Thursday, September 27, 2012

Je Suis Arrivé: My First Taste of Senegal

It's hot here. I arrived in Senegal with 57 other volunteers at 5:30 am, this was a good thing for 2 reasons first it was already 85 F and we were the only ones in the airport. So not was I only tired from not sleeping, I had sweating beading up on every inch of my skin and had to wrangle my luggage. (Yes I packed too much, but I'm still happy with what I brought as I sleep my first night in Senegal in my sleeping/mosquito proof hammock with a very large smile on my face)

After wrangling said luggage, we were greeted by current volunteers, our country director and other wonderful staff. I was more than happy to sit for another hour or so to the commute to Theis from Dakar. And the view on the way was pretty great.

I not only had a window seat on the plane (Dakar has a VERY short runway and the approach just about clips buildings from a water approach-not for the timid flyer) and also on the van ride to the training center and because my batteries were dead I simply took it in instead of taking pictures. Now looking back I'm happy this happened. There were some interesting things along the way, but that was one road in a very small region of this amazing country.

Once we got to the training center we were welcomed again with beating drums and some food, coffee and tea.r After luggage was moved again (I'm wondering if I should start counting) In the heat it started sprinkling and people found there natural places lounging, playing Frisbee and simply enjoying being here. I don't think any of us in our sleep deprived haze could quite get our heads wrapped around it.  We were here. In Africa. I had said it while I was in the states yet, in less than 24 hours I will be in AFRICA. Crazy.

And I am here. Enjoying it all. Since we are on the end of the raining season (and it rains as I right this at almost 3am) it is lush here. green beyond green. I was told they thought the rainy season was over and we got just another (and yet another) dose of it, it will start to cool off and the humidity will drop and get "Lion King"-like.  So while we have it I'm taking notes of the plants in the gardens we have in the center's compound (which is roughly the size of a city block with a tall cement wall around it and many buildings and gardens throughout)

As this week goes by I hope to LEARN a lot. Most of didn't sleep on the plane or the entire 1st day we were here and we had some training sessions. I hope I retain any of that information, but I did get a chance to sleep and will again after the rain stops and lets me back to my hammock until the breakfast drum sounds. Tomorrow is another day here and I can't wait for it. (and will take some pictures)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Saying the G-Word: My last week in the United States

This week I have seen many friends, co-workers and family before I head off to Washington, D.C. and then to Senegal, West Africa next week. Strangely, many of them have not said my least favorite word “goodbye” to me. I’m sure I have mentioned to most of them how silly I thought it was that friends and family warned me there were going to cry and have told them back what a happy experience I wanted this to be. Not sad or with tears. I am sure when looking back at these days I will not be saying to myself   “I wish people would have cried more” and that there will be plenty days in Senegal that I will cry enough for all of them combined. Save the tears for when they are needed, trust me, I will need them.
I understand that having a friend or family member leave is unsettling, but in this day and age of electronics, internet and cell phones, communicating across the world is as easy as ever. I have friends all over the globe that are on Facebook and with Skype I can ‘call’ them when we happen to be online at the same time. Handy, right? Unless you aren’t well versed in things technological, like my mom.

If anyone asks me what they can do or get me before I leave, I have simply replied with be happy I am going to do what I have wanted to and please don’t cry. As simple and priceless as this is, I know it is much harder and complicated as that, especially for my mom. She has known forever that I am going to the Peace Corps and I have prodded her to learn how to email and use Skype but still has not learned on her own. I grew up in a small rural town with 300 people, close to the dark ages some say (that some be me) but there is a 20,000 person town nearby. I’m hoping that she will read this by my sending my blog posts to her email that we have the chance to set up. I have warned how expensive it is to send things (medium sized flat rate USPS box being around $60-70 US) it would be much easier to email and Skype, which are both free.

Changing habits and learning new things is more difficult in action than in theory. It’s always a good idea to work towards the better but feels impossible whether you have a support group or not and no matter how small of a change you are trying to make. I’m sure in Senegal I will have many more hang-ups than I ever thought possible. 

