So, How Was Your Day?
Leftover spaghetti sandwich with mayonnaise on white machine bread. Coffee.
Ceebu jen (rice and fish).
I usually sleep through the first call to prayer, but today, it woke me up. It blasts from the mosque at sunrise, which these days, is a bit before 7:00 a.m. All I can think about is coffee when I wake up so I brew a cup in my travel french press and sip it outside. Once I’m energized, I hop on my bike and head to the high school to meet with my co-teacher about an entrepreneurship class we’re leading next week. On my way, I stop at my favorite breakfast stand and devour a spaghetti sandwich for about 20 cents. By now I’m technically late for my 9:00 a.m. appointment, but time is very relative in Senegal. Anyway, when I get to the high school, a few students shout to me that no one is there. I go inside to investigate and it turns out the administration had canceled school to have a big meeting about the recent teacher strikes.
I bike home to work on a few lessons plans and write up an information sheet to present to all of the community leaders. First I chug some powdered lemonade drink—it’s getting HOT. Then it’s back to town to visit my “printer-guy” who prints my work-related stuff at a discounted rate in exchange for mini English lessons. Today, at his request, he learns, “there is a lot of sand” and “thank you” in exchange for a couple copies. While I wait, I fall into a discussion with another client comparing American and Senegalese holiday traditions. It’s around 1:00 p.m. now and my stomach is grumbling. I walk to my host-family’s house for lunch, greeting my friends and laughing off a few marriage proposals along the way. When I reach their compound, I plop down on a mat and chitchat with my host-mother about traditional medicine. Lunch is served and then I take an accidental nap outside. One of my host-brothers wakes me up and I head back home where I sweep my room, wash a few articles of clothing by hand and go to a meeting with another work partner about computer classes.
After the meeting, I call the other Peace Corps Volunteer in my town, who after 20 months of living in a little town in West Africa together, is also my best friend. She brings over all of the ingredients to make fish tacos for an end-of-the-week meal. The corn tortillas take a while to cook on my single gas stove, but by the end we have everything you need for a hearty feast. She heads home around 8:00 p.m. before it gets too late. I try a new yoga podcast, take a bucket bath, read a bit and then get ready for bed. A quick sweep with my headlamp confirms there are no critters within my mosquito net so I peacefully fall asleep around 10:30 p.m.
Three Last Things…
1. What’s up with that little stuffed guy on your bed? Is he your traveling buddy?
That’s Zwibble Dibble and he has the fullest passport of any stuffed dinosaur. He’s been tucked into my carry-on since I was a baby!
2. How did you land in Senegal? How did you decided to volunteer for the Peace Corps?
I’ve wanted to work with Peace Corps since I was a little kid, mostly for the adventure. I studied economics in college and then went on to work at an international organization. I found myself doing a lot of talking and writing about international issues without a strong grasp of what it all means. It became clear that I wasn’t going to understand the work (and the world!) until I branched out from the office building to work in the field. Peace Corps embraces a slow, demand-driven approach to development, which really appeals to me, so I applied! And here I am in Senegal, 20 months in with seven more to go. I had no control over the country assignment, though it’s probable I was placed in West Africa because I speak French.
3. Spaghetti sandwich?! This is incredible. Any other cool food finds you’ve discovered in your travels that we can steal and make at home?
Yeah, I never thought I would crave the carb-on-carb deliciousness that is a spaghetti sandwich. The Senegalese national dish, ceebu jen (sometimes spelled thiebu djen), is definitely worth trying to make at home. I eat it every day and I still crave it when lunchtime comes around. It is a spicy, rice-based dish with fish (or beans) and whatever garden vegetables you have on hand. Everything is cooked together so there is a blend of flavors in every bite. In a big pot, cook the veggies and a few hot peppers in a broth, then add in a few whole fish. Once all of that is done and ready, drain the pot and use that same broth to cook the rice. Spread out the rice on a platter, arrange the veggies in the middle and voila! Something else to learn from Senegalese dining—it’s not just what you eat but how you eat it. Lose the spoon and eat with your hands in a shared bowl. Rice, spaghetti, meat—dig in with mother nature’s utensils alongside your friends and family. It takes communing over food to another level and is certainly kid friendly.
Lily Grabill is a Peace Corps Volunteer in the center of Senegal where she leads youth development trainings. When she returns to the U.S. she wants to pursue a career in elementary education. lilygrabill.wordpress.com