Archive for October, 2009

Last weekend was full of Rotary activities! On Friday night we had an induction dinner for the two new Rotary members that are joining Rotary Saint-Louis- Mr. Diallo and Mme. Sota (though I think I have misspelled her name). The dinner was at The Hotel Sindoné located on the south-side of the island.

Saint-Louis is made up of three parts—the Langue de Barbarie (the peninsula) Saint-Louis (the island) and Sor (the mainland). All are referred to as Saint-Louis, though it is the island that has most of the government buildings, the beautiful French architecture and the pretty hotels.

This night was really cool because Cheryl and I got to experience a Rotary induction in French. I’m going to attempt to upload a video—Jean is giving an introduction and he introduces the 4-Way Test. I thought it was really cool that I was hearing this induction in French and I was proud of myself that I could pick out the Rotary 4-Way Test. To all non-Rotarians, the 4-Way Test is a set of principles, set out by Rotarian Herbert Taylor—entrepreneur, that guides the endeavors of every Rotary Club across the world to this day:

1. Is it the truth? 2. Is it fair to all concerned? 3. Will it build good will and better friendships? 4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

The two new members are Mme. Sota and Mr. Diallo. The evening was very laid back and an all around pleasant experience. I was able to talk with one of the Rotarians, Marie-Caroline, who is Senegalese-French. She worked for a number of years in Chicago and so we reminisced about Illinois together : ) We also talked about the current state of things in Senegal economy-wise, and she explained to me what she hopes to give back to her country (she is a business woman who has many years experience working between the US and France. She is interested in helping entrepreneurs and new businesses to start up and learn how to better sustain themselves). It was an all-around interesting experience. And you’ll notice our club is an interesting mix of Senegalese and French Rotarians : ) And now we’ve added 5 Americans—we’re getting to be quite the eclectic group!

Khady Ndiaye--My host Rotarian et Moi

Khady Ndiaye--My host Rotarian et Moi

Our next Rotary adventure was on Saturday. Rotary Saint-Louis has been actively involved with the development of a school called, L’Ecole Saër Saye. It’s a primary school, that from what I understood has been working with Rotary Saint-Louis for many years. This past Saturday was the presentation of the school renovations completed with the help of Rotary Saint-Louis. Previously the school had no running water—so no toilets with plumbing either. Rotary Saint-Louis funded the project to provide the school with these necessities. It was a really big event! All of the students and parents were invited and the students gave a number of performances for the audience. There was a poem that had been written, as well as a planned fight – traditional Senegalese wrestling known as Lutte Senegalese or Wolof Laamb. There was also singing and dancing. Definitely dancing!!! I am still amazed at how good these people are at dancing!! It seems like everyone has wonderful rhythm or knows the steps to the dance if there is choreography. For instance, Mbalax is a popular genre of music that has it’s own particular style of dancing…the kids I see doing this dance never cease to amaze me! I’m going to also try to upload what I caught of them dancing at L’Ecole Saer Seye. It was great!

The director and some of the teachers at the school gave very moving speeches. Though I couldn’t understand every word, there’s something that transcends language and that is emotion. Everyone was in great spirits and very happy to start the new school year with improved facilities.


Mural at L'Ecole Saer Seye

please check out the snapfish.com link to see pictures from these events!

Or click here for L’Ecole Saer Seye: http://www5.snapfish.com/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=501298026/a=775175026_775175026/otsc=SHR/otsi=SALBlink/COBRAND_NAME=snapfish/

And here for the Rotary Induction: http://www5.snapfish.com/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=502301026/a=775175026_775175026/otsc=SHR/otsi=SALBlink/COBRAND_NAME=snapfish/


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School days

So I figured I have been giving lots of highlights, but not a very good picture of what my day to day consists of here in Saint-Louis. So I’m going to attempt to do that, and also share a little bit of what I’ve learned. So I’ll see how it works out to do a bit of an installment-like setup.  A little bit about my French classes:

