Friday, September 11, 2009

Homestay the second

[Insert failed attempt to upload video]
I'm going to make a list of things about which I would like to write, and then use those as subject headings again. We'll see how far down the list I get.

C'est facil, ou bien?
Alpha Omar Sala is a 16-year-old in my CBT village (Community Based Training) who has taken me under his wing, somewhat. He loves to joke and tease but is really interested in helping me to learn the language and culture. Every time he teaches me a new word, and we talk in French, he says to me "C'est facil, ou bien?!" "Is this easy, or what?!"

Nyami niebe
One of the absolutely most funny things you can say, if your last name is Ba (like me) or Diallo (like Frank and Ashley) is that the others eat beans. Now, this is common--think of it like Smith and Jones. Imagine that they're all related to the size of being distant cousins, which is in fact culturally relevant and interesting. And imagine that every time anyone named Smith talks to anyone named Jones, they say "You eat Beans! All Joneses eat Beans!" Then Jones replies, "No, you Smiths are the bean-eaters. And you steal things." And then imagine that everyone always finds this hilarious. No, reallyn

Messes you up good. I did it for one day, didn't eat or drink (minus the mouthful of water I needed to take my last anti-mangoface steroid pill that morning) until 7:30pm. The not eating is not a big deal, but the not drinking water is really, really a painful thing to try. The next day I was covered in lethargy. The day after that I was fighting off a virus and losing, felt like I had been beaten with a pipe. Five days later I was finally back to functioning at around 90%, where I feel like I pretty much stay. But yes, I fasted for one day, and although I am telling my Sangalkam family that I am going to fast vraiment, tellement (really, totally) next year, I don't know about that. Because really. Just, ouch. But it made my family happy.

My koto, or older brother, is really amazing, but has taken it into his head that I need to win a Toubab Ribbon of some sort, and so has been praying for me to "Prendre le meilleur note". No pressure. The day of our language test, he woke me an hour early to practice Peul Fuuta with him for an hour. He is taking this way more seriously than I am, and I think he is engaged in some sort of possibly-informal contest with at least a couple of the other host families to see whose American is the Best. Huh.

Phone calls
Are free to receive, but cost me through the nose to make. So, please call me if you can spare the money to talk. I hear rumors of websites that let you pick five frequently-called countries and get a vastly reduced rate, but I do not know what they are called, yet. When I do, I'll post them. Until then, yes, please call me. I'm four hours later than New York, so calling me after 8pm their time is really not a good plan. If I'm in class or busy, no biggie. People in Senegal answer their phones while teaching class, having a conversation, or sitting in class. Much different in terms of etiquette than in the USA. So if I can't talk for long, I can offer an estimate of when I will be able to talk.

Pulling water
I wrote about this already in a letter, but it has left a pretty deep impression. So, for our garden, about which I will write more soon (perhaps below), we had to make some manure tea. And in order to make said tea, we needed water. Lots of water, and no hose, which meant that pulling water out of the well is the first, best, and only option. 50 gallons is a lot of water to pull, and I thought that I wouldn't like it, but it is, although difficult and repetitive, much like meditation. The rhythm of dropping the bucket down two seconds to the water (splat), letting it fill all the way to the top (5 seconds), and then begin to pull the rope. But you can't jerk the rope around, or the bucket will swing, and you'll be able to hear all your water splashing back down, wasting your energy. A smooth rhythm is best, but you have to keep an eye on the rope, because when you can see the knot that means the bucket is nearly up, you need to time the swing just right to get the oblong bucket up out of the square well hole. Otherwise, you dump the water back down into the well. Drop, pause, pullpullpullpullpullpullpull, pause, pull, grab, pour, drop, pause...Peaceful.

Slapstick and praying
Ashley's family has a TV. Actually, many families have TVs, but Ashley's family pretty much
has theirs on all the time. Really. One time I was over and there was a movie on about some sort of People Who Had Been Caught By Bad Guys. The Heroes were white, and the Baddies were Arab, which was not particularly scary except that they were Muslim. And the way that the Heroes escaped was by waiting for all the Muslims to pray all at once, and then attacking them. I saw this and was immediately really nervous, because it seemed pretty horrible to stereotype like that. But, when the Really Bad Guys sat up from a prostration and both got knocked on the noggin by a log, the entire family burst into raucous laugher. And then I realized that it doesn't seem like a racial stereotype or an anti-Muslim stereotype. Everyone, or pretty much everyone, from the Senegalese point of view, is Muslim. So what if the Bad Guys are, too. It was interesting.

