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Sunday, December 28, 2014


I like parties.  Everyone likes parties.  The best thing about parties is that dancing and eating require no language skills.  Since I have spent most of the last year without language skills, I have thrown many parties here.  I reasoned that although I eventually wanted my service to be about more than parties, there was nothing wrong with making people like me. It is universally true that a good way to make people like you is to give them cake.

I told a couple other PCVs about making cakes in village and was met with either dumbfounded stares or enthusiastic badgering for how I did that.  It's really easy!

Acquire a gas burner, or fire and sticks, or a charcoal stove and charcoal.  I've only done this with my gas burner but I'm sure you can do it with other heating methods as well.  Heat is heat.  Put a thick sturdy pot with a lid on your heat source.

Put something in the bottom of the pot to prevent your cake pan from touching the hot burner, since if it got too close it could scorch the bottom.  I use either a flat metal plate (if I'm making muffins) or a small upside-down bowl (if I'm making cake).  Doing this effectively means that your batter will be surrounded entirely by hot air, and that's all an oven is.

Four muffin tins on a metal plate.
Turn the heat on low and keep it covered until they're cooked.  A 6-inch diameter cake will take about a half hour, these muffins take about 20 minutes.

That's it!

Suffee cutting up a round peanut butter cake

When you can make a middle aged woman dance without music, you know you're doing something right.


Muffins:  mix 3 cups flour (part of this can be millet or corn flour), 2 cups sugar, 1 tsp baking soda or powder (I know they're not the same - I think powder is better, but there's only soda at my local boutique and that tastes fine too), 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp cinnamon (if you've got it).  In another bowl mix 4 eggs and 1.25 cups oil.  Stir the dry and wet ingredients together.  Throw in whatever additions you think might be delicious, especially vanilla if you've got it.  Cook in little metal cups - I bought them in Thies, they're probably in many markets if you look around.  You can cook muffin batter in a cake pan, too, to make a giant muffin-cake.

Peanut butter cake:  mix .75 c margarine (the Jadida they sell at boutiques works fine), .75 c peanut butter, 3 eggs, 2.25 c sugar, 2.25 c flour, 3 tsp baking soda or powder (like the muffins, i think powder is better but soda works too), .75 tsp salt, vanilla if you've got it, and a cup of milk (or Vitalait in water).

Coffee cake:  mix 1 c sugar, 1.75 c flour, and 2 t baking powder or soda, work in 4 T butter with a fork or your fingers, add 1 beaten egg and 0.5 c milk, sprinkle 1 tbsp sugar mixed with 1.5 tsp cinnamon on top.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mbo fuddi ligge makko, seeda seeda...

Hello internet.  It's been awhile.  I guess I haven't written much lately because I've been somewhat busy. I usually have something work-related to do every day now, which feels really nice.  My village has been proud of me for finally being a productive volunteer - the title to this post, "Mbo fuddi ligge makko, seeda seeda!" is a boast I overheard my brother make from his seat at a breakfast stand when I was walking to the community garden a few days ago.  "She's starting her work, little by little!"

The big project I've had going on lately was a supplementary feeding program with mothers of malnourished children in Biaro, a village 2k from Teyel.  The last baby weighing showed that there were seven "babies" (kids under the age of two) who were underweight.  Each mother agreed to pay 300 CFA (about $0.60, but that's a lot of money in village) and to provide millet, corn, or rice flour when it was her turn to cook.  Every day at 10am, we'd meet as a group, and whoever was cooking that day made a normal weaning porridge (just grain and water) then we put in healthy additives to make the porridges more nutritious - like peanut butter and banana, or tomato and bean, or crushed peanut and moringa, and we talked about the Complet Model of Nutrition.  The kids would not only eat at the program, but would take home some more porridge for a healthy afternoon snack.

I didn’t expect everything to go perfectly smoothly – Peace Corps training taught me to expect the unexpected, to be flexible and enjoy the ride and try to avoid getting frustrated by inevitable setbacks.  I thought I went in to the project with that mindset, but there was still a lot of stuff that didn’t go as planned and I still got stressed and irritated in spite of myself.  

The first day of the program, I had my ASC (community health worker) come in and explain in his fluent Pulaar why I was doing the program and what the Complet Model of Nutrition means.  

We did an activity where the women placed laminated cards of foods onto the part of the complet where they belonged – fruits/veggies on the headscarf, proteins on the shirt, and grains on the skirt. 
All the women agreed to meet at the first woman (Sadio)’s house the next morning (Sunday) at 10 to start the program.

