Sunday, August 23, 2009

Homestay Day 1--In which I nearly ETed

We left the Training Center in Thies (say it: "chess") in a bunch of different vehicles--an AlHam*, a couple sept-places*, a Peace Corps Land Cruiser or two, and a van. One by one, people climbed into their cars, throwing their ten-days' estimate of stuff onto the top or anywhere it would fit. As the last group to leave, the Sangalkam crowd sat and watched. Before we left, one vehicle came back--someone had forgotten their med kit (more on this) mosquito net (aka "mousquitaire"), and possibly also the water filter. If you could pick three things to not forget, well, you pretty much ought to. Anything else, well, you can do without it, but your malaria shield and health maintenance stuff are a must.

We finally got on our way--Cellou (our Language and Cultural Facilitator, or LCF), Frank, Ashley, Melanie, me, and Tim. I wasn't nervous on the way there, not really. I had bought cola nuts, tea and sugar the day before to bring with me as a thank-you gift for hospitality, and had packed what I thought I would need, and somehow was oddly emotionally absent from the whole thing, until we got lost in Sangalkam trying to find our neighborhood. We looked at each other, and I felt my nerves start to hum a little. "This is one of the hardest moments of the entire two years, I bet," I said, answering someone who said that nerves were about to fray past mending soon. Tim, who used to be in Mauritania and is 15 months into his service, reassured us that it was the case. Melanie was first, followed by Tim, Frank, me, and Ashley.

I clambered out of the back of the Land Cruiser (known affectionately by some as the Vomit Comet), holding (somehow) my water filter, my messenger bag, and all the gifts. I stepped into the compound, and I swear to you that I remember nothing of the outer wall or the people in the street all shouting hello (not crowds, but not a few), nothing about carrying all the stuff, nothing about seeing the compound for the first time. I remember a woman looking into my face and saying, "Halimatu! Halimatu!" Cellou had told me I was allowed no French, so I pointed at her and said, "Halimatu?" thinking maybe it was her name, or maybe it was a variation of "Welcome!" or even "Toubab!" Not so. It was my name.

I stepped into the compound and a tiny, very dark, very pregnant woman with huge eyes, shyly tried to put the gifts I had handed her in my room. I took them and carried them away with us to the other end of the courtyard, where two other women were sitting on a mat. They sat me down on a chair, above them, and carefully poured orange soda (cold, from a fridge) into what in the U.S. would be cheap, clunky Goodwill stemmed glasses but here are the Best. I drank. They drank. I did not know what to do with my hands. I sat there, remembering that in Burkina Faso, it is not considered rude for a guest to just sit with nothing to say. If you have nothing to say, do not say it. A man with one slightly crossed eye was talking with Cellou, and they handed me a key to my door. Cellou left at some point, and, utterly at a loss, I just stood there until Jeneba (the pregnant woman) asked me using Pullo Futa and sign language if I wanted to shower.

This, by the way, is not a commentary on how I smelled. It is respectful--if someone has been traveling, you offer them to bathe when they arrive, because clearly they must be tired, hot, and dusty. As a gesture of hospitality it was hugely wonderful, because it gave me the chance to get away from everyone's eyes and regroup. I remember feeling totally inadequate to explain that I had my own shower shoes, and Jeneba giving me her own, much too small, rubber sandals to wear. I do not remember much else about that evening, except that I went to bed around 8, feeling completely at a loss and overwhelmed at the prospect of the next two years. Or even the next two hours.

Cellou showed up about 20 minutes after I had gone into my room. I came out in my pajamas (modest by U.S. standards--a too-big tee-shirt and basketball shorts), which are pretty scandalous by Senegalese standards and downright lewd when it comes to the standards to which I believe I would've been held in Mauritania, and had to go get re-dressed. After that, I went to go to bed, but because I had to close the solid wood door to be "safe" and have only one small window, there was no airflow. I counted 300 breaths, was still awake, and about to burst into tears at any moment. Until I remembered.

The bucket lid.

I had a bucket lid. From the bucket one of my host sisters had brought to me. So I lay in my tent all night and fanned myself every 10 minutes or so. I dozed, I'm sure I even napped, but it was only to dream strange and disquieting half-finished stories of confusion. At 7am, I was not rested, but I had to pee. But of course instead of a front door, what the house has (which is four rooms branching off a main porch-thing) a double-locked front wrought-iron gate. So I waited in my room, hoping that I wouldn't need to use the bucket.

I didn't. I made it, but spent the greater part of that first morning trying my utmost not to break down and sob. I talked to children, I wrote the names for the things I could poitn to. I tried to eat breakfast, but could barely swallow past--if you can forgive the expression--the lump in my throat. Poor Issakha, my chief host brother and Jeneba's husband, went out and bought beans for me to eat with bread, and when I couldn't/wouldn't eat that, he went and bought eggs. I had a devil of a time explaining that I wanted no coffee nor tea, and so for most of the morning I sat in the front yard in the shade, trying not to cry and bewildering everyone around me.

