Sunday, December 27, 2009

Updated Photos on Picasa!!

I'm about 2 months behind in photos, so sorry. But the internet and electricity have been very kind to me, so please check out pictures from all my adventures I've been writing about.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

Christmas in Kolda

Me and a carfull of friends decided to visit the southern region of Kolda for our holiday adventures.

The ride from Kaolack took 8 hours in total length. We also had to pass through the Gambia, which was beautiful, green, and full of police checkpoints. But we got there hassle free.

Xmas consisted of about 15 people. We roasted an entire pig, and made side dishes including: mash potatoes, green bean casserole, corn casserole, beef stew, and fruit salad. Working all day in the kitchen while listening to cheesy Xmas music definitely made me feel at home.

After a couple hours of digestion, we had a dance party. The festivities also included several holiday and non-holiday films just to fill the time.

Christmas and the holidays are much different for me, as this is my first time away from home. Nostalgia is putting up a strong fight right now. But I am blessed to have a wonderful support team, both here in country and in the US. So as alwayst, thanks for reading and keeping in touch.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

Santa Clause is Senegal

First off, Santa Clause is referred to in French as "Pere Noel"

For the first time in my life, I played Santa Clause. There is an infant school program in my town and each year it is traditional to have a PCV play Pere Noel for the Christmas party. I'm not your traditional fat man in a jolly red suit, but a santa hat, an oversized robe, cotton and glue made a decent rendition. My site mate Cassie made a wonderful "Mere noel"

The school also magically acquired a fake snowy tree, complete with blinking lights, and a picture of Santa Clause and a reindeer someone colored with markers. It was humble, but charming and definitely put me in the right mood. And as with all Senegalese parties, it involved plenty of food for us to snack on.

Pere Noel can also dance to Senegalese music. Who knew?

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why Saving Water is Important

For about 5-6 days, the pump to our water tower was broken. So the robines (spicketts) to the entire town were out of commission.

Luckily there are numerous wells scattered about. For the first time in my life, I pulled water from a well and also carried buckets of water on my head. Both activities proved to be difficult and exhausting. But it's all part of my goal to slowly become a Senegalese person. But I'm able to live off of about 1.5 buckets of water/day for bathroom, shower, drinking, etc.

For the first 2 days it was inconvenient, but after that well trip just become a part of life. I'm thankful to have running water, even sporadically, at my site. Other volunteers and certainly other Senegalese are still living without electricity or running water.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

Gora's New Haircut

For the first time since Middle School, I buzz cut my hair. Not by choice, just from lack of options.

There are no hair scissors in Senegal, just hair clippers. My coiffure was great and gave me a good deal. Plus, I now look more like the Senegalese men, so I'm considering this "sacrifice" as part of my cultural integration. And the hot weather certainly supports this choice.

I'm just thankful that the electricity stayed on the entire time so I didn't leave with half a shaved head...

Pictures coming soon.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

Eco Tourism Conference in Dakar

Dec 2-6:Ecotourism conference in Dakar

As this was my first time Dakar, getting there was an adventure in itself. But 9 hours on two buses, some public transportation, and a phone call to another PCV saying I was lost got me my site okay.

EcoT conference: For a few days, we networked with other local tourism companies from Senegal and the Gambia. I conversed about our work in English, French, and Wolof. Gambians speak wolof and English, Senegalese speak Wolof and French, and French people speak...duh. Glad to know my 3 languages I speak are all in demand.

Also, in our spare time, we were able to explore parts of Dakar. It is a big, developped, and expensive place to be. In fact, Dakar seems juxtaposed to the rest of the country. After being there for a few days, I was very ready to get back to my quiet village life.

Lucky me: The trip back to my site was only 8 hours.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Tabaski: A quick history
Tabaski is a Muslim holiday celebrating the story of Ibrahima (Abraham) who was told by Allah (God) to sacrifice his son. Ibrahima obeyed but Allah spared his son and provided a ram to be slaughtered instead. As a celebration, each Muslim family prays and slaughters a sheep every year around late November.

The party(s) were excellent and lasted several days. Here's a quick daily summary...

Tabaski Day 1:
- Cleaned my compound and took the trash out on our horse with my brothers.
- Dressed in awesome Senegalese garb to go to the local mosque to pray with my family and the entirety of my town.
- Watched and helped slaughter our sheep. I skinned a sheep for the first time ever.
- Ate snacks of fried/grilled goat before lunch
- All the nearby neighbors came and ate lunch with us around 3pm. There were close to 40 people in my compound
- Slept very well that night

Tabaski Day 2:
- Breakfast: Sheep inards and couscous. That was the first time eating sheep brains for breakfast. First time eating them period.
- Church (The Catholic celebration)
- In evening there were not 1 but 2 parties: A "fete Sereer" and a "soiree" The fete was more traditional with lots of drums. The soiree was for the younger teens with loud hip hop music, both Senegalese, French, and American.
** I was already well known, but now I'm known in the town as the Chinese boy who is a great Senegalese dancer...

