Well, it was recently pointed out to me that my blog has not been updated for quite some time. In fact, it has only one entry written a month before I left. So for those of you wondering what I'm up to over here, I can't imagine a source less helpful. And since I'm in a narcissistic mood today, assuming everyone I know is quite concerned with what exactly I've been doing the last year and a half, I'm going to put some effort into updating (or rather, creating) this thing.
We'll start with the basics:
Where am I?
Kaffrine, Senegal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaffrine (As you can see, Wikipedia doesn't know too much about Kaffrine. That link was probably a waste of your time. Sorry.)
Kaffrine is in the "heart of the peanut basin" of Senegal. Flat, hot, and full of farmers. Not unlike the Midwest I suppose. Of course the soil is much sandier here and instead of space-age windmills dotting the landscape, we have ancient baobabs.
I live in a small city of about 35,000 people. Thankfully I have most amenities available to me: a few places with Internet access, electricity (frequent power outages, but electricity nonetheless), and a daily market with a healthy amount of vegetables, fish, and meat.
Kaffrine has one high school, three junior highs, and nine primary schools. There are also plenty of Franco Arab and Koranic school, but I have no idea how many. Several NGOs are active in the Kaffrine area. World Vision is the most prominent; Italian and French organizations are also around.
From what I can tell, there are less than ten "toubabs" (white people) in Kaffrine. So when people see me, they like to point me out. It's sort of like being a living "slug bug!" (or "punch buggy" if you're from the north).
I live with a Senegalese family. I rent two rooms from them, so I have a sort of attached apartment set-up. We eat meals together and hang out in the evenings, but they're pretty good about letting me do my own thing when I want.
The family is quite small for Senegalese standards. The "borom keur" (head of the house) ninety three and still owns and manages the house even though all ten of his children are grown up and live in Dakar. His daughter-in-law lives in the house taking care of him and her children. Her husband lives and works as a teacher in Dakar (this is really common in Senegal as people who can get jobs will take them wherever they can --especially good jobs like teaching).
Kine (my sort-of "host mom") is around 38 and has 4 kids. The oldest, a boy, is 13 and moved to live with his mother's relatives in a different city so he could go to a better school. The other three (ages 11, 7, 5) are all girls. The older two are in school and the youngest one spends most of her time playing up the role of being the baby. I love them all and we get along about as well as I do with my niece and nephew around those ages (meaning that we get annoyed with each other on a regular basis but still generally get along).
Peace Corps Senegal http://www.pcsenegal.org/ has several different sectors: Health, Sustainable Agriculture, Agroforestry, Environmental Education, and Small Enterprise Development. I'm in the SED program which means my work can range from working with Women's groups to find income generating activities, teaching business classes, acting as a business consultant, working with micro finace stuff, teaching computer classes, or pretty much anything I come up with. When I got into the program, it was pretty unstructured meaning you could so whatever projects interested you-- this is, I suppose a result of Peace Corps being a "volunteer" organization: if you let people do what they want, they'll do it well, right?
Peace Corps Senegal begins with a two month training with all the other new volunteers. We had culture lessons, classes on on sector-specific duties, and language classes. The language you learn depends on where in the country you'll be placed. Some people learned a language spoken by pretty much just their village, others Wolof -- the most common language in Senegal, others Pulaar (more common in the rest of West Africa). If you're a Business volunteer and your French isn't up to par when you get into country (guilty!) Peace Corps trains you in that first.
So after two months, I was sent to Kaffrine, where I could figure out how I wanted to spend my next two years. Two volunteers who had been in Kaffrine worked with a group of young women to start a juice and jam business. I was encouraged to help with this project, as they still need help with their end-marketing and financial analysis. So this is where I started, and moved on to other things from there.
That's a basic overview. More detailed project explanations to come...