Category Archives: In-transit

Haa gongol (see you later) Senegal!

We leave you with: a video of a puffer-fish trying to get to the open ocean.


And lastly, some election propaganda and news: a Macky rally pamphlet and the front page newspaper in France.

Macky defeats Wade

Front page of newspaper in France

Macky Sall won the second election tour with 65.8% of the vote (Wade lost with 34.2%).  There was a 55% voter turnout.


Good-bye Ndioum and COS in Dakar

Our last night in Ndioum was like going to a middle-school dance.  The high school English club told us to arrive around 6 pm.  They ended up picking us up in a car and driving through Ndioum’s market to reach a beautiful house where the club had rented chairs and a DJ system.  We were seated at a table that looked out onto a dance floor, bordered by plastic chairs and members of the English club.  We waited for hours for a teacher to show-up.  Finally we started late around 9:30.  Almost everyone gave speeches, including ourselves.  Then the club gave us a certificate of honor with a marabout stork in the background.  The best part: the certificate was made out to “Mister Paul and his wife.”  After a whirlwind of photo-taking, they ushered us into the car and drove us home.  It was a great way to say good-bye to Ndioum.

Haby, her daughter Coumba (my namesake), and myself

Our favorite sheep: mama has a gris-gris around her neck

English club

English Club

Certificate of honor from English Club

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Pur election o, hollon njid-daa pur wonde president?

The elections are coming.  If you look up Senegal in the news, you can read all about it.  Wade’s candidacy was validated and Youssou Ndour’s was not.  Protests are happening throughout the country in the large cities, however it is relatively quiet where we live.  We finally got a little taste of election this past Friday when President Wade came to visit Ndioum and pray in our grand mosque.  The opposition made a small appearance, waving their red flags and sporting red head- and arm- bands.  Otherwise, there were women wearing complets made of Wade fabric, talibe waving signs supporting Wade, and cars covered in Wade pictures among other  pro-Wade advertisements.


Macky Sall, a popular Pulaar candidate, also made an appearance–however we did not attend this rally but could hear the cars passing by with shouting supporters.












Our poll results of taxi drivers in Dakar during January are summarized here*:

Abdoulaye Wade        1

Macky Sall                     1

Idrissa Seck                  3

(*Note: This is not a large enough sample pool, and I think one driver sampled was from Guinea and could not even vote in Senegal, but still.  There are also many other candidates, many of whom are popular among different populations–something that is not reflected by our poll.)


I was sitting on our roof the other day, thinking about all that has become normal and home to me.  My daily soundtrack has become the sounds of chanting over the mosque speakers amid the incessant bleating of goats, bahing of sheep, crying of children, and scolding of mothers.  We sleep on our roof under a mosquite net, locking the kitchen door nightly to keep the cats from clambering in.  Every morning we eat with Salamata who makes  Paul an omelette sandwich and me a bean and mayonnaise sandwich.  I hold her chubby infant son Samba, Paul’s namesake, who is swaddled in so many layers that he can’t move; Paul makes fish faces at him as he giggles, his cheeks widening to reveal gums without teeth.  We eat lunch each day with Fati, a wonderful woman originally from the Casamance region of Senegal with a slight insomnia problem.  She learned Pulaar after moving here, now speaking somewhere near 4 languages: Diola, Wolof, French, and Pulaar.

Paul and baby Samba
       Salamata, our breakfast lady

I’m trying to think about how it will be to move back to the States.  Paul and I had our COS (close-of-service) conference in January where we said good-bye to many friends who live in southern Senegal.  Our COS date has been set for the 25th of March, a date that is not far away.  We’re trying to tie-up projects and learning to say good-bye to Senegal.  I’m not trying to romanticize this experience.  But I love that strangers let me pick up their babies, that I can catch a ride out of town anywhere along the road by hitch-hiking, that strangers invite me to share their lunch and tea, and that I can joke with anyone about eating beans and life.

