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... www.pcsenegal.org) 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 married...life 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 come...as 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.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


I can't sleep. So many things are running through my mind. I'm tired but its just one of those nights you try as hard as you can but you just don't get past that brink of wakefullness into what you so wish would be sleep. So here i sit. I was thinking while laying in my bed on the roof of the Tambacounda regional house about the kids, my brothers and sisters, in my village. They are wonderful and annoying, precious and dirty, and i love them. How much i love them was evident to me in random moments throughout the week. The time after time my two year old brother dachaba continued his new favorite game of knocking on my door saying "kon kon" (like knock knock), me saying "entre" (enter), him rushing in with a huge smile on his face ready to dance to my clapping hands. Over and over and over again. It didn't get old. Or the many times my little four year old sister Senne would just come into my room and chat about the random things that were on her mind, that might have just occurred, that she saw maybe a year ago, anything really. The concentration and creativity of my little 6 year old brother Issa drawing with my colored pencils in a batman coloring book (not knowing what it is he is coloring but loving that he can) or creating miniature tam tams in the middle of my compound with sheets of plastic, metal wire, and tin cans. The spontaneity of my little sister Haby who says most things on her mind, is a drama queen, loves to sing and dance and probably has less fear than I do. I could go on. So many times I have wished to bottle little moments up so I can keep them and take them out later. I love them.
I think I love them (the kids and the moments themselves) because they show how present they are, how unafraid they are of what others will think of them, how they aren't trying to prove themselves but are simply being. They love certain things; they dont others; and thats ok. They throw it all out there (literally-I have a lil brother who is naked probably 90% of every day) and aren't assuming of what others will do or say. They just are. And its refreshing and frustrating. I love it but just can't seem to get there myself. I dont know if its me "growing up" and taking on those responsibilities of an adult or me being in a culture I'm not from and still learning about. Or maybe even a step in life I have to accept and move past-but lets hope not.
Those kids and their daily habits and movements are inspirational to me. The everyday turns into something so much more. It helps me to live. It helps me to take a deep breath and relax. It helps me enjoy things like funny faces, little games, random thoughts. And hopefully it continues to change me so I can be more childlike. Funny I spent so much time wanting to grow up to live an independent life. Here it is. And I feel like I tried to live up to what I thought was important because it was important to the culture, the people, the education that I was a part of. Then you see a little kid running around playing with rocks and marbles outside in his birthday suit and you hunger for a little piece of that freedom.
Happy Easter everyone. Take the time to experience a little bit of freedom. Maybe not exactly like my little naked brother but you get the drift.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Successful Weekend

The First Annual Girls Leadership Weekend is over. It was a huge success and we are tired here in Tamba. We invited 12 middle school girls who previously won scholarships through the Peace Corps for the academic year 2009-2010. These girls came from different villages in the region. We began working on this camp about four months ago, brainstorming ideas for how to best encourage the future academic pursuits of young women in senegal! On a whim we decided to invite the Ambassador of the United States who accepted the invitation and said she wanted to spend the entire weekend with us! We had a peace corps employee who is passionate about furthering girls education come and facilitate the entire weekend. She was fabulous and able to really connect with the girls and their parents.

The weekends events consisted of a film showcasing women throughout Senegal discussing their lives and accomplishments/obstacles. It was made by a previous PC volunteer in Senegal and gives voice to many issues facing women growing up in an ever-changing country. Our facilitator led discussions bridging the topics of sexual education, what it means to be a woman, the role of women in the house and how to balance it at school, setting goals and creating action plans for the future, etc. We also put together a panel of women who are professionals in the community. We tried to line up their profession with the different professions girls were interested in. They described their professional pursuits, how they got there, obstacles they have had to overcome, and advice for the girls attending the camp. PC Volunteers led a small group session with the girls in which they talked about who they are today and who they hope to be ten years from now and how they can go from one to the other. We brought all twelve girls to a cyber cafe to learn about computers, the internet, and to set up an email account. All but one of the girls had never used a computer before. They were amazed and excited about all the information they could access and what it meant to have a personal email account. Finally our facilitator discussed and led action plan activities with the girls and their parents.

