September 11, 2011

Give a child a dream.

Here's the thing, I have a choreographed victory dance that rivals Cirque du soleil, it changes lives. The tragedy is that I am no good at soccer. So, the youth of Senegal have not seen my victory jive. I taught a few kids how to play catch. We even got as far as playing 'pickle', but baseball is equipment intensive and trying to describe the gazillion rules of the game got intense. So.........I need a basketball court.

I figure that my natural hugeness, and fact that I have been expose to basketball since childhood, will allow me to dominate some unsuspecting middle schoolers.

Exhibit AThis was last year at the high school in Linguere. Previous generations of Peace Corps volunteers wrote grants to refurbish the court, and started a basketball program in partnership with the high school's gym teachers. In hopes to introduce the sport to the kids in the village, they held a few clinics where kids from the villages came into Linguere for a day of practice and scrimmages. Just look at me owning the paint.

Due to a lack of funding, teacher strikes and coordination, we were unable to continue transporting groups of kids into Linguere for clinics. I have not heard the end of this from students. They tell me constantly how much they enjoyed the clinics, and ask when we are starting again. Leaping from the foundation of previous work and harnessing the fervor of the students, my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and I have put together this gem--Linguere Basketball Initiative

Through the Initiative, we hope to construct three NCAA regulation sized basketball courts, one in Barkedji (my charming village), one in Diaglie (home to Kim Hall, my nearest neighbor) and one in Ngaraff (home to Emily Naftalin). While constructing the courts is the majority of what makes up the intimidatingly large budget, we hope it is only the beginning. The courts will add to our larger mission of fostering the development of strong, confident leaders of tomorrow. Basketball will act as a vehicle through which teamwork, communication and gender equality can be learned.

The thought of kids playing and laughing while they shoot hoops is soul filling. When I was in school I remember days when I had to rush from softball to girl scouts to dance practice. As far as extra curricular activities go here, it's soccer on a sandy field for boys and any club that I am running for girls. By giving the students a court, we may be giving them a hobby, a passion, a set of goals.

This is my Environmental Club. We just made a tree nursery, ie we mixed dirt and poop and put it in sacks. Look how much fun we were having. Imagine the reaction to an inter class basketball or volleyball scrimmage. Epic. Cirque du soleil victory dance type epic.

We recently returned from a dinner meeting with NBA's West Africa representative. That's right, Peace Corps is pooping in a hole, eating with my hand and pitching projects over drinks. Thanks to our country director's persistence and connections we now have a very beneficial relationship with the NBA and more specifically SEEDS (ie fatty check on the way and potential celebrity appearance at trainings in our villages!!!). The rest is up to us; we still need financial help. Anything you can give will go a long way in helping make our project a reality.

Thank you in advance. Also, while we are fundraising I can't see who has contributed, but be assured that when I get the list at the end, all who donated will receive a hand crafted, beautifully colored, Albright original thank you card. Depending on your generosity it may even have glitter.

Lots of Love.

September 10, 2011


I had every intention of writing a beautiful entry. Then I found this...

I think you'll understand.

September 09, 2011

Glory, glory, Alhumdililai

My soul is in a good place. Life is perfection.

I'll give you a quick summary of events before I get to the meat of this word slab.
I made it through my second, and last forever, month of fasting!!!! This year was much easier. I was ready with many coping strategies: go to the Catholic's house for lunch, go on a solo picnic in the bush, tell everyone I am pregnant and cannot fast. The latter may, or may not pose a logistical problem in about nine months...
Apparently, the twentieth day of fasting is a cause for celebration. I rode into Linguere around 10 am ready to nurse my sick volunteer friend back to health and maybe watch a movie or ten. Things started well. Until 11am.

This went on for a long time...a really long time. This is another taken at 8pm.

This went on until 7am the next morning. Needless to say, I have drafted a "thank you" letter to give to those responsible for proposing and enforcing noise ordinances in America.

The Main Event: Korite
After our moon of fasting, we celebrated the end of Ramadan with Korite. We didn't know the exact end date of Ramadan. It depends on the moon, the evening we see the first tiny silver of the moon we stop fasting. So, when we saw the fingernail moon the bowls got turned upside down and an impromptu dance party started.