Helping to cook and chore increase in general, see also: Watching people work and helping!
Several weeks into my relationship with my Sangalkam family, they've finally started letting me do work, and I think it must've been as a result of someone talking with them, because not only are they letting me do things, but they are telling me to do things. "Hali, go buy bread with this money. Can you say 'I want two-and-a-half loaves'? Yes? Good. Go buy bread." "Hali, come carry this, we're going somewhere. You understand?" "Hali, come twist this thread together so that we can make silken cord to trim boubous." Relatedly, everyone seems to be really excited to have me watch their work, and Issakha has taken to having me draw designs (looking at an original) for him to embroider on fancy Korite clothes. It's nice, but it's also worrying, because I am constantly wondering if I am doing it correctly. Lucky for me I know I am a dab hand at doing dishes out of a couple buckets, so that at least that's getting done to standard.

Long conversation with Ibrahima
In which I detailed my life in the United States, my parents, my family, and he told me that HE would love to walk to America if he could, but that failing that, it is good to hear about my family, because he hopes one day to meet them.

Lac Rose and my revenge on the flies
Near Sangalkam there's a lake called Lac Rose, because it is pink. We went there on one of our few days off, and although it was not pink, we had a good time anyway. It's something of a tourist trap, complete with fake gifts from vendors, and ridiculously 0bvious price hikes and scams. Still, it was cool to see the mountains of salt they're extracting from the lake (the only economic benefit to salinification that I've seen or heard of so far), and of course, there was a restaurant with (obscenely priced) American food. Some people at pizzas and drank beer, but ever the lame one, I had Fanta. And, because flies here are really annoying, I trapped them under a glass and let them fly around in there. Nevermind they don't have enough intelligence to be annoyed. It also is not my fault that Zach then cruelly murdered one of them.

Embarrassing biriti/billet moment
The word for 'bread' is 'biriti'. The word for 'ticket' is 'billet'. Sometimes it is hard to hear the difference. I thought Issakha was trying to pay for my ticket to Lac Rose, he was trying to tell me to go buy bread, and the ensuing conversation was embarrassing.

Ready, set, pee
Notes on how to use a squat toilet--first, roll up your pants. Then pull down your pants. Do not mix up the order.

What we probably sound like, vraiment
Hello. What are your name? I went to school right now. Have a good morningnoon. Here are two sample conversations with my family. I do not know if they actually happened, but this is about what I sound like.

"Hali, do you want to eat anythng?"
" want to eat anything. I don't understand."
"Eat anything?"
"Are you hungry?"
"Are you...oh! I understand! Am I hungry? No, I am not."
"Yes you are. Come eat."
"No, I was not hungry."
"You are hungry."
"You are hungry."
"Hali, you are hungry."
"No, I am not hungry, but you are hungry. I will eat yesterday."
"Come eat! You will eat today! Now!"
"Okay, okay..."


"Hali, what are you doing?"
"What are you doing?"
"Are you studying?"
"Are you...Yes! I am studying! I was studying, I was doing."
"What were you studying?"
"I was studying Pulaar!"
"Did you learn anything today?"
"Did you don't understand."
"Did you"
"No. I did not learn today?"
"You did not learn? But you went to school."
"I did not learn! I went to school to study Pulaar!"
"Hali, do you know what "learn" means?"
"Do I know what...what?"
"Do you understand 'learn'?"
" 'Learn' means 'pour apprendre'"
"Oh! Yes, I did learn. I went to school and I learnt."
"Say it."
"I don't understand."
"What did you learn?"
"I learned about des verbes."
"Hali, speak Pulaar."
"I learned about verbs."
"Which verbs?"
"I don't know."

Frank has a talent of pushing his LCF to the point of twitching eyes and where he will just say "V-v-v-vraiment, Frank! D-d-doucement!" I am amazed that my family has not yet clubbed me over the head to stop the "I'm stupider than your average baseball bat" Pulaar that I try to speak.

We have one. It has: Corn, Millet, Sorghum, Cowpeas, Rice, Okra, Bissap, Peppers, and five kinds of tree. It's our English-speaking haven, and we go there every day.

Country Director

I'm getting lazy, so here's another journal excerpt (yes, I am aware that around 12 hours after I post this, Chris Hedrick will read it or hear of it. Doesn't make any of it less true. Hi, Chris. Thanks for putting me in Kedougou.) "Chris Hedrick visited today, and I have a disconcertingly comprehensive feeling of faith in him. He came around to visit all of the stagieres and talked to each of us individually for 10-20 minutes. Really awesome, especially because he really has no requirement to do that sort of above-and-beyond outreach. He mentioned beekeeping to me in the first thirty seconds (he has it in his documents that I am (a) interested and (b) sort of experienced with des abeilles), and told me that there were possibilities for collaborating with PC/Gambia for beekeeping training and was really interested in helping me with infrastructure that I might need for a project. He also talked about how he thought Kedougou would be a really good fit for me in terms of values (good, hard work and intelligence). He got right around me, and the weird thing is that I do not even mind. I think he got around everyone, and that is really a talent, because I do not think he is insincere. But it takes talent to communicate sincerity that across-the-board in that short a time period." So, my CD (Country Director) gets a vote of full confidence, andIam excited to work for him.

