Discover Dakar!

I thought I would share this video on my blog since it is really great representation of the city I live and work in. My friend David Campbell, who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal from 2009-2011, came back to do research in Dakar for another 6 months. Before he left, we decided to gather our friends and rent out one of the most common form of transport on the streets… the Alhum. We made a list of some of our favorite places in Dakar and I designed a scavenger hunt for everyone and we took off our of Party Bus adventure throughout Dakar. If it seems like we are doing strange things in the video, you can attribute it to the scavenger hunt. The sites, the laughs, and the friends are all so real though. All video credit goes to David! So awesome.

Enjoy!

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My next job after Peace Corps will be…

Since I’ve extended my Peace Corps service for a third year, the second most-asked question after “When are you coming home?” is “What are you going to do when you’re done?”

To date, I haven’t had an answer for my family and friends and when I do, the ones who know me the best understand that the answer I give them is only the answer for the day. Sometimes I’m planning to move to Chile to become a teacher, travel South America, and learn Spanish, other times I’ve applied for my BUNAC and am on the edge of jetting off to New Zealand to work on a dude ranch. I’ve exasperated my mother with claims to ride across West Africa on a motorcycle, start an American restaurant dance club in Dakar, and/or become a pirate and sail from Cape Verde Islands to Brazil.

But I have good news everybody! The days of dreaming and confusion for my future career are over. Just in the last couple of weeks I have had an epiphany and it was brought about by two obscenely polite gentlemen who decided to go on a beautiful afternoon jog on their Senegalese Independence Day. Lucky for me, I was also taking the opportunity to stroll with my four other friends at the same time as these two gentlemen, and was happy to oblige them when they decided to cut my bag off of me with their machetes. Not only was I happy to oblige them, I want to congratulate them on their representation of Senegalese hospitality, and thank them for pointing me in the direction of my true career path.

Yes, it’s true, I have decided to join these two crusaders of Senegalese hospitality and justice, and become a thief in Dakar!

Whitney, how could you, you say. How could a good country girl like you from a pretty decent family have gone so wrong?

Before you get on your high horses though, and begin to condemn my future plan, I beg you to look at my 10 reasons why becoming a thief in Dakar is a great career option!

machete

 

  1. Laid Back Working Environment: I’ve never really wanted a desk job. Desk jobs make your back cramp up and I’m not about to start following the “standing desk” trend that work-a-holic workout nuts have made up. Nor do I really feel like a super intense job such as a large animal veterinarian or even sustainable gardening. Being a thief in Dakar is the perfect balance of no stress, very little physical activity, and working outdoors! If you’re a thief in Dakar, there are no worries that the police will chase you. I found this out when I watched the two thieves walk leisurely back across the street, swinging my bag and my friend’s bag like two school girls on a picnic, while two policemen in full uniform and AK-47’s looked on and shrugged their shoulders when I pointed towards the thieves. While I am a little upset about losing all my Peace Corps writing and photos that were in the bag, it’s a relief to know that becoming a thief in Dakar is a pretty stress free job!

 

  1. Top Notch Housing Accommodations: I haven’t really looked into the different housing benefits of gangs across America, but I have a feeling that Dakar has one of the best offers in the world! I learned about the Dakar option when I chased the thieves across the road and toward the peninsula on the ocean where they suddenly disappeared over the cliff. According to the many Pulaars that are in the area, the thieves are very comfortable in an elaborate and roomy cave, equipped with a myriad of passageways for escape, as well as multiple niches for hiding their booty that lies below the very highway where they work! How perfect—a very short commute to work, a great view of the ocean from a stony stalagmite decorated balcony, and comfy and cozy place to call home! And the best part that my Mom will be very happy to learn about: It’s the safest place in Dakar because even the police are too scared to go in there! WHAT A DEAL!!

 

 

  1. Beautiful and Accessible Working Environment: Being a girl from Nebraska, the ocean has always held a fascination for me. But it would truly be a dream to not only live, but also work right on the ocean!  The Corniche is the newest and most accessible highway in Dakar and helps thousands of people every day travel efficiently and effectively from one end of the peninsula to the other. Winding along the coastline, which is a truly spectacular site that may bring thousands of visitors a year to Dakar, the Corniche is a very pleasant place. Business for me as a thief will be booming as it may be the busiest place in Dakar, what with the never ending traffic, and people out for a walk or a run on the mosaic patio stones laid purely for a leisurely afternoon stroll. Or steal, in my case. Everyone can enjoy The Corniche– from drivers, to walkers and runners, to lazy policemen guarding it, to thieves!

 

  1. Flexible Hours: When I’ve thought about becoming a thief in the past, I’ve always been put off by the late hours. My friends and family know that I love to dance, and since dance clubs don’t get bumping here until about 2:00 am, I can’t be wasting that time stealing from people. Luckily in Dakar, because the police force is so lax, you can steal at any time of the day and not get caught! While I’ll probably have to stalk around with my gang after hours, I’m sure if I cut a couple of bags off of people like the thieves did to me at 3:00 in the afternoon, they’ll give me time off to hang out with my friends and go to the clubs.

 

 

  1. Relatively no skills or experience necessary: Everyone my age complains about how it’s so hard to get a job without experience. And if no one will give you a job without experience, then how are you going to get experience? I’ve run into this obstacle several times when applying for jobs, but fortunately I’ve found a way around it. The bad news is that my parents wasted a bunch of money sending me to college. Sorry Mom and Dad! Becoming a thief in Dakar requires very little skill and almost no experience. Thieves in many major cities in the United States are astoundingly clever and practiced at the art of pickpocketing. Let’s be honest, when you get your wallet stolen by a particularly gifted pickpocket on the metro in D.C. and all of a sudden your money’s all gone, you want to say, “Good one on ya!” and laugh a little. As much as I admire the pickpockets in the United States, I’ve given up on achieving their level of skill. Here in Dakar, all you need is a sharp machete (don’t even need to load any bullets) and crazy eyes. I’ve got the latter, and I’m sure I could attain the former fairly easily for the equivalent of about $4.

 

  1. Team Work: In my life, I’ve always exceled at team activities. Loved being on the basketball team, always enjoyed group projects in college, etc. On the renowned Briggs Myers personality test I was identified as 100% extrovert, which means I will always choose to work/be with other people rather than working/being alone. Another huge advantage to being a thief in Dakar is that we always work in pairs! Why rob someone with one machete, when you can have two machetes? And then if it turns out you are too big of a wussy to handle an unarmed person alone with you own machete, you’ve got your partner to back you up! It’s also kind of like a workout buddy too, since the main strategy of thievery in Dakar is too jog up slowly behind the victim and then surprise attack them. I have so many fond memories of jogging buddies! Holla at me Ruth Nervig!

 

 

  1. Collaboration with Esteemed Organizations in Dakar: Like I said, I haven’t done much research on the ins and outs of thievery in Dakar, but from my point of view as the victim, it looks like a pretty cozy situation between the police and thieves. Why did the police men casually say “Wait, Wait”, when he very easily could have caught them if he had only hustled a bit? I’ve always wanted to work closely with policemen especially after we were robbed this last time and had the pleasurable experience of spending hours in their company. They treated us almost as well as the thieves, and promised that they would get our stuff back. They laughed with us about how all our stuff was stolen, and the police chief even kindly gave my friend his number after winking at her and touching her knee, I’m sure so that she could “follow up on the robbery”. The esteemed official who was writing our report was even empathetic when we asked if we could leave the police station to eat since we’d been traumatized and then had skipped lunch. He responded, “I know how you feel, I’ve been working all day, and I haven’t eaten lunch either.” I’m beyond excited to continue this positive collaboration, but this time on the other end of the spectrum.

 

  1. Health benefits: The young men who robbed us seemed to have a bit of extra jive about them. I’d like to see the kind of work we’d get done in Peace Corps if they gave us the same caliber drugs as the Den of Thieves is providing its employees. Come on Peace Corps, can we get some paint thinner up in here?

 

  1. A People Person’s Job: As many of you know, I took on this third year position in Peace Corps in order to sharpen my skills as a communicator and further the cross-cultural understanding between Americans and the country of Senegal. I often work and have truly enjoyed helping the expatriates learn about the culture here in Senegal. As I see it, the job will basically stay the same. Expatriates walking along the Corniche are often targeted by my future career colleagues and a little bit of communication never hurt to smooth over a machete attack. Also, it’s a great way to teach expatriates about the positive parts of Senegalese culture in the fact that it is a truly non-violent country. All we want to do as thieves is take your shit. If this were South Africa, you’d be dead. Count your blessings. I truly feel like my skills are an invaluable asset to the Den of Thieves in Dakar, which makes it highly unlikely that they will turn down my application. Cross your fingers for me!
  2. Self confidence: While I credit the Peace Corps with molding my identity and building in me qualities like perseverance, independence, adaptability, and toughness, I believe that in my new career path I will build self-confidence like I’ve never had before. I can’t imagine a greater thrill, a more inspirational boost to my spirit than robbing unarmed Corniche pedestrians with a machete. This in the end is my true inspiration to becoming a thief in Dakar, and I hope as my close friends and family you will support me as you have done for the past 3 years of life here in Senegal!

Thank you so much! I hope I have changed your minds!

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Wanna Feug Jaay?

No, I’m not inviting you to join in an African dance undiscovered as of yet by the Western World. Nor am I proposing for you to engage me in sexual and/or alternately illicit activities. I just want to go to market.

The feug jaay, pronounced fooki jaay in English, is a Wolof word meaning to shake off and sell (Source: my Senegalese friend, Hussein Diop). Imagine your local American Goodwill or thrift shop, but then cut the prices in half, take away the non-descript building that smells faintly of ramen noodles and cats, and multiply the inventory by a thousand. Then take those 90’s prom dresses, cheap crystal, and weird shag carpets and stuff them into hundreds of stalls lined up in the middle of the street for at least a mile. Each vendor sells his or her own genre of used goods—men’s pants, women’s lingerie, children’s miniature get-ups—and each stall has its own method of organization– clothes ironed and hung on the steel bars of stalls, folded in stacks higher than your head, or thrown haphazardly into a pile that gets churned every couple of minutes by a teenage boy walking around barefoot over his wares. If you are patient, you are sure to find something, even if it’s not what you set out to find in the first place.

This is the feug jaay. A hipster’s dream, a compulsive shopper’s nightmare, and a song that Macklemore wishes he wrote.

