Thursday, May 12, 2011

Peace Corps and Rape

Having received many a friends/family/people-I-actually-don't-know-very-well's concern and questioning about Peace Corps' policy about rape and how they deal with it, I thought I'd post a response.  Here is what I wrote back to my mom, verbatim, after I complained about a 'lack of frame of refernce' by many of the critical writers about the Peace Corps.  Or 'Rape Corps' as some are, oh so wittily, calling it.  For the record: I think the world as a whole sucks pretty fantastically at handling rape.  But, ehem, on to the email:

Well, some of what Peace Corps staff (not Peace Corps) did was just slut-shaming.  No woman should ever be made to feel like it was her fault for getting raped.  However, the sexual assault training we all receive is being lumped in with these individual cases and being toted as Peace Corps' systemic problem with rape.  And example I've seen sited is a movie during which a rape victim says 'I wish I had made different decisions.'  They do show us this film (now that I work in trainings, I see it A LOT) where women's innocuous behavior leads to extreme sexual assaults, like gang rapes and violent beatings.  And this is where things get really sensitive, because we aren't here to live by American rules in their system, we are here to learn and adapt enough to live and teach on a more relevant level.  We are told point blank not to behave in ways that are innocent in the States, but mean something different here.  

The reason for the seemingly unreasonable requests of Peace Corps as an institution is  because people send signals differently in different cultures.  For example, having a drink alone or walking alone or wearing a skirt above the knee or inviting a man alone into your house is considered an open invitation for sex in some places.  These actions are considered by some to be the same as saying 'Let's have sex right now.'   People don't 'feel bad' for those women, because everyone knows these rules.  They're still wrong, but it's more extreme and textured.  And to have Peace Corps pursuing charges in many of the situations would be considered incomprehensible and, most likely, unjust by a large majority of the local people.

This attitude of 'it's the woman's fault' (which, at a recent talk with a Senegalese mixed gender group of educated 12-years-olds, was still believed by 70% of them) is slowly starting to change.  But considering the often precarious situation of Peace Corps' relations with local governments, I can sympathize with wanting to deal with it quietly.

If you ever want a counter-point, think of how every time a professional sports player gets accused of rape, everyone immediately wants to know what the girl was wearing, drinking and if she was 'all up on him.'  Or that preteen who got gang raped and everyone talked about how she was dressed and how she looked older than she was.  Honestly, I can't help but think this reaction is partly because it's 'foreigners' doing it to an American woman.

However, the staff's treatment of some of these women is inexcusable.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Brief Overview of What I'm Actually Doing

It occurred to me the other day that I have not given a work-based update in a long time. I'm sure you are all fretting about how your hard-earned tax dollars are being spent. Perhaps I'm just frittering away my time here, spending my massive Peace Corps allowance on beaches and fine wine. So to put my Tea Party following (of which I am sure is massive) mind's at ease, I've prepared a list of what I'm up to.


We're doing good! This is my main project and I really love being involved with it. Expanding the program to include more sectors. Doing more GAD work at different sites. Incorporating GAD into more work that is being done, specifically in the Entrepreneurial projects. I've been involved with a lot of trainings and spending a lot of time on the road. Lots of girls' camps, leadership seminars and scholarships.

Universal Nut Sheller:

Did our first 10 machine tour/training in the Kaolack region. We had to cannibalize the UNS machines in Diourbel to get them done on time because of a mailing mix-up with the molds. So now Diourbel has a bunch of metal pieces and no concrete shells. However, the trainings all went very well and we'll get Diourbel new molds asap. Provided the Embassy agrees to release them soon... That's right, the American government stole our development project!

Awa Traore's Assistant:

I've been acting as Awa Traore's assistant for awhile now. It's surprisingly nice to have such a tangible job. At the end of the day, I've filed reports, arranged meetings, typed up documents, etc. It makes me feel like I've done something. Also, Awa is in charge of all Peace Corps GAD work, so it's been really useful being around her all the time.