I do have to say having a 2-year old say "buh-bye" in the sweetest voice ever does make just throw up my hands and puts me right where my friends are. There is some strange part of me that is glad they are sad to see me go, but know that I will have only more to share with them from my travels. 
“After a while you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul and you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning and company doesn’t always mean security. And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts and presents aren’t promises, and you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes ahead, with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child. And you learn to build all your roads on today because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight. After a while you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much, so you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers. And you learn that you really can endure, you really are strong, you really do have worth, and you learn and you learn. With every goodbye, you learn.”  -Veronica Shoffstal 
I can say the best way I have learned to say good bye, is from a dear friend of mine that works for Kooza for Cirque du Soleil. He has worked the entirety of the show and has seen many faces come an go. As a traveling production they are constantly moving and on the road, seemingly for years. I bawled when I last saw him and now know how he felt. It's hard when others are sad to see you leave. His words of wisdom..."I will see you again in another part of the world", which is so true. I hope to see many other people I have met through traveling or working various places. Or in my best friend's case she will be moving due to her husband being in the military. And of course this post would not be complete without my favorite E.E. Cummings poem.

Shoffstal V. with every goodbye you learn. Available at: Accessed July 29, 2012.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Out in to the Ether: I’m Traveling for How Many Hours/Days?

On Sunday I start my way toward Washington, D.C. before I board a plane to Senegal, West Africa to start my life as a Peace Corps volunteer. Actually if you count the fact that I am actually at my mom’s house in southern Minnesota to visit for a week, the travel has actually already started. Being in limbo and extended traveling isn’t new to me and I actually thoroughly enjoy it, that is with enough planning.
Flight home from South Korea back in 2006

 Rachel is another fellow expat and Minnesotan who has lived abroad in Somalia for a few years now and writes about her adventures, family and life on her blog, Djibouti Jones. I have followed her blog for a few months now pouring over her site looking for packing lists, cultural norms to be wary of and finding out I should prepared to sweat and be dusty, sometimes at the same time.

In a recent trip for her back to Somalia from Minnesota she gave this WONDERFUL list on her traveling tips. I will be using all of them in the hours or days I will be traversing the earth for a while.

Ten Travel Tips
1. Eat whatever you want. Food eaten in airports and on airplanes doesn't have calories.
2. Fly like the American you are (if you are one). This means feel free to carry a large, ugly backpack, wear large, ugly shoes, and large, ugly pants. Whatever it takes to be comfortable for the next 27 hours.
3. Be nice to the airline employees. You will see a lot of them and they know where the extra toilet paper is kept on the plane.
4. Pack your carry-ons so you will only need access to one during the flight.
5. Bring a bottle for water. Even if your husband thinks you won't need it. He will be asking for it somewhere above Europe.
6. Bring reading material you are willing to forget in the seat carrier in front of you.
7. Make sure young children use the bathroom before flight attendants lock you in for the 45 minutes preceding landing. Ditto for yourself.
8. Don't look at your watch or any time-revealing devices. It won't help.
9. Explain to concerned passengers and flight attendants that the pile on the ground beneath your feet is just lumpy carry-ons, not a sleeping child. Even though it is a sleeping child and you are secretly jealous.
10. Remind yourself that a whole new world awaits you. As well as, hopefully, all of your luggage.

From my research I believe the plane trip to Senegal is somewhere around 7 hours, but if you count the total hours I will be on a plan next week it’s closer to 13.  Back in 2006, I traveled to South Korea on a 15-hour flight with a lay over, but nothing could beat the flight back. We left around 10:30 am Friday morning and woke up with the sun that day to see it set and rise again on the plane only to land around 11 am on the same Friday we left. I saw the sun rise and set that day twice and took me a while to get my head wrapped around that for a while after.

Being in limbo, traveling, whatever you call it, is a strange place to be in. Time is not what it is, you make yourself as comfortable as you can, check your patience and calorie counting at the door. They say its not the destination but the journey that matters, same goes with traveling. A little planning goes a long way on making yourself and others comfortable.

I am slowly checking things off my list, writing as much as I can not knowing when I will get the chance again, seeing as many friends as possible, eating all the things I think I would miss and excited to start my new adventure in Africa.

