Monday, August 1, 2011

Back In Business

Thursday morning I left my sister's swelling pregnant belly to fly to JFK International Airport. I was on my way back to Senegal. The past month I spent my vacation time with family in five different states! We filled our time with weddings, reunions, good food, laughter, and i am happy to say my fair share of dessert. But the time had come for me to trek over the Atlantic back to Senegal, to the beginning of the hot and sticky rainy season. I honestly wasn't that excited about it. To be honest I was in a bit of a funk. Its hard to say goodbye to your family, people who know you and love you despite your obvious failures, knowing that you are going to a place where those types of relationships haven't reached that level yet. So I got on my plane ready to bite back the comfort of home and move on, trying to remember my very real love for Senegal as i went. I spent about 8 hours in the JFK International airport aquainting myself with something that didn't exist when i left for Senegal three years ago, the ipad, or something of that nature. I'm not sure if it was the company i flew with or that every airline does this but there were hundreds of these ipads or "something of that nature" all over. With free internet. And fancy touch screens... This was awe-inspiring to me! Free internet? I dont know how people do that and make money. The world is changing slowly but surely, thats for sure. So what did i do but proceed to send small two to three line emails back and forth with my sister intermitently for about 7 hours straight. I couldn't figure out how to get the chat box to appear and had to settle for the next best thing. It was a good time waster and kept me awake through the long wait. The time came though to get on my plane and go. I'm not sure why i was hesitant, what i was feeling, but I was nervous about going back and experiencing a different culture that was so much a part of me. I began to be at ease when we took off and began to hear conversations in English, Wolof, French, even some Mandinka. Its funny how much being able to understand another person, having the ability to communicate with them, puts you at ease and makes you feel at home. So i endured the 7 hours in the air, slept a little, and made my peace with my time in America this go around. We arrived in Senegal at about 6am and my senses began to wake up to the harsh beauty of Africa. The sticky air telling me the rainy season has begun to trickle its way to the western most tip of the country. Reminding me of the farmers all over the country digging in the wet dirt, planting their crops for this years season, praying for the rains to last and the harvest to be plentiful. The sweet and sour smell of sweat already trickling off of peoples bodies in the wee hours of the morning. The lack of ipads and other technology trends that haven't quite made their way here but will be soon. The inner African spirit i have found that allows you to do pretty much whatever you like despite the rules laid out. (By the way, This is one of the hardest things for some rule-abiding westerners to get over. For them (and me) the obvious disobeying of the rules gets annoying when you grow up in a country ridden with laws and rules for everything.) On the taxi ride home I passed cars with boys hanging on the sides and top, transporting the working class to and from work. I began to catch the hint of smells only Africa seems to give off. The smell of water slowly seeping in the hot red earth as the sun began to rise. The spices used in the flavorful sauces and stews. The smell of incense burned as the country wakes up and begins to put everything in order once again. The sweet smell of tea, the sugar scorched by the red hot coals it had been poured over, the mint lightly steeping. It was a really beautiful thing. All these sights, smells, sounds reminding me I wasn't in a foreign place. I have a history here. So many memories from different places throughout the country. And i thought to myself, what did i have to worry about. I left home to come home.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hope and Peace for the Holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

If anything when I think about christmas and the holidays I think about family. Being close to those you love. Making and keeping sacred certain traditions whether that be decorations, cooking, baking delicious christmas cookies, or playing games. Those things make us, define us, and keep us standing strong on something in this sometimes crazy world of grey. So the ultimate test for me this Christmas was celebrating with people from different states/countries, religions, traditions, and ideologies at a Christmas feast. Bringing together people who aren't family, who don't know one another, and who run the gamut in ideologies. About 30 people from America, Senegal, Korea, Kenya, etc came together to share a meal, games, and Christmas traditions. In some places this would never ever happen. We live in a global world but a global world that is often hyper-segregated. The average small town in Nebraska, say, does not have as many opportunities for experiences like one would have in an international city like Dakar. Albeit being in the Peace Corps I have an upper hand here, but still segregation between volunteers and Senegalese happens all the time. None the less, sharing experiences others from very different backgrounds makes you see hope in the world. Hope that despite the differences people are fighting over, even killing over, we can all come together to eat a meal and celebrate.

