2 Weeks Shy of 2 Years

Dream or Reality: Cooking pork chorizo in Barcelona, or spending the past 2 years living in Africa, grappling with the local fauna? I can’t decide half the time, as you can tell from my facial expression on the left.

You know you’re back in Senegal again when the breeze blows hot and sandy in your face, your video chats are an exercise in interpretative movement and lip-sync readings, and your once solid bowel movements are quickly reduced to a series of liquid emissions more suitable at a Vietnamese water puppet ballet. Strange to think that it’s been 2 months since I took a vacation in Barcelona, and almost 3 since I last deigned to update this blog. At times it seems like just last week I cooked a meal of chorizo stew on a stove-top in Spain; at more trying moments I find myself wondering if the entire trip was but the chimera of a daydream I had, brought on by heat exhaustion and dehydration.

On the eve of my birthday, an encounter with a palm-sized alien-face-hugger spider (aka camel spider) is a wonderful reminder of personal mortality.

Peace Corps life has been both whizzing past and inching along at the same time; any volunteer can probably tell you about the paradoxical passage of time and the tricks it can play on you. On August 11, I will celebrate 2 years in Senegal. With the passing of my birthday this month, a quick calculation reveals that I have lived 7% of my entire life in Senegal thus far. No small personal feat, especially when only 30 days of the past 2 years have been spent outside the boundaries of my host country. Granted, some volunteers spend their entire 2 years of service within country, but those acquainted with my shoestring wanderlust are probably just as surprised as I am with this number, especially given the smorgasbord of budget travel options in West Africa.  On average PCVs are entitled to a total of 48 days of vacation time over the course of their 2-year service.

I shouldn’t neglect to mention that I do play tourist in-country occasionally, recently spending 21 hours on public transportation to get to the Segou (pictured here) and Dindefelo waterfalls in the paradise region of Senegal, Kedougou.

To further reduce this blog post to a series of arbitrary numbers, I have fasted all of 3 days thus far during this holy month of korgi (better known as Ramadan). With 3 weeks of Ramadan left, I have no intention of increasing that number, just as I have no intention of converting to Islam even after living in a majority-Muslim country for the past 2 years. My paucity in blogging I blame on having to write an article for the Senegal Peace Corps newsletter (a travel piece on my 2-week trip in Barcelona), an increased desire to engage in personal correspondence, and rabid fundraising efforts for the Michele Sylvester Scholarship and the 2nd annual St Louis Girls’ Camp in September, Camp Gëm Sa Bopp! (You may recall similar efforts around this time last year here.)

I am proud to say that the Michele Sylvester Scholarship is now completely funded for all of Senegal! This year, I was fortunate enough to extend the scholarship to 2 schools instead of just 1, thanks to the addition of a new health PCV, Maureen, to the city of Richard Toll. It has been wonderful to have company again after spending the past year without any other volunteers in the area. Since her installation in May, we’ve been kept busy with the above projects, in addition to facilitating a moringa workshop at another volunteer’s site a couple of weeks ago, and transitioning work zone coordinator duties to her and another awesome volunteer, Kate in Kalassan. I breathe more easily now with that handover done, allowing me to focus the last 3 months of my service on organizing the girls’ camp, finally moving back to Richard Toll after 15 months of commuting from Temeye-Thiago, and making the transition for my replacement in December as smooth as humanly possible.

Hospital Garden Update: The occasional kid pops up in the watering barrels—a minor hindrance that is usually overridden by their enthusiastic weeding and watering utility.

As I mentioned in my fundraising emails (this will be familiar to some of you), one of the most rewarding aspects of my work here has involved girls’ education. My foray into the realm of international development has made me all the more certain that arresting global poverty is completely contingent on our ability to provide access to education for all. Particularly for women in the developing world, study after study has shown that women’s access to education is the leading factor in decisions to delay childbirth and limit the number of children to be had in a given family. Procreation aside, educated women are also empowered women—more likely to have the knowledge and gumption to find an alternative source of income, and more likely to have access to resources that can help them save and invest this money for their future.

Thanks to the help of family and friends, over US$3,500 has already been raised for Camp Gëm Sa Bopp! However, we are still a little shy of our goal of US$5258.75 in order for the camp to go ahead as planned. I hope you can help us reach that goal by the end of the month by making a tax-deductible contribution at the link below:


To read more about the camp, go to: http://campgemsabopp.wordpress.com.

I have seen firsthand what such encouragement can do for a girl in Senegal, especially in a society where a girls’ worth is still determined purely by her looks and ability to cook a good plate of ceebujen (fish and rice). With your contribution, I, along with volunteers across Senegal, can continue to help girls realize that a trained intellect is your most valuable asset.

To close off on a random note, my host sister Khady holding a laminated photo of my host mother and I at a baptism taken 6 months ago, now preserved for all of posterity in a Senegalese living room, amongst dozens of others. Strange to unexpectedly stumble upon a piece of your personal immortality, hanging in a stranger’s house.


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