Warning: this is a long one...
My last weekend in Thies was very busy. Our performance of the English sketch was on Saturday evening. The school director told us that the cultural school event would be starting around 4. We arrived with our students at 4:30 and, aside from the Senecorps director, were the only people there. The performances were being held at the Museum of Thies where there is a small sandy stage and surrounding bleacher seats. Eventually, other students trickled in. Like every Senegalese party, there was an MC, huge speakers and very loud music. To start the performances, the MC was making jokes (in Wolof) and recruiting other students to come on stage and try out their singing ability... this was a bit like a halfhazard Senegal Idol. Then, performances began with a enthusiastic lip syncing to famous rap or R&B songs and some other comedy skits (also in Wolof... ie minmal understanding on my part).
We didn't end up going on until around 8 when the sun was setting, so I didn't get any good pictures (the one above is of the English club kids sitting under a tree in the school yard). It became clear that our performance was going to be the single play in English and that the only other person who would understand it (other than the three of us American volunteers) was Akema, our American director. So it didn't really matter that the mother forgot a chunk of her monologue, the mother's friend improvised some jokes during a sad scene and that none of the kids can correctly say the word 'immigration' which is the main theme of the play. I stood backstage with a script and nudged them on-stage at semi-correct times and laughed with them all when it was over. They were psyched to do the performance and it was a ton of fun.
After the performances were over, we told them all to meet us for ice cream on Sunday night at 9. When we showed up to the Crossant Magique at 9:15 and saw three kids already sitting waiting for us (and 7 more arriving within the next 15), we made a LOT of jokes about this being their first time being close to prompt. When free ice cream is involved and not English lessons, these kids are very interested. It was really fun and relaxing to sit around at eat ice cream with the group. I've become really friendly with these kids and they were all disapointed that I was leaving so soon.
Sunday morning, we also continued our Senecorps interviews seeking to fill all the positions at the new center. These were all second-round interviews for about 12 people. We asked more managerial questions to administrative candidates, had the professor candidates teach a lesson and made everyone create a brochure in Microsoft Word to advertise Senecorps. The brochure-making process was more of a test of technology skills than marketing skills, and frankly, it was pretty disapointing. The only people to make something presentable (with text, large font, photos and Senecorps information) were the tech teacher candidates (who were also the youngest candidates). The three people who are candidates for director all had pretty poor computer skills, which is mostly a factor of their age. Anyway, more Senecorps staff will review these interview notes and the brochures and hopefully come to some hiring decisions next weekend.
Tuesday after these interviews, I left Senegal and flew to Portugal. It wasn't so hard leaving this time, despite being very close with Akema and Mame Fatou, because I am pretty confident that I will be back. Whenever someone asks if I will be back, the correct response is: 'Inchallah,' which means God-willing. The Senegalese love it when I say this, its as if I now understand the complexity of life. I was happy that I got to spend my last few days with Mame, eating enormous meals and joking around a lot. I will certainly return to see her... next time with family (sound good, Mom??).
So... on to Portugal. This country is incredible. I can't help but emphasize the fact that, again, everything is old. The country of Portugal itself 900 years old (by comparison, Spain is about 500 years old and the US is about 200 years old). And even before the country was officially named, the Moors (Muslim) and the Catholics have been battling over the land since around 800 AD. And the Romans lived here before that. Yesterday, we saw a Roman temple from 200 BC in the UNESCO World Heritage walled city of Evora.
My dad and I are biking through Alentejo, which is in the south-eastern countryside of Portugal. It's very warm (though definately not like Senegal) and dry here. The countryside is beautifully scattered with wild flowers and vinyards, olive, cork and eucalyptis trees. So far, we're biking about 60 km (40 miles) through very old small villages and staying at Pousadas- old monastaries that have been restored into inns. Biking is a really cool way to really see a country, we get to actually experience every rolling hill (for better or for worse) and become part of the countryside. We take little country roads that stumble upon towns that probably looked the exact same 200 years ago. We garner strange looks from the aging locals who probably wonder why these two foreigners are wearing such tight shorts. All the buildlings in these towns (Arriolos, Evora, Sta Susana, Vila Viscosa) are white with red tile roofs and either bright blue or mustard yellow painted trim.
Hopefully I'll have another chance to write soon (today was a rest day- phew) because I already have a few funny stories and some fabulous photos to share. More to come.