Want to give a good present this holiday season? … Be present

I am leaving Sokone in a few short hours and my heart is so full and heavy. I shared so many wonderful memories with my family, co workers and friends and leaving one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

I started anticipating my depart about a week ago and started to feel uneasy. My friend Claire (who I miss dearly and who is having a wonderful internship experience in Mbouro) called me on the phone after I shared my feelings. She said I just have to be present and enjoy every minute of my last week days. So that is exactly what I did. I stopped thinking about how to get back, what to buy before leaving, expenses upon returning to Denver, etc. I even stopped thinking about what I would be doing that afternoon or in a few hours. I have never experienced anything like the power of being present in the moment- it was truly beautiful.

I had a charged week with work and yesterday afternoon we finally finished our volunteer training. Afterwards, everyone was very tired and many started taking naps. I just waited around and I do per usual, enjoyed good company and about an hour later, some coworkers started arranging chairs and setting out glasses. I figured we would be debriefing as per usual and just found the glasses a little out of the ordinary. A few minutes later a car pulls up with a coworker that had stayed at the center and my host mom. When I saw her, I knew they were doing something special for me. I started crying when she came up to greet me (the classic Sénégalese kiss on each cheek) and for the following few hours I could not control my emotions. Every time I tried to stop crying, and saw my host mom wiping her tears, the water works would start all over again. My boss spoke very kindly about me, as did my mom and did my role model Madame Mbow. I cried, I danced, I was thankful, I was joyful, I was present. Tears followed me into the evening and into the night. Being present this last week was a gift to my family and my friends but also a gift for myself. I am leaving only regretting not having received this advice from Claire sooner.

I know I will come back, fate itself told me. Yesterday at our little celebration I met a girl named Mariel. Never in my life had I met another Mariel and this girl did the exact some program as me (had a different family and a different internship- but with the same organization). She came back to Sokone to visit and it made the reality of my promises to come back a lot more real, a lot more genuine. I am sure a lot of students claim to come back but having Mariel actually come back, and arrive the day I was leaving was a sign from destiny- I have to let myself believe that. As I was leaving she said “wow, you are really special” and I knew in my heart I had in fact been impactful in some way in Sokone. I feel like this is my home a little bit after all… (haha here I am completely undermining my last post). I feel so loved and so joyful and it is with a heavy heart and a heavy suit case I am leaving.

Rose: coworkers throwing me a last hoorah!

Thorn: I am leaving a piece of my heart in Sokone

Bud: Seeing what this week in Dakar brings



Life can be tough… but so are you

Studying abroad is a humbling experience. New Zealand, Port Elizabeth, Sénégal, doesn’t matter where; it simply is not easy nor possible without a support system. As much as I appreciate words of affirmation and receiving messages from you all, I am not the toughest one. You know who is tough? My mom! For goodness sake, her youngest daughter crossed the biggest ocean (*don’t fact check this, it is for emphasis purposes) to live amongst the malaria infected mosquito population. You know who else? My sister! She is legitimately changing the world one child at a time. You thought massive insects, heat and no water was bad? Well imagine having the burden of the future of 30+ children on your hands. I am only toughing it out because I have the most phenomenal friends and family members cheering me on and teaching me what bravery really looks like.

For a while there, while living in Dakar, I started considering looking for job in Sénégal after graduation. The comments telling me I was Sénégalese when I wore wax dresses and spoke a little Wolof went straight to my head and I started to think Sénégal could be my home. Funny thing about home, is that I don’t get to choose it after all. Home, is where my family is. As much as a love it here, I don’t think I could go anywhere for an extended period of time without them. Senegal isn’t my country, as much as I thought it could be, I have realized it it is not possible since time is people, my people are in Mexico, California and Colorado. Don’t get me wrong, this experience has deepened my passion for travel and adventure and I have already started planing my backpacking trip this summer, but personally, I couldn’t make a different country my home.

Not much to report from Sokone. I have been working nine hours a day and have also been working weekends. There is just so much to do! Community change is not easy and I am witnessing the start of something incredible. I am also witnessing the start of a, hopefully, soon to be, new NGO! I feel so incredibly blessed to witness great change created by ordinary individuals. My coworkers work non stop, despite my frequent frustrations over inefficiency in the work space and untimeliness, I have never been more proud to be a part of a team. My host family is still wonderful, I know it will be tough saying goodbye in a few short days.

What’s next? Well I will continue working here until December 15th. I will then be going back to Dakar for a week to present my final 20 page report to my peers and professors. I will have a final seminar and a wrap up in the city (the city that hosted me what seems ages ago). On December 23rd I will finally be giving my family the hugs and kisses I missed for 16 weeks.

Rose: I have nothing specific, but rest assured, I feel content most days

Thorn: Work has been exhausting for a week or so, I could really use some rest.