Losing ability to articulate
I talk funny now. And my syntax, it is broken. My English degree is a commonly-referenced joke around here, because it's just absurd. My ability in English, too, is falling off disproportionately to my gaining competence in French and Pulaar, even if you add the competences together.

Lists of things to write about (we love infinitely metarecursive things!)
I like to make lists of things to write about. It helps. So, I have journal entries of about 12 items. Anyway, I miss having really intellectual conversations, and this is exacerbated by regular interactions with a person who considers himself an Intellectual but is in reality hidebound and frustratingly backwards.

Took the LPI (Language Placement Exam) and got Intermediate Low. I only need Intermediate Mid to swear in, so we are hoping that when I next take the exam, in five days, I will get that level, so that when I take the final LPI, I can get Intermediate High. We can hope.


There is a Peace Corps Senegal cookbook you can buy, which I now read and salivate. Angsting about whether to eat every meal with my family or not--I hear that everyone is happy when they eat with their families, but I really like to be in control of my own food. Like, a lot.

Dried Fish and concept of food
Dried fish is gross. And I am not picky here--I eat Vache qui Rit and actively enjoy it. But somehow my concept of food just will not expand to include dried fish. I do, however, regularly walk past a stand that sells very fish-smelling fish and think, "mmmmm". Shudder.

Anger going back in on itself

Journal excerpt:
"August 28
It's been raining a lot. Yesterday it rained with increasingly torrential fury for about an hour, or just under (45 minutes). We had to stop class and went under the school's overhang outside to escape the worst of the noise. I was trying to present my family tree, but literally could not shout loudly enough to be heard Especially in Peul Fuuta (there are no standardized spellings, so that's my chosen one). Standing outside the room, watching the water pour down, I listened to the rain (obviously) and thought I heard a rhythm in it. Not possible, given the nature of thermodynamics. I decided that I must've been hearing my heart, and that seemed so poetic and fitting that I have decided to believe it.
Last night I slept inside. That's right, I SLEPT inside. Now, given it was night-after-mefloquine, sleeping is really sort of an optimistic misnomer, but the point is that if it is raining and my wooden door is open, and so is my window, then I am able to sleep. What a relief."

Note on sleeping--I have now gotten pretty good at predicting (a) when it is going to rain and (b) when it is going to rain enough to matter. At least in terms of overnight weather. I'm also pretty pleased with myself because although I can sleep through roosters, calls to prayer, children, enthusiastic Parcheesi games, arguments in the street, and tea parties (loud things here), I wake up as soon as the pre-rain wind starts to blow, or when water falls on my face. NB I know I
can sleep through these things because I keep hearing about other people being waked up by them and/or they are still occurring, but I no longer notice them. And whenIam sleeping inside because I've decided it's going to rain and it starts to really rain and I wake up slightly and hear it, well, I don't think I've ever felt more smug.


canyon wren said...

hi all,
i have been researching phone rates to a certain cell phone in senegal.

lots of hidden costs. the 10 cents per minute card has a 15 % surcharge, and a connection fee, and 3 minute rounding, and a service charge deducted during the call...... and so on.

if anyone finds what seems the best value, how 'bout posting it in the comments section.... as people did on the baobab/mango research.

for now, i can say that click4prepaid, which i have been using for years, has a 1 year expiration date, you can recharge it, (extend the expiration date,and keep the same PIN #). it has no weekly fees, maintenance fees, no surcharges, connection fees, it has local access dialing, and one minute rounding....

the connections have always been quite clear, and the service honest and good.
i have just asked for clarification, but i think the rate to a cell phone in senegal is 20 cents per minute.

one other thing. once you establish an account, when you refer someone, then you get 10 percent of what ever they spend as a credit on your account. i would would be happy to have the credits for referring all of you, (and you can reach me through my blog which katherine has added to her "worthwhile links"-- but really, what would be better is; if click 4 prepaid is the best option, someone ought to sign up under someone and so on, ... so that everyone is getting a boost! (except the poor caboose at the end of the line. sorry caboose)

they have web dial up service too, (i never heard of before this session on the web) which is a flat 3 cents a minute. i've requested clarification on whether that goes to senegal...... that one would be AWESOME.

(jajah web dial up is 25 cents a minute! and i don't know if that is to a cell phone)

long comment sorry. i'll look to see if anyone has posted BEST OPTION phone rates, as one of you young people with your internet skills is much more likely to find the obscure organization that might actually pay us for using their service.

....... hi claire, i'll call you tomorrow, since i have some time on my card i put on last december before my trip to snowbound ithaca.

love mom

ANDON said...

This is awesome and I love it. Good luck leveling up!

Sarah said...

Oh man, your "what we sound like" section made me laugh hard enough that Jacob had to come investigate what was so funny...good work :-)