Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How are you doing with the peeing?

Peace only, for lack of a better response. And it is a sort of peace: there's no violence and war, which is the only linguistic alternative in Pulaar of which I am aware. There's just this emotional exhaustion that comes from always feeling like I need to be doing more than I'm doing. This is related to my observation that my ability to cope with life here seems to be indexed to exactly how overwhelming it is: I keep thinking it will get easier, but instead, as I become better at Sénégal...Sénégal becomes better at me. Duh, this is inevitable, because as I become more comfortable, I push the envelope.

I exhaust myself. Knowing is half the battle. The other halves are figuring out how to change it, finding a way to thermoregulate, and finding a way to easily supplement my nutrition, and growing a thicker skin to people asking me for things.

Up on the mountain for 11 days, two days in, I locked myself entirely out of my cell phone. This is impressive, but more importantly left me entirely without any way to communicate in English for 9 days. I think my Pulaar got better, I know that I was quite talkative when I came down the mountain. With a bad cold.

"It's because of your sleeping in the wind, Mariama," Aissatou told me. "It's because you sleep outside," my Senegalese mom said. I'm getting to the point where I don't mind contradicting people in a culturally insensitive way. "No," I told them, "It's because Luis and Binta do not wash their hands with soap and reach into my section of the bowl." They argued with me a little bit, and in the end we agreed that both of those factors were a cause. Sleeping in a dry wind certainly does not help, it's true.

As soon as I got back to site, Tamba once again began hitting me up for money for the hut. After a lot of anger and a very small breakdown at Katie's house, I finally gave in. This prompted extremely fast action: by the time I get back (this afternoon or tomorrow), my new hut will be ready for me to move in, except for my painting the walls and them finding me a backyard fence. Oh, and my latrine fence is such that I can greet people and pee at the same time. Once, one of the neighbors even said "Good morning, Mariama! Did you sleep in peace? How are you doing with the peeing?" It was a kid. But, still. No, I'm not joking.

The Eye Clinic is going on right now in Kédougou: a couple American doctors are doing free cataract-removal surgeries. I've been helping a bit with translation, but it's time to go back up the mountain...I thought today, but now I think, tomorrow.

Oh, and those glasses I went to Dakar to get? The new prescription gives me a headache. This is not the easiest week of Peace Corps, but I didn't come here because I thought it would be easy, and if it were, there'd be no bragging rights. (Yes, I plan to be incredibly fond of bragging when I get back. You're warned?)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Me looking silly at swear-in last October...




The February e-mail, more or less

I've spent nearly the last calendar month in Dakar, so I don't have a lot of great village stories. No, I haven't been sick--this was the last round of training that my stage has with Peace Corps combined with the infamous WAIST weekend and the much-touted All-Vol conference to make a full month of being out of site.

Before I left, I had one of those "I might seriously injure someone" moments. Let's back up--my family has been building me a hut, as most of you know. And they've been stressing that it's my gift, their gift to me. I've helped with the work on this gift to me, and also fronted about $100 for Peace Corps to buy things like doors and cement for the floor (and white latex wall paint, my one extravagance). This is great for my family, because after Peace Corps leaves, it means they get to have a really spiffing hut all to themselves. They know this, I know this, the village knows this. And this is why, when Tamba asked me for an additional 40,000 cfa (about $90), I got really mad.

"We need money, you know, because your hut...all those things you see cost money," he told me. When I refused, he continued, "And, you know, you're not giving us money for food for the time that you're gone. Our other volunteers did not do that. We even cried, trying to get them to take the money, because we knew they needed to buy things like sodas and snacks on the road--we don't need much, here. We don't need sodas. But the other volunteers told us they could give us the money anyway because they care for us so much..." I told him I knew that was not the case.

Then he said, "Well, will you give me a pen? I don't have any pens." I said fine, I'll give you a pen. But later that day when--yes--a bee stung my hand, I lost it. "Why are you crying??" my family asked. "She's crying because she's scared of bees. Because bee stings hurt and last time there were lots of bees. White people do that, they cry like children when they're scared."

The next morning, I left. I visited Kate, but stupidly left from Kedougou at exactly the hottest time of day (and yes, there was a headwind). I was convinced that I'd be fine--two liters of water was fine to get me the 37km out to her site. Well, it wasn't. 17km out I got off the bike and lay on the ground in the shade and napped for 10 minutes. I drank a liter or so of untreated well water about 25km out, given to me by a family who didn't understand a word I was saying, but could see that I was hurting. But I had fun visiting Kate (although I now have some sort of intestinal weirdness again), and the next morning we rode into Kedougou, and the NEXT morning at 4am our house dog walked us to the bus station, where we caught 3 buses (one transfer, one broke down) over the course of 34 hours (9 were a scheduled layover in Tamba, 2 an unscheduled layover by the side of the road waiting for a replacement bus) to Dakar.

I stayed at an awesome American ex-pat family's house during the two days of the All-Volunteer conference (at which someone I did not know walked up to me and said "You're Katherine--I hear you are really good at editing papers, and I have this essay...") and the three days of WAIST (West African Invitational Softball Tournament). I did not play softball, and nor did I go out and party (I read Anna Karenina), so I missed the two chief activities of the latter, but the conference was really great. Then it was training time.

It was great to see the other people from my stage. It was really wonderful to get to interact with everyone outside of my sector. But the PowerPoint presentations were long, the host family I was being bussed out to every night spoke Wolof and French (not Pulaar, although since I asked for that family, it was pretty much my fault), and I've decided that training is really important and it's actually done really well. But there is no universe in which it can be categorically "fun". Like vaccinations--you're glad that you have them and you're glad that they're over.

Now I'm back in Dakar for an eye appointment, staying with the same family (I told you, they're great--2 RPCV parents and their really hilarious, intelligent kids) until tomorrow evening, when I'll take the night bus all the way down to Kedougou. In the next month I plan to: start my tree and coffee pepiniere, have meetings with my village farmers and Ashley's village* farmers about seed extension and who wants to try out which techniques, nail down with my village if they actually want the new well, and get my hut finished (pouring the floor is my job).

In other news, I hear I have four packages waiting for me down in the 'gou, so thank you so much! And to those of you who have written and not received responses yet, I'm sorry, I'm on it, and I'll mail them in the next couple of weeks. This month's slightly paternalistic and reductive but overall extremely useful book recommendation is 'African Friends and Money Matters'.

My computer has not returned to me yet, so my Internet time will still be more arbitrary and sporadic than usual.