All in all I have been blessed, prayed and chanted for, had a monarch butterfly released in my honor and protection, had guardian angles asked to be my side while traveling, hugged, kissed, drinks bought for, fed well and wished well in SO many wonderful countless ways from friends, family and complete strangers. I can honestly say I'm speechless (and if you know me-that NEVER happens) 
So THANK YOU ALL, the UNIVERSE and all other wonderful things. I'm excited to get on a plane and start seeing more of this wonderful world.

Jones, Rachel Pieh. Marathon Miles: 10 Travel Tips. Rachel Pieh Jones. 2012. Available at: Accessed August 20, 2012.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Day in my life-Working at the bee farm

Almost every day is different for me so picking a day to do is a no brainer, a day I go work at the bee farm. Apiary, beekeeper, honey-maker. Any way you put it, it's my favorite job.

5:30 am: Wake up and wash my face, dress, finish packing my clothes in to a cinch bag & food into a bag for the weekend make some coffee and grab some breakfast. During this summer I travel to the farm and stay there for the next 3-4 days because it's a 45 minute to an hour long commute. It's much simpler to stay and I can put in 10-12 hour days.

Oak grove I walk by on my way to the bus stop

6:10 am: Catch the bus a block away from my house to downtown Minneapolis where I transfer buses to a park and ride where my lovely co-worker picks me up and takes me with her to the farm.

The amount of stuff I bring with me. Left is an "overnight" bag while the right is some food :)

8 am: Arrive at work, say hi to everyone, turn the radio on to mpr and start cleaning. This might sound backwards, but I've been extracting honey (don't worry I will explain this more through out the post) this summer and only one doing it for the most part. So I need to clean the dripping wax that is now dry, pull melted wax from water baths, wash empty honey buckets that have been returned from clients so forth and so on. Work is never ending here, which is a good thing.

Extractors in the back (large silver drums), extracting stand (square silver thing) and stacks of honey supers (squared colored boxes)

9 am: Cleaning is done. Start to stock my room (yes I have a whole room to myself mostly) with supers of honey and clean empty pails, grab needed tools and start extracting honey. Work until I need a break or need more of something.

Overall Extracting Process: 

Starts with capped honey in frames which are in bottom-less boxes called supers (see above:1 frame from a super)
Uncap the wax on the cells exposing the honey on each frame using an extracting comb, put 9-10 in the large extractor and let the centrifuge pull honey from the comb
Empty frame of comb after being extracted
Open spicket on extractor and let honey run through a double filter into food safe pail and you have honey to bottle

So I do this process over and over during a 10-12 hour day over the course of 3-4 days during this summer. On my best day I go through 26 boxes/supers of honey and with each of those supers weighing 40ish lbs, I move a lot of honey.

Different Frames of Capped Honey

But with honey and bees being very interesting (at least to me) there are very interesting things you see through out the day. Such as the differences of wax and honey colors. Above shows how the wax capping the honey can be of very different colors. This being due to how much the bees walk on it or the amount of time the honey is left on the hive. In this case the newest being the whitest and the darkest being the oldest.

Detail of the wax capping on the honey

The wax also has very interesting shapes, contours and feelings. We use 9 frames in most supers giving the bees a little more space to work, which can also make for some unusual frames as they will fill space as they need it and a simple frame can be attached to another or a few making my job more interesting trying to save as much honey as possible.

Detail of looking through honey in light colored comb

But with a few bees flying around and the radio on I can make pretty quick work of it all. Tasting honey, looking at all the colors that are made from the different plant sources the bees take nectar from making honey, seeing their wondering construction of comb and the amazingness of it all.

Left: Lit smoker while working hives, Center: Melon Farm where we have some of our hives, Right: Female worker bee, I usually have one on me during the day

Needless to say, I don't just extract honey. Any given day, I could be helping work the bees with Dan, our master beekeeper; out picking apples in one of the many orchards, helping bottle, label or get orders ready for the farmers market, help anyone else around the honey house do what they do, which is almost everything. We all do almost everything here. Which is nice especially when everything needs to be done all the time.

Left: Freshly picked Honey Crisp apples, Center:Beeswax Candles, Right: One of our stands at the farmer's market

Strangely, I always bring my camera to work with me. Most of these pictures have been captured over the 3 years I have worked at the farm and usually try and snap some pictures when I see something new or was learning the trade.

