Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Almost Done & Am

"It is that true real inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and from challenge. Stepping away from what's comfortable and familiar and stepping into the unknown, the edge." -TED talk Ben Saunders

I am close to about a month from being done with my work in Senegal. While talking to fellow volunteers we discussed how strange it was that we notice we have feelings that are similar to how we felt when we first coming to Senegal. Wanting more personal time and connect to America, read and finish up on personal and PC projects has become front and center as my time winds down here.

Again thinking about the over all experience here strangely there are similarities between here and a few things I've read. I think they are kinda funny.

"There enemies are hunger, ignorance, and disease ...serves humanities, inter and Americans." p.21 Making a Difference :Peace Corps at Twenty Five by Milton Viorst


I don't know when I wrote above. My last months in village and in Senegal were too much. Too much of what I didn't know I missed and will miss. Too much love poured out of people who I got to spend 2 years with. Too much of volunteers that I also spent that time with, good or bad. Too much to be said but in too little time to say it all. Too much emotion to put accurately in to words.  Too much that I wanted for myself and the people around me, there and now here.

I've now been home for a month and until yesterday did not feel like writing. It was still too much. People that you thought you knew changed. I myself changed, but couldn't say exactly how. In the 2 years being gone, Minneapolis, my life, my friends, my people, have all changed. Mostly for the better I would like to think. But what has also changed is how I look at them.

When you return home from being abroad, you have these crazy emotions that you can't quite understand and they come from NO WHERE. I haven't broke down crying at the grocery store, yet. But I have felt angry that some of my people don't share my same view point on the world, which makes me wonder if we ever did.

Finding time to spend with people while I'm home has been fun and seeing them even better. And the most fun is seeing all my other, sometimes newer, friends who have been abroad while I was too. It's fun to compare thoughts on re-entry (I term I'm not sure I'm fond of yet)

Slowly I'm sure my too much, won't feel like enough. As it slowly is as I crave more conversation with people, not just my friends, but new people, like I had in Senegal. Every day new, every day something you didn't and could have ever though you'd be doing. Not like America. Every one busy, nose stuck in their phones like it was an oxygen tank for their last breath.


I know I can't make people see the things I've seen or share my experiences as richly as they ever were in person. Standing there with all the dust, heat, sweat, lovely smell of mango blossoms in the air as you just sit, because it's too hot to do anything else than sit and talk.

Part of me is sorry, for this rant, for what I feel and how mad I get sometimes at people that are so connected to their machines, phones, time, next that they can see the person beside them, the possibility for learning, an adventure, a friend.

Then the other part of me is not. The other part sees this as 'The Matrix' or the movie 'Her' (both I highly recommend) and I want to go around somehow unplugging people, waking them up. But no matter how loud I scream or try to get their attention will they get it, understand and even start to believe it's possible.

So I do what I can. Try to be of service, do what I can with what I have, go where I'm asked and hopefully people will just ask. "Why?" I don't expect to every to jump on a bandwagon and want to do the same thing I do, not in the least. I just want people to open their eyes, hearts, and minds and realize there is no more to life than this, here, and now. Not tomorrow, not even in this next hour or minute. But now.

When I went to Senegal I hated to say "Inchallah", if God wills it. It made me think that nothing will get done. Soon after I realized it was for that. It was a reminder to stay present and whoever it is, God, Allah or the Universe, will take care of it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Q & A's

So as I finish my 3 last weeks in Senegal me and my fellow stage mates are writing final reports, cleaning and purging our belongings, planning for next steps and handing off keys to our huts to replacements if we have them for our villages.

Below are some questions I'm sure people wonder about or have brought up in emails with me that I thought would be good to touch on.

I love seeing your pictures of your life there, but you don't talk about the stories from your village, why?
In this blog I have not spoken much directly about my village. I did this on purpose for many reasons. First of which is for my replacement if I have one. Reading someone's blog and trying to get a sense for a village (whether its my replacement or another one after-2nd & 3rd generation, typical villages have 4) is not really a good way to experience a place, people, work, and everything else that goes into it.

Second, it's so hard to get a sense of the place, people, circumstance in which all this happened in a written story. These are the stories I will tell you if you ask me in person. You will have lots of questions and I will show you pictures. But nothing is every as simple as it is in written form.

