Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why do 26 yr old women that will be left unnamed like pillow pals?

How to cut 3 days of travel to 1.5...

Note: I started this post in the airport last Friday. I am finishing it today (Thursday) from my office at The University of The Gambia. To find out how my travel between that time and this time went please continue to read, otherwise do not.

So I heard on Wednesday that I would be headed back to Africa on Friday (Today. Right now. I am actually sitting in DTW starting this post). My trip goes as far as Dakar, with travel to The Gambia still unplanned...

Without much notice I got my stuff together pretty fast and called a few people to let them know I was leaving. I have mixed feeling about all of this, but I know I need to go back for at least a little while. I left so suddenly and still have somewhat of a life there. I’m worried about how everything will go. Oh. Also. It is seriously depressing to move home and do absolutely nothing. I feel like a jerky/poor teenage punk kid. Not cool.

Fri 9:32 AM - Currently sitting in Detroit airport. Woke up at 630AM, got ready, finished packing and said goodbye to my Mother (told her I would not leave until she stopped crying) and bratty Sister (tried to make her cry by hitting her but failed. Ok not really but I wanted to). Dad drove me to the airport, we had some good chats and he made me coffee one last time, and now I am sitting here preparing for the next unknown number of hours of travel.

Fri 9:38 AM - BOARDING first flight... and my sister is being a jerk online. Also just found out that Peace Corps booked me a ticket to depart Dakar at 0055AM on Sunday and arrive into The Gambia at 2AM. Not sure about what airline they booked, or the 20 hour layover I will have in Dakar, or how I will get home at 2AM, but it sounds like I might have some rides waiting. We shall see.

Fri 3:40 PM - Sitting in a Chili's Too and just ordered a margarita. Yum... dinner? We will see how quickly I fall asleep on the plane to Dakar which departs at 550PM. Hellooooooo ambien. I am one classy American. I must say.

My Detroit plane took off with no issues and I made it to sunny Baltimore (that’s a lie bc it was shitty outside) on time. Ate some Potbelly's and tried to memorize as much of the meal as possible to save for later.

Have also started buying as many small items (i.e. candy) that I can fit in the extra small places in my bags. Starting to miss America already.

Also, some of you may have heard about this, BUT if not, I got bangs. They look hot. I was thinking at first that the combination of bangs and sad must look good on me because so many people are checking me out at the airport. Then I realized that I am a 26 year old carrying around a panda pillow pal and they are probably just judging me. Far less sweet. Just wait until I am in Africa introducing the pillow pal punk asses, and NOT sleeping with an African pillow! That’s all I have to say about that.

Yes I did carry this all the way back to Africa. And no, my sister Allen did not buy it for me for Christmas.

Fri 4:08 PM UPDATE on travel from Dakar to Banjul status. Have flight booked on KNOWN airline. Departing at 00:55 Sunday and arriving at 01:55 on Sunday. Hanging out in Dakar from 06:00 Saturday - 00:0 Sunday. Seems like I will be picked up in Dakar and taken to the Dakar transit house and then taken back to the airport and also picked up in Banjul and taken home. Yay! Wish me luck!

Sat 6:28 AM (1:28AM EST) Made it to the Dakar transit house…. But barely. Apparently you need to be on flights to Africa really really early. I showed up at 4:30 for a 5:50 departure and was the last person on the plane. They were literally in the process of taking my bags off the plane. Apparently I had seven minutes left to show up. Who knew?

I did however get to choose where I wanted to sit because the flight was so empty. I got three empty seats right at the front! I read some, ate dinner, passed out for the majority of the flight, woke up with about an hour left and read some more. Overall not bad at all.

Once in Dakar my ride was waiting for me with a sign and I got to the Senegalese transit house in record time. Now I am here and everyone is sleeping and it’s still dark so I might try to sleep some more. I am really gross though so a shower is also possible.

It made me really happy to get off the plane and be back in Africa. Even at 5AM it was 75, humid and smelled like the ocean. Not so terrible.

Hello Dakar Airport (I obv. did not take this as I arrived really really early in the morning)

Sat 6:40 AM Surprised at how happy I am to hear the call to prayer again :] Time to go back to bed.

Sat 11:23 AM Was a hot mess when I woke up. Now showered and clean. Should I go back to sleep?

Note: Some time after writing the last note I dropped my computer at the Dakar PC Office and the screen stopped working!!! I was not happy to say the very least. I now have to connect my computer to an external monitor to see what is going on. I was only able to do this once I got to The Gambia. Everything from this point forward is an accurate reflection of the events in question, but the times might be approximations….

