Pictures from Senegal

Monday, December 20

Christmas Card

Dear Reader,

I should probably explain that I've been absent for a while due to my impending Christmas holiday plans. On top of my regular lack of consistent internet availability, I've added last minute projects and 2 weeks of fun filled quality time with loved ones to the agenda. So basically, I won't be blogging for a bit. Have no fear, a glorious return is planned for January.

Thank you for a year of listening to my mind's idle chatter. Happy Holidays to all.
Alys

Wednesday, December 15

Diva Cup

Stop. Before we go any further, I need to make the following announcement: this blog is about menstrual cycles. If you’re a guy perhaps it’d be better for you not to read this. I’m serious. This means you, Dad.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way… it has come to my attention that people I don’t actually know read my blog because of its informative properties. Therefore, I’ve chosen to share (in the most professional way I can hope for?) my knowledge on being a women in either the Peace Corps West Africa and dealing with my monthly gift.

The Peace Corps handbook tells a future volunteer to pack everything they could want for the next two years and specifically lists feminine hygiene products as a part of that pack. They say this because more often than not there is no place to buy what you’re looking for. Either it doesn’t exist, or you’d have to travel way too far to either find it, or easily return, on a monthly endeavor. If you’re a mildly OCD type like me, you’d be facing an excel “packing” spreadsheet attempting to calculate an average tampon usage per month multiplied by estimated duration in Africa, with buffers for any changes inevitably incurred by unforeseeable strain on the body (because let’s face it, adjusting to PC life is NOT easy). I didn’t like statistics class in college and therefore couldn’t find an acceptable calculation that didn’t involve an entire suitcase full of tampons.

So I opted for the alternative, Diva Cup, for the sole advantage of saving packing space. The diva cup is a closed-ended funnel shaped piece of molded plastic designed to rest inside a vagina and collect waste matter. Periodically the cup is extracted, emptied and reinserted. At the end of a menstrual cycle the cup is cleaned, sterilized, and stored until next month. This one product can be used for the entire duration of my Peace Corps service and takes up less room in my suitcase than a bottle of Tums.

I found one of the only stores in my state to sell the device on its shelves and dragged a trusted friend with me. The economic crisis being in full swing, and everyone looking to save a few bucks, I talked my friend into buying one too. I didn’t have an opportunity to try the method out before heading to Africa but she did and, quite frankly, her results were inconclusive and a bit daunting.

Naturally this meant that along with all the other things I had on my mind, I got slammed with starting my period my very first night in Africa. Hurray! So I got out my cup, read the directions another seven times and spent a good half hour making sure I’d positioned it right. And I did all of this without dropping it down the new squat toilet I was adjusting to; bonus points! Thank god the Peace Corps took mercy on us in that first week by providing a running tap next to the hole in the ground as well as some toilet paper. I probably would’ve cried if they hadn’t been there.

The application of this product is something I’ve never had experience with… going inside. With the tampon’s easy applicator and removal string, who had the need? But honestly, the whole experience was similar to giving up toilet paper. The first time you do it a panic attack nearly cripples you with nightmares of germs and disease and you spend no less than ten minutes washing your hands. The next time you bring it down to a mere 5 minutes. Eventually, you relax. You haven’t gotten sick and, after all, that’s what soap was invented for.

As the months continue to rack up, I’ve become more and more appreciative of my Diva Cup. The benefits are more than the initial savings in suitcase room. Because it’s made of plastic, it can be worn for longer than 8 hours if necessary without fear of toxic shock syndrome. Additionally, there is no fear of leak (after you’ve gotten the hang of insertion, that is) and therefore no fear of embarrassing stains or inability to wash them out when I do my laundry by hand. If that weren’t enough, there are frequently times when water isn’t always available to wash either the cup or hands so this option allows me to wait until I’ve returned to the privacy of my own home, or at the very least a trusted locale. 

Now let’s talk about trash. There are no landfills, no recycling centers, and no compost facilities to make things better. What we do have is a lot of delusions about how the trash isn’t affecting our environment. The outside perimeter of the city is covered in it. Either you carry it there yourself, or if you’re lucky (like me) someone goes around the neighborhood collecting it for you… and then dumps it out there. My family creates about one small desk size waste basket of non-biodegradable trash per week. That’s pretty impressive considering there are 8 of them. I make about one basket all by myself, and I’m constantly looking for a way to stop making more (damn drink mix packets!). Anyway, there’s a lot of waste product involved with the whole tampon issue and I’m seriously thankful that I’m not contributing all that to the town’s trash field. Kids and animals alike both play there, and the thought of them discovering (and playing with) my waste makes me cringe with embarrassment.

What do the Senegalese women do, you ask? Well, my understanding is that they employ the tactic of cotton fabrics stuffed in underwear which is then washed and reused. The whole process is well hidden as I’ve never seen anything resembling this hung out on the laundry line to dry. Feminine hygiene products are available for sale at western stores, but they are very expensive, and as I’ve mentioned before generally don’t appeal to the publicity that accompanies the trash removal aspect of society.

So now that I’ve convinced you to purchase your own Diva Cup (whether you’re joining PC or looking for a cost/ environmental savings at home) I’d like to touch on my one and only mishap with the cup. As I’ve mentioned before, at the end of the week, I clean and sterilize the cup before storing it away until the next month. In Mboro this means I borrow my family’s gas tank to boil it in water for about five minutes then soak it in a bleach water solution for another five minutes. Attempting to avoid the cup’s discovery by one of six of my brothers, I wait until the house is empty. As I’m always attempting to accomplish more than one task at a time this means I once found myself sufficiently distracted to the point of forgetting about the cup while it boiled on the gas. I remembered it again shortly after the water had completely boiled away and the plastic started to melt and smoke up the kitchen. Oops.

In utter panic I contacted my sister and explained that she needed to purchase me a new cup and mail it out within the next 24 hours so that by some miracle it would arrive before the next month. It got here 7 days later in one of those small flat yellow envelopes; alhumdililahi (frequently used Arabic saying for ‘thanks be to god’). Since that incident, I’ve altered my sanitization procedure so that I now remove the boiling water from the gas before put the cup in, followed by bleach. And I’ve also got a renewed sense of comfort knowing that my sister’s on call for African emergencies.
 

Wednesday, December 8

Henna

According to my African mother, older women cover their feet in henna designs for 3 reasons. The first is that it is believed to hold medicinal properties. As in, the elderly who suffer from arthritis find a certain relief in the henna that soaks into the skin. The second is that the henna helps undo the damage done to the heels from years of trudging through the sand in flip flops. You wouldn’t believe the calluses I have after a year and a half… so imagine what a life time looks like: cracked heals, surfaces of stone, and a permanent flip flop tan line (that last one I only imagine in my case). The third reason henna is so popular is more basic: It looks pretty.

I know when I say henna most of you imagine the really pretty rose or brown colored designs found on Indian women. Like everything else here, the practice of henna is completely different. First up, we use black henna. It comes from a base of who knows what and is actually packaged as black hair die from China. It is sold in the pharmacy (how CVS of them, right?) I couldn’t tell you want they use in India but it’s obviously different. In addition, the designs are much more basic, more African. There are no little dots forming flowery designs. Senegalese women use athletic tape to form their patterns and cover the whole area in the henna mixture… leaving the taped area is the break in the color. The parts of the body decorated are typically the bottoms of the feet, and the inside of the palm and the fingers (but usually only the left hand- because it’s already dirty).

I’ve attempted henna twice. The first time was over a year ago when I spent the day at a women’s house and told her I was interested. She enlisted her daughter to commence in my first experience. They attempted a red version (I’m nearly certain we can call it a botched Indian knock off) that involved taping my hands off, putting a creepy green paste over nearly every surface, and covering my hands in plastic to protect them. I was to spend the better part of half a day attempting to not use my hands. It was tedious. And I gave up early, 4 hours later. After voiding my hands of all objects, a barely yellow tint was visible. It left a few days later.

The second attempt occurred just recently and coincided with the visit of my sister. Granted I’d been asking my mom for a year to do henna with me, but apparently a visitor warranted the activity. This is probably because of the 3rd utilization of henna, it’s pretty. Semi-permanent tattoo sightings are much more prevalent in Mboro in and around holidays, because these beautiful works of art make things more festive. Another reason could be that a week is taken off for every holiday, thus leaving the peoples with plenty of extra time to kill. Or maybe they take a week off for all the preparation. It’s a ‘chicken or the egg’ conundrum, if you ask me.

Anyway, I digress. The week of Tabaski, my mom mentioned doing henna together. Our plan was to do it Friday (the holiday having been on Wednesday). My sister was to arrive Saturday morning. My suspicions lay with my Senegalese mom always trying to get me to dress better (read: more Senegalese) and her not wanting me to fall short of proving to my actual family that I have indeed spent too much time integrating into my current lifestyle. We started by calling a women who performs the art as a side business in another neighborhood. My mom got a quote and I agreed. Later, my mom talked to some friends, and decided we could do the whole thing ourselves with the help of a neighbor in our area of town. Hmm; this should have been a sign. So should’ve the fact that I’ve been asking my mom to do this with me for a year now… only to learn that she’d “never done it before.” Odd as I’d seen her with it…

So, like any other task, we sent one of the children out in search of the necessary ingredients. For two days, the boy came back empty handed. By Friday night, I suggested we attempt to do it with my sister upon arrival the next day. It wasn’t until just before my sister, her boyfriend, and I were scheduled to leave Mboro did the items miraculously appear. And then, as in most instances with my host mom, I got bullied into doing something I was not actually willing to do at that point in time. Drinks with a friend were postponed and my sister and I were seated in the foyer of our house. The neighbor girl arrived and the Chinese hair dye was mixed.

At this point it’s time to revisit something my mom said: that she’d never done this before. Apparently this meant that she’d never a) used the black Chinese hair dye version and b) been in charge of actually forming the designs on skin. I’d told her from the beginning that she was in charge of the African design that needed to appear on my significantly paler skin. And since this artwork was scheduled to last for weeks at a time, putting all that in someone else’s hands is kind of a big deal for me; a trust issue if you will. I did give her one single restriction: in no way shape or size did I want a heart to appear on my body. I’ve always felt this was tacky, and I just can’t live with tacky for weeks on end.

