Hello lovely friends and family and random internet wanders who’ve happened upon my blog,

The crew crossing the bridge into Kolda meme

As of this past Tuesday, the increasingly epic Kolda Donkey Rally trotted into Kolda, ending a six-day journey of over 100 kilometers, 12 causeries, 1 kilo of Moringa seeds, 17 volunteers, and of course 4 donkeys.  To be frank, we realized on about day two that maybe the idea of riding donkeys for six days across Kolda was in fact not the best idea (logistically, comfort-wise, realistically for full-gown 24-year-olds riding donkeys in 121 degree heat) that we’ve ever had… regardless, the purpose of parading PCVs on donkeys across Kolda to bring attention to the alarming burden of malnutrition in Kolda was achieved.

I joined the rally-spectacle on the 12th, after the crew had been on the already been on the road for three days.  One look at everyone Saturday afternoon made it clear that exhaustion and dehydration were common companions throughout the rally, but the crew mustered up the enthusiasm and powered through that evening’s causerie in wonderful form.   Though of course some were better than others, we can honestly report that every one of the causeries (“health talks”) we led about malnutrition and how the leaves of the Moringa tree are one of the best tools for fighting vitamin deficiency went very well.  The leader of our brigade, Geoff, brought along his counterpart, Moustafa, who did most of the talking during our causeries.  Moustafa was was an absolute champion when it came to corralling villages we were visiting to attend our health talks via his megaphone and bucket-load of enthusiasm.  Combine three megaphones, four donkeys, and an average of nine volunteers at each causerie and you have enough of a circus to attract a small crowd in every village, be it simply out of curiosity as to what the hell we were doing or not.  The point is that a lot of people were reached all over Kolda as we made it rain Moringa seeds. Check and check.

1 of the 12 moringa causeries

As I’ve alluded, after slow days in the sun combined with scanty meals and continuously running on empty, it’s not surprising that before long we were explaining in Pulaar (well, everyone else was, I agreed along in Mandinka) to Moustafa what “slap happy” means as every late afternoon and evening turned into a delirious giggle-fest.  One evening, Moustafa contemplated Geoff and Curtiss’s definition of slap-happy as he glanced at Wilma, Cara, Mike and myself rolling around some mats, belly-laughing at our latest “ass” joke (you’d think after six days with the donkeys they would have gotten old, but they never did).  Moustafa slapped his hands together, nodded his head and looked seriously and Geoff and Curtiss: “Yes. Slap-hap-py. That is definitely what is happening,” he said as he picked up his mega-phone and said his new favorite English phrase we taught him over the course of the ride… “Oh my donkey!”  Enter fits of hilarity to all in the immediate area.

On a similar note, I want to end this post about the rally with a big THANK YOU to everyone who donated to the Gardens of Moringa Fund.  Over $1,600 was raised since we posted the Donkey Rally informational video on YouTube… which is amazing!  After covering the costs of the donkey rally, we have enough money in the fund to finance eleven small projects.  To refresh everyone on the ideas behind the Gardens of Moringa Fund: money will be used from the fund to support small-scale projects that pertain to Moringa; project costs must not exceed $150 and must include an intensive Moringa leaf bed and a causerie on the health benefits of the leaves.   In an organization where there often seems to be no medium between large-scale grants and volunteer-funded initiatives (difficult when we aren’t paid as much as stipend to get by each month), the Gardens of Moringa Fund will enable a lot of great projects to happen on the grassroots level the country over.  So again, thank you!  And remember that any time your change-purse gets a tad too heavy, you can donate to the country fund and designate the money to go to the Gardens of Moringa fund.  Hooray!

Unfortunately, none of the video footage we shot during the rally is at all pertinent to the actual rally and more for the ralliers’ amusement, so I do not have another YouTube snippet for you all to see.  Instead, and as usual, below is a collage of photos from my time with the Donkey Rally.    Enjoy!