Bud: I will be visiting my host brother’s school on Friday and I am excited to see what else I learn!

***Oh did I forget to complain about the heat this post? Well, I am also excited to announce winter is finally hitting Spokane, the forecast for next week shows temperatures in low 90s!

(read the following in an infomercial voice for your own amusement)

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Slow things down, do not take life for granted, soak in every moment. Disfruta la vida! Pura vida!


the power of positiviTEA

If anyone knows anything about me, they know

A. I am a Colorado granola

B. I really enjoy puns, dad jokes and fun facts

C. I am a sucker for a good cup of tea

I can’t wear my flannels in this heat nor are there are mountains anywhere nearby. I am not advanced enough in Wolof to make any puns, nor do I even know the word for pun in Wolof. That leaves the subject of tea, a subject I could go on about but I will keep it nice and short since I recognize the beauTEA in breviTEA (see what I did there?)

Atayya is one of my favorite cultural traditions here in Senegal. (Here is a link for you to read more about it ) I love ataaya not just for the taste, but for sharing special moments together over a cup (a.k.a a shot of tea… or 3). My host dad and I always get the first shot glasses of each round and my brother Mohammed mocks me for how excited I get when I receive my ataaya. The other day I tried to help him with the preparation… key worshippers is tried because I failed pretty miserably. If you read the link above, you know one of the most important parts of the preparation process is making the foam… this is no easy feat when you have 2 miniature glasses of boiling tea and have terrible aim.

Every household has a bit of a different take on this tradition, here at home, we usually only prepare two rounds. It is amazing how something so simple like tea can bring people together. My lunch break is two hours every day, some may wonderer what one could even do during a break that long. Well, we all get settled in for half an hour, we eat for 20 minutes, we prepare ataaya for at least an hour, shower and head back to work. This hour is passed by talking amongst ourselves or sometimes just sitting together in small talk or silence as a family. I haven’t just bonded with my family over tea, but also with my coworkers. I talked about Ataaya with my boss for easily 25 minutes last week, I am not sure how the topic even came up but at the end of our conversation I earned a few good tips and my very own invitation to join him and his wifi to drink tea. It is funny how the simple things can make us so happy (my blog page is described as “another cliché travel blog” so I feel no need to apologize).

Since we are on the subject of tea, let me share with you the importance of poisitiviTEA. As my mom can attest to, I have had some interesting experiences here. Some of which have made me cry, some of which made me laugh, a lot of which did both simultaneously. I have been surprised by the power of accidental positivity- it must be all your happy thoughts and prayers that are working because I have found myself laughing at some of the moments that could have easily broken me. Truly, thank you for supporting me. I hope I come out of this experience with the same child-like joy during mishaps and times of difficulty. If not, I can at least say I have come to better appreciate the art of being positive.

This is something I can use going going forward. I have gotten a lot of time for silence and reflection and  have realized I am not exactly sure where I will be in a few short months. With graduation around the corner, I find myself preoccupied with worries about the future and with relentless self seeking in the present moment. My intention for this week is to continue with a positive attitude despite the  anxiety of what the future may or may not bring. I challenge you to set an intention for yourself for this week, why wait for the new year?

My updated mantra is kindness and positivity

Rose: I have been journaling every day and do a daily rose, bud and thorn, as I was looking back on my roses for the last week, 90% of them had something to do with spending time with my host family. I could not speak enough wonders about them. Turns out just laying with them, on the ground, after dinner, in the dark, is one of my favorite things to do. Best moment since arriving though was ast Thursday when my sister and mom showed me family albums

Thorn: my mattress/ chunk of foam has gotten pretty flat from my 3 weeks here… it is kinda funny, there is a permanent indent where I curl up. I can’t say it makes for the best nights sleep.

Bud: my professor and Pape are visiting everyone this week at our different internships, I am excited to see a familiar face from Dakar (which feels like ages ago)

Time is people

Happy Thanksgiving from Senegal! It is hard to believe it is the holiday season. Monday we celebrated the birth of the prophet Mohammed (so basically the equivalent of our Christmas) and am starting to get in the holiday season despite the ninety plus degree weather and the lack of decor. Although I still find myself thinking of going home in a few short weeks, I am practicing the value of quality time. Although my days can be repetitive and slow moving, the best moments are always the simple moments with my family: making tea with my host cousin after lunch, getting my hair braided by my sister, eating fruit with my mom, greeting everyone in the office before starting my day, and so on, and so forth.

As lonely as my study abroad experience has been at times, I do have a phenomenal family here. My host dad has insisted on having my family come visit when they get time off work. I am already planning my next visit to Senegal- which is a fault, I should be soaking in every moment rather than being preoccupied future plans that are always subject to change.

Day one in Senegal, my professor told us that time in the states is money and time in Senegal is people. Just the other day, my boss said the exact same thing while we shared a laugh in the car about the impunctuality of senegalese people.

