Category Archives: Life

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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Paul organized a great blood testing tour of Diambo (Evan’s village) and Taredji (Jonno’s village).  We tested 87 people.  There was a 25-30% syphilis rate and one HIV-positive result.


We spent two nights in Diambo and one night in Taredji.  In Taredji, Jonno’s MSS girls (many of them also participated in our girls leadership camp) performed a great theater sketch that attracted a huge crowd.  We passed out condoms (in secret to many teenage boys, much in the manner of a drug-deal, and to not so many older women who thought the condoms were candy or medicine) in addition to teaching many adolescents how to put on a condom correctly.

This was a great project to end our service with, especially because it involved working with our two closest friends Evan and Jonno.

Fa Ly taking blood from a patient

Fa Ly taking a blood sample

Jonno explaining how HIV can/cannot be transmitted

Paul hands out peanuts to some waiting patients in Diambo

Evan's brother Sinthiane

Teaching kids about HIV/AIDS

Abused puppy finally gets to play (normally spends his day in a hole)

Hitch-hiking for a ride to Taredji! We ended up walking most of the way.

Girls demonstrate proper condom use

MSS girls ready to do theater

Crowd gathers in Taredji to watch the theater sketch about HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases


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.

To family and all our dear friends:

Bakel Eye Clinic

Don examining a patient's eyes

For a week, Paul and I got the chance to help with a great project in Senegal.  The organization called Right to Sight and Health and two of its ophthalmologists Dr. Judith Simon and Dr. Donald MacDonald spent two weeks doing cataract surgeries in Bakel, a city located along the Senegal River on the far east edge of Senegal.  Paul and I helped with the second week, mainly serving as translators while also aiding the doctors with organization, consultations, operations, and other technical procedures.

Each day, patients waited for a ticket to see the doctor.  After buying  a ticket, patients were given a preliminary eye test by Evan.  Patients were asked to identify objects on an eye chart: moon, star, cow, flag, hand, or foot.  Patients that were blind in at least one eye were seen by the doctor.  From there, patients who were good candidates for cataract surgery were scheduled for an operation sometime later in the day or week.  In many cases, we had to tell patients that they would never see again in an eye due to severe glaucoma, botched surgeries, or other complications.  Near the end of the week, we had so many surgeries scheduled that we turned away all patients that had at least one good eye and concentrated on Priority One patients: patients who had two bad eyes.

Before surgery, my job was to do scans of the eye that determined the power of lens needed for the lens implant.  It required poking people in the eye repeatedly with a pen-like laser pointer after applying a numbing substance.  After measurements and a set of dilating drops, the patient went to Wilma and Nicki who dilated their eyes a few more times, took blood pressures, and aided the doctors in injecting anesthesia that blocked nerves from the eye to the brain.  When ready, the patients were taken in for surgery.  The surgery itself did not take long, and involved making a couple small incisions.  The cataract was removed and an implant lens was put in to replace the bad lens.  A day or two after surgery, the patients came back for a post-operation consultation to see if they were seeing any better.  It was amazing to see patients come in who had restored eye sight.  One little old man even raised Don’s hand in excitement proclaiming: “Vivre Amerique!”

The week was exhausting as we were sometimes working from 8 am until 8 pm with a small lunch break.  I was so impressed by the focus and stamina of the doctors.  People came from all over Senegal to get cataract surgery.  We had, of course, many insistent patients who secretly weaseled their way into the examination room even when they had no ticket yet to see the doctor.  And then there were the Coumbas.  We had three women (all named Coumba–Coumba Sow, Coumba Thiam, and Coumba Ba) who had their surgeries bumped from day to day to day because of over-booked surgeries (and also because all three had only one eye blind).  Coumba Sow was quite a character, talking about herself exclusively in the third person and constantly screaming her own name whenever any PCV was near her: “Coumba Moussa Sow is here! Did you hear?”  After her surgery, she ran outside dancing and screaming: “Coumba Sow hulaata.  Baaba maa, o hulat, kono Coumba Sow hulaata!” (Translates to “Coumba Sow is not scared, your dad he is scared, but Coumba Sow is not scared!”)  Thank goodness we got to all their surgeries the last day of the clinic, as turning them away after each day of waiting was dreadful.

Aside from work, we got to see the beautiful city of Bakel, a city that reminded me much of Podor with its French fort and river bank gardens. In Bakel a large percentage of people speak Soninke–a difficulty when translating during the eye clinic (I ended up learning some eye-specific vocab for the week).

The week was filled with both heartbreak and joy: Telling people they would never see again but also watching people, who could not get around without help prior to the surgery, walking themselves into the consultation room. This has easily been one of the highlights of my Peace Corps service.

Most of the Bakel Team

This is what happens when PCVs have access to dilating drops: