Pictures from Senegal

Thursday, September 24

A Trainee's Day

A typical day starts when my alarm goes off at 7a and I ignore it for as long as possible. I'm already sweating. I make a dive for the bathroom before anyone can see me. Inside, at least one of the members of the cockroach family has died and ants are swarming it already. I step around this in order to go pee. We're lucky to have a Turkish toilet without a seat... and without toilet paper as well. Most families have a squat toilet, or a hole in the ground. I generally try to jump right into the shower from there. We have a bathtub that one stands in and a bucket of cold water to use with a smaller bucket... or a pipe that runs up the wall with a small shower head at the top. This is always very hot water. I generally try to make it from the shower back to the fan in my room as fast as possible. This way I won't break a sweat before I've finished toweling off. I rarely make it. I don't bother using mirrors anymore. I pin my hair up off my neck and out of my face and call it good. Make up, blow dryers and hair products are all in the past.

I eat breakfast. Another trainee lives two doors down, so we walk to class together. Mboro is the land of sand, so we trudge through it in our flip flops. The children along the route wait for us to pass by in anticipation of the perfect moment to say "Bonjour Toubab." Toubab is Wolof for ghost... so they use it describe white foreigners. Until noon we study French at the house of our instructor.

I come back and take another shower to wash off a layer of sweat. Lunch is at 2 and is the most African and important meal of the day. We sit in the courtyard on little benches in a circle. There is a first come first serve rule in the bowl, so every eats very fast and generally don't talk. We drink water after, not during a meal. Afterward, the town rests for a number of hours, like a siesta though no one uses the name. It just is expected that no one works in the heat of day. It is also a time to make Senegalese tea. This is quite an experience that I will need to explain at another time.

Afternoon activities can incorporate a number of things. Sometimes it's more French class, other times we interact with businesses in the community. Occasionally we escape to the local bar for a drink or to the beach for a brief swim.

The beach is 3.5 miles away from the town, so we generally hire a car to drive us there. The cost is equivalent to $0.25 per person, which is inexpensive even to our new standard. The waves can be treacherous at 3 to 4 feet, and thus exhausting when we get knocked under about every other one. The water is clean, though, and the view is expansive- almost dauntingly so. The sand is spottily littered with the waste of the people who live in the mini-village on the coast. The coastal people utilize small kayak like fishing boats at dusk and dawn to make their living. The 5 foot swordfish they haul in daily are carried by placing the middle of the fish on the top of the head and the sword and tail are wrapped under each arm. There are millions of little white crabs that come out at dusk and take over the beach. It's impossible to not step on one... almost.

In the evening my family gathers around the television for American TV in French. CSI, Lost, Grey's, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Desperate Housewives, etc. If you're thinking that possibly there is a show that is not translated into French and pushed on the Senegalese masses... you'd be wrong. And this is the impression they have of Americans! All the episodes running now are from the middle of the last season. It seems to be that when one season ends in the USA, that same season then begins elsewhere in the world. This is exciting to me because the most recent episodes are fresh in my mind and thus help my French comprehension and learning, but also because I'm sure I'll be fluent by the time the next season starts and thus I'll watch future seasons and won't be that far behind when I get back! Oh the simple pleasures of us lazy Americans.

Back in Senegal, we don't eat dinner until about 10p. Generally I'm exhausted after, so I take my evening shower (if you're counting that's 3 showers a day) and retire to my room to read a bit before falling asleep. If I'm lucky, the power won't go out taking with it the fan's ability to keep the sweat just far enough at bay to let me sleep. I wonder how much of this will change when training is over?

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