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Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Day in the Life

  • 5:00 - Wake up.  With the first light of the day, when the chickens, donkeys, sheep, goats, and songbirds noisily begin their days, I do, too.
  • Enjoy the coldest part of the day where movement isn’t intolerable.  Do sit ups, pushups, and leg lifts in the futile but continuing effort to transform my apple-shaped body into something aesthetically pleasing.
  • 6:30 - Sunrise.  Go for a run, now that it’s bright enough to safely avoid baboons.  Enjoy gorgeous tropical birds.  Enjoy occasional monkey sightings (2 so far).  Enjoy my playlist of Ke$ha, Mika, and The Ting Tings.
  • 7:30 - Return to village.  Explain to confused villagers that I enjoy “making sport” because it’s good for health.  Listen to them tell me that I’m very sweaty and need to shower.
  • Shower.
  • Tear a page off my Page a Day Scrabble Plays calendar.  Do the day’s scrabble scenario.  Give my sister the old paper, which she collects for some reason.
  • Go to corner store.  Old man out front with the Pepsi hat will ask if I have a Senegalese husband.  When I say no, he’ll laugh and say not yet, but maybe tomorrow.  This happens every day.
  • Buy either bean sandwich (60 cents) or bread (40 cents) to make peanut butter sandwich.
  • Eat sandwich.  If the heartbreakingly skinny family dog is around, give part of sandwich to the dog.
  • 9:00 - Leave the compound to go study Pulaar.  Use the verbs for “to go to work” and “to go to study” instead of “to leave” to try to show my family that I have a purpose here.  (note: I do this because If I’m in my room with the door open, someone walks in every 5 minutes.  If I’m in the room with the door closed, someone walks in every 5 minutes.  If I’m in the room with the door locked, someone knocks every 5 minutes and asks to come in.  There’s really no way to be completely alone here, and that’s what I need to study.)
  • Hammock in the woods with my flashcards and Pulaar manuals.  Only get approached every 20 minutes or so instead of every 5.
  • 12:30 - Return home for lunch.  Politely decline offers to stay for lunch from every house I pass on the way home.
  • Eat rice and peanuts.
  • 1:30 - The hottest part of the day begins.  Sit under mango tree and complain about how hot it is.  Try to understand conversations with minimal success.  Pet goats.  Hold babies.  Drink warm juice or eat mangoes and peanuts if someone hands them to me.  Sweat.
  • 2:00 – the day gets even hotter.  Get very grumpy.  Hate everything.  Reconsider all life choices that brought me out here.  Sit or lay down motionless and still sweat.  Without electricity, there are no air conditioners.  There are no 3-speed oscillating fans.  There are no refreshing beverages filled with ice cubes.  The liquid in my stainless steel water filter gets so hot I could use it to brew tea.  The heat is constant and unescapable.
  • 4:00 - When it gets cool enough to move again, notice my bad mood suddenly evaporate. Be happy again.  Walk throughout the village smiling.  Enter compounds and introduce myself.  Apologize that I can’t Pulaar well yet, but say I am trying.  Listen to people say that today was very hot.  Agree with them.  Hold babies.
  •  Return home before sunset (7:30ish)
  •  Shower again.
  •  Sit on a mat with the family.  Talk to the kids.  Try to stay awake until dinner (I’ve failed twice.)  Everyone here has better night vision than I do. Children continue running around confidently long after I can’t walk without a flashlight.  I don’t know how they do it.
  • 8:15 or so: Eat couscous with peanut sauce.
  • Give up on trying to stay awake and say goodnight to everyone around 8:30.  Listen to everyone tell me I’m crazy to go to bed so early, that it’s not late enough yet, that I should hang out more.  Explain that I am very tired.  Go to my hut and read until I get tired enough to pass out.
  • Sleep before 9 pm.
  • Enjoy vibrant Mefloquine dreams.

First Impressions of Teyel

I’ve been with my new family for a little more than a week.   My new family is even bigger than the old one.  My new parents, Wally and Hawa, have nine surviving children (out of 13 born).  The oldest is in his 40s (I’m assuming – no one knows their ages here) and the youngest is around 20.  Most live in the village and visit frequently, and three live in the same compound as I do.