I was talking with a Peace Corps employee who is Senegalese about the Senegalese tendency to celebrate any and every holiday they can. Probably 98% of Senegalese are Muslim but even in my tiny community of Maleme Niani out in the bush they open up their days, wallets, and stomachs to celebrate the Christian holidays of Easter and Christmas. When was the last time I, in America, celebrated Eid? Or Rashashana? Or Kwanza? Lets be honest, never, not really. Not saying this is something we need to do, but i think it says something about maybe grace, maybe inclusivity. Maybe it says the Senegalese will do anything for a celebration, which is most likely true, but is that a bad thing? Lets throw off these blankets of safety in our small religious/traditional bubbles and wrap ourselves in differences, differences that can be good, should be welcomed, and will be learned from.

Despite your religion, beliefs, traditions, nationality, May your Christmas or simply your holiday season, wherever you are, find you with a meal, with a family or friends that you love, and a place to lay your head at night in Peace. As the Senegalese say at major holidays, "May God allow us to spend this time together next year" "Amen"

The Scates Family celebrating together at Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

3 months later...

Three months is a long time. Some short bursts of what I've experience since I last posted.

Leaving village. One of the hardest good byes of my life. Had a grand fete with presents, music, drums, and the traditional very oily rice with goat. A great way to end my service. Lots of people I worked with came and talked about our experiences together and we shared many smiles, dances, food, and good music. I left the village followed by an entourage of neighborhood children, close friends, and my family. Lots of tears, but hopefully many returns in the future!

Moving to Dakar. What a transition. Living in a hut with a hole in the ground for my toilet. Taking a bucket bath under the stars. Lighting a candle at night to read from. Children walking into and out of my hut at their own will (definitely not my own). The same lunch and supper pretty much every day. All this to Dakar. The hustle and bustle of city life. Moving to my seventh floor apartment overlooking the ocean. My apartment (no one else lives there) with no kids around or family to walk in whenever. Electricity, indoor plumbing, stove, oven, REFRIDGERATOR!! (this means cold water!). What a shock but how funny it is to just slide into your space, settling into normalcy. The first few nights were shockingly lonely but I came to adjust and am enjoying the space and cooking my own food.

With Dakar comes work. Office job. Very different from the ville. I take public transportation every day which can range from taxi (uber expensive but faster) about 30 min ride to bus (uber cheap but slower) about 1 hour and 15 min to get there not to mention the ride back. Just started getting into the groove of what i would be doing (to see some of it check out the pc senegal website... in food security throughout the country. Met with some representatives of the orgs I will be collaborating with. Then hit the road for my trip to Amerik, how sweet!

Amerik...the land of good and plenty any time every time.
First stop... NYC. Good friend and I shared the same flight and I got to go spend time with his mom in NYC just outside of East Manhattan. We left the airport to get into a taxi and I started talking to the man in French...we're not in Senegal anymore, Jessica. I soon realized as we passed beautiful leaves changing colors, really nice roads, buildings that are sturdy and strong and will last many years (and some that wont) and anything you could want on any street cornor. Wow America, thanks mom for birthing me in this place! Enjoyed chocolates, cookies, bubble bath, a walk/guided tour of the neighborhood, and Times Square at night! It was fabulous! I felt pampered and welcome for my first day.

Second stop...Buffalo NY. The home of my lovely sister and her husband. Road overnight bus and arrived early in downtown buffalo to friendly faces, a warm car, and probably most importantly at that time a warm welcoming bed. It was fun seeing my sisters place, meeting her friends, seeing her life in buffalo (work, school, etc.). Got up to date on Heros (still a few discs left to watch but no worries that will be done before my return) and ate some delicious food with my fair share of goodies and desserts! Was offered my first home in Buffalo by my bro-in-law. Looking forward to moving there as soon as he coughs up the money...

Thirdish stop... the road to Chicago. What i thought would be a 7 hour road trip (thanks to the generous donation of my sisters car) turned into an 11 hour journey! I finally pulled into western suburbs of chicago for pizza, desserts yet again, and friends from college! People having babies, getting changes fast when you aren't around to see it happen slowly.

Fourth... wedding in Minneapolis! Congrats to my cousin and her new hubby. Had a blast dancing the night away with my family and enjoying delicious food and drink! Also, Peace Corps decided to do a mini reunion in MN and four of us volunteers got together to catch up! Great to see them all and great to have time with my family!