Tabaski Day 3: Rest, naps, and more sheep inards for breakfast.

Now, life is slowly returning back to normal. For those three days, no one worked, just prayed and ate.

I'm officially partied out. Time to get back to work...

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Due to a large Senegalese holiday coming up this weekend, the PCVs celebrated Thanksgiving a day in advance.

Our menu:
- Turkey (yes we have them here)
- Mash sweet potatoes and potatoes
- Beef stew
- Cucumber Salad
- Millet corn bread
- Chocolate-Peanut butter cookies
- Upside Down pineapple cake

Staff: The cook staff was headed by 3 main people, and a handful of sous-chefs (including me). Cooking started at about 4am and finished by 5pm.

The dinner was great, the food was delicious, and the celebration was wonderful. Of course, I miss my family and our traditions, but this is my new family and my new celebration.

What Byron Yee is Thankful For:
1. A big meal that keeps me full for more than 30 minutes
2. A house full of friends
3. Cassie, my nearest neighbor, who will inevitably become a great work partner and my best friend for the next two years.
4. Health, safety, and the ability to serve this beautiful country.

Happy Thanksgiving!! Enjoy the Macy's Day Parade for me please.

**Pictures will be added to my album soon.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

5 Week Challenge!

Our country director challenged all the new volunteers (like me) to not spend a night in a regional house for the first 5 weeks of service.

I myself successfully spent every single night at my site for the first 5 weeks. The argument is that these first few weeks are the most important in establishing yourself as a strong and present community member.

The incentive reward? A superbowl party in Dakar at our director's house in February.

The first 5 weeks have proven to be tough. Some days are great, some are depressing. Everyday I try to meet and interact with new people in the community. It's exhausting and difficult, but rewarding and fun.

As of right now, the new volunteers have little-no technical training. So for the first 3 months at site, our job is to meet the community, find potential work partners, and improve our language skills. Having no technical skills means having no current work projects. It's frustrating at times, but patience is something I'm learning and practicing in full force everyday.

As a reward for my 5 week challenge, we had a huge Thanksgiving celebration in my regional house (another blog entry).

Here's to another 5 weeks of hopeful success...

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009


Like usual, I’m occasionally dragged to various events in which I have no idea what is going on. The other day, my family all went to our neighbor’s new house (which I helped paint) for a “sarax.” Basically it was a house dedication that included large steaming bowls of “laax” (Senegalese porridge), and prayers for the new house and new family.

Sarax also translates to mean charity events; giving alms to the poor, other important building dedications, etc.

Turns out that this new house is for my Senegalese supervisor. So now I’m living with the chef de la village, and neighbors with my supervisor. I really need to behave myself…
Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dengue Fever Outbreak!

In Mid November, Senegal announced an outbreak of Dengue Fever. Unfortunately, I was one of several victims...

Symptoms: Headaches, rash, vomiting, extreme fatigue, dehydration, and of course, fevers. Dengue fever is truly unpleasant, but there are worse things that can happen. Wikipedia has proven to be a great friend of mine in this country:

The good news: I'm now immune to 1 of the 4 strands of this fever. And after a week, I literally sweated out the virus. Still enduring some intense fatigue though.

Please don't pray for me. Pray for the thousands of others who are suffereing through this without the aid of Tylenol, good doctors, and a great American healthcare coverage...

As always, "don't worry Mom. I'm okay!"

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Another silly health story

So remember when I mentioned drinking untreated water from a rusty tomato can awhile back?

Well my neighbor offered me some bissap juice the other day (of course untreated water). It was very tasty and came in a bright yellow bottle. I saw the same bright yellow bottles in boutiques and after translating the label from French, it turns out I was drinking juice from a used bottle of: Brake Fluid.


Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

├ęglise (Church)

I’m in a town with a large enough Catholic population to have a church about a 10 minute walk from me. That’s where you’ll find me every Sunday at 9am.

First, I’ve only been to one Catholic mass before now.
Second, the service is conducted in Wolof and French. So I have incentive to continue studying French (and Wolof for that matter).
Third, African choirs are so COOL!! I don’t understand what they’re singing (yet), but I almost cried because the music and environment is so beautiful.

After my first visit, they already asked me if I can play piano, drums, sing, etc. Therefore Church, you may soon have your very first Chinese tenor in your lovely little choir…

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009


No, they’re not cute house pets. Yes, they are small and yes, they are incredibly fast. Every morning I can hear them scurrying in the ceiling above my room, and they conveniently poop in the same two places every day.

I made my first trip to the local market and bought my first rat poison. I made a delicious mix of bread, peanut butter, and poison for my friends. After 24 hours, two of the baits were taken.

The Result: I still see mouse poop every day, but no longer see them in my room. While this poison might not have been 100% effective, it did manage to kill a handful of ants and cockroaches as well. Currently, I and the mice are at a peaceful coexistence. Another volunteer (Jessica) told me she woke up in the middle of the night to a mouse chewing on her finger. “It could be worse” is my daily motto…

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

Installation: October 21, 2009

After the Swearing in Ceremony in Dakar, I spent a couple days in Kaolack buying everything I needed to settle into a brand new life. Starting over from scratch has proven to be very challenging and difficult to think through.

