Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, July 25

Upscale Flood

I don’t think I’ve ever stated this for the record, but I have a pretty patron African life. Of all the volunteers in Senegal, I’m fairly certain my humble abode of Mboro ranks top 5 for best site in terms of amenities and scenery. If you’ll permit me to explain a bit, without trying to brag, you'll find that even in African paradise things go wrong...

Most PCVs either don’t have electricity in their village or do but sporadically thanks to the lack of capacity to serve everyone. Mboro on the other hand, has an mining factory that generates its own power and distributes the leftovers to the town. I happen to live in a neighborhood build specifically for the families of factory management, which means that we get first dibs on that leftover energy. And as the factory operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it can’t afford to ever lose power so it has a number of backup options. In my world, the power goes out and comes back 5 minutes later. At most it’s gone an hour; I’ve yet to see longer.

On top of that, what little power comes to the people of Senegal is very expensive and many a PCV has noted that host families are always asking for more money to help pay the bills. It can be so stressful volunteers will get their own meters so as to end the usage appropriations arguments. And again, I got lucky in that my neighborhood of managers does not have to pay for the power that comes from the factory. Can you say fringe benefits?

Here’s another one. Along with power, my neighborhood is supplied with water free of charge too. The real kicker is that it’s pretreated and preheated. I use my water filter for kicks, but I don’t really have to. In all honesty, it’s a means to let the water cool down before I drink it. With all this free water, my family has the ability to continuously water plants and we therefore have a back yard of fruit trees and flowers. My host mom has a passion for gardening, so we have an aesthetically beautiful landscape.

Outside of my neighborhood is the rest of my awesome town. Mboro is loaded with easily accessible fruits and veggies, and oh-so-close to the ocean with its lovely cool breezes. We are lucky to skip the average tourist’s radar… and are thus left to enjoy it all for ourselves. We have a mix of 3 different ethnic groups (meaning different languages, characters of people, styles of cooking, religions, etc) that add to just how great the people are. We are modern like Dakar but small enough to just barely be a formal town. We have stores with Western products because there's enough foreign traffic is brought in for the plant to warrant them. We have a night club and even a formal dining restaurant with white linens. And yet, for most of the year, there are only about 6 white people roaming around town… all of us speaking Wolof and blending in with the locals. I’m afraid to ask what Mboro means in Wolof, because I like to think it’s “oasis” and don’t want to be disappointed.

Now, before you starting thinking I’m living the highlife (and my fellow PCVs decide to hate me), know that it’s not all peachy keen. I still have mice and lizards as roommates. Ridiculous heat is hard to escape no matter how many breezes there are. And I still have daily clashes with African culture. The hot water is only really beneficial for about 2 months of the year when it’s cold in the mornings… the rest of the time it’s a bit odd to step into a hot shower in 100 degree weather. But the point of today’s blog is the problems specifically associated with my ‘upscale’ living.

I have a private western toilet and sink in my room, as well as the bidet-esque water gun on a hose used in the place of toilet paper. These are more signs of high end Africa. However, last week the handle on my water gun broke and I had to call in my handyman uncle to change out the contraption for a new one. He did this just as I was about to take off for a weekend in Dakar. Upon my return Monday morning, I learned that he had not correctly installed the new device and consequently flooded my entire bedroom. According to my host mom, she found the problem when water started leaking out from underneath my door, the edge of which is roughly a two inch step up from the floor of my room.

Mom says it took two days to clean up all the water off the floor (making me glad she has the spare key), and she’d made my brothers carry my Peace Corps books (stored under my bed) out into the sun and back each day to dry out. My hard drive was locked in my cupboard in my night stand, along with one of the kid computers that belongs to the school across the street, and I’m still afraid to turn either of them on as I swear they’re still wet inside. I’ve thrown out half the paper products that were in there due to mold that grew over the weekend.

A few days later, when I went to pull my Senegalese dress out from the bottom drawer of my dresser for a big event in town, I discovered that although the water didn’t reach up that high, it had spread through the wood dampening half my wardrobe. These items also decided to start a garden of mold. I spend the rest of the week and all of my free time rewashing my laundry by hand with extra soap and bleach.

But you know, I've no reason to complain. The flood sucked, was an experience, but only a minor set back. Lessons learned include: it’s a good thing to trust my host family with my spare key, asking for cleaning gloves was a genius move (go me!), double check all future work of my ‘handyman’ uncle, I’m not really all that phased about losing half my possessions in a flood (only thing I really care about is the hard drive), and if something’s really important I need to take it with me when I leave. There are clichés that apply too. More money, more problems. Upscale living has upscale problems- because a hut in the village doesn’t have enclosed flooring. You get what you pay for (free plumbing). And something about how spring cleaning is therapeutic.

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