The next morning, Sadio informed me that she was not feeling well and would not be cooking that day. I tried to convince her that babies still needed to eat regardless of whether their moms were well or not, but it was no use.  She told me she had already told all the women the start date of the program would be postponed one day, so I wished her a speedy recovery and went home.

The next morning, Monday, I went to Sadio’s house, and she told me none of the women could come, since Mondays are market days and they would not have time.  I went around to a few compounds and saw that she was right – only three of the seven women were at home.  I was irritated, but still trying to flexible and understanding.  This was literally a program meant to give free food to hungry kids and I was amazed that it was so difficult for me to do it.

Tuesday morning I went back.  Sadio was not at home, and her neighbor told me she had gone to the nearby health post because she still wasn’t feeling better.  I was visibly upset, since I had had such high hopes for the program, so the neighbor, Booyah, who’s as awesome as her name is, said she would cook the porridge that day.  

All the women (except one, who was still MIA) came over, and as the babies ate we discussed the nutrition in the day’s meal.

Wednesday and Thursday went well, too.  Except the one missing woman (who I learned had fled to her parents’ village because of a fight with her husband), everyone attended and the babies had big appetites.  The mothers grew more confident in explaining low-cost and high-energy food additives to help kids gain weight, and though it might have been my imagination, the kids seemed to have more energy.

Friday, three of the seven women were absent, and by Sunday, there was only one left.  The women said the program was good, but that they didn’t have time to do it for that long.  I'm trying to see the program as a success - even if they only went a day or two, at least it didn't hurt anything, but it was not the intensive weight-gain boot camp I had planned.  

While that was going on, I also did a Senegal map mural in Dinguera, the same school with the same awesome work counterpart where I did the handwashing project.  My neighbor Lauren has an artistic streak and was glad to help me.  It ended up looking pretty great, though it's not quite finished yet in these pictures.  The paint didn't dry enough to label the regions yet.

Another day, my PCV friend Liz came over and did a training for a local womens' group on soapmaking.


I also spent a morning helping to seed an onion nursery and prepare garden beds in one of the women's gardens.

So, that's about it.  I know that doesn't seem like a lot, considering it's my whole month's work, but it's something.  It's hard to believe it's so late in the year already...to answer that annoying 1980s song, no, they DON'T know it's Christmas, and they don't care, because they're muslim.  Every day continues to be exactly the same as the one before it, but it's nice and I'm still enjoying it.

Catch up with you all later!  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Packing Tips for 2015's Senegal PCVs

This blog’s niche, so sorry to everyone reading who is NOT coming to Senegal to be a health volunteer and is not interested in my opinions of what/what not to pack. I just remember that I perused tons of blogs looking for tips about packing when I was in this next group’s position.  Some people’s blogs I agreed with, some I didn’t…some I wish I’d listened to, some I still think were crazy (I’m talking to you, Miss “I Packed 50 Pairs of Underwear”). 

I’m not going to go through everything in my suitcase in minute detail.  Yes, you’ll need clothes.  People wear clothes here.  Bring clothes.  How many and what kind of clothes you bring are up to you.  Remember, you’re coming to a country that millions of people live in, so anything you need to live, you can find here.  If you forget something, it’s not the end of the world.  I’m just going to list off some things I brought and was happy about, some things I brought that ended up being ridiculous, and things I wish I’d packed but didn’t.  This blog is just my own opinion, so take it with a big chunk of salt. 

Things I packed and am happy for:

My prescription sunglasses.  If you wear glasses, go to zennioptical.com and order yourself a pair.  They’re less than 20 bucks and you’ll wear them every day.  I didn’t realize before I got here how much time I’d be outside.  People in my village literally only go inside their huts to sleep.  The rest of the time they’re hanging out on benches under mango trees.  Sometimes they even sleep under the mango trees.  If something were to happen to my zennis, I could get by with normal glasses, but I really hope that never happens. 
A warm hoodie and sweatpants. I felt like an idiot when I got here in March with those things because it was hot season and it was too warm to think, even in the middle of the night, but now I’m grateful that I have clothes appropriate for cool season, because it does get chilly sometimes now.  Of course, if I would not have packed them, they would have been available at any fukkijai (used clothing boutique), so if you don’t have room in your suitcase, no worries.
A big bottle of shampoo and conditioner.  There is a nice foreign goods store in Thies (the city where the training center is) but you’re not going to be allowed to leave the training center for your first week.  I shared my shampoo and conditioner with many grateful girls who had only brought a tiny travel size.
All my makeup.  I brought it all because I figured my Peace Corps service was two years long, and by two years from when I left it would all be expired anyway – cosmo says you’re supposed to throw out mascara after 6 months – and I didn’t have enough makeup that I felt it took up too much luggage space. I don’t wear makeup in village very often, but I do for parties and holidays, and I have a lot of fun giving makeovers to my favorite pre-teens in village.  Also, I never wear nail polish, but PCVs that do say they’re happy they brought some with them.  The local stuff’s not the best quality.
LOTS of exercise clothes.  I brought with two spare pair of running shoes and am very glad I did.  I run almost every morning here to help me keep some degree of sanity and am already on pair #2.  I might be able to find good running shoes in Dakar, but almost certainly couldn’t find the exact size and brand that I prefer (Saucony kinvara, man size 8.5, you are amazing and I love you).
A hammock.  I’m in the casamance and there are lots of trees here, but there are not trees everywhere in Senegal, so packing this one was a bit of a gamble, but I’m glad I did it.  There are few greater tranquilities than hammocking in a jungle studying Pulaar flash cards with gorgeous tropical birds flitting about, singing pretty songs at you.
A camera.  You’re not NOT going to bring a camera, are you?  Come on.  You need a camera.  If you’re one of those types that uses their smart phone as a camera in America, I think it’d be worthwhile to get a cheap used digital camera instead.  The battery lasts longer and it’s less of a show to bring it out in village.
Plastic bags. I probably brought too many of these, but I am glad I bought some.  Unfortunately, ants CAN chew through them, so you can’t store food in them (RIP to the delicious sugar roasted nuts that taught me that) but they’re good to keep other things clean and dry.  Plus, if you give a village woman one of them, she will pray you some great prayers.  Ziplocks are very popular.
A few nice sturdy tupperwares with snap top lids. Thick plastic is ant- and mouse-proof, so these are good to store food in.
A swimsuit. There are pools in Dakar and Kolda for sure, and I’d wager that there are some in other cities as well.  They’re frequented by ex pats, not by Senegalese people, so don’t worry about packing a lil bikini if that’s your thing.  It’s not inappropriate.

Things I packed that were stupid:

Cooking spices.  I lived in Korea for a while, and while I was there I had fierce cravings for American food. As a result, when leaving for Peace Corps I packed tons of taco seasoning, cilantro, oregano, lemon pepper; all the stuff I thought might be hard to find here in Senegal.  I never use them.  I live with a family who does all my cooking for me, so I never use them for preparing my own meals, and Senegalese people (people in general, I suppose) are resistant to new tastes, so my family’s not interested in them.  In the last six months, there have been two instances I’ve used the spices: both occurred when everyone I normally share a bowl with wasn’t back from the fields yet when the meal was ready and the cook told me to eat alone in my room rather than wait for it to get cold.  Cinnamon made the gosse girte taste better, and garlic salt made the lecciri jambo taste better…but when I offered some of the improved dishes to my sister to taste she crinkled her nose and disagreed emphatically.  There are some volunteers that really enjoy cooking American meals at the regional houses, but I am not one of them.  It’s much cheaper and easier to go to restaurants.  You can get the best omelet, onion, and mayonnaise sandwich on warm fresh baked bread with a cup of delicious tea for less than $1 AND not have to do dishes.
Dress shoes (both heels and flats).  I thought there might be instances where I’d want to dress up nice and feel like a pretty lady, but this is NOT the way to do it. I live in the “deep south” of Senegal, the least sandy area in the country, and it’s still too sandy to walk in heels here.  It’s just not possible.  Don’t pack heels.  Senegalese woman do wear special dress shoes for holidays (or for every day, if they’re fancy) but the dress shoes here are nothing like dress shoes in America.  They’re $3 flip flops with rhinestones or triangles of colorful plastic attached instead of the normal everyday $1 flip flops.  Closed-toed flats are a sweaty mess here.
Hiking boots. I thought I’d be outside all the time, hiking, gardening, walking through the woods, and I’d need good protective footwear.  I am outside all the time, and I do do all those things, but I do in them in $1 flip flops.  Everyone here does.  You can too.  You will.  Really.
Jewelry.  I didn’t bring anything REALLY nice, but I brought a few of my favorite rings and necklaces, figuring that they were small and it probably wouldn’t hurt to have them just in case I felt like wearing them.  They are all rusting or corroding away and some kind of insect ate my peacock feather earrings.  If you wear something every single day, bring it, but be aware that everyone you encounter will demand that you give it to them.  If you just want to bring it because you think you might feel like wearing it here, don’t.  It’s far safer to keep it in the land of climate control and leak-proof roofs.
Dress pants and a cardigan. Peace Corps says you should bring “business casual” clothes to staging before you leave the country, but please for your own sake keep this as close to the casual side of business casual as you can.  “Dressing up” in village means your clothes have minimal holes and are clean.  My dress pants are ridiculous in village, like a parody of a rich person costume, and they have been in the bottom of my trunk at the regional house since I got here.
A speaker for my iPod.  This wasn’t stupid, just needless.  This radio is available at any market for 5 mille (about $10).  There are slots on the side for USB and memory cards.  You can transfer songs you want from your computer to the USB or the card, slap in some batteries, and have a dance party anytime.  AA batteries for the radio are available from any boutique – for forty cents you get about four hours of listening time.  It’s local, it doesn’t need electricity to charge, it’s real sturdy and hard to break, and it doesn’t scream “I’m rich so please ask me for money because I have so much of it” like my expensive American speakers do.

