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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wolof sayings

As a final project for one of my classes, we're supposed to write a research paper on an area's cultural practices, then discuss problems our own ethnocentrism might cause us to have while adjusting to that culture.  I stumbled across a great paper on the Wolof of Senegal (Woyyi Ceet: Senegalese Women's Oral Discourses on Marriage and Womanhood, by Marame Gueye) that included lots of Wolof sayings that I found incredibly insightful.  I thought whoever reads this might like them, too.

liggeyu ndey anup doom - a mother's work is lunch for her child.  

This means that the behavior of a mother dictates the life of her children, especially her daughters.  Since it's recognized that children grow up to be like their parents, this saying explains that a woman is always on stage - she needs to be on her best behavior if she wants her daughters to find good husbands.  Unfortunately, this belief often causes women to suffer abuses in marriage.  Women who refuse to be doormats are "bad," and that stigma makes it difficult for their daughters to find husbands.

reeroo amul, naaka waxtaan na am - There is never disagreement, there is only miscommunication.  

If you don't see eye to eye with somebody, the solution is to talk it out and explain yourself.  If you still don't agree, talk it out more.  Then talk it out more.  Forever.  This implies that every decision you don't agree with is up for negotiation.  I like that if I'm the one negotiating, but not if I'm the one trying to set up a rule.

maag di na took di gis fu sori, xale yeek ca kow du gis dara - An old person can sit and see very far, whereas a young person can be perched high without seeing anything.

The elders know more about the world than young people, and you should heed their advice, even if you don't understand it.  In Gueye's paper, this phrase was brought up in the context of choosing a spouse.  In Wolof communities, important decisions are best left to those oldest and most experienced.

tontu du forox - reply never rots.

It's important for everyone (but especially women) to show self-restraint in disagreements.  If you don't retort to an attack in the moment, that's OK, because the reply will never rot.  You can say your reply later, at an appropriate moment (ie when you're alone.)

"Don't leave stomachs empty.  Don't leave the water jar empty.  Don't make children cry.  I believe if you combine this with determination in bed, no one will leave you behind."

They didn't have the Wolof for this one.  This is a verse in a traditional marriage song sung to the bride on her special day.  I think it's pretty good advice, particularly the "determination in bed."  I can't see anything like that being said in a traditional European wedding!

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Hey everyone!

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  In case you haven't heard yet, on March 3rd, 2014, I'll be leaving the midwest to be a preventative health volunteer in Senegal, West Africa.  Since I'm a Masters International student, I'll also be doing research there that will (hopefully) lead to a good thesis project that will (hopefully) lead to a successful career at some point.  I'm scared but excited, nervous but ready, and prepared but unprepared.  Does that make any sense?

I've read many (MANY) Peace Corps blogs throughout my application process, so I regret adding another to an already oversaturated market, but I thought that maintaining a blog would be an efficient way to update my stateside family and friends with what I'm up to.  Plus, I love writing, though I rarely share it with anyone and I'm not very good at it.  A blog might help motivate me write more regularly and hone my skills.

Frequently asked questions:

Where is Senegal? It's in West Africa.  It's south of Mauritania, north of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, west of Mali.  It ate The Gambia.  Please google it.

How long will you be gone?: Standard Peace Corps service terms are 27 months.  They start with 3 months of language and technical training in Thies (a large city), then the rest of my time will be in a village/town.

What kind of work will you be doing?  My volunteer description included a long list of possibilities, which I will copy-paste below:
- Promotion of pre- and post-natal care
- Conducting malaria prevention education campaigns
- Promoting the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets
- Teaching mothers how to prepare weaning food
- Assisting with weighing babies, growth monitoring and nutritional counseling.
- Teaching women and men about family planning
- Working with your local nurse to organize baby vaccinations
- Educating boys' and girls' clubs on reproductive health and life skills
- Teaching women and men how to make neem lotion for malaria prevention
- Teaching community members on the importance of rehydration during diarrheal episodes and importance of making oral rehydration solution
- Organizing HIV/AIDS prevention activities

In addition to everything on the above list, I can also do tons of other stuff.  Basically, I'll go to my new home, get established, and figure out how I can help my new neighbors meet their needs.  My projects will be determined by what my community wants, since the Peace Corps focus is in sustainable, community-controlled development.  There's no reason to start a project no one's interested in!

What kind of research will you be doing? I don't know.  Returned Masters International volunteers have done a huge variety of projects.  I am interested in helping people.  I want to find out how my skills interact with their needs, then try to improve some aspect of the lives of my community members, then use my research to propagate my findings and help more people.  This is purposefully vague because I don't have any idea what I want to do yet.

What's the weather like in Senegal? It will depend on where I'm placed.  The coast has a milder climate than the inland, but either way it will be hot year-round.  I'm looking forward to skipping midwest winters for a few years.

What language is spoken there? French is the official language.  Kids learn French in school, and that's the language that's used most in the big cities and for government business.  However, at home, most people speak Wolof, Pulaar, Sereer, Mandinka, or other tribal languages.  I'm trying to learn as much French as I can before I leave, since most people (especially kids) speak some French, but I am by no means fluent.  Not even close.

What are you doing to prepare? I have to get my final medical and dental clearance and tons of vaccinations.  I'm reading up on Senegal and on the Peace Corps from official Peace Corps documents, books, and informal blogs and news sources I find online.  I'm also doing coursework this semester, but I'll be done with that in mid-December.  From December to March I'll have more time to get ready because I'll have no obligations other than eating burritos, visiting friends, and enjoying America.

Why are you doing this? I have no idea.  I don't know if I'm brave or stupid.  I can't explain my motivations, and when people ask me, I don't have any response ready.  But I'm glad I'm doing it.  I think the apprehension I'm feeling is normal and healthy.  I'm ready.

Can I send you mail? Yes please!  I'll post my address once I know it.

Can I visit you? Yes please!  My mud hut is your mud hut!  Keep in mind, though, that I will not be living in a resort.  Senegal is a rapidly developing country that holds a lot of promise, but it will lack many American conveniences.  

What will you do when you come back? I don't know.  I'll be pushing 30, and that's scary to me.  I'll have one more semester at Tech as I'm finishing my thesis, and after that, I suppose it'll be time to start a career.  What that career will be is anyone's guess at this point.  Right now I'm thinking I would like to get into environmental education at a park or nature center, but my goals might change in the next few years.