How about a photo of my dog instead??
I wish you took more pictures of yourself there with people you know..
I'm not here for vacation, I do live here. I don't need to have a photo moment everywhere and it also creates everyone around me asking for me to take there picture. Also most days here I'm dripping in sweat, am thin from simply trying to keep up with the people that live here and otherwise never really look great as I rarely have a large mirror to see myself in.

I have taken a lot of photos here, but I am very conscience of what I post on my blog as some of these 'kids' now will grow up and if they happen to know my American name, find this blog, see themselves in a photo I took and could be upset with me, or try come find me for a ticket to golden America. I rather avoid all that.

You always seem 'happy' or 'well' in your blog posts, you have bad days, right?
Also I've tried to write when I'm not in a high or low emotional place. As volunteers in a new place with a small about of language ability and just the nature of Senegal (it seems), makes most simple things seem like climbing a mountain. Every dang day. Until they become easier. Until the shop owner complements you on your wolof because he understands everything you asked him for and doesn't require miming or pointing.

Along with not writing about some of the not so great things that happen here because they don't just happen here (i.e. ebola) people draw an uneducated mind toward these things and blow them out of proportion when it is what happens when you are not in the happy bubble that is America. Again I hate writing when I am mad as it seems like everything is bad because when you are upset that is how you feel. I try to remember who might read my blog in the future and write to that.

You mention there are things you don't write about? Why?
 Sadly this is true. I hate this. I wrote a former blog post about this. Most of those things (i.e. cultural norms and taboos) are going to vary from place to place. The cultural frame in which sees these things will vary from person to person even if that person is from the culture. In many ways these are important topics but in others writing your frame of reference is only going to be interesting to people that have a similar background (as I would assume most of the readers of this blog are)

The 'other' things I don't talk about are similar to the things that we wouldn't in America pertaining to you job on this blog as this is about my work and life. So I can't bash my boss even when I think he isn't doing his job, or Peace Corps, even if I disagree with how they handle things. These are conversations to have in person, to be able to fully explain. If you truly love what you do to never complain about it, you my friend, have won the lottery. I'm moving closer to that, but until then, I feel complaining for complaining sake holds no weight. If you think talking about it will make a difference, by all means I will be the first to start screaming. (and I have when needed) But most of the time it doesn't. So save that strength to fight another day and move people by doing. Usually works faster anyways.

One of my favorite places to watch the sun set

Have you ever thought of writing your memoir? Or write more?
Yes! To both. I would love to write my memoir (I know, I might be a bit young) but it has passed my mind. I'm currently reading/researching doing so. And also am trying to write more and more about my experience here when I can or just the thoughts that I have about my experiences. I have always wondered if my writing DOES anything or CONNECTS to anyone, but the feed back (i.e. emails) I've gotten from people says they do. Long term plan is to eventually write about bees and the beekeepers I have met thus far and will meet when traveling.

Of course I will continue to write here and maybe while at home reorganize it a bit.

Always any thoughts, ideas or general feed back is ALWAYS welcome. Thank you for reading!!!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Summary of Beekeeping & 3rd Year Proposal

Like most things in my life recently (past 3 years) the small thought that stirred softly strangely and easily made its way into a larger, possible, plan. My 3rd year position with Peace Corps was the same.
See the queen in the middle of the picture, my first queen bee in Senegal.
Before I came I knew that beekeeping was a bygone area of work for Senegal. Primary work was in agriculture but with crop seed extension and making tree nurseries. Sadly beekeeping is a secondary, maybe 'other' project in Senegal’s Peace Corps world. While in Gambia, the small country inside of Senegal, every volunteer, all sectors, are trained on bees as beekeeping is a national commodity and is well known for it. Yes I did ask myself why I didn’t get sent to Gambia, but after visiting and hearing more and more about their president, I understood my personality would be better suited in more forgiving Senegal.

PROFILS, near Mboro, Senegal a wonderful NGO that works in the Fatick region
 Okay back to how this all happened. In my community based training village (also known as CBT) the first 3 months of my service I was in Mboro, a sprawling gardening hotbed who's vegetables feed most of the nation. It also had a beekeeping NGO based from Belgium. The volunteer we had living in the village knew them and arranged a meeting with the 4 trainees so I could pester them with my broken wolof trying to make it known that I too, understood bees.

