Meet Burkina

learning & sharing Burkina Faso


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The malaria pill countdown: 46

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In picture: My first ever wedding crashing experience. The reception was beautiful.

1. For Easter weekend, the Catholics in Senegal bring ngalakh to every Muslim household. Ngalakh is a sweet porridge, millet based and then flavored with peanuts and the fruit of baobab trees. They don’t just bring a bowl of it – but a whole pail or two. I ate some at Yama’s house. At my house, however, my mother said that it wasn’t good for Toubabs, that it would make me sick. Maybe she just didn’t want me to fall in love and eat it all, because I might have. Anyway, it’s a nice picture of Christian love being spread to their Muslim neighbors.

2. The first day of my internship my boss told me I was to eat lunch every day with his family. I still can’t get over how wonderful it is going to his house every day, but then I think, well of course, this is Senegal. My boss’s wife is one of my favorite people I’ve met – so easy to talk too, but also lets me fully be me. That means if I’m not in the mood to talk we can just sit quietly and it’s not awkward. Silence is golden would be my first tattoo. My boss’s parents and grand-mother live there too. Four generations living under one roof, and that’s normal here. My boss also has three daughters, aged roughly two, seven, and twelve. The youngest, Khady, is just now starting to warm up to me. Last week Khady was playing outside and fell, cutting her lip and/or gums. At first when she started crying, Mom didn’t even glance away from her cooking. Then Khady screamed, the blood-curdling kind so of course Mom tended to her. But her “tending” was notable for me, including only: 1) a quick hug, where Khady’s mouth blood got all over Mom’s yellow skirt, 2) “Maasa, maasa”, Wolof for “sorry” when someone is feeling pain, while splashing cold water on Khady’s teary face 3) a 100 (18 cents) franc piece. And that was it. Khady’s sister took her by the hand to go spend her 100 francs. On the way out of the house Khady stopped crying, and came back with a bag of Senegalese style Cheetos, and 50 francs in change. She played with her swollen lip all day but made no mention of it. What a tough girl! That’s how they make them here. (Or maybe I’m just a baby, or maybe when I have kids I’ll realize that this is the way most moms respond in this situation.)

3. On Friday night, out of the blue, Yama asked me if I wanted to accompany him to a wedding reception. Um, yes! I went home to get ready, as best I could, although I realize now I should have done better to bring nice outfits (shoes) to wear. It turns out that the woman getting married was Yama’s ex girl-friend which amused me greatly, not sure why. In many ways the reception was similar to an American one. There was dancing, and cake, and lots of pictures, and mostly people just sat around. The guests were dressed to the nines (is that the expression?), and I really didn’t fit in – not that I ever fully could being a Toubab. The bride was stunning and the little girls and boys running around in formal wear killed me, of course. We took home party favors, takeout boxes with all sorts of interesting little foods in them I had never tried. And juice, juice of course.

4. As discussed previously on my blog, the organization I intern with, among other things, coordinates a child sponsorship program. A sponsor from the U.S., France, China, etc. will be partnered with a child to make sure he can get an education. I love being on this side of the situation, interacting with the kids and seeing what they have to go through in order to receive the money. Last week there was a five or so minute episode I will never forget. A boy, probably around the age of eleven or twelve, came in because he had received a sponsor. My co-worker handed him a 2 by 3 inch slip of paper with a name on it: Robert Martin. He asked my co-worker if it was a male or female, and my co-worker turned to me for an answer. “Man”, I said. The student smiled, staring at the name. He started repeating it to himself, with poor pronunciation, quietly, over and over. Eventually when the name had become familiar in his mouth, he started tracing with his finger the careful cursive letters of the name. Again, and again, slowly. I could sense the sheer joy he had inside him. Then he started his first letter. Cher Robert Martin

5. If you have a two lane road, you can comfortably drive three cars wide. But if you add just one more lane to make it three, you can drive five cars wide. Dakar taught me.

6. I’ve started taking my malaria pill every day at dinner because it’s the only meal I eat at home now, usually. Every time I open my pill container I am, for a second, relieved at how many little maroon pills are still in there. I still have that many days, I remind myself. That’s a lot. But then I remember that there’s enough in there to take them every day for a week after I return home. And then I remember that the doctor also sold me five extra. And then I remember that I originally started with two containers. And then I cry.

