Monday, June 14, 2010

Kid or Kid?

Early on in this whole shebang, I told myself that when the day arrived in which I could easily tell the difference between the sound of a human child crying and a baby goat bahhing, I would feel successfully integrated into Senegalese society. That day has yet to arrive. I'm getting better at this, but when I hear a high-pitched wail outside my window, my guess as to the species of the cryer is often wrong. So, happily, I have some work to do! Always good to make progress but feel you can still improve.

I would say that that is about where I am with most of my other goals related to adapting, integrating, conversing, etc. -- I'm progressing but by no means fully accomplished. A favorite Wolof proverb says: "Ndanka, ndanka, mooy jappo golo ci nay" -- "Slowly, that is how you catch a monkey in the forest." Patience . . . thus is the lesson of the past month of my life. (In the best way possible.)

My recent phone conversations with friends and family back home have reminded me that certain aspects of my life, while quotidian and unglorious to me, may still be somewhat mysterious and - bless your souls - interesting to you. Below is a cadre of somewhat mundane vignettes. For those of you not interested, just skip to the pictures, specifically the last one, which exposes the truth about the insanity of myself and the rest of the Linguere PC family.

Food -- The situation is not dire, but it's not great. For lunch, we crouch around a large metal bowl, generally filled with greasy rice. My family is posh enough to have vegetables in the bowl, but, out of necessity, all the veggies have been boiled to the point of being able to be squished between a thumb and a forefinger. My host mom does that part for me and then tosses the chunks into my corner of the bowl, her assumption being that can't get my own greasy mushy morsels with my spoon. Dinner is millet couscous or more greasy rice, and the dinner bowl can be a dangerous rodeo -- it's dark out, and sometimes when I blindly jam my spoon into the bowl, it comes back out and enters my mouth with something questionable on it, such as a chunk of rubbery/gelatinous meat of unknown variety.

My favorite activity these days is to help cook, both with my family and at other compounds around the village. It gives me the pretense of purpose (which, sometimes, feels in short supply as I wonder my village), and the women love to teach me! Everyone gets a hoot out of having Bigue in the kitchen, and they all want to hear every specific task in which I took part. The woman of the kitchen will announce, proudly: "She put the fish in the pan! She chopped onions! She took the fish out of the pan! She pounded tamarind!" It is in moments like these that the people of my village make me so, so happy.

To me, unexciting, or even yucky, food is not really a significant source of strife -- by no means is it the most difficult or problematic element of my service. That said, a girl can dream. And I have a lot of food fantasies. I dream of ginger-garlic snow pea stir fries and clam chowder and enormous troughs filled with baby greens, arugula, cherry tomatoes, avocados, and other raw salad delights. Mmmmm.

Sometimes, though, even reality serves up the things dreams are made of. So, picture this: several PCVs (Ann Marie, Kim, Justin, and myself, as well as the veteran Linguere-region volunteers), all seated around a large table, hunched over plates heaped with spaghetti and salad, our elbows dug into the table top and our forks clutched in our fists as we shamelessly shovel noodles into our mouths, pausing only to tear into unreasonably large chunks of garlic bread. This was the scene last night when we were invited to our missionary friends' house for dinner. Apparently, three weeks straight in our respective villages left us not only with a mad hunger for marinara sauce and lettuce, but also with a noticeable deficiency in table manners. (potentially due to the lack of tables in this country?) Luckily, Dirk and Sarah are used to hosting PCVs, and they accepted us for the overexcited, under-mannered eaters we've become.

Transportation -- This weekend, to get to the closest bank and withdraw cash, Ann Marie, Justin, and I (my nearest neighbors from my training group) traveled to Louga, a larger city about 120 km from Linguere . . . a three hour trip on, perhaps, the worst road in Senegal. The trip there, we traveled in a sept-place, which turned into a harrowing adventure in which the driver swerved from one shoulder (i.e., dirt trail along the side of the road) to the other, often narrowly missing concrete markers. On the return trip the following day (after an afternoon and night of exploring Louga and hanging out with PCVs there), we traveled in a larger type of van/bus that volunteers call an Alhum. This time, we went much slower but ended up having a much more pleasant ride - the reduced speed made it less terrifying.

Why is an Alhum called an Alhum? Because they all have the word Alhumdahlilaay written across the front. This means "Allah is good" or "Thank God;" in other words, the buses are thankful for the constant miracle of them reaching their destination. Hmmmm. This tells us something, I think.

Within town, my preferred mode of transportation is the horse-drawn cart, or charette. Open-air and lots of fun!

