jay mailed me a secondhand ipod with 4gb of new and desired music on it. what a great gift! i am listening to the "new" daft punk album (alive 2007) on the stereo at the kaolack house and it is amazing. it might be eurotrash, but there is something about it that is really awesome. anyway, i am really enjoying myself right now, listening to music, eating good food (i cooked) and kind of, decompressing/recuperating after a really excellent weekend.
i turned 23 on sunday, the 27th. i don't think i ever predicted that on my 23rd birthday, i would be in senegal (let alone africa). i've always been one to (admittingly) make a big deal out of my birthday so i rounded up JC, shelley, chris, matt, tayo, joel and adrianne to head out to the coast to get away from site and to hang out. after a really stressful week of pepineering and personal emotions about the work load and life in general, i arrived in kaolack on the 25th ready to forget about all of that for just a few days. i ran some errands and picked up a sweet package from my mother that had cake mix (two!), chips, national geographic, ant killer, and worm medicine (for the cat) amongst other things. my friends started to trickle into the house and we spent the rest of the day chillin' at the house. that night there was a seder that i partook in (my first seder!), which was fun and involved good food.
the morning of the 26th we headed out to go to joal, a small fishing town. adrianne lives there as an eco-tourism volunteer (and i am really envious) so she hooked us up with a pimp house on the water with a huge kitchen and living room for a hell of a good price. granted the beach in joal is pretty scuzzy (as in, i didn't walk on it because it was so gross), but it was still amazing to have a house right on the water like that with big doors and the ocean breeze to waft in. it was as if adrianne had read my mind about what kind of house i would be happy in because she was right on.
so we dropped off our bags and headed out to lunch and ate seafood. granted we have fish almost every day at site, but there is something much tastier about lotte and sole and grilled shrimp than village fish. afterwards we walked across a really big wooden bridge to a little island called fadiouth where there is a neat church and mosque and animism baobab trees and alleys of little houses and seashells everywhere and a nice bar/restaurant on the water. we walked around and then had a beer at the restaurant where adrianne is friends with the owner and hangs out with her work partners there. because they all knew each other, her friend hooked us up with a free pirogue ride on the water. he got us a big wooden pirogue and rowed it himself (poled, really) around the mangroves and fish and past some historic granaries. it was really neat and enjoyable. i love being on water, especially in nifty little boats, so i was definitely happy. we stopped by a teeny cemetery island which was really pretty and gave a beautiful scenic view of mangroves and baobab trees on the horizon. it would be a good place to be buried.
after this little (and free!) adventure, we headed back to the house and made preparations for the night. JC suggested homemade dinner and i decided that i really wanted to make a nice dinner for my friends, so we went to the market and sent the others to a toubab store to pick up other items. the menu: salad with mustard dressing, pasta and chicken in a wine-butter sauce with mushrooms (canned, of course), onions, tomatoes, and loads of garlic, and for dessert: chocolate cake (from the mix) with a peanut butter frosting. sometimes i am amazed at the kinds of dishes you can make with such a limited array of ingredients and resources. (for the pasta: quickly sauté chicken so that skin is white in garlic and set aside in bowl with light marinade of wine and some fresh squeezed lemon juice. throw garlic and onions into a skillet with butter. add mushrooms and wine. melt down the rest of the butter in the skillet and add tomatoes and chicken. add salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. simmer until thick and toss with pasta.)
despite it requiring me to dismantle a whole chicken with a swiss army knife, i really enjoyed cooking for my friends as we all hung out in the kitchen/living room and hung out and chopped vegetables and prepared dinner and/or played cards while listening to music and drinking wine (JC bought me a quality medoc for us to split) and a little concoction adrianne mixed up that we decided to call an "awa fraise" (gin, tonic, strawberry foster clarks drink powder). i'll admit that we got a little saucy but we had a great time. i'm lucky to have smart and witty and often scathingly sarcastic friends so plenty of entertaining things were said and discussed. it was overall the exact kind of night that i needed -- hanging out in a pimp house with good food, drink, friends, and conversation. maybe it is a sign of my age (although 23 really isn't very old, as my villagers like to point out to me: i am still quite a child) but i don't really know what can be much more fun than having a dinner party with one's friends.
the next morning (the 27th, the actual birth day) we took our time in the morning. JC left pretty early because she had to go pick up a guest in dakar and then the guys went out to go see supposedly the largest baobab tree in senegal. they payed a mille to go ride on a charette and see a really large tree. i live under three big baobabs (maybe not the largest in senegal) and ride charettes all the time so i wasn't impressed by the idea and didn't buy into it and decided to stay at the house and hang out and read a little bit. shelley and adrianne stayed behind too so we went out to lunch at a place called le thiouraye (french spelling for the wolof word for "incense"), which is a quaint and perfect little restaurant/auberge on the water where we could eat with little fishes swimming right by us and mangroves and birds to watch. we ate more good seafood and chatted and i bought myself a birthday present of a bracelet that i guess i don't really need but gave myself an excuse to get.