In Senegal, “Wanna feug jaay?” is common Peace Corps jargon.  Perhaps it’s our best kept secret, but you know that tattered chic style we are always rocking? I didn’t get it from my momma, I got it from the feug jaay. The feug jaay, like many things we’ve learned about in our unique situations as volunteers, is a term not known well by the larger expatriate community in Dakar. I admit that after two and a half years, I have become lax in my differentiation between what is Peace Corps gobbedlygook and what is plain English. For example, a couple of months ago I became aware of my shameful slinging of Peace Corps slang/local language when I demanded that everyone attending my birthday party should go to the feug jaay to pick up a cheap white shirt.

I didn’t think again about it until a day before the party when a non-Peace Corps friend asked me exactly what the hell was I talking about when I said to pick a t-shirt up at this “feug jaay” place and was I expected to believe she knew what that was?

I dragged my toe through the dirt in shame and shrugged my shoulders. Apparently not.

My shame soon turned to optimism though, as I realized the great opportunity I had to convert my non-Peace Corps expatriate friends into avid feug jaayers. And is there really a more delightful activity than cavorting through troves of the world’s trash-to-treasures in a West African market on Saturday?

This last Saturday, with a theme party of the greatest importance on the horizon, I seized the chance to take my feug jaay-virgin friend (whose name will remain anonymous in order to protect his previous non- feug jayying status) to a particular neighborhood known for having the best and most diverse feug jaay on Saturdays.

We didn’t know what we were looking for, but it didn’t matter. Every absurd costume idea materialized before us as we squeezed into the alley between the stalls. Our world became a kaleidoscope of brightly patterned clothing, wriggling bodies, and tinny loudspeakers announcing the cheapest prices. One minute, inside a tent of fancy dresses from 10 years ago, I could be a prom queen. In the next minute, I aspired to a Britney Spears, a football player, or perhaps a Go-Go dancer. And sometimes I just bought stuff because I wanted it— like a vintage black vest, some blue-diamond patterned pants that need a bit of tailoring, and a set of gold Pulaar earrings.

When feug jaaying, it always helps to take another enabling shopper. I was pleased that my friend quickly adapted to the scene, egging me on to buy totally ridiculous and totally useless items and popping up at the right moment during the delicate art of bartering to confirm that my price was a perfectly legitimate offer. He even managed to shuck off his amateur status by appropriately assuming that nothing is off limits in the feug jaay. Upon glimpsing a truly priceless “I Heart Haters” necklace worn by one young vendor, my newly minted feug jaayer friend bartered with him until the teen removed it from his own neck and sold it to him.

The feug jaay is a place to feel alive, to bump arms with hundreds people doing the same thing you are, to press your face into the strange smell of a piece of clothing with unknown history, to buy a small plastic cup of café touba as you peruse the stalls, to make new friends with the Guinean Pulaars who beat the shine into fabric with wooden clubs, to meet old friends accidentally in the hubbub of that crowded alley. You leave with a sore body and buzzing ears, swinging a black plastic sack full of hard won items that don’t add up to more than $5. Does it get any better than this?

Find out for yourself. Grab a wad of small change and a good-humored buddy and get on over to the feug jaay.

 

**For those interested in discovering the feug jaays of Dakar, here are some Peace Corps suggestions on the neighborhoods and times when they happen:

Yoff-Tuesday

Almadies- Thursday

Ouakam-Thursday

Liberte 6- Saturday

Marche Collobane, downtown- Always

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“When are you coming home?”

“When are you coming home?”

This is the question these days from my friends, family, and even facebook friends. I’m afraid the answer to this question is not the one that the people asking it want to hear. Living abroad is like anything—Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Beyonce’s  Single Ladies video, or the perfect leather jacket— once you experience it, once it’s lodged in your mind, your heart, your senses, it might be a hard job going back to anything else.

I never got homesick at camp. I cried on the plane ride back home from England. When I found out on my 11th birthday that I did not receive an owl down my chimney and wouldn’t be moving to Hogwarts immediately, I also cried. This should have been a sign, Parents.

While traveling has always seemed to run in my blood, I would hate for anyone to mistake this love for adventure as a dis-taste for home, whether that means Callaway as my community, Nebraska as my state, or the United States as my country. Ask any of the people who know me here.  Don’t you dare insult Nebraska. And if you want to hear a story about my beautiful home on the ranch and my amazing hometown, you definitely don’t need to ask me twice. I think about how lucky I am to be American every day and am proud of the personality traits I possess that characterize me as “American”.

Maybe this is why it makes it so easy to love living in the rest of the world. I know there will always be a place for me to return.

So dear friends and family, don’t sigh when I say I can’t leave the sight of the ocean from my window or the $1 plates of fish and rice on the street corners. Don’t despair when I speak of the sewage in the streets and the rickety cars driven by men without drivers’ licenses and aggressive markets filled with fresh goat carcasses, shoddy electrical appliances, and spiritual medicines made of horn and bone. The air is breezy and hope is high. Every day is an adventure in the Paris of West Africa. It wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t get back to my apartment with dirt on my feet, sand in my hair, and a story to tell.

