Author: hannahevick

About hannahevick

A Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, West Africa.

Baby Naming Ceremony Videos

I’m back to electricity, but anxious to get back to my village, so here are some short (translate more tolerable to upload) videos of a baby naming ceremony dancing event. My village loves to dance!

Current emotional state: In love with the village Khonk Yoye: the cultivated, rolling landscape. the rhythm of life. the vegetable-laden food. the sweet well water and sweeter foamy tea. cold nights and windy hills. long, isolated runs dodging thorny branches. And most of all, most inexpressibly of all, the people I love here. I can’t imagine leaving.

Feeling bewildered by how lucky my life has turned out to be.


Blog Resurrection!

A new village, a new year, a new blog theme, a new energy!

What better way to start it off than photos?

Senegalese Music and Dancing

Hi Blogworld! Sorry for the absence, I hope to be more dedicated in my updating fromhereonout.

It’s a great opportunity to blog because it is RAINING at this moment! It also happens to be the last day of Ramadan, and you know what that means – Party tomorrow KORITE! Updates and pictures to come.

Until then, I want to talk about Senegalese tunes and moves.

Senegalese people LOVE dancing,  Different ethnic groups have their own styles, but the arena is a drum circle Sabaar that can last until the wee hours of the morning. (Don’t forget to pack your earplugs). I remember the third or fourth day I was in Senegal, we had a drum circle at the training center. At first, I thought people were tricking us. Is that really dancing here!? I asked myself. Once I realized arm-flailing was no joke, I quickly fell in love. Here’s a decent example I found on Youtube, though our Sabaars in Kebemer are more of the sand-floor, basic tent or open sky variety.

Traditional Senegalese drumming married Western pop melodies somewhere along the way and begat Mbalax, a glorious, glorious genre. Here are some of the most popular artists and some of the songs I most frequently hear playing from people’s cell phones, radios, music video TV channels, party speakers, and so on.

Titi in Jigeen Feem

Babacar Seck

Pape Diouf in DIOFIOR

Youssou Ndour  in Xale Bi


Papa Ndiaye Guewel in Ratale – more traditional, less pop

And then, no blogpost about Senegalese music would be complete without a shout out to P Square and Akon (Senegalese!) and Shakira. In my 10 months here, I have heard these songs more than I’ve ever heard anything, I do believe. Oh, and Rihanna. Just Rihanna.

Kebemer Correctional Facility Sanitation Project

Looking for an opportunity to contribute? Here’s one! The good folks at Water Charity have pre-funded a grant to clean up and build septic tanks at Kebemer’s local prison. It’s a huge need, and if you post-fund the whole thing, you get “naming rights.” Finally an opportunity to cross “namesake monument” off your list. Even if it is a sewage tank.

Check it out!

Waitin’ On the Rains

It’s a busy time of year for farmers everywhere in Senegal. Fields are being cleared, seeds gathered, fertilizers bought and fences repaired as we wait on the rains to arrive in Kebemer. In the south of Senegal, they’ve been having fairly regularly rains for a month or two now, but the farther north you go, the more Sahel you get, and there’s not much water in the desert. So for now, we continue to watch the sky, eat madd and mangoes (gotta love the seasonal fruit), and talk to each other about how it’s bound to rain any day now.

Senegal seasons are three: hot, dry; hot, rainy; and cool, dry – in that order. I prefer to not take temperature readings at site, but I’ll say hot season is hot. The kind of hot that makes you want to bucket bathe in warm water anyways just to have it evaporate off you to cool you down. The kind of hot that makes you question the point of drinking water if you sweat it all out in a matter of minutes, and you can’t filter your water as quickly as you drink it. But it’s also the kind of hot that means no one is doing anything for hours during the day, and you get to nap in the shade with friends and family and wake up only to complain about the heat, drink some ice water, and go back to napping. I am lucky, however, that Kebemer is near enough to the coast that nights cool down considerably. Further inland, they brag about temperatures like an occasional 130 F, to give you a reference point. Senegal’s hot, but you adapt.

But that season is winding down, and I’m SO excited to hear rain again. It hasn’t rained since the first week I arrived here, last September. We’ll soon be getting all the year’s rainfall within the next few months. As you know, plants need water to grow, so that also means all large-scale field crop agriculture in Senegal is limited to the rainy season. The five major crops in Senegal are peanuts, millet, rice, corn, beans and sorghum. Rice and corn don’t do well in Kebemer’s area (light, sandy soil. scarce organic matter. 45 meter water table), so farmers grow a lot of peanuts, beans, millet and some sorghum.

