Sunday, September 30, 2007

healthy and well

congratulations to me, i have been healthy for longer than a week!

i have also been at my homestay for a bit more than a week now and i am now totally fluent in wolof and have had completely intergrated myself into my new community and will be getting married to my new senegalese neighbor next week.


clearly that is wishful thinking and i am not even close to being fluent in wolof or getting married. regardless, my homestay has been quite a pleasant experience -- although literally 5 minutes ago the only (impeccable) english speaking member of the family has just left to return to the cassamance region. i know that his departure is good for me because now i am officially 100% wolof (eek!) all the time (although hearing coumba cry for her papi is a little heartbreaking) and this will force me to really speak/understand the language. it has been exhausting trying to get a grasp of this language that i have never in my life heard before but i think/hope i am making progress. sometimes i forget that i haven't been here as long as i feel like i've been here, which results in my feeling frustrated because i feel as if i ought to know more of the language when in reality, i have only been learning wolof for a week. anyway, inshallah, "it will come" as many of the trainers and my family members have been assuring me. i can only hope that it will come -- as hope is all i've really got here.

to explain my life in a bit more detail, these days i live in a neighborhood which is supposedly about a half hour walk from the PC training center. i'm still in thies (pronounced "chess"), which means that as of now, i am still in an urban setting. i haven't had much time to explore thies but from what i have seen, it is a rough and tumble city that expands and stretches with no street names and paved roads are a bit rare.

i live off a huge dirt road which makes biking super fun for me. as a PCT/PCV we are issued bikes that have become our prized possessions as they are not only the key to our independence and freedom, but they are also sweet ass mountain bikes that are a lot nicer than some of the bikes any of us have ever owned. my bike even has a basket! it is very cool. i have a bike bell as well, but i always forget to use it when i am swerving in and out of traffic and trying my best to abide by the (lack thereof) traffic patterns. when i was living in nyc, i never biked in the streets but these days the notion is that if i can bike in thies, i can bike anywhere. don't worry, i am required by PC policy to wear a helmet.

i get up at about 6 every day (sometimes earlier because the mosques start loudspeaking prayer at around 5:30) to a still-dark morning. i spend five minutes wandering around the compound with the moon and stars still hanging out while i fill up my bucket. it is nice in the morning because i am the first one up and it is one of the rare moments of the day that i have completely to myself. then i take a bucket bath. we have a shower with low water pressure but i much prefer bucket bathing as it 1) conserves more water and 2) is a lot more fun/refreshing/enjoyable.

at about 6:30-6:45 i am done bathing and have changed into one of my 5 t-shirts and this is when (and i still am trying to understand this strange phenomenon), a big swarm of flies wakes up and buzzes around my room. the flies are not that important of a detail to mention but it is very strange and it still fascinates me every morning. it used to bug me (no pun intended, really) but i just deal with it now and shut them into my room and by the time i come home, i have a collection of dead flies on my floor.

i leave the house at around 6:50 and it takes me about 10 minutes to race from my neighborhood to the training center. i absolutely love biking to and from work and this might be one of my favorite parts of the day. i get to the center at 7 and get my breakfast of mburu ak tigadeye walla mburu ak chocolat (bread with peanut butter or bread with chocolate spread) and (instant) coffee and practice my greetings with the kitchen staff. training starts at 8 and goes on until lunch at 12:30 (with a 30 minute break thrown in). lunch break happens from 12:30 to 2:30 and class/training picks up again until 6.

i get home before 7:30 (when it gets dark) but sometimes it can be really hard to drag myself home because going home isn't like going home in the states where i can just chill, relax, and is going straight into another high stress situation where i have to be thinking and communicating in wolof. moreover, integration is a really important aspect of this all so i make myself sit with my family and hang out and talk to them even though sometimes all i want to do is hide in my (very hot) room and speak in english to myself. despite this thinking, i usually wind up having a wonderful evening with my family because they really are the most wonderful people who have nothing but my best interests in mind and are totally willing to walk me through my very very very rudimentary wolof.

today is sunday, my one day off (we have half days of work on saturdays), and i got to sleep in until 8:45 which was soooo nice. i think i am going to the market (if i understood correctly) with my sister anne-marie to look for fabric because i desperately need pants made. it gets HOT here and i did not pack suitably in terms of bottoms and it is impossible to ride a bike in a skirt without getting it torn up or flashing the world your knees (not acceptable).

my brother helped me get a cell phone this past week so i am totally connected with the rest of the world and it is great. email me or check my facebook for the phone number and send me witty messages or if you feel like spending the dough, give me a call (just remember the 4 hour difference)! also, i know that sending packages is expensive but these are the things i really, really, really need:

- granola bars/instant oatmeal
- soy milk (powdered/small packages of liquid)
- books (good ones!)
- relatively thin t-shirts (size small) with funny/witty/nostalgic sayings/pictures (my clothes are - already - getting torn up here)
- music
- pictures/letters/news clippings/notes/love

i know it is kind of a pain in the ass but you have no idea how wonderful it feels to get a letter (thank you loris!!!) and how much it can change the day. or...send me an email. i've been here for over three weeks and the only emails i've received are from my family! don't forget me now!