So we got started. The neighbor showed my mom how to use a small stick or match to dab the henna onto the skin. From there a design already mapped out on paper was used. I mentioned a number of times that my drawing could be much simpler than 20 or plus shapes that lay out… but no one was listening. I guess they still weren’t listening when I said I wanted the design on the top of my foot, because the actual one started about 3 inches up my leg and worked its way across the top of my foot. After an initial line was drawn, my mom left me in the hands of the neighbor girl to be finished and started working on my sister. Squiggly lines, diamonds, dots, flowers, and swirls began to take form in black. I distracted myself from its ridiculousness by translating conversation between my mom and sister.

I should have been paying attention because when I finally turned back a heart was smiling smugly back at me from the center of the design. Unbelievable. This “artist” of a neighbor had gone too far. It’s finished, I tell her. My mom bullies me once more into putting a tattoo bracelet on my left arm. Fine, but NO hearts! I end up with two (what were aimed at) straight lines around my wrist with dots in the middle. In the end my sister ended up with basically the same things both on her foot and her wrist. We were instructed not touch them until the mixture dried. The neighbor girl bumped my wrist while attempting to design it… so from the get-go it was messed up. I made it worse by grazing a wall. And I guess wrists are difficult for everyone because sister did the same thing with hers.

We eventually left for our drinks at the local watering hole so that making jokes about the whole debacle would go down easier. I started to refer to it as the time “a 3 year old drew on me with a marker,” because that’s what I believe it looked like. I spent the next week using my sister’s make up removing face wipes to diminish my works of art as quickly as possible. I also had to shave my arm hairs (which were dyed black- it is hair dye of course). It didn’t take long. In the end, I’ve learned the following lessons (although it’s not been the first time): my host mom is great at bullying and I’m great at getting bullied, if you want something done right (or without hearts) do it yourself, and finally that nothing- absolutely nothing- is going to get done when I first imagine or plan it to.

Sunday, December 5

Food Porn

The idea of food porn is not my creation. In fact, I actually can’t attribute it to anyone in particular. But it is, however, a much thought about and highly integrated part of a Peace Corps Volunteer’s life. The word porn is used in this sense to mean an unfulfilled desire captured in video, picture, verbal exchanges, and publication- cyber or printed. And of course it has to involve food: making, buying, preparing, ordering, eating, or just simply staring at a coveted food item. The practice of engaging in one of the aforementioned verbs related to food is considered “food porn.”

For the average PCV, food porn is a daily vice like nicotine or booze to an alcoholic. Perhaps, it’s the mere exercise of sitting in one’s room smelling the preparation of lunch and day dreaming about what the day would be like if your favorite meal were in store- instead of the rice and fish you’re going to get. Some volunteers will watch cooking shows like Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, or anything found on the Food Network to get their fix. Others explore all the different substitutes possible in their favorite recipes given what’s available in Senegal. For example, I have made a fabulous batch of chocolate chip cookies substituting honey from the Casamance region for brown sugar. Don’t judge me or I won’t share any of the millet banana cake. And still others spend time looking up pictures or articles about food online. Websites like thisiswhyyourfat.com and one’s giving food critic reviews are nothing to dismiss.

There is a volunteer produced cookbook with tricks of the trade: building your own stove or baking with a gas tank and the more successful in-country substitutes for unavailable ingredients. But whenever possible we prefer to spend money at import stores buying western ingredients to cook at home or in our regional houses. Volunteers often have their favorite foods shipped to them by loved ones. Peanut butter, spices, dried or freeze-dried items, and even meals for created for mountain climbing enthusiasts. Again, don’t knock some of those pasta dishes until you’ve tried them.

Volunteers frequently attempt to make American meals to share with their host families. The success rate is dismal but the efforts continue. To my knowledge one of the truly “amazing” things my predecessor made for my family was a pot of extremely spicy chili (though it’s unclear if the success was due to the level of spice or that the spice clouded the taste of the foreign meal). For holidays I attempt to make my family some of my favorite desserts. And they eat it politely but I can always tell they don’t understand the concept of apple cobbler or why anyone would want to make such a chocolate moist cake (read: brownies).

And when none of this is sufficiently satisfying, we PCVs travel over multiple days to reach the splendor that is Dakar often creating a weekend agenda centered solely on food. The attraction is of course the bevy of western restaurants and menu items. Cuisines of Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Lebanese, Ethiopian, French, Italian, Mexican and even an American diner food and a KFC knock off are residents of Dakar.

But none of this will ever compare to the day we actually go back to the Western worlds from which we came and our food porn was born. With my pending vacation in the great land of convenience (aka the USA), I can’t help but imagine my first meal back home. Not just casually thinking of my favorite foods, and narrowing them down to most important, I take it one step further to food porn because I picture myself preparing and then sitting down to the master piece of a meal. I can smell the kitchen and grill smells, lick the bowls used in preparation, see the familiar colors of my favorite items, and I salivate. In fact, since I’m thinking about it now, I might as well share.

My dream starts with some fresh pieces of veggies (like carrots, cucumber, and broccoli) dipped in the hidden valley ranch packets that are mixed with sour cream to make dip. It should be noted that I mix 1.5 packages to prescribed amount of sour cream for increased flavor. This is washed down with my favorite white wine Relax, a type of Riesling. For dinner we eat a McCormick seasoned steak grilled medium-well and served with horseradish sauce (made from a base of wasabi mayo and horseradish). On the side is a salad with the following toppings: dried cherries, feta cheese, onions, tomatoes, cucumber, and croutons. The dressing is, of course, jalapeño ranch from Pepperidge Farm. For dessert there’s a giant bowl of cold berries (really any fruit ending in berry will do) and barely thawed cool whip. Oh, and let’s not forget the large warm chocolate chip cookie. I don’t like a lot of chocolate chips in my cookie, just one or two, because I’m really in it for the dough- of which I’ve already a few spoonfuls when raw.

No, not all of those items go together, but I suppose it wouldn’t be food porn if they did. Or if I hadn’t described it all in what I’m sure was boring detail to you (which was pretty agonizing for me). I do think it’s telling that most of the items were based from fresh healthy foods… that were accompanied by dairy based products. It says that I don’t get either of those food “groups” in sufficient quantity here. You should be concerned if my 1st supper had included rice, pasta, bread, or any other form of carbohydrate. But anyway, I figure you get what I mean by food porn by now. And yes, Dad, the above was a not-so-subtle hint. Thanks.

Wednesday, December 1

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving being my absolute favorite holiday, and since I’d stayed with my family in Mboro the year before, I saw fit to travel this year. So I went to Dakar for the best gig in country to be celebrated in the form of an upscale dinner party. Every year the Ambassador to the United States opens her home to the lonely likes of the Peace Corps Volunteers residing in Senegal. It’s a potluck whose arrangements is organized only a few days before when a person calls, texts, or emails their desired food contribution to the PC headquarters office. I personally went through 3 rounds before settling on something not requested by others and not similarly represented. As my sister was visiting I also made arrangements for her to join the festivities as well.

The day of my sister, her boyfriend, Christine, and myself woke up in another town, organized our possessions and set out to find a ride to Dakar. Looking for a car out of Popenguine had us walking all sorts of scenic routes, until we stopped a passing car to ask directions back to town or a garage. He turned out to be a French priest at the mission in town and offered to give us a ride to the next town’s garage. After we got in, it was discovered that he’d been living in Senegal for 3 years and was currently travelling to Dakar on business… he offered to take us the distance and would not accept money or gifts. He drove us within 3 blocks of our destination in Dakar in a record time nearly half of what is considered normal travel.

On the road we discovered that my cell phone provider was offering 'buy one get one free' in cell phone credit. This felt like finding treasure as any other promotional day I've been privy to has only offered a 50% upgrade. 100% was only a myth... until now. Our phones work off of prepaid credit that is purchased in card form from any aspiring entrepreneur. They are more common than lemonade stands in a US subdivision during summer. Though this seems like a sidebar to the festivities, it could've been equated to a Christmas miracle and was therefore highly appreciated.

For breakfast we ate lunch items at the diner in downtown Dakar. Chances to sit in AC, drink lemonade, and eat pizza and fries would put anyone in an American mood. Followed by checking into the hotel, taking hot showers, and getting dolled up for the evening- all of which improved the experience. I haven’t looked that pretty since I got ready for New Years Eve 2010. Depressing and pathetic, but true… and also a cost savings. While Christine, sister, and I did our makeup and exchanged accessories, sister's boyfriend spent some quality time watching Senegalese music videos and learning the art of traditional dance. Both he and sister can do a remarkable impersonation of a appropriate leg shaking and lifting with accompanying blank faced stare.

In the early afternoon, we bought supplies at the nicest store in town for our contribution to the buffet and took them over to the regional house. There we showed sister how each local volunteer has a locker but the bunk beds are up for first-come-first-serve grabs to the people who arrive there. Unfortunately preparations for dinner side dishes and desserts worked much the same way… and by the time we got there barely any of the cooking utensils were available for use or storage. After some shifting of side dishes and bargaining for stove top space we managed to boil our pasta and cut our sausage, cucumber, olives, and onions. The dressing was to be tossed in just before dinner was served (although that was somehow lost in translation with the kitchen staff at the ambassador’s residence). And just as we were finishing it was time to grab the barely used heels from my locker and head out to our party.

We took a taxi and actually got there by telling him the neighborhood and whose house we were going to. This surprises me because I couldn’t tell you the location of any other ambassador’s house in any other country. But then, I’m not strong in geography. Upon arrival, the security guard checked our names off a list, in a VIP club sort of way, before we walked through the gates. The Ambassador herself met us at the front door with greetings and a member of the kitchen staff (there to receive our dish, which she would later transfer to a new plate and sans dressing), and after offering our thanks for the invitation we signed the guest book and headed to the patio for some drinks.

The back yard of the estate (yes that is the appropriate word for the place) was the perfect place for a twilight cocktail hour. A bar and two bartenders served red and white imported wines, beer, and local juices while my fellow volunteers and members of the PC staff mingled around the pool. Sister spent a fair amount of time chatting up and getting to know my friends who were beautifully dressed in a way that made me miss holidays, formal functions, and generally being clean and well groomed.