Charlene climbs a Moringa tree to gather seeds. Photo by Curtis McCoy


Kelly, Wilma, Cara, Charlene, Mike, & Mike breaking open Moringa seed pods. Photo by Curtis McCoy


The long road of the Kolda Donkey Rally


9am Breakfast after a 6am start


1 of the 12 moringa causeries, Nebedaye is a local name for Moringa. Photo by Curtis McCoy


Mike challenging some local kids to a wrestling match between causeries. Photo by Curtis McCoy


The local kids kicking Mike's butt. 13 against 1 will do that. Photo by Curtis McCoy


Heading into Wilma's village, our stop for the night.


Me testing my balance trying to get on my bike one morning. Three bikers carried all the baggage for the donkey crew. Photo by Cara Steger


Off bring and early each morning, bikers and donkey riders (walkers) steady on down the national highway in Kolda. Photo by Cara Steger


Mom and daughter listen to one of the causeries


Mike looks on as Kelly and Cara nap between causeries. Photo by Curtis McCoy


Another day ends as we roll into our host village for the night. Photo by Curtis McCoy


Me feeling the crazy-slap-happy we indulged in at the end of each day.


Wilma, me & Cara: the bike crew with our heaviest loads the last day of the rally! Photo by Jason Haack


Mike and Wilma (and Jason's dog) rejoicing at the Kolda-ho! sign (misleading though as Kolda meme was still an hour away). Photo by Curtis McCoy


Glory banner as we crossed the bridge into Kolda meme! Photo by Pam Pratt




Hi everyone!  My friends Geoff and David (volunteers in my region) have come up with a fantastic project and now a bunch of us are joining in!  All the details and descriptions are in the video below, and as a side-note, yes: I am participating as well, my name just missed the video cut.

Either way, you should definitely WATCH the video, laugh at our miserable donkey-riding skills, and if you feel so inclined, DONATE!  If you do want to donate though, please be sure to read the information and instructions from Geoff and David that I’ve listed below the video. Enjoy!

About your donation:
Volunteers, in conjunction with Peace Corps Senegal’s country director, have established a new fund entitled the Gardens of Moringa Fund. Monies donated to this fund will be made available to community groups, women’s groups, and school gardens across all of Senegal for small garden improvements (fence repairs, basic tools, protective equipment, seed bank materials etc) or the introduction of new gardening technologies (hand crank well pumps, treadle pumps, improved variety seeds, etc) that do not exceed $150.

This fund will be available to all Peace Corps Senegal Volunteers to do what they do best – assess at the community level the most motivated and deserving of groups or schools within their own community. A 20% financial community contribution per project will be mandatory to ensure a sense of ownership and increased responsibility on the part of the local community. Senegal’s country Director will personally assess the merits of all applications submitted to the Peace Corps office in Dakar and make all final decisions regarding the acceptances or rejections of those applications.

Upon the successful dispersal of funds for small garden improvements or technological innovations the nearest volunteer to the receiving community group, women’s group, or school garden will be required to cultivate an intensive bed of Moringa Oliefera for the purpose of leaf production and consumption as well as hold an informational session for local community members that will cover the same information session for local community members that will cover the same information as that discussed in the 13 towns and health posts of the Kolda Donkey Rally. After the successful completion of these steps and the appropriate documentation has been provided to the Peace Corps Senegal office, Peace Corps Volunteers will then be allowed to apply for additional funding provided Gardens of Moringa Fund under the same parameters previously mentioned.

How to donate:

If you’re interested in supporting our efforts, please visit the following website: Senegal Country Fund Websiteyou MUST designate the donation to the “Gardens of Moringa Fund” in the comments section of this page.

1- Enter the amount you are willing to donate in the box on the right side of your screen, 2- Click DONATE, 3- Fill out required information, 4- since this donation will be going to the general Senegal country fund IT IS CRITICAL  YOU DESIGNATE THE DONATION TO THE GARDENS OF MORINGA FUND IN THE COMMENTS SECTION OF THIS PAGE! 5- Give someone a hug, you deserve it :) Your financial support of this project would represent both your support of our goals to eliminate malnutrition here in Senegal as well as your support of Peace Corps Senegal’s abilities to effectively identify and assist those most in need of your assistance.

