Friday, June 4, 2010

The Morning is Like This.

I'm back from my first stint in my site, and I'm alive! I biked into Linguere this morning to see if the local Eaux et Forets project could hook me up with some seeds for my tree pepiniere, and now I'm sitting at our missionary friends house, reeping the benefits of internet, cold water, fresh food, and English conversation.

What do I say? I kinda want to ask if you want the good news or the bad news first, but that would be a joke, because I don't feel like anything going on in my life or my head can be classified in those terms. I won't pretend like the last two and a half weeks haven't been a series of emotional ups and downs - joy at small victories, mixed with loneliness and frustration beyond what I ever could have imagined - but nothing, simply nothing, is wrong.

One day this week, I sent a text message to some fellow volunteers along the lines of: "my mom is an evil alien from a planet of cold and malicious beings." This was dramatic. Earlier that day I'd had a run-in with my host mother -- or, what I've come to realize, was less of a run-in and more of a cultural misunderstanding. The details of the run-in/misunderstanding aren't really worth relating, but my discomfort with my host mother has been a point of stress with me from Day 1. My father, the chief of the village (who spends most of his time in other parts of the country and is rarely home) kind of shook things up when he "gave" me to his second wife, who seems to have a tense relationship with his first wife, who was the previous volunteer's mother... and they both seem to be somewhat jealous of the third and fourth wives who live in a nice house down the road in the town of Dahra.

I say all this not to complain, but rather to share my small but widening lens on Senegalese emotions and motivations -- the set of cultural behaviors that stretches beyond what you can learn from a book or a movie or a brief visit, and the stuff that brought me to the Peace Corps. My family here is my best "tool" in this regard, and the fact that I was having difficulty getting along with them has been an upsetting distraction, to say the least. Slowly, however, what had appeared to be a sticky misfortune is - maybe, just maybe - revealing itself to be the most valuable teaching tool. Realizing that my "run-in" with my mother was really no such thing, understanding that her hurt face indicates not disdain but concern over her own performance as my caretaker, coming to terms with this and many similar disconnects, in my family and my village -- all has contributed to instructive growing pains that revealed themselves not in one epiphanic moment but in a shadowy edification that has yet to fully develop. My ego is still bruised, and I know that much of my loneliness continues to stem from my shaky cultural footing, especially as it pertains to my family. But I'm getting there, and I'm learning, and that's the best I can do.

If all that I'm saying sounds convoluted, confused, or contradictory, you're right... on this constant journey of self-discovery (alas, this has certainly turned out to be one), I am still sailing turbulent emotional and mental seas. (Forgive me,O grammer gods, aka my loving parents, if that was a mixing of metaphors). As a girl who always did wear her heart of her sleeve, however, I can't seem to stop myself from bringing my mixed-up babble right here to blogspot. So welcome aboard! I hope you don't get sea sick.

But, enough with the flowery pontifications, right? You're probably wondering how the work is coming along. Right now, my work consists mostly of getting to know the people around me, planting a garden and tree nursery, conducting an extensive Peace Corps-mandated baseline survey of my village, and, uh, figuring out what the heck is going on around me -- actually a taller order than one might expect, especially when my Wolof, while getting better everyday, is still frustratingly underdeveloped. Anyway, on a given day, I take a run in the morning, then try to get some gardening work done before the sun starts frying eggs right before your eyes. Then I walk around. I chat. I walk into random compounds and plop myself down, go through the greeting parade (it's long), ask questions, usually get teased, and generally get asked if I have a husband and if I can cook, even though most of my neighbors already know the answers by now. I go home for lunch and a mid-day rest period (though it's been too hot to sleep) and wait until the afternoon cools off enough to start walking and talking again, or to do some dirty digging.

Oh! And I apologize for the schizophrenia, but I have another new name. Upon installation in Ngaraff, I was re-baptized Bigue Dieng (pronounced BEE-gay Jang). I had a little trouble warming up to it at first, but now, as I walk through the village, I hear it squeaked by every tot that can talk, and it's hard not feel endeared to a name so sweetly shouted. "Beeeegay!" If I don't respond: "BEEEEEGAAAAY!!!!"

Early in the day, people here traditionally greet each other by asking how the morning is. Most times, the reply is: "Suba sang nii, rekk" -- "The morning is like this, only," sometimes with a comment about the heat or (if it's under 90 degrees F out at 8 am) the cold tacked on. I usually find that this quip calms and brightens my mood a bit. It's so simple, and so pleasant. Just like my presence here, the morning is what it is. This is the life that I dreamed of and worked toward - for better or for worse - for years before I made it to Africa. To be amongst these people, feeling their pains, laughing their laughs, learning their habits, holding their babies, LIVING THIS LIFE - this is what I wanted. Now I'm here, and it's not easy, but I'm in the thick of it, and all I can do is my best. And sometimes my best is just to be here. So be it. The morning is like this.

This is the dust pile that I sweep up about 3 -4 times a day when the sand storms roll in. In this, the hottest months of the year, right before the rainy season, the heat's been getting up around 120 degrees and the winds, occasionally fierce, have sent the dry sand swirling.

Returning from the garden. The school director took this, saying that I needed to have it "for my father back in America."

My counterpart, Marieme, with her bucket of dried cow manure to match the one I had on my head. She's ready to help me pound and sift this sh*t, literally. Marieme is amazing, and never makes me feel stupid, even when I ask silly questions, like: "Are we going to get in trouble with the owner of this manure?"

The first stages of my pathetic little garden. If it looks like we're gardening in sand, you'd be right. Hence the ever-tenacious manure-hunt -- it takes lots of it to create viable soil.

My little brother and my fabulous, hard-working sister. This is the kitchen.

My firecracker of a mother, manning the "market" that she sets up every morning outside our courtyard for villagers to get their vegetables and fish.

The endless hunt for dried cow pies, and how completely desensitized all the kids are to them, never fails to amuse me.

Shower power hour at my house. 6-year-old Say Sisee is being soaped up by Bitti; 5-year-old twins Hussein and Assan are waiting their turn.

By request: my douche (bathroom/shower)


  1. Beautiful, beautiful post. Good to hear from you.

  2. I so appreciate your honest and heartwarming post! WE love you Em...