Posted by: Writing Advisor MacAfee | March 30, 2013

How is Africa?

Good question… I’m not really sure. Senegal is great though! These people have some great photos if you want to find out more.

“The continent is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immensely rich cosmos. Only with the greatest simplification, for the sake of convenience, can we say ‘Africa’. In reality, except as a geographical appellation, Africa does not exist.”

Ryszard Kapuscinski

Posted by: Writing Advisor MacAfee | March 30, 2013

What I like about hot season…

This is a tough one. It’s hard to get past the initial, knee-jerk reaction to the heat. What is there to love about afternoons spent lying on a mat trying not to let any one part of your body touch another? The sand kicked up by your flip flops burning your feet? The ever-present threat of heat exhaustion? The sun that drenches you in sweat on contact?

Surprisingly, I have found a few things that I enjoy about all of this:

  • I love the time around 2 pm, where if you happen to be out about town, everyone else is in their houses, slowly fanning themselves and drinking cold water. The streets are almost perfectly quiet, and the sun bleaches out a lot of the colors so it seems like you’re walking around a ghost town.
  • I like chugging freezing cold gatorade after walking home from work before lunch (I don’t like being drenched in sweat during the walk).
  • Afternoon naps.
  • And… Muraling.

Painting murals is a good way to feel productive during the hot season, because you can work early in the morning and late at night, and then spend the middle of the day resting. The principal of the high school in Linguère had been asking for a while for us to come paint a mural, and we decided on a (highly ambitious) map of the world. We dove in with a ton of energy, and though this had diminished slightly in the week and a half the mural took us complete, we were still quite satisfied with the result.

Here is a day by day photo history of THE WORLD, by Mac and Tegan.

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Development Complete!

“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch!” Garrison Keiller

Posted by: Writing Advisor MacAfee | March 18, 2013

“They should te…

“They should tell you when you’re born: have a suitcase heart, be ready to travel.”
Gabrielle Zevin

Posted by: Writing Advisor MacAfee | March 3, 2013

One Week… Two very different parties

Last week my host sister Asstou had a baby. She lives in the distant village of Poram, about 27 kilometers North of Xol Xol in the direction of… nothing. I’ve been wanting to visit her out there ever since I first met her last Korite, but I’ve never had the opportunity. This baptism was exactly what I had been waiting for, so Margaret and I packed up for a family road-trip into the great unknown.


The baby was named after the woman in the center.

The baby was named after the woman in the center.


Party Crashers

Turns out Poram is about what I expected: a tiny town grown up around a water tower. I’m not sure there is any reason to live there other than the fact that it is close to the water source. There are about three family compounds at the center, and several families come from the surrounding area daily to get the water they need or to bring their animals in to drink. It was a pretty interesting mixture of Wolof and Pulaar living together and sharing the small school and health hut. Apparently many people currently living in Xol Xol consider Poram to be where they come from. Their grandparents and great grandparents lived there, but moved to Xol Xol because it was closer to everything. Asstou ended up living out there because our dad’s parents still live out there, and so she was married to a young man who lives there as well.

Getting ready to enjoy our Laax and Soow

Getting ready to enjoy our Laax and Soow

The cows come in to Poram to get water

The cows come in to Poram to get water

They came in to fill up their cans.

They came in to fill up their cans.

Got their stunna shades on.

Got their stunna shades on.

With my Aunt Yama

It was a fun day, lots of laax and sow (yogurt and porridge, traditional baptism food) and singing and dancing in honor of the new momma.

Grandma Aida and new baby

These ladies made a mean cup of attaya.

These ladies made a mean cup of attaya.

New big sister on the right

Then… President Macki Sall came to the Djolof! NOT. He bailed at the last minute. Turns out we’re not fancy enough for him out here. One of his ministers came instead, which was still a huge party. Cars full to bursting with people rolled into Linguère in droves, many of them with speakers blaring music mounted on their roofs. The people of Xol Xol arrived in their brand new matching outfits mid-morning, and Margaret and I spent the day with them eating fancy party rice and dancing our support for Ali Ngouille Ndiaye. He was supposed to give a speech around 3 pm, but we gave up and went home at 5. I heard the music start up in earnest around 6:30 so I’m assuming the real political rally took place then.

Marg gets political.

All fancy for the political rally.

All fancy for the political rally.

The lovely ladies of Xol Xol Niangen

Otherwise known as business as usual.

Otherwise known as business as usual.

So many matching outfits! Ladies of Xol Xol showed up in force Never seen so many people in Linguere Love.

She's getting so big! Like a little person.

She’s getting so big! Like a little person.

Good times in the Djolof!

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Posted by: Writing Advisor MacAfee | February 21, 2013

Everybody Poops

Diageli Jack's germs. Fae's question and answer session. Education. Team Djolof Dahra Sophia dancing in Barkedji Look at all those germs! Gross! Skits about sick children Talking about how germs are spread Attentive children MbeulekheDiarrheal disease is a big problem throughout Senegal. A lot of things contribute to this, chief among them lack of sanitation and no access to clean water. Addressing this on a large scale is going to take time, and so we in the Peace Corps tend to start small. In our role as preventative health educators, our goal is usually behavior change. I believe that teaching children is one of the best ways to accomplish this, and making it fun is what makes the message stick.

