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.


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!


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.


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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