Just as the sun set, we headed inside to the grand living room where eight round tables we covered in beautiful white linens with matching white chair covers and place settings. It was like a fancy wedding, and combined with the lighting (which for the first time in a long time wasn’t florescent), made me consider whether or not I have a problem with season effected disorder or just bad lighting. The wait staff (I’m talking men in dress shirts and vests, seriously) brought wine periodically. For dinner we ate all the usual fixings, each made from at least 3 different “recipes from home,” and I tasted them all. Well except the green mashed potatoes… and that’s just good common sense. I ate so much that I got a second plate, but I couldn’t finish it.

We stuffed ourselves like this for quite a while before they brought out coffee and cleared the buffet table (the promise of optional take home bags whispered through the air). Then it was on to dessert, where the table was once again covered with brownies, apple pie, corn bread (another lost in translation item), carrot cake, and other items I couldn’t manage room for. Luckily the others at my table all wanted mere bites so we shared one of everything.

As the sleepy drug of turkey took hold of the room, I found the already cleaned pasta pan and secured for it safe passage back to the regional house with other friends. Then I collected my sister and her boyfriend and Christine and got them back to the hotel room, where we called our families (possibly only due to the 100% promotional phone credit miracle) and laid down in a poor attempt to let our stomachs digest. This didn’t last long, as we’d promised to drag ourselves up and out to the nearest bar for beers with friends. We made it through one sad beer before calling Turkey Day a success and going to bed. And that’s how an ex-pat does an American holiday in style, Peace Corps life style be damned.

Sunday, November 28

Tabaski

The biggest holiday of the Senegalese year has come again. It’s two lunar months after Korite (or about two calendar months plus ten days) and is known here as Tabaski. I’m sure it has a more Arabic name in other Muslim countries, and is celebrate a day or two earlier than we do, though I don’t know anything about it. This day is a fusion of my two of my favorite American holidays Christmas and Thanksgiving, and I’m certain that last year I was too caught up in the “everything is so different” aspect to see the resemblances. Happily, not much escaped me this year. I’m going to make a bold statement; this Tabaski was the best Senegalese holiday I’ve passed in all my time here.

The seemingly most important aspect of the day is sheep. Two days before the event I found myself in Dakar, which had a viable shot at being renamed Field of Sheep. Every single spare corner of land that wasn’t resident to a building or a trash pile was covered in sheep and their vendors (and even some of the piles, unfortunately). That’s a lot of sheep; which is to be expected given that every household takes it upon themselves to kill a sheep for their family. How many houses is that? A better question is where do all the sheep come from? I can’t answer either. I can tell you that the single most important purchase of the holiday is the ram, which can cost anywhere from $100 to $400 per. Now’s the time I remind you that the poverty line is drawn at making less than $1 a day… you do the math.

Also reminiscent of Thanksgiving is the enormous amounts of cooking to be accomplished. The night before my family and I sat down to peel a large sack of potatoes, (luckily I’d had a peeler shipped in which made me quite effective) and another of onions. The morning of I was put in charge of the French fries. I lucked out again as my mom (lover of all cooking appliances, utensils, and short cuts) had a fry cutting shooter gizmo which made the job a million times easier. After that I pitched in with the onions. For hours we sat cutting onions in our hands with a paring knife. These women don’t use cutting boards or large knifes to do their work, but they can accomplish the same volume with their hands as a I could with a cutting board for any given period of time. I on the other hand, having zero practice with this method, fumbled often. I’m proud to say, however, that I’m cut free!

Our Catholic neighbors were kind enough to lend us their daughters. Any girl in her teens was sent to our house and given a knife. In the later hours of the morning, when the onions were finally done, I started in turning the potatoes into French fries. Once again my mom pulled out the appliances and her deep fryer… which is good because as clumsy as I feel around the kitchen these days, I don’t know if I could’ve handled the open gas flame and the flying oil at the same time. So for hours I sat refilling the basket, closing the lit, double checking the color, emptying the basket, fighting off the hungry kids, and repeating. When the older Catholic women arrived, they helped my mom prepare onion sauce and our meat.

Let’s go back. What have the 7 men of my house been doing all day, you ask? Well by 9 am they are dressed in their brand new fancy boubous (which looks like an elderly gentlemen’s silk pajama suit) and at about 9:30a they have a special prier service at the mosque. After returning, they change back out of their nice cloths and get down to business. In less than 2 hours my team of brothers and uncles had killed, gutted, and cleaned not 1, but 2 sheep for our family’s festivities. Impressive speed, no? A neighbor had joined us for five minutes with his very sharp knife for the actual killing, and later another random man came by to collect the skins. I didn’t join them for the actual killing, but I did chuckle a bit when my 2 year old brother came running in the house saying “Mommy, the sheep is bleeding.”

Lunch (aka the most important meal of any Senegalese day- let alone this one) consisted of huge piles of meat, such as liver, ribs, or tenderloin, in a bed of onion sauce surrounded by fries, ate with our fingers and hunks of baguette. I have developed quite the affection for the mustard here, which looks deceptively like boring kind found at home but tastes like wasabi mayo that’s been died the same yellow color. Its heaven and I’m considering buying my family mass quantities of it so as to ensure we never run out. About the third or fourth time I asked my mom for another dollop she warned me not to over eat the mustard and make myself sick. Something I did last year, although it’s been contributed to the vinegar used in onion sauce recipes in other households.

After lunch I showered and put on my best Senegalese outfit. Unfortunately my nice shoes are holed up in Dakar and my flip flops nearly killed my mom with embarrassment. None the less, I grabbed my Catholic neighbor, a female friend of my generation (something I have very few of here), and headed to the booze boutique for a beer. After she wasn’t able to finish the whole bottle, and we donated it to the next client to walk in the door, we walked around our neighborhood greeting her friends. I struck up a conversation about how there are in fact only 50 states in the US (as opposed to the 52 that are taught) and 7 continents (5 of which are recognized here).

By dark I was beginning to feel the ache in my body from hours of peeling and frying, so I headed back home. My mom asked me to help here make a fruit salad for dessert... so there I sat cutting melon, banana, pineapple, and more. Meanwhile, I watched my dad and mom continue to clean the piles of sheep meat littering the house in buckets. They reduced the hunk sizes and packaged them into serving size bags to be stored in the large freeze we borrow across the street. By the time the salad was done, it was after 10pm and I was exhausted. My mom, now having such a great working knowledge of my oddities, handed me my usual serving size of salad and allowed me to skip dinner all together (which I’m told wasn’t served until 1:30am). I fell into bed completely exhausted.

For those of you mildly concerned about recent incidents with my uncle, turns out that the second purpose of Tabaski is forgiveness. There are a series of fun Wolof phrases designed for asking all of your acquaintances for pardon for past disagreements and offenses, as well as anything you might have done unknowingly and or unintentionally. I forced myself to take a deep breath and pull off a typical Wolof scenario which ended in the forgiveness of my uncle and the restoration of our (tolerable) relationship.

Wednesday, November 17

It Happened One Day...

My friends and I were scheduled to go on yet another long road trip to explore the Senegalese country side. And so we gathered in the garage in Thies, a mutual meeting point, to find a driver worthy of our adventure. As it turns out we had more than one car’s worth of people… and me and a good friend, lets call him Sebastian (for the sake that using his real name would be awkward), found ourselves as the two guinea pigs biting the bullet and agreeing to jump in a car with a few of the locals.

And so the trip began, the two of us crammed in the very back seat with a thin Pulaar man, made more uncomfortable by the mountains of luggage stuffed into the trunk space and overflowing onto the roof. The wind barely made it through the cracks in the windows to our stuffy corner of the car but at least the sun was blocked by the silky black curtains. The radio played the sounds of Islamic priers chanted to sound like music.

Hours into the trip I found myself lulled into my usual haze of sleepiness developed by years of combating car sickness. My bobbing head would float into the invading rays of sun or rest on Sebastian's or the Pulaar man's shoulder. The road was winding and became hilly, but I’ve grown accustomed to the driver’s ways. He’ll speed down one hill then slam on the breaks half way down to miss the truck in front. He’ll skip passing the truck outright in favor of chugging behind him up the next hill, so slowly the car almost stalls out. And then suddenly I’m jolted awake by the more sudden than normal slamming of the brakes, the screeching of tires, and annoyed cries from other passengers.

We skid, without a glimpse as to why we’d veered into this pickle, sideways down the road into a slightly elevated speed bump. This slightness was just enough to tip the car, in a panic-inducing type of slow motion, into a roll resembling that of a tumble weed. Down the hill the car tumbled until engaging in a final roof to the pavement kiss at the bottom. The most awful screams were melded with the crunching of metal into one terrifying explosion of noise. I’d vice gripped my eyes shut, to avert them from the horrors, only to peel them open again to the upside down puddle of glass and blood I lay contorted in.

The desperation to break free from the wreckage struck me. The air felt dead, dense, unbreathable… and I was gasping towards the space, air, and rays of sunshine outside the car. I crawled under the overturned seat to follow the others through the window. I ran dizzily away from the car as fast as possible, going confusedly in at least three different directions; I didn’t actually know what I was looking for. Air. A place to collapse. Sebastian.

It hit me like another crashing panic attack: I’m looking for Sebastian. My throat hurt but I was screaming anyway. I spin in circles so fast that it takes multiple turns to realize he isn’t there. Where? Where is Sebastian? And then my stomach drops. And in dread I turn back to the car. I drop to my knees and cry out. He’s still in the car. He must be. And I rush back to it, to the shattered back window, and fumble for what feels like hours to pull the bags out of my way. He’s there, upside down in his seat next to my vacant one. His eyes are closed. He isn’t moving.

He’s dusted with blood, but they’re just superficial cuts caused by the glass. I reach out but can’t touch him. Sebastian. He stirs and moans. I move another bag out of the way and crawl deeper back into the wreckage. Sebastian. He moans again. In the tiniest heart breaking voice he squeaks out “can’t.” An eternity later he manages a second word: “breath.” I start to flail in zero free space to rid the back end of the vehicle of all remaining bags. It seems like there’s an endless supply. I wriggle further into the car and I finally reach him. He’s wedged between the seat and god only knows what else. I can see that his chest is unable to rise with his weak breaths. He’s barely awake.

