Friday, January 20, 2012

Back in the USA, 22 months early

Tonight I'm flying back to Kansas.  I have a medical issue that will require specialists and surgery in the United States.  After consulting with the Peace Corps medical staff and administration, we have decided that I should be "medivaced" back to the US immediately.  Rachael will be heading back to Bakel tonight to pack up all of our stuff and say good bye to our family, then she will be following me to America next week after she's processed by the Peace Corps.  I'm in no real danger, but this is kind of a serious issue that needs to be taken care of right away.

As of right now, it looks like I'll be out of country for more than the 45 days I'm allowed for medical leave, meaning I will be "medically separated form service" and Rachael will "early terminate" for family reasons.  However, we've spoken to the Country Director here and it turns out that if we want to re-enroll it will be a simple matter of attaining medical clearance and then returning to Senegal to resume our service.

I just want to take this time to thank all of the volunteers in Peace Corps Senegal for being such awesome friends to Rachael and I.  You are all amazing people and we love you very very much.  Without you the Peace Corps would just be Ceeb and dirt and goat poop.  I'd also like to thank all the Peace Corps Medical and Administrative Staff for taking such good care of us.  Being gone means we'll miss our In Service Training, meaning that when we return to Senegal (and we will return, Inchallah) that our service will not continue the way we imagined, but it will continue.

We'll be in touch.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

All-Vol and WAIST: Sun, Fun, and Unhealthy Consumption

On January 12th and 13th, Rachael and I were in Thies for the West African All Volunteer Conference.  Volunteers came from all over West Africa, including Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Togo, and a bunch of other ones I can't think of at the moment.  We had two days of presentations and demonstrations of technologies which may be useful to us in the future.  I participated (watched) a panel on diversity in the Peace Corps, attended a talk about school gardens, one about a composting initiative in Kedegou, and a case study of a waste management program on the Petite Cote.  I also saw a rope pump work and a demonstration on a trash incinerator.  I tried to stay away from the Ag related panels because we have In Service Training at the beginning of February, which will teach us everything we need to know to get down to work.

After All-Vol it was off to Dakar for WAIST (The West African Invitational Softball Tournament).  This is not only a Peace Corps event, but teams of ex-pats and embassy employees compete too.  In fact, they're the only teams that take the softball seriously, as you'll see in the pictures.  This has apparently been going on for a long time.  My father remembers playing in a Softball Tournament in Dakar back in the...what...50's?  I don't know.

The main thing for Peace Corps Senegal is the costumes.  Each region has a team (Dakar, St. Louis, Linguere, Koalack, Tamba/Kedegou, and Kolda), and each region has a theme.  For example, Dakar was "French:"

Oh Lala

Kaolack was "Boy Scouts and Girlscouts," St. Louis was "Scuba Corps," Linguere was "Suits," Kolda was "South of the Boarder," and Tamba/Kedegou, in a fit of literalism, was "Baseball:"

We have a great tailor in Tamba who makes all our costumes for WAIST and Halloween.
The 7th Inning Stretch
Every Peace Corps team forfeits at the beginning of every game so we can just have fun and don't have to worry about breaking any rules and pissing off the teams that take it seriously.  Mainly, people just sit, watch, and drink.  The joke about being wasted at WAIST has been made so many times that it almost seems like you have to be drunk or you're not doing it right.

Watching from the sidelines.
Every night there's an event that everyone goes to.  The first night we had a Peace Corps Prom.  This was the only night we went out, because we partied a little too hard:

I got a haircut, and a new scarf, and a hangover.
We spent the entire next day in bed.  They house Peace Corps Volunteers with embassy workers and other expats around Dakar.  Rachael and I stayed with a nice guy named Jerry.  He works for the State Department and is in charge of all the classified correspondence that has to go between Washington and anywhere in West Africa.  Don't repeat that.  What's important is that he fed us Honey Nut Cheerios and scrambled eggs, and that I had a hot shower for the first time in five months.

Another good thing about WAIST is that you get a chance to experience Dakar, a city so unlike the rest of Senegal that it's often called another country.

Over the course of three days we ate Korean, Italian, Moroccan and French food.  I haven't even seen rice since Friday, which has been a good change.  they have grocery stores that would look normal in any town in America, and are major tourist attractions for every volunteer when they come to Dakar after spending weeks in village.  Tonight for dinner I had Rice Krispies, milk, and Kit Kat Bars.  Total price:  around $16.00!

