Pictures from Senegal

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.