I know this was a short post, and trust me I have a lot of stories to share. Some of them will just have to wait until I see your beautiful faces.Sending all the love and kindness in my heart your way. I hope your thanksgivings are full of joy and gratitude.

I’m sure many of you have questions (i.e. what exactly am I doing for my internship, whats my living situation like, etc.). Since my post was not very hefty content wise; I am, without hesitation, encouraging any question (preferably via WhatsApp). While being here I have learned there is no  such thing as a stupid question.

Rose: the organization I am working with is amazing, my family is so kind and generous, I share lots of laughs, I have finally mastered the art of hand washing undergarments in a sink, I am learning beyond measures, life is good, God is great

Thorn: I can not get used to all the insects here. Where are the insects in the states? The spiders, mosquitos and beetles on this side of the Atlantic are apparently on steroids. I’m cooking up a conspiracy theory, I will keep y’all posted

Bud: It will only be 94 degrees on Friday so thats pretty exciting… (it’s not a blog post if I don’t bring up the heat) But in all reality, I am most looking forward to visiting my brothers’ schools to learn more about the educational system here in Sokone.


beans in the dark to beans after dark

***I wrote this post for last week but did not have the chance to connect to the internet on my laptop until now. I posted it anyways 🙂

I was anxious about coming to Sokone to say the least. I cried a little talking to Clari the night before I packed. In the moment I was convinced it was because I was sick, but in retrospect I was scared and nervous. Our professor was dropping one student off at a time and I became more and more nervous seeing the meager conditions of many of my classmates’ new homes. We dropped off about half of the students in different villages/ towns and my turn had finally arrived. As laughing is my coping mechanism, I was laughing quite bit as we passed the stereotypical African huts on our way to my town.

I arrived, visited my internship location and felt immediately better as my co-workers gave me the kindest, most enthusiastic welcome. I met my host sister who I work with who then walked me home (a.k.a a 2 minute walk around the corner). There, before my eyes, was my absolutely gorgeous and warm host mother with the most welcoming smile. All my worries suddenly dissappeared as I encountered my new home.

Life here in Sokone is very quiet and very peaceful. My host family is absolutely wonderful and they have made my stay here all worthwhile. The day I arrived I introduced myself and my professor asked if I had been given a Senegalese name. In Dakar, my name was Mariama (after Mariama Bâ, an author I am focusing on for my thesis) and my last name my host sister gave me in Dakar was Diène (her fathers’) Ndeye (my host family’s in Dakar). Coincidently enough, my new host family’s last name is also Diène, so my name has not changed whatsoever (well from Dakar to Sokone anyways). It has been so strange responding immediately to the name Mariama Diène, I am not even sure my co workers know my real name… now that I think of it, I don’t think my host family remembers my real name. It is a strange feeling having such an attachment to a name I have only had for a little while now. It is so special to me as it is sort of a rite of passage for us toubab students- getting named.

Life in this small town is not much different from life in Dakar, for me anyways. I got placed with a “notable” family in this town who is very wealthy in this town. They are one of the few families that own a fridge and therefor we often have people from the neighborhood come and drop off food in the fridge for a few days. Eating with my family is one of my favorite parts of each day. My lunch break is from 13:00-15:00 and somehow we use the two hours in their entirety. In those two hours we prepare the meal, eat out of our big bowl as a family on the ground, clean up, and make two rounds of ataaya. We clean up, wash up, and off we are.

Speaking of washing up, the Muslim faith and the culture has made people very conscious about the cleanliness of their bodies. In Dakar, I was surprised that most people showered twice a day. Here in Sokone, three times is the minimum. Showering has become one of my favorite things to do- it helps relieve me from the heat. Nevertheless, I am certain I am using less water with my 3 showers than I was with my 7 minutes showers in Denver. If I remember correctly, one minute in the shower adds up to 2 gallons of water- meaning I was using at least 14 gallons of water taking my 7 minute shower in Denver. Here, we fill up a bucket (probably around 8 gallons) and use that water throughout the entire day. Not going to lie, I thourouly enjoy my bucket shower, it is also quite efficient.

Ask much as I am enjoying my stay here, I find myself thinking more and more about life back in Denver. Having all this time to reflect has made me think about my return quiet a bit. There are very simple things I can’t wait to do. I think about my couch at home with natural light streaming in. I think about sitting at a dinner table with the family. I thinking about making omelets and about events at DU that I miss like beans after dark (Thursday evenings at beans coffee shop, a time to relax and do homework). Its funny because I think of these random things I miss at the most random times. I was reminiscing about beans coffee shop while, oddly enough and coincidentally, I was eating beans for dinner with my host family, on the ground, and in the dark. Soon enough I will transition back to beans after dark from eating beans in the dark.

