Friday, February 29, 2008

book talk

since i've been in country, i've read quite a few books (thanks to the loads of free time and the extensive kaolack regional house library).

here's a list of them and indications of whether or not you should read them. the number of asterisks (*) represents my enthusiasm for a book and basically, if you don't read it, you're a literary loser, a minus sign (-) means don't say i didn't warn you, and nothing means it's up to you to decide. i've also included some commentary because i always have to have an opinion.

1. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
the one and only book i read during PST. was the movie any good?
2. Atonement by Ian McEwan
did i not grasp the reason why this book is so famous? i found the premise tried and predictable and expected although the war time descriptions were fascinating. i was rather disappointed and far prefer "on chesil beach."
3. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards (-)
i'm not obligated to like a book just because everybody else does, right? books with "family secrets" and angst all turn out the same way (somebody has an affair, the kids turn out screwed up) and don't really affect me.
4. About A Boy by Nick Hornby
nothing too deep but a fast, easy, and funny read with a surprisingly solid ending. It is nice to read something with humor but quantifiable angst.
5. State of Fear by Michael Crichton
i read this because paul tried to convince me that global warming doesn't exist (a drunk conversation that i don't remember very well) based off of arguments in this book and i wanted to prove him wrong. turns out, he's right! just kidding. i still respect paul a lot but i don't buy it.
6. Saturday by Ian McEwan (*)
this makes up for the disappointment that was "atonement." i had a really hard time getting into it but once i got past the 1st or 2nd chapter i was pretty deeply engrossed.
7. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (***)
i had been meaning to read his autobiography for quite some time now and i'm glad i finally had the chance to. this only took me 4 days to complete and i -- as trite as this sounds -- laughed, cried, was infuriated, was inspired, and overall was in true admiration for mandela.
8. God's Bits of Wood by Sembene Ousmane
pretty cool to read something senegalese and to know all/most of the cultural and locational references. i wonder if i would have enjoyed it as much if i didn't. it was good to get a sense of "revolution" that exists here as i am constantly underwhelmed by the general public apathy. however, i know a lot of people who did not like this book.
9. Frida by Barbara Mujica (-)
this book gave me a headache. artists are crazy.
10. Deliverance by James Dickey (**)
i was surprised as to how much i enjoyed reading this. i had picked it up in passing and was totally absorbed within minutes. the language is captivating and being that i had never heard of the book before, had no idea where it was going but was not at all disappointed.
11. The Known World by Edward P. Jones (*****)
i first read this book a few years ago in el salvador and fell in love with it there. i've recommended it to everybody and decided that i needed to reread it to make sure my recommendation held true. it did. i loved it as much as i did the first time, if not more. this is by far one of my favorite books ever. moreover, anybody i've ever recommended this book to has loved it as much as i do.
12. The Last Life by Clare Messud (**)
i am impressed with messud as i had loved "the emperor's children" as well. granted, this falls into the "family angst" criteria but messud is skilled enough of a writer to avoid all the pitfalls of such a theme. this may be one of the first dysfunctional family novels that i can appreciate.
13. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
i originally would have given this book a star because it was the first romance that i believed in for quite some time. i'll even admit that i cried. but then upon reflection i realized that it wasn't anything spectacularly deep or profound, just well written, and therefore, took away the star. that, or my pride wouldn't allow me to give a high recommendation for a book about romance.
14. The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Jose Saramago (***)
witty and funny. even though conservatives might be upset at the liberties taken with the life of jesus, it actually strengthened my belief in these things. however, overall, taken as pure literature (and nothing to do with spiritual matters), the book is a beautiful piece of literature. having knowledge of the new testament really enhances the novel and saramago's creativity links together parts of the life of jesus remarkably. (the one thing that annoyed me is the long paragraphs. i hate long paragraphs!)
15. July's People by Nadine Gordimer
i still can't figure out if i liked this book or not. i just recall being really annoyed at every single character. maybe that was the point? regardless, i think it captures well the tensions of race relations.
16. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
i did not have very high expectations for this book (maybe because of the movie?) but in the end i found it excellent and poignant and ultimately, very sad.
17. Peace Like A River by Leif Enger
damn these books that make me cry!
18. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult (-)
ugh, chick lit!
19. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (*****)
one of the best books i've read. no wonder so many people love this book. it is brutally honest in how twisted our notions of love and romance are but simultaneously, it is one of the few things we have to believe in.
20. Reforestation in Arid Lands by Fred R. Weber with Carol Stoney
if you really care to know what it is exactly that i am doing here in senegal, this book/manual explains it all. i guess it isn't really a book but i wanted to have a solid 20 books in this list and i mean, i did read the whole damn thing.