Random Side Projects:
There's also the constant small side projects. Helping out with other volunteers' projects, like a tourist guide to Thiès, has been fun.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Move

Well, I've officially moved to Thiès. I have an apartment with furniture and utensils and cleaning supplies and a fan. I have no business being responsible for these things. There are four rooms in my place with perpetually sandy floors. This means that I am perpetually sweeping. The water goes out more often the the electricity (so, most of the time) and it is not helping my already lax attitude towards cleaning upkeep.

Anna is settling in very well. She is already stealing food from the neighbors and terrifying the local children. So I find bags of sugar/dates/peanuts around the house and kids never try to break through my door. She also kills all the bugs, lizards and mice she can find. She eats the bugs, but gives her more triumphant kills to me as gifts. She's also declared war on all the screens in the house. They cover every window and most doors in an effort to keep out mosquitoes. She hates them with a passion. Little by little, she is bringing down the all the screens in the apartment. Her favorite technique is to take a running leap towards the screen and, screaming a worbeling war cry, sinks her claws into the netting. She usually jumps off right away, but sometimes she hangs out (please excuse the pun) for several minutes looking like bizarre version of a fly strip.

I do like my new city and my new job. Working with Awa Traore is pleasant and productive.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Elinor Dashwood meets Awa NDiaye

I'm currently reading Sense & Sensibility. If you ever want contrast, I suggest you read Jane Austen while riding in Senegalese public transport. Subtle, biting wit while smashed up against a window with no leg room in 115 degree heat is an experience. And when I say 'no leg room,' I mean the back seat of the car had been ripped-out and re-welted in – poorly. I spent the ride in the fetal position listening to six people surrounding me screaming political opinions at each other while blasting a Youssou Ndour song on loop from their cell phones. I suffered some collateral damage when the adamant feelings of one woman led her to whip her heavily beaded shawl around the car. While my temple is still a little sore, she did convince most of the car that President Wade is 'stupid', 'greedy' and 'leading us to ruin.' Of course, there was no evidence that anyone had initially disagreed with her particular diagnosis, but she stamped out all doubt in anyone secretly harboring dissenting opinions. A few times. Just to be sure. I can only assume she was attempting some sort of Pavlovian training where all who heard the name 'Wade' would associate it with mild pain. Although, in defense of the Senegalese Mouride (mafia) owned transport, not even in this situation could make the rainy, chilly, dreary English country scenes seem inviting. I often think that the English are witty mostly as a coping mechanism.

In other news, Anna is pregnant. In about four weeks I will have kittens. Yay? Clearly, even Peace Corps volunteers need some assistance with family planning. But if you are in the West African area and in want of a cat, I can help you out.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I'm getting to the point of my Peace Corps service when people are starting to talk about me like I've already left.  My SED Advisor, Talla Diop, visited me today.  He has several acquaintances in Diourbel  he thought I could work with, so we spent a couple hours chasing people around sandy streets and mostly-hidden boutiques.  He would introduce me in a very Wolof fashion – 'This is Awa.  She is an expert in all things entrepreneurial.  You must work with her or your business will fail.' - and then I would try and figure out if they actually needed/wanted my help.  In general, it was pleasant and I got a lot of shopping done while Talla was engaged in loud 'Where are you now?!' phone calls.  But one thing really struck me, every time he introduced me, he followed it with 'she's leaving soon, but she will be replaced!'  He spent a lot of time telling me I could start working with all these people, but I shouldn't really expect too much.

And it's not just my boss.  The Med staff visited me and asked me questions 'looking back on my service.'  When other volunteers ask what I plan to do with my life after Peace Corps, I say what I've always said, 'oh, I joined Peace Corps so I didn't have to think about that.'  They still laugh, but now their laughter is followed by 'But seriously, what are you going to do?'  Even the fact that I'm extending my service until next April (Hello people!  That's a full year from now!)  does not deter their perception that I'm as good as gone/dead.