Mamadou pointing at his hives in a cashew orchard

Next thing I know I’m in my village, maybe a month or two in, and I need to charge my phone as my I started having problems with my solar charger. So I go to the next village 2 km/1 mi away as they have solar and I was introduced to a few households over there so I could hang out while my phone was charging. One of the kids in the house notices my bee tattoo on my wrist and asks about it. Soon someone mentions they have bees and honey. I asked for them to show me. Mamadou, a lovely older man, brings me a small cup with honey and comb in it. I asked where it was from, he said it was his. He was the first of many beekeepers I met similarly to this. Waiting and making conversation as I’m doing my thing, and something brings up honey, bees, or beekeepers. 

Beginning of comb at the Master Farm in Same
 I knew that the NGO I met in Mboro, trained many villages in my sub-region (maybe around a dozen). I kept finding there beekeepers and many who wanted me to help, work, train, learn alongside of them. Beekeeping is very different than in the states due to the heat, bees, amount of times you can work a hive (maybe monthly compared to the weekly as I did in the States)
Honey house in Sangako
Ibrah, Salif  and Casey (former volunteer) introducing me to beekeeping brothers
One night of harvesting honey in Sankago

 Taking photos, notes, making calendars, asking plant names, researching scientific nomenclature, having tools made, getting estimates on extractors, sourcing other materials and prices were the things I did in between my other work, when I had time or the conversation presented itself.

Local honey being sold in a juice shop in Kafferine
Store shelves of honey in Dakar

So from very early on I knew there would be a chance of working with this NGO in a larger broader perspective. The list I made of what I wanted to do looked something like this:

-Working in the region of Fatick (possibly Casamance & Thies as needed) doing hands-on training with established and new beekeepers/farmers to improve technical beekeeping knowledge.
-Improve honey harvesting techniques and selection to improve quality and price through hands-on training and public and private honey tastings.
-Creating plant bee fodder list in local languages and identification manual to improve understanding, conservation and creation of bee habitat through seed saving and tree nurseries.
-Documenting local best practices to be shared with local, regional, country and international partners through conferences proceedings, journal articles, blog postings and other various forms of media to extend teaching to others.
-Further and strengthen partnerships with NGO's, countries, and Universities through pollination, research and training possibilities.

In February I had a meeting in Theis and so I made my way back to Mboro to talk and lay out my proposal to the NGO. They agreed and said they would look forward closer to November in hearing more from Peace Corps.

Fellow Senegal PCV Jessica, Gambia PCV Darrin, BeeCause DoDo, Myself and Beekeeper Saikou Nyassi. The banner is in Jola and says, "More frowning when you are working, and more smiling when you are eating!"
Also in February I was able to attend a West African Trainer of Trainers Conference in Gambia to share, learn, and meet with other volunteers from 5 West African countries. (Facebook photo album here) Then in May, the volunteer that went with me to the Gambia conference arranged a tourney on teaching beeswax and honey based soap, hand crème and lip balm down in the Kolda region, where is known for honey and boarders Guinea who personally has some of the best tasting honey (tastes like apples and is sold quite often in Dakar) (Facebook

So after all that I had applied in May to Peace Corps Senegal with this outline. And they made decisions soon after that. Some of the positions they posted were not filled and I received a response that saying it was not approved. Sadly I was not happy with this but later found out it had to do with tightening up the programming that we have for Peace Corps in Senegal. I was very sad to hear this I will be moving on to bigger and better things.

Feel free to to check out my Facebook photo albums I linked to above as I it easier to load many photos there than here. I will also be writing and linking to the more detailed blog posts about my experiences in Gambia and with the tourney training in Kolda.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

About Here versus There

One can never truly know a place unless you've been there, even being there for any amount of time, how much do you really know a place?

The locals don't see the historical land marker because its just something they walk past on a daily basis and don't know what all the fuss is about, although they own dna is attached to the place, the reason, the fight the monument is there. Maybe they don't need to see it externally.

