A Day in the Life

Doing laundry beneath the nago tree

Doing laundry beneath the nago tree

Often times, I find that many people don’t know much about the daily life of a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). My mom thinks I’m saving the world. My friends think I live in a hut in the middle of the African bush. And the U.S. government thinks I’m putting off my student loans for two more years.

So what does a day in the life of a PCV actually look like?

Although I cannot speak for all PCVs in Senegal, much less in the rest of the world. This is what life looks like for this PCV:

In the morning, I wake up around 6 AM to go running before the sun gets too hot. After returning from the run (and stretching, of course), I do a few morning “chores:” sweeping the floor, cleaning my room, and pulling water for the day. When these chores are completed, I finally shower and get dressed for the day.

Breakfast is usually a bean and mayonnaise sandwich from a woman a few doors down from my compound. The sandwich is followed by American coffee and some reading of The Economist. By 9 or 10 AM, I’m ready to begin working.

Because I’m most productive in the morning, any work requiring a computer is done before my room becomes too unbearably hot. By noon, my room begins to resemble a sauna (without the massage, unfortunately). Around that time, I’ll head to the market. Although I eat lunch and dinner with my host family, I like to supplement my diet by including fruits, vegetables, and protein.

Making and drinking tea is a popular activity in the afternoon

Making and drinking tea is a popular activity in the afternoon

After visiting the market, I’ll stop by my counterpart’s office. Sometimes we work on projects together, sometimes I work at my own desk, and sometimes I just swing by to greet him. As the Vise President of the Red Cross in Velingara, he’s a very connected member of the community and a nice person to hang out and work with.

By 1 or 1:30 PM, it’s usually time to head back to my compound for lunch around 2 PM. If lunch isn’t ready, I hang out with my grandma in her room. Fanning ourselves, we lay on her bed and chat until it’s time to eat.

After lunch, everyone rests until 4 or 5 PM. During this time, I nap, read, or watch TV. When everyone begins to emerge from their rooms, I also come out. Any meetings, classes, or other activities usually begin around this time. I may meet with a work partner to discuss upcoming trainings, teach a class on entrepreneurship, or attend a function with my counterpart.

By 7:30 PM prayers, I’m back in my compound with my family. After prayers, we lay on mats, fanning ourselves, and hanging out until dinner. Dinner is usually around 8 or 8:30 PM. When I’ve eaten, I return to my room to shower and head to bed. Most nights I’m in bed by 9 PM, much to the amusement of my family who usually stays up until midnight or later.

Women learning how to make soap

Women learning how to make soap

Although it may not sound like my days are busy – and they are quite empty by American standards – I manage to find myself exhausted at the end of the day. Life, as well as work, happens much slower in Senegal. Projects take longer to implement and meetings can last all day. As such, busy days can yield small results, no small adjustment for an American used to productive work days.

Living life at a slower pace was one of the reasons I decided to dedicate two years of my life to serving in Senegal. Thanks to my less hectic schedule, I have time to think, read, write, and understand the people around me. It is often difficult to slow down in America, but I have learned to live an unhurried life.

I may not be saving the world or living in a hut (I am putting off my student loans), but I enjoy most days in Senegal. And, like in America, if I have a bad day… there’s always tomorrow!

Grocery Shopping

a PCV in a grocery store

a PCV in a grocery store

After being in Senegal for five months, and at site for three of those months, Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) from around the country showed up in Dakar for a few days before heading to Thies for two weeks of technical training. While in Dakar, we ate good food, drank American coffee, and went out more than can be healthy while not getting nearly as much sleep as we should have. However, we also did some grocery shopping.

If you don’t know what it’s like to be a PCV visiting Dakar, try living under a rock for a few months then walk into Walmart on Black Friday and ask an associate in which aisle the toothpaste is located. This is what our grocery shopping experience resembled.

We walked through sliding glass doors into an air conditioned wonderland. The lights were shiny, the floors were polished, and there were shopping carts. After admiring the view from the entrance, we grabbed shopping carts and got down to business.

Wandering the aisles, we marveled at deodorant, kitty litter, and cheese. It wasn’t uncommon to see a fellow PCV just standing in the middle of the snack aisle with an open mouth and glazed eyes, wondering why anyone would choose to buy ketchup flavored potato chips.

Coming to the cereal aisle, I looked at my grocery list (one should never enter a grocery store without a list, especially a deprived PCV). I needed oatmeal.

Just oatmeal.

What I found was Fruity Loops, Cocoa Balls, Crunchy Crunch, Raisin Bland, Cheery-Os, Bunches of Honey, and Unlucky Charms (if you’re lucky, you’ll get a marshmallow). I almost got sucked into buying Donut Circles before I found the oatmeal on the bottom shelf next to the Unfrosted Flakes. My apologizes to Kellogg’s and General Mills for distorting their cereal brands, I can’t afford to pay royalties.

Finally, I had filled my cart with the necessities: shampoo, toothbrushes, chocolate, granola (in addition to oatmeal), cheese, Pringles, dried apricots, cheese, beer, cheese, wine, cheese, and a copy of The Economist (because it was the only magazine printed in English).

Listening to the beep, beep, beep of the scanner as the woman behind the conveyor belt rang up my goods, I tried not to think about all the money I was spending or the three hours I had just spent in a grocery store.

Leaving the air conditioning and walking out into the bustling city of Dakar, I decided that, for now, I’d rather have my local market where the women selling vegetables know me by name than a grocery store that has an entire aisle dedicated to nutritional cookies.