Finally to Omaha with a stop at my cousins school in Ames! Motorcycle ride and huge burritos. Life was good. I stayed in Omaha 1 single night and then went to see my sister at her school in central NE!! SO much fun! I wish i was back in school. The learning, the atmosphere, the opportunities and extra-curricular activities. Sister, her friends and I had mexican food and margaritas, drank good coffee, and just chilled. Attended bell choir, choir, band and was SO SO impressed with my sisters abilities! You are so talented kaitskies!

Back to Omaha for lets hear it...2 whole days! And then to CO to see my bro, sis-in-law, and niece as well as friends! It was wonderful! We were so welcomed. Ate delicious food. Played video games and pool. Painted pottery, more good coffee, quality time with my family! Hung out with extended family. Went to boulder and saw more college friends. Had dessert every single night! Whooo what a place!

Finally here I sit in my kitchen in Omaha. We arrived this evening and I am happy to say I will stay in this general vicinity for the next two weeks! What a whirlwind but what a special couple of weeks for me. Thanks to my family and friends for welcoming me in the ways you did. Thanks for opening your homes and beds and cupboards to feed both my stomach and my soul! I appreciate you all so much and am so glad I had the time I did with you.

Looking forward...Tomorrow is TABASKI!! Happy Tabaski everyone. I will be celebrating by giving two school assemblies at my mom's elementary school. We are going to discuss Senegal and the work they did to raise so much money for the school in my village! Selling Bracelets to Making Buildings! Thanks students, teachers, and parents.

The delay of this post will hopefully not be repeated again in the future! My apologies to all who follow!

Happy Tabaski and Thanksgiving to all!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Whats to Come...

As many of you have seen, the school is slowly materializing. I have pictures but no cord to transfer them with at the moment but all in its time. The foundation has been laid, the walls are up, and the roof has arrived! Its surreal knowing all those efforts, all those emails (i'm sorry, yes they were annoying), all of that money has created something that will help with educating students in Maleme Niani. A heartfelt thank you!

Amanda and Kaitlan arrived, survived, and have returned back to USofA after a ten day trip to Senegal! It was a wild ride with some bumps but worth it and I'm so glad my sisters could make a trip halfway across the world. Highlights...

Eating good (and bad) food
Fasting a day of Ramadan
Dancing in the "salon" of the Gory household
Ate goat - process caused amanda to cry
"Henna" done by a very talented senegalese woman
Caught in a massive storm on the beach
Bright blue lips, foam mattresses, red hot coals, three cups of tea, and Rastafarians
Delicious onion sauce
Skin infections
Bug bites
Peanut butter cookies - thanks amanda
How I Met Your Mother
Breaking the fast
Tossing the tshirt
Greetings greetings greetings
Dance/Pool Party
Propositioned to buy someone
Meeting my little brother
Playing yuker in a school hallway as it poured outside
Beignets....realling freaking good beignets
Time spent together! Love you guys!

Whats to some of you know I had been considering what to do after my Peace Corps service. I recently discussed this more with my boss and will be extending my service with the Peace Corps in Dakar. My official position will be entitled "Feed the Future Liason." I will work with PC and other USAID funded organizations collaborating on food security work being done in the country. I am very excited about this change and move! I am also really sad to be leaving my family in Maleme Niani. This position, however, will allow me opportunities to go to the different regions throughout the country and stay in contact with the PC community and host country nationals. Because of this year long commitment I am required to take a month of vacation and visit family friends, etc. So i will be coming home the month of November and would love to spend time with as many people as possible. Please shoot me a note as to where you are, what you are doing, and as far as you know where you will be at this time! I am going to be in my village as much as possible during September but will try and stay connected whenever I can!

I'll be traveling to Thies to help with two trainings for the newest group of volunteers who arrived at the beginning of August. After that I will be finishing up some necessary paperwork and head back to Maleme Niani. I hope this keeps you all updated and answers any questions you might have had!

lots of love to you all!


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tom and Ann Survived and Live to Tell about it...

Raising the walls in Maleme Niani!
The bricks have been made and the walls are going up....Thanks to all who contributed to make this building possible!!

Its coming along with thanks to you all. More updates later and below some memories of a visit from some special Americans.

Who's the white guy ;)??

A Trip of a Lifetime...

