. Our hotel was simple, a room with two beds and shared bathrooms, but it was clean and the bonus, they had hot water!! So after we took our showers we decided to go out and get something to eat and then walk around for a bit. Sam and I found an ex-pat restaurant that had delicious food, I gorged myself on spaghetti carbonara. After lunch we walked around to see some of Bamako, honestly, not much to see, so we went back to the hotel to rest. Sam and I did some research on the internet about what to see in Mali and one of the things was the fetish market in Bamako. Now before you think this is a market that sells whips and chains and other random things, the real definition of fetish is “an object regarded with awe as being the embodiment or habitation of a potent spirit or as having magical potency”, so the market had monkey heads, dead birds, and apparently horse penis that the man explained would help my sex life!!! So we walked around there to see all the random things you could get, they still have witch-doctors in Mali, and then we headed off to the regular market to see what they had, but unfortunately that part of the market was just like those in Senegal. Once we got through the hustle and bustle of the market we walked around Bamako some more realizing that there isn’t too much more to see. Once back at the hotel Sam and I decided that tomorrow we would try and find a hotel where we could crash their pool and just relax, at this point we had two more days in Bamako and we ran out of things to do. Nonetheless, we did hear that there was a really good Thai restaurant so we decided to spoil ourselves and go there for dinner. What a great idea it was wonderful!!
The next morning we get up and head to a hotel that we saw the day before, a super nice one, and see if we can’t sneak into their pool. So we walk in like we own the place and ask how to get to the pool, once there we get a beer and find some chairs, we’re ready to go into the pool only to find out that if you’re not guests at the hotel you have to pay $12 to use the pool!!! That is way out of our Peace Corps budget, but the man was nice enough and allowed us to just lay out. After spending the day lounging around, Sam and I decided that we should start packing things up and as we’re packing things up a guy comes up and starts talking to us and invites his friends over. It turns out that these men are from Lebanon and they’re here on business. They were very fun, just some older business men who were having fun on their last night in town. So after talking for a bit they invite us to dinner at a Lebanese restaurant and then out dancing. Sam and I decided why the heck not, so went back to our hotel, using the car service that the men had, change and head back to the hotel to meet them. These men were very surpised that we came to Mali on vacation and even more surprised of how we live in Senegal, they couldn’t fathom why a person would leave the convinences of the Western world and live in a third world country. We tried to explain but found it a moot point. They took us to a delicious Lebanese restaurant where they just kept ordering plate of food after plate of food for us (I think they took pity on us after hearing about our lives in Senegal). After our delicious meal we went downstairs from the restaurant where there was a club, one of the guys ordered a bottle of champagne for us and then a bottle of Belvedere (I told him I like vodka), Sam and I were just sitting there asking ourselves “Are we really still in West Africa?” After a night of amazing food, drinks, and dancing Sam and I decided it was time to head back to our hotel so we bid the men goodnight and took their car service back to our hotel. The next day we just recooperate from our night out; however, that evening we get a call from one of our new business man friends inviting us back to the hotel for drinks and dinner. Once again Sam and I say why the heck not and so we head over to the hotel. We meet up with the men, have a drink or two, talk and have another wonderful dinner. This night is a tame one and it’s cut short because we have to get up at 5am to catch a bus to Dogon country the next day.

Dogon country is a region of Mali that is about 10 hours north of Mali, about 6 hours from Timbuktu (yes, Timbuktu is a real place!) and span an area of 125 miles. These are one of the few places left in Mali where people get to practice their old traditions. We almost didn’t get to go because of Al-Qaeda’s presense in northern Mali. Sam and I wanted to not only see Dogon country but also head up to Timbuktu but after talking to the safety and securit coordinator in Mali we were advised not to go. Not only that but 2 days before we headed off to Mali two French tourist were kidnapped by Al-Qaeda and while we were there a German man was killed and 2 Swedish tourist were also kidnapped. This all happened in the northern part of Mali, around Timbuktu so hence another reason we didn’t head up there. Anyways, we got the OK to go to Dogon country with a map of where we shouldn’t go and headed out at 5am to get there. I called up a tour guide and arranged for him to take us out for 5 days/4 nights. What a great time!! Ok now a little background on who the Dogon people are. They emigrated from Niger and set-up in the cliffs of Mali about 700-800 years ago. These cliffs offered them protection from the Islamic influence permiating Mali. The Dogon people are mostly anamist and practice fetishism (remember the real definition of fetish!!) and still use animal, and in some tribes human, sacrifices to please the Gods (for more about their religion and to learn about both male and female circumsision and why they do it go to Wikipedia link). The Dogon area is composed of three distinct topigraphical regions: the plains, the cliffs, and the plateau and we saw all these places!!!