Now we know the problem (Diarrhea!), we have our target audience (Primary School students!), and we have a proposed solution (Wash your hands! Wash them before you eat, after you go to the bathroom, after you work in the fields or with animals, and when you are sick.). We also touched briefly on open air defecation, but decided to keep the message pretty basic so we could make sure the kids really got it.

Team Djolof hit the road for the third time in my service, this time carrying kettles of water, bars of soap, and of course, the bullhorn. We sang songs and put on skits. We did demonstrations of how germs are spread when people shake hands. We washed our hands. We washed the hands of children. We washed our hands again. It was a great time, and it seemed like the students and teachers were both really interested in our message. It’s hard to be sure though, and easy to have doubts about whether anyone is really listening.

But still, weeks later as I walk down the streets of Linguere I still hear children chanting “Soap, and water! Washing your hands prevents diarrhea!” (It sounds way better in Wolof: Ndox ak saabu! Raxasu, men na ar ci biir buy daw!) That’s exciting, but the moment that really sealed the deal for me was hearing a story from my friend Jenn about a family in her village. They were sitting down to lunch and one of the young boys jumped up. He ran off and found soap, and proceeded to make every member of the family wash their hands, lightly berating them for coming to the bowl dirty. Didn’t they know that could make you sick? Gross.

It seems like such a small example. One boy, asking one family to wash their hands before eating, on one day. But you know what? It’s a baby step, and maybe it was happening in lots of other houses that we didn’t see. Maybe it will keep happening, and I truly believe that we made a difference in the health, and maybe the lives, of a few of the people of the Djolof.

13 villages. 5 days. 2194 students.


You don’t change things by solving problems. You solve problems by changing things.” -Paul Hawkin

Posted by: Writing Advisor MacAfee | February 20, 2013

Djolof for Life—iRiPY768

If you’ve ever wondered what my life in Linguere is like… This pretty much sums it up!

“Imagination makes us infinite.” John Muir

Posted by: Writing Advisor MacAfee | February 3, 2013

The Gammu Gamut

The Gammu Gamut
Islamic brotherhoods in Senegal have an annual celebration of the birth of Mohammed, called here a Gammu. The date is pretty flexible, which means that if you want, you can attend multiple Gammus in multiple places. We in the field call this ‘hitting the Gammu Circuit’.
I hit it hard.
This year I started off with an afternoon trip to Nguith. Tegan, Sarah and I had lunch their and toured around the village visiting some friends and relatives. We drank soda or juice at each house that we visited, which led to some mildly upset stomachs, but overall was pretty fun and low key.

Next up was Gammu Xol Xol! Margaret and I got matching outfits with the ladies of our neighborhood. We didn’t actually wear them at the same time as the rest of the women because, by the time everyone went out to listen to the imam talk, it was after midnight, freezing cold, and I was deeply asleep. C’est la vie.


Sisters at Gammu Xol Xol

Sisters at Gammu Xol Xol

Third on the list was Gammu Mbeulekhe, one of the most attended religious events in the Djolof region. My good friend Fae lives out there, so Jenn, Tegan, Sarah and I went for moral support and, of course, chicken dinner. Fae and Jenn went all out and bought beautiful gammu hats. We stayed up until almost 2 am and were still among the only people in the giant, Christmas light filled tent. I believe the chanting started around 3, but clearly we did not make it.
Last, but certainly not least, Gammu Tivaouane! Margaret and I rode in a small bus rented out by the people of Xol Xol to the annual celebration in Tivaouane, center of the Tidiane Islamic brotherhood of Senegal. We spent a few days there, with a brief detour to Thies for Pizza and a night of quiet peaceful sleep at Abby’s apartment, and by the end we were completely ready to be home and away from loudspeakers blaring Arabic chanting at us 24/7 and overwhelming crowds of people and cars everywhere we went. The food was delicious though!

The people of Xol Xol were hungry after a long day of travel.

The people of Xol Xol were hungry after a long day of travel.


Baay Birame and I

Baay Birame and I


The house we stayed in in Tivaouane

The house we stayed in in Tivaouane


He made the ride on the roof all the way from Xol Xol to Tivaouane... Only to become lunch.

He made the ride on the roof all the way from Xol Xol to Tivaouane… Only to become lunch.

Backtracking a little bit…. I celebrated Christmas in Linguere where Tegan killed her first chicken, we played urban dictionary balderdash and ate an obscene amount of cookies. After our delightful Toubab Christmas came to an end I took the show on the road. My friend Petit’s family lives down the street so I took them lots of decorations (quickly appropriated as jewelry) and some hot chocolate mix. They didn’t really seem to get the point, and Baby Ali was not feeling the Santa hat… but it was a fun afternoon nonetheless.