Do something, anything, my mind is screaming. First aid! I grab for his pulse, which is weak but there. I roll onto my side and tilt my head. I breathe air into him. Again. I’m wedged in so close I can see that his chest is still barely moving. Again. Again, I breathe in. Again. I don’t know if it’s helping, but I won’t stop. Between breaths I start screaming for help. Where is everyone else? Why aren’t they helping? Breathe. “Help!” Breathe.

And then I feel something hot close around my ankle. Someone is there. They’ve come to help me get my friend out. They pull. They are pulling on my leg. No. No. I can’t leave. I grab the seat and kick the hand off my leg. I’m yelling so many incomprehensible things. The hand grabs hold again, and another on the opposite leg. They pull harder this time. I lose my grip on the seat. I flail desperately at something to hold on to, but I fail to grasp anything. They are dragging me back out through the trunk. Though my hands are still reaching toward Sebastian, I’m pulled in agonizingly slow motion away from him. I catch his eyes and they’re filled with tears and panic. He can’t say it, but he’s begging me not to leave him. And then he’s gone.

I’m out of the car, lying on the pavement. I jump up and back towards the car but my fellow passengers grab me around my waist. I kick and scream. Two men are dragging me ever further way from the car. I’m yelling things in every language I’ve ever learned… but none of it is the Pulaar that they speak. No one seems to understand me. Sebastian. I need to help Sebastian. Let me go. I fight as hard as it seems I’m possible to break free, but it’s a losing battle. All the adrenaline in my body has been exhausted. I can’t fight them off. My whole body is trembling and I can no longer see. I realize that I’m crying. Hot tears are pouring down my face. Sebastian. Sebastian. Sebastian.

And then I wake up. I’m in my bed in Mboro, under the mosquito net. The tears spilled out of my dreams, in to reality, and across my face. I shake uncontrollably and am covered in an icy cold sweat. My throat is raw and dry like I might have been screaming out loud. It’s just after dawn and there’s barely any light in my room, but I can’t help myself and I contact the real Sebastian. I need to know he’s ok.

This dream happened 6 months ago before the infamous trip to Kedougou… but I can still remember every detail like it just happened yesterday. The next time I speak of Mefloquine please remember this story; wildly vivid and horrible dreams top the list of side effects.

Sunday, November 14

Soup For Thought

The buffet of incidents leading me to swear to always be an amazingly grateful house guest is never ending. Most recently, while my whole family is recovering from a cold given to us by a certain family member, my mom and the maid started a pot of soup for dinner. We rarely eat it because of the heat, but with the changing weather, cooler nights, and never ending cold and flu season, we had good reason to whip up a batch.

Generally, food is prepared in the house by the maid, my mom, or collaboration between the two. This last one goes mostly for the night time meal. My mom will ask the maid to pre-clean and cut veggies leaving them in the fridge for her to later use for dinner long after she’s gone home for the day. On soup night, this was the case. The maid prepped the veggies and meat, and left them in two separate bowls in the fridge. The boys were told to start the broth with bullion and the bowl in the fridge. Hours later a bowl of soup is brought in to my room by a brother, followed by another with a hunk of bread, and my mom.

“We forgot the meat,” she says. The maid had cut it, but somehow that bowl never made it into the soup. Internally I’m jumping for joy. The meat here isn’t frequently appetizing to me, and the fatty soups worthy bits are no exception. Shamefully, I act like a little kid and hide the bits I don’t eat by flushing them down the toilet or putting my bowl at the bottom of the stack in the kitchen so it can’t be traced back to me. So, yeah, I’m ecstatic there was a mistake in communication on this one. There’s a bowl full of broth and veggies with my name on it, and I dig in.

Insert my famed uncle. It’s a miracle he’s able to get up off our couch and walk his bowl to the kitchen as he usually just hands if off to one of the kids. But the reasoning is soon clear. He uses the opportunity to walk through the house making jokes with everyone about the meatless soup. “Soda, how is your water?” What are you talking about? “Anna is stupid and forgot the meat. We are just eating water for dinner. It’s horrible.” It’s not horrible. It tastes great. “You are stupid, too.”

At this point I am boiling over in rage. It’s enough to make me reconsider watching so many vampire related TV shows because there is just no stopping the fury from exploding from my mouth in a combination of 3 languages. The only person who is stupid is you. Anna is an amazing cook and you never appreciate it. You never say thank you. You take and take but you never once give back.

He laughs. My fire starts to flame blue. “It’s unbelievable that I have to remind you to say thank you. You don’t live here. This isn’t your house and therefore everything given to you is a gift. How could you be so unbelievably rude as to insult a free meal? You need to apologize to Anna right away for what you’ve said.” And about now you need to visualize me physically bullying my uncle into the living where my mom is sitting- as the last person to eat left all alone by the people she’s served who have already finished. My uncle covers the small bits of shame poking through his thick skull with a sheepish laughter and says he’s sorry. For what? Because there’s no meat in the soup. “The soup still tastes good,” my mom says. Yes, I believe that to be true, but he doesn’t. I’m sorry.

I go back to my room in order to lower my blood pressure. My uncle goes to the fridge and pulls out a bottle of water to drink. He’s been embarrassed by my shaming him so he’s still making jokes and laughing. I would normally leave it be, but he just happened to grab my water bottle to drink from. Oh hell no. Put that back, I say, it’s not yours. He’s thinking I’m referencing that all things in the house aren’t his, and his ego has taken enough bruising for the night, so he ignores me. I follow him into the kitchen, blood pumping a million miles an hour again, and take the bottle from his hands. See? It’s got my name on it. It’s my bottle. “You’ve never put your bottle in the fridge.” It’s been there for over a year, so don’t bother with that lie.

He can’t take it anymore. Calling someone a liar, or out directly on a lie, is a major insult around here. He deals with his anger by laughing. This is the Wolof way; making mean spirited jokes. I put my water bottle back and he makes a move to grab another one. I’m way beyond flying off the handle (is it bad to admit that?) and I start screaming that he can no longer just take what he wants to while he’s disrespecting the house that I live it. Get out. Now. You’re done here. Go. Now. I pick up his shoes and throw them out the door. I’m actually hitting him. My family is an uncomfortable state of awe watching my utter unraveling in its process. My dad who is the most non-Wolof (read non-gossipy and non-confrontational) people I’ve ever met, has come out of his room to see what the fuss is about. He is so uncomfortable he giggles. Everyone else has stopped laughing uncomfortably and is staring at the floor. My brother comes up and tries to hug me. I shake him off. He pulls me back. Another brother hands my uncle a water bottle and a cup. “It’s done,” he says.

Yes. It is done. They might let you get away with it, but we’re done. Do not speak to me again until you find the meaning of respect. It takes me almost an hour to calm down and stop shaking. This is partly because I can hear my family recapping the incident in whispers and jokes. And as I reflect on my own actions or reactions, a few thoughts come to mind. I read an article about a new book by Tim Gunn, a man of the fashion industry, in which he talks about taking the high road. The value of shutting up and letting people be responsible for figuring out their own mistakes. Boy, am I the anti-thesis of that right now. Must do better in future.

But also I think about where all this sudden anger has come from. Friends have commented that people back home have noticed a change in their aggressiveness, and though I haven’t gotten the same comments I can’t help but believe it’s only because no one has noticed yet. I’m going through the same experiences as my fellow volunteers, so it’s incredibly likely that I’m also becoming more assertive with my anger. I’m more Wolof actually, because the culture here is to make a big deal out of something as quickly as possible. The quickest tongue and loudest mouth wins an argument, because peace, the always desired outcome is sought out quickly. Make a big enough scene and everyone else backs down. Not making a scene at all, trying to use respectful indoor voices and rational will get you nowhere. No one will do what you ask or take you seriously in any way shape or form. That’s what I’ve been learning for the last year anyway. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t I learn it well. Or if I’ll be speaking to my uncle again any time soon.

Wednesday, November 10

Sick of Sickness

On the night of the incident in question, my uncle came over a few hours before dinner to do his usual job of annoying everyone whilst waiting for dinner. I usually sit in my room for this, working or watching a movie. At some point I got up to stretch my legs only to find him lying on the couch watching TV alone. No one else seemed to be around the house, which is common for the cool evening hours, but did make his presence a bit weird. As soon as he saw me, he pulled a look on his face like he was in pain. He started moaning. I ignored him. He moaned some more. I left. A little while later I went into the room for something. He moans again; really attention hungry “look at me” kind of stuff. I do nothing. “I’m sick, Soda.” Yeah. “I’m really sick.” I ignore him. “You should help me.” You should go home and go to bed. You shouldn’t be walking across town to visit people who aren’t here. Go to bed. “But I’m sick. I can’t walk home like this.” I left again.

I’ve found I’ve become the type of person who no longer has the patience for indirect pleas for attention. Indirect is a huge part of Wolof culture, so I’m looking at a long battle of tolerance down the road. But that in itself shouldn’t be too hard. It’s the desperate attention seeking measures that get under my skin. Maybe more so because I know this culture to be one where if you’re sick people leave you alone. Initially, being a new comer, when I got sick I wasn’t left alone; I was forced to eat. But as time went on, and my family got used to my unchanging aura of weird, I started to learn that sickness makes them uncomfortable to confront. I’m talking about mild sickness. It’s the type of thing were simple medications are generally too expensive so they’re forgone. No pain meds for a headache and no Sudafed for a cold sort of stuff. People are expected to suck it up. When I’m sick my family knows that I need to make my own tea and skip a few meals in favor of soup. If my door is closed I’m sleeping and they should knock lightly for meals and I’ll get up if I'm awake or have energy. They leave me alone to recover like they would anyone else in the family. Everyone except my uncle that is?

