Friday, June 19, 2009

A bad day in Dakar.

There aren't any of what I would call easy days here. If I'm working, I'm working. Any number of things can make that hard: cultural and linguistic barriers, my appalling ignorance, or the damn long skirt I wear most days in the village. Especially that skirt, for God's sake, it almost hits my ankles. And if I'm not working, you better believe I'm freaking out about my inaction. I've never felt so guilty simply picking up a book before.

Even if there aren't easy days, I would generally describe most of my days as good. I'm happier here every day, or so it's seemed for the last two weeks. And new things make me happy: bantering with my family, playing with the kids, wandering through the village to the market for a snack and knowing, finally, several people's names.

But today was maybe the second or third genuine bad day I've had. A family member in the States is having health problems, and I'm holed up in the Peace Corps/Senegal office here in the capital city of Dakar. I got here early this afternoon after maybe 2 hours of sleep and 5 hours in a sept-place. You know things will be a little ugly when you spend more time in the Senegalese public transit system than you spent in bed the previous night. But it's better to be here than in the village. Here, there's a phone I can use to call the States with no charge. Here, there's Internet access so I can... I don't really know what I do online, honestly. Here, there are other volunteers and PC staffers who are sympathetic, available, and helpful.

So I'm here. Waiting. Just waiting.

This is the type of moment when you have to step back and take a good look at some things you may have preferred to ignore. I could have been on tonight's flight to New York, could have been out west with my family by tomorrow afternoon. I say the word, they put me on the plane. I can come back to Senegal or not.

Every day I ask myself about what it is I'm doing here, why it's important, why I should care and continue to care. Most days, these questions are academic: I know I'm not going anywhere, I know I'm where I want to be. But some days, the questions are very real and very pressing. Today is one of those days, and tomorrow will be one too. For a few days, or a few weeks, or a few months to come, I'll have to make the decision to come to Senegal every morning when I wake up. I'll have to re-commit every day and then re-examine my commitment every night. I'm scared, I'm tired, but I'm pretty sure I'm ready for it.

Just to prove to you that I mean it, I'm going to plug the bed-net thing again. Go look at my last post, if you missed it.

Love and guts, for serious,



  1. That's powerful thinking and powerful writing. You know that reexamining and recommitting -- daily, if that's how if happens to be -- are annealing steps. I admire you for the way you take them.

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  3. keep asking the tough questions, as you always have. sometimes the answers surprise, and that's not a bad thing. Love & Blessings.

  4. Hey, has anyone at all helped you with the mosquito netting? How many do you need, exactly?

  5. Jessie,
    Rachel Shultz suggested your blog to me last night. I'm an SJC alum who is currently finishing an MPH with a concentration in International Health at Boston University. Your perspective is good; I enjoyed your posts. I'm not sure what kind of access you have to the public health literature, but if you need more info about a particular subject or intervention and you're not getting it, please let me know and I'll use my access to do some research for you. I'll help however I can. Feel free to email me at: In the meantime, I've added your blog to my google homepage.
    Joe King (A'03)

  6. Hi Jessie,

    I want to buy a compter for a teacher who lives in Kaolack. Will a regular labp top do? I am worried about dust and dirt. Do I need to get her a Rugged Laptop?

    thanks for sharing your thoughts.