As a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar with Projects Abroad, I’ve been taking 3 hours of French class a day Monday through Friday. The classes are private, just myself and my teacher. Both of my teachers have full-time jobs as French teachers at the local schools. My last teacher was Ngoné Lo. She and I have become friends through our classes together, and even though she is no longer my teacher, I still keep in touch with her. In the entry where our school was flooded, it was Ngoné who invited me to have class at her home. When I arrived in Senegal in September the schools were still on their summer vacation, but these past couple weeks have seen students and teachers going back to school. The school system is something that I still have yet to figure out as it seems that neither teachers nor students really know when it is starting. From what I understand in asking my professor and other students is that there are a couple weeks of registration, where there might be classes, but it doesn’t really get into full swing until late October. For example, I started the second half of my French classes (I switched teachers at a month and a half) last week, and it was this same week that my teacher got his teaching schedule. But technically, school had been ‘started’ for maybe two weeks before. At least this is what I understood.

My classes have been held at a high school: Lycée Charles de Gaulle. It’s about a 20 minute walk from my house. I could take a taki, which would cost me 450cfa (appx. $1.00–this is a fixed price to get anywhere in Saint-Louis), but I always walk. Up until the last two weeks or so, the classes have been empty because of the vacation, so Ngoné and I would have our class in an open classroom. You might be wondering how it is possible for us to have class in just any classroom, but the school building isn’t locked up—though some of the rooms are—during vacation. So there are always kids playing soccer in the open area, and other students studying in classroom (for instance, if they’re studying for the bac, this preparation starts very early). Ngoné explained to me that other schools typically close during vacation, but for some reason Charles de Gaulle stays open. From what I understood, it was the kind of thing where “kids will jump the walls and get in no matter what, so there’s no use fighting it” idea. So if you can imagine from the end of June to October (summer vacation here) with kids running around through the buildings, and then on top of that, it’s the rainy season so there is always flooding…the buildings aren’t suitable for teachers or students to start. So there is a cleaning process that takes about two weeks or so, with the sanitation department coming in to disinfect, and the firemen come in to drain the water if there is flooding (and there definitely was this year…check out the pics on the snapfish link). One day Ngoné and I got chased out of our classroom because they were disinfecting our building. This might seem strange if you are imagining, closed in buildings—like you would see in the parts of the US that don’t experience tropical weather, but here most buildings are open to allow for breezes to circulate and alleviate some of the heat, which also allows for the disinfectant to dissipate and not linger in the building. I’ll put up some pictures of my school (after the cleaning process) when I can muster up the courage to take them (now that school has started, having a camera out always makes you very popular when there are crowds of people, especially children!).

Last week I said goodbye to Ngoné as my teacher (but we are still friends! I am actually going to visit with her and her family this weekend), and I started classes with Mr. Omar Kandé. At first I was really nervous to switch teachers. I felt like I had learned a lot with Ngoné, I got along well with her, and I was in general just nervous of a new teaching style and personality (especially since I felt like I already had something great going on), but these fears all proved irrational. Mr. Kandé is AWESOME!! He is a really good teacher, and he is a very unique Senegalese man (in regards to his attitude on polygamy…a slightly polemic topic here –no pun intended…). We often have discussions about life in the US and life in Senegal and the cultural differences. I always discover something new with every conversation we have.

Typically our classes are very relaxed. He has a grammar book that we’ll do exercises from, but a lot of times grammar questions will pop up in conversation—whenever I can’t say something, or say something wrong—and we’ll just take it from there and that will be our lesson. This is usually accompanied by conversation. Because school has started, it is difficult with his schedule to meet for three hours at the same time every day. So some days we’ll meet for two hours, another day, we’ll meet for 4. But I always have 15 hours of French each week no matter what.

I really do feel like my French is improving, which is a really great feeling! I’m very very far from fluent, but I’m imagining back to my first week when I couldn’t understand anything, and I could barely express myself. Now I understand most conversations (unless they are talking quickly or excitedly), and I can communicate pretty effectively ( I mean, I can at least get some semblance of a French sentence out now!). It’s a really really cool feeling!

Oh!! And I wanted to mention that I am not alone as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Saint-Louis! Nicholas Boatwright, Cheryl Dietrich Vanessa and Patrece Moore (Vanessa just arrived, so I haven’t gotten her last name yet). So we have quite the little Rotary family here in Saint-Louis : )  All of these students are partaking in the same Rotary Ambassadorial Cultural Scholarship –though Cheryl and Vanessa are here for 6 months–so they have the same setup with French classes.