We met our tour guide, Hassimi, at his house, after some confusion of where we were supposed to get off the bus we ended in Hassimi’s town (we were supposed to get off at his hotel, Oops!!) and he allowed us to spend the night at his place. The next day bright and early we headed to our first destination, a small village on the a rocky plateau. We walked around the village that was up and down hills and I just marveled how these people went about their daily lives having to walk up and down these hills and even use ladders to get to certain places in twon. To get water they had to walk about 3 miles down the rocky hill to a spring where they filled up their basins and then carried them back up on their heads. Talk about some tough people!! After we wandered around the village for a bit we headed for our second place that day, a hike!! Hassimi dropped us off on the side of the road where we met a local who then led us down the cliff!! Now I’m not much of a hiker so this was a bit of a challenge for me but after a few hours I succeeded in setting foot back on terra firma! After our hike we just sat around with Hassimi, had dinner, and went to bed, it was a long day. The next day Hassimi told us to say good-bye to the car because we wouldn’t see it for the next 4 days. We then set off on one of our many hikes of the week. This one wasn’t too bad, it was a simple 1.5 mile hike through the desert. We reached our next village where we got to see one of the original Dogon villages, the one in the cliffs. I’m amazed as to how these people lived there (not for the feint of heart). Hassimi explained that not only would they walk up and down the cliffs countless times a day but they also used very strong vines to bring up good, materials, and sometimes, men. We walked up to the village and looked around and what was still standing, it was impressive to see a place where 700-800 years ago was a bustling village. After wspending the morning walking around the village we, carefully, made our way down and had lunch. We then set off to another village where we would spend the night. On the second day we had more hiking through the desert and another village to see. One the third day we had on of the more difficult hiking days we walked the normal 1.5 miles in the morning and we checked out how the Dogon women made indigo fabric, how the artisans make their masks, and how the men make their mud cloths, but after lunch we had about 4 mile hike with about 2.5 miles up a mountain!! If you look at Hassimi you’d think he was just a big guy that would be able to scale these mountains, I’m not sure if the Dogon people bred with mountain goats or what, but he climbed the mountain like he was walking up steps, of course I was the last one all the time, but even Sam who hiked back in the US was having problems keeping up with Hassimi!! However, once we reached the top the view was amazing, there was just nothing around for miles and miles, you really realized what a vast wourld we live in and how insignificant parts of our lives are. Both nights on the mountain we stayed in animist village, unfortunately no rituals were performed. Now the last day, as the the saying goes, what goes up must come down!! Hassimi showed us earlier in the week how we where getting down, it was just a crack in the mountain, and I thought he was kidding but nope, he wasn’t!!! At first I thought, ok this wasn’t hard, but after taking a rest Hassimi grabbed my backpack and I knew it was going to get difficult. It took about 2 and a half hours to get down, I mostly sat my way down on my butt!! Not falling, thankfully, but I’d sit on the rock and then try to find a good rock to put my foot on, again Hassimi awed me, he not only carried his backpack but mine and still had to wait for us to catch up. After our hike down we got to take a Dogon taxi (a cattle cart) back to the car. Once we got back we headed to the town we started at and Sam and I tried to catch a bus to Djenne, it’s where the world’s largest mud mosque is, ever year after the rainy season they have to rebuild it.

We hopped on a bus and headed to Djenne to find out that even though this is a popular tourist destination they do not make it easy to get to. We were dropped off on the side of the road and told we were 22 miles away from the town of Djenne and we had to wait for another bus heading that way. as it turned out we got an overpaid cab to take us there, but the tricky Mother F’er told us to cross the river and he’d bring the car with the car ferry. As we stood on the opposite shore we watched the car pull away and head back to where we started. A man then approached us and asked if we were Peace Corps, we said yes and he said he lets Peace Corps volunteers who come in stay on his roof for $5 and he’d give us dinner and breakfast and he’d get us into Djenne. Seeing as how Sam and I didn’t really know where to go or how to get into Djenne but walk the 2.5 miles at night into the town we took him up on his offer. What a terrible idea!! If you think that it’s never cold in Africa think again!! Sam and I ended up sleeping on the roof in about 55 degree weather with just a thin blanket covering us, we cuddled for warmth and Sam became my big spoon. After we finally thawed out we decided to go see this mosque, I kept saying we have to see it because it’s a World Heritage site, but still have no idea what that means. Anyways, we saw it, took our pictures, even posed for a few with the Chinese tourists, and decided that that was about all there was to Djenne and it was time to head back to Bamako. So we got on a car that took us to the side of the road again where we waited about 2 and a half hours for a bus that was going to Bamako. We were lucky and we got the last two seats on the first one coming by (as much as I complain about being white here, sometimes it has its advantages). So Sam and I proceeded to take a 12 hours bus ride from the side of the road into Bamako, where we got so tired of all the stops that the bus made, to pick up more passangers (the sat on barrels in the aisle) or to drop some off, that we decided to make it into a drinking game. Hey, don’t judge, it helped pass the time. We finally made it into Bamako at 1:30am. I called the hotel ahead of time and told them we’d be getting in late so they left the key with the guard. After getting in our room we took nice hot showers and then passed out. The last day in Bamako was just a day of resting. We caught a 4am bus back to Senegal and were in Tamba (the region to the north of me) around 11:30pm. After sleeping in the regional house there Sam and I parted ways at the garage (the sept-place depot) and went to our respective sites. It was a long and tiring trip but worth it. If you want to see a really amazing part of this world, go to Mali.