Learning French: formation, training course (All week co-workers were talking about the upcoming “formation” and I didn’t realize what it was until today when I participated.)

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First day of my internship – finally!

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In picture: Jibi, right before we both got drenched by a huge wave. We had gone to watch the sunset. It was my first Senegalese sunset. Thankfully Jibi is a gentleman so he let me wear his sweater while he froze in his tank.

C’est la vie, Yama often reminds me. That’s life. I’ve been remembering this as I face all sorts of interesting issues.

I finished with my first day on the job at my internship! It’s honestly such a long story, but I’m no longer working at the internship with the prisons that I had originally planned on and was accepted to. To put it simply, and really I don’t know all the information anyway, my boss is very busy and he decided that there isn’t that much I would be able to do besides a lot of reading. I’m thankful for him being honest about that up front so that my internship doesn’t consist of doing just the things I could do from an American library.

After I received the information that I wouldn’t be at that internship, Waly and I talked a lot and he found me another one. But, in my head and heart I had a small little struggle. You see, originally I was to move to a village for my internship. I would absolutely love to experience life in a Senegalese village and greatly improve my Wolof. I know I’m cut out to live that kind of life – I could handle it. However, when the prison internship was on the table I thought that it would be a really interesting experience for me, and perhaps relevant for my future. But that would require me to stay in Dakar. Anyway, I knew that it would be unlikely that I got the prison internship, so I decided that if God wanted me to stay in Dakar and do the prison internship, he would make it happen. If he wanted me to go live in the village and do something there, he could easily make it so that the prison internship wasn’t an option. I asked him to guide me.

But then the prison internship was made an option just long enough so that it was impossible to move to the village, but short enough that it wasn’t going to work out. Perhaps I’m not listening to God close enough and instead am choosing based on my own desires, and not his. Or, contrarily, maybe it was his idea that I don’t do the prison internship, but that I really should stay in Dakar.

Mostly I’m content with how things are now. I’ve always been the kind of person to build my network of relationships deep not wide, (if friends are coins, I prefer 4 quarters to 100 pennies). In that way, I’m excited to strengthen and deepen the relationships I already have in Dakar. So far my internship is great. My boss is phenomenal and the two co-workers I’ve gotten to know are also very patient and nice. Which everyone in Senegal is patient and nice, but they are beyond average. As far as improving my Wolof goes, I have decided that I will do some studying on my own. I love Wolof enough to actually do this, and my main motivation is so that at the dinner table I have new things to tell my mom. She gets a total kick out of any new Wolof phrase I can tell her.  And another thing I’ll miss out on by staying in Dakar, experiencing a new environment, is also tempered by the fact that I work in the part of Dakar called Yoff. Although Yoff is in no way comparable to village life, it is very different from the part of Dakar I live in – Mermoz. In that way, I am experiencing something very new while I pass each day there.

The organization I work with is the Association pour la Promotion Economique, Culturelle et Sociale de Yoff, or APECSY. It’s basically an NGO that strives to promote development while guarding the vibrant Senegalese culture. I’m excited to formulate a stronger opinion about how development and culture interact because it has been one of the most interesting things for me here. I’ve written about it in my journal countless times. For example, I often struggle with eliminating the idea that a lot of culture needs to be lost in order for “development” to arrive. Sometimes I notice things that are cultural and beautiful, but these things aren’t good for promoting development. A few weeks ago Waly told me something that I’ll always remember. Put simply, he said we westerners need to be careful to not “preserve culture for the outsider”. For example, I shouldn’t aim at preserving Senegalese culture because I think it’s a beautiful juxtaposition from American culture. Yes, I wish every westerner could come here and experience Senegal because in so many ways it contains exactly the good things American culture lacks. But it’s not fair for me to want to preserve a culture that isn’t benefitting the people who live in it. If they seek development, moving from a hut to a brick and metal house for example, who am I to say “no, but your hut is so pretty and interesting and I want to stay in it!”