Sat 3:30 PM: Went back to sleep and just woke up again. Time to walk around and look for food.

Sat 7:00 PM: F’ing A I dropped my computer as soon as I land on the only continent where Best Buy does not exist. Can’t think about this right now.

Sat 10:00 PM: Have been reading for hours in the Dakar office. Nobody is here and it is really dark and not sweet. Now waiting for PC to come pick me up and take me to Dakar Airport. I hope they did not forget me….

Sat 12:00 AM: PC got me around 10:30. Dakar airport was a nightmare. How are there so many people awake and at the airport at that time???? Not loading the plane

This is where I got to wait in the airport!! I, however, also did not take this picture. Nobody was this happy.

Sun 4:00 AM: Just arrived to The Gambia!!!! Plane was delayed an hour because the seat assignment software just stopped working and about half the plane could not get through security in time so we had to wait for them. Punks. THEN I got stopped by customs and was stopped by health inspection who wanted to see my WHO card. Bah.

Samanka (my American Toma, which means namesake), also known as Sam the driver, was waiting with a car so I didn’t have to walk home. Yay!

Sun 6:00 AM: Finally showered and going to bed. 1.5 days later I made it back :] Now all I have to do is adjust….

To bring this full circle. I have been back at work the past few days and trying to get everything here in order. Slowly Slowly. Maybe I will even have time for another picture filled post instead of all this boring text!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Come on... You must be kidding... Right???... Right!?!?!

All of the emails below have been copied directly from my University email address, and have not been altered in any way other than to remove names and contact information. These are emails from staff and students only.

Of course these are a few of the more interesting(?) examples... there are definitely some that slip through which are not riddled with errors and religious blessings... but what fun are those to read!?!?

Every email I open has potential to be hilarious, sigh, and/or somewhat sad. Though I must say, I have never received so many blessings in my life, and it doesn't feel to bad. I would almost say that it is very thoughtful. What do you think?


a zillion thanks for them wishes. an acada community is what we are in, hence my wishes would be as academic as possible.

may the good god of academics, (who i imagine must be a heavy weight, high-horsepower professor with an infinite amount of publications and worth his weight in academic gold), guide us in the coming calendar year.

my personal advice to all members of the utg community is to cheat on their fears, break up with their doubts, get engaged to their faith and get married to their dreams. (dont contemplate divorce!)

and always remember this story:

dr. pride said it's impossible.
''it's risky,'' said prof. experience.
prof. reason said it's pointless,
and the heart wispered: ''give it a try.''

try everything try-able in the coming year. my supervisor, (who nearly won a nobel prize in chemistry in 1990), used to tell me that one should learn to be stubborn about what he wants in life.

chemically yours,

Dear Lecturer

am trying to login in the class website but indicates that it found and error. what can i do next



hi miss jaiteh,

was there any lectures last on tuesday 19th october at 2:30-5:30 for cps111? if yes, then what is our faith now, because we surpose to submit our home work 2 and i was not in school on that day. we where told that there was no lectures and just now i saw an email that there should not be lectures from last wednesday to this saturday which is a very big suprise to me.

also in question 4 you ask us to write the name and the mat# of our group members, but you also said if the group submitted their list that means they have answered the question. does that meanes that we should jump question 4 if we have submitted our list, and if it will affect all the group members?

hear from you soon


Wishing you and your entire family a very blessed Tobaski/Eid-UL-Adha! Ndewenati! May Allah forgive us all and continue to shower us with his mercies and bless us with great virtues of deeds. We pray that He continue to bless and uplift The UTG and her community!

Best regards,

Response 1:
Amen!!!! May the divine blessing remain upon the entire UTG and upon all who work and study in this National Institution.
O Lord God almighty, bless and protect The University of The Gambia. In it there may be health, victory over sin, strength, humility, goodness of heart and gentleness, observance of your law and gratefulness to God.

Response 2:
Ameen. May Allah the Almighty accept our prayers and forgive our sins

Response 3:
Amin! I am tempted to think that some of these "prayers" and "sins"
are very academic in nature.

