Wow where to begin? It seems that everyone’s lives have changed so much since my last post in October. Most have made sacrifices in the face of this global pandemic. In Senegal, for a few months ignorance was bliss. I sat in my village of little cell reception, and declined to pay attention to the constant headlines of a worsening global situation. I had the amazing experience of hosting two friends in country. We checked out the major tourist spots for a week and the second week my buddy Sam and I ventured to my village. He had started a GoFundMe in anticipation of his trip, and we used the money to install a new solar pump in the women’s garden.
It was a major success! The pump supplies water to a large basin which then flows via underground piping to 16 basins across the garden. This allows the gardeners to expand their plots and will ultimately provide more food to eat and sell. Whereas most of my work(tree planting) will take years to show a benefit, this pump immediately made an impact. I was glad Sam and I were able to get it installed before the stuff hit the fan.
Indeed, after installing the pump is when things started going downhill, fast! We had the opportunity to play in an embassy sponsored softball tournament in Dakar. A great experience! All was well and the team was enjoying a beer on the beach after the tournament, relaxing and watching the sunset. Suddenly I felt as though a hot metal spike had been driven through my big toe. I yelped in pain and looked down. Blended into the sand was a three-inch-long scorpion! I had been stung. This was nothing like a bee sting, my foot was throbbing, and it was only getting worse. I alerted my friends to the scorpion and someone had the wherewithal to smash it with a metal water bottle. I could barely stand. People urged me to call the Peace Corps medical emergency line. On the second ring the doctor answered, and I told her what happened. She said it was OK as long as the pain was confined to my foot. Well about ten minutes later the intense pain was in my calf…then my thigh…and finally my groin. Things were getting scary.
I called the doctor back and she told me to meet her at the Peace Corps headquarters as soon as I could. I had to walk up a quarter mile hill from the beach to the road in order to get a cab. This was one of the most miserable, painful walks of my life. The only time I have been in worse pain is when I had appendicitis back in high school! Luckily my girlfriend Amanda was there to help. She got me into a cab and soon we were in the medical bay of headquarters. The doctor was there minutes later. I took a variety of pain meds and was on an IV. Soon I was feeling much better. I got clearance to spend the night in the office. The next day I was feeling well and was itching to go get a drink and food but was stopped on my way out by Peace Corps staff. No one was allowed to leave headquarters that night, the first case of coronavirus had been confirmed in Dakar.
While I thought I was going to be stuck in Dakar for a while, I was eventually allowed to go back to my village. The first case was from a French traveler and he was in quarantine, so I was good to go. From then on rumors flew around the volunteer community: what was going to happen? Would we be leaving Senegal? What if we got the virus in Senegal? I could feel the uncertainty weighing on me, it was ever present and distracting me from my work. When I did have cell service I saw a deteriorating situation in Europe. Peace Corps countries there were getting evacuated! Surely that couldn’t happen here. Senegal had less than 20 cases! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as the world closed itself off. The strangest thing was that very little about village life changed. People went about their daily routines oblivious to the pandemic. Some heard about it on the radio and many later found out when Senegal closed all schools, banned all gatherings, and canceled all weekly markets.
We knew things were getting bad when nearby Morocco shut its borders and evacuated Peace Corps volunteers. Amanda and I headed to the Peace Corps house in Tambacounda to get better cell reception in case anything happened. Sure enough in the middle of the night we received notice that Peace Corps was evacuating globally. Over 7,000 volunteers all heading back to the states. The next day we headed to site, hastily packed our things, said tearful goodbyes to our host families, and were back in Tamba. A few days later we were on a plane to DC. Everything happened so fast it honestly feels like I just zoned out for a week then was back in the sates. That was easier than processing everything that was happening at the time.
Now I’ve been home in Massachusetts for about two weeks. Sleeping, eating, and trying to think about what’s next. I obviously have much better internet and tons more free time now, so I am hoping to blog a lot more. Of course I won’t be writing about Peace Corps anymore but whatever comes next. I hope to expand this site into much more than a personal blog. I will continue along the vein of environmental issues and sustainability. I hope to branch out and write about other topics that interest me like green finance and permaculture. I hope you’ve enjoyed the stories from Senegal and continue to follow along!