Left: Owner Brian holding up a frame, Center:Apples still on in the orchard, Right:Beehive in the front yard in the shade

I could literally go on for hours about bees, honey and anything that goes with it. By the end of the day I usually smell a mix of sweat and honey (which isn't a bad combination). I grab something to eat (I usually snack all day), shower (so I get all the odd sticky spots off my arms) and read until I am to tired to anymore and do it all over again for a few days a week.

I hope to work bees when I'm in Senegal and CANNOT wait do to that.And hope to show some of the differences and similarities in that process there.

Any questions??? Feel free to ask!

Monday, September 3, 2012

How to pack for the next 2 years of your life

Sound very daunting, doesn't it?

The nice thing about this is for the Peace Corps I have an 80 pound weight limit on 2 checked bags and 1 carry on with a dimension limit. Having limitations helps, right? Strangely enough packing for 2 years in a under-developed country (I don't know what the definition of 3rd world country and that makes it sound like it will never get better) is easy. Pack less.

This first piece of advice I had gotten during a Peace Corps meeting of new invitees and a few returned volunteers. The people in the place you are going have things to live, to survive, maybe not creature comforts. But they brush their teeth, just maybe not with toothpaste.  They have clothes, just not at a store, they go to the tailor and have them made. Things are different, for a reason. Being flexible and open to the adventure is part of the journey.

3 bags is all I"m bringing and the one on the right is half full
Above are the bags I will be bringing (from right to left):
  • Chrome Metropolis Messenger Bag: Purchased a few years back I LOVE THIS BAG. Waterproof and huge. I consider this thing my purse :) 40 Liters
  • Kelty Pack Bag, Red Cloud 80-5000: I bought this years ago and used it once, maybe twice, but kept it in hope I would use it again. (perfect, huh?)82 Liters
  • Seattle Sport Hydra Light Dry Bag: I do love this bag as when it's not in use it packs down to nothing 11 W x 5.5 H x 1.25 D inches closed. 24 W x 12 H x 15 D inches open and is water resistant. 52.5 Liters
  • TOTAL SPACE:  174.5 Liters
And what's in the bags:

Clothing (I'm not expecting it to be to cold I would need to layer but this gives me options if I am): 
  • 4 Long Sleeve Shirts
  • 1 Pant
  • 5 Capri pants (1 exercise)
  • 5 Tee Shirts
  • 4 Collared T-shirts
  • 7 Tank Tops
  • 10 Bras/underwear
  • 2 Dresses
  • 1 Swimsuit
  • 1 Leggings
  • 1 Bike Shorts & Running Shorts
  • 2 Pj Pants
  • 1 Pair Thermal
  • 2 Large Scarves
  • 10 Pairs Socks (I ALWAYS have cold feet)
All those lovely clothes turn into the left with some cinch bags :) & the pack bags tidy on the right

 I made sure to purchase cinch bags to pack things, as space is a hotter commodity than weight when packing.

Bedding-Camping hammock on the right
  • Hennessy Deep Jungle Camping Hammock: So happy to have this awesome camping hammock, with mosquito net built in & rain fly. Honestly the best money ever spent!!
  • Small travel blanket-Sure I got this from one of the times sleeping in the airport, light but warm
  • Travel pillow: Again small enough, but works for me.
  • Small camping stool: Picked it for $10 from Northern Tool, again handy, small, why not.
Cooking & Water:

List is from top right to bottom right then to top left to bottom left
  • Large Nalgene bottle: I had so I figure it would come in handy for something, right?
  • Small tiffin: Handy little devil for food,storage, etc. Like a little lunch box.
  • Dueter Hydration backpack: Basically a camelbak, has a 2 liter bladder in it for water and a handy drinking straw on the strap.
  • Small Pot with lid: Thrift store find, copper bottom, too cheap not to buy & perfect size
  • Fairshare mug: Measuring cup with lid & the story behind it is awesome.
  • Aladdin Collapsible bowls:Stumbled upon these in a gift store. They don't completely nest in each other but that's my only complaint!
  • NOT PICTURED Sawyer Squeeze water filter: Awesome water filter that takes out 99.9% of bad things & I can use in on my hydration pack.