Academically yours,


hello ms jaiteh this is our group project that we manage as group to present. although we did not meet all the requirements because we are not used to such works. but anyway this is our little that we do... and we want to thank you so much for all the knowledge that you inculcate in us in this short period. you are really appreciated. we thank you so much... and we wish you all the best in your endeavors.


hi ms jaiteh,
attached are the three files of our group project. in order to watch the powerpoint presentation, continuously click on every slide to view show. tnx


Dear miss jaiteh,

i want to know if i should come in the morning for my pratical exam at 9am tomorrow morning or not. i wrote my name under 9am shlot. so help me.

my student id number is 12110811



New year as comes, life is short, forgive quickly, love truly. I wish u 12 months of happiness, 52 weeks of fun, 365 days of laughter, 8760 hours of favour, 5256,000 minutes of joy, 31536,000 seconds of success. I wish you the best. May the wind be always at your back, mat the sun shine warm on your face , the raunfall softly on your fields, may Allah give u long life and a amicable newyear I wish u love is the best.

NOTE: In this email I did not hide the name of the sender because the purpose of including this is to highlight the audacity of the female students referenced in the email. Please read my response to the question that Acquah has sent.

Hi Fatou,
There was a student of your class that came to me that she did not do the exmas cuz you said she should not... that was cuz her name was not yet entered for registeration but then it later entered and now she is registerd for the course but did not do the exams.
Her name is XXXXX XXXXX. she said she was in your class. please verify that and we find what to do about that.

My Response:
Hi Acquah,

Thanks for following up with me on this issue. I do remember this discussion and I actually specifically told her that she should come to the exam, even if she was not registered. I would never tell a student not to come to the exam and then let them take it at a later date as that would be very unfair to all other students in the class. Unfortunately it is far too late for her to take any makeup exam (Note to reader: This request came about a month after the exam was given). Did the University let her register for the class after it was already ended or is she registered for next semester? If she is registered for last semester she will not pass the class, and if she is registered for next semester she will need to take it again.



Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Mom Has No Hair!

So my Mother started to lose her hair yesterday from the Radiation treatment she just completed. Her hair was not falling out in small pieces so she decided to take control of the situation and throw a head shaving party this evening... and less than 24 hours later she is bald. Oh my! BUT she looks surprisingly good, which gives me hope for how I will look if I ever decide to bic it. Lets hope that doesnt happen.

Sadly she would not let anyone else shave their heads so it was a solo act, but we all got a chance to help! I think the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy... I know I did!

Thanks for your consideration!!!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What makes Peace Corps hard for you???

I have officially been a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia, West Africa for six months of the typical two year service. Not a ridiculously significant amount of time, but not trivial either. So far my experience has been everything that I expected, and I love it. Almost everyone who has been involved in the Peace Corps says that it is life changing, and after only six months I have to agree. That is the best summary I can give at this point without getting into entirely too much detail.

However, experiences such as this do not come easy or free. Being a Peace Corps volunteer is difficult. You are thrown into a culture that is completely different from your own, in a climate that your body will probably try to reject, away from most things and people you know and love. You miss your friends and family, American food, electricity, easily accessible clean water… the list goes on and on and on. Volunteers have to deal with all of these difficulties and I am no exception.

One difficulty that I did not list above, but have recently had to deal with, is what happens when you have a family crisis? What do you do when something goes wrong with the people you care about most, and you and thousands of miles away? This is pretty much every volunteers worst nightmare. It is something that we all know can happen over the course of two years, but you just hope and pray that it does not happen to you or your family. Unfortunately this is exactly what happened to me and my family only a few weeks ago.

On December 9th my mother went to the hospital because of her persistent neck, shoulder and back pain and on the 14th she was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung cancer. Specifically, she has a type of non small cell lung cancer called Adenocarcinoma, and the cancer has metastasized to several areas of her skeletal system and her brain. She started radiation treatment on December 30th and will start chemotherapy shortly after her radiation treatments are completed next week. The doctors are very hopeful that she will respond well to both the radiation and the chemo, but we will have to wait for at least a month before the results are tested.

She was very upset at the original diagnosis (of course), but is feeling better now that she is receiving treatment. Waiting to do something was probably the worst part for her. The radiation also seems to be helping reduce her neck and back pain slightly and that makes her quite happy, and hopeful. Thus far she has not been sick from the radiation treatments and is not expected to get sick from the chemo either. She is feeling a little fatigued, but for her it has been manageable. Also, all of her friends, family and co-workers have been extremely supportive and I think this has had a large impact.

The worst week and a half I have spent in The Gambia was after her diagnosis and before I flew back to America. Trying to decide when to come back, and finding the an affordable way to travel from Africa to America with only a few days notice, is not anywhere close to my definition of fun. In the end it worked out and I have been in America since December 21st.