Shortly after the celebration dance, the womenfolk and I began peeling buckets of onions and potatoes for the Korite lunch.

This is me and my namesake, Fama, wearing our fancy morning clothes. I was given this sweet red and black number by another friend in my village!

These are the kids and my dad, looking strangely like Jesus.

The day of, the women cut onions and potatoes and then we cut more. We prepare the meat and cut more onions. Meanwhile the men and the kids put on their fancy Senegalese clothes and go to the mosque.

This is me and my mom cutting 1/15 of the onions. Those yellow cubes are pure, delicious MSG. I can't get enough of it. If I'm out of the village, not eating Senegalese food, I get the MSG withdraw shakes.

How cute are the girls in their Korite outfits?

After we eat lunch, we lay around until it is cool enough to shower and put on the fancy, fancy threads. Then we hit the village. Everybody walks around to great the other houses and ask for forgiveness for any wrong doings. The kids go searching for candy or money.

This is me in my fancy afternoon outfit with 2 of my best friends. Another volunteer owns this dress. We do a region dress swap so that we can appear to have new outfits for holidays and baptisms, but don't have to spend the money to own 15 new, flashy Senegalese outfits.

Oh and got my hair did. My friend on the left did it. It hurt like the devil. Here is a close up.

Post Korite, in celebration of making it through another Ramadan, I went to Dakar to eat impressively filthy amounts of food. Dakar truly is the land of plenty. I ate Korean, sea food, American, ice cream, beer and happiness.

If you follow my blog closely, HA not even my mother does, you may be asking 'where is the fundraising request that was promised in the previous entry?' Well, bloggers, it is here
Please help me help kids.

I hope to post again tomorrow to write about the project in detail.

'ppreciate cha.

August 08, 2011

o just saving lives, no big deal

Dear friends,

My purpose for this blog entry is twofold. The first being, I haven't written a blog in an incredibly long time (I wanted to write about the amazing 4th of July bike trip to Kedougou, but I got JT Adventures or Under Senegal Skies for the unbelievable saga). Next, I want to ask you for money again but thought it rather crass to post two fundraising pleas back-to-back. So..

Stomping out Malaria. It's MalARIOUS!!!

NGOs have lots of money and can do fancy projects like building a high school with air conditioning, or a water tower. Funding for Peace Corps volunteers, on the other hand, is a bureaucratic hassle that makes me want to cry/scream and come begging to you fine people for handouts. However, what we lack in budget, we make up for in heart. I wish licking the screen right now would taste as cheesy as that sounds.

Let me paint you the poster child of a Peace Corps project. The 13 volunteers of the Linguere Region pooled a little bit of our own money, time and creativity to create something beautiful. We went on a Malaria tour to each of our villages, the 11 villages cover a span of 135 kilometers. We rolled up to the villages sitting in the back of a truck, banging on bowls, hootin' n' hollerin' with a bullhorn calling the village to a general meeting place, usually the largest shade tree.

We begin our "traveling circus" with basic introductions and explain why an army of white people has descended upon the village. Then we move into short skits on myths of where malaria comes from, common misconceptions include eating lots of mangoes, drinking lots of milk, walking in a hot sun (when in Senegal is there any other kind??) and spirits. At the end of each skit we chant the phrase "mosquitoes bring malaria". The power of repetition is an very effective tool, add clapping and a sweet dance step and it's ingrained forever. Walking around Linguere yesterday people began chanting our song. It's going to be big.

After skits we use cardboard cutout people to explain how mosquitoes spread malaria from one person to the next. We had way to much fun searching through old magazines for the right heads to put on our people. In the end President Obama, Rihanna, and Justin Bieber (both as the head of a baby and a grown man) were our examples.

Next we moved on to ways to prevent malaria, including the importance of sleeping under a mosquito net and neem lotion. The lotion is made from boiling neem leaves, adding soap and a little bit of oil. Apparently neem works as a mosquito repellent. I started using it to see if it actually worked and was pleasantly surprised. Aside from the heavy feeling of coating your body in a film of soap and oil, the lotion is pretty good. Although, I choose to disregard the studies that find a connection between neem and infertility in rats.