Something I discovered by trial and error is that when I'm sick everything needs to come to a halt in order to get better. My first few months here I was continuously sick. Whether a stomach issue, or a cold, or a skin problem I’d take the appropriate meds and continue on with my life. But I just wasn’t ever 100%. We come from a culture of having only a handful of sick days for the whole year so they surely shouldn’t be wasted lest some emergency happen where taking those days is unavoidable. But that's not life in Senegal. Somehow there are too many factors and recovery takes that much longer. And if you don't get better, you could actually get so much worse. The only way to deal with illness- and most Senegalese agree with me- is to stop everything in favor of doing absolutely nothing until healed. No matter how many days it takes, I have to remember that I’m no good to these people if I can’t keep myself healthy. And no matter how much I ponder over finishing just a thing or two on the to-do list to keep myself from slipping behind in work… everything must be put on hold. Unless you're my uncle??

So given these bits of knowledge and culture, could you see why I’m so frustrated with a person that walks across town even though he shouldn’t to demand attention from people who don’t actually give it out? Why? Why would someone do that?

The answer is chicken. My uncle is under the impression that because he is a member of the family anything he desires in our house should be his. Awesome. Though this is not the first time I find myself frustrated with this arrogant cultural norm, I am overly agitated with the aforementioned “death bed” of an illness (remember all that moaning?) that accompanies him. This man is known to show up at our house demanding to know what’s for dinner. He’ll stay if it’s good, or complain and leave if he deems it unworthy. Now, I know my mom is one of the best cooks I’ve found in the country, but he’s just a little too ridiculous about it. A 30 something single bachelor that still lives with his mom (admittedly all normal for the area) who wanders the neighborhoods each night in search of the best dish… come on! At least bring a table gift from time to time. Act like a grateful house guest, right?

Well on this particular day, I find out, upon the return of the rest of my family members, that my Dad’s sister from a few towns over is coming to pay a visit. This will be my first time to meet her in the year I’ve been here as family only visits every few years- if they don’t actually live in Mboro that is. In honor of long distance visits my family busts out the bird; they made an excellent meal of chicken, fries, and salad. And although it shouldn’t surprise me that my uncle is selfish enough to potentially spread illness to every last member of my family, it does still anger me greatly.

But as I’m used to this, I brushed it off and took an extra vitamin C tablet. And then we sat down to eat. We are a family of not having to obsessively wash our hands before meals because when we do eat, we use a fork or spoon. On the occasion that there are too many people to pass out spoons for all, then we break out a fancy portable hand washing station but we mostly don’t need that. One of my brothers is in charge of passing out spoons. Only on this day, my uncle took on the role, or stack if you will, and just as he went to hand me the first one he sneezed all over them all. And this right here is what drove me to rage.

How can a sneeze be such a horrid offense, you say? Until you’ve been sick as many times as I have, and in a place where it’s hard to tell if you have a fever because you’re always that hot, I think you just won’t get it. Some days it doesn’t seem to matter how many vitamins I take, how many times I wash my hands, or how many small snot nosed kids I avoid… there is just no escaping the next cold or flu.

So here I am with an attention seeking uncle, who just happens to be sick and spreading it to everyone without remorse, who is also pulling his usual “I’m here for the best meal in town” sans worthy contribution. And I suppose this incident wouldn’t have been different from any other time that I meet my breaking point with a surrendering sigh, except for all the non-redeeming qualities coming together at one moment in time. Suffice it to say, I let him have it in an overly Wolof way. What can I say; I’m sick of being sick. I’m also a little sick of self centered people.

Thursday, November 4

Mall Rats

There’s a brand new mall in Dakar. Where organized shopping did not exist once upon a time, it does now. I can’t help but smile when I walk in, and thinking about the old days of window shopping. It’s a marvel not to be harassed in the market; to just relax and take my time. And when I get a bit down about my current surroundings, and start longing for things found only at home, I plan my next trip to Sea Plaza Shopping Center.

The center is located on the coast; most literally it was carved into the side of it, just a few hundred meters down from the beautiful Radisson Blue hotel that boasts one of the best nights stays available in town. To access the center, your car must first pass through the guard post. I’ve personally never taken a car into the center as a taxi will drive you only to the curb near the guard post, so I really couldn’t tell you what kind of credentials need to be presented or if you’re just paying for parking. Parking is a part of the carved structure and doesn’t appear to accommodate the vast potential the interior amenities do. Perhaps the designers assume that most people will take a taxi like I do.

Once inside you’ll find two floors of boutiques lining the walls and an escalator connecting the two in the center. On the bottom floor you’ll find an information booth. It seems a bit odd considering my personal awareness of the Wolof culture… in which information is regarded with enormous value and thus deemed inappropriate for sharing under most circumstances. Hopefully all you really need is a map to find the store of your choice. At present, and about 40% capacity filled, there are a buffet of what appear to be designer European stores (though I wouldn’t know, I’m just assuming based on the price tags), a few electronics stores that remind you of the home theater section of Best Buy with their couches and “come and test” signs, a beauty salon providing the usual hair, nail, and massage amenities, a scented candle store (some things really don’t change, huh?), and even a beauty products boutique with Clinique items in the window.

I’ve spend time at the bowling alley that has all the lights, vinyl, bowling shoes and sounds to trick your mind into thinking you’re back in the States. There’s a restaurant with typical food and seriously over priced drinks, pool tables in the only smoking section in the place, and an arcade where all the games are in English. I almost didn’t even realize that last one until someone pointed it out to me after being there more than a half hour.

Like any normal mall there’s a food court at one end with a variety of dining options. If you choose Mexican, expect the food to appear more organic than Taco Bell, except for that melted single of Craft American across the top of your burrito. If it’s a fruit smoothie you crave, it’s hard to believe (or pay for) but this too can be found in the food court. Its seating area isn't entirely too expansive that the staff at eat food booth can’t deliver your tray to you. Indoor or outdoor seating will give you amazing views of the coast, but the formal restaurant in the far corner will give you all the sports you can handle with their numerous plasma screen TVs.

In case I’ve never told you about the most upscale grocery store chain in all of Senegal, now would be the perfect time since their newest branch resides in this mall. It is curiously named Casino although absolutely no gambling is to be had, whether your mind jumps to negotiating prices or worries about future food contracted illness of the bowels. The store boasts large aisles full of merchandise organized like you’d find at any grocer back home, amazing amounts of florescent lighting found in no other shopping venue in town, and air conditioning as cold as you can stand it. There’s a deli/ butcher counter, a bakery, an occasionally open sushi stand (I know, I almost don’t believe it myself) and a wine and liquor section. Imported products like corn flakes, chocolates, and beauty products can be found here, for a price slightly higher than you’d be charged back home.

It’s no secret that I’ve lost weight whilst I’ve been on this continent, but with it goes my ability to fit comfortably in every article of clothing I’ve brought here. It’s pretty easy to find pants or shirts in the chaos that is the market, or to have something new made up by a trusted tailor. What is difficult is underwear shopping because of the lack of privacy afforded while doing it. I had a family members send me a few items based on a mildly educated guess of my current size, but there’s no way of knowing for sure without walking into a store and its dressing room to perform some simple trial and error experiments. In this new mall, I got lucky. Not only are there multiple lingerie stores, but they have non-lacy everyday sections, a fitting room, and attendants that speak English. Admittedly, that last fun fact isn’t a necessary one to the operation, but certainly made the whole thing a bit more relaxing.

The pride and glory of the structure, in my singular opinion I’m sure, will be the movie theater to come. As someone who would count movie-going among her top favorite activities, I can say that going without the experience of the stadium seating, reclining folding chairs, annoying crying children, and overly priced and buttered popcorn… I cannot wait for this place to open. Unfortunately, information sharing what it is, I can’t tell when that will be. We’re on African time, so it might not even be in the next year. I also can’t tell you what kind of movies will be shown; American, European, or other, or which language they’ll be in or have subtitles in. I can tell you about my certainty that the cost of going will be similar to that found in the US (as evidenced in the bowling/ pool/ arcade experience). And of course that I’ll be one of the first people in line to see whatever show when the time comes.

And now I'm already mentally planning my next trip to Dakar. Oh the simple things.

Sunday, October 31

Similarities

I talk a lot about how different things are here in Senegal, or Africa, when compared with the US. Everything from the physical aspects of climate and food, to the psychological ideals like perception of beauty and work ethic, feels like a 180 degree turn from all that I’ve known before. And yet, the longer I sit in this sand box the more I slowly pick out the things just happen to be similar. It’s not 100%, but a small fraction of something is similar to life back home. And that can be kind of comforting.

1. Chivalry isn’t dead, but it’s not obvious either. It may be true that a woman must give up her seat for a man, but that doesn’t mean that guy is above helping her with her multiple bags of luggage.

2. When it comes down to it, family comes first.

3. Sick days are important, and should be taken so that one can return to work healthy. The African adjustment is that there is no cap on the number of sick days taken, no proof necessary, and no repercussions for work missed. Hmm.

4. Kids still take naps. Actually, we all do… it’s called Siesta. But hey at least the kids are quiet and sleeping for a few hours of the day, even if this means they are then allowed to stay up all night.

5. I’ve seen a stop sign, and people who stop for it. It’s even in English, but is still a rare occasion.

6. Laundry is hung out on the line to dry in the sun. This may be out of necessity more than energy conservation, but that doesn’t diminish the similarity, right?

7. There is nothing like a cold beer after work. There is nothing like our happy hours back home either... and though they don’t exist here, a huge thank you goes out for the fact that at least the beer does.

8. Dieting is expensive. Buying all the veggies and fruit my family should be eating instead of rice and pasta is a significantly larger dent in our monthly food spending. However, I’m certain that the Senegalese eat carbs to fill their stomachs where Americans eat them for taste.

9. There isn’t a single show from back home that hasn’t appeared on my Senegalese television (with French voice-overs). CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, 24, or How I Met Your Mother… they may be a season or two behind, but that makes it easier on my translating. I guess this isn’t a similarity- more an exact copy- but perhaps the comparison is the type of entertainment sought out by the viewer.

10. Major sporting events are televised and large amounts of people gather together to view them. Sure, they’re watching soccer and not football or wrestling instead of baseball… but its none-the-less a highly publicized event splashed over TV, radio, billboards, and other media outlets.