One of Dakar's most noticeable and recognizable landmarks is the African Renaissance Monument:
198 steps, in case you were wondering.
It's 49 meters tall and was built by North Koreans.  Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal's President, claims that because the statue was his idea, he should personally receive 35% of the proceeds from people paying to climb to the top of the man's head.  Because of this, we only went up to the base, which is free.

So that was WAIST.  It's fun, but exhausting; just enough for you to not want to do anything crazy for the at least one year, which is right when the next WAIST comes around.  Sometimes I think the Peace Corps plans it that way.  I for one never want to drink again.  Plus, Dakar just sucks your money away.  A cab ride in Tamba or Thies costs 500 cfa, or about $1.00 to go anywhere in the city.  In Dakar, the initial asking price is usually 4000 cfa, or $8.00, and the lowest they'll every go is 1500 cfa.  Combine that with 6000 cfa meals and 2000 cfa beers (usually 800 in Tamba), and your bank account can drain fast.  Good thing we're going back soon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Another week away from village (All-Vol and WAIST)

Today Rachael and I traveled from Tamba for Thies to attend the West African All Volunteer Conference.  We just arrived, and are having lunch at one of our favorite restaurants from training.

Tomorrow is the Maggal de Touba, the main holiday of the Mouride Islamic Brother hood.  It commemorate the exiling of their founder, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mback√© in 1895.  Every year every Mouride in the country, roughly 1/6th of the population, make the pilgrimage to Touba, the Mouride's holy city in Central Senegal.  As a result, having every volunteer in the country traveling to Thies while every one else is trying to get to Touba has proven to be an interesting challenge.  We managed to get a sept-place this morning, but other people haven't been so lucky.  The Mourides control the transportation system in Senegal, so most of it has been aimed at Touba for the past week.  Thies and Touba are in the same direction from Tamba so we saw some of the chaos:  dump trucks with their backs filled with poeple, sept-places and cars jam packed, people waiting by broken down vans and buses, people selling oranges and bread from the side of the road, dead animals who'd been run over and left by the side of the road, and all the accidents.  We passed a bus which had flipped over minutes before we got there.  People were being pulled out of the back, wile others were lying on the ground, bleeding.  We stopped, but couldn't do anything to help so all we did was gawk.

Tomorrow we'll start attending sessions on things from waste management to reforestation.  It's going to be great to see everyone from our stage again, and to also meet volunteers from all over Senegal and West Africa.  But the main event of this week is the West African Invitational Softball Tournament (WAIST) in Dakar.  Every region has a team, as well as teams from Peace Corps countries throughout West Africa, embassy teams, and ex-pat teams.  Every region picks a theme for their team uniforms.  This year, in a fit of literalism, Tamba's theme is "Baseball."  We've had baseball jersey's made that say "TAMBA" on the front and a cat sewn into the sleeve, representing Colin, the Tamba Regional House cat and official team mascot.  It's the social event of the year for the Peace Corps:  three days of Dakar, food, drinking, and softball.  I'll let you know how it goes.

On a disturbing note, it's finally happening:  I'm getting fat.  My thighs are so big from biking everywhere that the legs of my boxers won't fit over them.  My belt has also had to be loosened by one hole.  My father always warned me this day would come....

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Great Gambian New Year's Adventure!

Chapter One:  Getting There

Let me set the scene:  Christmas was over.  Rachael and I had had a great time hanging out in the Tamba regional house, as always, but I felt that we needed to go back to our village for New Year's.  We'd spent so much time away, and All-Vol and WAIST were right around the corner, which would mean another two weeks away from site.  However, that guilt evaporated when we caught wind of a possible trip that was just too good to pass up.  A group of five volunteers were planning an epic, multi-day bike ride from Tamba, all the way through The Gambia to Banjul, the capital city.  Another group would travel by car a few days later and everyone would meet up in Banjul to hang out on the beach and bring in the new year with some style.  We were invited to come along with the car group, and we happily accepted.  Aside from the awesome chance to travel to another country, I was keen to go along with some older volunteers to gain some valuable travel experience.

We didn't want to use up our vacation days, so we didn't tell anyone in Peace Corps that we were going.  But this is The Gambia we're talking about!  People go through it all the time to get from one side of Senegal to the other.  No big deal, right?  Well...famous last words.