Sacred Baobob trees in the desert of Senegal

It is VERY hard to explain this place to people that are not here. Even if you've traveled to a place, living there is different. Here we say Dakar is Dakar and Senegal is Senegal. Which is very true, those places are world apart and the people from those places vastly different. Same with the south of the country. In Kolda and Kedougou, being very close to the Guinea-Bissau boarder, when asked where I'm from I would say my region, Fatick, but then my fellow volunteer that lives there, simply said Dakar (6 hours by car north of me & no where near me) They are so close to Guinea, they think everything north of them is Senegal and they are Guinea. All there food, most things come from Guinea, not Senegal and surely not Dakar (12 hours north by car)

Recently listening to a re-airing of a This American Life podcast 'Americans in Paris' David Sedaris makes an interesting point about learning to speak the language of a place...

Ira Glass: Someday, David says, he'll be more comfortable in French. His accent will improve, and that daily anxiety will be removed from his life.

David Sedaris :And when it is removed for me, then I probably won't be interested in living here anymore. I'll probably leave.

Ira Glass: Because it'll be just like living back home.

David Sedaris :Plus the more you learn, the more disappointed you wind up being. It's easy to like somebody when you don't know what they're saying.

Ira Glass: That's interesting. I hadn't thought about that, that not understanding somebody makes them seem more interesting than they really are.

David Sedaris : I just assumed that everyone talked about books and movies all the time. That's all they talked about, as far as I was concerned. And then I learned a little bit more, and I realized that they're no different than people anywhere else, that they talk about the same banal things that we all talk about everywhere.

Which is so true, it's not exotic here, it's not that different than anyplace else. It more or less has what we have, maybe just in slightly different forms of it. I laugh at things that are exactly the same in the two places; fart jokes, driving too fast, checking doors of a car to see which one is open, very long goodbyes, ladies sitting around gossiping among countless others

The large taba tree "Cola sordifolia"tree in front of my compound
The other part of the podcast
Ira Glass Here's something else. There are certain things about French culture, Janet says, that just make life here very pleasant. For one thing, people don't ask you personal questions, where you grew up, where you work, what's your family life, what's your story. You're not constantly explaining yourself. She says she has one friend who she knew for five years before she knew this woman had a grown son. Also, there isn't the same striving, the same ambition to be number one as in the States, especially compared with the corporate law job she used to have, where everybody was expected to put in 60 and 70 and 80 hours a week. Here, that would be seen as very strange. Work just is not that important to most people. 
Janet Mcdonald I'll get tears in my eyes just like-- sometimes I look around the subway, and I look at all these French people, and I'm like, thank you for letting me live here in your country. 
Ira Glass We head outside. 
Ira Glass But you feel like it's your country. But your identity here isn't that of the French person. It's that of an outsider. 
Janet Mcdonald I know. And I think that's what it is to be project girl. I was always an outsider. And I feel most inside right now where I'm most outside. Go figure. [LAUGHS]
That's what's freedom is, though. It's not about nothing left to lose. It's about nothing left to be. You don't have to be anything. I was just thinking about it this morning. It's like I'm an outsider. I will always be a foreigner no matter how good my French gets. I will never really be French no matter how much of a wannabe I am. And yet, I feel that I'm home. I'm just home.
Strangely, when you are you are the only white person for miles around (to quote a dear friend) it is a very odd feeling. And also something that is very hard to describe to another person from another culture and place. I'm not sure if it's possible to transfer the idea accurately or correctly unless they experience for themselves.

I'm very happy to live here but sometimes it makes your head spin and question what and where 'home' is. That being said when I first got here I was very much reminded I was not in Kansas anymore (trust me I KNOW this is not America) but now being so close to leaving it's hard to know where or what Kansas is like anymore.

But in case I need a remind of how things might correlate I have this.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Book Reviews: The Happiness of Pursuit

So as many people would think as a Peace Corps volunteer we have the chance to read many many books through our service if that is how one chooses to spend their time. I am such a volunteer. Thankfully there have been enough paperbacks and e-books to exchange in the country that I haven't read though my continually growing stack (yet).