Now the big decision is "What is next?"… I am scheduled to return to The Gambia on January 14th, and the new academic semester starts shortly thereafter. I am still planning to take that flight back, but I don’t know what will happen in the long run. We are in another waiting period before we know how she is reacting to the treatment and I have commitments, and a lot left to learn, in The Gambia. I also have a year and a half left in my service and that seems like so much longer than it used to.

I am writing this blog for several reasons. First is to let people know what is going on with my mother. Second is to let friends and family know what is happening with my situation and my Peace Corps service. And lastly I am writing this to offer an additional perspective on the Peace Corps experience for current and prospective Peace Corps volunteers. My intention is not to deter future volunteers, or to scare current volunteers, but instead to possibly give additional consideration to situations such as mine, and to offer some small sort of support.

Situations like this, and worse, have happened to past volunteers and will happen to other volunteers in the future. Sadly it is inevitable. It is not something that we can change, but it is something we can handle. The hardest question is how do you handle it and, like I said before, what do you do next? For now I do not have the answer to these questions, but I’ll try to keep you posted…

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holy God America is Cold!

As you may have noticed, or heard, I am in America for a short time. Trip length December 12st to January 15th or sometime close to that hopefully.

When in Africa we all talk about what we miss, what we want to eat right now and what we will do first when we get back to America. I am writing this blog to remind me, and maybe a few other people, of a few of the not so amazing things that we left behind. Maybe this will also help to make the holidays away a little better.


1) It is SO SO cold and my feet do NOT like sneakers anymore.

Stephen is sporting the latest winter fashion trend to sweep Michigan. As many layers as possible...

2) As soon as I got off the plane my skirt was already sticking to my legs from static. I couldn't wear my hair down in The Gambia because of my sweat and I can't in America because of the static. Nothing has changed.

3) My nose hurts and my lips are so chapped from the dry weather. My Dad had to buy a humidifier because it is too dry for me to sleep :(

4) It may only cost $0.02 to skype America from The Gambia, but it costs $0.45 to skype The Gambia from America. Totally not fair.

5) My Starbucks, although delicious, cost > $5.00 at JFK airport. WTF.

These Starbucks drinks were not quite as much, but that is because it is Michigan

6) There are about 5 hours of sunlight in the day, if we are lucky.

7) Texting is NOT free

8) Commercials are SO loud

9) You HAVE to drive and taxis cost way more than 5 dalasi or are not available in the Michigan country. What this means is that all those drinks you wanted to try are not so easily available :(

Don't get me wrong America it is pretty awesome, but when you are really sad think twice about all the not so amazing things you left behind. Maybe it will help. Mostly I wanted to vent.

I also took some pictures to help you remember:

And lastly, this is my friend Stephen posing for a depressing Michigan weather picture. He was pretty sad that the sun had been missing for several days now.

Brikama to Dakar. Easy as a very complex pecan pie.

Soooooo…. You want to travel from The Gambia to Dakar? For one reason or another I have gone back to The Americas and because it is WAY to expensive to travel directly from Banul I booked a ticket out of Dakar. Here is a step by step of the awesome, very short and very comfortable journey…

PS I found out at the airport that you might be able to get a ticket to fly from Banjul to Dakar for $80 - $100 USD so if you don't like the outline below then consider this option.

Trip Itinerary: From Brikama, The Gambia to Hotel Du Phare, Dakar, Senegal
Total Time: 530AM to 3PM
Cost: Approximately $20USD, 10,000 XOF or 550 dalasi
Modes of transportation: 6

Exchange Rates (you will never actually get these of course):
1 USD = 497 XOF
1 Dalasi =18 XOF
1 USD = 28 Dalasi

General Costs (Just what I saw quick fast):
Food: 2500 – 4000 XOF
Nice Dinner: 6000 – 10000 XOF
Local Beer: 2500 XOF
Shot of Alcohol: 3000 – 4000 XOF
Juice: 2000 XOF

Step 1: Exchange your dalasi to XOF. If you decide to do this at the border KNOW how much you should get back and triple check your money. It is a notoriously terrible spot to exchange money. You will not get a good deal to begin with and they will probably try to steal some anyway.

As an alternative I would suggest asking Alpha for the number of the guy that he knows who will exchange for you. I got a rate of 3,000 dalasi for 50,000 XOF. The guy was able to meet on Kairaba about a ten minute walk from the office right after we called him. Very convenient.