11. Homework is put off until it’s due, rather than getting it done just after it’s been assigned. Ahhh procrastination, no one can escape you…

12. People watch the music channel on TV to see music videos. We have a French spin on MTV that mixes American top 40 videos with Senegalese and French ones. Let’s just prey they don’t start a version of Senegalese Real World. I can picture the drama that would be Real World: Matam- 7 strangers, that don’t speak the same language, living isolated but together in the dessert. Oh, mayhem possibilities.

13. Good help is hard to find. Whether it’s my mom firing another maid every 2 weeks, my counterpart that completely abandoned me 3 months after I arrived, or the endless stream of people that can’t be counted on to show up when they say they will… good help is hard to find in Senegal. And just like home, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I’ve got the number of a great leather worker, a reliable driver, and the very dedicated, hard working secretary general at the mayor’s office.

14. People hate not being able to understand others that speak in a foreign language. How many times have you seen/ heard someone say “We’re in America, speak English.” I am on the receiving end of that here.

15. My favorite veggies (potato, tomato, onion, carrot, etc) are here. Sometimes they are prepared in a similar manner to life back home (like mashed potatoes) but mostly they aren’t. Who would have thought to mix tomatoes with peanut butter?

16. People dress to impress to go pray. Here it’s Friday, there it’s Sunday, but whatever.

17. There is an obvious manner of dress change between a young woman and an older one. While short shorts may be all the rage with the young crowd in this month’s heat, a respectable older women will be sporting her traditional dresses.

18. It’s embarrassing to smell bad. No matter how poor, a person does not want to be caught in stinky cloths or without a fresh scent (whether it is thanks to inexpensive soap or a fancy imported perfume).

19. Antivirus software is severely needed. Probably more so here because no one has it, because they can’t pay for it, because even if they could no one has a credit card to pay online… it’s a messed up world.

20. There are plenty of unemployed able bodies here- that although they could, for whatever excuse choose not to work. The difference is that their families support them, not the government. A different kind of welfare.

Wednesday, October 27

Age

Just how old am I? I realize that I wrote to you the events of my 27th birthday, but to be honest I don’t feel like I’ve been acting my age lately. Like taking a back seat to the person I used to be in order to retrace my footsteps and start again at the semi-naïve college graduate phase of my life. This here Peace Corps experience is making me reevaluate almost everything I thought I had figured out. Just how do I conduct myself on a daily basis?

Let’s explore the finances. I’ve been making excuses for the spending of my meager allowance. I’m not living beyond my means in anyway, and I’m not short of cash, but I have noticed a lack in the guardianship of my monthly installment to the savings envelope (yes, envelope- things are a bit “under the mattress” here). A few months have passed and it just doesn’t seem to bother me. My excuse is that I’d rather buy a cold soda or some tasty fruit than save for a rainy day. I rationalize that the rainy season is over and a stock pile already exists. And given that, I’m much better off being as happy as I can be here than a few bucks better off when I get back at home, right? Aren’t I preventing myself from procrastinating later if I have that “rainy day” fund? I’ll be trying that much harder to find my next adventure (read: job) without that bloated account to depend on.

Don’t feel bad if you just rolled your eyes because I'm not really sure believe that myself. I keep going like this and before you know I’ll be looking around thinking, “Whatever happened to that retirement fund I was going to start???”

Another example would be my ‘stay up all night’ attitude when it comes to spending time with other PCVs. I could make excuses and tell you it’s because the extreme heat would keep me awake anyway, but I know that’s only a partial truth. The whole truth would be the heat plus my desires to spend time with English speaking friends, eat good food, relax, and enjoy myself. Self control, why are we always battling? But seriously, I’ve spent 3 nights in Dakar doing nothing of real significance during the day and staying up, if not all-night long, damn near close to it. And when I’m back in Mboro desperately fighting off yet another horrendous cold, I’m again thinking, “What happened to my internal alarm clock that tells me when fun time is up and rational bed time has come?”

Next admission: I’m a try everything once kind of girl… but there is a heck of a lot of things to try in the land of completely different. I’ve always been a believer in the “try everything once” theory, but I fear that’s my latest excuse to do whatever sounds like the best adventure, regardless of the risk. Example: Chatting up some cute French guys (just to prove the point that I could) only to spend the rest of the night actually having to talk to them. Another: when I spent hours walking down the beach, risking serious dehydration, to find the village of a scholarship girl even though everyone told me to take the taxi. Clearly I won’t be forgetting these and other adventures any time soon, but I question their necessity. So, I’m not my usual guarded self; I’m out there doing and trying everything.

It has also occurred to me that there have been a number of entries in my über-cute leather bound journal about this or that feeling that seem to be too vague. The entries are vague in that I am writing with the hope of figuring out just exactly how I feel about this or that new experience, but can’t seem to formulate a concrete opinion. I’d love to share some examples, but wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of having a separate journal? Just trust me when I say it can be a confusing read. Especially when I sit there thinking, “I have some good points. Too bad there’s no definite conclusion and each entry seems to contradict the last.” Don’t let it be said that I wasn’t a good devil’s advocate.

Have I really regressed in my adult ways? Where there used to be a solid minded saver, there is a ‘live in the moment’ kind of girl. Where there used to be a sensible woman who knew exactly how much sleep she needed to properly function, there is a girl who shrugs with the impression she can make up for it later. But can you really sleep when you’re dead? Is it ok to view sleep like a savings account? And a savings account is meant to be contributed to, not ignored correct? Most important question of all: I ever be able to make up my mind again?

On the other hand, perhaps it’s a good move to stop and question things from time to time. I mean, that is one of the reasons I came out here: to stop taking everything associated with the American way of life for granted. I guess “for granted” could be applied to my concept of the perfect night’s sleep, a sensible savings plan, adventure and the term “inquisitive.” And with that, I change my mind once again and say maybe I am acting my age… I’m just adult enough to realize nothing is set in stone.

Sunday, October 24

Family and Home

And we’re back into the school year, which means English class has started up once more. This time around, I’m going to make sure they don’t spend the entire summer break yelling “Good afternoon Soda” at all hours of the day. I’ve promised them all a pen pal program, and after they got done writing their first letter to their new friend back home, it occurred to me that there are a few things it might be worth my time to explain. The people back home deserve a few fun facts about family and home to help explain some of the oddities they’ll see in their letters. And I figure it couldn’t hurt to share them with everyone:

1. The school that we’re working with is Ecole Notre Dame (School of Our Lady) and is a private Catholic school, meaning the kids pay additional tuition fees to attend and they have religion classes. Most of the kids there are Catholic, but there are a few Muslim ones too. The school is not discriminatory. Often there will be children of a Catholic mother, but a Muslim father. In this way the kids are Muslim but accepted in Catholic circles.

2. The pen pal class of kids is in CM2, which means class minus 2, or one step away from high school. Senegal uses the French school system which has 13 years where Americans have only 12. So, CM 2 is the equivalent of either 5th or 6th grade. Next year these kids will leave elementary school and start at the high school where they count down in number starting at 6, then 5, then 4, etc. The last year of high school is called Terminal.

3. My African name is Soda Ndaw. Every Peace Corps Volunteer gets a new local name; a first name that’s decided by the family and the last name is the same as the family. This is important for integration into the community, and because generally the people have a hard time pronouncing American names. After a year here, my family has just started calling me by my real name.

4. Married women don’t change their last names, and neither party wears a wedding ring (exception would be some Catholics). This makes it hard to obviously tell if someone is married… so they ask everyone all the time.

5. It’s legal in Senegal for a man to have up to 4 wives. So, if a child says they are the first child of their Mom, they may not be first child of their Dad if their Mom isn’t 1st wife.

6. Unfortunately, Senegal is not exempt from disease and early death. AIDs, malaria, dengue fever and diabetes are the biggest health related problems around. It is not uncommon to go to a funeral once a week. It’s also not all that uncommon to hear of a child whose parents are no longer living.

7. Often whole families live together. For example, a grandmother will have all or most of her children in one home. Those adult children that are married live with their families in the same home as well. So nearly 30 people could live in one home including aunts, uncles, and cousins. Multiple wives of a man, and all the children, will also live in the same house. Each wife usually ends up with her own bedroom, or in some cases house.

8. Bedroom doors are never closed. Whether you’re changing cloths, taking an afternoon nap, or studying for school… it’s never appropriate to close the door. It’s been said that privacy is something that only exists in a person’s thoughts, and kids learn this from an early age.

9. It’s really important in both Senegalese culture and the French language to distinguish between older or younger siblings, in fact the word sibling doesn’t even have a translation equivalent because it’s that important to a male or female relative.

10. Families commonly have double beds so that multiple people can share a bed at once. Small kids always sleep with older ones or their parents. Mosquito nets usually come in double bed size, and using one to cover multiple family members is easier and less expensive.

11. There are 2 kinds of homes: a house as we know it (where every room is under one roof) and a compound. A compound means there are many buildings or huts in a close proximity that are considered one home and are gated in by a fence. The toilet and shower of a compound usually end up being a separate building in this case. Western toilets are not common, which is why no one but a Peace Corps Volunteer makes the distinction.

12. Most families in my town have a fan or two and at least one television. It may be old and small, but that doesn’t stop everyone from gathering around to watch the latest soap opera sensation every night at dusk. A very well off family has a computer, fruit trees, or multiple phones. The richest families in town have an air conditioner in their living room, but this is very rare.

13. Electricity and water are not constant. Both of them generally go out once a day, for long periods of time, or more. A home is considered lucky to be in a neighborhood where the shortages are predictable, such as when they are always out during the daylight hours but come back consistently every evening. The problem is a lack of decent plumbing as well as inability on the behalf of the Senegalese government to provide electricity to all of it constituents continuously.

14. Pets just don’t exist in Senegal. The family may have chickens, goats or sheep but they are bred for sale or to eat during holidays- and are kept outside the home. Dogs and cats exist, but they are left in the wild like we would a fox or squirrel except with more diseases.

15. Having a maid is actually pretty common in middle class families and above. Someone to cook, someone to clean, someone to do the laundry by hand… often times a different helper for each task. Large families with lots of females in the home avoid this because it’s a woman’s job to do house chores. Men would never partake in these tasks; so it is with pride that I describe my house full only with boys as the exception to this rule. My oldest brothers take turns cooking, cleaning, and do their own laundry on Sundays.