As a nice gift for writing a guest blog post about where I live I was sent an advance copy of "The Happiness of Pursuit" by Chris Guillebeau. He has also authored  The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future,
The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World,
and I also follow his blog at ChrisGuillebeau.com

Now that being said, I wouldn't read a book just because someone sent it to me. I do have standards. There are 2 ways I determine a good book. How fast I can read it (literally can not put it down is always a good thing) and how many dog ears I leave to go back and write down quotes, other books or authors look interesting to read or something interesting. This book was both!

"Everyday had it's challenges and I'm actually very thankful for all of them."
 -Nate Damn about walking across America in 8 months

Guillebeau has taken 11 years to travel to every country in the world and while doing so also worked in development and 'travel hacked' his way to be able to so economically. All of which I find very interesting. The Happiness Pursuit is a great read while finishing up my Peace Corps service. Guillebeau's story of traveling around the work  is mixed through out other people's stories of their own quests; ie walking across large spaces (America/Turkey), giving up transportation and not talking for 17 years and living a tree for 400 days to save a forest among others.

"Home is where you go where you run out of homes" 
-John Le Carre

His lessions from the journey are great reminders and points I couldn't agree more with! I also have noticed going more in depth with some of the stories he tells in the book on his blog since the release of the book, which I also love!

Read any good books lately? Any suggestions or thoughts?

Let there be mud on your clothes, nails in your boots, ink on your skin, pain deep inside you. Let it grow and don't be afraid. Start with your own story. " - Green Witch by Alice Hoffman

"Either stand tall, or sit the fuck down." - Mos Def

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thoughts for the End of Ramadan

“Suffering is not bad. If you understand it rightly, suffering is a cleansing. If you understand it rightly, sadness has a depth to it which no happiness can ever have. A person who is simply happy is always superficial. A person who has not known sorrow and has not known sadness, has not known the depths. He has not touched the bottom of his being; he has remained just on the periphery. One has to move within these two banks. Within these two banks flows the river.”
- Osho

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Be humble for you are made of earth. Be noble for you are made of stars." - Serbian Proverb

“Be humble for you are made of earth. Be noble for you are made of stars.”  - Serbian Proverb 

"Happiness, not in another place but in this place... not for another hour, but this hour" - Walt Whitman

"Beautiful things happen when you distance yourself from negativity."

"Beautiful things happen when you distance yourself from negativity."

Things I've lost

This place makes you think you are going crazy. First, people think you are dumb and incompetent because you simply do not speak their language. Speaking and comprehension are two different things. You are able to comprehend a language way before you are able to speak it. It's frustrating to know what people are saying to you or even about you but unable to say anything back or make the thoughts in your head known.
Unknown artist, found in dumpster in U.S.

This happens for quite a while. Actually I'm not sure when it stops, if ever.


So far the list I made of thing I have lost so far. In no order of importance
  • 2 leathermans (As handy as these are I'm very sad that not just 1 but both are gone)
  • small notebook with vocab, notes, names and telephone numbers
  • my sense of humor
  • quotes I had taken from a book I meant to write about
  • ability to write/speak English with ease (due to Senegal-haze, everything is loud here and busy, it takes a while to get used to it and while learning another langugage makes it harder to remember things, why I MUST read)
  • my mind
  • many pairs of shoes due to crappy manufacturing (this place is a good testing grounds for products
  • my stomach due to unclean water
  • idea of what development is
  • my sense of purpose with in frame work
  • weight
  • ability to give to children
  • sense of privacy
  • the want to care-sometimes
  • handkerchief
  • bracelets
  • money and camera in Gambia
  • sense of control of life
  • time
  • bag
  • solar charger, ipod, camera, laptop due to climate and wear and tear
  • French/English dictionary
Minus 1 bag, what I brought with me to Senegal
If someone would have told me I would have lost some, a lot or all of my possessions that I brought with me to Senegal, I would have packed the same. Knowing what is here I would of course packed less. But hindsight is 20-20.

Most of these things are not that important, the others wax and wane depending upon the day, week or month. It might sound strange but I think it's good to remember what you've lost, see where you've been and even then see what you've gained. And in my case I've gained a lot.