Things I wish I’d packed but didn’t:

A tent/bug hut.  I remember what was going on in my head when I decided not to bring my tent.  “I’m not going camping!” I thought.  “I’m going to LIVE there.”  Yes.  That’s true, I do live here, and when I’m at home, I’m very comfortable sleeping in my hut with my own bed.  However, PCVs travel a lot.  I regularly spend the night at regional houses or in other volunteers’ villages, and other volunteers come to my village, as well.  It’s a good idea to have a tent in the Peace Corps because it’s much easier than having a spare bed/mattress/mosquito net for guests or for your own travel.  I acquired a tent now from someone who COS’ed, but for my first 6 months here, whenever I traveled I either had to bring my mosquito net and find somewhere to string it up, which was a pain, or sleep without one and get bitten by malarial mosquitos, which was a worse pain. 
A solar charger.  Usually I charge my computer battery up as full as I can whenever I’m near electricity, then use a USB charger to charge up my cell phone and MP3 player using my computer battery while I’m at site.  This process works fine, but it’d be nice to have a solar charger instead, since that would help my computer battery last longer.  My computer is supposed to have an 11 hour battery life, and it probably does usually, but using the battery to charge other electronics makes it die much sooner for me.  If I would have packed a solar charger I might be able to use my computer battery to write more, or at least to rewatch Breaking Bad.
Notebooks.  Notebooks are available here, but Senegalese people prefer to write on tightly-ruled graph paper (I think Europeans do, too) and I do not.  I wouldn’t go crazy with bringing Target’s entire Back to School aisle, but I don’t think you’d regret throwing in a college-ruled spiral bound or two.  Bring some nice pens or gel pens (or GLITTER gel pens!) too if you want to write letters back home – nothing’s available here but cheap ballpoints.  They’ll get you by, but they’re not great.
A kindle or other e-reader.  The regional houses provide me with more paperbacks than I could read in a dozen Peace Corps services – but they also provide me with terabytes of hard drives of unlocked Kindle books.  I find great books at the regional houses and I like the excitement of trying something new after happening upon it on the shelf, and I like that my paper books don’t break if they get rained on or sand gets in them, but it would be nice to have access to anything I wanted to read, anytime I wanted to read it.  The perfect example of this is that I’ve read 1, 2, and 4 of the Game of Thrones series, but I can’t finish it unless I happen to find the other two.  It’s a treasure hunt, so that’s kind of exciting, but if I had a kindle, I could have read them already.  On the other hand, there are many wonderful regional house books I’ve read that I might not have if unlimited kindle variety had been available. 
Band aids. Med does supply band aids, but the quality is not the best (meaning they barely stick at all), and rainy season foot infections cashed out my entire stash in about two weeks.  After I ran out of band aids, I used medical tape and gauze that I bought at a pharmacy in the nearest city, but band aids are better.  If you bring a box of those nice cloth ones, the ones that could stay on through a marathon, you probably won’t regret it.

Well, this ended up being a pretty long post.  Thanks as always for reading!  Please feel free to message me any specific questions you have.  If you’re in the new stage, you’re going to love Senegal!  Welcome to the family!