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So it has been quiiite some time since I’ve last updated! Really there has been a lot going on, but it’s mostly just my daily routine (ironically which is a routine where I know I have no routine) that makes it difficult to find time to just sit down and write about what that day to day stuff has been. I’m going to do a couple installment posts to catch up to what’s going on now.

So I suppose I should work forward from my last entry chronologically. Well, first and foremost…my dream came true—I got my hair braided! Or ‘les tresses’ as they are called here.


My host family – particularly my host mom and my sister Coumba, were so excited for me to get my hair braided. They invited a friend – Adja- la tresseuse (a woman who braids hair) to braid my hiar. So we ended up starting around 5:00pm, with Coumba assuring me that it would only take a maybe 2-3 hours at the most, so I shouldn’t worry about my plans for that night which were starting at 9:00pm –dinner in town with other students. Adja asked me what I wanted, and I tried to explain to her through hand motions the types of braids that I wanted. Coumba helped me to translate (Adja speaks a little bit of French, but mostly Wolof). So I tried to explain that I wanted medium-sized braids…as she started braiding I remember thinking to myself, judging by what I felt her doing with my hair,“hmm these braids feel really small…” but then I just figured maybe it was my imagination. More than that I figured I have no idea since I’ve only had my hair braided with full braids one other time. My concern with having small braids was that I had heard that it took a long time…one girl’s braids taking 10 hours! So I tried sitting as still as possible and watched tv as she continued. But then after maybe an hour or so, I realized that it definitely wasn’t my imagination, she was braiding tiny braids! These ended up taking us 5 hours (with a stop for dinner). Needless to say I ended up skipping my dinner in town with the other volunteers! All in all, after the rubber bands were put in, I ended up finishing around 11:00pm (so 6 hours in total). But I have to say, the results are amazing! Adja braided these unbelievably tiny braids, and she even braided in a design. My host mom and sister were very pleased and they told me that now I am a true Senegalese woman! People in the street have been stopping me to tell me that I have “jolies tresses” or pretty braids. It’s quite the conversation starter for sure : )

To check out the pics: http://www5.snapfish.com/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=500305026/a=775175026_775175026/otsc=SHR/otsi=SALBlink/COBRAND_NAME=snapfish/

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Madame President Dior Diajne and I have just finished exchanging club banners. I was presented with a banner from Rotary Club Saint-Louis, and in return I presented my host club with a banner from the Edwardsville Rotary Club. Upon my return to the US, I will present this banner to my club. These banners are an important Rotary custom because they represent goodwill and peace--not only between clubs and districts, but also between countries.

Madame President Dior Diajne and I have just finished exchanging club banners. I was presented with a banner from Rotary Club Saint-Louis, and in return I presented my host club with a banner from the Edwardsville Rotary Club. Upon my return to the US, I will present this banner to my club. These banners are an important Rotary custom because they represent goodwill and peace--not only between clubs and districts, but also between countries.

In the past couple weeks, I have hit a couple milestones for my trip as well as for myself.

The first being that I was able to finally make contact with my host Rotary Club!! For those of you new to the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, each scholar is placed in a Rotary District (mine is 9100) and assigned to a ‘host’ club that sort of acts as a Rotary home base. My host club is the Saint-Louis Rotary Club. We are also given specific Rotarians, our host Rotarians, who aid us as much as they can by inviting us to Rotary meetings and helping us to find answers to questions we might have about the District…ie: if there are any Clubs close by and their contact information. I met my host counselor, Madame Khady Ndiaye, about three weeks ago. And just to give you an example of how things go here in Senegal – Rotary Clubs included—I had my initial contact with Madame Ndiaye the same day that I met my club. This meeting all came to fruition in such a Senegalese way: laid back with no worries. For example…I had contacted Madame Ndiaye via email, but hadn’t heard anything back. The phone number I had been given to contact her with wasn’t working or wasn’t turned on, so I finally decided to email her again, but this time including my cell phone number (I should have done this to begin with). A day or so later (Tuesday) I get a call from Madame Ndiaye around 4pm inviting me to the next Saint-Louis Rotary Club meeting. The meeting ends up being that night at 7pm!