After slowly driving south and meeting several prefets, gendarmerie, and border guards, I officially installed into my new home. My father, Monsieur Mboup is the chief of the village, so I always need to keep his reputation in mind in my behavior and appearance. My new room is nice and large, including my own bathroom. I’m currently having furniture made, so soon I will no longer be living out of a suitcase like I’ve done for the past 9 weeks of my life.

My new family is large, but wonderful and lots of fun. I have two mothers, a couple older siblings, and lots of little kids who quickly became attached to me. They’re a great and loving family, who I know will support me throughout this process.

Moving into a brand new town with no contacts, limited language, and no projects or pressing work is tough. My first 3 months of my service will consist of meeting and getting to know my community. I’ve yet to have any serious technical training, so I’m not even able to conduct any serious work until after February. So for the next 3 months, I’ll be putting my social skills (and what little Wolof I have) to the ultimate test.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Peace Corps Newest Official Volunteer!

Swear In Ceremony: 16 Octobre
On the 16th, we all headed to Dakar for the day. The ceremony took place in the US Ambassadors house (mansion). I was selected to give a small speech in Wolof, the audience loved it. I had it filmed, but there are currently some technical difficulties getting it online. But as Senegal has taught me, patience is virtue.

Installation: 21 Octobre
Now I'm off to my site for 2 years! I spend a couple days in Kaolack purchasing items such as furniture, supplies, things I'll be living off of for a long time. Like mentioned, I will NOT have internet there; not sure how often I'll be online to update my blog, pictures, email, etc. However, setting up a Boite Postale is near the top of my long list of things to do. Snail mail is fun! I promise...

Final Thoughts:
I'm literally packing up my life in a few suitcases and starting a brand new life for two years. It's impossible to truly wrap your head around that concept. I'm nervous, a bit scared, but excited and motivated to begin my new life. The USA will always be my home (I love America more and more everyday), but Senegal is becoming my new home as well.

At our party, my dear sister, Diek Mbaye, said a few words about me that touched my soul. "Gora [Byron] hs been like a son to us in Tivauoane. He is fun, happy, motivated, and we never had one single problem with him. I told him that if you ever have any problems in Karang, he can call his coordinator and come back to Tivauoane for his service. Gora is wonderful. He is more loving, dedicated, and committed to this family than some of my own children."

Thank you, Diek, for making my transition into my new life such a fun and wonderful process. Thanks to all at home who have been staying in contact with me; you guys keep me fueled. Now its time to finish packing my backs, and using the last few moments of internet I can get.

Please keep me in your prayers as I'm keeping you in mine. Ba beneen yoon (see you next time)! Jamm rekk (Peace only).
*PS. Notice my signature line now says "Volunteer"

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Volunteer - Senegal, 2009

The end of PST!

Finally, after 9 long and intensive weeks, Pre-Service Training (PST) is finished!

Final Test: I scored Intermediate-High on my final Wolof test. Now my Wolof is better than my French, and slowly catching up to my English...

Goodbyes: Sadly, I had to say goodbye to my wonderful family. They were given gifts, souvenirs from Seattle, and a thank you card which included the words "Dingeen neek ci sama xol tuusurs" (You will always be in my heart). I cried, they cried - it was a bitter sweet moment. A very special thanks to my family for taking tremendous care of me.

Party!! The PC training center had a celebration a few days later. We each invited one family member, there was lots of food, a Pulaar music/dance group, a large group of Grios drummers, AND a DJ. Senegalese sure know how to party.

*Pictures coming soon....

As a final farewell, selective family members got up and spoke about the PC trainees in their villages. Here's what my older sister, Diek, had to say:

"Gora [Byron] was a wonderful addition to our family. He was patient, polite, funny; we had zero problems with him. Gora has a lot of heart and passion, he is more dedicated and commited to my family than some of my own children."

I hope and pray that my new family will be as kind and terrific as my training family. To the Mbaye family, I was honored to be one of your sons. Thank you.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

My first of several strange diseases

When you go to your med officer (PCMO) and they say "That's bizzare," you know you've got something cool.

This strange coloration did not hurt, itch, or was raised. Just pretty colors and designs.

They sent me to a dermatologist in Dakar and he informed me that I had: Photodermatosis

Basically, my arm had exposure to the sun and reacted with fruit or some other chemicals and created this piece of art. I have ointment now, which has helped this strange thing disappear. I've decided to keep a journal of just my medical issues. Over 27 months, it'll be an awesome list!

*Again, don't worry Mom. I'm okay...

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009
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Seetkat: Basically a Muslim fortune teller.

And when better to visit a seetkat than to practice the Future Tense in Wolof?!