The first day on the job was nice and totally relaxed, lacking the stress that the first day on the job might have for someone in the U.S. I had one task today, and I started and finished it. The NGO does a whole bunch of different things, and I already know that “a typical day at work” won’t exist (yay!). Today I organized a giant stack of papers. The stack contained forms and a photograph of hundreds of children who live in Yoff, between the ages of fresh and about 8 years old, but usually around 4 or 5. I was to create a file folder for each child. Basically this is the situation: each child has a sponsor in the U.S., Canada, France, or China. You’ve seen it – pay X amount of dollars daily or monthly to feed a child or send them to school. My family in the U.S. have done it, but now I’m on the other side. I am meeting those children! The NGO I work with facilitates the program. A few of the sponsored kids were in the office today doing what they need to in order to stay sponsored. They really earn the money that they receive. In their file they have a notebook. They are required to write letters to their sponsor on a regular basis, updating them on their life. If the sponsor writes letters too, that correspondence is kept in their file. Sadly, the Senegalese children would write several letters a year and usually there were no letters back, although notably Brian and Tim were good at writing back to their child. I also cleaned out file folders from kids who had become too old to receive money. One girl specifically had all the letters she had written from 2006 to 2012. She also had several pictures of herself in there, as to keep her sponsor updated on what she looked like. I’m really nervous that my boss is going to throw all those old stacks away. Honestly they aren’t something I should be allowed to browse through, but oh my goodness would it be so interesting.

Another thing in the file folder is a form with information about the children. It entertained me so much! The question that was in the specific position on the page that I could glance and read without appearing like I was reading the forms as I put them in their folders was a question about what they like to do during playtime. The child who was most enthused and adorable in his photo said that his favorite thing was to play with his mom. His family described him as curious. Another boy said that his favorite thing was to play with the sheep. Didn’t contain my grin when I read that one.

The best part of the day was lunch time! My boss told me that each day I am to walk to his house and eat with his family there. (Honestly, what? That is incredibly nice. I will be saving money, eating outstanding food, and have the company of wonderful older women and his three beautiful daughters.) We ate ceebujen, the national dish of Senegal and the most common lunch. It was hands down the best ceebujen I’ve ever eaten here, and I’ve eaten a lot of it. Yama asked me some questions and then explained that it’s because an older woman made it. At my house in Mermoz, our maid cooks it. She can’t be more than twenty or so years old so she hasn’t had years of practice like my boss’s wife. Before lunch, admittedly, I took a long nap on their couch. So did the youngest daughter who is about three. With a two hour lunch break what’s better than a nap and phenomenal ceebujen? I also loved talking to middle aged and older women. Usually it’s only men who want to talk to me.

After work I rode the TATA bus home. It was my first time ever riding one and I did it alone. It was so easy actually, but I had to keep my brain powered up for a while. Yoff is about a 45 minute bus ride from Mermoz. (One thing I still can’t fathom is the huge-ness of Dakar. Guys it’s seriously unbelievably expansive.) I am only familiar with perhaps 4% of Dakar, so traversing a large part of it and having to tell the bus driver when to stop was a little nerve racking. I didn’t know if it would be fifteen minutes or three hours, but I just waited until I saw something I recognized so I could walk the rest of the way home. Then, not progressively but randomly and suddenly, I saw something I recognized – Caesars, a restaurant about five minutes from my house. I stood up and made eye contact with the driver. He stopped and I walked just a couple minutes home where my neighbors and the men that often hang out at my house greeted me with smiles and handshakes. “Peace be you with”, I said, in Arabic, as is necessary. “And also with you.”

Anyway, all is well in my life. The past week I sat around doing a whole lot of nothing as classes were finished but there was trouble getting my internship on the ground running. I’m flexible and didn’t stress out about it. That’s the necessary attitude to have when you’re in “Africa”, but specifically here in Senegal. I think I’ve always harbored the qualities necessary to live a peaceful, stress-free life, but I’m really realizing and cultivating them now. Maybe all of the stressed Americans out there harbor the seeds necessary to live a life of “jamm rekk” but those qualities aren’t withdrawn in western culture. I’m excited to bring my new “do life slowly, be a peaceful presence for all” style back to the U.S. I think I can hold on to it for at least a little while.