again, my address until november is:
PCT Angelica Kang
Corps de la Paix
BP 299
Thies, Senegal
West Africa

i hope that all is well back at home! i don't miss it too much but am super curious about how your lives are going and what has been happening. senegal is treating me well and i really love being here. my new friends and colleagues are wonderful people and i really can't complain too much that every morning i get to wake up to this wonderful privilege of being able to live and learn in senegal. thank you again for all your love and support and for believing that i can do all the things that i want to do within my lifetime. i love you all and look forward to hearing from you. (and i better!!)

love, peace, and respect

Sunday, September 23, 2007

there's a cyber cafe right behind my house!

with all the shit luck i've had with my health (quite literally, i might add), i have had the best luck with my host family in thies. they are wonderful people and i couldn't be more comfortable with them. granted, my 2 year old niece can speak more wolof than me but tomorrow i start language lessons and my primary focus in life right now is to become proficient in wolof.

my new name is AÏSHA SAGNE (pronounced aye-sha sahn-yay) which i think is a beautiful name and i can't wait to be integrated so that i can stop nodding and smiling to everything that is said to me. my niece, kumba, has taken a liking to me and where ever i go in the compound, she totters after me chirping "aïsha!" but as pleasant as it is, i am hoping that by the end of my 7 weeks of PST i can talk more to my sisters and brother in laws than my baby niece. pray for me.

my health is gradually improving - alhamdoulilah (spelling?) - and i can finally eat and drink again. now i am just constantly thirsty, which can be frustrating, as i cannot just drink any water from anywhere and i am rather terrified to go into a store and ask for a bottle of water because i am an idiot and left the notebook with my "survival wolof" phrases back in my room but i suppose i will just have to go and pantomime my way through.

some bad news though -- my host sister went to the hospital this morning because she's been ill. they think it is malaria. thankfully she is being treated for it but i feel guilty because i've been complaining about my malaria meds and the very strong side effects it has on me. lesson learned. inshallah she will be okay and inshallah i will be okay too because i am for certain absolutely covered in bites. thank you for your tax dollars that pay for my meds and mosquito nets. now if only these were accessible to all.

i wish this was better written and more eloquent but for some reason my mind is somewhat dull right now. i am going to search for water.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


demyst is a 4 day excursion that PC sends us on to various PCV sites so that we can get an idea of what the hell is really going on. up until then, we've been almost locked up in the training center which is a wonderful place but after some time, you start to think that the training center is senegal when what lies outside the walls really is senegal.

i got sent to kayfara deux which is a village in the sticks in the kaolack region of senegal. my PCV (annie/yeta) was totally awesome, a fellow agfo (agroforestry extension agent), and has a wonderful site and host family. it was great to get out of thies and see what my future may hold.

i also experienced a wonderfully romanticized africa moment: one night it rained heavily (which is a sight in and of itself to see in senegal) so the next day was an optimal time to go plant some trees. we shlepped through the mud down to the flood plain where yeta's host mom has some tomato plants (and all along i've thought jersey tomatoes were special...) and started digging holes to plant some lucerna (correct name? spelling?). since it was flooded, many of the village women came down to do laundry and the kids followed along to swim and bathe. there was much laughter, gossip, screaming, and giggling. at some point the kids randomly burst into a wonderfully harmonious song about senegal and i just couldn't believe it. here i was, in rural senegal, planting trees with the clouds hanging low and everything green and shiny with the most wondrous soundtrack to back it all up.

well, romanticism doesn't last long as several hours later i was down (once again!) with a 102 degree fever, vomiting, uncontrollable BMs, and complete delirium for the next 48 hours including 4+ that was spent on a rickety and cramped public "bus" to the regional house where i was to be picked up. ah, the joy of having your bubbles burst.

i currently hold the record of 1) first to get sick and 2) most often ill. but don't worry, a little poo and vomit won't hold me back. just pray for me wracked body and the strength of a thousand (wo)men because other than the multiple days i have spent curled up in a fetal position in airplanes, buses, al hums, and beds, senegal naa nekh ("i love senegal" although i am unsure on the doesn't matter too much as wolof is originally only an oral language).

i am currently about 92% better and inshallah (god willing) i will be completely myself soon and for longer than a week.

Friday, September 14, 2007


and what a welcome...

yesterday was spent getting vaccination shots and taking my first malaria pill. we went to the airport, goodbye calls were made, and i boarded the plane not expecting much of a flight and just pretty giddy at the idea that my career was about to start.

midway through the flight, i felt nauseous. it was like there was this lump in my throat that was begging to be released. i had also just eaten this brownie from dinner real fast so i thought maybe it was just my body protesting my gluttony. i went to the bathroom and threw up. i pretty much thought that that would be it but the rest of the flight became an utter nightmare.
i wound up running back and forth between my seat and the bathroom 8 or 9 more times but eventually i just gave up and was yakking into a bag in my seat. other passengers looked disgusted. it just got worse and worse...