Frank, Ashley, and Cellou arrived, and without wanting to, I cried. I didn't sob, and I didn't wail, and I didn't even sigh, but my eyes just let go of a bunch of water. Poor them, they didn't know what to do. Ashley gave me a hug, and I kept saying "Ca va aller, it will be fine, it's fine, I'm fine, I just didn't sleep last night because it was too hot and I'm so tired ..." it was comforting to see how close everyone else is to my compound. Ashley is across the intersection diagonally, Frank is next door, and Melanie is across from the opposite corner of my block, as is Tim. That first day, all we did was meet people. I was so upset that I didn't keep track of any directions that we walked or anything. I just followed the group around, and wished with all my soul that I could find a good excuse to go back home, tout de suite.

I don't really remember that evening, but I slept outside in my tent that night, and woke up the next day not happy, but not sick with worry. Since then, everything has been looking up drastically. I'll post a more detailed version of the rest of the week tomorrow afternoon or evening, and I'm sorry this one post has been such a downer, but know that I have gone from that emotional state to actually being sad to leave my family to come back to the Training Center for three days. And on that positive note, it's bedtime for this Toubab...also, if someone reading this could look up Baobab fruit, leaves, taxonomy, and relatedness to mango, I'd be deeply grateful. Do it, then let me know via e-mail or by commenting (if it isn't a comment, I will post why I want to know after I find out. Suffice to say, please, someone, do this for me ASAP?).

P.S. Please weigh in:
1: Haircut (==de-dreadification) yes/no?
2: If haircut, then mohawk yes/no?
3: If haircut but no mohawk, what?

* Remind me to explain.

6 comments:

Sophia said...

Katherine--
you asked for info on baobabs and mangos, and so you don't get all the same info from all of us . . .

(mostly from Wikipedia, also some more scientific sites):

Baobabs are found in Madagascar mostly, but also in Australia and Western Africa. The relevant species is Adansonia digitata.

Here is their scientific classification:

Kingdom: Plantae

(unranked): Angiosperms

(unranked): Eudicots

(unranked): Rosids

Order: Malvales

Family: Malvaceae

Genus: Adansonia

Here's what wikipedia has to say about the fruit:

"The fruit is nutritious possibly having more vitamin C than oranges and exceeding the calcium content of cow's milk.[5] Also known as "sour gourd" or "monkey's bread", the dry fruit pulp separated from seeds and fibers is eaten directly or mixed into porridge or milk. In Malawi, the fruit pulp is used to make a nutrient-rich juice.[5]

The fruit was once used in the production of tartar sauce.[2] In various parts of East Africa, the dry fruit pulp is covered in sugary coating (usually with red coloring) and sold in packages as a sweet and sour candy called "ubuyu"."

A mango's scientific name is Mangifera indica. Here is the rest of its classification:
Kingdom: Plantae

(unranked): Angiosperms

(unranked): Eudicots

(unranked): Rosids

Order: Sapindales

Family: Anacardiaceae

Genus: Mangifera

Species: indica

I hope this helps . . . .
~Sophia

Chris said...

Sophia, thanks for posting the comment here; I was just about to go hunting for an encyclopedia!

Katherine: *hugs* I'm glad you're feeling better. I would vote "no" on losing the dreads... unless they're tough to take care of. In that case, a mohawk would be AWESOME.

canyon wren said...

this is excerpted from an abstract on a paper on mango allergy. Please note that cashews and pistachios are in the same family, and some folks do have allergies to cashews..... especially raw cashews. the allergens are identified and i will search baobab and the allergens and see what comes up.

Mango, together with pistachio and cashew, belongs to the Anacardiae family.
Besides allergic reactions to the fruits, sensitizations to mango pollen and seeds have been described. The incidence of mango fruit allergy is apparently high in subjects with "celery-mugwort-spice syndrome" or latex and pollen allergy, although this fact has not been established by double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge (DBPCFC).
Two major mango allergens with 30 and 40 kDa and a 46-kDa-allergen (putative chitinase) have been identified. Cross-reactivities between mango fruit allergens and mugwort pollen, birch pollen, celery, carrot, and apple have been described. Further, latex and avocado allergens cross-react with mango allergens.
The present data collection reviews detailed information on the prevalence and symptoms of mango allergy as well as diagnostic features, sensitization patterns, and the occurrence of cross-reactivities in tabular form.

canyon wren said...

hey, i found out that baobab has been approved as a "novel" food in the EU. I could not find any connection between the baobab and the allergens in mango.

to be safe, before you eat baobab, put some on your skin,like in the crease of your elbow, where the skin is thin. if you were here, i'd say put a bandaid on it, to keep the substance there for a day or two, but i know that's out of the question.

a good alternative might be to make a VERY SMALL scratch on your skin and put the baobab in it and see if there is a reaction. this would be far superior to ingesting it as a first trial, just make sure you create a very small exposure, for the first try.

as to the hair style..... i think you ought to go with the hairstyle you and barca created when you cut off your wraps. i think this would provide more protection for your scalp and head than the mohawk, and be the leat amount of work.

in truth, i'd be against the mohawk even if everything else were equal. but, it's your hair, and it does grow.

love mom

Regina said...

Katherine,
Save the haircut for swearing in ceremony. At that point several (3) newly sworn in volunteers in my stage shaved their heads...head wraps are lovely. Your hair will grow back by the time you return to the USA.
Regina Renee

C.W. said...

hey you (BIG BEAR HUG)

seems like everyone has already filled you in on baobabs/mangoes?

as for the hair, I'd say keep it as well unless it is too hard to maintain, etc. OR I like Regina's suggestion. You would look great in a colorful head wrap :)

xxoo,
Carol