I don’t want to romanticize this experience; there is little romantic about it.  I sometimes forget that the smell of burning trash lingers daily in the air; I walk through thorny sand littered with cow dung and the legs of goats hacked off, dragged from the butcher near my house.  The wife of the sandwich seller is in a small dark concrete room, pulling rags over her two children to protect them from the coldest months of Senegal.  Talibe, who are clearly malnourished, stand outside our breakfast stand, waiting for me to hand them the last third of my sandwich and hoping today will be a day when they bring back enough money to their marabout to escape a beating.  The children taunt us, throwing rocks at our front door when we refuse to answer.  I have been tested to the edge of what I know as patience, choosing which situations are worth fighting over and which ones aren’t.  I have learned more about my gender and racial identity in this country, where some people mimic karate and yell “ching-chong” at me or laugh when I ask if they think a woman could be president.

I am not romanticizing Senegal, but I do know that I will miss it.  I will miss the friendships I have formed, especially those with fellow PCVs.  I will miss the daily joking around with people, the sounds of Pulaar, the babies who smell so fresh with baby powder.  I will miss greeting my neighbors, repeatedly saying “peace only”, I will miss the woman who sits selling eggs at the croissement of the route nationale and giggles as she tells me that “a blanket is enough only to warm one ear, but a husband can warm both ears”.

This experience is one that I cannot put fully into words.  I’m trying to digest it and package it into a succinct slice for people at home.  All I know is that I do not want to forget what I have learned here about life, people, development, myself, my marriage, success and failure.  I hope that my life here translates into an understanding that I carry home with me.

Northern Thanksgiving and Moving Forward

Happy Tamkarit (Islamic New Year’s)!  An update on our lives: We just finished up the TB project.  The training and forum book-ended the two weekends surrounding Thanksgiving.  The PCVs of every region of Senegal throw an annual party for the rest of PC Senegal.  Our region holds an annual Thanksgiving party.  Around 35 people attended!


Happy Thanksgiving!

The menu included: 1 turkey, 6 chickens, 3 guinea fowl, fruit salad, mac-and-cheese, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, cranberry sauce, stuffing, squash rolls, biscuits, horchata, pumpkin doughnuts, apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, brownies, gazelle beer, and g-sap (gin and bissap).

The poultry took several days to find (turkey are more common than one would guess), one day to kill/pluck/clean/brine, and another day of deep-frying with our pulley-stove system set-up on the basketball court.

Friends came from all over, visiting the north of Senegal for the first time.  Even Sheep came to celebrate.  And after stuffing ourselves silly, some took a late-afternoon nap to sleep off the effects of tryptophan and others attempted to hit the turkey piñata.  All in all, I think we threw a pretty good party.


Since Thanksgiving, we have been thinking much about our future.  The people in my life are doing so well.  Paul has been admitted (and has accepted the admission) to the Bryn Mawr post-baccalaureate program, an intensive one-year program near Philadelphia where he will take all the prerequisites for medical school.  What is great is that this program offers linkages to medical schools, schools that will admit any Bryn Mawr student who does well during the program.  Also congratulations to Jess for passing her bar exam in California where the passing rate is just barely over 50%!  I’ve finally finished my grad school applications, at least for this round (made a turkey piñata out of my statement of purpose drafts…felt good to say the least).

Exploring Kedegou

In the middle of October, I finally got the chance to visit the other half of Senegal.  Paul was not able to go due to a few meetings concerning SeneGAD in Dakar, however our friend Evan and I took a little trip to the Kedegou region.  The first day we spent traveling–sept-places from Dakar to Tamba, and then Tamba to Kedegou with a lunch break in between with Mika who met us at the Tamba garage.  As you drive towards Kedegou, the huts get progressively rounder and the grass roofs steeper, while the overall foliage and tree cover exponentially rises.  The Nikola-Koba park straddles the Tamba-Kedegou border, at which point, the trees rise thick and create layers of canopy that are non-existent in the north ofSenegal.  Once you hit the border of Kedegou, the road suddenly worsens, turning to a red gravel laterite road where they are rebuilding the road.  We watched as the sun sank, casting muted pinks and oranges over dark tree-covered mountains in a scene that is so typical Africa, like a postcard or a National Geographic magazine fold-out.  Funny because, as the cold air whipped past me in the shadows of looming trees, I could feel that we were going somewhere that did not fit into my understanding of Senegal.

