I would like to preface this blog with the statement that I do not really care for the musical Rent (there are so many better musicals out there!) but damn if that song isn’t catchy and an accurate measurment of time.
Sometimes I find my life here so monotonous that my mind has trouble justifying writing another blog post like all the ones before. Because of this and some other reasons (mostly involving laziness and some insecurity about how rusty my writing skills have gotten) I find Senegal Sophie a year into her service with barely half a dozen posts to show for it. I’m going to stop saying that I’ll try to be better about consistency, because that hopefulness has become unrealistic. What passes for apologies aside, here’s a review of the previous year:
I left Montana with a mother straight out of surgery to remove a malignant tumor and a childhood dog with rapidly worsening lung function. Once at the airport, I forgot my ukulele in my dad’s car and he had to come up to the security line to deliver it to me. The last thing I remember seeing in my beloved home state was my dad’s tear-stained face through my own tear-blurred vision as he handed me the tiny 4-string instrument. A year later- my mom is totally recovered, my dog is on regular medication and his breathing is fine, and I have learned 0 new songs on my uke.
So after a month of shopping and completely repacking my bags at least 5 times, I arrived in D.C. to go through a (truthfully) unnecessary orientation to Peace Corps. We boarded the plane with instructions to smuggle the airline blankets into our luggage because we’d be glad to have them once in country (sage advice, cold season here seems very cold after the very hot hot season).
Training in Thies began in earnest. My mom sent her first care package that included a festive Halloween mask and didn’t arrive until November. Trainees started community based training and I began my stay with a host family in Ker Sadaro slightly outside of the city of Thies. Later in the month, I learned that I would be placed in the Kaffrine region, and was able to visit Medina Koli, my future home, for the first time. My then-2 year old future host sister and best friend, Yita, fell asleep mistrustfully in my lap during my village’s welcome-party, and I was smitten.
Training continued and the Wolof language didn’t get any easier. The Agroforestry aspect of the curriculum increased in intensity, and I discovered that I liked working with trees and gardens (who would have guessed?). I started taking extra lessons with my language and cultural instructor to try to improve my Wolof. Progress was dishearteningly slow and difficult and I began to question if I was the right fit for PC Senegal. Volunteers pulled together in a stupendous effort to recreate the classic American Thanksgiving meal, and proved wildly successful!
Against all odds, I passed my language test with an adequate score. My fellow volunteers and I traveled to Dakar and swore in as official Peace Corps volunteers! A few days after that, Peace Corps vans dropped us off at our regional houses and we went on a shopping spree, spending our move in allowance to buy hut essentials: mattresses, bed frames, buckets, laundry tubs, trunks, floor mats, and kitchen supplies.
I moved in with the family that would be mine for the next few years and started to get settled. Peanut harvest was nearing an end, and I spent most days sitting with women in my compound cracking the nuts. The volunteers of Kaffrine spent a quiet and somber Christmas at the regional house, trying and failing to make the holiday as jolly as each of us remembered it being back home.
Cultural integration continued, slowly slowly. I got to know the layout of my village, got to know the members of my family and of the community. I cracked enough peanuts to build calluses on my fingers and started acquiring a taste for the too-sweet green tea called attaya that they cook here.
The AG volunteers of 2016 returned to Thies to continue technical training. We spent 2 weeks at the training center learning how to graft trees, construct live fences, amend soil, create compost piles, build earthworks, and a variety of other techniques.
Kaffrine held a mural tourney, and a very excited Medina Koli got to host a handful of volunteers. At my site, we painted a bayobob tree and a map of Senegal (with the names of the regions written in French and Arabic).
I began gathering work partners in my village to create tree nurseries and start seeding them. I had my first training with 10 community members who seemed particularly passionate about tree work.
A new group of Health and CED (Comunity Economic Development) volunteers joined the Kaffrine family.
I started working on tree nurseries in earnest- my efforts would eventually result in 16 nurseries and over 1,300 trees in the ground come rainy season.
Hot season began and I started to realize that, while work on the Montana prairie had increased my heat tolerance by some, nothing could have prepared me for true West African heat.
My good friend, and fellow PCV, Olivia Murphey-Sweet and I took our first out-of-Senegal vacation to Ireland and England. I fell in love with every aspect of Ireland and made myself a promise to return soon and spend more time there. Harry Potter Studios in England was a truly magical experience.
May 28, 2017- My nephew Jamie Wirth Daanen was born in CDA, Idaho to my only sister and best friend. The week after Jamie’s birth was the closest I’ve come to quitting the Peace Corps.
Ramadan began in June and, charmed as I was by the Muslim holiday, I quickly became very bored with the substantial increase of down-time. To be honest, I never really intended on fasting, and many days were spent quietly in my hut, munching goldfish my mom had mailed me or cooking Senegalese instant noodles. Despite the heat, my tea consumption practically doubled.
Breaking the fast was always fun. My family members were so tired and hungry by the end of the day, and bread with tea was welcomed gladly by all of us as dusk grew around our village. Most nights, I fell asleep on a mattress outside beside one of my host moms, only retreating to my hut after the night had cooled it enough to comfortable sleep there.
Volunteers gathered in the south of Senegal to celebrate July 4th, and did our forefathers and foremothers proud by the scope of the party.
Rainy Season began on the last day of Ramadan. I had never seen so much liquid water fall from the sky at once (I had seen great quantities of precipitating frozen water, courtesy of my home state). The rains, while torrential, were inconsistent, and the out-planting of trees did not really get started until near the end of the month.
August was all about the trees! After months of caring for trees in nurseries, my work partners and I finally started getting them comfortable settled in the ground. As I previously mentioned, we got somewhere around 1,300 trees in the ground (which is simultaneously a lot and not that many). 300 of those trees were planted in a single day by my host father and I, a feat that I will never try to accomplish again because it was soul-crushingly exhausting.
And so, finally, here we are- 1 year later. It doesn’t quite do it justice, condensing it down into a single thousand-something word blog post. This September has been spent planting the last of the nursery trees in Medina Koli and waiting for the new AG/AGFO stage to arrive. They’re scheduled to come in just about the time that I did- a few days before the end of the month. Rains are dying down and soon rainy season will be over and long-awaited cold season will begin.
Corn harvest will begin shortly, followed by peanut harvest. My host brother and host cousin will be having a double wedding after harvest season is completely finished, and after that I’ll be headed home to Montana to spend Christmas with my family and meet my nephew, Baby Jamie! After that, I’ll have less than a year left in my service, and I’ve heard the closer volunteers get to completion of service and faster time seems to go. Chances are I’ll write at least one more blog post in that time. Cheers!
Next time on Senegal Sophie: Chai Talkin’ (or, a blog post about India and how much I miss it)