Throwing caution to the wind, the six of us who were traveling by car set off on the morning of December 30th.  The main method of transportation in Senegal is via "spet-place."  Picture a station wagon, with rickety seats, no seat belts, painted with rust, and with an engine that only runs half of the time.  Then, cram seven people inside it, plus one driver, and you have a sept-place.  Normally you go to the nearest garage, find a car going in the direction you want to go while dodging begging children, and then wait for six other people to buy seats in the same car.  Sometimes it can happen very quickly, sometimes you have to wait all day.  Because there were six of us, we only had to wait for one other person, which didn't take long.

The car dropped us off in Velingara, a biggish town in Southern Senegal and the place of our border crossing.  Most towns have two or more garages, with cars going in different directions.  Because of this, we had to get across town from the "All Destinations East of Velingara" garage to the "All Cars going to The Gambia" garage.  We took horse drawn carts.  It was fun.

The border was still a few miles away, which meant another sept-place.  However, this garage only had one running car, so they crammed FOURTEEN PEOPLE into one car, making it a quatorze-place.  I was in the front seat with three other people, practically hanging out the window.  The driver even had an assistant that rode on the roof.  The road to the crossing was a little-used dirt road. which made the whole experience all the more entertaining.

The border crossing consisted of a guard house with a compound behind it for the off-duty guards to hang out in.  Ordinarily, one wishing to cross the border would have to pay for a visa, but Peace Corps Volunteers are wily hombres.  We told them we were Peace Corps Volunteers (which was true), and that we were just passing through on our way to Northern Senegal.  We were just going to take a few days longer than normal and take a less than direct route.  Because Peace Corps Volunteers do that kind of thing all the time, they didn't make us pay for visas.

So, we were in The Gambia!  From Basse, the town we came in on, we hired yet another sept-place to take us to Banjul.  This leg would take us through the entirety of Africa's smallest country, along the Gambia River, to the capital on the coast.

Leg One

Chapter Two:  Being There

The Gambia is a strange little country, and we were all immediately in love.  English is the official language for one thing.  They have good beer (Guinness!) for another.  The best part, in terms of traveling, is the exchange rate.  The Gambia is the only country in the world that uses "dalasi," and they're surrounded by West African Franc using countries for thousands of miles.  Because of this, no one wants dalasi, and everyone wants francs, so you can get a really great exchange rate.

I thought The Gambia would be very similar to Senegal, seeing as how the former is completely surrounded by the latter.  I was very wrong.  The same ethnic tribes that are in Senegal can be found in The Gambia, but in the same way that Senegal (and most other countries in the region) have been heavily influenced by the French over the last few hundred years, The Gambia owes a lot of it's modern culture to the English.  Instead of the Wolof being laced with French words, it's laced with English.  "Innit" is heard in almost every other sentence.  Also, everything seemed to be a lot nicer from a developmental stand point.  Every village we passed on the way to Banjul had a nice school building and a covered well with an India pump.  Things just seemed more organized. 

There were also a lot of police around, but that might be for different reasons.  Since 1994, the country has been under the control of a man named Yahya Jammeh, or as he calls himself:  His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh Naasiru Deen.  He seized power in a military coup, and has since declared that he will rule for a thousand years and anyone who doesn't like it can go to hell.  Every few hundred feet of so along the highway we would see a billboard with a message saying something like "Gambian women love President Jammeh and will rally behind him forever" and "Stop hatting yourself for not voting for President Jammeh" and my personal favorite "The youth of The Gambia will not only fight for President Jammeh, but will die for him forever."  At first I thought he was just a harmless weirdo that his people humored because he was funny.  I later learned that he commonly does things like arresting his political rivals for made up charges, because no one can run for office in The Gambia if they have ever been arrested.  Despite all this craziness, the people we met during our time there were all very nice and welcoming.  You'll see for yourself as we continue our tale.

The Gambia has two main highways.  The North Road and the South Road, depending on which side of the river you're on.  We started off on the South Road, crossed the river on a small ferry, and continued on the North road until we got to the town of Barra, on the coast.  From there we had to take a large ferry across the mouth of the river to Banjul.  By that time it was dark and we were anxious to find a place to stay the night.  This was the first time I'd ever traveled without knowing where I would be sleeping, and I can safely say it was very exhilarating.  The master plan was for the six of us to spend the night in Banjul, then go a few miles further west the following day to Serrekunda, the main resort town, to meet up with the bikers and a few more volunteers who had come from the Dakar area.

