And I’m leaving…

tomorrow on a (red eye) jet plane. Something is very scary about leaving for a year (or more of your life). I packed a week ago but of course the last little bits take up more space than I dedicated for them. Luckily (or not) we are allowed 2 checked bags, and I’m using it all of it. My bags are light, but just have lots of volume due to needing both work and nice clothes and I packed some food. Within a short time I won’t own as much.

yes that is 4 bags, 2 check, 2 carry on

I hoped to pack less this time around, since I’ve done this before and it’s only for a year. But the need for ‘stuff’ is sad but true. I can cope, but ‘less’ is always something I strive for now in life. To lighten myself enough to travel more freely through this world. To carry experiences rather than ‘stuff’

Also I took an 8-day road trip a 2 weeks before I’m due to leave, the Minneapolis International Film Festival is going on, the Association of Writers & Writer’s Programs happens to be in town (along with many free events), HBO has a new app (free for the 1st month) and I’ve been dying to watch a few of their documentaries that I keep hearing about (namely “It’s Me Hilary: The Man who Drew Eloise“,  “112 Weddings” and “Going Clear: Scientology”). Everything fun happens to happen all at once. Oh and I have a stack of books I would love to read before I leave but that’s not going to happen either. 😦

I’m sorry that the photos that I will most likely share in the next year will give you some emotion along of “I want to be there” to “I am jealous of this person’s life” PLEASE DON’T BE. I know this is easier said than done. “Emotions are like clouds, if you wait a few moments they will pass” I don’t like the idea of jealous towards me or my work. Everyone has an interesting life, regardless of where you are. Everyone has a story to tell.

My goal is to “Document the moments you feel most in love with yourself – what you’re
wearing, who you’re around, what you’re doing. Recreate and repeat.” – Warsan Shire with the photos I will try to take for the next year. 

But honestly, thank you for all the well wishes, blessings, prayers, thoughts, visits, emails, notes, lunches, dinners, drinks, love sent from afar and hugs! I am very blessed to be doing what I do and can not wait to see what’s going to happen!

My view from where I stayed in Minneapolis

My mailing address (and is also under the contact tab)

M Wannarka
Peace Corps Grenada
Upper Lucas St. and Lowther’s Lane
P.O. Box 766
St. George’s, West Indies
Grenada

Almost Done & Am

“It is that true real inspiration and growth only comes from adversity
and from challenge. Stepping away from what’s comfortable and familiar
and stepping into the unknown, the edge.” -TED talk Ben Saunders

I am close to about a month from being done with my work in Senegal. While talking to fellow volunteers we discussed how strange it was that we notice we have feelings that are similar to how we felt when we first coming to Senegal. Wanting more personal time and connect to America, read and finish up on personal and PC projects has become front and center as my time winds down here.

Again thinking about the over all experience here strangely there are similarities between here and a few things I’ve read. I think they are kinda funny.

“There enemies are hunger, ignorance, and disease …serves humanities, inter and Americans.” p.21 Making a Difference :Peace Corps at Twenty Five by Milton Viorst

 —————————-

I don’t know when I wrote above. My last months in village and in Senegal were too much. Too much of what I didn’t know I missed and will miss. Too much love poured out of people who I got to spend 2 years with. Too much of volunteers that I also spent that time with, good or bad. Too much to be said but in too little time to say it all. Too much emotion to put accurately in to words.  Too much that I wanted for myself and the people around me, there and now here.

I’ve now been home for a month and until yesterday did not feel like writing. It was still too much. People that you thought you knew changed. I myself changed, but couldn’t say exactly how. In the 2 years being gone, Minneapolis, my life, my friends, my people, have all changed. Mostly for the better I would like to think. But what has also changed is how I look at them.

When you return home from being abroad, you have these crazy emotions that you can’t quite understand and they come from NO WHERE. I haven’t broke down crying at the grocery store, yet. But I have felt angry that some of my people don’t share my same view point on the world, which makes me wonder if we ever did.