So I won’t be coming home anytime soon, but I never said you couldn’t come visit me…

 

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Loving Life at 25: 10 Reasons why its Awesome to turn 25 in Senegal

One of my dearest friends from childhood works in a hospice center, where he cares for patients who are on the last leg of their life journey. I have never had the stomach or perhaps the heart for such a job, which is why I admire Greg all the more for what he does. We often swipe stories, me about my adventures in Senegal him about his adventures at his job. While we fill our days with completely different things, we always have plenty to talk about with each other. As I go into my 25th year of life and my 3rd year in Senegal, I can’t help myself thinking about something Greg told me when recalling the notable things that his residents say.

He told me that there are patterns in the people who are there, most of their friends already passed away and many of their families coming less and less to visit, if at all. He noted that there was a resounding consistency with one particular thought which plagued many of his residents.

They all speak of their regrets. Even when people meander aimlessly through their memories, their minds already mostly gone from this world, they speak of things they didn’t do and wished they had, they speak of the things they almost did, but didn’t have the courage to follow through with.

Not that I’m dwelling on this particular observation, but since Greg and I turned 25 a week apart from each other, we enjoyed reflecting on what these wise elders could tell us about how we live our still relatively young lives.

This being said (and reflected upon), I think 25 will be an amazing year, not only because I am happy with how I have lived my life and how I have grown into the 25 year old I am today, but also because I know the adventures are only beginning, the growing will continue, and I am happy with exactly where I am.

10 Reasons why it’s Awesome to Turn 25 in Senegal

  1. For birthday breakfast I treated myself to two croissants (one butter, one chocolate) and a cup of coffee all for the equivalent of $1.50.
  2. 25 and still learning. French and surfing are two new skills I will hopefully have acquired by the end of the year.
  3. In Senegal, most people don’t mark their birthdays anyway.
  4. Since I moved to Dakar and started hanging out with the other expatriates here, I’m still among the youngest. I keep them young, and they give me good advice. The perfect trade.
  5. On my birthday night I got to dance until 5:00 in the morning. Bars in the U.S. close at 2:00am!
  6. The expat community is so small, that my birthday party was the biggest thing happening that night, which meant everybody was there.
  7. My birthday cake was topped with fresh fruit! I love living in tropical places.
  8. I didn’t have to wear a coat, another coat, a hat, boots, and gloves out on January 27th. It was 80 degrees!
  9. People told me Bon Anniversaire as well as Happy Birthday. I love hearing happy birthday in two languages.
  10. I’ve lived 10% of my life in Senegal. Not a bad way to end a quarter of a century.
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New Year, New Discoveries in Senegal

There comes a time in your Peace Corps service that you finally decide you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. You decide you are going to go ahead and do all the touristy things that you scorned at the beginning of your service while trying desperately to fit into the every day rigamaroll of life in Senegal.

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Being a tourist

So this weekend, my friend Adrian and I decided to be tourists and start our new year in Senegal by going to visit the sites in Dakar.

Like good tourists, we packed our cameras and put on our walking shoes and hailed a taxi to the Mamelle Lighthouse, a place rumored to have the most beautiful view of the city.

I pass the light house almost every day on my way up and down the peninsula and always say to myself, “I’ve got to get up there sometime.”

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The base of the lighthouse makes the perfect soccer pitch!

Perched on top of one of the two large hills that mark the Mamelle district of Dakar, the lighthouse has the abandoned look so characteristic of many Senegalese buildings. From the bottom of the hill you can barely see the building through the unpruned thorn trees and euphorbia which grows on either side of the winding road. When we finally made it up the hill, breathing hard after attempting not to be run down by the cars driven by mostly French people, we weaved our way through a lively game of soccer being played by local kids and stepped onto the patio at the base of the lighthouse.

A family who seemed to live at the light house had draped brightly colored fabric out to dry over a railing. The fabric flapped like festival flags in the strong wind and stood out cheerfully against the drab white chipped paint surface of the rest of the lighthouse. The flagstones were cracked and weeds sprouted up between them. Most of the windows were opaque with dust, and the lock was broken off on one of the doors. But even in its state of disrepair, I was charmed and also surprised to see the groups of other people who had come to admire the view. We passed the cement benches placed there for visitors, and in true Peace Corps fashion climbed up over the wall and onto a higher flat area unguarded by railings. It opened straight onto the sea in the west and the city to our east. From this vantage point we were able to see my building downtown on one end of the city and the American embassy building all the way on the other side of the peninsula.Image

We watched the planes take off and land and amused ourselves by pointing out familiar locations in the city. As the sun sank lower in the sky over the ocean, we climbed down, trying not to get knocked off by the ocean wind that can be bullyingly strong in January and wound our way back down the hill.

As we made our way toward the main street, we could see the African Renaissance Monument on the hill adjacent to the lighthouse.

“We’re here, we might as well hit up the statue as well,” said Adrian.

I shrugged. “I’ve never been and neither have you. We’ve gotta go someday.”

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The African Reniassance Monument is something Peace Corps volunteers usually avoid until one of their last days in country. Our aversion to the monument is due to the statue’s connection with the corruption that is often so prevalent in West African countries, and this particular case, the monument is a painfully gaudy example of the problems, even in our own beloved Senegal. The statue was contracted by the last and allegedly corrupt President Abdoulaye Wade who paid 20 million to a North Korean sculptor in order to pay tribute to those who “sacrificed their liberty and freedom for the African Renaissance.”