Once in Banjul we got a taxi, picked a hotel from random out of the Lonely Planet guide one of us had, and were checking in 20 minutes later.  One of our number spoke Mandinka unbelievably well, so we got in good with the hotel owner.  It was late, so we ate dinner in a restaurant next door and went to sleep.  It didn't seem like there was much to see in Banjul anyway.  Our hotel was next to the presidential palace and a giant, lit up sight declaring "Happy Birthday Mr President" that we were told remained up all year.  What a lucky guy.

The next day we hopped on a bus and headed for Serrekunda.  We did make one stop and the Julbrew Beer brewery.  Julbrew i the national beer in The Gambia, and much better than anything they have in Senegal.  They seemed very flattered that we wanted a tour that they gave us one for free, then loaded us down with free beer and let us hang out and marvel at how awesome The Gambia is.  After that we headed to tourist town, where two out of every three people is a British tourist.  We awaited the arrival of the bikers and Dakar people relaxing and eating fish and chips in a cafe on the beach.  There was a lot of confusion due to the fact that only one of us had a cell phone that would work in The Gambia, but it was nice on the beach and we found everybody in the end.  From there we checked into our new digs.  Rachael and I got a room in a hotel owned and operated by an old man from Cornwall.  I tried to impress him by telling him that that was were Rachael and I met, but he didn't seem to care.

The rest of the day was spent resting up for that night.  The bikers were very dirty and tired, but seemed like they'd had an amazing time.  It was New Year's Eve, and we'd all been invited to a party at the local Peace Corps Gambia regional house.  Rachael was tired and didn't feel like partying and decided to stay behind, so I went without her.  The PC Gambia regional house was NICE!  It was like a honest to goodness house!  I was beside myself with jealousy until I heard that they had to pay to stay in it.  I could see why.  If I had a palatial regional house blocks from the beach I would never be at site.

After some get-to-know-you-drinks we headed down to the beach to see some fireworks that someone was going to be setting off.  And boy did they!  They'd been going for a few minutes when we noticed an ever brightening glow coming from down the beach.  Apparently they'd set a grove of palm trees and entire beach restaurant on fire!  That didn't stop them, however.  The fireworks just kept on coming as the beach burned.  It was like Apocalypse Now.  But the novelty eventually wore off as a few people starting stripping naked and running into the ocean (I decided to pass).  A few of us found some Gambians who had made a little campfire a hundred or so feet down the beach from us and sat down and made some local friends.  All in all it was a pretty amazing experience.

The next day we had a traditional English breakfast at our hotel and spent the rest of the day at the beach, where we observed a uniquely Gambian phenomenon:  the Bumster.  This is an overarching term for a young, unemployed person who lives off getting money or gifts from tourists.  This can be done by offering to be your guide, solve some small problem you may be having, pretending to befriend you, or offering to show you a "real Gambian experience"...all for a price of course.  However, the most noticeable bumster activity is to attach themselves to lonely, single white women and be their escort for the duration of their holiday.  I had read about this kind of thing in our guidebook and figured it was the kind of thing I'd read about but never see.  Wrong.  They were everywhere!  Everywhere we looked there was a woman walking around with a young, muscly Gambian, or sitting in a restaurant, or relaxing on the beach.  The unfortunate men who haven't been picked up yet advertise themselves by working out on the beach:  doing pushups, racing each other around, things like that.  At one point late in the day one of our number had had a little too much to drink and decided he wanted in on the action.  He strode up to a group of bumsters and declared that that was now his turf and started doing pushups himself.  Suffice it to say we were all greatly amused.  He didn't get any offers, but had gone a long way towards achieving cultural integration, which is the most any Peace Corps Volunteer can hope for.

For the life of me, I can't remember what we did that night, so it must not have been very exciting.  The next morning we would leave to return to dreary old Senegal.  There were exactly fourteen of us, which meant we could fill up two sept-places, which meant hiring transportation would be relatively easy.  Half of us decided they wanted to go back the way we had come (though Basse to Velingara and then to Tamba).  The other half (Rachael and I included) would be going back a different way:  North to Kaolack, thereby fulfilling the promise we made when crossing into The Gambia, and then West to Tamba.  However, as can be shown dozens of times throughout our time in Africa, getting someplace is easy, getting back is a nightmare.