The entire weekend went better than we could have ever hoped! It was wonderful seeing the girls excited about their future plans and hopes. It felt great to be able to open their eyes to women throughout the region who have gone through and continue to go through discrimination. The networking that was going on was helpful to the girls and also the women who needed the encouragement for what they do on a daily basis! We felt honored to be a part of this experience and really happy with the outcome. We hope this will become an annual camp encouraging young girls throughout the region to stay in school, further their education, and also encourage their parents to understand the importance of education for women throughout senegal.

I will keep you updated on any news stories that come of this. Local radio stations and the bbc were both present as well as Peace Corps employees in charge of writing best practice guides, creating videos, and posting images for events like this. When these things are available I will attach links to this blog so you can see some of the activities we were a part of.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Future for Girls inTamba

Well ladies and gents, I just got back from an Ag-fo conference in Kolda (south) where all the PC Agfo Volunteers met up to talk about trees..riveting :). It was important though and fun to see people you only see about once a year. Now I'm in Tamba and today begins our Girls Leadership Camp. The Tamba volunteers have organized a weekend camp for the twelve girls who won scholarships for the 2009-2010 academic year. They were selected after a long interview and application process. The scholarships are given to help with the cost of education including books and materials, entrance fees, and fees for exams etc. Without help like this it can often be hard for families to send their children to school, especially girls who do a majority of the household labor.
This camp will include a team of panelists selected to match up with future hopes of the 12 scholarship winners, small group activities, an internet tutorial, and more. We are excited and a little overwhelmed because it has become much bigger than we ever thought it would be. On a whim we thought why not invite people like the ambassador of the US, governor, mayor, local tv an radio stations (you know just to get the word out) not thinking they would actually accept! Yikes!
And it all begins tonight at 5pm. So wish us luck. It will be a fun but full weekend and hopefully a memorable experience that might encourage the future learning and dreams of 12 girls throughout our region!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Giving Sight to the Blind

The hot season is here. You know how I know? When I drink a glass of water i immediately start sweating. Your body sweats continuously so that you don't know you are dehydrated until you drink something and water immediately comes out of your pores. How else do I know? While sitting in a room around 10 am I can feel beads of sweat drip down my back, even my legs...thats gross. How about at 10 pm its still topping 95 degrees Farenheidt. Thats hott my friends. But with the hot season, the bugs die, the mosquitos disappear, you sleep under the stars at night, and enjoy the breeze produced from your plastic woven flag you continuously beat against your face hoping for a miraculous breath of cool air instead of just pushing around the already hot o2 molecules. But I'm in Africa (where most people think its pretty hot) and thats the way it is.

This last week I went down to Kedougou (SE corner of Senegal about 230km from Tambacounda) to help with an Eye Clinic. A team of doctors from the Jersey Shore (no not in the TV show I hear so much about over here) have come the past three years to do cataract surgeries, (giving back people their site after taking out the cataract and replacing the spot with a lens) other random procedures like turning eyelashes righside out, and giving out prescription glasses. I helped last year, absolutely loved it, and wanted to return again. The reason PC volunteers are needed is because the team of doctors speak english, a wee bit of french, but no local village language. On the flip side, villagers speak only their local language and maybe un peu de francais quoi. So we PC Volunteers come, get thrown into the chaos of it all, and try to make ourselves understood. It is a bit stressful (stress induced cold sore on mouth for proof) but its so rewarding and really wonderful when you meet a person go through their history, walk with them through a pre-operating talk, go into surgery and watch the doctor perform the procedure, talk with them and their family post-operation, and see that they have gone from being blind to seeing.

Now thats a best case scenario and there were times it didn't turn out as happily. Many people came with diseases or trauma to the eye the doctor couldn't help and we had to relay that to them in a language where you have to be creative trying to explain complicated medical terms. It's scary going in telling someone they will never see again. The people here, however, readily accept reality and move on with their lives. If that is what God has willed for them so be it, they have lived with it for many years and can live with it for many more. They have this ability to be ok despite the hope they might have had for sight.

A huge thanks to the doctors who paid to come over here and are giving their time and their work for no cost for these people. Its a wonderful thing to be a part of and a highly stressful environment they willingly inflict upon themselves! I am really glad i had the opportunity to be a part of it. It is something that has made a lasting impact on the peoples lives as well as the PC volunteers who have helped.