i figure that this is a good time in my life to read a lot of books, particularly books that i've been meaning to read for some time but haven't gotten around to it. some of them are "classics" that i have managed to avoid but feel like i am less of a person because i haven't read them. while the kaolack library is really great, it is by far from complete, so feel free to send me a book or books from this following list or books of your own recommendation. remember, any book you send me will most likely get circulated among all the PCVs in my region and for those to come so it is totally worth it.

books i've been meaning to read (author may/may not be included):
- freakonomics
- the world is flat (thomas friedman)
- vive sandino (gabriel garcia marquez)
- 100 years of solitude (gabriel garcia marquez)
- the elephant vanishes (haruki murakami)
- sputnik sweetheart (haruki murakami)
- the pact (the three doctors)
- crime and punishment
- catch 22
- dandelion wine (ray bradbury)
- siddartha
- cat's cradle
- the odyssey
- 1776
- a people's history of the united states (howard zinn) (*i've actually read this and love it but think it is absolutely necessary to read again and to have in the kaolack library)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

i'm integrating!

today as i was eating ceeb (rice) with the kids, a chick jumped into the bowl -- right into my section. without a moment's hesitation, i plucked him out (with my left hand, of course) and went right on eating.

good thing there isn't avian bird flu in africa. or is there?

Monday, February 25, 2008

back at site

(happy birthday, natalie!)

if there's anything worse than mouse poop, its got to be mouse pee. it stinks! amazing how such a small creature can produce such odious urine.

i came back home last night hoping that the family would have lived up to their promise of cleaning my hut for me before i got back. they didn't. the place was filthy. thank goodness it was dark by then so i couldn't see just how dirty it was. nice and lizards have taken over and i spent the night (after sweeping in darkness) hiding from them in my mosquito net. a mouse ran up my leg and i screamed like a little girl in front of everybody -- what a homecoming.

but actually it wasn't as bad as i feared it would be. mamasou was waiting on the road for me and screamed her little lungs out when i got home. dame, the baby, remembered me and learned how to say my name while i was away and wrapped his chubby little arms around me. overall we were all happy to see each other again. i brought home a ball for the kids and they were very excited about it (i can hear them bouncing it around right now) and cookies and kola nuts for the adults. the kola nuts have served me well as this is the first time i actually have something to give when asked for a sariche (gift).

i spent the morning cleaning my hut and setting everything back up. it was a lot of work and now i'm really tired and i also seemed to have forgotten how freakin' hot it is here out in the bush.

pedro has gotten huge and is developing some fancy tail feathers. he's also finally getting feathers on his neck! good for him. he struts around now like he's bmoc (big man on campus) and doesn't get beat up so much anymore.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

heading back

goin' back to the bush in a few hours.

i'm a little nervous as i haven't been there in a bit more than a month and am expecting to get started on my projects/big ideas/endeavors.

sometimes i wonder: what can i -- a prissy city girl who has spent more time in books than in the field -- possibly do for the senegalese? it is a little daunting and scary and i don't trust myself often.

but then i was talking with another PCV last night and figured that i am, in fact, in quite a prime position because 1) if i can do it, they can do it and 2) development isn't so much about me the foreigner going in and telling others how and what they should do to help themselves but to work alongside them and test out these methods and technologies and see what we can do together to improve upon them and their livelihoods. it is a partnership not a mentorship and i think i can do that.

okay, pep talk over. i admit: i am a little freaked out to go back. but there is nothing i can do but go back and i am going back with a kilo of kola nuts, a new soccer ball for the kids, and some cookies for the fam so maybe they will be happy to see me again.

i heard it snowed on the east coast? it is getting hot here again and i find myself missing snow. crazy!

