Monday, March 22, 2010

Hello, My name is...

. . . Ndumbe Thiaw!

I've returned from my first week with my village home stay with my own personal Wolof name and lots of new skills to help me survive in rural Senegal. Last week, I gathered with my 40 fellow PC trainees for the exciting moment of our language assignments - we will all be learning one of the six native languages, and the assignments are exciting because they tell us a certain amount about where in the country we will eventually be placed after training. I was pleased to find out that I would be learning Wolof, which is one of the most widely spoken languages in the country. My training home stay family lives in the small village of Ker Sadaro, and the two other trainees living in the same village, Steve and Jessica, are both fantastic -- they, and our lovely language and culture teacher, Ayssatou, make this whole experience possible. Steve is also my village running buddy, and they're both my confidants.

My home stay family, not surprisingly, is delightful as well - hospitable and generous and patient beyond belief. And there are lots and lots of them, a couple of heads of households, each with at least two wives, and each wife has innumerable children, ages 2 months to infinity (that littlest one, a teeny baby girl, might provide me more happiness than anything else in my life; as I cradle her in my arms every day after lunch, I feel myself lifted out of even the worst of bad moods). I still don't know who everyone is or how they're related or even whether or not they're part of the extensive Thiaw clan, but I'm hoping that my next stint in the village will take care of this problem. The Thiaw family gave me my name - Ndumbe Thiaw (pronounced NOOM-bay Chow) within a minute of meeting me, naming me after my four-year-old sister and several other village residents.

Village life is all sorts of wild. It starts early, with me wishing my host of host mothers "Asalama Malekoum" on my way to the latrine. I have several hours of class in the morning with my PC Ker Sadaro mates, and then I return home for lunch, which is usually the national dish, Chebujenn - rice with fish, veggies (eggplant, bitter tomato, manioc, cabbage, carrot), and lots of oil. I eat around an enormous metal bowl in the sandy courtyard with about 8-10 other family members, and I've been trying to eat with my hand like a real Senegalese, taking little balls of food in my right fist and squishing it repeatedly before eating the now-firm patty off the tip of my fingers. (I still prefer eating with a spoon, and I'm bring one with me when I return). Dinner is eaten in my room with my host sister Nogay, age 19, who fills the silent space above our shared bowl by repeating to me, over and over, "Rere, rere!!" ("Eat, eat!"). She is adamant that only through abundant consumption will I achieve the "Jay Fonday," or the large round butt that contributes to your dancing abilities and aesthetics, so named for the mushy, delicious, calorie-filled breakfast food, Fonday.

In addition to language and culture training, we've been working on our village vegetable plots and tree nursery, which involves sifting and mixing sand and manure, digging digging digging, and learning lots of technical project-related Wolof terms.

At the end of every day, I fall to sleep exhausted in my mosquito-netted cocoon, -- physically exhausted from the heat and the digging, mentally exhausted from the constant effort of trying to learn and speak a language that still sounds like jibberish a lot of the time, and, most of all, emotionally exhausted from the frustration of being unable to adequately express my appreciation for all that I am receiving from the community around me. The highs are high and the lows are lows -- I feel very discouraged when I get harassed by a gaggle of snarky boys looking for money, or when I contemplate the weeks and months that stretch before me in a place that does not yet feel like home. But: when I actually carry out a fluid conversation with my host mom and receive a big grin of approval from her, that ... well, that's like winning the lottery.
Also, the simple fact of my presence is entertaining to the people of my village; it's somewhat fulfilling to bring that much mirth just for being a Toubab (white person) that speaks bumbly Wolof.

I'll return to the village today (Wednesday) for a two-week stay, so you won't find me hanging around blogspot. I do, however, have a cell phone and can be reached on it in my village (via text or call): 221 (country code) 77 118 0534. If you're calling from a cell phone, press the star button twice before dialing the number.

Thank you all so much for reading. In an egomaniacal way, when I'm sitting quietly with my homestay family, it makes me feel comforted and connected to think of all your curious and empathetic eyes sharing my experience with me.

1 comment:

  1. Em!

    It has been great to track your journey thus far. Thanks for being such a stellar blogger. Everything sounds amazing, and makes me want to hop on the next plane to Senegal. I thought of another book recommendation for you, if you happen to find this anywhere: "Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan" by Jamie Zeppa. I read it just a few weeks ago in Argentina, and really enjoyed it. I don't think it will work out for me to come to Senegal this May, but I will look for other opportunuities to come during your PC time. I hope you are happy and doing well! Please know that I miss you and think of you often.

    Take care,