Finally please please keep your sights set on building this school for my family and friends in maleme Niani. We have raised $2,000 so far with about $8,500 left to go!!! Its quite a bit but with your help we can do it. Please tell your church, friends, family, business, work associates, people you meet on the street, club members, work out partners, everyone you can think of about this! A big shout out to the students and faculty who are at the school my mom works in! They have decided to take on this effort with a fundraising adtivity - selling bracelets made in Senegal! Thank you guys so much and please keep up the good work! I appreciate your time and efforts but more importantly this school will exist inchallah (God Willing) only if the money comes in! Let me know if you have any ideas or questions to get these funds here!

Happy Spring!!



Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Maleme Niani Needs Your Help

Have you gone to class in a room made of bamboo? How about a dirt floor? Sounds far away from the typical American classroom right? Well the students of the local college (middle school) in my village work and learn in that environment. Building Schools Building Futures is a project created to help the students in Maleme Niani. There are currently 8 classes, each class containing over 50+ students. Only four permanent concrete classrooms exist, therefore an additional four temporary bamboo/cornstalk classrooms (walls and ceiling) with dirt floors are constructed yearly to account for the overflow. This learning environment is not suitable for the future growth and education of the students in Maleme Niani. Can you please help? My friends and fellow peace corps volunteers in Tambacounda helped me make this video to raise funds for this project. Although in part it is fun and silly, we hope its a meaningful way to spur you and others on to be aware of the inequalities that exist in this world and the needs needing to be filled. A huge thanks to them and also a huge thanks to you for your time and donations! Please follow the links for more information regarding the project and how to donate!

click: donate now (left side of page)
search: scates (my last name)
project number: 685-133
additional search: country: senegal
project name: building schools, building futures

Thursday, January 28, 2010

To Read and be Refreshed

I was laying on my bed one day this week reading from a book containing classic short stories. The first one I read was by E. M. Forster. It really caused me to take a closer look at life and even my work here in Senegal. Its refreshing, raw, and challenging and I would love to see what you think of it. Without further ado, E. M. Forster's "The Other Side of the Hedge."

The Other Side of the Hedge
by E. M. Forster (1911)