Learning Wolof: Lekk naa ba fii, I ate until here. (You must also make a hand motion to show how far you ate until. I make it just under my chin. I’ve been saying this after dinner frequently for the past couple weeks and my mom laughs every time. Still she insists that I eat more but honestly mama I couldn’t if I tried.)


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Spring Break in Saly, Senegal

I spent Spring Break with 3 other American girls – Katherine from Virginia, Tori from Chicago, and Haley from Wisconsin. It was the perfect group to spend a week with…

Saturday, March 14

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Pool at the house we stayed in

Left Dakar and arrived in Saly, Senegal. I was in awe about how gorgeous of a house we were staying at for not too expensive. We had two large bedrooms and bathrooms. (Most importantly, running hot water! Easily one of the best parts of the trip.) We also had a beautiful pool, access to a kitchen for cooking, and an open roof which could have facilitated stargazing but the night we hung out up there wasn’t clear. We met our parents de Saly, a middle aged couple from France who were just old enough to be retired if they wanted to but they were seeking employment. They owned the house and while we were there they mostly left us alone, engaging with us only when they were serving us breakfast, offering us wine, or trying to drive us somewhere they thought we should see. They were amazing. We ate lunch with parents de Saly at a small local joint. For dinner Haley and I split a pizza, my first pizza in Senegal. It did not disappoint. At night, in my journal, I wrote a letter to my Mom (my U.S. mother – yes, complicated now that I have at least three) about how I knew she would love Saly. I gave some compelling reasons why her and Dad should live here.

Sunday, March 15

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Free boat ride on the Rasta Rocket after drinks at Chez Rasta

Our first full day started off with the breakfast of a king, prepared by Mom Saly. It included baguettes of course (but homemade and delicious), jellies, fruit salad with pineapple, apple and grapefruit, some millet yogurt stuff that only I loved, tea, coffee, and juice. Each day she added something new to the breakfast, things like sweet apple bake, milk, whole fruits, Nutella, pancakes. Then we headed to the beach. Mostly we sat just north of Obama Beach, so that we had a more private experience. When we came home parents wanted to take us to the lagoon so we went. Mom used, and taught us, a wonderful line: “Gratuit ou rien”, free or nothing. It was a good line to use with pesky sellers, and it finally got us a free boat ride to Chez Rasta. Chez Rasta was a big but not busy restaurant on the beach decorated (intensely) with all things Rastafarian. Everything was red, green, or yellow, except the blue part of the Brazilian flag painted on our table. Parents ended up paying for our beer (and Tori’s soda), and the bartender gave us free rum. I bought bracelets, parents provided great entertainment, and we made friends with the staff. For dinner after we were home us 4 girls got Asian takeout – a few dollars and very worth it.

Monday, March 16

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A male chief giraffe and several females

Today we went to the Bandia Reserve! I experienced my first ever African safari, and it was as good as or better than you’re imagining. The only thing that could have made it better is if I could have seen lions, but if I were to see lions I might not have seen some of the other animals, which would have been in the pit of Lion’s tummy. We saw all sorts of animals, most of them I can’t even name because there were so many and the tour was in French. Gazelles, hyenas, rhinos, monkeys, birds, crocodiles, zebras, giraffes. There were several different kinds of mammals sort of like gazelles but much bigger and with horns and different patterns on them. The bird life really fascinated me! They were gorgeous. After, we went grocery shopping, ate spaghetti, and had wine and cheese with parents (my first wine and cheese experience with French people). Haley and I shared chickpeas for dinner, surprisingly delicious, and then we all played cards – Rummy – before going to bed. Tori won by a lot.

Tuesday, March 17

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Enjoying a Senegalese beer, Flag, at Chez Rasta

Today the 4 of us took a clando (refer to previous post) to the lagoon and spent more time at Chez Rasta. We got a boat tour of the lagoon and the guide let us off and let us explore by foot. I saw a lot of small aquatic wildlife which was cool. We also spent time on the beach and gathered shells. For dinner we had macaroni and cheese, except Haley who has to be careful with dairy. She had more Asian food. Katherine and Haley and I spent time on the roof. I still can’t get over that house. Beautiful without being excessive.

