Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pulling Myself Together

Is it really 2012? February?? How did that happen? I was never really one of those volunteers who said that time was “just flying” – at the 18-month mark, for example, my thoughts were pretty much, “Yup, that was a pretty long 18-months…” Then my stage (i.e. training group) had our COS (completion-of-service) conference, and we reflected and reminisced and romanticized and sentimentalized and talked about our futures, and all of sudden, I find myself searching desperately for the last 23 months of my life, wondering wistfully where I can find that many more moments with the people of my village. Wondering how I can slow down and return to all the hilarious moments of horse cart debacles and troughs of rice and tubby naked babies underfoot. Where-oh-where did the time go, can anyone tell me that, please?

The idea that this life I’ve embraced – or that, more specifically, has embraced me – will just end is somehow very confusing. I look around my village in average moments and I sense the onset of a bizarre melancholy – preemptive nostalgia, no doubt – where everything seems beautiful and tragic. This is my home, I just can’t help but think. But it’s not. That’s the thing. All the loveliness I see through the rose-colored glasses that have glued themselves to my nose in the last few weeks can’t go on forever. Much as I like to think I could live here forever, I know I can’t. What would be my place? I can’t continue to occupy this exquisite-peculiar-nebulous-androgynous-beautiful-alien role that I’ve enjoyed for the last two years. I don’t belong with the teenagers, nor with the young mothers, nor the old women. Everyone knows their role, except for me. And that’s been more than fine, but it can’t continue indefinitely. When it comes down to it, I just don’t really have a real place here. This African village? Not really my home.

Still, there seems to be some sort of disconnect. How does one live in a place for two years, and then just see herself lifted out it, spontaneously and without really good cause? I’m fully appreciative, by the way, of how ego-maniacal this disposition is, how self-centered it is to coddle this disbelief that life in Ngaraff will roll on without me. But who cares? I enjoy basking in my confusion over the whole issue. I’ll take my wistful befuddlement, now, and spare you the rest of my pontifications. Thanks for listening.

Okay, so obviously I love my people in Ngaraff. How could you not? Check 'em out. Also, can you tell who my favorite babies are? :-)

I can't help but mention that, on top of the people of my little vill, I also love my stage, affectionately known here at PC/Senegal as the "super stage." Not we're all about to scatter to the wind and fulfill our respective dreams and it makes my little heart feel a little overwhelmed, with both pride and sadness.  Here are some shots of these fantastic kids: 

Super-stagers on the first night of PC/Senegal's All-Volunteer  Conference

The four Super-Stagers of Linguere: Ann Marie, myself, Kim, Justin.
I adore these kids; I owe them my life and my sanity for the past two year. 

Super-stagers Mika, Wilma, Jillian (plus 3rd year PCV Amanda on the far left) dance their way off the field
at this year's W.A.I.S.T. (West Africa Intramural Softball Tournament). Pure Class.

Them's my super stage ladies - Wilma, Jillian, Kourtney, all dressed up
with some place to go (WAIST Party, final night, that is. 

Fields of Glory

I would like to take a minute to brag about the women of my village. At great expense of time and energy, they are cultivating a gorgeous community garden in this desert. But really, it takes enormous amounts of effort. In teams of eight (generally, four “young women” and four “old women,” because that’s how they’ve divided up the space) they each water every fourth day. This entails lugging watering can after watering can over the expansive terrain. They spend at least an hour and a half to two hours both morning and afternoon . . . and that’s just watering! Then there’s everything else that goes into a creating and maintaining a feasible garden – planting, transplanting, weeding, etc. And since they’re gardening in sand – sand, for crying outloud! – every step requires the provision of massive amounts of some sort of manure, scooped up into their trusty plastic buckets and carried on their ever-level (literally! Hehe) heads out to the garden. 

When it’s my host mom’s turn to water, I usually go help in the afternoon (and even with me moving constantly, it still takes close to two hours), but I recently found out that that team is out there in the morning, too, before dawn, flashlight-deficient as they always are. I, meanwhile, am sleeping to some ungodly hour, say 8 o’clock, then going for a long leisurely run through the bush. (And then I indulge myself with such internal whiney thoughts such as “my life is so hard,” etc.) Anyway – back to the garden – is it sustainable, all this work and input? They need irrigation, or at least a water basin/reservoir of some sort, if they are going to continue to garden in crummy sand. I’ve tried, twice, to write small specialized grants to bring such a water reservoir into the garden, but due to silly politics and NGO interference that I won’t detail here, it’s obviously ended up not happening. I wonder, with distress, about how this garden will fare in future seasons.

Finally, a Basketball Update:

Awhile back, I posted here about a basketball court project two other PCVs and I were doing and asked for donations. First of all, to all of you that donated – THANK YOU. As things tend to go in the Peace Corps, and in life, things have not quite worked out as we had planned. When Kim, Ann Marie, and I wrote the grant back in June (June!) we had received the good word of folks at the NBA, who promised to fund at least half of the total budget of the our project. Then the execs we were talking to started faltering . . . then the NBA went on strike . . . and long story short, the NBA funding fell through. Yuck. Fo reeeaalll? They couldn’t give us one hundredth of one of their players’ salaries? Anyway, we had to make do with what we had, which was a little more than one third of the funding we had sought. Thus, plans have changed. Instead of building three courts, we can only build one, in Barkedji, the home of my friend Ann Marie. We decided to build it there because it’s the largest village of the three – comprising about 4,000 people – and the only one with a middle school instead of just a primary school. 

Had things worked out differently and the NBA had come through on their promises, I would have been really excited to place a court in Ngaraff. But things being as they are, I want no one to be disappointed about the allotment of the funds. The number of youth, and people in general, whose qualities of life will improve due to this one court is great. And that’s what it really comes down to. I hope that all donors out there will be understanding of the malfunction that occurred, and in a way, it’s kind of beautiful in its own right. Our big, corporate-ish funder fell through, so we had to change our goals. But all the little people out there – that’s you guys! – came though! And now all the kids in Barkedji, and all the surrounding villages (of which there are many) will have their first real place to PLAY. So I say again: THANK YOU. (I know who you are, too… we got our list, and good grief, I’m touched. Thank you. )

Family Matters

Oh! And have I mentioned? The Naftalin - Levitt Clan took Senegal by a storm.  Truly, having my family here - my mother, my father, my stepmother, my big brother - meant even more to me than I thought it would.  Those are MY people, you know?  And now my people know my other people.  We arrived in my village, the five of us, in an overloaded little Peugot, and as we squeaked through the sand up to the village square, I saw all my women and some men, dressed to the nines, chanting and clapping and dancing.  And when I climbed out of the car, they descended upon me, giving me huge hugs and kisses, all the time with the chants in the background: "BI-gue! BI -gue!" Then they all made speeches, about me, mostly, which I awkwardly translated to my family.  I got to say, in English and Wolof, "Mom, this is my mom," as I introduced my host mother to my mama originale.  It was wondrous, from start to finish.  In addition to village time, we saw lots of Dakar, a little of St. Louis (minus Papa and Stepmom, who got bad bouts of the ol' food poisoning), and paradisaical Palmarin.  

What can I say? If the world does in 2012, I'll feel lucky to have had this abundance of family - both those of American and of Senegalese descent. :)   

Until next time . . .