A long long time ago W Thomas Scates and Ann Huxtable met not knowing one day they would trek halfway around the globe to spend 17 whole, sometimes painful, mostly always hot days in Senegal, West Africa to visit their daughter. They did it, survived, and here are some highlights of their visit.

5 hour 30 min car ride. 7 passengers crammed into small station wagon and no AC. Tom and Ann were under the assumption it would take 2-3 hours tops....many hours later...whoops

Markets, bargaining, fabric, jewelry, W African "business men"

Not speaking a lick of any language spoken to them other than "peace only" and "hello"

Food food food, including warthog, goat, chicken, calamari, fresh fish...needless to say Jessica has never eaten as much meat in all her time spent in Senegal! Alhamdoulilahi!

Mosquitos-they're coming.

Planting papaya trees with a metal rod and "shovel" (intentional quotes)

Delicious mangos dripping down your face and 3 (actually 2) cups of tea after a pirogue ride on the banks of the Atlantic in St Louis.

Lots and lots of sunny days

Tom seduced by the dancing older women in Maleme Niani...thats right they know how to work their magic, right tom?? ;)

Going to a mall in Dakar....what?!?!

Ann earned her gold star... and still lives!

Ali our amazing tour guide at Ile de Goree!

My Senegalese family meeting my American family. Surreal but very very cool!

Tamba crew Bastille day party with Potager et salade nicoise! Tom made an apple pie. Delicious!

Boats, cars, buses, make shift vans, NGO SUV's, airplanes, donkey carts, feet...transportation of all kinds.

Thanks mom and dad for a wonderful trip. You guys are troopers and it was great having you here! Ask them for stories if you want to hear more!

Monday, June 14, 2010

On the Night of my 25th Birthday...

I write to you from the library of the Tambacounda regional house. There are bugs (very small but present) crawling across the screen because its the beginning of the rainy season and with rain comes life - including the life forms i don't get too excited about. I did come into Tamba to be with other volunteers on my big day and was really glad I got to spend it with them! Tamba is a special place full of people who can take the pressure off sometimes stressful experiences/interactions when you are in a foreign country. In order to celebrate this special day for myself and a special day for many people around the world (no i'm not that into myself, but - Flag day-as if i had to tell you right?) we all sported our favorite flags at an evening with dinner, dessert, and dancing. Of course I supported the motherland Nebraska and drapped myself in a homespun creation rooting on the Big Red! We also had my dad's homemade spaghetti and jello cake. As my sister said to me earlier, "jessica you never sounded more white." And so be it on my 25th year dangit! It feels good to be 25. It feels weird to be 25. Most of all I'm excited for the year to come. I don't know what it will bring, but hope it contains excitement, learning, and and time with friends and family. As far as I know right now Senegal is in my life for another four months. I'm closing out my service, finishing (actually more like starting...woops) some projects and figuring what the heck I want to do after this. Its a little scary, honestly I have no clue what I am going to do, but for now I am choosing not to think about it (maybe thats not the best but its what i can do) and be present, enjoying the moments I have here with people I have grown to love.

With that a HUGE ANNOUNCEMENT!!!! The school room addition project I have been raising funds for has reached its goal! More importantly YOU have helped achieve this sometimes seemingly impossible goal and taken a load off my back and mind! THANK YOU!! I know there are so many requests out there to help people in worse situations than you and I face but from the bottom of my heart I want to thank you for choosing to be a part of this one! Thank you for giving your services through funds. It will make a world of difference in the education these kids receive. I'll keep you updated with photos as we go through the construction process. A shout out to all who helped!!!

Finally big shout outs to others in my life who are celebrating big birthdays on this very monumental flag day. You know who you are (ahem, Amanda, U. Paul, Kevin, am i missing anyone). May you have a wonderful birthday and a enriching year to come! Love you all! More to come later.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Three Thoughts from my Week...

St Thomas McPurry Purrkins the 5th
A new and welcome part of my family.
Decreasing the rodent population one day at a time.
All in a good days work Thomas!
Its been a while since my last post. I've been back and forth between Dakar a few times since then, doing pepiniere work in my village, and having other random meetings. Now I am in Tamba ready to welcome an entirely new group of volunteers to the region. There will be five official "newbies" and they'll be placed throughout the entire region some in new sites some replacing volunteers who recently left. Life goes by quickly (even though sometimes it can be painfully slow) and things change, especially throughout the peace corps community.