Leg Two

Chapter Three:  The Strike

We made it to the border okay.  It meant taking the ferry back to Barre, then hiring a sept-place to take us to the crossing.  There was a town on either side, one in Senegal and one in the Gambia.  We saw people just walking across like it was no big deal, so we probably could have tried to blend in.  However, it's hard to go unnoticed in Africa when you're white, and the travelers in us just couldn't pass up the chance to have our passports stamped one more time.  But our bad karma caught up with us.  Once we'd handed over our passports, they saw that we'd been in The Gambia for too long not to have a visa.  They refused to give them back until we payed the visa fee:  1000 Dalasi (18000 cfa, or $36).  We didn't have very much money left, but between the seven of us we managed to get enough together.  Dalasi bills don't come in very large denominations, so a stack of 7000 was maybe four inches thick.  It looked like something out of a movie:  handing over a huge stack of cash to get across an African border.  It wasn't technically a bribe, but it sure looked and felt like one.

Once we shuffled guiltily across the border we got some really bad news:  every sept-place, taxi and bus driver in Senegal was on strike.  Here's why - the entire transportation system in Senegal is controlled by the Mouride Islamic Brotherhood, a major religious and political player in the country.  They'd been trying to raise their prices in the last few weeks, but everyone had refused to pay up.  So, the Mourides tried to get the government to give them subsides to cover the difference.  Apparently the government never got back to them so they decided to strike.  We didn't know about any of this when we crossed the border, and promptly found ourselves stranded in Karang, the town on the Senegalese side of the border.  We didn't have enough money to go back into The Gambia, and no way to get to Kaolack.  We didn't want to call anyone in PC administration because we weren't the only ones stranded by the strike so there probably wasn't much they could have done.  So with no other recourse, we started walking.

Our goal was to try and catch a ride from a passing car.  That was easier said than done.  The strike had brought the country to a halt.  No one could get anywhere and people were stranded at garages and in their villages all over Senegal.  We made it a few kilometers outside of Karang before stopping in a cashew orchard by the side of the road.  One person was put on car-flagging-down duty while the rest of us sat down and played Monopoly Deal (a card game), waiting.....  For nothing.  There weren't many cars on the road, and the ones that would stop wanted huge amounts of money to take only one person to Kaolack.  Eventually one of us did get a ride, but came walking back about half an hour later.  Apparently the strikers had put up roadblocks to make sure no one was giving anyone rides.  They were stopping cars, yelling and brandishing sticks at people.  Two of us did have bikes from biking across The Gambia, but 85 kilometers is a long way, and they didn't want to leave us behind.

By late afternoon it was obvious that we weren't going anywhere; it was time to make camp.  A few of us went back into Karang to get supplies:  bread, three cans of chicken spam, water, two onions and a wheel of Laughing Cow cheese.  We had two tents with us, two sleeping bags and some blankets.  We pitched the tents in our cashew orchard, started a camp fire, and made dinner.  One of us randomly had some salami and gin with him which greatly added to our dinner.  We roasted spam over the fire, made sandwiches, passed the gin bottle around, and laughed at our ridiculous situation.  Rachael and I got one of the tents with a blanket to share, the two other girls got the other one, one guy built himself a shelter out of branches and leaves, and the last two took the sleeping bags and slept under the stars.  The life of a hobo is difficult, but character building.
Making due with what you have

The next day the bikers decided to go on ahead, which we were okay with.  We figured five people would have a better chance of picking up a ride than seven.  With them gone, the rest of us carried on walking.  We started out in good spirits, but as the day went on we got tired and discouraged.  We'd made it maybe 10 kilometers, but still had over 60 to go.  As we were walking, we noticed dozens of people zipping up and down the highway on mopeds.  Apparently some enterprising citizens were taking advantage of the strike by ferrying people around.  We, of course, attempted to get them to take us to Kaolack.  At first they wanted 35000 cfa ($70) a person!  A sept-place would have cost us 2000 cfa ($4) per seat, so we had to say no thanks.  However, as the day went on, with rumors of the strike ending soon, we managed to haggle them down to 8000 cfa ($16).  We were still getting ripped off, but by then didn't care.  One by one we each hitched a ride and formed a moped convoy to Kaolack.