Finding time to spend with people while I’m home has been fun and seeing them even better. And the most fun is seeing all my other, sometimes newer, friends who have been abroad while I was too. It’s fun to compare thoughts on re-entry (I term I’m not sure I’m fond of yet)

Slowly I’m sure my too much, won’t feel like enough. As it slowly is as I crave more conversation with people, not just my friends, but new people, like I had in Senegal. Every day new, every day something you didn’t and could have ever though you’d be doing. Not like America. Every one busy, nose stuck in their phones like it was an oxygen tank for their last breath.

WAKE UP.

I know I can’t make people see the things I’ve seen or share my experiences as richly as they ever were in person. Standing there with all the dust, heat, sweat, lovely smell of mango blossoms in the air as you just sit, because it’s too hot to do anything else than sit and talk.

Part of me is sorry, for this rant, for what I feel and how mad I get sometimes at people that are so connected to their machines, phones, time, next that they can see the person beside them, the possibility for learning, an adventure, a friend.

Then the other part of me is not. The other part sees this as ‘The Matrix’ or the movie ‘Her’ (both I highly recommend) and I want to go around somehow unplugging people, waking them up. But no matter how loud I scream or try to get their attention will they get it, understand and even start to believe it’s possible.

So I do what I can. Try to be of service, do what I can with what I have, go where I’m asked and hopefully people will just ask. “Why?” I don’t expect to every to jump on a bandwagon and want to do the same thing I do, not in the least. I just want people to open their eyes, hearts, and minds and realize there is no more to life than this, here, and now. Not tomorrow, not even in this next hour or minute. But now.

When I went to Senegal I hated to say “Inchallah“, if God wills it. It made me think that nothing will get done. Soon after I realized it was for that. It was a reminder to stay present and whoever it is, God, Allah or the Universe, will take care of it.

Oh the Difference a year Makes….or not…


It’s crazy to think I have spend my 2nd Thanksgiving, birthday, Christmas and soon New Years’ in Senegal. That is not a complaint. Do you remember what last Christmas looked like?

Same but different, I think my feet are more clean now though.

I know Minnesota was recordly cold for the last few weeks and I’m glad to be sitting here while the weather here has it’s own mood swings. In a week it went from high of 90’s, then rained the other day, and today it might be 70 degrees.

Strangely talking about the weather is very much part of the culture here as it is in the Midwest. And I am constantly asked if things that exist here also are in the United States. It’s kinda a fun game until they don’t believe you that it exists outside of their world or the world they think they know isn’t reality. I’m not here to burst there bubble. It is much easier to give them a Time magazine and flip through it and ask questions.

Back to the matters at hand….
I have been following up on year of end reports, lists, goals for the year to come for myself and my work here AND thinking about what happens when this next year is over. I know I have control over nothing and these are simply thoughts but “ Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits,  Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” 

If only I could get this across to everyone else here, right? Maybe, some days. Things change here albet slowly. I have seen it. I know that me being the first volunteer, white person, woman, to live in my village has made people think, sometimes mad (I know I can be infuriating and or stubborn) but also change over the last year. It’s quite interesting and hopeful.

Via http://www.kfoleywellness.com

Thoughts over the past year.