Listed from top right down to left

  •  Rayovac rechargeable batteries & charger: Only problem it plugs into a standard American electrical outlet 
  • Olympus Camera:I've had this camera forever, but it takes pretty decent pictures.
  • Joos Orange Solar charger: Awesome, efficient, sturdy charger and it comes with many cable plug-in for various electronics
  • Kindle Fire with Otterbox Survior Case: I bring this with me to site and charge it with my solar panel, mostly for reading books, but I'm also bringing a keyboard to write on it too.
  • 17" HP Pavillion Laptop: I will leave this at a regional house and use it when I'm there instead of bringing to site. Too heavy to lunk around. 
  • Also NOT PICTURED Ipod mini: Also had and will bring with me to keep my sanity at site

Tools & Miscellaneous:
Odds and ends of stuff
  •  Bike lock & patch kit: We are given a bike during service and they have a tendency to walk off (or be borrowed) so hopefully I don't have to go searching for my bike too often
  • Cigarette case & zippo lighter: I don't smoke, this is more for storing incense or the like.
  • Leatherman, fruit knives, camp utensils and set of allen wrenches: More handy things,some I had and some I purchased.
  • Sewing kit: Shouldn't need it but you never do know
  • Gardening gloves:Helpful for many things and sure they will be well used
  • Wet stone and honing oil: To keep all those knives sharp.
  • Bic pens: I've heard/read that bic pens are a hot comadity with the kids there. And since white women supposedly eat children, I thought this would help me make some friends.
  • Ames Honey: This is more than me for anything else but bringing a little bit of home with me.
  • Binoculars: With all the birds in Senegal these are a nice and light thing to help pass the time.
 Books & supplies:

  • Leather clutch: This works well for events and my travel documents when I'm traveling.
  • French dictionary & a couple paper backs: Hopefully will not be used for kindling but they could after I read them.
  • Crochet & knitting needles: I'm sure I will find something to knit or crochet or both there. Something to pass the time and handy to fix things.
  • Playing cards, Velcro ties, frisbee, rubber bands, travel electrical adapter: Odds and ends of things that are handy.
  • Princetop TEC LED headlamp: Runs on 3 AA batteries and should be helpful if I need to get up int he middle of the night or just see stuff.
  • Accordion file: We get a lot of paper work and this will hold paper supplies and helpful documents while traveling.
  •  Moleskin notebook & 7 year pen:I love moleskin journals & I really do hope the pen lasts for 7 years....we will see.

  • Travel towel, body brush, & rest of my usual stuff: All stuffed in the bag on the left.
  • Makeup bag: I'm sure there will be a use for putting it on at some point, right? I've been told volunteers resemble homeless people soon after going to site.
  •  Hair ties, barrettes, bobby pins & headbands: I'm sure dealing with my hair will be a fun part of being in the heat. I'm thinking of shaving it off, we will see how it goes
  • Generic pepto-bismol, other medications
  • Contacts
  • Toothbrushes & dry tooth paste
  • Medicated Body Powder
  • Chapstick
  • Sunscreen
  • Blister bandaids

  •  Keen Flops and Sandals: I lucked out and found out that my foot size fits a youth size 5 in Keen shoes. So I ordered a few pairs :)
  • Sketchers Sneakers:  I love these shoes, perfect slip-on sneakers for traveling.
Bringing but not pictured: Beekeeping suit & hive tool, baseball hat, stocking cap, bandanas, notebooks, miscellaneous office supplies, inflatable roll,duct tape, zipties, assorted plastic bags, carabiners, granola bars, Emergen-C drink mix, sound-deading ear buds, sleeping mask, updated: Permethrin for my clothes and Ultrathon lotion

I'm planning on purchasing a few things or rather have them made in Senegal, such as a traditional Senegalese outfit and a very large brimmed straw hat. And planning on shipping a box to myself mostly so I can see how well the mail works. I'm sure I'm forgetting things or am over weight someplace so I have made sure to leave 1 bag packed only half way so I have room to move things around.

Overall, I'm feeling good about things, just trying to finish up my lists and making sure to keep everything together as I can not really pack everything until a week before I start traveling as I'm using most of it yet.

What am I forgetting????

"Faith is the power to stand up to the madness and chaos of the physical world while holding the position that nothing external has any authority over what heaven has in mind for you."

- Caroline Myss