MY PEDOMETER TOLD me that I was twenty-five; and, though it is a shocking thing to stop walking, I was so tired that I sat down on a milestone to rest. People outstripped me, jeering as they did so, but I was too apathetic to feel resentful, and even when Miss Eliza Dimbleby, the great educationist, swept past, exhorting me to persevere, I only smiled and raised my hat.
At first I thought I was going to be like my brother, whom I had had to leave by the roadside a year or two round the corner. He had wasted his breath on singing, and his strength on helping others. But I had travelled more wisely, and now it was only the monotony of the highway that oppressed me—dust under foot and brown crackling hedges on either side, ever since I could remember.
And I had already dropped several things—indeed, the road behind was strewn with the things we all had dropped; and the white dust was settling down on them, so that already they looked no better than stones. My muscles were so weary that I could not even bear the weight of those things I still carried. I slid off the milestone into the road, and lay there prostrate, with my face to the great parched hedge, praying that I might give up.
A little puff of air revived me. It seemed to come from the hedge; and, when I opened my eyes, there was a glint of light through the tangle of boughs and dead leaves. The hedge could not be as thick as usual. In my weak, morbid state, I longed to force my way in, and see what was on the other side. No one was in sight, or I should not have dared to try. For we of the road do not admit in conversation that there is another side at all.
I yielded to the temptation, saying to myself that I would come back in a minute. The thorns scratched my face, and I had to use my arms as a shield, depending on my feet alone to push me forward. Halfway through I would have gone back, for in the passage all the things I was carrying were scraped off me, and my clothes were torn. But I was so wedged that return was impossible, and I had to wriggle blindly forward, expecting every moment that my strength would fail me, and that I should perish in the undergrowth.
Suddenly cold water closed round my head, and I seemed sinking down for ever. I had fallen out of the hedge into a deep pool. I rose to the surface at last, crying for help, and I heard someone on the opposite bank laugh and say: “Another!” And then I was twitched out and laid panting on the dry ground.
Even when the water was out of my eyes, I was still dazed, for I had never been in so large a space, nor seen such grass and sunshine. The blue sky was no longer a strip, and beneath it the earth had risen grandly into hills—clean, bare buttresses, with beech trees in their folds, and meadows and clear pools at their feet. But the hills were not high, and there was in the landscape a sense of human occupation—so that one might have called it a park, or garden, if the words did not imply a certain triviality and constraint.
As soon as I got my breath, I turned to my rescuer and said:
“Where does this place lead to?”
“Nowhere, thank the Lord!” said he, and laughed. He was a man of fifty or sixty—just the kind of age we mistrust on the road—but there was no anxiety in his manner, and his voice was that of a boy of eighteen.
“But it must lead somewhere!” I cried, too much surprised at his answer to thank him for saving my life.
“He wants to know where it leads!” he shouted to some men on the hill side, and they laughed back, and waved their caps.
I noticed then that the pool into which I had fallen was really a moat which bent round to the left and to the right, and that the hedge followed it continually. The hedge was green on this side—its roots showed through the clear water, and fish swam about in them—and it was wreathed over with dog-roses and Traveller’s Joy. But it was a barrier, and in a moment I lost all pleasure in the grass, the sky, the trees, the happy men and women, and realized that the place was but a prison, for all its beauty and extent.
We moved away from the boundary, and then followed a path almost parallel to it, across the meadows. I found it difficult walking, for I was always trying to out-distance my companion, and there was no advantage in doing this if the place led nowhere. I had never kept step with anyone since I left my brother.
I amused him by stopping suddenly and saying disconsolately, “This is perfectly terrible. One cannot advance: one cannot progress. Now we of the road—”
“Yes. I know.”
“I was going to say, we advance continually.”
“I know.”
“We are always learning, expanding, developing. Why, even in my short life I have seen a great deal of advance—the Transvaal War, the Fiscal Question, Christian Science, Radium. Here for example—”
I took out my pedometer, but it still marked twenty-five, not a degree more.
“Oh, it’s stopped! I meant to show you. It should have registered all the time I was walking with you. But it makes me only twenty-five.”
“Many things don’t work in here,” he said. “One day a man brought in a Lee-Metford, and that wouldn’t work.”
“The laws of science are universal in their application. It must be the water in the moat that has injured the machinery. In normal conditions everything works. Science and the spirit of emulation—those are the forces that have made us what we are.”
I had to break off and acknowledge the pleasant greetings of people whom we passed. Some of them were singing, some talking, some engaged in gardening, hay-making, or other rudimentary industries. They all seemed happy; and I might have been happy too, if I could have forgotten that the place led nowhere.
I was startled by a young man who came sprinting across our path, took a little fence in fine style, and went tearing over a ploughed field till he plunged into a lake, across which he began to swim. Here was true energy, and I exclaimed: “A cross-country race! Where are the others?”
“There are no others,” my companion replied; and, later on, when we passed some long grass from which came the voice of a girl singing exquisitely to herself, he said again: “There are no others.” I was bewildered at the waste in production, and murmured to myself, “What does it all mean?”
He said: “It means nothing but itself”—and he repeated the words slowly, as if I were a child.
“I understand,” I said quietly, “but I do not agree. Every achievement is worthless unless it is a link in the chain of development. And I must not trespass on your kindness any longer. I must get back somehow to the road, and have my pedometer mended.”