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You aren’t referring to yourself on that plaque are you, Abdoulaye Wade?

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Adrian, Peace Corps volunteer, turned tourist for the day at the base of the monument.

Anyway, it’s a little interesting that you decide to put 20 million dollars towards a monument in a city that still doesn’t have a reliable drinking water system nor the ability to keep all of the streets for flooding. In a country with 54% of the population living below the poverty line, you think the president of the country could have thought about other ways to use the 20 million, not to mention rumors that the profit from the tourism there goes straight into his own pocket… but I digress.

It is still an impressive sight to behold, with the man and his ridiculously ripped abs and arms holding up his infant son in one arm, and dragging his wife around the waist behind him with the other. The little boy is pointing to the future and the proud parents seem to be following his gaze. One can’t help but notice the scantily clad wife so differently dressed from the conservative Muslim women she represents.

In any case, we can check that off our list and we got a good workout climbing all of the stairs up to it!

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As I go into my third year in Senegal, I also want to make sure I keep changing and learning and taking on new things. So in order to that, I’ve signed up for French class and take those 3 times a week. Je ne parle pas Francais beaucoup, mai j’essais.

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Me and my proud surf instructor, Jackie.

I have also decided I can’t pass up the opportunity of living so close to the ocean and am also taking surf class for about a tenth of the price that it would cost me in the United States. New year, new skills, new discovery!

Yesterday was my first day of surfing and even though the waves were really choppy, my instructor helped me to get up at least 2 times! I drank a lot of salt water and even ate some sand, but by the end of the day I was happy and eager to go back next week for more lessons!

As we jogged up and down the beach behind our Senegalese surf instructors, dodging the soccer games, and the goats being dragged down the ocean for a wash, I couldn’t help but be truly happy to be back in Senegal. It was with a contented feeling that I stripped out of my wet suit at the end of the morning and laid down under a tiki hut to enjoy a Sunday afternoon beach day before the work week.

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Yoff Beach, my new favorite hangout!

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Discover Senegal! A Tale of a Newbie Peace Corps Event Planner

“I am never doing this again!”

If I remember this correctly, which is debatable due to my half crazed state of mind, I believe this is what I yelled at one particularly patient friend as I grabbed her by the shoulders and emphasized again that I was a crazy person for starting my new year here in Dakar and new position off in such a way.

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In the regional table tents where guests could explore regions to see in Senegal and listen to great music!

It was finally the day, the hour even, that all of preparation, promotion, days spent jumping out of bed with my heart racing in order to follow up on something I thought I’d forgotten, and a jumble of phone calls, emails, and hasty meetings held all over the city—would come to fruition.  It was the day of Discover Senegal, an event of my own design, a brain child that would be born as it wanted to be born, whether or not it would be a success I couldn’t honestly know and my name was all over it no matter which way it went.peacecorps 1 copy

I had designed it as an event to help the large expatriate community living in Dakar learn about all the sights there are to see outside of the city. In a country like Senegal, traveling is not the easiest thing in the world. There are few to no road signs and knowing where the tourist locations are is difficult and not well advertised on the internet. I wanted to use something that we Peace Corps volunteers often take for granted; our local knowledge of specific regions and villages. And not only did I want to give them the information, I wanted to offer it in a fun, comfortable environment which would include local food and drink tasters,  a large bazaar like tent full of authentic Senegalese artisanal products, and a live band of course!

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Taken by Karen Chaffraix, PCV Thies
This is a display of one of the regional tables

The event was centered around the regional tables where two Peace Corps volunteers were stationed to talk about what there is to see and do in his or her specific area. Each volunteer compiled an informational handout and hopefully in a few months, all of these itineraries should be available on our new blog Go.Live.Senegal, a forum for expatriates and volunteers who want to see other parts of the country.

We had five different options for dinner spanning five of the main ethnic groups in Senegal and a variety of local juices for sampling as well. One of the major hits at the event was Liquor de Warang, a Belgium family run company based in Mbour who make specialty liquor out of all the best local flavors in Senegal.

The artisans were selling everything from wooden carvings, to leather bags and purses, soaps and jams, baskets, and jewelry. I’m guessing they did well because when I went to take a peek for myself inside the artisan tent the women were grinning from ear to ear and the men would emphatically nod in my direction. I’ve seen more than one new leather purse on the arm of my ex-pat friends.

Courtesy photo Karen Chaffraix Alexx Goeller, one of our volunteers and the artisan she works with.

Courtesy photo Karen Chaffraix
Alexx Goeller, one of our volunteers and the artisan she works with.

The band was phenomenal and played a great mix of cocktail-esque jazz tunes that kept the guests entertained and in the mood to drink, talk, and shop. It was exactly the kind of band I was looking for as well seeing as the main singer is a former Californian, but the rest of his band is Senegalese. American-Senegalese fusion is exactly what I was going for.

Giving the welcome to all the guests and introducing the Battle of the Regions, a competition among the volunteers to prove their region is the best in country!

Giving the welcome to all the guests and introducing the Battle of the Regions, a competition among the volunteers to prove their region is the best in country!