Step 2: Wake up at 530AM. Drink copious amounts of coffee, get ready and finish packing

Step 3: Leave house at 6AM. Walk to road where gele will pass. Get ride to Ferry terminal. It was free more me to get to the ferry terminal in Banjul, but usually you will need to take a gele which is around 8 – 18 dalasi depending on where you start (Brikama vs. Fajara)

Step 4: Take the first ferry from Banjul to Barra (unless you are already on the north bank of course)! The first ferry is at 7AM and can take anywhere from 1 – 2 hours to cross. Cost is 10 dalasi.

Still dark upon ferry departure:

Step 5: Look for ferry cakes on your walk to the Barra car park. Find a gele going to the border. Gele cost is 30 dalasi. My big backpack may have been 10 more dalasi.

Step 6: Drop at the border, eat a bean sandwich and get a departure stamp from The Gambia (I never got a stamp in my passport when I arrived to The Gambia so this was a small issue. Eventually they just gave me a departure stamp and let me cross). Cost is nothing

Step 7: Get an entry stamp into Senegal. Easy. Cost is nothing.

Step 8: Approx time is now 10AM. Grab a donkey cart to the Senegal car park. Cost is 5 dalasi each person. MUCH cheaper than a taxi or a scooter. Avoid these and go for the donkeys. Promise.

Sweet Donkey Cart Ride:

Step 9: In the car park get a “set-plas” headed to Dakar (this is a car that goes from one point to another without stopping so it is much faster. It fits about seven people). Cost is 6000 XOF and my big bag was 1000 XOF additional.

Note: For an additional 1000 XOF you might be able to buy the front seat. TOTALLY worth it. I got stuck in the middle in the back and was curled in a small ball the whole time. I was literally almost crying by the time we arrived because my but hurt so badly.

See how crunched I am!:

SOME people can read in the car... others cannot :(

Step 10: Sit in “set-plas” forever. We finally left the car park around 1030. It was still a little chilly because it was December, but by the end I was a puddle of sweat as usual. The first part of the road is ok, but it quickly disappears. There are a ton of pot holes and swerving and eventually the road turns to some strange dirt path. This lasts for about 45minutes and there is a TON of dust. After the dirt path the road magically appears once more and is pretty ok from that point forward.

Awesome road that did not make my dusty AT ALL:

Warning: There are a lot of police stops but they didn’t actually stop to let us out at all. I had to ask to pull over and pee so watch out for this. I hear that sometimes they let you out in Kaolack, but not during my trip.

Also, at some points people will start putting rolls, tangerines, lemons and other goods through the windows to sell. These are all 200 to 500 XOF for a bag and the rolls are delicious. You will need food at some point.

Step 11: Arrival to Dakar’s Banjul car park at 230PM (There are a lot of car parks so make sure you know where to get out. We took it all the way into Dakar and got out at the last car park.). There will be a few taxis sitting by the road and they started at 6,000 XOF to take us to the Hostel. Ha! We got them down to 3,000 XOF but just ended up walking across the main road and flagging a taxi down who agreed to 2,500 XOF right away (still prob too much but when you are so tired who cares).

Two notes:

One – Change is still a problem. Try to get change and never expect any taxi for person walking around selling food to have it. Eventually they will just take all your money. Also if you spent a lot of time bargaining and don’t have proper change the taxi may just not give you your change and tell you to get out. At this point you are screwed. Don’t put your luggage in the trunk if you can help it. This does not help your situation.

Two – Very few people speak English. French or Wolof helps a ton.

Step 12: Know where your hotel is and be able to convey this information to the taxi driver (i.e. street, neighborhood, main roads, etc). Arrival at hotel around 3PM. Took almost an hour to check in. First order of business was to wash layers of red dust of self and personal possessions. Second order of business to nap.

On the way to the hotel. Looks a little like a war zone:

Yay! Made it to the hotel finally. Clean and cute. About $20 per person for a private room with a shared bathroom.

Sweet roof deck:

Sad Baobob tree :(

Walking down the Cornish:

Yes my friends we are still in Africa. A taxi passing a donkey cart on the main highway with some billowing black smoke in the background. So safe.

The Senegalese coast:

O. M. G. A supermarket!!! I view this a stepping stone on my trip back to America. It softened the blow.

Got to love all the African barbies.... of wait... they are all white. So weird. Hello business opportunity.

Dinner on the roof deck. Brie. Salami. Crackers. Mimosas with mango juice. Amazing.