This is me enjoying my Lebanese dinner. Can you tell I how much I miss meat?

Me at the fetish market. Monkey head anyone?

Sam and I enjoying the comforts of Bamako, yup that IS a snickers ice cream bar!!!

This was a warm-up climb, here I’m showing my hiking abilities, or lack thereof, keep this in mind as you see the pictures of what I hiked!!

While looking at the buses that drive through Mali I noticed they all had emergency exit stickers and exit signs written in Polish!!!

This is a picture of the first village we saw as we started our journey through Dogon country.

One way to get from one level of the village to the other is using a homemade ladder. Talk about this girl taking her babysitting responsibilities seriously!!

Another way to get around is by using a Dogon slide!! Sam and I had a great time going down it!

So here are the women walking down to get water from the spring…

Here is the spring that the village uses to get its water…

And after you fill up your basin with water and put it back on your head, this is the walk you get to have to return to the village

Welcome to Dogon country!!!

After being dropped off on the side of the road, this is what I got to hike down.

And here’s a picture from the bottom of my hike. I swear I hiked down that, I have witnesses!!!

And our hike through the desert starts!

The cliff village we visited.

This is one of the streets in the village.

And the village just keeps going up!!

A picture from one of the caves in the village.

Me inside the cave!

The village may keep going up but when you get to the top the view is awesome!!!

What the houses in the cliff village look like inside.

This is how the houses are held up on the cliff, just some stones and a few pieces of wood!!!

Our lodging for the night, all the buildings are made out of mud, just like all the houses in the village!!

Day 2 of the desert hike, yup I’m still going!!

As we hiked through the desert I kept looking at the mountain not believing there were villages there. Can you find it?

There it is!!! Talk about some good camouflage!!

Sam and I chilling in a baobob tree.

Hassimi, always the gentleman, helping me out of the tree!

Ever wonder how they make those wooden statues black? They burn the wood!!

So during our hike through the desert we stumbled on some camels roaming around.

The sunset at the top of the mountain.

Sam and I taking in the sites above Dogon country

So if you look far into the background you will some sand dunes, this is the beginning of the Sahara desert!

Sam and I posing in front of the animal trophies displayed on one of the houses in an animist village.

Anyone hungry? This is dinner in an animist village, not my dinner that night though.

Total integration, sharing a bowl of millet beer with some locals!

As I said, what goes up most come down and here was my preferred method, it’s what I call the sit and reach approach.

See why the sit and reach approach is great, here I’m trying to cross a ravine (I think you can see the drop behind me) using those homemade ladders. As always Hassimi was trying to help me (or laugh at me) and kept trying to hand me a piece of grass so he could pull me across!!

And if you think I was being a big baby with my hiking style, see that first vertical crack in the mountain, that was what we had just hiked (or sat) down!!!!

How does one get back to your car? By Dogon taxi of course!!!

As w were enjoying our ride back the driver suddenly jumped off the “taxi” and handed me the reins, literally!!

To get to Djenne we had to cross a river and I just think this is a great picture showing how we do things here in West Africa!

Think they never did human sacrifices? Here is a sign in front of a tomb that says “Tomb of the young girl, Tamapa Dienepo, sacrificed to protect the city against bad spirits.”

The largest mud mosque in the world, it’s actually pretty freakin’ big!!!

And if you haven’t gotten enough of my photos of my trip then check them all out at Alex’s Mali pictures

SO many celebrations!!!

