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