After whispering a prayer into a handful of shells, our seetkat told us each of our fortunes. Here's my life according to her:

- You are in God's good grace
- Your family is well. There are lots of people thinking of you in the USA
- You will have two great jobs; 1 in Senegal, and one in the USA when you return.
* You will have 3 girls in your life. I think she was implying that I will have 3 beautiful daughters vs. 3 gorgeous girlfriends, but I'm open to interpretation...

Anyway, to all you family and friends thinking of me at home. Thanks so much!

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Counterpart Workshop

Each Volunteer works with two host country nationals at their specific site:

1. Supervisor: This is a government or adminstrative official each PCV must report to on a regular basis; the boss.

2. Counterpart: This is someone who is highly integrated in the community. They help introduce the PCV to important people/places, and help them find and organize projects.

Over the course of about 3 days, all of our counterparts and supervisors came to visit us for a workshop in Thies. We introduced them to Peace Corps mission and philosophy, and sat down to create an action plan for the first 3 months at site.

Both of my reps are highly intelligent, passionate, energetic, and can both speak at least 4-5 languages. They are both extremely excited to have me start working and living in my site, as am I.

Here's to the future of great working relationships.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Time for another Speech!

For those of you who saw my WWU grad speech and wanted more, apparently my speaking career is not over yet.

My languague director informed me that I have been selected to give a speech during our Swearing In Ceremony on the 16th; In WOLOF. After only having 8 weeks of language class, you can understand why I might be nervous.

To calm my nerves, the lang. director offered the following words of encouragement: Practice your pronuciation and vocab a lot because if you make mistakes, it will be a failure on our part...

Wish me luck! There'll be a video eventually.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009


What's Senegal like?

They say pictures are 1000 words. Cameras strapped to a forehead and taken on a bike ride should be worth more. This is my route to school everyday.

There are Parts 1 and 2 because internet is slow. Make sure you watch both as they're only 5 minutes each. Enjoy!

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Beach Day #2 - Popenguine

The stagiares had a couple days off, which were much needed.

So we hopped into two Alhams and bussed to Popenguine for a night. The beach was absolutely splendid. They say that Senegal is the Paris of West Africa, I agree.

I spent at least 4-6 collective hours in the water. Our beach house was right along the shore; I fell asleep to the sound of waves (and other partiers). We spent all of the next day on the beach taking walks, relaxing, and of course plenty of swimming.

It's the small things like this that keep me emotionally charged and motivated. Senegal is truly a wonderful place. This country is not without faults, but it certainly has its beauty.

Pictures of the beach are here. Prepare to get jealous:

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Languague Test #2

Last week we had our 2nd of 3 language tests.

All last week I made a huge effort to speak only in Wolof and a little French. It helped, I think. It was just very exhausting.

In order to pass PST and become an official volunteer, you need to test into Intermediate-Mid level of language.

Score for Test #2: Intermediate Mid. Yay! Now my language work is just for improvement, but I have adequate language skills to become a PCV.

Speaking of which, my Swear In date is October 16th. If my tests go well, I'll officially start my 2 years of service on that date. This also means only 2 more weeks of rigorous and exhausting training before I move into my permanet site.

Please wish me luck, patience, and endurance. Thanks!

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Beach Day!

The day following Korite, I didn't have class. After lunch my family asked me if I wanted to go to a nearby beach. Why would anyone ever say no?!

We clambered into a vehicle that was a hybrid b/t a pick up truck and an Oregon Trail covered wagon. Somehow we managed to fit 21 people, food, and of course the tea set, which is crucial to a successful beach day.

The car was very warm and crowded, but not too unsafe. The it stopped twice: once to buy watermelon, once because a passenger fell out.

The beach was beautiful, sunny, breezy, and the riptides were strong. But watermelon and tea were delicious and I couldn't have had a better time with my crazy family.

Pictures speak better (and more efficiently) than words. Check it out:

PS. I am tan, just not compared to my family...

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009


Korite: A holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan, the month long fast.

Korite is determined by a new moon, so it was not announced until the night before. The night before Korite, the entire town/city was out in the market buying food, clothes, and the salon next door to my room was braiding hair until 4am. I slept well, but am very familiar with the Senegalese singer they were blasting through the night...

I woke up and discovered a goat being slaughtered by my brothers. I helped a little, which was fun. Pictures on uploaded, but WARNING! Goats are bloody. But seriously, I've never had fresher, tastier meat.

After a ridiculously huge and wonderful lunch, the all of the kids in the town dress up and ask for thanksgiving (money) from others.

Evening: I had a special boubou made for the occassion. I'm not gonna lie, I looked GOOD. For pictures of pretty (and living) creatures that have not been slaughtered, click here:

Now that Ramadan is over, life has changed. People are no longer cranky, hungry, and terribly dehydrated all day long. We eat a fairly big lunch meal in the late afternoon. And dinner is served closer to 8pm instead of 10pm. Overall, it works out much better with my schedule.

