Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Mega Month

What a whirlwind the past month has been.  After spending a lovely Christmas at the beach with a group of friends, I came back to site and started preparing for a busy month.  Since then, I’ve been on-the-go and changing direction almost every day.  It seems that all of my project work has converged at once over the past few weeks.  I won’t bore you with blow-by-blow details, but here are some of my January highlights:
  • Held a T-shirt making class with my Girls Club (shout outs to my mom and sister for the supplies)
  • Led another round of Safe Zone Training, this time for Volunteers during their in-service training
  • Participated in a 2-day Junior Achievement preparatory training session (this is a worldwide program that “empowers young people to own their economic success”---see http://www.ja.org/ for the US version.)  I’ll be teaching both the high school and elementary school levels of JA classes this year.
  • Attended a 2-day Small Enterprise Development Summit which included sessions on Handicrafts management and Agribusiness, as well as field trips to an Eco-Village, a Food Technology Institute, and a small business administration office in Dakar.
  • Helped coordinate a day-long SeneGAD (Gender & Development) Summit which included talks on HIV/AIDS, working with kids through sports, and presentations from GAD groups visiting from Mali, Guinea, and The Gambia. Also, attended my last SeneGAD Board Meeting and turned over my Communications Coordinator position to two new gals who will now share the title.
  • Participated in two Work Zone Coordinator Meetings to discuss the management of information and project coordination for volunteers in my sub-region.
  • Attended a 2-day All Volunteer Conference where I:
    • participated on a Diversity Panel sharing my experiences being a “Female Volunteer in Senegal” (more specifically, sharing the story of how the police treated me after I was mugged last year);
    • presented a case study on the Gardens of Moringa training I organized with  my friend Andrew last month;
    • demonstrated my Paper Briquette Press during an Appropriate Technology Fair
    •  attended an assortment of interesting sessions on an environmental education club, a school correspondence program, and a beekeeping association in Guinea.
  • Played in the West African Invitational Softball Tournament (affectionately known as WAIST) where Peace Corps regional teams play those from the Marine Corps, the Embassy, USAID, and a number of other ex-pat groups.  By tradition, the Peace Corps teams wear themed costumes which makes it a lot of fun for us. The other teams don’t which makes it less fun for them.
  • Met with the founder of Swahili Imports (http://swahili-imports.com/), a small African arts and handicrafts importer from the lovely Eugene, Oregon, to learn more about the import/export process.  To my delight, not only did I learn a lot, but she was interested in some of Mamadou’s work, so I sent her home with a couple of his wooden plates to show her team.  She’ll be back in a couple of months and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she’ll place an order.
  • Welcomed Jerry McGahan, a beekeeper from Montana, who came to Senegal on a Farmer-to-Farmer grant funded by USAID.  Together, we:
    • met with the president of the Senegalese beekeeping union and with regional representatives of a  Senegalese NGO organization who are working on a localized honey consolidation project;
    • visited with several beekeepers in the Thiès and Fatick regions and inspected their hives;
    • visited with potential beekeepers in the Diourbel region and advised them on how to get started;
    • taught young school kids about the importance of pollination and how bees fit into this process;
    • coordinated a craft project with my Girls Club making and decorating bee sculptures;
    • worked on a training presentation that I will later give to Peace Corps Volunteers interested in supporting beekeepers in their regions.
  • Held my first Junior Achievement class with 35 students and 5 teacher assistants at the local technical high school.
  • Coordinated an Eco-Ecole exposition for a delegation of visiting Scout leaders from Finland and Senegal.
Whew!  ALL of that took place over a three week period. I’m exhausted.  Maybe I should just submit this blog entry as my resume when I return to the states.  "If I'm capable of accomplishing that much in just three weeks (in a foreign language), just think what I can do for you!"

Sunday was my first down day since early January.  There was nothing on my calendar and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.  I made a big pot of vegetable barley soup, started a new knitting project, and lost myself in Pinterst for a couple of hours.  It was just what I needed.

Here are some snapshots of events from the last month.

Newly painted t-shirts!

A rockin' solar powered water pump at an Eco-Village

This light and gas stove are fueled by a methane gas
tank which is fueled by this couple's sheep and cows--so cool!

A pedal-powered machine at the food technology institute

Making paper pulp to show the briquette press
at the Appropriate Technology Fair

Panel discussion on Diversity

Les Francais aka Les Dakarois
(Yes, I'm the Eiffel Tower in the middle)

The lovely ladies who replaced me as SeneGAD Communications Coordinator;
yes, it takes two to fill my shoes ;-)

Abdou Seck's honey stand

The Three Amigos - Me, Abdou, and Jerry in Bandia

Meeting up with some more beekeepers down in the delta region

Inspecting hives in the mangroves

Busy little bees.  Aren't they pretty?

Jerry consulting about honey extraction

Mamadou's hopes of selling his products in the U.S.
just may come to fruition.

Beekeeping lesson at our Eco-Ecole

Making bee sculptures with my Girls Club

Soudou and Ibou planning out a future training garden and apiary.

Now that this crazy month has come to an end, it's got me thinking about how I reacted to it.  One of the benefits of living out in the middle of nowhere on my own is that my experiences often shines a light on my idiosyncrasies.  In my little bubble, it's hard not to notice slight behavior changes and quirks. Lately, because I've had too many things on my plate, my office has become littered with piles of project paperwork and supplies and the bags from my last couple of trips still lay unpacked on my bedroom floor.  Thinking back on my life at home, this rang true there, as well.  The busier and more stressed my work life became the more out of control my living space got and the weaker my coping skills became.  Take for example the mouse that recently died in my office. For days, I smelled it, knew it was there, but couldn't deal with digging through the piles of stuff in my office to find it.  Instead, I lit incense and said I'd get to it later.  This is not just laziness, this is not being able to take on one more thing.  My body also tends to shut down when I'm overloaded.  During the midst of this busy period I had to decide whether or not to make an unplanned trip to Dakar to deal with an inner ear problem I was having.  Making the trip meant cancelling some project plans and inconveniencing other people, so I opted not to go. Luckily, with lots of fluids and decongestants the the problem cleared up on its own.

These glimpses into my personality are a good reminder for me to pay attention to them.  My reactions to stress may not change much, but I can probably do a better job of recognizing the signs and using them as a reminder to stop and take a time-out every once in a while.  Ibou and his friends often comment to me that I work too much.  I used to think that my work habits were just exaggerated in contrast to the many rest periods and breaks they take throughout the day, but maybe there's something more innate to it.  I have to remember that there's nothing wrong with closing the laptop, putting down the reference book, and doing something completely recreational for a bit.  This weekend's date with my knitting needles and soup pot were a good reminder of that.  Self-reflection; it's a good thing.

If you're interested in seeing more recent photos, I've added a few new ones to the Photos tab (see tab at top of blog page).  The most recent ones are Christmas in Popenguine v2.011 and  Highlights from WAIST 2012.  I also added some new photos to the albums entitled: Keur Cheikh Girls Club , Skype Snapshots, and the Tangibly Marking the Passage of Time.

P.S. - I did finally look high and low for the dead mouse and, although I didn't find it (I fear it's in the wall, but thankfully, the smell has faded), this new one was waiting for me under my desk the next time I entered my office.  A sacrificial lamb, of sorts.
Thanks for sending the d-CON, Mom.


  1. Wow, you're amazing, I'm exhausted just reading about all of your work. Quick question, was wondering if the methane gas was derived from the couple's own SHEET or that of their SHEEP? ;-)

    1. ha ha, oops, a little typo there. I better fix that.