Wednesday, October 20

History of Mboro

The following is a brief history of my amazing town of Mboro. The historical information was compiled by the mayor’s office of my town for a website that has been under construction the entire time I’ve been here (does it really take that long?). I then translated it and used the byproduct for the Wiki-Travel website I’ve launched for English speaking tourists looking to explore my corner of Senegal. Naturally, I’ve added additional details here that the average tourist probably doesn’t or shouldn’t care about for the sake of giving those of you reading this a better feel for the town. Nonetheless, I recommend checking out said website upon completion of this story.

Though discovered by the then colonial Governor of Senegal, Pinet Laprade, in 1862, the community of Mboro was not formalized until 1936 when travelers, carrying goods from the then capital of Saint Louis to the port in Dakar, found need for a stopping point along the coast.

After land surveys were conducted by the French, a base for fruit and vegetable production was instituted in Mboro and many Senegalese were enticed to move to the coast from Mékhé, Tivaouane, and other surrounding towns. Anyone who made the move received a trunk, a mosquito net, a piece of land, and tools to plant seeds and begin their new lives. Since then, Mboro has been regarded as the premier source of fruits and vegetables, among cities along the northern coast. This coastal region known to as either the Grande Côte (Big Coast) or the Garden Belt because of the large produce output for domestic and export consumption.

In the late 1950’s, a new dynamic was added to the economy with the extraction and sale of minerals found in the rich soils. The first miners were Europeans, either Belgian or French, and they exported phosphate. The Senegalese government formally organized the mining industry nation-wide in 1985, with the creation of Industries Chimiques du Senegal (ICS), including the factories and fields of Mboro/ Darou Khoudass.

By this time sulfur and other fun items from the periodic table were added to the product list. However, the governmental management style was not conducive to the large scale success in store for the factory and the operations were bought by a group of Indian entrepreneurs, a number of drag lines restored and new products developed for export. Thanks to the technology wave of the 20th century the fields of Mboro became a virtual gold mine upon the realization that they were riddled with silicon.

The first neighborhoods of Mboro were formed by 1954. Included is the very unique gated neighborhood of Mbaye Mbaye, which today stands as a tribute to Western culture and the first factory managers that built it to include tennis courts, swimming pool, mini grocery store, and country club style dining hall. Eleven formal neighborhoods exist though the interiors of which are a little disorganized- as many houses are not numbered or share the same number as another home. Streets don’t have names, and directions are given either in terms of store landmarks or by sending a small child to accompany you.

The small town was once mixed into a pool with other surrounding villages to create a “rural community” governed by one man, El Hadji Ngalgou Ndiaye, from 1976 until 2002. This position was an appointment by people higher up the chain rather than a democratic election by the people. And from what I’m told, not all that much came out if it, save a figure head if anyone was ever asked of its existence. But in later years of his appointment, the town of Mboro was recognized as having a need for an independent mayor to govern our people specifically. Djiby Yade became the first official mayor in 2002. The stories vary but it is said that he did little to nothing beneficial for the town, though he did enjoy a comfortable lifestyle due to his elevated status.

A heated election took place following M. Yade’s term and a victorious Charlot Sene took office in the spring of 2009 as Mboro’s 2nd mayor in office. M. Sene is currently balancing a job at the mineral factory and with his appointment and platform containing a number of attractive improvement ideas. Among them are the drainage system for the lowest point in town, bathrooms in the market, new classrooms in each of the major schools, an organized waste management program, annexation into Mboro and creation of utility infrastructures for the beach front neighborhoods, and restructuring of the aforementioned disorganized neighborhoods.

Today a unique blend of Wolof, Pulaar and Sereer ethnicities call this oasis home. Catholics and Muslims live side by side in harmony sharing in each other’s holiday experiences; for a meal shared with a Catholic neighbor on Tabaski is returned in kind to the Muslims on Christmas. The statuesque small-scale cathedral on a side road of town is open to any and all seeking its services in either French or Wolof, and its various choir troops are amazing to listen to- be it during weekly practice or throughout mass. Meanwhile 3 large mosques decorate the other corners of town and are equally inviting with their calls to prier.

Revered for being flush with sea breezes and produce, Mboro is anything but your ordinary tourist destination. Tucked quietly by the coast, and a 30 minute ride from the national route, this is a must see sight for those in seek of a truly African experience. For more info visit http://wikitravel.org/en/Mboro.

Wednesday, October 13

Girls Camp

My first big project is complete; quite possibly the only project that I’ll “complete” during my service. But to be honest, it should be an annual camp, so I guess the work is never really done. I wouldn’t consider it a slam dunk/ home run of a success… but I’m sure the girls would disagree with me.

From the girls’ point of view, we succeeded in getting them out of their communities for a week. We took them to a University in our region (something they’d never seen before), divided them into teams of people they’d never met before and taught them some really cool new things. We built their confidence by allowing them to talk about what they already knew, and then we showed them new ways to achieve the results they already wanted. They all want to graduate school and become professional working women, so our main goal was to teach them how to be successful member of both a family and the professional world- at the same time! Just one small example is that they know that stress causes high blood pressure, so we taught them how yoga can be used to reduce stress (and subsequently high blood pressure). We therefore conducted yoga class every day for 15 minutes; even the Senegalese adult staff joined in.

From my American point of view, the camp was executed- but we were amateurs. We finalized our guest list as we picked the girls up… calling back to base camp at the last minute. I’m sure it didn’t appear so, but we were stressed at having to organize these details all at the last minute. And I’m also sure that the next go around people will be RSVP-ing well in advance so this won’t be a problem. There were a few other glitches like this throughout the week but the only major problem was an obvious language issue. We, the volunteers, have varying degrees of fluency in multiple languages. And no matter how sure I am of my skill… by the end of the week I found myself so exhausted I could barely say the simplest things.

The best classes were those run by people who knew the material inside and out. Knowing that we should teach a subject and going for it just based on that, in my opinion, was sloppy. And I’m speaking about myself. I was co-chair of health day. I know just enough of the basics to keep myself in mildly good health. I had no business attempting an entire day on the subject. A health volunteer should have been called in. Or a doctor consulted, you could say. Live and learn, right? On the plus side, we moved from a question and answer section where weight loss was discussed to outdoor “Olympics” full of heart pumping fun. So no, the day wasn’t a failure, but it also wasn’t my proudest moment.

Other days were bigger successes. Gender development and future sparkled with its guest speakers; successful Senegalese professional women who were eager answer the girls’ questions about being a woman/ wife/ worker. Environmental day hit homers with its hands on composting, recycling, and micro-gardening. Business day won a place in every girl’s heart with its demonstration of home-made African-style Lip-Smackers’ lip gloss.

Ok, so even as I write this I feel like I’m talking myself into how great the camp really turned out. And yeah, lot of good was born from this week, but I saw things going so much more spectacular in my Mefloquine induced dreams. I envisioned an immediate call to action from every girl to start groups back in their home towns; this one for gardening, that one to sell lip gloss, another to start a yoga club. When asked about it, they all said they wanted to… but anyone who’s been in development work long enough knows that without prompt action from the overly enthused it probably won’t come to pass. I sigh once again at the thought that if we’re lucky one girl will take a minute to stretch her back with a yoga pose, or recycle an old water bottle, or ask a parent for lip balm ingredients. Hopefully…

Sunday, October 10

Non-Verbal Language

The following are my observations of non-verbal noises or gestures that have semi-discernable meanings. These meanings are in no way set in stone, nor were they explained to me. I have had to figure them out on my own over the course of my time here. They are however pretty standard, at least for my family, if not all of Mboro and possibly Senegal.

1. One cluck. Cluck may not be the best word for this, as the resulting noise sounds more like the one made to get a horse to start moving: that sort of big toothed smile cluck using the air pocket in the side of a cheek. Except they seem to have mastered a closed mouth version of this, and admittedly it does take some practice. Its meaning is agreement, acknowledgment of a task doled out, or a general “I hear you.” There is an optional one time vertical head jerk to add emphasis, if you choose.

2. Rapid fire double cluck. Similar to the above but doubled in very quick succession, this noise means not only do I agree, but you are exactly right. You have hit the nail on the head, as they say, and there may or may not be a need for me to speak afterwards to confirm what you’ve said.

3. Slow double cluck with head shake. Similar clucking noise but done in a Southern drawl and sort of way perfectly in time with a side-to-side head shake that says “no.” And this is precisely what it means. It’s for the boldest of the Senegalese population with the gumption to say “no” in a culture where you just don’t do so.

4. Wetted lips smirk. This is accomplished by altering a closed lip quick smile to allow air to pass between your lips. The result is something resembling that noise when the dentist sucks the remaining rinse water from your mouth with that awkward tube. Its meaning is that the maker of the noise is lacking agreement with what you have said. A person gets around their inability to say “no” with the wetted lips smirk noise. Even then, I feel its meaning isn’t “no” or “I don’t agree”…but something more passive like “I lack agreement.” For a stronger response refer to the slow double cluck with head shake option.

5. Hissing. Is there a snake chasing after you? No, that’s just someone hissing in an attempt to get your attention. It has no meaning other than “I want to talk to you but don’t have a) your name and b) enough manners to formulate words.”

6. Oh, oh. This doesn’t count as a word in my mind, no matter how many times you repeat it in rapid succession nor how loud you become. The meaning is exactly the same as the hissing- and it’s hard for me to decide which is more annoying.

7. Quick hiss. This is very short 2 second version of above described attention-getting hiss. Very similar to an American psst, and is used to hail cabs.

8. Outstretched arm/ finger wave. Accomplished by stretching the arm out to a 90 degree angle from the body and pointing only your index finger towards the ground. Then make a flicking motion in the wrist to jerk you hand up and down, thus moving the index finger in a way that looks as though you’re pointing to the ground. Also used to hail cabs, but more useful for signaling one from farther distances on main roads where they would need time to slow down for you.

9. Hand flick. This is accomplished by holding a hand up, palm facing out, and quickly turning it around palm facing into the body- in a fluid swirl/ flip like motion. It is used in the place of someone saying “what the hell are you thinking?” Quite often the gesture is repeated in rapid succession to convey increased levels of anger. The more it’s done the more ‘in the wrong’ the receiver.