i became more lightheaded and delusional and soon, every time i shut my eyes (basically any time i wasn't emptying out my insides) i was whisked away from reality and was having crazy trippy dreams/hallucinations/thoughts. talk about taking a pill and going through a rabbit hole. i'm pretty sure i was experiencing a mix of maleria pill side effects and motion sickness from the turbulence.

the flight attendants (particularly one) were pretty much useless. all she could suggest was ginger ale and when she came over to see how i was doing (upon my demanding) all she could do was go, "what can i get you" and when i answered "you tell me!!!" while my head was in a barf bag, she just upped and walked away.

but let me say this, my colleagues are going to make excellent PCVs because despite my delirium and vomiting, i could feel their support and concern. at first, my pride refused assistance but then i was at a point where pride didn't even matter -- i really lost all sense of who i was, what was going on, and where i was. i finally fell asleep (and might i mention that 5 minutes into blessed slumber, the flight attendant approached me to point out that i should be wearing my seat belt) and when we landed, my new friends banded together to help haul my sick ass off the plane, down the stairs, onto the tarmac, onto a shuttle, through customs, and onto the bus. adrianne watched over me like a sentinel, kira carried my heavy bag along with her own, and andy escorted my babbling pale-as-a-sheet shaking body everywhere while everybody else cheered me on and waited patiently.

so much for my pride and fronting. you know me, always trying to put on a facade but i am pretty sure there really is no longer a need as everybody saw me at my absolute worst. at first when the nausea hit my first thought was "OH NO" not because of the actual nausea but because i really didn't want to draw attention to myself. i didn't want to be the pansy throwing up in the loo who couldn't handle the pills or turbulence or whatever the hell was going on. they were going to think i was so weak! but in the end this was pretty real and i am so grateful to be around compassionate and helpful people who probably wouldn't even think that but only, "how can i help her?!"

i finally got on the bus (how, i don't really remember) and passed out finally to dark deep slumber that was void of dreams or hallucinations only after finally wretching out the last of the brown-yellow bile that had replaced the vomit. i don't know how long i was in this dark, dreamless world for, but when i woke up, i set my eyes upon AFRICA. beautiful senegal -- a mix of lush tropical green, red sand, and splashes of color coming from the houses, the clothes, and the flowers.

i have already determined that the senegalese are stunningly beautiful and i am thrilled to have this be my new home. i don't know what did it -- perhaps it was waking up to this fascinating country and it's magnificent baobobs whizzing by as our bus hurtled from dakar to thies (pronounced "chess" not "tee-ezz" as i had thought!) -- but when i got to the training center with our new trainers singing welcome to the beat of a djembe, i felt ten times better. we were led to our rooms, fed a simple (but excellent) breakfast of (instant) coffee, boiled egg, and apples and i started to perk up. then i finally got to shower and what a refreshing feeling. how i have missed cold water pouring straight out of a spigot, drenching me in renewal and releasing me from the heat and humidity of the place. at this point, i am sitting in a large thatched gazebo-esque structure (called "the disco hut! why, i don't know...) and feel ten thousand times better. i almost feel like myself again although i am still absolutely bewildered by the trauma of my trip here.

ultimately though, i love that i'm here, that the people are wonderful, and that i am alive and well. i will have to speak with the medical people about switching pills or something because malaria treatment is NOT an option and i don't know if i can handle a reaction like this once a week. hopefully we can come up with a solution because i'll admit: during the ordeal, i was ready to give up and go home...already.

(actually, at one point at the airport i wailed out "I WANT TO GO HOME!" and chris later told me that he joked with somebody else "damn, i didn't bet on her being the first!")

its funny because during staging they kept making a big deal about the malaria pills and telling us the policy that if we don't take our pills we will be administratively separated and at one point i said to somebody else that i didn't understand the big, why would you NOT take them in order to avoid malaria?? ummm, point taken because yeah, the reaction can be quite vicious. hopefully i can bounce back and give this my all.

Friday, September 7, 2007

very little time remaining

as departure day approaches...

the anxiety, excitement, nervousness, anticipation, ambivalence, frustration, etc. has left
i feel peaceful and completely confident in this decision
i pretty much can't see myself doing anything else with my life right now
it feels like my entire life has been scripted for this moment and this experience and i would be a fool to refuse it

at the same time, i am a little sad and reluctant because while this is what i am meant to be doing, i am sad to leave my family
i wish i could take them with me
their love sustains me and it will be hard to be far away from them

i expect to learn how to be quiet, how to hold my words, and how to be a better listener
i am convinced that what we need in this world is for people who have had the benefit of privilege and education to take some time to be quiet and to listen and to observe and in the end, we will know how to reconcile what we've heard with what we know in order to help alleviate the world of its pain

thanks again to everybody who has been so supportive and loving and encouraging and generous in these past few weeks
you have no idea how good it feels to advance into the world with a cheering section such as this one

i hope i have time on monday to make it to MLK's birth home
what better way to start this adventure?
i've been listening to these words over and over again almost as if it is my doctrine:

If you want to be important—-wonderful. If you want to be recognized—-wonderful. If you want to be great—-wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

(audio/visual here)