Let me start with the good news. I'm in Dakar for my Close of Service conference, which means basically I am finished!! Just a few babies to kiss, kola nuts to hand around, and I am outta here. My village has been talking for months about the going away party (dancing, check. drumming, check.) they are going to throw for me. Don't confuse this with generosity; they'll make me pay for everything. But the thought is there I suppose. I had been envisioning sneaking out at the crack of dawn before the chickens wake up and alert everyone to my presence, but I agree now it's best to have a real ceremony, and it will be nice to hear lots of speeches about how great I am. Not that I really am, but Senegalese are known for their over-the-top flattery. The volunteer before me was an older, retired woman who had lots of personal money and no grandchildren, so when she left she handed out bicycles. BICYCLES. This is what my villagers are assuming they'll get when I leave. However, I will be giving out nuts instead. I intend to get away with this by laughing it off, as everyone keeps talking about what a great sense of humor the Senegalese have. I don't know if they'll give me a going-away present. A volunteer who finished and left when I came to country was telling me that her family tried to give her a goat to take back to America and share with her family. She explained goats aren't allowed on a plane. Her villagers patiently explained that that's why you tie the goat on TOP of the airplane. I don't know what eventually happened to the goat.
So, the bad news. A friend and I were mugged a few weeks ago and my purse was stolen with money, camera, phone, etc. It wasn't the end of the world. But it does mean no more photos on the blog. I need a camera rather badly to take final picture of my village and pictures of my travels to Mali and Morocco, but I intend on being with other Americans most of this time and they've agreed to take photos and give me copies. I know I could have gotten mugged anywhere, but being so close to the end of my service, it sort of pushed me over the edge a little. Silver lining: my host family freaked out when I told them, cried their eyes out (Senegalese are like Chuck Norris. They never cry), and have been cooking me good food and giving me my space ever since. This mugging was actually the only down point to an otherwise fantastic softball EXTRAVAGANZA. Every year for a long weekend 25 softball teams from all over West Africa (mostly Americans, like embassy workers) gather at the American Club in Dakar for a social tournament. Social means beer on the field is ok and you can dress like pirates. There were Peace Corps teams from Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, and Gambia. There is also imported snack food like Doritos and Nerds. I ate about 200 hotdogs. My team, Kaolack Region, did the best of all PC Senegal teams and actually came in 4th overall. No thanks to me, of course, though I did get put in a few times when we were clearly loosing anyway. There was an awards banquet the last night, with raffled prizes. Now, for the whole weekend I practically hadn't seen a single Senegalese person, was eating FunDip, and speaking English. So I was a little shaken out of my false sense of home when at the raffle another PCV won "His Weight in Water." And everyone clapped like mad. Ummm...WHAT? This country is so dry and so poor that even diplomats get excited about the chance to get 150 lbs of free WATER? You had to drive to a warehouse in the suburbs just to pick it up!! What on earth would you DO with all that water?? It's only worth about 12 dollars anyway! In the end though the free Sushi Dinner prize was won by the man who owned the Sushi Dinner restaurant, so he traded for the water.
Well I believe I have my travel plans set, and it looks good. Really good. I'll finish in Senegal April 16th, fly to Bamako, Mali (more exotic to go overland, but that means 3 days in a schoolbus from 1930, sleeping on the side of the road, and getting peed on by goats strapped on top) and spend 10 days exploring the ancient cliff-dwelling Dogon country and Timbuktu. Of course, Mali is huge and basically roadless so once we get there, there'll still be plenty of horrific bus travel/traveling with livestock. Then, fly back to Dakar, and on to Morocco! This is the creme de la creme of the developing world. There's Pizza Hut. As well as beautiful mountains, desert, and beaches, delicious food, camel treks, Arabian spas, exotic music, and lots of things to buy. And it's cheap. I feel like it will be a nice transition to still be in Africa, but enjoy it.
More news to come in the next few days...