Friday, February 22, 2008

back in kaolack

and WAIST weekend has ended. overall WAIST was everything it was promised to be and more. there was copious amounts of beer and hot dogs and falafel chawarmas and softball and dancing and good food and all around good times. i also got to stay at an expat's amazingly gigantic apartment where there was hot showers and free wireless and real beds and marble floors and plush couches and televisions and all kinds of amenities that i haven't been around for a very long time. i really enjoyed myself.

it was loads of fun but in a way, thank God it is over because it was about 5 days of partying and going all out. i had been battling a fever prior to the weekend and as soon as i felt a little bit better i delved right into the partying. by the end of the weekend i was exhausted and recessing into illness. the day after WAIST i went to bed at 5PM and did not get out of bed until 11AM the next day.

i am also somewhat glad for it to be over because there is only so much overconsumption one can do without starting to feel guilty and out of place. don't get me wrong, the experience was loads of fun and the ex-pat community overwhelmingly generous and kind, but now that i am a country/boonies girl, i couldn't help but think a lot about what my villagers would think were they to see me in that context or to be in that context themselves.

team kaolack (toxic waist!) did awesome and made it into the semifinals -- no thanks to me as i didn't play. but i was team designer -- designed the t-shirts and the team capes (our team's theme)! i completely shot my voice cheering for our team (on top of a sore throat) but unfortunately we lost to mauritania in the semifinals. i really loved being a part of team kaolack as i think we are the best region in senegal with the coolest and chillest people. yeah, we might live in a cesspool (kaolack really is a disgusting city/ugly region), but the people make up for it and i have discovered my kaolack pride.

the wallet was never found. in fact, i am inclined to believe that it was stolen but regardless, all that stupid business has mostly been taken care of. peter (who one day will be president) was awesome and despite being really ill went to the police with me and helped me file a report of loss/theft and then waited for a while at the bank with me to get some cash. the situation sucked a lot but i suppose it is all part of the experience and peace corps is awesome enough to be reimbursing me the cash that was lost. senegal is really breaking me down and slowly taking my personal possessions from me. in the past month i have lost and broken necklaces, earrings, wallets, water bottles, clothing, just about everything i have brought with me from the states. i am learning how to let go of these things. (fun story: in terms of the water bottle, i was slightly distraught about losing it over the weekend but came back to kaolack with a package waiting for my from my godparents. i opened it up and there was a brand new nalgene filled to the brim with candy! talk about awesome.)

i stayed in dakar an extra day (and hence slept for 18 hours) to talk with med about my health because quite frankly, it sucked getting sick as often as i did. since i've gotten here it has been an uphill battle with my health and i would like to think that back in the states i was relatively healthy. it couldn't be malaria because i am on my prophylaxis like it is my job so after talking with the medical officer and stuff we've determined that it is...stress. lame, right? i was kind of embarrassed at first that the reason why i always felt like shit would be stress, but i guess it makes sense. first off, we toss around the word "stress" pretty loosely in the states (i.e. "i have a paper due tomorrow, i am so stressed!!") so it sounds a lot more foolish than it actually is. secondly, i admit that i am a pretty high strung person to begin with (have you noticed?!) and this peace corps senegal thing is pretty stressful -- language, culture, food, temperature, everything being new, etc. so...yeah, i guess the stress would beat up my immune system a bit and make me susceptible to every disease and sickness out there. apparently most PCVs don't realize just how stressed out we are but apparently this is a really stressful situation to put ourselves in? anyhow, i am working on my stress levels and trying to find means of relaxation and readjusting my life so that i can stop getting sick and go out there and kick some ass aka plant some trees. if anybody has any suggestions, send 'em over.

so now i am in kaolack. i'm chillin' here for a day or two and plan on going back to site on sunday. i am a little nervous as i haven't been there in a month and i haven't spoken wolof in a really long time and i am just overall terrified about starting my work now that IST is over and i am fully trained now as a PCV. as an agfo, my work really starts this coming month because the rains will be coming in june/july (inshallah) and i have to get my tree nursery started so that when the rains start we can outplant trees. i will pretty much be engrossed in agfo from now until september and by then it will have been a full year that i've been here. time is moving pretty quickly.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


it is 2:58 in the morning here in dakar, senegal and i have discovered that i've lost my wallet with my peace corps id, my cbao atm card, my credit card, and my american commerce bank debit card along with about 60,000 CFA. dammit.

tomorrow will consist of a wild goose hunt looking for my wallet. why am i so stupid?!?!