There’s a joke among PCVs that Pulaars treat names like they were a scarce resource.  During language immersion, I was named Hadja after my tokara (namesake).  Having a namesake reminded me of my family back in America.  I’m Barbara, after my dad’s grandma, and my little sister is Maureen, which is my mom’s middle name.  I thought it was a sweet gesture to recycle names.  Here in Teyel however, the naming-after is out of control.  I’m the fourth Kadjatu Sabaly in the compound right now.  I’m named after my counterpart’s wife, Kadjatu Sabaly, but his sister is Kadjatu Sabaly, too, and one of the neighbor’s kids who spends most of her time here is also named Kadjatu Sabaly.  I’ve only been here a week and I’ve met six Kadjatu Sabalys in the village.  My host brother estimated that there are about 20 Kadjatu Sabalys in total, along with dozens of Kadjatu Baldes, or Diaos, or Seydis, or whatever other last name.  It’s really confusing.  When someone yells “Kadjatu” I have no idea if they’re talking to me or not.  There are also neighbors named Kadi and Kadja that come by frequently, so I can’t go by those nicknames.  A few of the kids get around the confusion by just calling me “Sehel” (friend).

So, the name situation is a minor annoyance, but I’ve run into a major one: being asked for things constantly.  PCVs warned me that Pulaars could be opportunistic.  They said to American eyes, it can seem rude, but it’s just part of their culture and I’ll get used to it. I didn’t sense opportunism during language immersion at all. Here, however, in the scant eight days that I’ve been in the family, I’ve been asked, begged, and demanded to buy them clothes, medicine, tea, sugar, laundry soap, a water filter, juice mix, vegetables, a computer, a tractor, a horse, and a chair.  This is done not only by the kids, but also by the oldest people in the compound, who (I’ve been told) I have to show great respect towards.  It’s really frustrating because I feel like I’m always in the position of having to be the bad guy.  I have to say “no” to things that they shouldn’t have asked for in the first place.  These requests spoil otherwise great interactions.  Twenty minutes into a conversation about the weather, or fields, or heat, or rains, my mother (or brother, or aunt, or anyone) will suddenly say “give me….” or “buy me….”  Did they care about anything that was said before that point? Or were they just pretending to be interested so they could try to use me?  Or do they figure it’s a long shot that I would buy them something, but that it can’t hurt to try?  I don’t know.

I have tried to refuse these demands in a joking way (because that’s what PCVs say is most culturally appropriate), but it’s hard to do that without feeling like a scumbag. I do have more money than anyone else in the community, and they know about it.   I do have an entire suitcase full of medicine, and they know about that, too. I can’t give it out my medicine for legal reasons, but I don’t have the language to explain myself (and they wouldn’t care, anyway), so I feel like they think I’m a selfish hoarder. I want to make a good first impression on my new family, since they’re going to be my life for the next two years, but I hate feeling taken advantage of, and I worry that if I give them what they ask for, it 1) will make the next two years very difficult as they continue to test my boundaries, 2) will set an unfair precedent for the next volunteer to follow and 3) will build a unsustainable relationship of a patron giving them things they don’t have to work for.  Plus, 4), my living allowance here is small (I’m a volunteer…) so I can’t afford to buy much beyond essentials, anyway.  I don’t have the language to explain my rationale, though, so I worry I just look selfish.

I’m not going to pretend to understand the inner workings of this community yet, but I have already noticed more defined gender roles than I saw at CBT.  It’s nearing the end of the dry season, and my house is inundated with peanuts.  The women and female children shell the peanuts, then roast them in a rotating drum over a fire, then grind them to make peanut butter.  All of this is done by hand.  Meanwhile, the men sit under mango trees and talk about how hot it is, and the male children play tag and soccer.  Friday morning, when I went to visit the middle school in my town, the female students were sweeping the entire schoolyard with handheld brooms.  The boys were talking and wrestling.  It's strange to see.

Back to that peanut crop: there are peanuts everywhere.  For lunch, we have rice and peanuts.  For dinner, we have couscous with peanut sauce.  For breakfast, I usually make a peanut butter sandwich.  For snacks, we eat peanuts.  This is monotonous, but I don’t mind at all because peanut butter is one of my favorite things, and this fresh-roasted village stuff is the most delicious peanut butter I’ve ever had. 

