Pictures from Senegal

Monday, November 30

Letters from Abroad- November

Sister,
I have an office in the mayor's building, which is really like a city hall. I share my office with the person whose rank, directly translated from French, is 3rd person the mayor. We are sitting there this morning discussing the upcoming religious holiday, and the fabric she had just bought for her new outfit for said holiday, when a fellow citizen came in.

This woman was about 45 to 50, appeared to be a hard worker, a seller at the market, and highly agitated. She immediately began speaking in elevated tones (even for the vibrant Senegalese culture), waving herself about the room with gestures, and pounding on the desk to heighten certain points. She spoke Wolof which ruled me out as a conversation participant quickly. But when she started leaking tears, I knew something was wrong. I watched her explain something for nearly 15 minutes, and in doing so convinced myself that something horrible had happened to this woman.

You see, the thing is, Senegalese don't cry. So that, plus the screaming and banging, lead me to believe that someone had destroyed this woman by running down her family in the street and simultaneously crushing her stand at the market... thus completely killing her livelihood. The scene was that dramatic. After 15 min you would have concluded pretty much the same, though maybe less graphic (Thanks, Malaria pills).

So somehow things end, and the women leaves just as fast as she blew in. I'm left with just my office-mate. I give her the "I'm seriously going to need an explanation for that" look and she tells me the woman was upset with the Collector in the Mayor's Office.

Aah, this must be the bastard driving the killer semi-truck. "What do you mean Collector?" Well, the guy who collects money for the permits, you know, to sell in the market. "Oh, so he wouldn't give her a permit?" No, she refused to pay. "Oh, so they must be really expensive?" No, they're only about $0.20. "I don't get it, why did she refuse?" Who knows?!

Who knows?! That is not the end of this explanation, lady. But as far as my language skills and her patience were concerned it was. I can't believe the amount of drama I just went through for a "who knows" conclusion. What the...? But then as my friend Christine would say, "Why ask why in Senegal..."


Kazumi,
I've been keeping busy. There are a lot of Americans around these days. My host dad is the president of one of the local emergency clinics in town. He worked with a program called the African Birth Collective to have 5 midwife students and 2 supervisors come for about a month to work with the local clinics. They are delivering babies and exchanging ideas with the locals (though that last part was only in theory as not one of them speaks French or Wolof). And given that, I've been spending way too much time translating.

Then there are the guys working at the local phosphate factory that are here from Texas. They will be here for 90days, leave for 2 weeks, and come back for another 90days. This is supposed to continue for the next 3 years. I would take 3 years if I could go home for 2 weeks all the time... but that wasn't a choice for me.

Anyway, I feel like I've been playing the part of a cruise director, which means I've been running around town trying to make sure all the Americans are properly translated, entertained, and have bought all the souvenirs they require. It's really quite exhausting; especially because they always want to drink. This seems like fun, but I generally feel dehydrated all the time... and thus mildly hung-over all the time. Not cool.

The other side to this situation is that everyone realizes that I'm a volunteer... and thus make enough money to live like the Senegalese do. Which in turn means, that I have a budget of about $4 a day... and therefore can't afford to keep up with their entertainment schedule. So to compensate, they are always paying for me. This seemed nice at first, but it's starting to bug my conscious. I've been sitting around feeling like it's wrong for them to always be buying me things.

Another downside is that I spend a lot of time speaking English. This means that I'm not utilizing my French skills... let alone improving them or working on learning Wolof. I think this is bad. I think I'm getting worse in French by spending more time with Americans.

And lastly, I'm supposed to be spending this time getting to know my community. Instead, I feel like I interact with my community as a translator for some other random white people. But I'm pretty sure that's not the Peace Corps goal. So now, I'm speaking English, feeling guilty for having a Sugar Daddy, and therefore feel like I'm the shittiest Peace Corps Volunteer on the planet. How do I change that?

I think I'm stressed.
Love you, Alys


Hey Papi,
The prescription story I've been meaning to tell you goes as follows... I was feeling particularly under the weather a week or so back and send the medical staff an email with symptoms. When they called back that told me to go to the pharmacy and buy the French version of penicillin. Buy two boxes, take 3 times a day. I wrote the name and that sentence down on a old scrap paper. When I left my mom asked if I needed an actual prescription paper... But I shrugged and said I didn't know. The doctor had told me that if I had any problems to call her from the store so she could talk to them. When I got there, I told them what I wanted; they looked at my old piece of paper notes, and handed over the drugs. Strange right? The only thing preventing people from miss-using drugs is the fact that they can't afford to pay for them. Upon telling this story to another volunteer, they suggested I go back and ask for medical marijuana. It's not like I need a slip from the doctor, right? Good thing I don't do drugs!
Love you, Alys


Uncle Andy & Aunt Deb,
I had quite a unique Thanksgiving Day. The Volunteer from the next town over came to meet my family and celebrate with me. We went for a long walk through the market and bought ingredients for homemade stuffing and an apple crisp dessert. Then we came back and made it with my family... they'd made roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and salad with mayonnaise/ veggie bits dressing. The stuffing was simple and awesome. Hand torn baguettes by yours truly with beef bouillon, onions and what other random herbs we could find.

The volunteer I replaced in town and family (who is still here until next month finishing a project) also came over for dinner. We ate Senegalese style which meant we put the chicken in the middle of a circular platter with miniature servings of each side in blobs around the edges... then we ate it with our fingers. There are pictures of my 1.5yr old host brother with mashed potatoes all over this face and head. I will post on Facebook ASAP. They didn't understand the concept of the gravy we made, but oh well.

When it came time to serve our stove top made "crisp" (because it never really baked in an oven, but was still great) we served up coffee cups of apples sautéed with butter, sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. Mix in some flour and oatmeal to congeal and bring down the sweetness effect and you had a great dish! Or at least all the Americans thought so. Watching my host mom eat it was hilarious. It was all she could do to eat a few bites so that she would be polite and yet still keep a straight face. I couldn't stop laughing. Who could be offended when clearly this means "more for us?"

Since mine is a Muslim (aka dry) house, we went to the Catholic corner store to buy a few beers after. But we left that shortly, and grabbed the hidden bottle of tequila in my room and headed for the hills. The tallest hill in town is curiously where the Catholics started a cemetery (Muslims generally cremate). We hung out with some stray dogs, and graves, while looking out over the city, up at stars, talking, and getting drunk. All in all, a good time.

Thanks for listening to my story. Hope you had a great holiday, too.
Love you, Alys

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