Next year, my goal is to fast the entire month with my family. Wish me luck (and good health).
Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009


There are many different ways of travelling in Senegal; here’s the experiences I’ve had thus far:

1. Peace Corps Land Cruiser: This is by far the fastest and safest way to travel. The cars are awesome off-road type vehicles in excellent running conditions. Every time we get on a super bumpy road (basically every trip), I sing the Indiana Jones Theme song in my head and pretend I’m at Disneyland. Also, they’re the only vehicles with working AC.

2. Taxi: Taxis aren’t metered, terribly safe, and definitely would NOT pass an emissions test in the US. You negotiate a price before even getting inside and they go on their way.

3. Sept Place (7 Seater): These are for longer trips. They’re basically station wagons with seven seats and a rack on top for luggage. If riding on these, it’s advised to check to see how many lug nuts each tire has. Also, the whiter the smoke, the better the engine.

4. Alxum: A big bus with “Alxumdullilaay” written on the front, which is Arabic for Praise be to God. My first time riding this, it took about 3 push starts before the engine kicked in. It’s slow, crowded, and stops very frequently. However, the nickname of this bus is well suited because when/if you reach your final destination, Alxumdullilaay!!

Roads: The major highways are paved, but always congested. Also, there are giant holes in many places in the road. Forget the term “pothole” these are more like “Dutch oven holes” or even bigger. They are worse during the rainy season, as dirt does not effectively patch them up.

Non major highways are generally gravel. These are incredibly bumpy to the point where you must brace yourself to hit someone/something else (car sick anyone?). However, you get used to it; I even took a little nap during part of it.

Overall, transportation and traffic runs very differently here. We generally gauge distance based on number of hours vs. number of kilometers. From Dakar to my site in the south, it’ll probably take 8-10 hours. And that’s nothing compared to others in the far southeast. So the next time you are bored/frustrated in rush hour traffic on the I-5 commute, think of me. I’m definitely thinking of you :)

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Demystification: The term coined by PCVs for the time when site and assignment announcements are finally made. It’s kind of a big deal as the Peace Corps tells you how you will be spending the next 2 years of your life.

My Location: For security purposes, I’m not allowed to post the actual name of my site. But I am 110 southwest of Kaolack (,+senegal&*:IE-SearchBox&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=ie7&rlz=1I7DKUS&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=Kaolack,+Senegal&ei=kr-ySrixLprAmgO9yfnPCw&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=title&resnum=1) and just on the northern border of The Gambia.

Population: 3,500 people

My Home: I will be living with the chief of the village with a private room and semi private bathroom. Running water (meaning a spigot in the courtyard) and electricity (when it works). I’ve yet to visit my site, so I’ll update you all more once I get there in a month.

My Assignment: Work with local business owners, work with the schools to teach business classes, work with various community groups. Finally, 7-8 km away are beautiful mangroves with wildlife and lush vegetation. I have the opportunity to help turn this into a sustainable eco-tourism site if I work hard enough.

The Demystifying Process:
All 50 trainees were blindfolded and guided to their site on a large map of Senegal painted on our basketball court. After reading a summary of the site and discovering our closest PCV neighbors, I needed some time to try and process all the overwhelming information.

Next, two trainees were sent to visit a current PCV and follow them around their villages for a few days. I got to hang out with a super cool volunteer named Jessica. She works closely with women’s/youth groups in her village and also helps other volunteers around the country plan gender/youth events. Her family is adorable, especially the father who was very upset we were leaving him only after 3 days. Check out the pictures of him. Too cute!!

After leaving her village, we hung out in the region house for a couple nights. Each major region of Senegal has a safe house for volunteers to pass through. Finally, we drove back to Thies for another set of tech and language classes. One month from now, I will officially be a Peace Corps Volunteer. Wish me luck!

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nowkat Yi (The Tailors)

I just went to the tailor's for the first time to get a grand bou bou (formal Senegalese outfit) made. The experience was so intense, I had to share it.

Deep in the market place of my town lives a building with 10 small rooms, each with 5-6 tailors feverishly working with loud sewing machines, only half of which are electric machines. Each machine rumbles and knocks loudly, each room blares different music blasted through broken tape players, and everyone tries to shout above this noise to "communicate." To top it off, the air is foggy with the smoke of burning plastic and overused machines.

Thousands of piles of fabric are stacked high on the shelves. Scraps of this same fabric make a comfy lining of tissue on the tiled floors.

My sister and I head to the back room to visit our tailor, Pappa Sek. After rapidly speaking to negotiate a fair price, I point to a picture of what I want my outfit to look like, and he takes less than 5 measurements before finished.

These tailors work their magic without any solid patterns or sewing plans. I watched a guy free handedly embroider the most gorgeous flowers on a woman's complet. Before busting out a tape measure, my tailor had me sized up and had enough information in his memory to custom build a formal outfit for me.

Price: It cost about 1,500cfa/meter of fabric and 5,000cfa for the tailor to build it. That totals about $25 in conversion.

WWU costume shop, I love you ladies, but you seriousy got nothin' on these guys. Sorry.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

Photo Album Online

To continue advancing my technological skills, I started uploading photos on Picasa. I'll update this site whenever possible. Enjoy!