I know it’s been a really long time since I updated my blog but I’ve been really busy lately. First there was Tabaski, this is a celebration that Muslims have 40 days after the last day of Ramadan. Last year for Tabaski I was already in Kedougou but I wasn’t feeling well so may family left me while they went out to village, this year however, I was feeling great and headed out with them to village.  So the day of Tabaski my brother came to pick me up to take me out to village, about and hour ride. When I got there I was greeted not only by my family, but by the whole village, even though I don’t live there everyone seemd to know me. It was a really nice, warm, welcoming feeling. Once people greeted me they went to change clothes so they could go to the mosque for prayer. While almost everyone was at mosque I decided to help some of the women in my family start preparations for lunch, however, I think they became frustrated at my lack of preparation abilities (I still can’t get how to dice an onion in your hand) so they told me to just sit back and relax. Thank the lord I brought my Kindle (Christmas present from my sister, thanks Nika!!) so I had plenty to read. When the men came back from mosque it was time to slaughter a sheep (video link will follow, once I can load it, slow internet sucks sometimes!!!). Seeing as how this probably the last time I’d get the chance to see a sheep slaughtering (even though it wasn’t) I decided to bite the bullet and watch it, every other festival I always looked away. They aren’t very harsh about the slaughtering, they just cut the throat, but  I think the worst for me was just watching the poor thing try and tae it’s last breathes of air. After it was killed though the butchering began. Even though I  do have some great butchering skils as demostrated from the 4th of July and Thanksgiving (explained later in this post) I let the men take care of it. Around 3pm we finally sat down to a delicious lunch of sheep, noodles, potatoes, and onion sauce, it was wonderful. Once I sucessfully digested all that food I decided to humor my family and put on my complet (traditional African dress) and then we walked around the village greeting people. I have notcied that that is what most of these African holidays are about, eating, getting fressed in your finet, and then just showing off to people. Finally it was getting dark and time for me to go home, my brother was nice enough to take me back to Kedougou and thus ende my Tabaski festivaties.

Now the next big event was that my older brother got married, however, no one told me about the wedding celebration until the day we were to leave for village. So I had about 5 mins to pack my overnight back and head off with my family to celebrate. In Senegal, men are allowed to up to 4 wives  so this was my brother’s second wife, and might I add, MUCH youger wife (see pictures below).  However, it is another excue to party so I decided to go and celebrate with them. We arrived in village right as the sun was setting and I thought that it would be a nice quiet clebration, however, my other brother’s friend brought a generator to village and the music played until 2 am, when the wife came and then the drumming and chanting started. At this point I didn’t really understand what was happening because I couldn’t find anyone in my family to explain to me what was happening, but as far as I saw, the wife was brought in and placed on a mat where she layed with her whoe body covered in a white sheet while the women of her family washed her feet. After they were done, someone picked her up and carried her into a room (I guess once her feet were wasjed she couldn’t touch the ground) and that was the last I saw of her until the next day. While the women of her family were taking care of her, everyone else was drumming and dancing around. At this point I figured 3am was a good enough time to go to bed so I tried to find a spot on the floor, no bed for me in village, and go to sleep. Unfortunately people kept up the drumming till about 4:30am and I ended up napping for about an hour until people started to wake up in preparation for the day’s festivaties. On this day the women in my family prepared a HUGE lunch for everyone in village while the women of the bride’s family prepared her. I helped slightly but there was so much help that I just fet in the way so I went to go hang out with the kids. We finally sat down to lunch, which consisted of another slaughtered sheep and another onion sauce, it was realyl good, then we started to dance, or at least I tried, can’t really get their moves down which is a mix of flayling arms and stomping feet. Finally it was time to unveil the bride and once again she just looked like a drag queen with too much makeup on. I know that sounds like a really bad comparison, but these people do not understand what a natural makeup look is supposed to be. So once she came out and everyone looked, there was more drumming and dancing and then it was time to go home. Again, another celebration where we eat and dress up to show other people.

Finally my last big celebration was Thanksgiving. Last year we had 10 chickens and 5 ducks seasoned to our tastes; however, this year the boys decided that we would make a Puducken, now what is a Puducken you may ask, it’s a chicken wrapped in a duck wrapped in a turkey, wrapped in a pig, how can you go wrong with oll those meats? So as the Kedougou butcher it was my job to take care of the meats. I went on the interent and found out that to make a traditional Turducken you have to de-bone both the chicken and the duck, so to make the Puducken I had to de-bone the chicken, the duck, and the turkey, thankfully I had some eager apprentees waiting to help. Once I de-boned all the fowl we then stuffed it all inside each other and stuffed in a pig that we put into the ground, best way to cook a pig. The next day I also helped with the major cooking, I also made creamy mashd potatoes, chessey garlic mashed potatoes, and lactose free mashed potatoes. I had to cook 8kg, or 17 lbs of potatoes and then mashed them all with two forks, nothing is easy in Kedougou!! Also, I took care of the corn and helped with the stuffing and green bean casserole. When we were all ready to sit down to eat we had our Puducken, 3 different kinds of mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, homemade gravy, apple pie, cheesecake, and carrot cake. It was a really great meal and I’m happy I got to celebrate it with my Kedougou family. After eating we just all ended up in a food coma, it felt just like home!

Here are all my brothers dressed up in their best outfits before going to mosque.

DO you think these women chopped enough onions?

And you thought cooking dinner for 50 was hard in America.

Me with all of the kids in the family.

Here is my brother and his new wife, she’s the one in the white dress. Don’t they look like such a happy couple?

So when the party gets started, the women dance around together while the men…

Sit and stare at the computer that is playing the music!