Besides agriculture activities, rainy season creates flash flooding issues in some parts of the country, and malaria transmission skyrockets, with standing rainwater creating breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Soil erosion is also a big issue here – with strong, desert winds from the North and water erosion during the rains.

Finally, after the rainy season is over, Senegal starts to cool down beautifully and becomes perfect gardening weather. After the heat 70s? 60s? feel so cold, Senegalese (and me!) don their giant puffy coats like should be worn in Northern Michigan’s dead of winter, and go around talking about how the cold is scary. I love it.

And here’s a picture of a neat tree near my house, to reward you for reading 5 paragraphs about the weather.

A Baobab tree in Kebemer, these guys are slow growing and can be thousands of years old! They also bear tasty fruits that Senegalese women make into little frozen sachet-treats that I buy daily during hot season.

A Baobab tree in Kebemer, these guys are slow growing and can be thousands of years old! They also bear tasty fruits that Senegalese women make into little frozen sachet-treats that I buy daily during hot season.

My Blog Post on the U.S.A.

One-third of my job, goal-wise at least, is Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.The thing is, I’m not sure I had any grasp on what being an American meant to me. There’s nothing like living outside your country as an adult, I guess, to lend a little perspective. So here’s the perspective I’m starting to harbor.

Holy fucking shit, I love the U.S. I love it like I never thought I would. I love it not in spite of, but all the more for the millions of Americans who I disagree with, whose views I find revolting, whose consuming habits I hate and whose lifestyles I’ll never adapt — honestly! It’s the weirdest thing, and it doesn’t make any sense that things I hate would factor in to make me love something more. Regardless, there it is –the fight, the passion, the struggle — the American spirit, to me. And most of all the true diversity – not just diversity of race, religion, sexuality, or a million other identity traits – but the diversity of ideas! The way you can strike up a conversation with anyone on the street, a coffee shop, a bar, a waiting room, and chances are you could find something you two see eye-to-sternum on.

At site, I’m just isolated enough to not know about things when they happen, but connected enough to obsess over them online once I find out. When I was states-side, I’d follow the news pretty regularly but pretty passively, to gather information. Now, I’m invested. When I was still in training, I watched polls and stressed and missed sleep for the election. But since I’ve permanently installed, we’ve had many national tragedies. My more well-connected Senegalese friends started mentioning things they had seen on the news. My vocabulary doesn’t include violent terms (Senegal is unbelievably safe), but I could recognize Connecticut or Boston and that look on their faces. So then I’d rush to find a computer with mounting panic.

For whatever reason (I’ve got some theories), I’ve become very emotional about the news. I mean, with these horrible events, who couldn’t, right? The answer to that would be me, pre-September 2012. Not so much now; now slowly crying with 5 different news tabs open seems pretty normal. My inner worrywart threatens and pleads with the Union in turn, “Don’t you dare go to shit without me!” And in reminder, “I come back fall of 2014, please hold on ‘til then.”

This morning I finished Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs. In it, Jacobs talks about outsourcing worry. He agrees with a girl to a worry swap, in essence: her worrying for him about his book deadline and he for her college application process, and all worrying by extension of the subjects. Brilliant, right? So, I thought through the list of wackiest and most trustworthy people I know to swap with me, but who could handle worrying about the whole future of the U.S.? There’s just too much to think about. So instead, I’m going to attempt to diffuse my worry into your hands, my dear blog readership (assuming you’re still out there). So go on, take your pick of topic. Give Oklahoma some special attention, please. And I’ll try to get some sleep tonight.

I just returned home from a “work” week in Kedougou where I swam in the Gambian river (and later a pool!), ate the best avocados of my life, saw a lot of monkeys, and stressed out over a Peace Corps conspiracy plan involving 3 kinds of fish for the duration of my 104.3 fever. A wind funnel carried away my friend’s bug hut, and IT. WAS. HOT. All in all, a pretty wild place, that Kedougou.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

Talibe – The Begging Kids

Being a Peace Corps volunteer in an urban site, I encounter begging children in the streets every time I walk outside. Senegal is unique among developing countries with the Talibe – village children studying in urban Koranic “boarding” schools and often sent out to the streets to beg. A pillar of Islam is the giving of alms, but besides a ton of Talibe children and the occasional handicapped adult, I really see no other begging in Kebemer. The history behind the Talibe is COMPLICATED, as well as the different types of Tailbe kids and Darra schools, but their presence in Senegal is deeply rooted in the culture. You can check this out for more info, or utliize your google skills to learn more about the fascinating, controversial topic. For this post, I’ll just share my experiences thus far.