Meeting my club for the first time was so nerve-wracking, but ended up being so comfortable! I met the president of the club, President Dior Diajne. She is the owner of one of the hotels on the island of Saint-Louis (I’m going to visit her hotel next week!), right next to the beach. She was very welcoming and even though I couldn’t completely express myself (speaking another language is that much harder when you’re nervous!), she didn’t mind and just let me take my time in asking questions and answering them. The first meeting that I went to was the week after Korite…Tuedsay, the 22nd. It having been a holiday the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before, the Club turnout was a bit low…there were 3 Rotarians and 1 Ambassadorial Scholar present that day. Ha! I can only imagine what my Rotarians in District 6460 are thinking : ) It was so neat though because, again, the Rotarians present just went with it! They understood that Korite (which is a VERY big holiday here) was responsible, and that everyone was probably traveling or with family. Also, I think their might have been a mix-up in time? I couldn’t quite follow perfectly, but I think that they were under the impression that some Rotarians might have thought they were suspending the meeting due to the holiday…but anyway, the next week was more normal and I was able to meet the rest of the Club. And of course, they are all really wonderful!

One reason I can say that they are so wonderful is because I gave a presentation to them that lasted about 10 minutes, in nervous French, and afterward they smiled, clapped and congratulated me! Even in the moments when I knew that I was hard to understand, they continued to smile and follow along. My presentation consisted of introducing myself, my interests and my family. I then continued to describe the United States some, and then went on to give some history and facts about Illinois. I finished by discussing Rotary District 6460 and the Edwardsville Rotary Club. My visual aides were a map of the United States with Illinois highlighted, along with the cities of Springfield, Evanston, Edwardsville St. Louis, MO and the District of Columbia. I also have a photo album that has pictures of my family and friends and some Illinois landmarks. There is also a picture of Illinois with District 6460 outlined. And I’m sure District Governor Larry Thompson will be happy to hear that his likeness is in Saint-Louis, Senegal via a picture I printed from the District 6460 website!

I’m looking forward to working with my club in the next months, and also traveling to meet with some of the clubs in Dakar! Which brings me to my next milestone: October 6th marked month 1 of living in Senegal! It seems to have gone by so fast! Though I don’t know exactly how much my French has improved, I know that I can definitely follow one on one conversations pretty well—something I struggled with a lot when I started here. A lot of phrases are even becoming second nature. For instance, I was having a conversation with someone in Spanish and I kept saying “il y a” instead of “hay” (which means ‘there are/is” in French and Spanish). “Il y a” is a phrase I use a lot in French and “hay” is a word I use a lot in Spanish too, so I kept mixing them up.

Which brings me to what I hope will be my next milestone (we will see…). Within the last year, a group of medical doctors from Spain have set up a clinic here in Saint-Louis. I am learning more about them, but it seems like they have a number of projects that they work on—namely AIDS awareness and Malaria. There name is “Medicos del Mundo.” I am going to see on Monday if I can connect with them and get involved with what they have started. Maybe I’ll be able to connect Rotary Saint-Louis with Medicos del Mundo? On Monday I’m going to talk to the director, so hopefully that will work out! And of course, how cool would that be to be able to practice my Spanish while here in Senegal?! We shall see…

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Desert Lompoul

This weekend we went on a Desert Trip to the Desert Lompol (located in the south of the Saint-Louis region), that lasted from Saturday to Sunday and ends up being one of the highlights of my trip thus far. First of all, this wasn’t a trip where a couple volunteers just decide to go out into the desert and fend for themselves for a night, it was actually veerrry touristy—but totally worth the lack of credibility (you know no one wants to be a tourist). But this weekend I was very happy to be a tourist; we had so much fun! Myself, five other volunteers (including one Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar- Nicholas Boatwright, South Carolina) headed out with our volunteer Co-ordinator at Projects Abroad – Emily Henderson along with our Senegalese guide and driver Musa.