10. Low double hand flick. This is when both hands are incorporated into a flicking motion that starts palm down, hands close to the body, and ends with palms up and arms stretched out… though not too far. Anyway, it’s a much more casual hand flick with an accompanying message of simply “what?” It’s used to convey mere confusion on behalf of the flicker, instead of a belief of wrong doing, and to then ask for clarification. It is sometimes repeated for the sort of “what” that accompanies disbelief.

11. Finger tickle. The giver uses his index or middle finger to tickle the palm of the receiver during a hand shake. As handshakes are quite frequent around town, between best friends and complete strangers alike, one must always be on the lookout for sneak attacks. Perhaps it is more commonly referred to as ‘sexy finger’ because of its hidden nature and implied intent: I want to have sex with you.

12. Hand shake/ forehead touch. This accomplished by bowing your head slightly and touching the backside of a friend’s hand to your forehead whilst holding said hand in a handshake manner. They are obligated to return this gesture, and then you both repeat it 2 to 4 more times. The significance is that you are very close friends coming from the same brotherhood (like a religious fraternity) of Islam. It is typically only done between men of one brotherhood… but I forget which one.

There was a brief time period between telling everyone in my life I was going to Africa and my actual departure. In this time, the most common joke heard was impending task of learning the language of clucks. I’m ok with admitting that I judged all of these jokesters as condescending ignorant Americans. Clucks seemed just a bit too tribal to me, and we’re talking about a developing country- not a tribal one. Surely any language I’d learn would be a compilation of noises born with vocal cords and not rapid tongue movements. However, as the above proves, I wasn’t entirely correct. It may not be a whole language worth, but I’m willing to admit my own mistake in assuming any culture to be completely devoid of non-verbal messages. After all, what would my own American life be like without the ability to flick a middle finger at every driver that cuts me off? Substitute the hissing with a solid construction worker whistle and it’s like I never even left!

Wednesday, October 6

Saliou

The following is all about the hilarious things my youngest 2 years old brother, Saliou Ndaw (pronounced “saa-loo en-dow”), does. Admittedly, they are only hilarious because if I don’t laugh I might freak out. If you’re reading this but don’t know how I feel about children… ‘I don’t like them’ is the nicest way to put it. And no, that hasn’t changed in the past year. Anyway, the list of Saliou:
1. He recently bit my boob, drawing blood, whilst continuing a joke born during Ramadan about being hungry enough to eat a person. One’s first reaction might be to confirm that he wasn’t going for milk. No, he was not, as that ended a year ago when I first arrived. This was solely a bad joke gone worse.
2. Climbed into my bed buck-naked after a shower; replying to my “where are your pants?” with “I’m going to sleep.” And then he did. This behavior went on for about a week straight until I left for a while thus breaking the daily routine. I would’ve taken pictures of the ridiculous way he stretches out with audacity, but wouldn’t ever want them found for fear of prosecution on child pornography charges. Yikes.
3. The first time I heard him say “Dinaay Poop” meaning I’m going to poop. Problem is that this was the week he learned future tense… so everything was in the future regardless of whether or not he should have been speaking in the immediate present. If you can guess where this is going… he had explosive diarrhea while sitting on my lap.

4. Eating food is a big deal. People talk about it all the time. Favorite meals, how much was eaten, etc. I therefore started to joke with my family that the really good meals are somehow too difficult for my brother because he always seems to wear more than he eats. Maybe it’s because he’s shoveling them in so fast that he misses his mouth concerning the majority of the contents of the spoon. When I tease him about wearing his dessert yogurt on his face he says “Eat naa” (I ate). Yeah, I teach him English. Get over it.

4.a. Because he’s learning English he runs around saying things like “eat naa,” “go away naa,” and “up naa” to mean he has eaten, has already left me alone (although not true), and has climbed onto my chair and into my lap- respectively.

5. Like any 2 years old that doesn't want to take a shower, I have to drag him in there kicking and screaming- and demand he take his cloths off before I throw him in. The last time this went down he took his shirt off with a scary smile... then instead of taking his pants down he reached in, pulled out his junk, and actually started aiming a stream at my foot.

6. He has taken to mixing English and Wolof in the negative formation as evident by the phrase “up uma ko,” meaning he has not pulled up his pants. He’s NOT fond of pulling up his pants after showers or trips to the bathroom. I think it might be his least favorite task in life. If only that were mine…

7. The first time I successfully translated the phrase “deffal ma” I was very proud of myself for my progress in language. To explain it to you, I would say “Would you do this for me, please?” But Wolof isn’t so polite or wordy. It most literally means “do me,” which as you can imagine had me thoroughly confused. A lot of Wolof is about inference, but these days if I still don’t know what he wants from me I ask him to show me… which can be witnessed by others with a 2 years old leading a tall white person around like an idiot.

8. Speaking of foreigners, Saliou is a firm believer that I am friends with every last one of them in Mboro. So any time another white person shows up to the house (be it for World Cup games, or visits with my parents) he is the first to run into my room anxiously announcing that someone is calling me. This is not true, but is his way of saying “someone else that looks like you is here… you must want to talk to your friend.”

9. I hung up a world map on the wall in my room and my 4 years old brother, Babacar, likes to ask where things are located. We play a sort of point and learn game together. When Saliou wanted to join, I asked him to show me Senegal. He pointed to Brazil- which I think is a complex of some kind! He’ll still point there occasionally, even though he’s constantly reminded of his country’s size and continental orientation.

10. Saliou has recently entered the phase characteristically described back home as the ‘terrible twos’ in which he finds it unbelievably hilarious to learn and frequently use all forms of foul language. And what makes it so terrible is awareness of the flying insult. He’ll appear at my door in the seemingly absolute worst of my equally foul moods to shout evil slurs and quickly dart out of reach. On the occasion that I have the energy to chase after him in an attempt to deliver a good spanking, he’ll run away whilst yelling “Soda duma jappal” or Soda won’t catch me.

So given all the flying poop, bad English, and insults… can you really blame me for NOT finding kids to be the most magical part of my Peace Corps service? I didn’t think so. But hey, at least I have a reformed, if not healthy, sense of humor thanks to my brother Saliou.

Sunday, October 3

The Goatfather

Let me preface by saying that Peace Corps Senegal issues a quarterly newspaper called the Sabaar that laces news about volunteer projects and successes with wildly humorous articles in order to maintain sanity. The following is one of said hilarious articles that were unfortunately not credited to anyone- otherwise I would’ve asked said person for permission to publish. It should also be mentioned that this passage is most relevant to agricultural volunteers living in villages where credibility of work depends on ability to grow. None-the-less, I surmise that a good read will be had by all.

The Goatfather;
The Four Levels of Peace Corps Goat Hatred

It is with grudging respect that I present the four levels of my hatred of goats I have reached during my Peace Corps service. Chapeau (hat) to you my tasty, horned friends- like the venerable Don Barzini, you are worth foes.

Pre-Service Training (or SED Business program) Naïveté:

Think Michael Corleone at his sister’s wedding in his clean-cut army uniform. He seems so innocent, so different from the rest of the family. After all, baby goats are so cute and the adults seem harmless. One finds it difficult to believe everything veteran volunteers say at PST while digging a hunk of delicious meat out of a bowl of Maffe…

Level 1: Irritation

At Connie’s wedding, Pauli pinches Clemenza’s cheek and tells him he looks “terrif” on the dance floor. Clemenza tells him to shut up and do his job. Little does he know that Pauli is plotting Vito’s death and the family’s fall.

One reaches the first level during the first few months at site when Pauli rubs his back against h millet fences and bleats with surprising vigor at all hours of the day and night. One also can’t help noticing that he lifts his tail up exposing his money-maker. A crazy voice in the back of the mind wonders if this isn’t somehow deliberate, and if maybe he is more than an annoying minion.

Level 2: Declaration of Hostilities

AT the end of their tense meeting, Vito Corleone shakes Virgils Sollozzo’s hand, wishes him luck with a cold smile and adds, “…especially since my interests don’t conflict with yours.” Shortly after, Vito and the heretofore indomitable Luca Brazzi are shot and the veil of civility is lifted.

The goat’s declaration of hostility is just as subtle. All seems well- sure, he’s ugly and rubs his butt on your fence- then you wake up one morning and your peppinere (baby tree growth in a sac) and the entire women’s garden is gone, and the somewhat fatter goats are nowhere to be found. You and all of your button-men are at the mattresses from that day forward, and that four-legged Sallazzo can never again rub his back on your millet fence without the fear of the swift vengeance of the shovel from the o her side…

Level 3: Defeat

“Look at how they massacred my boy.”

Barbed wire chain link fences, cinder blocks, scarecrows, dogs- nothing can stop them. They climb your walls, dig under your fences, bribe your gendarmes (police). You wonder if your counterpart is not a wartime consigliere. Your six year old Carlo Rizzi leaves the garden door open. Then you take a drive…

Level: 4 Insanity and Desperate Measures

This is when you begin to talk to the goats and threaten them (in English or a local language). You realize how insolent the goats’ eyes are. They leave small, oval shaped reminders of their decisive, climactic victory at your doorstep. Then, as the camera zooms into your cold, lifeless face ever so slowly, you devise a bold, desperate plan…

Level 5: The Level I Have Not Yet Reached

This level is reserved for Peter Treut, the Michael Coleone of Peace Corps Senegal. He told me two stories of decisive action- one his own and the other belonging to an old volunteer whose name I forgot but who was surely a Don in his day. Peter was digging a latrine when an insolent goat began jumping in and out of the hole, laughing in Peter’s face. Peter waited until that goat had left and covered the hole with millet stock. Then, sitting cross-legged, Pulaar stick in hand, he watched mercilessly as the loathsome goat tumbled horns first with a satisfying bleat of agony.

But the name of the hero of this greatest tale of vengeance is lost to history. One day returning from the fields, machete in hand, he witnessed the wanton destruction of his peppinere at the teeth of a wily goat. In a fit of rage, he cut the goat’s throat on the spot and paid the owner later. I can only hope that he emulated the tragic Santino by dropping the money on the ground as he walked away.