"Law of conservation of mass implies that mass can neither be created nor destroyed, although it may be rearranged in space, or the entities associated with it may be changed in form."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book Reviews: Letters from the Peace Corps & Making a Difference: The Peace Corps at Twenty-Five

 So in our office library I found this gem of a book. Letters from the "Peace Corps: Collection of letters from various areas of the world written by members of the first band of Peace Corps volunteers" by Iris Luce in 1965. Written a year and a half after Peace Corps was started.

Peace Corps has been in Senegal for 50 years being one of the few first countries opened.  Sadly one of the things I've misplaced is the notes I took on the book. I found the book have strangely the same feel as we do now with Peace Corps. Unknown what successes or failures might await us along with homesickness, pride for our work and what our counterparts and work partners must/have thought of us when seeing and interacting with Americans for the first time. 

Soon after I started reading "Making a Difference: The Peace Corps at Twenty-Five" by Milton Viorst. In which the introduction the statement was made " There [volunteers] enemies are hunger, ignorance and disease and serves humanitarian interests and Americans." p.21

This statement I completely agree with. We deal with it in ourselves and in the countries, villages and people we worth with here. And many others struck a cord as well.

"You never have real privacy...Your every action will be watched, weighed and considered representative of the entire Peace Corps." p.36

"I think I may have solved, or at least partially solved the problem of students making disruptive noise while I teach. The other teachers told me how to do it. "Tappaille le badmas haru lie pitnu parcha", they said, which roughly translates as "You have to hit the bastards."...Adaption isn't a matter of choice out here. You simply have to do it, and this includes the adaptation (adulteration?) of your most strongly held principles." p. 65-66

Of course these are only briefs of larger stories, lifetimes of 2 years wrapped up in a 200 page book that you expect being about a government organization to be a biased and feel like a marketing tactic rather than what is is. A very fair and balanced view of what the Peace Corps is. Crazy, developmental, governmental public relations organization with a built-in high turn over rate.

Many of the stories, antidotes and ideas still ring true 50 plus years later, which is crazy. How has this experience, with so much changing world wide, remained similar over the last half century?  Mind blowing and of course I'm proud to be part of it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

My favorite ethnic group here

So as weird as that might sound and of the many ethnic groups of Senegal, having one you prefer is just as normal as having one you don't. Whether its the language you learned when you first came here or it's who your host family most identifies with or who throws the best parties (any and all are good reasons) its easy to have. Tribes, clans, families, people you share sometime with is how we not only identify but confirm our sense of purpose in a place.

This favoritism might sound a bit xenophobic but we all do it. We show a preference to things, people and places over others. Hopefully not to the point of fully excluding some things, people or places but also if it's not good for you, there is no reason to make yourself be around it.

My name last name is Sarr, is Sereer, but I live in a mostly Wolof village. With my open, big personality strangely I shy away from the Wolofs who are typically argumentative, loud and proud (this is not always the case, but is much more so generally than other ethnic groups)

While Sereers are quieter, seem to be more educated and seem to keep more of the historical stories. Personally, I would agree with this and since I'm writing this, of course Sereers are my preferred group of people to be around.

Some of the volunteers say that you can tell some of the ethnicity apart by looking at the, much like you can in the rest of the world, when you have an idea of what groups are involved.

Girls attending a wedding in my village

In reading Senegambia And the Atlantic Slave Trade by Bouabcar Barry I love the description of my family's ethnicity,
"Farther south, the Wolof region shades into territory inhabited by the Sereer. The Sereer are a peasant people, originally from the Senegal River valley, where records indicate their presence up until the eleventh century. Having rejected both Islam and the domination of the Jolof, the Sereer gradually settled on the wooded highlands of the Siin and Saalum, traveling in successive waves of large family movements...who thus became the first to take possession of the woodlands, took on the functions of community heads and territorial rulers until the fourteenth century..." p. 16
Group of teenagers in my village sitting on a basin out at the gardens
Strangely reading this after being here for a year and half, I find it true as well. I do love Sereers and find myself drawn to them more so than others here by chance. When talking to a fellow volunteer in a Sereer village she mentions how typically dark skinned they are; deal with confrontations quietly, sometimes whispering even; and are overall hardworking and forward thinking.

There are Wolofs, Mandinkas,  Seerers, and some Pulars and Bamberas in this sub-region as well. And in Senegal are many more smaller ethnic groups such as Malian, Mauritanians, Gambians and others.