Desert Lompol

It was a great trip—we left from the Projects Abroad Office in Saint-Louis around 10am on Saturday and came back into town on Sunday around 1pm. Our transportation was a truck with seats down the bed of the truck facing outward (I have a pic). Being the toubabs that we are, we couldn’t wait to sit in this unconventional mode of transportation. Our drive was about 3 hours long, and the view was just great! Even in just a three hour drive, the landscape of Senegal changes so much. From being on the Senegal River in Saint-Louis ( a big city) we traveled into slightly more remote routes where there we found a mix of concrete houses (just like in Saint-Louis) along with thatched-roof houses (not that common in Saint-Louis). In leaving the city, we saw desert, forest and what I can best describe as ‘African-prairie’ terrain (I’m sure there’s an official word for this). We ended up in a part of Senegal called, Gandiol. Our Saturday consisted of driving down to the end of the Langue du Barbarie –this is the peninsula that separates Saint-Louis (which is an island) from the ocean. We traveled south on the mainland, and at one point, you could look out across the river and see the peninsula with the waves crashing up on the other side. In total, the Langue de Barbarie stretches 600km. We saw a lot of pine trees planted in this region along the coast. Our guide told us this protects the soil from completely eroding.

After stopping to look out at the Langue de Barbarie, we ended up at the ocean, where we had lunch. Someone compared it to Long Beach seeing as how the ocean was soo far away and the beach was a really long walk to the water. But once you got there, it was well worth the wait and the walk! The water was perfect –lots of waves, but not too strong. And the beach was pretty clean. It was so hard to leave this spot! We made the last leg of our journey traveling by water. And when I say traveling by water, I mean that our driver literally drove down the beach for about an hour or so! We drove so close to the ocean that we literally had the tide touching the wheels of our truck. It was soo cool! And a beautiful view.

When we arrived at our destination –Desert Lompol—we had a couple hours before dinner, so I went for a walk across the dunes with some of the other volunteers. It was dusk so the color of the sand and the setting sun was so beautiful! It was a deep orange color right before the sunset. After a dinner of salad (yes! Real salad!…you would be surprised how many times you go to order a salad and the waiter tells you they don’t have lettuce!), couscous with a meat sauce and vegetables, we sat around until we couldn’t keep our eyes open and then headed to bed. This actually ended up only being like 11pm…but we were so tired!

And I have to describe our living area. We slept in a tent. Not just any tent, but at tent on a raised level with a wood floor. Very spacious and comfortable, and just all around cozy. Our shower, sink and toilet were outside of our tent, surrounded by a three-sided thatched wall structure (my pictures don’t do it justice!). So if you can imagine the tranquility of showering under the stars…Not to mention the fact that there were soooo many stars! I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. You could actually see the milky way that’s how far from the city we were!

The next day we packed up and headed back to Saint-Louis, but not before riding camels!!! This was such an experience! The camels greeted us in the morning after breakfast and we had someone from the lodge lead us on a tour of the dunes. It was amazing! I have never been on a camel before, so this was a definite first for me. They are such funny animals! At one point we were being led at a trotting pace, and I couldn’t help but look around and laugh at how funny we looked all bouncing up and down. And of course whenever a camel objected to something, he let out a long bellow. It’s one of the funniest animal sounds I’ve heard. And our whole tour I couldn’t stop taking pictures! It was just so cool and the view was again, very beautiful!

A great end to a great weekend.

I think I’ve once again managed to write more than I should have, but I’m always thinking of more details and more things to say!

**I uploaded my pictures to snapfish.com this time–it is a lot faster than other photo archive websites–not realizing that people who want to see the pictures have to make accounts? Or at least that’s how it seems…I hope that’s not true, and I don’t really have time to figure it out at the moment. Let me know how it goes!

Update: I’ve heard that there are issues with checking out the pictures (ugh!), so I hope this helps. I’m just going to post the link to the individual albums:

Desert Lompoul


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Coming Soon!

So I’m a post overdue…

but this week I’ll be sharing my first Rotary experiences in Saint-Louis and also my weekend in the desert!

Coming Soon! Desert Pics

Coming Soon! Desert Pics

I hope to have you all updated by Wednesday!

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