Monday, August 6, 2012

We'll always have Senegal . . .


Well, here we are.  It's been six months since my last update and a lot has happened.  Chemotherapy has come and gone.  In the process I've run the gamut of uncomfortable and horrifying side effects.  My hair fell out (excluding my eyebrows, thank God), my fingers and toes turned brown, I was nauseous constantly, I had painful sores inside my mouth, I was horribly constipated, my appetite dissipated, my urine smelled really really really bad (really), I had to get stuck by needles pretty much daily, and I lived with a near constant state of overwhelming ickiness.  The worst part, however, was not being in Africa.  Every day I look through what everyone is up to on Facebook, read their blogs, talk with them over Skype, and just generally feel like I'm missing out.  Accompanying that is the feeling that once we got back, we'd have been gone for so long and have missed so much that no one would remember us, or we wouldn't be able to accomplish anything worthwhile.  Very sad times.

But, believe it or not, having cancer isn't all bad.  Everyone is really nice to you, you don't need to shave anymore, you have the ultimate excuse for everything, and you get the satisfaction of making people feel awkward when they're stupid enough to ask you why you're bald.

The important thing, however, is that it's over.  I finished chemo at the end of April.  Rachael and I spent the month of May in LA with her family while we waited for my follow up CT scan to see if the cancer was all gone, which, it turns out, it was.

But then the bad news (well, bittersweet news):  The Peace Corps doesn't want us to come back until I've had yet another CT scan to make absolutely sure I wasn't sick anymore.  I can see their reasoning.  It would be very expensive and pointless to send us back to Senegal only to have me need to come home again.  This means that the earliest that we could come back would be December.  And that means that we'd have been gone from Africa for a whole year, and would only have eight months left in our service.  Sure, we could extend our service beyond that, but we've been living in my parents basement for the last three years, and unemployed for the last seven months.  We feel like it's just time to move on and get on with our lives.

Right now I'm trying to get a job with the Peace Corps.  I really believe in their cause and think this would be a good way to help contribute.  This would mean moving out of Kansas (boo hoo), finally getting our own apartment, finally living as a married couple, and finally having real jobs.

This doesn't mean that we don't miss Africa.  The thought of not going back to all the amazing people who we traveled over there with and got to know once we were there is a very painful one.  But Rachael and I both feel that this is the best decision for us.  Who knows?  If we still don't have anything panning out by December, the Peace Corps will still be there.

So, to all our friends in Senegal, please do me a favor.  I'd like each region to elect a "Scott and Rachael Remembrance Agent."  Primary project duties:  saying "Hey, remember Scott and Rachael?  They were cool people." at all regional gatherings or 3 or more people.  Secondary project duties:  none.

We'll be in touch.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Repairs in Progress

It's under my skiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin!
On Friday I had surgery again; this time to have a portacath (click here for more info) put into my chest so they don't wreck my veins during chemo.  This is a good thing, because I've had to have three IVs in the last two weeks and they aren't very fun.  To be honest, getting a portacath is much more uncomfortable than having a testicle removed, but I have plenty of Lortab and Rachael to keep me company.

Chemo is set to start next Monday, February 20th.  I'll be on a three month program:  five days of "treatment" followed by two weeks of recovery, rinse and repeat.  That should take care of all the effing cancer cells, but just to make sure I'll have a CT scan two months later and blood tests every few months for the next couple of years.  They tell me I'll be infertile for the next three years, and there's a small chance that I'll be infertile forever, so I get to visit a sperm bank tomorrow to have some of the little guys frozen just in case.  Even though I've had to leave Senegal, there's still no end to the new experiences I'm having.

Rachael and I are doing okay, mainly thanks to yoga (Rachael only), Ben & Jerry's and Netflix.  Right now one of our favorite pass times is putting on a really sad Adele song and stalking all our Peace Corps friends on Facebook.  We love you guys.  Thanks for all the thoughts and support from everybody!  I feel so loved.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

So, yeah. I have cancer.

Sorry about that title.  I couldn't think of anything better.
Uploading this picture would have taken 10 minutes in Senegal.  In America:  0.003 seconds.
For those of you who haven't heard the news yet, Rachael and I are back in Kansas.  I discovered an abnormality in my right testicle while in village shortly after New Years.  I went into the med office right after WAIST to get examined by one of the PCMOs, who immediately sent me off to have an Ultrasound of the area.  They discovered that I had a tumor, and within two days I was medevaced back to the US.  Poor Rachael had to travel all the way back to Bakel to pack up our things before she could follow me.  Luckily she was fortunate enough to have a lot of help from some fellow volunteers.  Rachael was forced to ET, while I'm technically on medical leave for my first 45 days back in Kansas, after which I will be medically separated from service.  However, before leaving we spoke with the country director and he assured us that it would only be a matter of obtaining medical clearance and we would be able to come back and finish our service.

Once in America, I was send to a Urologist who concurred with the Peace Corps findings and scheduled me for surgery the next day.  So, I had my right testicle removed.  It was a day of several new experiences: first IV, first time being put under, first time having my right testicle removed, ect.  A few days later, while awaiting the results of the tumor biopsy, I had a CT scan done to see if the tumor had spread anywhere else in my body.  Today we got the answers.  My tumor was indeed malignant, and has spread to my lymph nodes.  This means that I'm going to need chemotherapy, however the Urologist assured me again and again that the kind of tumor I have is very susceptible to chemo so there's really nothing major to worry about.  The only question is if/when we'll be able to continue our service in the Peace Corps.

Right now the rest of our stage is in Thies for their In Service Training.  We Skyped with a bunch of them yesterday, and it was good to see everyone.  I just wanted to say that we miss you all very much, and that the joys of being in America seem less special, knowing that you all are not enjoying them too.  I also want to thank everyone who's been so helpful and supportive to us over these last few weeks.  I'm so lucky that this happened to me during a time in my life when I have such an amazing support network to draw strength from.

I would also like to take a moment to give a special, pain med induced shout-out to my amazing wife Rachael.  She's had to deal with a lot of crap from me over the last few years, but nothing as stressful as this; and I just wanted to say how lucky I am to have her and how special she is to me.  She's handling all this as well as anyone can be expected to and I'm really proud of her.

I'll try to keep everyone updated as we learn more, and hopefully I'll kick this cancer stuff sooner rather than later.

Inchallah!

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.

Save us a seat in the disco hut.  And don't lose Settlers of Catan while I'm gone.

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.
Camp
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