A Mountain on My Back

A sunset in Velingara

A sunset in Velingara

A little over two years ago, I set off on an adventure to live and work in Senegal. It’s hard to believe that my time here is almost finished, but, as I look forward, I wish I had more time to be in this place that’s become home.

At this point in many a PCV’s service, he or she is more than ready to return home to America. After living in Senegal for two years, we miss family and friends, are exhausted from navigating a different culture and language, and are simply ready to move onto the next stage of life.

Although I feel all of those things, I’m also not prepared to pack up and leave in less than two months.

My little sisters, who I miss miss dearly

My little sisters, who I miss miss dearly

When a child is having a rough day – crying all the time, falling down, or not getting along with others – people will say that she is trying to carry a mountain on her back… “O waawa bambugol pelle.” The child is attempting to take on the world, but failing.

As I look forward to the future – being reunited with family and friends, eating hamburgers, speaking English, searching for a job, and driving in a fully-functioning automobile – I feel like I’m carrying a mountain on my back. No one could argue that any of those are bad things, but I’m overwhelmed by the thought of tackling the challenges that will come with those opportunities.

Being a privileged American, I don’t want to complain about these first world prospects. There are so many job openings that I don’t know which ones to apply to. I’m free to move to any city in the world, if it fits my fancy. Everyone I know speaks English so I don’t have to learn a new language to get ahead. The money I earn from being employed allows me to buy good food, nice clothes, and even a car.

But, yet, the mountain on my back seems so heavy.

Most of my work was enjoyable

Most of my work was enjoyable

Transitions are never easy. It wasn’t easy coming here and it won’t be easy to leave. I’ve invested two years in learning the local language, building relationships, and becoming a trusted member of the community. In just a couple months, I’ll leave most of that behind. My family and friends will only be a Skype call away, but it’s not the same as spending time together every day.

The literal translation of the phrase, “O waawa bambugol pelle,” is “She can’t carry a mountain on her back.” Mountains aren’t to be carrying around. Mountains aren’t to be moved. Mountains are to be enjoyed for their beauty, explored for recreational thrills, traversed when needed, but otherwise left alone.

Biking in Senegal has been one of my favorite activities

Biking in Senegal has been one of my favorite activities

If you’re trying to carry a mountain on your back, you’re doing something wrong.

The future is exciting, but it’s also terrifying. Just like climbing a mountain peak, it’s not without its struggles. But, like reaching the summit, it’s always worth the sweat and tears shed along the way.

As I prepare to leave Senegal and return to America, I hope the mountain on my back turns to a molehill; allowing me to straighten my bent back and enjoy the views.

Leaders of the Future

Velingara High School

Velingara High School

WARNING: In this post, I will shamelessly ask for donations!

This summer, I’m working with 9 local organizations in my community to place 10 students, 5 girls and 5 boys, in internships during their summer vacation. These internships will be in the fields of business, hospitality, health, agriculture, communication, education, and development.

Through this 5-week program, students will gain knowledge in their desired field as well as a better understanding of the educational path they must follow to achieve the career they want.

Although most high school students receive an excellent education in Senegal, many lack knowledge about possible careers following graduation. Most students are aware of jobs as teachers and doctors, but don’t know about the plethora of opportunities available with governmental offices, small businesses, and nongovernmental organizations.

Through the ‘Leaders of the Future Internship Program,’ students will gain experience in relevant fields while networking with community leaders. As students either return to high school or continue in higher education, they will have a better understanding of the type of career they desire.

But why do you care about high school students in Vélingara, Senegal?

You probably don’t. You might care about me. You might even care about the general welfare of people in Africa. But, really, the only thing you have to gain from donating to this project is a good feeling.

But that’s not entirely true.

With a student population of about 2,000, over 25 of the top pupils at the high school applied for internships. After oral interviews, 10 were selected as interns.

And these interns have names: Ablaye, Anta, Lamine, Fatou, Mamadou, Dienabou, Oumar, Mariama, Simon, and Bintu.

After conducting interviews with all of these students, I truly believe these are the next leaders of Senegal. These will be the men and women with visions of vibrant local economies working alongside international development organizations to continue to better their country long after I’ve returned to America.

I’m not saying the next president is among them, though he or she might be, but these students are motivated, determined, and strong nevertheless.

You should care about them because they will make Senegal better. And, as Senegal becomes better, so will you. The world is connected through the global economy, no country is isolated from another, and people are forever bonded to each other.

With your help, we can make Senegal a stronger member of our world.

Already, the community has contributed over half of the total amount for this project. But now we need your help. Costs include meals for students and facilitators during trainings, a stipend for the interns after they complete the 5-week program, and printing expenses.

Now, can you help me raise the remaining $677.50?

Click here to donate!

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!