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Senegalese Family

I realized I’ve yet to really describe my family to you, nor have I really gotten to know them till now. Like I mentioned, it’s a big family…

Father: Madiop Mbaye

Wives: My father has three wives, Fatou Sogue, Fatou Gaye, and Ndaye Gen. Yes there are multiple “Fatous” and polygamy is acceptable in the Islam religion.

Each wife has b/t 3-6 kids, which means I have about 15 brothers/sisters. Those children who are married and prosperous have 3-6 kids of their own. Therefore, I have about 8-10 young siblings.

Fatou Mbaye (the 3rd Fatou in the family) is my older sister and pretty much my care taker. She feeds me, patiently instructs me on how to properly wash my laundry. She’s everything a great big sister should be.

Sofi is the other sister whom I spend time with. She is feisty, loud, hilarious, and is teaching me how to dance like the Senegalese. However, I’m still not sure if the dance moves I’m learning are for men or women.

Balla is my older brother with whom I exercise with daily. He’s a soccer player.

I have two younger brothers who help me with my French and Wolof a lot, Babakar and Gora. WAIT – but MY name is Gora Mbaye. Yes, there are two Goras in my family. The actually family member is called “Gora Wolof”, I’m lovelingly addressed as “Gora Toubab”. As a refresher, “toubab” is the word for stranger in Senegal.

My little siblings are all super cute, super energetic, and always interested in what I’m doing. They are a lot of fun, but exhausting, and also very dirty. Senegal is a sandy place.

My family is wonderful, caring, and very loving. I have a lot of fun with them, more so now since I can actually communicate with them. When I told them I’d be leaving them to go to Thies for 10 days, they were very disappointed. I’m very blessed to have such a great family. Having a good solid family is a significant factor in your home site experience. Me, I’m having a fantastic time and will be very sad in October when I must depart with all 28+ members of my family.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How to Survive in Wolof: 3 Easy Steps

1. Study Wolof.
2. If you don't know a Wolof word, use the French word with a Wolof accent.
3. If you don't know the French word, use the English word with a French accent.

25% of the time, it works 25% of the time.

Also, I dreamt in Wolof the other night. A couple weeks ago I dreamt in not English or any deciphrable language. This time, it was definitely Wolof. I didn't understand it, but it was pretty cool nonetheless.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Ramadan:The Month of Fasting

First off, Senegal is 80-90% Muslim. There are smaller groups of Christians/Catholics, Bahai, and a small trace of Animism as well.

We are currently about 2.5 weeks into the month long fast that is known as Ramadan (“Koor gi” in Wolof). During Ramadan, people fast from sun up to sun down. No food, no water, and people are to abstain from other earthly pleasures such as music, dancing, and other things that the word “pleasure” implies. I’m not an expert on Ramadan, but Wikipedia is:

I fasted for a day and followed similar rituals as all the other Muslims fasting.
- 5am: Wake up before the sunrise to eat and pray. I had some sort of millet with unrefrigerated yogurt and sugar. And yes, I certainly prayed for strength and stamina for the day. This was my first time trying something like this. In Wolof, this meal is called “xet”
- Woke back up at 8:30am to start my day. Luckily, I did not have class that day, but people still go about their daily lives, many of which include intense manual labor, during Ramadan. I went to the market with my sister to buy food for the night’s large dinner.
- “Lunch time”: At around 2pm I was hungry. I was also very thirsty, which was more of a concern for me.
- 4pm: Got a headache from dehydration. I drank about 2 liters of water at 5am, but that doesn’t last for 12 hours.
- 7:30pm: Breakfast. In Wolof the word is “ndoggu” which means to break the fast. Each night, my family breaks the fast with bread and butter, dried dates, and Senegalese coffee (kafe tuba). Following this is a prayer (one of 5 daily prayers for Muslims). Then a big dinner is served a few hours later.

I would be lying to say that fasting was easy. I would be lying to say it was intensely difficult. After about 8 hours, I wasn’t feeling hungry, just thirsty. After about 10 hours, the dehydration was not too much fun. The last 30 minutes are the worst as we watch the sun go down you can smell the bread and butter and the coffee simmering in the background.

But it was something I was proud of doing, as was my family. I might try to fast again near the end of Ramadan. Next year, I’d like to fast for the entire month. But no promises right now.

Please read up on Ramadan if you’re not familiar. It’s an extremely crucial piece of the Islam faith, of which I’m learning more about each and every day.
Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Thursday, September 3, 2009

kickin' it in the cyber cafe

I don't have much credit left on my computer. Also i'm attempting to type on a french keyboard. But life here i going so well

I love my host family, which i recounted and got closer to 28 people.
My wolof classes are going well. Test next week; wish me luck!

Finally, life can best be summed up in my latest journal entry:

I just played with kids (dirty), touched a goat (extremely dirty), and showered with a gecko. Then I drank some of the water to wash it all away.

If that doesn't kill me, my medical officers will. Don't worry mom, I', still alive.