  •  The idea I had before coming here of what I wanted to do and why I came here, is still just an idea. An ever changing, learning, edited idea of what can or could be done while trying to simply be here, today, now. 
  •  This so much as been something eluding to this: 
    • “the year of letting go, of understanding loss. grace. of the word ‘no’
      and also being able to say ‘you are not kind’. the year of
      humanity/humility. when the whole world couldn’t get out of bed.
      everyone i’ve met this year, says the same thing ‘you are so easy to be
      around, how do you do that?’. the year i broke open and dug out all the
      rot with own hands. the year i learnt small talk. and how to smile at
      strangers. the year i understood that i am my best when i reach out and
      ask ‘do you want to be my friend?’. the year of sugar, everywhere.
      softness. sweetness. honey honey. the year of being alone, and learning
      how much i like it. the year of hugging people i don’t know, because i
      want to know them. the year i made peace and love, right here.”- Warsan Shire   
  • “Peace Corps is like going through puberty all over again. It sucks but it gets better.” Quote from fellow RPCV. I have a tendency to think that this life is a mini-life, I have flash backs from childhood here or having to explain American life brings up things you might not have thought of. Its a strange re-living of things.
  • Learned to be smaller than I ever have wished I could be. I tried to be silent, passive,invisible, that didn’t work especially when I live with a ethnic group that is anything but. Now I learned to be quiet, simple, polite when I want to be anything but.
  • “Babies were born to friends, friends were lost to illness. It was a big year. But every year is a big year. Every day
    is a big day. That is what we realize when we are older. That we are
    lucky enough—and that is all it is, plain dumb luck—to be here makes it a
    big day, a big year. “
  • Inchallah and slowing to the moment, realizing that here, now is important than later. And then throwing it all out the window. If I want/need/plan I also know that I can “f*ck inchallah” and just get it done rather than waiting on fatalism to have it’s way. I also had a conversation saying inchallah is only a Senegalese thing, Americans have no need for this as we just get things done.
  •  No matter how many books you read, thankfully there are MORE books to read.
  • “The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs.
    The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours
    reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s
    diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave
    under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.” Cheryl Strayed via Sarah Wilson
  • Strangely being in a culture that thinks every woman’s only job is to have children does NOT make you want to have them even more. Or be married. 
  • My diet has changed where most protein I eat is either fish, beans, eggs and rarely chicken or other meat (goat usually). I cherish vegetables like nothing else, especially green peppers, carrots and squash. Coffee and coke where once staples but I am off of coffee and maybe will let go of the coke, but with real sugar it’s entirely different. Only other processed foods I eat are chocolate, coke, mayonnaise, ketchup laughing cow “cheese” and nesquick.
  •  “While there may be exceptions (as there are with
    everything), most people who become vagabonds, nomads, and wanderers do
    so because they want to experience the world, not escape some problem.
    We travel to experience life and live on our own terms.

    Life is short, and we only get to live it once. I want
    to look back and say I did crazy things, not say I spent my life in an
    office, reading travel blogs, and wishing I was exploring the world.” -via thoughtcatalog.com

  • The journey changes you – it should change you. It
    leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and
    on your body. You take something with you… Hopefully, you leave
    something good behind.

    Anthony Bourdain via That Kinda Of Woman

  • Stolen from another volunteer’s blog:
    • 9. The whole village raises the child.

      10. I am that child.

      11. They’re poor, they’re not stupid.

      12. A month in the Peace Corps is equivalent to a year in my
      twenties; the more I’ve accumulated to reflect on, the more I realize I
      hadn’t the slightest idea what I was talking about or doing…

      13. And who I am today is a direct result of continually pretending I do, which is both horrifying and amusing.

  • “Be patient with yourself and others, Do you and not someone else. Take care of you and what’s important to you. Be brave, happy and beloved, loving, remember who you are and where you want to go” -A letter written to myself a year ago after I became a volunteer

Overall am I a better person here than I am in America? Some days, some days worse. Did I come here to do what I wanted to do? I think so, but it has changed or maybe my mindset did. Is this next year going to be better than the first? You better believe it!

I’m blessed to live in a very beautiful, diverse, and “rich” area in Senegal and would like to believe it’s a reason why I am honestly so happy here and with what I do. Along with all the thoughts, prayers, blessings from all my loved ones all over the world.

I hope all of you have a safe, blessed, happy, healthy new year and many more days to come.

May the sun bring you energy by day, 
may the moon softly restore by night, .
may the rain wash away your work, 
may the breeze blow new strength into you being, 
may you walk gently though the world and know the beauty of all the days in your life.

A Blessing & A Curse: My Hair

Hair is a strange thing, especially for women. It can be your greatest asset or a painful tyrant who you constantly fight with. I think we all are just in search of a stylist who loves our hair more than we do and can figure out a flattering cut or style that works for our lifestyle and look.

In America and here in Senegal, hair, for women, is cherished and envied thing. In America, having well styled and groomed hair is regaled no matter what the length. In Senegal, the longer, more coiffed or more elaborate the braiding design, the better.

This leads me to my hair. I have been blessed with good hair by American standards. Meaning good color, texture and weight. Growing up I never thought much about my hair until my hair turned into a mullet after a trip to a beauty school to have a trim. Growing up I never went to a real salon and we were usually brought to a beauty school for a cheap trim.