As I looked around 2 hours into the event, I took a deep breath for the first time all day. I spent weeks planning for it… and guess what? I loved it all. I love that meeting new people has become part of my job and that sitting at a table at various schools, work places, and cafes spieling people about all the great things they will get out of the event is a regular work day. I love creatively figuring out how I’m going to get x amount of food and this particular band for this small x amount of money. And even when all the tables I ordered don’t show up to the venue and the caterer is an hour late and the sound man refuses to turn the speakers down when the saxophone is blasting all the guests eardrums out, I think, What the hell! Let’s start planning for another event!

I am either a masochist or a thrill seeker. I’m pretty sure it’s the latter because once the caterer arrives and the Peace Corps Country Director finally demands the sound man turn down the music, WALAH! People are having fun. They have beers in hand, I see them engaged with the very professionally dressed Peace Corps volunteer regional representatives, and the Senegalese artists with their beautiful products on display are making absolute bank.

That’s when I say. Yes, it worked. Yes, I can do this. Yes, I LOVE this!

At the end of the day, I am very pleased at how my first event and the first ever Discover Senegal went. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. There always is, and I am very happy to take any suggestions to make next year’s event better than ever. There were about 280 expatriate guests, over 30 Peace Corps volunteers helping and acting as regional representatives, 18 vendor artisans, and about 10 Senegalese cultural table volunteers. It was a great turnout and I feel confident and comfortable saying goodbye to this beautiful country for a month and a half, going home for a much needed vacation, and coming back with a fresh start and a solid base here in Dakar!

Peace Corps Volunteers helping at the event.

Peace Corps Volunteers helping at the event.

I want to say thank you once again to all of the people who made the event possible. I absolutely could not have done it without the guidance and suggestions of the Community Liaison Office at the American Embassy, the Embassy Security Team and the Embassy GSO team that let me use all the tents and tables. Thank you to the Peace Corps volunteers who were absolutely amazing. I was so proud to be a Peace Corps volunteer that evening as I looked around at everyone sharing all they had to offer about the best places to visit in this country we love and live in. And finally to the guests who came to the event. Thank you for welcoming me into your expatriate community and trusting me to throw a good event, even when you had no idea who I was or what I was doing! I really appreciated all of you and look forward to living and working in this capacity for another year in Dakar.

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And that’s not even all… on Saturday I got to celebrate the end of the event by going to the annual Marine Ball. Happy Birthday Marines! Thanks for a fun night!DSC05608

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Honored to call you Family

I’ve always been bad at goodbyes. I’m not the type that just never says it and disappears, nor am I the one who bursts into tears upon the final hug. When I say I’m bad at goodbyes, it means I’m bad at accepting the fact that the person I have given my heart for safe keeping and who I have asked to return the favor is walking out of my life for an amount of time that neither of us can be certain about.  I am bad at goodbyes in the way that I logically explain to myself why someone getting on that plane or train or car and going to that city, country, state is a good thing, the “right step” we always repeat to each other before the last farewell. I reasonably tell myself that we will more than likely meet again during another part of life and that either way, life must go on and we are not able or supposed to keep the same people in it. It doesn’t matter though in the end, I still always cry.

And now that I have watched my best friends, the people who became my family (no matter how cliché it sounds) of the last two years get in that taxi, the trunk slammed on bags packed with ragged clothes only because they have nothing else to wear and wax fabrics, wooden trinkets, and silver bracelets for all of the family and friends waiting for them on the other side of the flight, I feel my heart grow tired. I waved goodbye to all of them after one last hug that I hoped conveyed all that they meant to me, all that they did for me, and smiled because they needed the smile more than I did at the time.

As each friend used my couch or cot or bed as his or her final sleeping place in this country we have loved sometimes, hated sometimes, but always lived, I have felt humbled as I looked around my apartment in Dakar at the people there— laughing together, drinking, having great conversation, practicing the worm so that my neighbors below must hate me—and thinking that it was worth it. All of this was worth it: Peace Corps, my open heart, their open hearts, and even the chance to see them all off, one by one and two by two.

This is what the end of Peace Corps feels like. And it hurts more than we thought when we talked excitedly about plans for the future, about jobs we’d landed, master’s programs we’d gotten into, and COSing trips we were taking.  It hurts because at the end of the day, even though we are flying back to the world we came from, the world we thought we knew best, in the moment of departure, whether physically or mentally from this life we’ve lived for over two years, we are nervous and surprised to find that the world on the other side of the flight is the one we don’t know and the place we are leaving behind the one we do.

One of my new friends here in Dakar who has been through Peace Corps called to check on me today, knowing I suppose the kind of mood she would find me in. I was embarrassed at myself for feeling so glum. After all, there are much worse things in life. She quoted from a comedian she once heard who said, “It’s hard for you to go through all of the racial and sexist bigotry that you deal with every day, but it doesn’t mean it’s not hard for me to put my socks on in the morning.”

It’s all relative. I know that. I am a very lucky person. I know that. My friends haven’t died. I know that. It still sucks that their gone.

They’ve almost all left. My big sisters, Ruth and Jordan. My brosefs—Andy, Kyle, and Alex. My traveling companions Jackie and Ashleigh. And so many more stage mates who made my time here an incredible experience. 54 Americans on a South African Airlines flight headed to god knew where. 10 crazies who decided to stay behind for another year, me included.

