Ecotourism expo and Dakar

Trip Start Sep 09, 2008
Trip End Nov 2010

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ok so the dates are getting confusing because the last entry is old but its going to have to go up at the same time this one does because I was lazy last time I was at the internet and spent too much time on gchat.  I'm back once again after another weekend away, this time on official business- an ecotourism expo in Dakar.  Before going though I had an interesting week.  I keep going back and forth between thinking there is absolutely nothing to do at my site (it's a new site so that situation is entirely possible and, so I hear, has happened before) and thinking that I'm lucky and there are a ton of possibilities.  After a few days of thinking the former I went up to St Louis to run some errands and meet with a kayak club that my neighboring volunteer's counterpart had told me about.  I had though it might be fun to just go kayaking a little bit but apparently they want us to come up twice a week to kayak and help them with their organization. They said they want help fundraising and organizing community projects.  I don't know if working with them would really turn out well, especially since I don't really live in St Louis.  But it would give me an excuse to go there and something to do.  I am wary though that they see I'm white and think that I will magically bring them a lot of money.  I hear this happens a lot here too.

The other possibly work-yielding encounter was a meeting I went to with my counterpart just before leaving for Dakar.  It was essentially a gathering of all the leaders of the rural communities south of St Louis with representatives of all the NGO's that have projects in the area.  Most of these are Senegalese NGO's and almost all the reps were Senegalese as well.  The point of the meeting was to come with a plan kind of like the peace corps regional plan, that maps out what kinds of projects are going on and what areas need attention in the hopes of attracting more partners and investment.  Sitting in the workshop on small business development and looking at all the projects that were going on it seemed like there was really no need for me at all in the region- the rural community is already organized and there are organizations with a lot more resources than me doing the kinds of things that I want to do.  But then I met a French volunteer doing the French equivalent of peace corps who is working in the area and appeared to have helped organize the event and he said there might be some work we can do together.  I'm not sure what that is yet and I'm going to have to wait until after Tabaski to get in touch with him but at least there's hope of someone pointing me in the right direction.

The day after the meeting I took off to Dakar and this time managed to get a full car in under an hour, Dakar being a much more popular destination that Ndioum.  The regional house in Dakar is not as nice as Ndioum but enjoys a much better location.  When we weren't helping with the ecotourism expo we got real ice cream, went to an actual grocery store, and went swimming at the American club where it was really weird to hear kids speaking English. 

The expo was an ok first attempt at promoting all the peace corps ecotourism sites to tour operators and expats.  We met a few people who might help bring more visitors to our sites but have yet to reach the really big tour companies.  I was glad to meet another person that might help me find work though.  It seems everyone I talked with during the expo lives or had lived in DC at one time and a few of them had even worked at MSI, the company where I worked last summer.  One of those was a guy who is the head of a USAID project working to educate street kids that is going to have a regional office in St Louis.  I pretty much said I'd be here for 2 years and am willing to do any kind of work for free if they needed help on their project and he said there might be something for me to do when it gets started at the end of Jan so maybe I will have work after all.  I'm thinking that if I end up doing most of my work in St Louis I can convince peace corps to let me move there permanently.  That would be amazing...

After the expo we had a few nights to just hang out so we went to happy hour downtown and spent one of the nights at a 3rd year volunteer's apartment.  They really set you up nice if you decide to extend a third year.  But that apartment had nothing on the ones we went to the following night.  The volunteers based near to Dakar have made friends with a group of teachers at the American school there who have housing provided for them.  For any of you thinking of teaching abroad- go to an undesirable country and at least you will get a sweet place to live.  These apartments had marble floors, were wonderfully furnished, and all had either great views or were around the corner from the beach.  It was somewhat surreal to be sitting on a leather couch drinking Tanqueray and talking about WBRU with people who had grown up in Rhode Island.  But definitely fun.  After a circuit of 3 such apartments we all headed to some kind of a bar or club that was vaguely reminiscent of Fish co and where I kept expecting to run into people I knew because the overwhelming majority of people where white and nearish to college age.  Like Thanksgiving, the weekend was spent with people I didn't know very well but it was certainly a nice change to do normal things like go out.

I came back just in time for Tabaski and managed to avoid paying a really high fare by taking the big bus back to St Louis instead of a car.  Everyone travels back to their village of origin for the holiday so the prices double around this time.  Once again the trip went smoothly until, ironically, we had just pulled into the St Louis gare routiere.  We were all ready to get off when the big hits a huge pothole and can't get out.  Luckily we (me and Tate who's site is up at Djoudj north of St Louis) were sitting right back the door and though it couldn't open all the way due to the tilt of the bus in the hole, we managed to squeeze ourselves and our bags out and take off.  So that was Dakar.  Next installment- Tabaski.


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