More updates when I get to Thies. Ciao!

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Language: French and Wolof

Last week, we were assigned our languages and started a very intensive learning process. For business volunteers (like myself), we are required to be both sufficient in French and a local language.

Luckily my PC recruiter encouraged me to take some French while still at school, which helped. Also, PC gave us access to Rosetta Stone, so I spent about 40 hours before I left the USA.

What exactly are “sufficient” language requirements? PCVs are required to reach the level of intermediate-mid, which basically means you are able to have some basic conversations, talk about your family, and survive. Vocabulary and grammar are not 100% correct, but manageable mistakes are made at this level of language.

For me, I tested beyond the intermediate-mid level of French, so my language I was assigned to learn was Wolof.

Wolof is probably the most widely spoken African language spoken in this country. It’s very similar to French and uses many of the same vocabulary words, just much different accents and consonants. But the language as a whole is not terribly difficult, just a bit overwhelming right now. We’re in language classes 6.5 days/week, go home to chat with the family (as much as my broken French and Wolof allow), and have homework to study as well. So I’m staying very busy. At the same time, our training program is designed to have us speaking at a sufficient level in just 9 weeks.

The class is conducted in French, so I'm quickly improvin that language as well. Pretty soon, I may be trilingual...

Please wish me luck, because if my Wolof does not test high enough to reach Intermediate-Mid, I cannot start my PC service.

Finally, for the next few months, you can call me by the name: Gora Mbaay. It’s the Senegalese name my family gave to me :)

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Home Stay

So last monday, our home stay began. Wow, what a crazy and ridiculously frightening thing...

My group of classmates and my teacher were all driven to Tiwawaan, a village nearby to Thies (our PC training center). Each of us were dropped off one by one with little/no Wolof skills. I was absolutely frightened. Thankfully, my family speaks French so there is SOME communication. I awoke the next morning to realize that I was still alive; my homestay has only gotten better since.

My family is huge: 15-20 people. We live in 3 separate houses because of our size. My family is very wonderful and generous. I'm incredibly well fed and taken care of. It took the little kids a couple days to realize that I'm not a bad guy, so now we play socccer together and they're trying to teach me Senegalese nursery rhymes.

Language tip: If youare ever learning a new language, hang out with lots of kids. They have the most patience and a similar level of vocabulary...

Food: Senegal's national dish is Ceebu Gen, which is fish and rice. It tastes great. In general, the food is different and difficult to explain the new flavors and tastes. It's easier to explain how my stomach has been reacting, but I'll spare you any graphic details and just say that some things are uncomfortable...Also, I love mangos. Nothing beats eating fresh mangos that have just fallen off the tree in your yard :) Jealous about my humble lifestyle now??

Our main job/focus for this portion of training is language learning. We're in class 6.5 days/week, 6 hours/day. So lots of language. During the off time, I hang out with my family under the mango trees. Shade is very important here. I'll save my language stuff for a separate blog entry.

Amenities: Probably the biggest difference here is the bathroom situations. First, bucket showers. Running water here is defined as a spicket that supplies water for you, which is better than a well. Second, squat toilets. And finally, no toilet paper. I'll spare you details here too, just remember that if you ever visit Senegal, we only shake with our right hands. 'Nough said...

Overall, I'm having a great time here. Things are a bit challenging and frustrating at times, but I'm keeping mine and others spirits up as much as possible. Laughing is key in this environment. People laugh at me, mainly because I sound like an idiot speaking Wolof, but it's important to laugh at myself as well. And believe me, there's plenty to laugh at...

PS. It's very hot here and very humid right now.
Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Inside Thies

This afternoon, we were able to leave our training compound for the first time. I finally feel like I'm in Senegal for the first time because we got a chance to visit the actual city. It was quite overwhelming, but very exciting. Lots of sights, smells, sounds...

New term: "toubab" which means stranger or white person. In Senegal, it is culturally acceptable to call a person by their ethnicity, and they definitely know when you are a "toubab". Also, most local nationals have not met too many Asian people, so that will be an additional label I will be experiencing.

Impromptu Talent Show:
Last night, our trainee group decided to have an impromptu performance of talents. I packed my tap shoes, in hopes of sharing my dance with my Senegalese friends and busted out my shows for the entire training compound. It's very hot in Senegal, therefore very sweaty...However, my performance (and others') were very well received.

More language and cultural language to come, which you will definitely hear about soon.

A Bientot!

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The first days

Monday morning: I left SeaTac airport and said goodbye to my dad, struggling to hold back tears.

I arrived in Reagan National Airport and met up with my sister, Angela and her husband, Greg. We took the metro to Washington Plaza Hotel, which was a classier place than I've ever stayed in and had a wonderful dinner together.

Tuesday: All 50 PC trainees going to Senegal met for a 6 hour orientation/staging process. As overwhelming as it was, I was eager and almost relieved to finally chat with people who were going through the same experiences as me.

Wednesday: Got my Yellow Fever vaccination. It was a little nerve racking watching 49 others slowly go through the line to get their same needle puncture...Hopped on a plane from Dulles airport heading for Dakar.