But this general attitude that I have reached a lame-duck stage of service has got me wondering: how have I changed?  This is what I could come up with:

1)  I enjoy running now!  Seriously, who saw that one coming?  The trick is to have an inspirational motto.  Mine is: If you're not having fun, slow down.
2)  I can drink out of any form of shared drinking vessel.  Before, I could only do this with red silo cups.
3)  I can speak awful French.  This is far above any level I ever dreamed of achieving.  At the end of college, I had settled for 'Fetchez la vache!'
4)  My digestive tract can beat up your digestive tract.
5)  I finally read Anna Karenina.  And it was fantastic.
6)  Recently got blessed by a Marabou so I 'won't have money problems in my future.'  So, you know, I got that covered.

1)  I'm comfortable with an appallingly low level of personal hygiene
2)  I've developed of fear of being in a vehicle that tips over sideways.  Like, seriously.
3)  I enjoy the musical stylings of Akon and think everyone else must enjoy them too.  Now.  Crank it to 11.
4)  A belief that everything is better bedazzled
5)  A willingness to fight small children for food.
6)  An inability to go a full day without a nap.
7)  I put on make-up like an eleven-year-old.  With self-esteem issues.  And who idolizes Amy Winehouse.

Neutral, but different
1)  I expect portion sizes that would amaze even the McDonald's 'heavy users.'  This should probably be a negative, but food is so tasty.
2)  I can diagnose many types of bodily parasites.
3)  I will spend over 30 minutes arguing over a 50 cent price difference.
4)  I went vegan.  This isn't so much a 'neutral' as it is a combination of positive and negative.  Positive: I've drastically reduced my carbon footprint and taken a strong stand against institutionalized animal abuse.  Negative:  I've clearly gone a little crazy.  Who doesn't eat cheese?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April 2010

It's been awhile since I last posted a blog entry. While laziness was involved, I will give the excuse of having no computer. Yes, it is true, Senegal has finally eaten one of my treasured electronic devices. Alas, this is a normal occurrence. I am one of the lucky ones, a couple people here have gone through several computers, a few iPods and a lot of phones.

But never fear, I am typing on a brand spankin' new Eee PC! A reasonably priced little guy, I still had to give up my trip to Spain (tickets from Dakar only $300!) and dream of becoming a couch surfer. I also got a 500GB external hard drive. This will help me immensely in my piracy and theft of films from the hard-working and much-abused American media. A lot seems to have happen technologically since 2008. Could Windows 7 be more scarily stream-lined? Opera is the new web browser of choice? And, seriously, what the hell is twitter?

Work is going well. School is clicking along and we made the first Diourbel nutsheller last week. Hopefully, we'll have 16 operational nutshellers for sale in the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, we missed the end of peanut harvesting season. It might make more sense to just hang on to them until next year, I think we could charge a much higher price.

SeneGAD is going great! Already, we've had more projects this year than all of last year combined. Thank you everyone who donated, you're making it all possible.

I met the Amassador! She came to the Tamba region's Girls' Leadership Conference. A seriously personable and down-to-earth woman, I was extremely impressed. The conference was amazing and she really helped make it special. The girls all had a 'cyber training' in a cyber cafe. Each sent an email to the Ambassador and she responded. It was pretty cool. (Several of the girls had never seen a computer before and didn't believe they existed.)

I also met the new stage, or group of volunteers being trained in, a couple of weeks ago.  One of the most motivated groups I've ever met, I really think they will be great Senegal PCVs.  Many were interested in working with SeneGAD, so I'm pretty pumped.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Exciting news!

I'm the new SeneGAD National Coordinator!  Woot woot!  First order of business: a strictly enforced dress code, a modest tithe and I will now only respond to 'El Jefe.'  But this does change a few other things as well, I will be staying in Senegal longer than the usual 27 month service.  Probably somewhere between 6 months to a year longer.*  I will be visiting soon though, so clear your August calendars!

*All of this is contingent on my Work Plan being approved by Peace Corps