Keeping it Real in Koungheul


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Africa » Senegal » Kaffrine Region » Koungheul
July 13th 2010
Published: July 13th 2010
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Salaam aleekum! Greetings from Koungheul!

Where is Koungheul? you ask. Well, take the one road out of Dakar and drive to Kaolack. From here, take the one road to Tambacounda and drive for about two and a half hours. Tada! Welcome to Koungheul. We are essentially in the Middle of Nowhere.

Koungheul is a bustling town of nearly 20,000 (according to Wikipedia) but that seems awfully large. There is a market, a handful of mosques, some small butiks (kind of like general stores where you can buy everything from liquid soap to powdered milk to Fanta to lengths of rope), and a lot of goats.

We are working with 10,000 Girls at their sewing center, located just off the main road in Koungheul. It's a cooperative made up of several dozen girls (maybe? we're not quite sure just how many girls participate) who are learning how to sew (currently working on dolls and bags), spin yarn (the spinning wheels are SO cool and made out of PVC pipes), dye yarn and fabrics, and a weaving project is in the works. They have a massive loom set up, but no one knows how to use it yet and the professor will be showing up "soon" (though in African time, that could be months down the road).

They have five or six ancient - and I'm not exaggerating (Karin says: all are pre zig zag era and several are pedal models) - sewing machines in a very hot, poorly lit room. We're working on getting a ceiling fan and extra lights installed with the money so generously donated by our wonderful family and friends. We were also able to purchase flooring for three of the rooms at the center and buy many meters of fabric for future projects. I tried sewing a bag on these 70+ year old machines, and well, let's just say it looks like my bag was sewn by a blind toddler. The machines
Sophie, me, and Véro before churchSophie, me, and Véro before churchSophie, me, and Véro before church

I totally look like the ugly toubab cousin
keep sewing after you take your foot off the pedal, and the tension will randomly change and you'll have to undo half the bag you just sewed. Super lame. My bag is finished, though, so now I can stay out of sewing room and focus on my portion of the project here: English classes.

The girls are supposed to all be taking part in literacy and English classes in addition to their sewing/spinning/weaving activities. Unfortunately, the teacher quit five months ago. There are only a handful of books, and they're really not much good because most of the girls don't speak (let alone read) much French, so expecting them to read English is just out of the question. Instead, we pull up our plastic chairs under a thatched roof shelter in the courtyard and I just wing it for a couple hours, three times a week.

I typically have about eight students, ranging in age from 13-37. None of them are currently in school, and I don't think any of them managed to finish school either. School fees aren't much here in Senegal, but families are often quite large (6-12 kids) and just trying to cover the cost of notebooks and pens can be too much for families to keep all of their kids in school through high school. Also, the older girls in the families are often kept home as they get older to help with childcare and housework.

One thing that's a nice change from teaching in France is that here, the girls actually WANT to learn English. They have foreigners come to the center, and they want to be able to speak English with them. They also know that if they can communicate with tourists, they'll have a better shot at selling their wares. Add this motivation to their hilarious collective personality, and it's a lot of fun. Yesterday, after covering useful topics, like family members, occupations, and landmarks in town, we started talking about boyfriends and husbands. Pretty soon, accusations of secret boyfriends and not-so-secret crushes were being thrown around while some of the older students were just shaking their heads talking about how men are so tiring and difficult. Definitely much more exciting than going over vocabulary flashcards with my little French kids.

Speaking of men, Senegalese men have not let me down. If you ever feel ugly or alone, just come to Senegal! They are always professing their love to me, asking me to marry them, and trying to get me to promise to come back for them if things don't work out in my current relationship. You better watch out Chris...the waiting list has already started forming! 😊 Women also tell me that I'm beautiful, but really, they just haven't seen enough white girls to know that I'm nothing special. But I'll enjoy being the hottest girl in town for another couple weeks!

In conclusion, things here in Koungheul are hot, dirty, and slow. Mom is really getting a typically African experience. She even ate dinner with her hands last night! I'm getting a bit sick of fish and rice...can't wait for ice cream and Mexican food! We're in really good hands here, though...the girls are good cooks, Koungheul is very safe, our mosquito nets don't have holes in them, and there has only been one brief power cut since we got here. I'm not sure Mom realizes it, but she is in fact rather spoiled!

Time is simultaneously flying and dragging (we have three hour breaks for lunch and then some long evenings)...but fortunately we brought along some games (Uno, Othello & Connect Four) to help pass the time. We should be here until Saturday, then it's a few days in Kaolack, a couple days in Dakar, one night in Lisbon, and then home!


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14th July 2010

ok first of all, what the hell is ceebu jen!!!!??????? i would of died day 1!!!!! cant wait to see you in the good old usa!!!!!! love ya
14th July 2010

i dont do shiny and gross in the morning!!! love you
15th July 2010

Karin and Kate: you are both real troopers!!! I love reading about your journey and keep thinking what an experience to be where you are. Thanks for letting all of us share in your adventure. Enjoy every minute, as I am sure you are. A trip of a lifetime. Take Care.
10th April 2011
some of the girls (and one toubab)

like your kgl pitures
10th April 2011

like yoour picyures do you have more?

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