Once the lotion is ready we do a Q&A session tossing bags of neem lotion as prizes to people who can answer our malaria questions. We close with our Peace Corps support staff, Tidiane AMAZING Diao, leading a summation of everything that happened. It truly was perfection. We educated over 1300 people on causes and prevention of malaria. People came to gawk at the whitey invasion, stayed because our program was interactive, fun and informative (and it's Ramadan so the other activity option is laying on a mat talking about how hot and thirsty they are) and left with memories and knowledge that will remain much longer than the goofy Americans that stay in the village for two years. Peace Corps is awesome.

One of many pots of mosquito repelling neem lotion.

Chatting with the kids before we start our skits.
It was MalARIOUS

This is us making neem lotion. Please notice our gorgeous visual aid in the background.

Explaining how malaria is spread.

Malaria Dreamteam:
All 13 of the volunteers in the Djolof region and Tidiane Diao

Probably in the middle of a chant.
Please notice the ridiculous number of people in the crowd.
This was only one village. We did this 11 times.

This is a moment of zen. We stroll into our radio station at 11pm. They immediately interrupt their emission in broadcast to put us on LIVE. They literally gave us microphones and headsets and let us go. After a 10 minute plug for our current Malaria Tour, we sang slash laughed through "Row row row your boat" for a solid 5 minutes until we could pull the man in charge away from his skype conversation. I love this country.

July 18, 2011

it's that time again!

let's change some lives.

May 09, 2011

25th Birthday

Epic. There is no other way to describe the events that manifested themselves on April 2nd 2011. Epic.

I had originally planned to spend my 25th birthday in the same fashion I celebrated Christmas, alone in my hut with a bottle of vodka and some lukewarm soda. Birthdays are no big deal here, most people have no idea how old they are. So, throwing myself a village birthday party didn't seem appealing. Also, we had just gotten back from an amazing, but rather expensive, birthday blowout in Dakar for one of my volunteer friends. So, I was content to embrase my quarter of a century with a night cap or two.

I went to the health post the morning the day of to help with the vaccination campaign. You better believe it was a stroke to my ego, my narcissistic brain was running with thoughts like 'what an amazing person to give their birthday to vaccinating babies against polio' etc. After sitting around at the health post for an hour or so the doctor announces that we don't have any of the vaccinations to do the scheduled tourney. Typical. When planning a vaccination campaign I could see how ensuring that the vaccinations are available could easily be overlooked.

So, rather than heading to the bush to help babies, the car heads to the regional capital to pick up the vaccinations. The ride to Linguere is just long enough for my altruistic, but rather self-serving, mindset to change into 'eff this, I want a cold beer on my birthday'. So I get out of the car and head to our regional house.

I walk in the door and my friend Abby slaps we with a sashet of wine and yells 'you got sacked'. It's 10am. So, begins the day that can never be adequately described or ever surpassed.

I head to the closed post office and sweet talk my way into picking up an amazing birthday package courtesy of Mike and Robin. After I squealed at it contents and blew up the balloons, I thought the day couldn't get any better.

Friendship test: What would be my favorite birthday gift?
Answer: a CAMEL.
I walk outside to find my friend Justin sitting proudly atop an ugly, snorting camel. BirFday Camel! My friends had walked into a shop in Linguere owned by people from Mauritania, Nars, and said 'got any camels for riding?'

I excitedly scurry up the snorting camel to sit atop, happily waving my limp birthday balloon. Now, we, the volunteers in the region, are natural spectacles. We can't go to the market without making a baby cry or cause old women to gather round in awe of the pale face speaking their native tongue. So, please just imagine the jaw dropping, head turning scene that results when a toubap, word for white person, is riding a camel down the city's main drag. epic.

The tale gets spicier. As the Nar guides the camel back towards our house, my friend goes to pay him their previously agreed upon price. He freaks out and demands an outlandish fee for having let extra people ride the camel. He yanks the mouth foaming camel by the nose ring and starts sprinting away declaring that he will not let me down until he is paid in full.