The Kedegou house is like summer camp, with outdoor sleeping and living space in addition to separate huts for each room of the house—a kitchen hut, a library hut, etc.  I slept well that first night, waking in the middle of the night from the wet cold to pull the sheet beneath me around me.  That first day, Evan and I explored Kedegou, taking in the city itself–if you could call it that, as Kedegou has no buildings along its main road that are two stories tall.  The Pulaar is slightly different—sing-songing “jam toon” instead of the normal stiff “jam tan,” and “a jaraama” used like “aloha” in that it starts and ends every conversation.  Evan and I went on a small walk along the Gambia River, silenced by the beautiful red cliffs covered in trees in the distance marking the end of Senegal and the beginning ofGuinea.  Birds were everywhere—a violet turaco, its wings shining brilliant red through the rising sun and the sound of a pure-toned angel of a bird too high in the canopy to see.  During dinner at the (creatively named) Africa Restaurant, we met an American named Tad, who is a master’s epidemiology student at the Mailman School of Public Health in Columbia University.  He was in Kedegou collecting mosquito samples to test for a variety of diseases; the samples get processed typically in Dakar.

Evan near Dindefelo

Dindefelo Falls

The second morning, we set off early with the sun on two bikes and our backpacks to Dindefelo.  Volunteers kept warning us of the difficulty of the bike ride, warnings that made us laugh when we did reach Dindefelo –25 km to Segou and another 5 or so km to Dindefelo along laterite roads that were shaded by the trees along the two sides of the road.  Rushing through shoulder-high grass among palms and leafy trees that weaken the force of the sun, it was finally comprehensible why Kedegou and Kolda volunteers ride their bikes everywhere.  We hiked late morning to the Dindefelo Falls, stopping to take photos of Vervet monkeys.  The falls are so beautiful, much more glorious and dramatic than the photos of volunteers captured.  The waterfall sits in a U-shaped dead-end of the canyon, the slates of red granite rock creating latticed designs that jut out and are emphasized by the falling water.  At the bottom of the falls is a pool with rocks behind the falls to sit on.  A group of Dakar folk brought their drum, and with great joy but without suppression, they sang and danced along the edge of the falls to the beating of the drum.  After spending a few hours at the falls, we went back to the main part of the town to find some provisions before setting off for Segou.

At Segou, we stayed at Zach’s campement, which overlooks a beautiful valley of cotton and corn fields surrounded on both sides by red-granite cliffs covered in trees.  While walking through the valley, red-throated bee-eaters zipped back and forth snagging the bugs that come out at dusk and then returning to trees to whack the bugs against branches.  Thap-thap—the bee-eater had found dinner.

Boy napping at Dindefelo Falls



boy guarding fields, Segou

We were treated to an amazing dinner of funio, a grain that is similar to Moroccan cous-cous in its texture and lightness, and onion sauce that left Evan rolling around in pain from fullness the rest of that evening and me too full to move.  The next morning, we ate breakfast and had a surprise run-in with Lily, a chimp researcher who works for the Jane Goodall Institute.  There is a chimp family of 10 living in the hills of Segou; Lily studies the most northern group of chimpanzees in Africa.

We then set out for Segou Falls, seeing no-one but a few farmers in the valley for the entirety of the hike.  The hiking trail is beautiful in that it is so naturally a part of the riverbed—granite rocks that form the river bed also form a natural trail.  Hopping from rock to rock, we picked our way to the falls, marked by an exclamation mark.  The Segou falls were also incredibly beautiful, a smaller waterfall that is stunning in its isolation and tranquility.  Little light reaches the falls due to the thick trees and canyon that surround the falls and pool.  The granite rocks form small steps that impede and slow the fall of the water as it falls into a pool that is deep only at the base of the falls.  After our return from this falls, we biked back to Kedegou, the last incredibly long uphill stretch somewhat painful as we climbed to the town.

The next day we headed back to Tamba, spotting two troupes of baboons, warthogs, and a bateleur scavenging a fox-like mammal on the road in the park.  We spent the night at the Tamba regional house with Mika and his two kitty friends Colin and Irv (both girls…) and the other Tamba region volunteers.  Tamba is a huge city, full of different organizations, ethnic groups, and shops—a crossroads where cars leave everyday forMali.  Mika makes us an incredible biscuit, SPAM, egg breakfast before we take the slowest sept-place in existence to Kaolack.  In Kaolack, our group of friends has prepared an amazing pasta dinner.  And then the next morning to Mbour, back on the coast of Senegal near Thies and Ngekhokh where we spend the day sampling local fruit liquors made by a Belgium family.