in the afternoon everybody went back to kaolack but chris and i stayed behind in joal because we were going to pout (pronounced "poot" -- really!) the next day to go see mandi, a SED volunteer from our stage. we switched to a nice little auberge (inn) and then went to see adrianne's house that is covered in sea shells and has the tiniest/shallowest well i have ever seen in my life. my sister and my parents called and it was so great to talk to them and made me miss them so much but i know that they love me and are so incredibly supportive of me and i'm not going to lie, i almost cried after we got off the phone. we then went out again for sandwiches and beers and chilled at a restaurant. it almost felt like we were in america again and it was really fun hanging out with adrianne and chris who are such smart people and have such fun conversations. i don't remember when the last time it was that i hung around in a bar/restaurant with friends and beers for a few hours. on the walk back to the auberge we made a friend with a health post worker and then chris braved his life against an angry guard dog that was standing at the door of the auberge so that we could get inside.
monday we left joal for thies so that we could get to pout (traveling in senegal is all about taking lots of rickety cars for long amounts of time in roundabout ways). adrianne had to pick something up at the training center so she came with. i took advantage of the trip to thies to talk to the bank about my new atm card (that i STILL haven't gotten) and failed miserably but whatever, i was made to feel better by pasta (lasagna!) at magic croissant and then going to the training center and seeing the trainers and old friends. i hadn't been back in thies since IST and i actually think it is probably one of the nicer cities in senegal and like it a lot more than i used to. we stopped by a really good toubab store where i found very expensive soy milk (!!!!!!) and chris bought real bacon (gross). we said our goodbyes with adrianne and then boarded a car to pout, the land of abundant fruit (it rhymes!) and mandi.
we got to pout and met up with mandi (whom i haven't seen since WAIST) and met her absolutely adorable months old kitten (seriously not much gets cuter than this cat) and had dinner for breakfast -- french toast and bacon. we caught up and chilled at her really nice house until we all stayed up way past our bedtimes (admittingly, 10PM). in the morning i was woken to ellie, mandi's kitten, romping around and frolicking around on top of me and the sheets as if i was a playground. since she weighs like, less than a pound, it wasn't a big deal but she was going a little nuts, ramming into us and biting us and pouncing on anything that moved. we then went out to a monastery called keur moussa, a place known for its goat cheese and grapefruits (in senegal!) that i have been dying to go to ever since the SED'ers went during IST. we pulled up and mass had just started so we attended mass and it was really quite beautiful. the church is adorned in gorgeous art and the music was done with koras and djembes and the monk who led the singing had the most heartbreakingly beautiful voice. i have only attended mass in central america and thought little could top it, but this mass was peaceful and transformative and really wonderful. after mass they opened up the magasin to us where we loaded up on goat cheese, grapefruit, grapefruit and ginger juice, and (another gift for myself) a jasmine extract spray (it is really comforting to smell nice after a long day sweating up in the pepineer!). i don't even know when it was the last time that i had goat cheese and grapefruit (as they are not common items in senegal or the life of a PCV) so i was extremely happy to have these back in my life.
after lunch at mandi's house chris and i began our journey back to kaolack. we stocked up on a few more kilos (literally) of fruit and squeezed into a rather squishy sept-plaas. i was sandwiched in between chris and a nar and sitting on an uncomfortable hump but i guess things could have been worse. after a few hours in the car, we finally got to kaolack in the late afternoon/early evening and after tossing all my bags to chris i rushed out to the market before they started to take it down to buy produce for dinner. JC and her guest were passing through the house too so i prepared a dinner of bean and corn burgers which we accented with goat cheese and lettuce. (tastes like veggie burgers and very easy to make: sautee garlic and onions, mix into mashed beans, canned corn, oatmeal, soy sauce, mustard, salt, pepper, red pepper, italian seasoning. form into patties and cook on a skillet or bake.) dinner was pleasant and extremely filling and ten thousand times more satisfying than what we eat in the village.
after an exhausting day of traveling, sleep could be no sweeter and now it is today and i am taking care of some business in kaolack before heading out to sokone in a few days for a kaolack region wide meeting in which we will create a strategy for how we will align our work with each others'. after such a weekend, i feel totally refreshed and ready to get back to work -- the pepineer and new trees and fruit trees don't seem so daunting anymore and i am actually looking forward to getting back to site and getting started on the next phase of the pepineer process.
so i am 23 now and i'm in senegal, west africa serving as an agroforestry extension agent. i live in a hut in the senegalese bush with a small kitten and a family that has 2 wives and 10 (or more) kids. i have no electricity and running water (aside from a community shared spigot) and incredibly far away from my (real) family and american comforts. i have a tree nursery of about 3,000 sacks and work with farmers in a language i had never heard before september 2007. if this doesn't call for an interesting year, i don't know what will. i am very lucky to be alive and to be here and to have my health and family and friends. i am grateful.