Life in Keur Andella. We were honored guests that were introduced to about half of the Wolof-speaking people of the village of 600. The village chief was wonderful, the Imam was gracious, and Emily's host family went out of their way to make us feel comfortable and shared meals with us. Americans would be appalled by the food, cleanliness and customs of life in the village. Meals are served on a big platter with a rice base, onion sauce and a small boney helping of fish or chicken in the middle. The host picks at the fish/chicken pulls off a small piece and tosses it into your section of the bowl. Locals eat with their hands (we could use spoons) and mash the rice together into a clump before putting it into their mouths spitting out bones.
The people are so friendly and appreciative of Emily and in extension us. Emily has been doing a world of good for the people of the village who are educated through third or fourth grade if they are lucky. A few go on to Middle and High School. Among the projects she is working on is a latrine project, adding 24 squat toilets scattered around the village. Many people go in the open and during the rainy season the feces can pollute the wells. We met the builder of the latrines and saw the caste cement caps being placed. Another project she is working on is the Women's Garden. The nutrition in villages revolves around mostly rice and minimal protein. There are efforts to educate women about better nutrition, and Emily is assisting in this effort by acquiring barbed wire fencing to protect the plants and assist the women to plant vegetables. We also saw school gardens, which educate children in nutrition and planting vegetables.
There is so much more that Emily is doing with planting live fencing, interacting with teachers and presenting America in a good light. It is the best goodwill for America to have Peace Corp doing work in third world countries. The people in village are genuinely warm, thankful and peace-loving. I have to laugh at how much celebrity Emily (Fatou) has in her village and several nearby villages. People all yell “Fatou, Fatou!” in greeting. They know what she is doing for them and it makes me very proud.
We met many of her fellow Peace Corp volunteers and I am very impressed at their motivation and knowledge in a very difficult environment. Mary and I had some good laughs with them during a regional get together, where we helped paint a new sub-regional office. These volunteers deserve our thanks and help when needed. Other diversions - The three of us went to Keur Bamboung where we spent two days in bliss on an ecotourism retreat on an island in the delta region. We also went to Toubab Diallaw and enjoyed a beachside hotel with a luxury tower room that I'll post pictures of. The touristy visits were fun and made it easier for our American bodies to get through 10 days in Senegal. After seeing and experiencing village life, I have much more respect for the Peace Corp Volunteers and especially Fatou.
The most important skill you need there is the ability to speak Wolof. When you master that, you're in the club. You can then negotiate every purchase, whether it be food or transportation, because unlike the US, everything is a negotiation. It was amusing to not only Joel and me, but to Senagalese bystanders to watch this slight, white girl fiercely negotiate a fair price for a cab. The other cab drivers observing this always smiled or laughed. You have to steel yourself to do this, though, and it can clearly become exhausting to the one doing it- unlike us bystanders. The "cabs" and sept-places are a real trip. When I first got into one, I only did so because Emily seemed perfectly comfortable with it. You go to a "garage" which is just an open location in the town or city where 25-50 beat up cars and passenger vans are waiting to fill up, so that they can get their full fair before leaving for a destination. While waiting for the 7 passenger beat up Peugeot station wagon, or "Sept-place" to fill up, numerous adults and kids are knocking at the window or patting the back of your shirt through the back window to get your attention, trying to sell water, cashews, cellphone refill cards, clothes, you name it. The 3 of us always sat in the 3rd row because it was much more spacious than the 2nd, where often 4 people can squeeze in together. You always want a window open when the engine is on, so as not to become asphyxiated by the fumes. The price for transportation is a bargain, however. It never costs more than a few dollars to go approx 20 miles. But, hands down, transportation is the most dangerous thing in this country, since there are virtually no traffic lights, speed limits, seat belts, door handles that work, unbroken windshields, I could go on and on.
The best way to travel if you can physically do it is by bike. Em secured 2 extra bikes for us to use biking down to her village- approx 15 miles from Toubacouta, a town we stopped in for a day . Thanks for the bikes, Rob and Garrison! We met a bunch of the PC sub-region volunteers and did a little painting in the new office. It was fun hanging out for the afternoon with all the "young folk" and having a big platter of “yassa jen” for lunch, then a beer later at the "patron" hotel overlooking the delta. The next day we biked to her site- Ker Andallah- over laterite and dirt roads. Looking at the scenery took your mind off the heat. It is really beautiful biking through the open countryside. The land is much like Arizona without the cactus. When you get away from the towns, you leave the garbage on the side of the road behind. Since there is no garbage pick-up, there is garbage everywhere, and often you smell burning garbage.
I was struck by the physical beauty of the people. Almost everyone is thin and strong, with good posture from pulling water and carrying it on their heads. The women dress nicely with bright fabric and matching head wraps. In Senegal you don't need to go to the gym to stay in shape- especially in a farming community.
The food was good- but not everything. Like cooks, everywhere, some can do a great job and some not so good. We had a similar dish in a much poorer house that was much better that at the richer house, only due to the skill of the cook- always a woman, by the way. We liked the yassa and ceeb so much, we brought back some “magi” spice to replicate the dishes at home. We actually helped Em out by buying this because she needed some change for an internet cafe next door and even though she had bought a few items, the boutique (mini-mart) owner wouldn't accept her purchase unless it was a decent amount, since small bills are so rare. There is no such thing as using a credit or debit card in this country, and if you don't have small bills, like 1- 5 dollars, you are screwed, since almost no one has change.
All in all this was a trip of a life time. I thank you Emily for giving us the eye opening experience to visit your host country and changing our world view. We here in the US are blessed in many ways and need to remember that. I didn't know if the Peace Corps was making a difference before this trip, but I now believe it is making some headway into helping this poor country. It has many years ahead of it, yet, to become self-sustaining. We were there over the run-off election and thank goodness it was a peaceful one. The few beautiful tourist sites we visited were empty due to the fear of rioting during the election. We did enjoy the peace and quiet- especially in Keur Bamboung, a lovely eco-tourist campemont on the Delta. Thanks again, Fatou, and see you in the US!