I'd never been to Kaolack before, so I only knew what I'd heard from other volunteers:  that it was the armpit of Senegal.  It sits at the mouth of Saloum river, and floods every year during the rainy season.  It's much larger than Tamba, and I found it to be wonderful after living like a vagrant during the past two days.  The region of Kaolack (of which the city of Kaolack is the capitol) has by far the most volunteers in Senegal, over 60.  Many of those volunteers were stranded in town due to the strike, so we met up with a few of them for lunch and shared our tale of woe.  They were all very sympathetic, and led us back to their regional house.

I'd heard things about the Kaolack regional house too.  Due to the large number of volunteers in the region the house is always crowded, loud, and noisy.  We found it especially so because of the strike.  Despite this, it was much bigger and nicer than the Tamba house.  However, it lacked Tamba's coziness so I wasn't too jealous.  We managed to get beds and spent the rest of the day hanging out, catching up with members of our training group were also there, and generally relaxed after  long and hard vacation.

The strike was over the next day.  But, we lucked out and hitched a ride with a Peace Corps jeep that happened to be passing through on it's way to Tamba, so we got a free, air conditioned ride all the way home!  Well, almost home.  By the time we'd made it back to Tamba it was Friday.  Friday is the holy day in Islam, and since the transportation system is run by an Islamic brotherhood, we couldn't get back to Bakel until the next day.  By the time we made it back to our village (January 6th), we'd been gone for over two weeks.  Our family didn't seem to care that much.  They knew about the strike and understood that we'd had trouble.  The funny part is that we had to turn around and leave again four days later to make it to Thies for the West Africa All Volunteer Conference, and then the West African Invitational Softball Tournament in Dakar right after that.  We have such a good work ethic!

All in all it was a very fun experience.  Peace Corps service is all about meeting new challenges and overcoming them.  It filled me with a lot of pride to know that we were able to roll with all the punches that Africa threw at us.  It's left me with a fun story to tell people, and given me a lot of confidence.  My time in Senegal was filled with such "I don't think I can do this!" moments followed by "Wow I did it!" moments.  There's always a cashew orchard to sleep in, and remember to just keep walking and eventually a moped will pick you up!

Leg Three

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Bean Sandwich

Hello again.  It's been a few days since Christmas and Rachael and I are just hanging out in Tamba trying to decide what to do with ourselves for New Years.  We've got a few ideas, but right now we're just enjoying the easy life of regional house squatting.  Here's a rough outline of our schedule for the next few months:

January 12-13:  West Africa All Volunteer Conference in Thies.  I'm not really sure what to expect from this, but it'll be nice to get back to Thies and see everybody.

January 14-16:  West African Invitational Softball Tournament in Dakar, or WAIST, the largest social event of the PC Senegal Year.  It's pretty much a three day long drinking fest (just look at the acronym) with a small softball theme.  This is what I'm most excited about, as it will involve getting to really experience Dakar for the first time.  The 16th is also the day when the Constitutional Court of Senegal decides whether or not president Wade will be able to run for a new term.  Depending on the outcome, there could be a little bit of chaos in the capital, riot-wise.  It'll be really interesting to see what happens.

February 1-11:  In-Service Training in Thies.  This is our stages official tech training.  Now that we've (supposedly) settled down into our villages and gotten to know our community, we'll finally be trained in actually doing the work we're supposed to be doing.  For me this will involve a lot of learning about trees I guess.

In between all of these things we'll be zipping back to our village for a few weeks at a time to upkeep our garden and hang out with our family.

Now, on to business.  In this post I'd like to talk about the go-to breakfast, main street food, and best thing about Senegalese cuisine:  the bean sandwich!