There is definitely some cognitive dissonance in that I am missing my family, my friends & Colorado but I don’t want to leave Sénégal. I am ready to be home, but I am not ready to leave.

Rose: I can’t speak enough wonders of my host family here in Sokone, nor of my co-workers. They are they ones who are teaching me to value quality time more than ever.

Thorn: my roof is a big tin sheet- this means it makes the house very hot and It sounds like the 4th of July parade every time a few birds decide to land on the roof. I have also been woken up by the sound of lizard scurring across my roof

Bud: I keep thinking of arriving at DIA and giving my mom the biggest hug in the world. (obviously then also Clari and my dad) Its one of those things I keep thinking about.

A classic jinx

Just a few days ago, here I was boasting that I had not been sick. Everyone, including my doctor, was so convinced I would be falling ill in Africa. I treaded carefully my first few weeks but eventually came to think I had a stomach of iron… which I know now is not true. I became quite ill Saturday evening, had just about the worst time Sunday, but thankfully feel much better. That may have been the most short lived illness I have ever had. It is just kind of funny how I jinxed it and got sick immediately after bragging about my stellar immune system.  I am feeling much better and just in time for my internship.

I am leaving tomorrow mornig and am starting to feel very nervous. I dropped Claire off at her internship this weekend and I came to the realization that I will be all alone for 6 weeks (physically anyways because I know you are all with me in spirit). I also found out my host family in Sokone is brand-spanking new Anderson has never hosted anyone in the past which I’m sure will come with a whole set of new challenges. After Claire cried and called me I started to question this experience I got myself into. But, nevertheless, I’m excited to see what I learn from it. Worst comes to worst, I will come out of this experience thanksgil and having grown stronger (and also maybe ready to come home).

I made sure to profit from my last week here in Dakar. I visited many touristic attractions, went to the beach, and enjoyed time with friends and family. Last little anecdote, I was walking home pretty late with Miyo and Lauren when we started mentioning how chilly we were. We weren’t complaining by any means because it was the first time we weren’t drenched in sweat. I felt goosebumps for the first time in a while. I got home curious to know what the temperature was and found out it was 77 degrees. I never thought it would, but my body has adapted (partially anyways) to the climate.

I hope to find a good cybercafe in Sokone to keep you all posted. Send happy thoughts my way, send your prayers and I can’t wait to see you all!

Rose : visiting ile de Madeline

thorn: being sick all weekend

bud: starting my internship with a wonderful organization

Half way through: glass half empty?

Eight weeks in, eight weeks to go-  I am halfway done. Sénégal has given me so much; above all else, it has taught me to appreciate our world, as flawed as it may be. With all the issues in the world we can only learn to be a little more grateful and to worry a little less. If your glass is half empty, you can fill it all the way.

Some of the things I deal with here do not even phase me at this point. I saw the most massive cockroach in my room on Monday night, nothing new. We got out host family placements… well everyone except me… and I just rolled with the punches. I run out of water in the middle of my shower, I am bloated, I am hot, I am sweaty… I am content here because the only thing that can really ruin a day is a negative attitude.

Air quality this past week has not been ideal. There have been a lot of Maboobs from Mauritania and has made it a little difficult to be outside- we were advised against spending too much time outdoors. Coincidentally enough, I did anyways because of finals (which all went well)!!

On Tuesday, I had a field trip for my education track to visit two school. One was a typical, co-ed high school and we go to sit in on an English class which was great. One of the greatest parts of my program is that we get to experience a lot of what we talk about in class. In the evening we visited “l’école de la rue” which was a very different experience. This school was founded by an inspiring Sénégalese man who saw the need of the community. He recognized that a lot of the kids in his community were not able to go to school because their parents did not have the means or resources. He created this school to support children and give them a second chance to succeed in school. The class was tiny and was fun of students who were all different ages (i.e. some 6 year olds and some 10 year olds) and they all spoke different languages as well. Many of the children in this community are immigrants and thus sometimes do not know French (much less Wolof). Seeing this man put so much time and effort into the promotion on equitable education truly inspired me and has made me very excited to work in Sokone to promote education as well.

Friday evening until today has been full of relaxation and repose. Friday night we celebrated Lauren’s birthday and had some cake with her host family then off we were on Saturday morning to Saly for fall break. Our chauffeur was an hour late (which is actually early for Senegalese standards). Our time here has been phenomenal and we will be back in Dakar tomorrow to enjoy the last few days with our friends and family.

Rose: Claire cut my hair, it was a lot shorter than anticipated but it turned out great actually- looks a lot healthier. Also relaxing in our hotel that has air conditioning and not eating a baguette for breakfast every morning.

Thorn: I keep checking the weather in Sokone with hopes that it will be cooler… it is consistently from 98-103 degrees… wish me luck

Bud: getting to visit all the places in Dakar I have yet to see before leaving next Tuesday

P.S. check out the media tab with pictures and descriptions