Sleep - Since I installed at the peak of Senegal's hot season, it's been way too hot to sleep inside. Instead, I usually set up my little canvas camping cot in the courtyard with the family. There's an obvious lack of privacy, as I generally have mats of kids to either side of me and sheep nuzzling me as I sleep, but I can see the stars! Recently, the winds have been picking up at night and kicking sand into my face, so, believe it or not, I've taken to sleeping in my douche and found it to be an absolutely lovely option -- cooler than my room, but protected from the wind, totally private, and still offering a view of the stars! Soon, the rains will come and drive us all inside, which, for me, will afford a welcome opportunity to close my door for the first time ever and enjoy and some legitimate privacy.

Health - Mine has been great! No travelers' diarrhea for this girl, alhumdahlilaay. (Though, as I write this, I'm experience some serious stomach pains. Let's hope hubris hasn't gotten the best of me.)

Mental Health - Also intact. During my first conversation with my (real) mother after I installed, she confessed that she had been genuinely worried that I had had some kind of nervous breakdown. Thankfully (and remarkably), I have not.

Negatively impacting my mental health, while simultaneously fortifying it and chipping away at my ego, however, is the amount that I am forced to hear about the former volunteer, whom I replaced. Dana's village name, Awa, continues to fill the conversations of my neighbors, and the details that I know about her service are immense -- facts such as what she ate, what she carried on her head, what she farmed (and how expertly she did it), what sorts of ailments she had, etc. In truth, their obsession makes perfect sense, and the fact that Dana had such a positive and meaningful relationship with the people of Ngaraff is only a good and beautiful thing, as well as entirely justified. She did great work, and I have done nothing so far to earn this kind of respect, so I am happy just knowing that the potential for such a relationship exists. They are already embracing me in so many ways, and I them.

Also, they did tell me that I am learning Wolof faster than Awa and that I have prettier hair. Hey, I'll take what I can get.

Babies-- What can I say? They're the best part of this whole thing. The other day, I had one strapped to my pack and another I was cradling in my arms, and I was happy as a clam.

Etc. -- I'm out of the village now for about a week, taking care of various logistical things (the Louga bank adventure being one), and helping out with some regional projects, like a basketball tournament for middle schoolers that was organized by the older volunteers. Tomorrow I travel to Ann Marie's village for a 3-day intensive Wolof seminar, and I return to my village on Friday. The next couple of weeks in the village will be quite busy. I have plans to bike to Justin's village (60 km in the dirt!), paint a mural, assist with some vaccination days being conducted by the local health post, help out with a mosquito net distribution a PCV is doing in a neighboring village, keep truckin' on my garden, and finish up surveying my community, all before I travel for 4th of July festivities.

Well, you've reached the end of another long blog entry. Have I told you lately that I love you? I really do appreciate the support that I get from everyone reading this. All my best to you, and thank you!

A little brother and his friend - they come into my room and pretend to help sweep, but what they really want is for me to take a picture of them, or just to hang out and see what kinds of funny things the white girl is doing.

A favorite baby, Aida, getting bath. (There are few things cuter than a bathing baby.)

Aida with her mother, also named Aida, who is the village's midwife.

A morning running route.

Just some kids, doing what they do -- being cute.

Look at the face!!

How I rolled into Linguere last week.

Justin in the sept-place on the way to Louga. That thing dangling outside the window? That's the poor live chicken that was strapped to the roof (and we thought we had it bad inside the car).

Reliable transportation in Louga.

Me and Justin with Emilie, our PCV hostess with the mostess in Louga. Me and Emilie make up 28.5% of the volunteer population in this country that is named Emily. Can you guess how many Senegal PCV Emily's there are?

Ann Marie "helping" the students warm up before the basketball tournament.

Linguere-region volunteers, before the day got crazy (see below).

Students getting into their basketball teams -- they were amazingly well-behaved!

Okay. This is Joey. She's a third year volunteer who did her original service in the Linguere region but has been working in Dakar for the last year and is getting ready to leave the country. Her idea - seeing as there is not one body of water anywhere near Linguere - was to fill up multiple beignoirs (large plastic buckets) with water and ice, and have each of us sit in them, reserving a few beignoirs to be centrally placed and hold beer and ice. Brilliant, no? We thought so.

Here's Team Linguere, sitting in our beignoirs. Do you think they sent us all here together because we're crazy, or do you think we all got crazy after living here in the desert? There's no way to tell for sure . . .


  1. "Greasy mushy morsels" -- Having a hard time getting this phrase out of my head

  2. Hi!
    I have been pretty obsessively reading Senegal PC blogs lately, since I am going to be in the group staging in August for agroforestry. Ironically, I am also named Emily, so I'm sorry if I am messing up your percentages! Hope I get to meet you at some point!