Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, September 15


When I first moved into my house in Mboro, a year ago, I arrived at a cement floor room in a house full of tile. The thing is, my family is the type to save their money and make home improvements every few months. So what was the same playing field 4 years ago (when the first volunteer moved in) is now many kilometers away from the same- as my room did not keep up with the quarterly home improvement schedule. It was clear that mine was the shabbiest of rooms in our abode; it was an embarrassment.

My predecessor once told me of his intentions to tile the space, but that they’d been derailed by an incident involving his wallet and the ocean. At the end of rainy season last year, I found myself dealing with an infestation of mice that’d ingeniously burrowed their way through the cement floor and into my safe haven. Vowing to never again run screaming from my room, I started saving for the grand expense of tile flooring.

I officially started the adventure to tile my room on Aug 30th. While out in the market, my mom and I stopped at the hardware boutique to pick out a style and negotiate prices. Mom started by asking me what I thought of the ugliest tile in the options display. Oh boy. “Well,” I said, “in the end, it’s your house and when I leave you’ll be stuck with the tiles so if you like it then its fine.” “No,” she said,” it’s your room. You live there; you will close the door and have to sleep with the tile.” That was a strange thing to say. But since she was still waiting for my opinion, I found the courage to tell her I didn’t like the tile. We went through this with a few more styles before I finally said, “What’s wrong with plain?” She looked a little crest fallen which doesn’t make too much sense since most of the rest of the house is plain tile as well. I mean, if they’d had some solid colors like blue I might have considered it… but with shades of brown one can only go one way. No patterns.

We negotiated pricing on tiles, cement, and border tiles for the wall. Then we figured out a quantity based on my parent’s bedroom that’d been completed a few months earlier. Lastly, labor pricing was negotiated… and a good deal will be had (here’s hoping) thanks to my Mom. If all goes as discussed, I’ll have saved 30% of the total I’d initially saved for the project; the bill now estimated at about $140 USD.

As I clearly don’t walk around with that much money on me we left for the day. Two days later I convinced my Dad to drive me back with the car so that I could purchase the raw materials and bring them to the house. I left for a meeting and walked all the way across town before my Dad showed up in the car, laughed, and congratulated me on getting my exercise for the day. When my meeting was done, Dad met me at the hardware boutique but the owner was “out to lunch” as you’d say in the states and would be back anywhere from “soon” to “a few hours” depending on who I asked. We went home empty handed. This is not something new.

The next morning, I was in my room when Dad called me. “Where are you?” “At the house,” where you left me not 30 minutes ago. Remember, I was making breakfast for the kids? “Did you buy the tiles?” How could I have done that from the house? Seriously? “No. I’m at the house.” “I’m here at the market.” “Ok, I’ll take a taxi there now.” “I’ll wait for you.”

I get to the hardware store and the owner starts trying to sell me more items then were previously discussed as necessary. I don’t think it’s on purpose, but as we get confused as to whether 16 or 15 packets of tile are needed, it’s decided that we need to call my mother. Same story happens when we talk about bags of cement. I only need 2 in the end. Dad and I load the trunk of the car with half the items purchased. Apparently, we must do this in two trips as using the back seat for remaining materials is out of the question. Whilst loading, people tell me not to help because I’m a girl. But I insist because I “need the exercise” and secretly want to demonstrate gender equality. They then tell me I’m too weak and need to carry more packets at one time. Seriously?

Back at the house we unload and Dad goes to take off. He says he’s going to wash the car first and will pick up the remainder of the items later. I am not need on this trip. Bizarre. He comes back 30 minutes later with the remaining raw materials. He mentions going to speak with the man who installs the tile (different from the seller) but I have no idea when that will be.
I did manage to have a conversation with both of my parents (albeit individually and at completely different times) about the derailment of my possessions during the process. Everything will need to be removed from my room for 2-3 days and put in the living room, which will then be completely unusable to the rest of the household. I tried to make a joke about how it was too hot to sit in there anyway, but no one laughed. Mom told me it’s best if I leave town for a few days. It was then discussed that the laborers should be informed of my next scheduled departure from Mboro. Who is in charge of this is beyond my “need to know” status.

As of Sunday, I had advised my family of a trip to Thies on Tuesday. Dad went away and came back saying the tile worker would pass by on Tuesday to see my room but not actually do the work until Wednesday. But I’m coming back Wednesday. So I talked to Mom. “You can’t let your Dad organize things. He’ll do it on his own time. If I want something done, I have to do it myself.” I’ve been there before. “So, what happens now?” I’ll call someone, she says. The next day, Monday, she walks in first thing in the morning and says “He’s coming today.” At this point I remember that in Senegal things will never happen on the day I want them to. So in my mind Monday is now better than Wednesday.

I start the process of packing the loose items around my room. Mom makes more phone calls to get sand brought in. Apparently it’s been decided that because my room is currently lower than the rest of the house, the floor should be raised to meet the hallway’s level. This way sweeping will no longer require a dust pan. Good point, bring on the sand.

The men show up just as the sand does… and my bed is the only remaining item to be removed from the room. The rest of my possessions are actually lining the hallway and the common area walls. My most valuables are moved into my parent’s bedroom. The whole process takes under 3 hours and I spend it sitting in the living room attempting to work distractedly on my laptop.

I can’t spend the night in my room, so I make a number of phone calls and get myself a spare bed at the Peace Corps training center in Thies. I take off shortly after the workers have finished leaving my possessions scattered about the house and my empty room attempting to dry in the middle of rainy season. Upon my return three days later my things have moved back into the room and the bed reassembled. It takes less than an hour to rearrange my meager allotment of possessions including the installment of a brand new “welcome” mat.

Over the last day or so, I can’t help but stare at my new floor. It’s easier to sweep and clean; the room stays cooler in the heat of the day; the feeling of musty has left; and the whole room is brightened because of the lighter tiles I’d chosen. Best investment I’ve made in a long time. Of course, my mother has already made a “now it’s time for paint” comment. To which I happily discussed paint colors (blue!) and debated matte versus glossy… but that will just have to wait until the next quarterly installment!

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