So this last week lots of things have happened causing me to think about life in general. Not sure how much they correlate with one another or even how well thought out they are but wanted to get them out because they help describe what i am experiencing but also challenge me to become a better person.

1. Greed. Sometimes, don't get me wrong I live in an impovershed country, I get angry and upset at the people i live with because I feel like and (sometimes rightfully so) think they are greedy. Within my interactions I often get the impression I am looked on as the American, the white, the one with the money who is here to give that money (not in the job description of a Peace corps volunteer) and its easy for me to generalize I am being perceived in that way throughout my community and outside of it. Its the little kids going up to you in a crowd of people to collect money for their local koranic school because you are white and obviously you have more money, its people treating you differently than they would any other person, its the day to day being overcharged for something thats half the price for the average Joe, its a lot of things. In my house I get angry/frustrated because i am always being asked to use my phone because i have credit, or to use my soap, or sugar or random small things. And I sit and I think about all the little things like this that cause me to get mad...... Why am i getting pissed? Why is the asking of something i have or maybe even don't have creating anger in me? I wish i could say its anger at the injustice that I do have those things and others struggle to have them as a luxury. But I dont think thats why. I think I get mad because its an inconvenience to me. I guess I am a little ashamed to write that. Its an inconvenience to me to give someone soap. Thats pretty pathetic when you write it on paper. I mean here I am college degreed, (which by the way my four years of college would probably feed my entire Senegalese family their entire lifetime, I'm not kidding), with the whole world in my hands to do with what I please, and a little bit of soap pisses me off. Maybe instead of pitying those in need I should start pitying myself because I often can't see past my own things to the other sitting right in front of me. I guess i am trying to learn "To he whom much has been given, much is required."

2. Born in the dirt. So we all know the story of Jesus born in the manger among all the animals. A quiet, simple, dirty, maybe even humiliating birth for the Son of God. Yesterday I heard a friend of mine gave birth so I went to visit her knowing i would be leaving for Tamba today. I visited her in her compound. She was in a hut right next to the kitchen hut. It was about 5pm and the heat from the wood burning in the kitchen was seeping through the mud walls into the room where she and the baby were laying. And I found this woman with her newborn sun; she fanning the baby who was wrapped up in colorful fabric. I sat on one bed, she was on the one right across from me, and i held this little thing that earlier that morning had been safe inside its mom's womb. And here it was in my hands, alive, kicking, moving and breathing. And get this, the floor between us was where she had given birth. She, alone in her hut, gave birth to her son with no medical equipment, no coaching, no one to help her catch the baby or what ever medical people do in delivery rooms. It was simple, natural, probably dirty, and 100% completely normal. And i started thinking wow this is crazy. This little baby is having a completely different (maybe less scary and frightening in my opinion) experience than other little babies being born halfway around the world. Coming from America I appreciate and think we have come so far in medical technology but I guess i have an appreciation for just doing a natural human thing, giving birth, without a bunch of bells and whistles. She gave birth to her son, what women have been doing for centuries. Yeah it was in a hut on a dirt floor but you have to admit some pretty great people have started in places like that. I guess I just realized the potential that exists in the people i live and work with. That some great people come from simple beginnings.

3. Joy from the small things. I was joking with my friend the other day who recently got a job with a local health organization. He was talking about being paid for his work and then going and celebrating in Tamba with his first paycheck. I asked him what he would do to celebrate. He told me he would go to the local "convenient" store (usually for toubabs) and buy himself a pineapple pop (i guess you could compare it to fanta but pineapple flavor) a little cake and a Vicco, another beverage that is sold locally kind of like a root beer. I like that. I like that a celebration here can be simply buying a pop/soda. I like that those things haven't become common place, that someone can find pleasure in them. What a huge descrepency between standards of living throughout the world. That would never count as something special to the average westerner. A pop is a drink the average american has every day (am i right? or maybe a starbucks coffee?). I guess what im saying is i don't want to lose the mindset of finding joy in the simple life. I don't want to miss out on the beauty in the small things. I want to be outside on a hot hot day, walk down to the nearest store with friends, with money saved up from working hard, and buy a pop that is icy cold let it slide down my throat and maybe the throats of those I'm with and think, man life is good.