Wednesday, March 18

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Just a small selection of the hundreds of fish we watched get caught on the beach

Beach day! On the beach we spent awhile talking to four women vendors. At first they were trying to sell us stuff, but their selling mentality broke down just about when I told one of them “Begg naa sa dome”, I want your baby. She untied her son from her back and willingly handed him over, joking about how he was definitely for sale. The women gave us several bracelets as gifts, put some cute braids in our hair, and shared a little bit about their lives. In Senegal I meet and talk with men all the time, but rarely women. It was refreshing. We also got to witness a bunch of men pulling in a huge net with hundreds of fish. For lunch I split an amazing salad with fresh fruit, shrimp, and calamari. Once home, in the evening, Haley and I gathered the courage to go talk to the pool boy at his room. We called him Pool Boy but he also cleans and does landscaping. The garage is divided in half with a wall – on the left is the car, on the right is Pool Boy’s bedroom. He sleeps there every night, and cooks for himself in his room on a little gas cooker. His name is Etienne. All week I had been curious to talk to him but because he was working, it wasn’t necessarily okay for him to engage with us guests. All week I would make eye contact with him and he would smile. He was very easy to talk to, a gentle speaker and patient with our bad French/Wolof. Best part: he is a Christian! I haven’t met very many Christians here, and only just older women. After that, we girls ended up staying up until 5am talking about very controversial subjects. We were already physically drained, but then we had drained ourselves mentally too.

Thursday, March 19

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Disclaimer: photo taken the day before; a large fish market in Mbour, Senegal. We paid a guy to give us a tour/be our body guards as the area can be a little crazy at times.

As always we started with Mom’s breakfast. Then we spent the day at the pool at home. I read more of my book I had been reading all week, Flowers for Algernon. We packed our bags and straightened up our rooms. We said goodbye to them, and then parents, and then Etienne. We took a clando, and then a super cheap taxi (read below), back to Dakar. By the time I was back in Dakar I was ready to be. Spring Break had lasted long enough to be long enough, and short enough to have only fond memories and intact friendships.

Learning Wolof: Liggey you nday, English translation does not exist. This is one of the many main Senegalese cultural values. It basically means that the success of a man is thanks to the work of his mother. I can’t disagree! Thanks Mom, (and Dad), for all you’ve done for me.


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Aventures à Toubacouta

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In picture: Crashing a birthday party in Toubacouta. We danced in the center: wonderful entertainment. Photo Credit: Alia Jeraj

I spent a long weekend in Toubacouta, a village several hours south of Dakar, and it was definitely the most interesting weekend of my entire life, in a good way. I have 14 journal pages which describe my experiences in decent detail, but most of the things were truly unexplainable. This post won’t go into as much detail as my journal notes did, but if you want to hear more about anything mentioned in this post contact me. I would love to talk more about it all.

On Friday morning we visited a small health post. My favorite part was the maternity ward; we got two see two fresh babies. We also visited two schools, one which was a public French-style school, and one that was a Coranic school, where instruction is in Arabic and the children work towards memorizing the Quran. This experience made me really want to live in a village and work in a school for my internship. The children are beyond disciplined and don’t exhaust me in the same way American children do. After lunch we visited a women’s group which takes out microfinance loans (with saddening 20% interest rates). They use the loan money to invest in products to resell. The day was so interesting, but it would only get more interesting from here.

After diner our group had a private show from a professional dance team outdoors at our hotel. (You can’t imagine a typical hotel. Instead, imagine several small huts scattered around between some trees. We ate under a pavilion next to a pool that seemed absolutely never used.) The dancers danced next to the pool and the dozen of us students sat in a line of chairs to watch. I was, by far, the most entertained that I’ve ever been by watching a performance. It was amazing! The dancers were so energetic and talented and beautiful. There was a guy on stilts and in a costume, a man covered in leaves, several men and a woman who ate fire and rubbed fire on themselves. After the dance, the dancers taught us some moves and danced with us. It was a blast. I was so amped up, my blood throbbing inside me. This intense emotion though suddenly fed anxiety instead of excitement.