I thank all of you for who you have made me. For your thoughts and ideas that have helped me re-shape and analyze my own perspective of the world and how I act and think in it. For the memories you share with me because we couldn’t live life any other way than what we did. For your hearts, which you opened to me. And for keeping safe a part of mine, because you will always carry it with you.

It was one hell of time. Thanks for going with me.

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For a less melancholy blog post, check in soon to see how my first big event went in my new position as Peace Corps cross cultural coordinator or just talk to me next week… when I’ll be HOME in AMERICA for a month and a half! Catch ya on the flipside.

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A Pirate’s Life for Me

The dingy water lapped up onto the beach and swelled beneath the dock  that looked as if it was about to buckle under the weight of the dozen or so seadogs trooping out, beer cans clutched in one hand the other one steadying them.  I wrinkled my nose against the smell and at the sight of the greenish poo water and hesitated. My friend Martin, an Argentinian who had been traveling the world for the last two years, and had been staying on my couch for the last week, had finally caught a break and managed to find a crew and sailboat that would take him to the Cape Verdian Islands off the west coast of Senegal.

Martin, my inspirational world traveler

Martin, my inspirational world traveler

“Whitney, come! For when you do your own adventures,” he persuaded me with his usual goodwill and infectious grin.

So there I was at the Marina in Dakar staring out at the dozen or so sailboats of different sizes anchored in the murky water.

“You have maybe time for two hours sail?” asked one of the sea dogs, tucking a lock that had escaped his ponytail back behind his ear. “Please join us,” he continued in a heavy French accent. He roguishly smiled at me, and then offered me a hand onto the squeaking dock.

“That’s Fred,” said Martin, winking at me. “He’s the captain.”

“Oh,” I replied breathlessly and hurried to follow Fred and the rest of his motley crew who were now clambering aboard the small ferry that would take us out to his sailboat.

I grabbed onto one of the steel poles used to hold a canopy aloft above the passengers and pulled myself onto one of the benches right next to one of the drunken seadogs.

“Bonjour,” he slurred at me, showing one tooth in his upper gum. “Ask me where I’m from!” he giggled.

“Where are you from?” I humored him.

“I’m from there!” he exclaimed and then fell into hysterics.

“Oh yes, and where is there?” I asked, raising my eyebrows and rolling my eyes at my other friend who was sitting across from me on the rocking ferry boat.

“From there! From there! A fish is a fish!” he said in English in an accent I couldn’t quite place.

“Right. A fish is a fish.”

“Naw man, don’t you understand me? A fish is a fish!” He took another great chug of his beer.

We were now about ten on the ferry boat and I wondered if it would be able to hold us up, even for the short 100 meters we were going to the sailboat. We started up the motor and began to pull away from the dock just as one last passenger came flying onto the boat. He landed lightly on the edge like a bird, one hand with a beer, the other on the steel pole, and one leg draped into the murky water.

“Hallo everybody! It’s my birthday!” said the newcomer in a chipper South African accent, a boy with long blonde dreds and a loose pair of swimming trunks.

Sean, Modern Day Pirate... without the killing and looting part.

Sean, Modern Day Pirate… without the killing and looting part.

“Happy Birthday! ” many of the people on the boat responded automatically. “How old are you?” someone else asked.

“Looks like today, I’m 22 years old!” he beamed.

We chugged closer to one of the bigger sailboats until we pulled up next to the steel siding. I watched closely as Fred the captain and some of the others expertly threw one of their legs up and pulled the rest of their bodies up behind. One of the drunk women was dragged up by her two arms kicking against the side so hard I thought they would drop her into the ocean. I did exactly what everyone else did and managed to swing myself up onto the boat without any trouble. The two men helping people up nodded to me in thanks.

It was a beautiful boat. I do not know much about sailing terms, and so please forgive my lack of proper terminology. It looked to be about 60 feet long, with a double mast and 5 huge sails that seemed to be new. There was a big deck on the front and pit for the large wooden steering wheel. Below deck, there were quaint living quarters with a table and couches to sit, as well as a tiny kitchen stocked with bottles of rum, of course.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“This is the library,” said the South African birthday boy, popping up behind me and running his hand reverently along the spines of books. “And this,” he continue proudly, “is my bunk!”

There were two small bunks for sleeping and a larger bed further up that I imagined must be Fred’s. “If any of you lot come aboard with us you have to sleep here,” he patted the top bunk, “because I sleep on the bottom one.”

“Sean!” Fred bellowed from outside. “Let’s go!”

“Right, gotta go,” Sean said apologetically and skipped from the room. I followed out above deck. They pulled the anchor up and one of the other seadogs took the wheel. They swung the boom out and I watched as Fred hung out over the side and Sean held him in place by the back of his swimming trunks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“A fish is a fish!” yelled my drunken friend from the ferry, as he tripped over a rope and tried to also grab Sean by the back of his swimming trunks.

“Oh stop it, will you, you old drunk!” grumbled Sean, swatting at the old man’s head.

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“Sean, do not drop me into the sea or take my pants off,” said Fred, clipping something into place.

“Yes, sir!”