Before I came here, I'd heard about these things in other people's blogs and thought "A sandwich of beans?  Gross."  But now that I'm here I know the truth:  they're so much more than that.  The beans in question are baked beans, but you can also have spaghetti, macaroni, peas, hard boiled eggs, fish sauce, mayo, pepper.  You can also find men who sell omelet sandwiches with onions and potatoes.  Each of these toppings, and the bread itself, usually costs 100 cfa (about $0.20) each.  Here's what they look like here in Tamba:

From left to right:  Omelet with onion and potato, fish sauce, beans and spaghetti, and beans with peas and mayo.  Yum.
So, every morning (at the regional house anyway) you can find a large number of volunteers stumbling groggily down the street in search of breakfast in the form of a bean sandwich.  First, you go to the corner boutique and buy bread.  This can be either a regular french baguette (far left picture) or the much better and preferred "tapalapa" village bread (every other picture).  Then, you walk down the street until you see a woman sitting outside of her compound at a table with a series of big metal bowls.  You walk up, greet her, hand her your bread and tell her what you want.  Depending on the woman, making your sandwich can take a maddeningly long time as she cuts the bread, pauses to take a break, rummages around for a spoon, takes another break to yell at her children, spoons some beans or what-have-you onto your bread, and finally dribbles two or three spoonfuls of pure grease (not kidding) on top.  When you're in a line of four or five hungry volunteers, its easy to miss speedy American service.  Usually a "bean lady," as we call them, will only have three toppings to choose from:  beans, spaghetti and either peas or eggs.  Bigger stands have more, smaller ones have less, but beans and spaghetti are can be counted on almost every time.  This also depends on the region.  You can get eggs easily in Thies, but I haven't seen them that much in Tamba.  Once your sandwich is made, the bean lady will tear you off a page from a newspaper or something similar, wrap your breakfast up, and you're good to go.  Every morning I get beans and spaghetti, an excellent combination, for 300 cfa including the bread.  That works out to about $0.60.  A box of cereal and thing of milk here costs about 5000 cfa, or about $10.00.  You do the math.

However you crunch the numbers, it equals "delicious."

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Tambacounda Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Tamba!

Santa even comes to Senegal!
This morning a bunch of us went to the local Catholic Church to experience a Senegalese Mass.  We were quite a sight; a bunch of Tubabs in their Sunday best, biking single file through Tamba asking everyone we passed "To woni juma catolic?" (Where is the Catholic church?).  The mass itself was all in French, but they sang some amazing music:


Once we were square with God it was time to eat!  Yesterday in the course of an hour we went from first having the thought "We should get our chickens for tomorrow," going and buying a few from the family that lives next door, to killing them, plucking them and gutting them.  No adult supervision.  This is how we do things in Senegal.

We had a much smaller crowd than at Thanksgiving.  The day was spent with movies, relaxing and cooking.  There was also cookies galore and mulled wine and pirogi's and chocolate and beer.  There's always beer.  In fact, we went with the beer can cooking method we used at Thanksgiving because it worked so well.

As always, there was Settlers of Catan.

This game is sweeping the Tamba Nation with a vengeance.
 And of course, there was caroling.

 Over Skype, to Rachael's mom.
And at the corner boutique.
And at some random houses.
All in all, a super fun time.  Merry Christmas everybody!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Home for the Holidays (Sort of)

Hello all,

Rachael and I are in Tamba again to celebrate Christmas!  Peace Corps Senegal doesn't really have a major Christmas party like they do for Halloween or the 4th of July, because a lot of people go home or have family and friends visit.  A lot of people are going to beach, but it's in the middle of the cold season here so that didn't sound fun.  So, we decided on good ol' Tamba.  There's only going to be about 10 or so of us at the house, which is fine with us.  We need a break from large groups and loud noises.  The plan therefore is to make as much cookies as our little oven can handle, fire up the Official Peace Corps Business Only projector and watch us some movies!

Speaking of the cold season, it's in full swing now.  The only time you really notice it is in the morning, when you wake up and the temperature is in the low 60's.  At breakfast all of our aunts sit and complain, huddled up in their shawls and scarves.  Apparently the peak of the cold season is in January, so we'll see how low we can go.  Another feature of the cold season is the wind!  Especially in Bakel, it blows all day long.  Our beautiful hills are veiled in dust haze most of time, and everything we leave in our back yard gets absolutely filthy by the end of the day.  Luckily, though, you just blow on it for a second, and all the dust comes off.

That's it for now.  Rachael wants to go to market in search of skinny jeans, and I want a bean sandwich!  I'll write a post about those wonderful things at some point.  I just need pictures.  A trip to Tamba isn't complete without at least one.

Anyway, have a Merry Christmas everybody!  And thanks to all the people who have sent us packages full of love and treats.  We really really appreciate it (hint hint).