After the performance, Alia and Hannah and I walked back to Hut 14. When we walked in the door, Alia calmly asked, “What are these bugs doing on my bed?” Just a moment later, I screamed. Then we all did. In our room there were hundreds of bugs. Earwigs. Google image search earwigs and you will see the exact bug that was there, pinchers and all. They were covering the ceiling, all over our mosquito nets, our beds, our pillows. There was probably twenty in my backpack, ten on just a single skirt I had sitting out. Computer, toothbrush, they were everywhere. I ran out calling for Waly. Soon after, Waly, the hotel manager, and a couple other hotel workers were over. They were pretty surprised too, but started getting to work cleaning out the hut. There was no other room for us to take.

After spending close to two hours cleaning, the room looked pretty nice. However, after just five or so minutes, the bugs were back. They were crawling in as quickly as ever, and by the time I was ready to crawl in bed, (it was quite late now), there were several more on the side of my mattress. Honestly, I probably would have been fine going to sleep, even with a few around my bed, but I just kept imagining the worst likely: waking up in the middle of the night and having them everywhere again. All over my mosquito net, falling from the ceiling crack where they were entering still, a parade. Even in the morning, how would be leave our beds? It wasn’t going to work.

Eventually, after seeing that there wasn’t going to be a way to rid Hut 14 of the infestation, Waly (bless his heart) offered us his room. His hut was smaller, but after another thirty or so minutes, we finally had it set up to sleep us three. I’m not sure where Waly slept, but I know it wasn’t in our hut. Not even he was going to put up with those bugs. After all this, Alia and I went to buy some beer for us three. Even though the kitchen was closed, the manager agreed to unlock it and get some. We tipped him well.

We drank our beer slowly and journaled about our crazy day. We let our heart rates settle and our mind formulate coherent thoughts and reflections on the day. Finally we were exhausted, and I’ve never slept better.

That was Friday. Saturday was probably just as exciting, though thankfully ended a little differently. We started the morning by taking a little wooden boat through the mangroves. Let me tell you, I was in utter bliss. For a couple hours I had not a single care in the world. I could have stayed there for days, if not forever. Some of the other students on the boat requested that I stop dragging my feet in the water, but the water was warm and beautiful and I just had to. We were going slowly enough, and there were several strong men on the boat, so it was safe Mom, (and I know if you had been there we would be doing that exact thing together). Later we visited a community radio and a community garden. The community garden was almost as beautiful as the mangroves. The garden itself was organized, healthy, and serene. In fact, I haven’t felt I was in a more perfectly peaceful place since being in Senegal. They were growing all sorts of things there, and it was extremely expansive with a couple large wells. We ate mini tomatoes off the plant, and there were also onions and cabbage and several things I didn’t ask to have identified. Even more beautiful than the physical garden was the community behind it. I’m decently knowledgeable about how the community garden works there, who is in charge of what and how it works, so if you’re interested in hearing more I can tell you.

That night we attended a Senegalese traditional wrestling event. I honestly won’t even try to explain this one. Even pictures couldn’t come close to capturing the experience which was unlike anything that exists in the United States. Combine a steady drum beat and loud singers and hundreds of spectators in a circle among some trees and tall strong Senegalese wrestlers fighting wearing next to nothing and everyone dancing and drama breaking out and prize money and… it was a lot.

The day ended as peacefully as it began. The whole time in Toubacouta we had four Senegalese male students attend the events with us. Some of us students requested that these guys help us find a perfect place to stargaze. They walked us to a cement dock in the middle of nowhere. I’m one hundred percent positive that it was the most beautiful starry sky I’ve ever seen. In a small African village, without much light, without much pollution, without much noise at all, and during the season without many mosquitos… it was perfect. If I spend my first forever in the mangroves I’ll spend my second forever under that sky.

Those were the highlights of the trip. Of course I could mention more monkey interaction and eating ice cream and having deep conversations and playing with babies. But this weekend was only a day ago, and already today I’ve already experienced more things worthy of a blog update. Life for me here never stops and it never slows down, (the biggest irony with the Senegalese slow pace of life). On the contrary, each day it gets more interesting. The learning never ends.

Learning Wolof: kepp coye, earwig (literally translates as ‘penis pincher’… yes.)