Thursday: After only about 4 hours of collective sleep on an airplane, we arrived in Dakar. We were immediately greeted by the PC Senegal staff and then took a 2 hour bus ride to Thies, our training center. The site is beautiful: electricity, running water, AND wifi...I'll post pictures soon, I promise.

As for now, its 9pm in Senegal and I'm finally exhausted after my day of travel and other fun things. A bientot!

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Some Final Thoughts

My bags are packed, my goodbyes have been said, my tears have been shed. It's now officially time for me to hit the road. It would be lying to say that I'm not nervous, scared, or very sad. It would be lying to say that I'm not anxious, excited, or energetic. I am all of these things and much more.

Regardless of my emotional whirlpool, I feel ready. Ready to meet all 50 other PC trainees heading to Senegal with me. Ready to feel lost, confused, outcast in a strange new world. Ready to fully test and challenge all the social, educational, and technical skills I have developed in my 23 years of life. Ready, and arriving with an open mind and open heart. Ready - thanks to all of you.

I'm currently chatting online with a dear friend from Thailand. This week, I also received emails from my friends and family in Lebanon, Canada, Italy, and Brazil (and of course the USA). Knowing that there are people all of over the world supporting my journey brings me peace. Please keep in touch, and please continue all of your hard work you are doing, whether it be abroad or on the homefront. My efforts are not any more or less important than yours.

Watch out world! Byron Yee is on the move...

Assalaamalekum (Peace be with you).

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009


Okay, time for the beginning of my crazy journey.

Next stop: Washington DC for a staging/orientation event. I'll be there for about 2 days.

Flight to Dakar: From DC to Dakar is only about 8.5 hours. Turns out the Atlantic ocean is much smaller than the Pacific...We arrive around 5:30am Senegal time. Hopefully I can sleep on the plane a lot.

Bus to Thies: 2 hour bus ride from Dakar to Thies, my home for the next 3 months.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Peace Corps Application Process

Since I set up this blog for the main purpose of sharing my Peace Corps stories and adventures, I figure I should put everyone up to speed. See below for a summary of my PC process thus far.

September 2008: Application
When applying to serve in a 3rd world country for an extended period of time, don't expect this to be an easy or simple process. The initial application was a 15 hour process which included personal information, employment history, medical history, fingerprints, a resume, college transcripts, and two 500 word essays.

October 2008: Interview
My PC recruiter, Anne Fraser, came up to WWU for a career fair; we used this convenient time to meet for my first interview. Everything went very well, Anne put everything into a very informative (and somewhat shocking) perspective. There were a few more emails and follow up phone calls later in this month.

November 2008: Nomination
Anne nominated me to be considered for a program which included business advising and ecotourism in Sub-Saharan Africa. That's literally as specific as it gets - for now.

December 2008: Medical Screening
Nothing says "happy holidays" like multiple visits to the dentist, doctors, and shrinks...I thought the initial application was complex; not compared to the medical screening. The bad news: I got my first ever cavaties, which was just slightly devastating, but not bad considering they were my first in 22 years. More bad news: The lab technicians had a bit of trouble extracting blood, so I left the doctors office that morning with about 5 needle holes in my arms. The good news was all the doctors found me to be in healthy shape (both physically and mentally). My thoughts at this point were: "Well for all this trouble, I'd better get in..."

February 2009: More medical stuff
A few follow up medical things were necessary for me to be medically cleared. Yay! More blood tests! Although I now know that CBC stands for "Complete Blood Count", so I'm that much more into Grey's Anatomy now, not.

The good news came that I was officially medically and legally cleared about a month later. This also means that the US gov has my fingerprints on file, so no more bank robbing or other exciting illegal activities ;)

May 2009: Follow Up Essays
Apparently the PC placement office didn't like my essay on cross-cultural adaptation using my experience developing different roles on stage as an actor. So I had to rewrite this essay. Additionally, they needed proof of my BA degree, and some other resume/job experience info. Almost there? Hopefully...

June 2009: Invititation
One week after graduation, I received an letter - rather a 2 lbs package - inviting me to serve as a PCV (Peace corps volunteer) in Senegal, West Africa as a business counselor. This was deliverd only 7 weeks before departure.

August 2009: Departure
I'm now about 4 days from departure. I'm excited, intrigued, nervous, scared, sad, and not packed yet. My emotions vary day-to-day, hour-to-hour. Current emotion of the hour: Nervous. However, I'm almost finished buying things off my packing list and all my paper is pretty much completed, so that's somewhat calming.

Enough for now, time to pack! Thanks for reading :)

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009


I now have an account on Skype: thebyronyee.

It's kind of ironic that I'm preparing to go to a developing country, which in turn is sparking me to make personal technological steps, such as blogs and webcams.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee (2009)- Senegal

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Blogging: A new frontier

I don't consider myself to be technologically impaired, however I do feel a little behind times. Congratulations, Byron just set up his first ever blog...