When I first arrived in Senegal, I was unsure how to deal with the Talibe, and not much has changed in that regard. Senegalese people tend to ignore them, and I did that for a while. Once that strategy made me feel like a cement chain was pulling my heart down to my bowels, I began engaging them in conversation instead. Some of the kids don’t speak Wolof, though, and some of the little ones are too scared to respond. Not to mention it’s awkward to strike up a conversation with kids after denying them money. I once made the terrible mistake of buying breakfast for about 5 tiny boys on the street, and by the time i was handing it out, I was surrounded by 30 boys of all ages, pushing and yelling. One kid even got cut by my bread knife; it was a nightmare. Everyday, every mistake here is such a learning process. I’m still trying to figure out my role in interacting with the Talibe. Giving them money is a dilemma: do you give the boy change, contributing to the system in place but maybe saving him from a beating from the maribou? Do you give only food, when really he’d rather have a coin to buy candy or meet his daily quota to take back to the school? Or do you give nothing to avoid being singled out as the white woman in the city who always has money to be hit up for?

A month ago, I traveled to Saint Louis to help out with a soccer tournament for Talibe kids. We had different stations set up to teach the kids about hand washing, an organic bug repellent to fight malaria, PC’s favorite plant moringa, and the one I helped with – microgardening. We handed out prizes of soap, toothbrushes, “healthy” moringa beignets (until it became a dangerous riot for food). But the most enjoyable part for me was face, arm, chest painting. After mistakenly painting lions on a few boys, it was made known to me that everyone was really wanting Barcelona soccer emblems. How you confuse lion and a soccer patch is a legitimate question, but I’ve now got mad skill Barce, as well as Real. I put my foot down at Chelsea.

See that white foot? That's me painting faces! This is abnormal for the day, it was usually much more crowded around the bench. Mob-like even.

See that white foot? That’s me painting faces! This is abnormal for the day, it was usually much more crowded around the bench. Mob-like even. [photo cred Lama (BFP) via Hadiel Mohamed]

Finally, this blog is a Peace Corps initiative with information on some awesome projects that some passionate, inspirational volunteers are working on. Really, they are so cool. As for me, I’m following up a project with a Koranic school a PC volunteer before me set up. Yay for gardening! More info in a future post. This is too long.

Frankly, my dear

During training, my fellow volunteers and I sat through a few sessions entitled Vulnerability, Resiliency or some other emotional catchword. Well meaning staff members talked about developing strategies until I wanted to stuff my ears with rice. They passed out papers with sine functions graphs, subnoted with ThePeaceCorpsVolunteer’s predictable emotions at the various times in her service. Amused, I envisioned the process leading up to these graphs, hundreds of volunteers flipping through their journals, hunched down under their mosquito nets, stomachs cramping and sweating through their wrapskirts, plotting relative states of anger and depression from their entries. But that was before I installed at site.

Now if I were brave enough to revisit the angry scrawls through my notebook, I’m sure my graph would not so much undulate as jerk like a seismograph – quakes high up on the Richter scale at that. Nevertheless, I can’t deny the highs and lows of serving in the Peace Corps. Now, though, the lows are frequent and the highs far between. And as it happens, that’s what them graphs were predictin’: that I’d be in the pits right about now. Yet again, Peace Corps knows what it’s talking about.

How to explain what makes living here hard? It’s no one thing so much as the constant push, I think. The mocking and begging children as I walk through the streets, the daily guilt of balancing of time to self and time to Senegal, planning routes to destinations to avoid the manboys who won’t leave me alone (I would rather DIE than marry you), being ignored except when being called upon to Dance, monkey, dance!, and the exhaustion of denying someone my earrings for the sixteenth time that afternoon – all with a smile and a joke, of course…and Wolof is not helping me out. Damn pronouns.

This is the part in the post where I’m supposed to say how all the pain is worth it when I sit under the tree, watching the children play or look up at the stars as goats bleat harmoniously or teach my whole city of 17000 how to properly space tomato plants, and singlehandedly end malnutrition, malaria, and stop the Saharan desert’s expansion…ha.

But I won’t. Because it’s not. Today it’s not. And yesterday it wasn’t. And hopefully tomorrow it might be, but probably not. And instead I leave you with a quote by Elizabeth Lane from Christmas in Connecticut and urge you to cherish the tacos you eat today.

“I’m tired of being pushed around, told what to do, tired of writing your gol-darned articles, dancing to everybody else’s tune, tired of being told whom to marry! In short, I’m tired!”