“First, you must see the gates,” he replied, “for we have gates, though we never use them.”
I yielded politely, and before long we reached the moat again, at a point where it was spanned by a bridge. Over the bridge was a big gate, as white as ivory, which was fitted into a gap in the boundary hedge. The gate opened outwards, and I exclaimed in amazement, for from it ran a road—just such a road as I had left—dusty under foot, with brown crackling hedges on either side as far as the eye could reach.
“That’s my road!” I cried.
He shut the gate and said: “But not your part of the road. It is through this gate that humanity went out countless ages ago, when it was first seized with the desire to walk.”
I denied this, observing that the part of the road I myself had left was not more than two miles off. But with the obstinacy of his years he repeated: “It is the same road. This is the beginning, and though it seems to run straight away from us, it doubles so often, that it is never far from our boundary and sometimes touches it.” He stooped down by the moat, and traced on its moist margin an absurd figure like a maze. As we walked back through the meadows, I tried to convince him of his mistake.
“The road sometimes doubles, to be sure, but that is part of our discipline. Who can doubt that its general tendency is onward? To what goal we know not—it may be to some mountain where we shall touch the sky, it may be over precipices into the sea. But that it goes forward—who can doubt that? It is the thought of that that makes us strive to excel, each in his own way, and gives us an impetus which is lacking with you. Now that man who passed us—it’s true that he ran well, and jumped well, and swam well; but we have men who can run better, and men who can jump better, and who can swim better. Specialization has produced results which would surprise you. Similarly, that girl—”
Here I interrupted myself to exclaim: “Good gracious me! I could have sworn it was Miss Eliza Dimbleby over there, with her feet in the fountain!”
He believed that it was.
“Impossible! I left her on the road, and she is due to lecture this evening at Tunbridge Wells. Why, her train leaves Cannon Street in—of course my watch has stopped like everything else. She is the last person to be here.”
“People always are astonished at meeting each other. All kinds come through the hedge, and come at all times—when they are drawing ahead in the race, when they are lagging behind, when they are left for dead. I often stand near the boundary listening to the sounds of the road—you know what they are—and wonder if anyone will turn aside. It is my great happiness to help someone out of the moat, as I helped you. For our country fills up slowly, though it was meant for all mankind.”
“Mankind have other aims,” I said gently, for I thought him well-meaning; “and I must join them.” I bade him good evening, for the sun was declining, and I wished to be on the road by nightfall. To my alarm, he caught hold of me, crying: “You are not to go yet!” I tried to shake him off, for we had no interests in common, and his civility was becoming irksome to me. But for all my struggles the tiresome old man would not let go; and, as wrestling is not my specialty, I was obliged to follow him.
It was true that I could have never found alone the place where I came in, and I hoped that, when I had seen the other sights about which he was worrying, he would take me back to it. But I was determined not to sleep in the country, for I mistrusted it, and the people too, for all their friendliness. Hungry though I was, I would not join them in their evening meals of milk and fruit, and, when they gave me flowers, I flung them away as soon as I could do so unobserved. Already they were lying down for the night like cattle—some out on the bare hillside, others in groups under the beeches. In the light of an orange sunset I hurried on with my unwelcome guide, dead tired, faint for want of food, but murmuring indomitably: “Give me life, with its struggles and victories, with its failures and hatreds, with its deep moral meaning and its unknown goal!”
At last we came to a place where the encircling moat was spanned by another bridge, and where another gate interrupted the line of the boundary hedge. It was different from the first gate; for it was half transparent like horn, and opened inwards. But through it, in the waning light, I saw again just such a road as I had left—monotonous, dusty, with brown crackling hedges on either side, as far as the eye could reach.
I was strangely disquieted at the sight, which seemed to deprive me of all self-control. A man was passing us, returning for the night to the hills, with a scythe over his shoulder and a can of some liquid in his hand. I forgot the destiny of our race. I forgot the road that lay before my eyes, and I sprang at him, wrenched the can out of his hand, and began to drink.
It was nothing stronger than beer, but in my exhausted state it overcame me in a moment. As in a dream, I saw the old man shut the gate, and heard him say: “This is where your road ends, and through this gate humanity—all that is left of it—will come in to us.”
Though my senses were sinking into oblivion, they seemed to expand ere they reached it. They perceived the magic song of nightingales, and the odour of invisible hay, and stars piercing the fading sky. The man whose beer I had stolen lowered me down gently to sleep off its effects, and, as he did so, I saw that he was my brother.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Announcements Announcements Announcements

Shameless plug but worth it! Please check out my newly posted grant through the weblink below. I am currently working on a project to supply Maleme Niani's middle school with two new classrooms. They are currently deficit FOUR classrooms and desperately need the space. I hope to be posting a video here soon showing you the school and meeting some of the people this project will affect. The project is titled "Building Schools Building Futures" and you can find the information using that name or my last name Scates. Please click, take a look, and think about responding! Also pass the word along to family or friends who may be interested in supporting something like this! We need the help! We need your help! More to come in the future!