Sad Santa
In other news, having a site-mate again is great and when we’re not too worn out from P-90X farm edition and Zumba videos, we’ve been doing some small-scale gardening in 3 schools here in Linguere. I’ve been really impressed with the motivation of the teachers we’ve been working with. They make sure all the students (boys and girls) get involved in our lessons, and show up to meetings early with shovels and piles of manure ready to learn.

“Normal is not something to aspire to, its something to get way from.” -Jodie Foster

Posted by: Writing Advisor MacAfee | January 3, 2013

The New Year

Well, everyone, it’s 2013, the year that I return home to America!

I am obviously thrilled at the prospect of seeing all my friends and family back home, but I am starting to become more aware of the fact that a side affect of that will be leaving behind an entire new family here. An American family of volunteers who write songs, go on adventures, invent games (urban dictionary Balderdash anyone?), kill and prepare our food from scratch and occasionally put our heads together and do some really great work. A Senegalese family of some of the most generous, hilarious and wonderful people I’ve ever known. I don’t think I’ll miss the rice-based cuisine or being harassed by every man in the street who thinks he has a shot at a toubab woman to marry him and take him to the US. I do think it will be hard to adjust to the idea of the babies and tiny children I have come to love here not remembering me as they grow up.

But… c’est la vie.

I spent New Years Eve in St. Louis with a group of volunteers eating wonderful food, drinking tasty beverages, and just enjoying the company of some of my best friends. Onward and upward. Here’s to 2013 being another year filled with adventures, love, and kindness for all of us. Dewenati.

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” -Terry Pratchett


Posted by: Writing Advisor MacAfee | December 26, 2012

I’m on the way! (or am I?)

Recently I went to the Education Inspector’s office to invite him to an event we were putting on in Linguere (Thanks to your generous donations! You guys are the best.) in support of girls’ education. He wasn’t there, so I started chatting with some teachers who were sitting around drinking tea. Here is a sample of our dialogue:

Me: Where is the inspector?

Teacher #1: He’s on the way. (Mungiy ci yoon wi)

Me: Oh yeah? Where is he?

Teacher #2: He’s on the way, do you not know what that means? Duh.

Me: I know what it means, but I don’t know if you are saying he is eating breakfast, or walking here, or if he hasn’t woken up yet.

Teacher #1: He’s in a car on the way here.

Teacher #2: Haha toubab you sure do understand Wolof. You should just sit here and wait for him.

Me: So he’s almost here?

Teacher #1: No, he’s coming from Dakar. They just left.

Me: I’ll come back tomorrow.

I guess I’m learning, never take things like that at face value. If someone says they’re coming now, that could mean any time in the next several hours. You have to clarify, now now (leegi leegi!) means that they could hypothetically be arriving in the next half hour. It’s funny to see people who have spent a lot of time working with Americans, they tend to get hyper-aware of our different perceptions of punctuality. They know we get flustered if we expect someone to show up at noon and we wait for them until 4:30 and they arrive with no explanation. Lesson learned from over a year and a half in Senegal: Always have a book in your purse.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need to wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Anne Frank

Posted by: Writing Advisor MacAfee | December 26, 2012

Camels and Thanksgiving. Guests are the Greatest.

This November I had the chance to host my wonderful Aunt Judith, Uncle Bruce, Alex, Jason, Jon and Eileen here in Senegal. Immediately on their arrival we got in cars to Lampool, where we slept in canvas tents on the sand dunes, rode camels, and danced the chaxagoun with some drummers who work at the hotel. In the pristine and beautiful quiet of the morning we could hear the ocean, over a mile away. Unfortunately, not long after we woke up so did the crew of Italian motorcyclists who had brought their sweet rides to the desert and seemed determined to cover every inch of it in noisy sprays of sand. C’est la vie.

From there we headed deep into the heart of Senegal: Linguere and Xol Xol! They brought along lots of fun gifts for my host family and the school children, and we had a great time giving all of those away. Everyone was very grateful. We ate lots of local food, but the biggest hit was ceebujen aka rice and fish, the national dish of Senegal.

Following our Thanksgiving morning Turkey Trot came one of the great food adventures of my service to date. You thought the chickens were exciting? We followed up with a monitor lizard that Margaret and I saw creeping around our relatives’ house… and then proceeded to kill and strap to the back of my bike. Delicious. Dragon. The next step, of course, was to procure and prepare our own Thanksgiving turkey. I’m becoming somewhat of a professional at these things. We consumed the birds, along with a multitude of other food over at Dirk and Sarah’s house.

The next day was a trip back to Dakar for some big-city exploration, and then they were off. I wish the visit could have been longer, but even just having them here for a week was fantastic. It’s tough being away from home at the holidays, so it was really nice to have family come all the way here to me!

Some other highlights: The amazing and long overdue bike servicing by my awesome family, a phone call from home on Thanksgiving day, the breezy bush taxi ride out to Xol Xol, and many more… Pictures will be up someday when I get them. Maybe.

“A man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Andre Gide


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