Sunday, January 16, 2011

Late August, early September

Hello! Thank you for your patience. First I got behind because I was busy, and then I became overwhelmed at the amount of things I had to chronicle, and there you have it: five months explained. If you’ll indulge me, I’ll give a much better explanation (or at least a summary) in the following.

I’ve offended Kate by not mentioning her visit to my site. First. (This is an inserted paragraph.) She did visit my site, and we played lots of cards and had a lot of fun. She made fun of me, and facilitated my family’s laughing uproariously…which is sort of impressive, given that she doesn’t speak much Pulaar at all. A good time was had by all, and Kate, I’m sorry I didn’t say right out at first how much I enjoyed your visit.

The rainy season really hit us hard starting in mid-August. My hut leaks in a problematic way on the uphill side, so it wasn’t an unremitting joy to have four or five torrential downpours per week. But as an alternative to the long trek to water, I’ll definitely take it. Right around Korite (the end of Ramadan celebration), I was in Kedougou for a mail run and a radio show, and got caught in town because the Gambia River rose until it was too wide for the normal barge to cross it, too fast to cross in a little paddled boat they use for backup, and all the way over the honest-to-goodness bridge in Samecouta. So, I got stuck in Kedougou.

This didn’t make my Senegalese family very happy, but it didn’t break my heart at all. Why? Didn’t I come to Senegal to get the full cross-cultural experience? Well, yes, I did. But my experience with holidays here is fairly varied—and the way they end up being celebrated is not varied at all, at least with respect to me. First, we all dress up (so for me, Senegalese clothes, which somehow manage to feel billowy and huge while being constricting and tight at the same time), and then we kill an animal. Because it’s a special day, we’ll snack on little bits of barbecued meat, and then for lunch there will be an oil sauce that has some macaroni, some deep-fried potatoes, and various tube meat bits on a bunch of white rice. There will be onions, but very seldom will there be other vegetables (although credit where credit’s due, the time that I brought raisins, they tossed those into the sauce too). Then for dinner, there’s the head of whatever unfortunate animal drew the short straw, stewed with some onions and flavor cubes (MSG) over some corn couscous.

So, it’s not a very exciting food day for me. Nor a fun clothes day. What pushes it over the edge is that a whole passel of Senegalese men come to visit from other villages. Because they don’t know me, and the culture isn’t really conducive to much circumspect behavior, at least where interacting with a Strange White Female…there’s an awful lot of “Hey! Hey Whitey! Where’s your man? Take me to America/Give me money/Some other annoying and reductive request!” This isn’t maliciously meant. It’s usually just in fun (although if I acceded to the request, I bet you dollars to donuts it wouldn’t be refused), but as my village says, it is not pleasing to me. So missing Korite wasn’t a heartbreak. And missing Tabaski in November was similarly un-heartbreaking.

After Korite it was time for the demystification of the new Ag/AgFo/SED stage. And, because Ashley’s site was getting filled with a new Ag volunteer, I got to demyst my new neighbor, CJ. We were going to get a nice, posh Peace Corps car ride up the mountain, but the car got stuck in the mud (notice a trend?) while delivering some other trainees to their demyst site. So CJ and I heroically strapped our stuff to our bikes and set out. We forded creeks with our bikes on our heads, slipped in calf-deep mud, and made it ¾ of the way up the mountain before the sun set. Undaunted, we used our flashlights to make out enough of the path to get home before dinner.

CJ is, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty dang awesome. He kicked my butt going up the mountain, but not in an arrogant way. We had a great time—we went to one of my farmers’ fields—allegedly about 100 meters across the Guinean border, we swam, we napped, and on the way back into Kedougou, we visited his new village. He’s very enthusiastic about learning Pulaar, and is probably going to get involved in radio. We really hit it off (right, CJ?) and we’re planning all kinds of interesting collaborations with my other new neighbor, Jess (who replaced Kevin), and fun adventures on bikes, foot, and anything else we can think of. In CJ’s words, “If I had had any doubts about how awesome Peace Corps service can be, this trip has totally removed them. I’m so excited!” He probably had the best demyst experience in Senegal, if I do say it myself.

Right after demyst, I took a bus up to Dakar with Sheila and Tim, who were COSing. It was sad to see them go, but I was also excited because my mom arrived for a month-long visit! She was a real trooper, too. After more than 16 hours of airplane business, I pulled her out of the airport, put her in a cab, and immediately got into the last two seats of a sept-place to Tamba. She can tell you the story of the trip better than I can, but it was sort of long and sort of crowded.

I’m having trouble focusing because David’s opening a very large CARE package two inches from my shoulder. Mom’s visit and the other four months: next time (which won’t be long from now).

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