2 year old me

After that my hair when from medium length to short and included a few home perms…needless to say there are very few photos of me at that age. Up until 8th grade I tried growing out my hair and had glasses and was teased endlessly for my hair. Once my hair finally reached chin length, I got contacts and was in high school. I continued to grow out my hair and vowed never to cut it short again due to the endless teasing I suffered in grade school.

Circa 2000, one of my senior pictures

Which over time I grew to love my hair, got many complements on it and simply just washed and dried it. My mom refused to let me color my hair growing up and hated the smell of hairspray. Thankfully I think this helped my ‘bad’ hair not become as bad as I could have been if I was left to my own devices.

Circa 2005, maybe the longest my hair has ever been

Through college I didn’t think much of my hair, but was asked often to help with various shoots, shows, and photographers asked to take my picture. This was strange to me as I never thought of myself as pretty. I grew up with 2 older brothers and was never really told I was a girl and hence grew up a tomboy. Although majoring in clothing design you end up asking friends to model for you and you do the same to return the favor. All of which is very fun, but sometimes what they decided to do to my hair, albet pretty, was a pain to undo. Beauty has it’s costs.

(from left to right) You can’t see them, but I have 2 sunflowers on the back of my head for a shoot for sarahfrench.net, crazy hair for hair show with Moxie Salon and retro styling for a part in a short film.

Once I had applied for PeaceCorps and had an idea I would be going to Africa, I decided to put my hair in dreadlocks. And to check off the other random things on my list, I colored it darker first. I love my hair being darker than it is, as it always has a shade of red to it, which I have never liked. Strangely, after dreading my hair, I got the strangest reactions from friends, acquaintances and my family. “Why?” was the most common. My answer “why not? it’s just hair”. I found that in America, people loved my hair more than I did. It seemed that every chance people got they mentioned how much they didn’t like my dreads. One fellow, actually admired them because he also had dreads and had cut them off.

Circa 2011, my short time with dreadlocks

While looking for a job in America, I knew it would be easier if I didn’t have dreads (sad, but true, the more ‘normal’ you look, the more employable you are) so I combed them out after 4 months. My hair was thin, but I still had hair on my head.

Now being in Senegal for 8 months, I think often about my hair as I see tumble weeds of weaves from the amount of hair Senegalese women braid into there very short hair and constantly am asked if they can braid my hair. After declining, I then have to explain that the sun will burn my scalp and it will hurt.

Luckily, I live close to the delta and have many many trees around me so the temperatures here get reasonably hot. That being said, I have 2 months until the rain start and with it bring endless humidity that no matter how many bucket baths you take will leave you drenched in sweat. It was like this when I arrived in late September, it is miserable.

Thinking about that and the number of bucket baths I am taking on a daily basis increasing as well as I needed to take a trip to the center of the country (a.k.a. add at least 10 degrees and drop my lovely breeze to the weather) I had contemplated maybe doing dreads again or shaving my head. I decided to cut my hair off. At first I was going to shave it. #1 maybe # 2 and go to town. After having my best village friend, Ibra, a 16-year old boy, chop off the majority of it with my med scissors, I decided against it. Once I trimmed it up, it wasn’t so bad.

Taken a week ago

The strangest part of this whole chopping off my hair was the reactions of people. Young senegalese boys gave me complements the same day I did it, saying “you were pretty before, but now your are prettier”. I thought they were lying, until some of the teenagers and older men complemented me on it too. And the women, stopped to greet me and the first thing out of their mouths was how pretty my hair was. I still am a little shocked at the Senegalese reaction, but I think it’s due to my short hair being stuck in my head to being teased.

Americans didn’t recognize me, which was fun, especially with some volunteers who had met me briefly or I haven’t seen in a while and went to a large meeting soon after doing it. Overall, I do love my hair and having it short, I do really appreciate having good hair. I plain to not cut it again and let it start growing out to see how wavy it will get. I’m just glad people have stopped asking to braid my hair.

Have you ever shaved your head or cut all your hair off?? What were people’s reactions?