I’m gonna leave it here, because this post is getting long, but I feel like I have more to say, so I'm sure I'll be writing more soon.  Talk to you all later!

Cribs: Hut Edition

Sorry about the dated title to this blog.  I don’t know what the kids are calling houses these days.  Is it still my crib? My pad?  My place? IDK.  In any case, I’m very happy with the hut.  Czech it.  You can also click on any picture to make it bigger.

This is Adrienne, the former PCV in Teyel, with the hut when I visited a month ago.  I don’t have a new picture of the outside, but it looks exactly the same now as it did then.

 This is the front door with its curtain, my bed (with my mosquito net up for the day) and a map of the world.  I have yet to meet anyone here who is able to find Senegal on it.  That silver thing hanging by the map is where I hang the cards and letters my Mom sends me.

 This is the front door looking in.  I added a “tableau,” which is an area with special blackboard paint so I can draw on it with chalk.  On top of the tableau is a family tree of my parents, their 9 kids, and all of the kids's kids.  There are three women in the tree that had babies without being married.  Scandal.  I also put my Pulaar verb conjugation chart and a calendar up there.

 I spy:  A map of Minnesota, a coffee pot and gas burner, a New Prague High School water bottle, a hula hoop (“hulaa” in Pulaar is “to be unafraid,” so the kids are confused by that name, but they love playing with it), UNO, a Scrabble play-a-day calendar, crayons, garlic salt, a bobblehead moose, a bag of Red House Coffee, and an unripe mango.  And many other things.

 People I love.  And a dog I love.  And a water filter.  And a window.

 It’s like Minnesota threw up in here.

Back yard.  I have a garage to keep my bike and laundry buckets in. Swanky.

 I’m just gonna direct you here if you can’t figure this one out.

Laundry line and compost pile

 This doesn’t look like much, but I’m really proud of it.  It took me a few hours of tinkering before it worked like I wanted it to.  This is called a Tipi-Tap.  You step on the stick on the bottom, which lifts up the back of the water jug, which makes water come out of holes punched in the top of it, so you can wash your hands, with running water and soap, in a way that’s fun enough that the kids actually want to do it.

My niece Fatu demonstrating the Tipi-Tap.

Thanks for reading!  If you send me pictures/posters, they will go on my wall :D 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

T minus 3 days til Teyel

Jaraama, yimbe to Amerk!  

I’m writing from the Kolda regional house right now.  We (the volunteers in my region) are taking turns moving into our huts because we all have so much crap there wouldn’t be enough room in the cars to move more than one person at a time, and there aren't enough cars to have lots of people installing at the same time.  I got the last install date, so I won’t get to my village til Friday.  That’s slightly disappointing, because I’m excited to see my family and run through tropical forest trails, but also exciting, because I’m at a western-style house with flush toilets, coffee, thousands of books, and decent internet until I leave.  I was able to skype with some friends I haven’t talked to in far too long, which makes waiting totally worth it.  We’re supposed to be spending this time shopping for things we need for the next two years, but after one day of shopping yesterday, I ‘m done and I don’t want to do it again. I tried to make a list of things I needed yesterday before I went out, but couldn’t think of anything besides a bed and a bike, then I went shopping anyway, and I somehow ended up with about $100 worth of crap, including:

o   A shovel
o   A pick (yeah, like an ice pick - it's to break up land that's too hard to shovel)
o   A propane tank with a burner
o   Tomato, okra, eggplant, and bell pepper seeds (according to the dude at the seed store that’s all that grows well during the rainy season)
o   A clothesline and clothespins
o   Hammer and nails
o   A washboard
o   Piping to duct-tape together and use as a hula hoop (thanks PCV Caroline for the inspiration on that one)
o   Blackboard paint and chalk
o   Several buckets and shower cups
o   A tea kettle
o   A fry pan
o   A sauce pan

And no bed.  And no bike.  Shake your head disappointedly for me.

I can’t yet say that my Pulaar is good, but I was definitely confident bargaining for things at the market yesterday, and I think I know enough of the language that my personality is able to shine through a little bit.  I still have to think for an awkwardly long time to plan out my sentences before I speak, so I know I still have a long way to go, but I’m no longer intimidated when I hear current PCVs speak to locals because I can understand most of it and I know that I’ll be at their level soon.