Again please take a moment to fully appreciate this scene:
An angry Nar is yelling that he got ripped off while he is dragging his snorting camel down the streets of Linguere. A group of concerned white people are chasing after him making justifications and pleas in a slew of local languages. And as always in Senegal, there is a pack of children following, chanting their newly learned phrase 'BirFday Camel'. All the while, I sit atop the camel swinging my birthday balloon at the end of a loose string, giggling and leading the chorus of chanting children. Epic.

We pass what would be the equivalent of a local police station and my friend threatens the Nar with going inside and getting the authorities involved. He calls her bluff and she is forced to go into the police station. She goes inside and announces 'my friend is stuck on a camel'. Epic.

After a long, very theatrical debate involving fake tears and a mix of English, French, Pulaar, and Wolof we leave the station with one angry Nar and one hell of a story. Epic.

March 10, 2011

A year in review

Situation: little boy wakes up cranky and doesn't want to go to school. What to do? Answer: Pick his ass up and port him kicking and screaming all the way to the school. Greeting neighbors along the way, clearly.

Before I begin my windy, frequently misspelled and incorrectly punctuated rambles, I want to thank everyone that donated to the Barkedji Sud water and bathroom project. Your contribution will have an important and immediate impact on the community. You have changed lives. Thank you. Your mailed notes should arrive in 5 to 6 business weeks.

The project is well under way. We already received the funding and purchased all the materials. Our team consists of the amazing director of the school, myself, and about 10 parent volunteers (some of whom are very happy to contribute, others I shamed into volunteering. "It's for the CHILDREN"). Last Sunday we dug the 100 meter trench to bring water to the school, laid the piping and installed the water faucet! My hands and back were rather sore, but my heart was exploding. Thank you for making this project a reality. This Sunday we are digging the GIANT poop hole for the bathrooms. I hope to personally christen the bathroom by my April 2nd birthday. (please note that subtle plug to remember my 25th birthday)

In other news, today I have been in country for one year! There are times when strings of Wolof or Pulaar phrases go right over my wide-eyed uncomprehending face, when the culture feels both smothering and so distant, when I am exhausted from refusing obnoxious marriage proposals, when I spend an entire afternoon laying sweating on my neighbor's mat, that I wonder if my presence here is doing anything. I mentioned this to a fellow volunteer which began a beautifully reflective conversation about our year in Senegal.

In a year's time I have learned a new language. I can explain technical processes, teach new skills, make jokes, bargain like a pro at the market and sing in a language that I didn't even know existed before I came to Senegal.

I have mastered the shear chaos that is Senegalese transportation, from the creeps that lurk at the garage to cramming my huge frame into unimaginably small spaces. I have traveled North on a bush road sitting on top of a truck packed 5ft higher than its cab; gone South in a smoking 7 place through a rain storm; come from the East through the bush on my bike; and gorged in the delicious treats of the West.

I have integrated into a foreign culture. Meaning I no longer notice the constant intestinal pains and explosions, I have danced at more baptisms than I can count and have a baby named after me, carried water on my head, driven a donkey cart, learned to cook for 20 people using one pot on an open fire, lived through the month long Ramadan fast, and know that when someone tells me an event begins at 4pm by showing up at 5:30 I am on time.

I have started gardens, weighed babies, painted murals, planted trees and ideas. Behavior change is a constant campaign that makes up a lot of Peace Corps service. The level of energy input is exhausting and usually the results are non-existent or non-apparent. However, I have a star that is beginning to glimmer. I decided early in my service that rather than purchasing a personal spoon I, like all the women and children, would eat with my hand. By doing so, I have a wider platform for my "wash your hands with soap" assault. It started with a lil jingle I made up, "we need to wash our hands with soap" repeated over and over and over. Then it spread to changing classic games like tag into examples of how sickness can spread if we don't wash our hands with soap. Next was using household items to MacGyver hand washing stations. I am like a constant buzz slowly breaking people down. It's beautiful. My budding star: My four year old sister calls me to wash my hands with soap before we begin every meal. GREAT SUCCESS.

Daily moment of Zen. This is our flat screen TV.