From our time in Kedegou, Evan and I assembled this list of differences between Kedegou and the north:

  • Goats are extremely short-legged (to the point that they look they are dragging their huge overfed tummies along the ground)
  • Good-looking healthy dogs
  • Small short cows w/o humps and adorable calfs
  • Pulaar difference: no changing of the first letter of verbs while in post-position  (for example No wiyete-daa instead of No mbiyete-daa to say “how are you called”)
  • Biking everywhere and overall lack of transportation (Evan and I were passed by two cars our entire bike-ride—both of them were tourist vehicles)
  • Girls on bikes (even with pagnes on)
  • No charettes or horses (supposedly sleeping sickness spread by tsetse flies kills off all horses and larger mammals)
  • Fewer men wearing traditional clothes
  • Huts are usually circular (not square)
  • Our Kedegou PCVs are here…like Meera!
  • The village bread here is 2x as long as ours (I thought it was French bread at first)
  • People are in general more relaxed—language and greetings are much more lax
  • A higher proportion of people seem poor (it seems that there is a general poverty level among all, unlike the large discrepancy between certain families or villages in the North)
  • People eat more seasonally here than they do up north (starving season actually means something here for the people and not just the livestock as is the case up north)

Closing the Gender Gap

Paul and I are back in the Fuuta. We had an incredible 3-week vacation back to the states–three very short weeks jam-packed with graduations, a beautiful wedding, and lots of family time.

Then we headed back to Senegal up to St. Louis for the annual Jazz festival. Stayed at a little hotel on the beach where we chased crabs, swam, and dug for coquina clams in the sand.  We listened to little jazz but enjoyed exploring St. Louis and being in the company of good PC friends.

Finally we moved into our new home in Ndioum. Our neighborhood kids are constantly jumping our wall to come greet us and play soccer in our huge yard. Paul is constantly chasing them away with a broom.  Bad cycle: we come home, kids jump our wall to greet us or to stare at us through our windows in curiosity, parents find their kids and yell or beat them with sticks, kids run off crying, cycle starts again.  For the most part, I enjoy talking to the kids and playing but its gets exhausting, especially if there are 20 little boys and girls all yelling at once.

Paul and I have been frantically running around trying to finish up our work for the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship. I mentioned this scholarship in a previous post, but to reiterate: the scholarship awards nine girls in the middle school (three from the sixieme grade, three from cinquieme, and three from quatrieme) 5,000 Fcfa to pay for next year’s school fees. We conduct interviews, home visits, an essay-writing session, and get teacher recommendations and grades.  After the entire process, a committee chooses three finalists from the nine girls who are then awarded an additional 15,000 Fcfa to pay for school supplies.  The scholarship intends to close the gender gap by assisting girls who are good students and highly motivated but lack the financial means to continue schooling.

Although equal proportions of girls and boys enroll in primary school, a smaller proportion of girls than boys enroll in secondary school.
Data collected in 2009 show that there are approximately equal numbers of boys and girls in each grade for the first six years of school. After that, however, the percentage of girls in each grade steadily drops.

We called one of our girls to see if she could come in for the proctored essay exam and she informed us that she was in a city far from Ndioum.  The next day, the middle school teacher in charge of her grade level told us that she had gotten married.  This girl is now married at 15 years of age.  She is one of our favorites and inspires to be an English professor.  We  hope that she will continue her education even as a married woman.

Today, we tried to visit one of the MS Scholarship girls at her village a couple km outside of Ndioum for her home-visit.  She said that she lives in a village called Kahel.  Turns out, as is typical in Senegal, there are three Kahels…and she does not even live in one of them.  After circling several small villages at least twice, asking random houses about her family, and trying to ride a grazing camel, we think she may actually live in a small village called Diara Waalo, which is some 7 km off the main road toward the Senegal River.  Since we biked and brought little water, we decided to turn back; we will try to find her again later this week, perhaps go by charette.  Wouldn’t if be nice if her family had a cellphone?

In other news: Paul and I are celebrating our 2nd year wedding anniversary.  We plan on celebrating by eating our favorite Senegalese dinner dish lacciri haako (cous-cous and leaf sauce) accompanied by some Senegalese wine, diluted and made drinkable by a spritz of Sprite.