Sean quickly ran about the deck and tightened ropes and did a bunch of other things I didn’t really understand, but after a couple of minutes the huge white sails were up and we were sailing! The murky green of the polluted harbor was gone and replaced with a brilliant turquoise blue. We cut through the waves and into the clear horizon until Dakar seemed nothing but a dark smudge in the distance.

I walked along the deck and mostly gazed out at the ocean. I’ve always wondered what it is about the ocean that makes people feel so much about it. There is rarely a person that feels nothing when they see large expanses of water. Sometimes it is fear, or emptiness at the vast distance that goes on forever, but it’s never just nothing. More often than not, it is wonder, inspiration, and a connection to this great breathing being that draws people to it, into it, and makes them write stories about it. Even in its destructive power, we feel the need to be near it, to have it take us.

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Living in Nebraska my whole life, I have never been so close to the ocean as I am now. Now I wake up to it every morning, and go to bed to it every night, I smell it in the air I breathe and I swim in it almost weekly. The ocean frighten me and inspires me, it makes me want to be close to it forever, and there is almost no more magical a connection to the ocean than sailing.

I know nothing about sailing, but I do know that you have to respect the elements of nature. You have to know the wind patterns and work with the wind to move you across the water. You have to work with the waves and the best sailors almost never have to turn on their engines.

As I looked across the ocean and up into the magnificent white sails carrying us across the water, so many things unimportant things seemed to fall away. The sea breeze in my nose and in my hair and on my skin made me feel radiant. I felt like I could sail on forever and live the life that Fred and Sean had chosen for themselves, as they had obviously discovered this secret to life much sooner than I had.

We turned around as the sun started to go down and I stood at the bow of the boat. Sean came up behind me and climbed over the front rail so that there was nothing keeping him from falling into the ocean and in front of the boat if he let go. I carefully climbed over and clung onto the sail, balancing on the beam next to him.

“How long have you been sailing?”

“About 5 years now. It’s the life isn’t it?” he sighed. “It’s so free, right?”

“Yeah it really is,” I said softly, looking out into orange sun suspended like an orb over the Dakar city skyline.

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We stood like that talking about life, great white sharks, the sea, and so many other things that mattered because of where we were and what we shared there, perched on nothing but a thick steel bar above the white and turquoise waves split by the sailboat.

Sean was soon called back to his duties as first mate. I looked back over my shoulder at the people who had chosen this life at sea who were milling about the deck, completely at ease, as if this was their true home. And I knew that this is how it was. I turned back and continued my watch over the surf and the sea.

“Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me,” I sung softly to myself, as I rested my cheek against the sail and watched the sun slide behind the city and out of sight.

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Google at Goree

I love my job! My position was created because Americans want to know about Senegal. Whether they are just visiting or are here to live and work for a few years, the Peace Corps community can provide a great bridge between the two cultures. Now, whenever we get emails to the Peace Corps requesting information about the country, projects we are involved in, and where people might be able to travel or volunteer, those emails get funneled to me.

Some of the Google team and Peace Corps Volunteers Danny and Trevon

Some of the Google team and Peace Corps Volunteers Danny and Trevon

So when the Global Google team for emerging markets sent us an email saying that they had chosen Dakar as their annual global team meeting point, I had the opportunity to set up a google app presentation for Peace Corps staff and volunteers on Monday. On Friday, I organized a cultural day and with the assistance of a few other volunteers, helped guide them on a tour of Goree Island, a must see destination for any tourists coming to Senegal because of its haunting beauty and infamous history.

We loved exploring this beautiful island with the Google team

We loved exploring this beautiful island with the Google team

We had a great time and learned a lot about what they are trying to accomplish in emerging marketplaces. In Africa, Google emerging market offices can be found in Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya.

The rest of the team was either based in California or in the other emerging market hotspots in parts of Asia and South America.

From the Balcony in the slavehouse

From the Balcony in the slavehouse

I spoke in length with the Senegalese/Ghanaian correspondent about Google’s role in the university systems throughout Senegal. They are working extensively with students and teachers to make document sharing and communication easier and more effective. We discussed the possibility later in my year of linking Google not only to universities, but in some of the secondary schools scattered throughout Senegal who have access to internet and could also benefit by the ease and accessibility of a Google system.

The Door of No Return Many slaves passed through here never to see their homeland again.

The Door of No Return
Many slaves passed through here never to see their homeland again.

I was surprised and delighted to find that a company with such a large name, especially one that is often the target of negative media attention, talk about a mission statement that doesn’t sound that different from the Peace Corps’. Their goal is to help countries create sustainable systems that function without the help of Google and to train people on how these systems can help their countries economically. Something the Nigeria correspondent said to me stuck with me. He said, “It is ironic, the work that we do, because if we do our job properly we won’t have our jobs in 5 years time.”

Tour Guide time. I'd definitely recommend a good tour guide for the slave house and island. He was packed with facts and it only cost us 8,000 cfa for the group ($14)

Tour Guide time. I’d definitely recommend a good tour guide for the slave house and island. He was packed with facts and it only cost us 8,000 cfa for the group ($14)

Thank you so much to the Google Global team for sharing their work and time with us and for sharing a great day on Goree Island. They were so interested in the work that we are doing here as Peace Corps volunteers and we of course loved hearing about their plans for a  more globally connected society, where even the most developing nations have equal and free access to online tools that will help to advance their economic and educational opportunities.

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