Trip Start Sep 09, 2008
Trip End Nov 2010

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Flag of Senegal  ,
Sunday, December 14, 2008

Its already well into the Christmas season but now that my internet time is limited my updates are going to lag a bit.  I had my first taste of American holidays Peace Corps style at Thanksgiving, which thankfully fell just a few weeks after install.  Although theoretically we are supposed to spend as much time as possible at our sites adjusting, part of this process involves learning how to navigate the Senegalese transportation system and no one is about to begrudge us Thanksgiving.  I headed up to one of the regional houses in Ndioum, a small town up near the northern border with Mauritania. 

Despite having heard many nightmare travel stories from older volunteers I managed to get there without more than the usual amount of trouble.  The trip from my site to just about anywhere involves several steps.  First I have to catch the bus from my village which is essentially one guy who owns a big van and drives back and forth from the village to St Louis about 4 times a day with no real set schedule.  I get off at the gare routiere, the transportation hub where all cars, buses, etc going to and from St Louis come to pick off and drop off passengers.  While at first glance the gare seems like a nonsensical parking lot, there really is some order behind the madness.  Once you locate a car going the right direction you negotiate the price and then wait until the rest of the car fills up.  This can be a very fast or slow process depending on where one is going.  In my case I waited about 2 hrs without any one showing up until finally the car next to me that was going to a city farther down the road needed one more person so I guess it was my lucky day.

There's really nothing in Ndioum, just some houses and a market, but the regional house has a nice roof for sleeping, a huge library and dvd collection, and a fairly spacious kitchen with a stove AND fridge.  Plus there's a big yard, perfect for killing turkeys.  Most people have only ever been to Ndioum for Thanksgiving because a bunch of the girls that live up north are known for their cooking skills.  They get real pumpkin, stuffing mix, etc sent from the US months ahead of time in preparation.  That being said, there was a disturbing lack of pecan pie at our thanksgiving so if any of you have some time on your hands and would like to send me some pecans and whatever else is needed to make pecan pie besides flour, sugar, eggs, butter, I'm going to attempt one at Christmas.

Anyway, we had about 40 ppl, 3 live turkeys, and 2 chickens at our Thanksgiving. I have a complete photo series of the killing and cooking of the turkey on facebook for anyone interested.  The whole process was actually not so bad although I didn't watch most of it.  The guys grilled most of the meat but we saved one turkey for deep frying- a feat never before attempted at Ndiom but that yielded delicious results thanks to Tate, our resident Southerner.  I attempted to help with the cooking but soon realized that I was at the bottom of the peace corps totem pole when it comes to important events so instead I went with the guys and other newbies to the market for supplies.  It was almost like going to Safeway one more time for more eggs and butter, except that we rode back in forth in a horse drawn charette. 

After the meal we spent a good amount of time lounging around, playing guitar, and watching movies with a projector and a sheet hung on the side of the house.  Overall it was a fun thanksgiving, but not the same as spending it with friends and family.  Most of my good friends from my stage where sent to different regions of the country so I mostly spent the 4 days introducing myself and trying to make new friends among the older volunteers.  I suppose an upside to that was that I was able to get some advice and gain some perspective about what the next two years might be like.  I was reassured that it would take at least the first 2 months and probably a few more months to get to the point where I could do anything of use.  Many volunteers said they didn't really feel productive until they had been here for a year.  I'm trying to be patient with the language and figuring out what I'm supposed to do but I hope I can do something   a little sooner than that. 

The day after Thanksgiving we spent the entire day at a meeting to get the ball rolling on a 'regional strategy'.  The new country director is encouraging every region to come up with measurable goals covering all sectors for which there are volunteers in country (business, ecotourism, health, agriculture, education) so that we can work together more effectively, identify areas that need more attention, track our progress and hopefully attract support from NGO's.  Its an interesting idea and I'm glad to have gotten here just as the plan is being written for the northern region.  We came up with a preliminary document but its going to take some research before we can put any numbers into the plan.  I'm not quite sure what the impact the regional plan will have on our daily lives and work because the plan encompasses all sectors.  I personally know nothing about health or agriculture so doing any work in those sectors will be interesting.  For now the plan is still in development however so all that remains to be seen.

Now I'm back at site for the week before taking off again next weekend, this time in the opposite direction.  Its back to following my family around and trying to speak Wolof.  I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving at home!
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