Thank you,

David Shames, Geoff Burmeister

Dear Ms. Riha’s class,

Hi everyone!  I’m sorry that it has been so long since I wrote you all last – I’ve been really busy here in Senegal.  Let me tell you all about it…

In December, I got to take some time off for the first time since I arrived in Senegal back in April of 2009!  For Christmas, I fourteen other volunteers and I went to a town on the coast of Senegal called Popenguine (pronounced pope-in-geen) where an eco-tourism volunteer works.  Do you know what eco-tourism is?  Eco-T volunteers (as we call them), work in areas of Senegal that tourists like to visit.  In these areas, they teach the Senegalese living there and the tourists visiting how to work together to visit the interesting nature sites of Senegal without hurting them.  Sounds like a fun job, doesn’t it?

In Popenguine, I got to see a bunch of other volunteers that I had not seen in over four months, and speak English all day long!  We also cooked a lot of American food, like spaghetti, and steak and potatoes.  It tasted really good after eating rice and millet for months in my village.

A few days after new years, one of my friends from college came to visit me for ten days.  We biked to my site down in Kolda, visited some of the tourist areas in Dakar that I had not yet been to, and went to a town where another eco-tourism volunteer lives called Palmarin.  In Palmarin, we went camping on the beach and saw a Senegalese wrestling match, which is called a lute.  Wrestling is the national sport of Senegal, but it’s not like the WWF wrestling you see on TV in America.  Wrestling in Senegal is done outside in the sand, and there are lots of drums and dancing involved.  It was very exciting for me because no one wrestles in Kolda where I live, so I had not seen a wrestling match before.   Remember how in my last letter I was telling you about the different ethnic groups of Senegal?  Well, while there are a few ethnic groups in Senegal that wrestle, the Sereer (pronounced sah-rare) ethnic group is the most well-known for it, and there are no Sereer villages in the south where I live.

In Palmarin, we also got to go kayaking in some mangroves.  Do you know what mangroves are? They are trees that grow in the water!  They have really long roots that look like the legs of a spider, and they grow around the edges of rivers.  Here, I’ll draw you a picture of what they look like to me:   [sorry not scanning in the photo I drew =)]  Kayaking in the mangroves was really fun, but I hadn’t kayaked in a long time, and since the river that winds through the mangroves is really narrow, our kayak kept bonking into the mangrove tree! Ouch!

If all of that wasn’t enough traveling, I just got back from a huge two-day conference in the capital city of Senegal – Dakar.  The conference was for all of the volunteers in Senegal, plus we had a few volunteers attend from other West African countries, like Mali, Niger, Togo, the Gambia, and Burkina Faso.  Each day of the conference, there were a bunch of different information sessions we could choose to attend to learn about neat things other Peace Corps volunteers are doing in their villages.

Photo I used for my presentation on Moringa. Here are Moringa leaves on a cut.

You know what is cool? Both of the days, I got to present on stuff I’ve been doing in my village!  The first day, I talked about how you can use the leaves of one of the trees that grows in Senegal as band-aids, to cover small cuts and wounds. This is really cool because ther are a lot of villages where people don’t have access to even bandages. I’ve included a photo I used during my presentation in this letter.

The second day of the conference, I gave a presentation on an organization called Water Charity.  Water Chairty helps to fund water availability and water sanitation projects for peace corps volunteers all over the world.  They just funded a project in my village that I forgot to tell you about – we just finished building a well at Fodé Bayo’s health hut!  Isn’t that great?  Everyone in village is really happy, and the well now gives the nurses and midwife quick access to safe water.

After the two-day all-volunteer conference, we had a three-day softball tournament called the West African Invitational Softball Tournament (WAIST).  Every region of Senegal that volunteers are in creates a softball team, (I was on the Kolda team of course!), plus there are teams made from the US embassy workers, the Marines who work in Senegal, a few Senegalese teams, and teams from other Peace Corps countries in West Africa.  Our Kolda team lost all four of the games we played, but we didn’t mind because we were just playing for fun!

Phew! I think that is all of my updates for now.  Oh wait, one more – I got a puppy!  His name is Nacho and he is white with black spots.  Very, very cute, and a great jogging buddy for me.

I hope you all are having a great school year and enjoying all of the snow!  I can’t wait to get your letters!

Your friend,