otherwise, had a wonderful night consisting of american softball, beer and hot dogs, expensive thai food, and the marine party that involved an auction of some of my favorite guys in order to raise money for senegad -- the gender and development program in senegal. of course i had to end the night by discovering that i lost my wallet somewhere along the way and if i did, i am really screwed. inshallah i will find it tomorrow. (a few hail marys, fingers crossed, etc.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

a sketch of my hut

chinese new year in senegal

the 7th was chinese new year (or, lunar new year, if you want to get picky about names) which is one of my favorite holidays. so, "cool kid chris" (who is chinese american too), "san diego chris" (who, though caucasion, speaks chinese better than me and cool kid chris combined), JC, and i planned to go to dakar to eat at a chinese restaurant that san diego chris had discovered. (fyi, there are three chris's in my stage so i bestowed upon them nicknames to differentiate between them all.) we were joined by a few other honorary asians -- caitrin (who's brother lives in china), margaret, and liam -- who were wise enough to skip out on the weekend trip to mbour (as tempting as that sounded too) for good chinese food.

i had been looking forward to this moment for weeks on end as nearly every day i desperately crave chinese food all the time and couldn't wait for the gastronomic explosion that i would experience. the only sucky part about the whole deal was that we had to go to dakar, which we'll be going to next week (WAIST!) and is also terribly expensive, but ultimately, there was nothing that was going to keep me from getting chinese food -- not even the quasi-terrible food poisoning that i got earlier in the week that had my body expelling its contents for three days (and in the sick-bay for a morning).

so yesterday (saturday afternoon) after training and an awesome spaghetti lunch, we packed up and headed out to dakar. after sitting in traffic for an hour or so (dakar traffic SUCKS), we finally got there and excitedly headed out to run some dakar errands and satisfy our hankerings for good, non-senegalese food. first we stopped by the gigantic toubab grocery store where you can get all kinds of crazy american and european products and after having spent so much time in the village, a place like this is terribly overwhelming. after my initial shock, i immediately found the wine section and as there was no way i was going to eat good chinese food with crappy gazelles (one of the two not-so-great beers in senegal), i suggested that we all purchase a bottle of wine to share. my suggestion was wholeheartedly agreed upon and we spent probably 20 minutes bewildered by the array of options we faced and finally left with 5 bottles of wine. (i also got a nestle crunch bar!)

the other dakar errands involved going to what we thought might be a chinese grocery but it just turned out to be a store owned by a chinese guy who had all kinds of things like swivel chairs and flat screen tvs and chinese cooking utensils BUT NO CHOPSTICKS, going to the market for fabric where i found exactly what i was looking for, and stopping by citysport, a toubab sporting goods store that sells things like real adidas and ellipticals (very tempted to buy one for my hut) and equestrian britches and saddles (??). at citysport, cool kid chris and i found badminton racquets for only 1900CFA (definitely the cheapest thing in the store) and being in a very chinese state of mind, we excitedly bought two sets and made plans for an entire week of badminton.

finally we headed out for dinner and decided to walk the 45 minutes there rather than spend the money on cabs and after kind of getting lost, we found the restaurant. (actually, we smelled it first, as there is no sign or clear indication of the place being a chinese restaurant.) upon entering, we were greeted by the sounds of a bunch of chinese guys getting drunk off a drinking game and it was bizarre hearing chinese being spoken and seeing so many chinese people in one spot. we were ushered into our own room where there was a big table with a lazy susan and a nice breeze and we excitedly prepared ourselves for the feast.

the menu -- the only menu -- was handwritten in chinese in a notebook and being that neither of the chinese kids read chinese, san diego chris was left with the job of doing so but being out of practice we decided just to go into the kitchen and see what they had and figure out what we would be eating. with the combined languages of chinese, french, wolof, and english (a senegalese guy who spoke french, wolof, and english worked there), we managed to order 8 great dishes (including spicy tofu, springrolls, garlic sauteed napa cabbage). there was a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding so we didn't always get exactly what we thought we were getting but it was delicious nonetheless. paired with a bottle of white and a few bottles of red, we were stuffed and giddy and happy by the end of the meal and i couldn't even believe that i was once again tasting chinese food.

i was quite impressed with the establishment, considering that they have a very limited array of ingredients and they were happy to serve us and by the end of the night we made friends with the owner and took a picture with him and promised to come again, which is a promise i think will be easy to keep. it was loads of fun celebrating and wacky having to speak four languages at once -- there were times i was saying "waaw" ("yes" in wolof) to the chinese guy and asking for things in chinese to the senegalese guy -- and i was utterly and entirely satisfied. the best part of the night: we all wound up only paying 3800CFA (a little less than $8USD) per person!

