February was filled to the brim with visitors, conferences, and softball. At the beginning of the month, I went up to Dakar to meet my amazing friend Caitlin and her boyfriend, Danny. After not seeing Caitlin for over a year, it felt surreal to hug her at the Dakar airport. Danny previously lived in the Gambia for a year, working with the law school in Banjul. He and Caitlin planned to spend a week with me in Senegal and then head to the Gambia. When you take into account how horrible transport is in Senegal, a week is not much time, so we had a busy week ahead.
We started off in Dakar visiting Goree Island and eating dinner at a delicious Ethiopian restaurant downtown. Unfortunately, I had amoebas at the time so had no appetite. Due to the amoebas, my 13-hour 7-place ride up to Dakar to meet Caitlin and Danny was one with many stops to run into the bush with an irritable stomach. Thankfully I got on the right medication the day that we left Dakar to head down to Kedougou and started feeling much better. We took a 9 hour 7-place to Tamba, and then another 4-hour 7-place to Kedougou, getting into the regional house at night. After a long day of travel, we decided to relax in Kedougou the following day. We biked to the Gambia River, visited the market, and played Settlers of Catan with some of the other volunteers. It was fun to share the regional house culture with Caitlin and Danny.
The following morning, we squeezed into the back of a 9-place to get to Saraya. We greeted the village and hiked into the bush to see Maimouna’s garden, and Caitlin and Danny spent the night in my hut.
|Danny and Caitlin walking to Maimouna's garden|
|Caitlin and me in Maimouna's garden|
A couple of other volunteers loaned Caitlin and Danny their bikes for a couple of days, so we were able to bike the 30 kilometers to Nafadji the following morning. I forgot to mention the terror of the tsetse flies to them until that morning, and the tstetsies made the ride much more stressful. We biked in the heat while tsetse flies honed in and continually bit each of us. Each bite is a painful sting, and then the bite swells up and itches for days. On previous rides, I’ve thought that if the government could get a hold of them, they would make an excellent torture device. I’m used to them at this point since I bike to Nafadji often, but it wasn’t the best welcome for Caitlin and Danny. I felt bad about how painful the bike ride was, but luckily our time in Nafadji was worth it.
We received a warm welcome in Nafadji, and Fily killed a chicken for our lunch. We blew bubbles with my kids and spent our day hanging out on different people’s compounds. The village chief gave Caitlin and Danny local names, and Mansa, my host sister, was ecstatic to receive a namesake! She danced around with Caitlin and showed off her new namesake to her friends. It was amazing to be able to share my life here with Caitlin. We’ve talked a lot through email and Skype over the past couple of years, but to actually be able to introduce her to my family and friends here and to connect those two worlds was incredible.
We got attacked once again by the tstetse flies on our way back to Saraya, then waited a few hours on the side of the road for a car to Kedougou and finally hitchhiked a ride on the back of a huge truck. Transport on this trip was not comfortable, but Caitlin and Danny were flexible and kept their senses of humor along the way. I think they got a good feel for what day-to-day life is like here. We took some more 7-places the next day up to Kaolack and stayed in a nice hotel with a pool. It was a relief to have a shower and a real mattress, and our celebratory dinner that evening was the perfect way to end the Senegal leg of their trip. I was happy to have been able to spend time with Caitlin and to meet Danny. It was a stressful week, but we had some good laughs along the way, and I feel honored that they traveled all the way to Nafadji to see what my life here is like.
From Kaolack, I continued up to Thies for my Close of Service (COS) conference. I was so happy to see my friends from my training group again since we’re spread out all over the country. During the conference, we reflected upon our services and started thinking about readjusting to living in the US. We have all come such a long way in the past couple of years, and I think we all share the sentiment that if we can do this, we can do anything. I cannot think of one person’s service that has been without challenges, and it was powerful to have all of us sitting in a room together reflecting upon what we have learned. At the conference, I also chose my COS date and will be flying home on April 23rd!
After the conference in Thies, I took a bus to Dakar with my friends to attend the West Africa Invitational Softball Tournament (W.A.I.S.T.). Each Peace Corps Senegal region comes up with a theme for their team, and this year, Kedougou was geriatric. Everyone got into character and had fun yelling at people to get off their lawn. We by far had the best costumes, but we did not win any of our games (maybe that was due to the fact that we were hobbling around the field). I love how Kedougou has such a close-knit group of volunteers, and it was fun to all be together in Dakar.
|Me, LaRocha, and Katie|
|Pat and Chip|
Right after WAIST, the Peacecare team arrived in Dakar, and we headed down to Kedougou for our cryotherapy training. I’ll write more about that in another blog! It’s been a crazy month, and time is passing way too quickly!