Once I get to Teyel on Friday, I’m supposed to start my Five Week Challenge, which means that I can travel around if I want to, but that I’m supposed to sleep every night in my own hut.  I don’t think that will be a problem, since when I started Peace Corps I thought the requirement was to stay at your site for the first three months.  Five weeks is a very short time by comparison.  Plus, I have a Peace Corps issued cell phone with free calling to all other volunteers, and I live within 10 kilometers of 3 other volunteers if I get overwhelmed and need to talk to someone.  I’m planning on biking to Velingara or Kounkane to use internet a couple times in the next 5 weeks, but I can’t set up anything concrete, since there might be bad weather on the day that I planned, or the internet might be broken when I get there.  Odds are I wouldn’t have too much to say anyway.  During CBT (language immersion) I did a lot of sitting, tea drinking, and having very basic conversations about where I’m from, what I’m here for, and why I don’t have a husband.  Those conversations are important to learn a language, but they don’t exactly make great story fodder. 

Talk to you all later!  If you’ve got some time to kill the next couple days, try to have skype open so we can catch up.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Parties and Goodbyes

Hey all,

Hope everything is going well for you!  Since the last time you’ve heard from me, I had a 3-day counterpart workshop (with a party at the end), then a 3-day final homestay in my language immersion family (with a party at the end), then from Tuesday through today, to celebrate training being near completion, we rented a gorgeous house on a beach (Popenguine) to drink heavily and sun ourselves.

Real tough job I got here.

Everything is amazing, seriously.  I’m so happy here.  I have loved training and I’m excited to get to my permanent site because I’m sure I’ll love that too. I feel like I won the Peace Corps lottery by being sent to Senegal, and within Senegal, I think my permanent site is the best in the country.  This is one of the best things I’ve ever done.

It was hard saying goodbye to my family from Sambalaube.  They’ve taught me so much during the past two months.  A fellow trainee and I were laughing the other day about stupid stuff I did when I first got here, like drinking the foam of the attaya, or not being able to remember anyone’s name, not even my own.  I made so many mistakes, and everyone was still kind to me.  That’s encouraging since I’m sure I will be making many more mistakes over the next 2 years and future kindness will be appreciated.

The Hadjas at the goodbye party. I’m gonna miss this lady quite a bit.

At the counterpart workshop, my future host brother Tidiane (pronounced Tee-john) came up to Thies.  He was my predecessor’s counterpart, too, so he knows all about Peace Corps and what to expect from me.  He speaks very slowly and clearly, and he’s hilarious, which I really appreciate, since it’s hard to joke in a language you don’t speak well and I love laughing.  In Senegal, people have teasing relationships between families, like Shakespeare’s Capulets and Montagues.  My new last name is Sabaly, which has a joking relationship with a bunch of other families, including the Seydis and the Baldes.  At counterpart workshop, Tidiane was teasing a fellow trainee who’s going to be a Seydi soon.  He told her she eats lizards and steals goats and her mother can’t cook rice.  I guess it doesn’t sound funny written down like that, but everything’s funnier in Pulaar. 

Our swear-in date is tomorrow, Friday, May 9.  There’s a big party in Dakar with fancy clothes and good food. After that, I will cease to be a Peace Corps trainee and start to be a volunteer.  I’m excited to start my real service, though I’m still not exactly sure about what it will entail.  My job for the next several months, before I go back to Thies for In-Service Training, is to learn more language, meet people, and study my community, but that’s not a 9:5 job.  What should I do the rest of my time?  When I was bored in Korea, I would watch TV shows or download podcasts.  I don’t yet know how to kill time with no electricity, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

After swear-in, I’m going back to Thies for the weekend, then early Monday morning all my stuff and I are finally going to Kolda.  I have 5 days in Kolda to use the internet at the regional house and shop for things I need to settle in (like a bed, bike, cookware, etc) and I’m set to move in to Teyel on Friday the 16th.  Tidiane warned me that there would be a big party to celebrate my arrival to Teyel and I will be expected to dance and drink lots of tea.  Pretty sure I’m up to the challenge.

Since I’ll have reliable internet for most of next week, I’m gonna try to hardest to be on skype, if anyone’s interested in setting up a date.  It’d be great to see some familiar faces!