after dinner we headed back to the dakar regional house where we drank the rest of the wine and hung out and watched movies, too full and unambitious to go out and explore dakar nightlife. we'll do that next weekend.

after a good night's sleep we headed out to ngor, an island off the coast to sunbathe and relax a bit. an interesting thing about ngor: up until now there hasn't been too many things in senegal that have completely baffled me. yes, there have been strange things but i have taken it all pretty well in stride (or so i'd like to think) but today i met the sea sheep of dakar and couldn't stop staring. the sea sheep are basically just sheep that are raised on the beach and are the biggest freakin' sheep i have ever seen. i guess because of the fishing industry and the tourism/restaurants on the island, the sheep eat incredibly well because they are gigantic and healthy and astounding. moreover, they are bathed in the saltwater so they are all glistening white and clean and immaculate -- nothing at all like the grimy nasty things that live in the village. i'm sure everybody got sick of me freaking out about the sea sheep but they were really incredible and just, never in my life did i think that i would see sheep on the beach.

anyway, we got a few hours of good sun at ngor and then sat at one of the beach front restaurants where they serve fresh seafood for cheap. we got fish sandwiches and JC and i split a platter of gigantic shrimp and we once again feasted like kings for under 5000CFA each. i spilled beer all over the place and was attacked by flies but overall it was a pleasant morning and we headed out of dakar destressed (after what was kind of a crappy week for some of us, including me) and ready for the last week of IST.

upon arrival in thies we went to "the big faim," a new toubab-owned restaurant that boasts free wireless, flat screen tvs, real ice cream, excellent food, a dj, and projector with which soccer games are shown. today was the final game of egypt versus cameroon of the africa cup. africa cup 2008 (in ghana this year) has been happening for quite some time now and its been a lot of fun watching the games everyday. part of africa cup's slogan is "one continent, one passion" and it is quite true and andy made note some time ago that if it weren't for futbol, the world would be amassed in war (far more than it already is) as it really is the international peacekeeping tool and based on my experience of africa cup 2008 in senegal, i wholeheartedly agree. i cheered for cameroon (based on the premise that when i lived in paris i lived a few doors down from the embassy) and the game was a good one but egypt won with a slightly not-so-exciting goal but the reaction was fun, as we were in a room full of mostly egypt supporters and when the goal was scored, the dj blasted some jams for celebration.

so now it is the end of the weekend and tomorrow starts the last week of IST. last week was pretty rough on my physical (food poisoning!) and mental (girlish emotions!) health so hopefully this week can be better. soon i will be back in the village and away from all of this, so i am going to just soak it all in and live it up. can't believe IST is almost over already and i've been here since september and next month a new wave of trainees enter country and i will no longer be the novice!

Monday, February 4, 2008

back in thies

i have been in thies for a bit more than a week now and i am utterly exhausted.

i was a zombie today and practically slept walked through the entire day because this past weekend we went to toubab dialaw -- a beach near dakar -- and after getting back, stayed up all night to watch the superbowl which started at 11:30PM here and lasted until about 3 in the morning. i silently cheered for the giants, as most people here are patriots fans, and even though i passed out for most of the third and fourth quarter, was woken up in time for the last crucial minutes and thoroughly enjoyed the great sport of american football.

it has been great being back with everybody and last week was loads of hanging out and catching up and now i am suffering the consequences. i should lay low for a while as later this week we plan on going to dakar for chinese new year which will require hauling our butts out there after work and getting dinner and celebrating and then grabbing a car back for the 2+ hour back to thies so that we can make it to class by 8AM. it should be interesting and i will probably regret it on friday morning but you can't get chinese food in the village and i don't want to miss this opportunity.

being at the beach this past weekend was amazing. i don't think i've ever needed a vacation as much as i did and as i was lying on the beach, i could literally feel the stress leaving my body. it was a fantastic feeling. i guess i am just now realizing how much emotional and physical stress i can be under at times and must take advantage of these miniature vacations as much as possible. my once pasty legs now kind of sort of match my super tanned arms and i don't even know how long it's been since i've showed so much skin.

(also, today i treated myself to real ice cream and realized that i haven't had ice cream since i left america. sad.)

i feel like i could be twenty thousand times more eloquent right now but am so tired that i can barely think of the words to explain my crappy reasoning for my crappy writing. i'm going to go eat dinner and pass out.