(The Internet tanked before I could post this my last time down....so it's written by me-of-last-Tuesday instead of me-of-Now.)
After we made it to Kedougou (a pretty quick trip, although we did end up as the last two in both sept-places), we spent a few days at the regional house. We spent one more day than we wanted to, actually, because the morning we strapped all our gear to the back of the bikes, my mom's borrowed bike (which I'd fixed up for her to use) suffered a comprehensive lack of suitable front inner tube. After four or five efforts to patch it up on the road, growing increasingly thirsty, sunburned, and frustrated, we decided to backtrack and try the next day.
We did make it to village, though, fording the half-mile puddle (exactly what it sounds like), two rain-swollen creeks, and climbing up the mountain path. My mom is a real trooper--she's nearing 60 and she did a lot better than some of my young PCV cohorts have with the entire ride. Go mom! All along the way we were treated to all that is most frustrating about Pulaar and its communication foibles. If I led the way, various villagers would give me grief for 'leaving my mother behind'. If I let her go first and called the bushpath turnings out to her from behind, of course, I shouldn't have been shouting at my mother. In fact, I should've been carrying her on my bike, or buying her a car, or anything, in short, rather than what I was doing. What was I doing? Well, of course, I was causing her to suffer.
My family was overwhelmed and overjoyed to have her visit. We were lucky enough to have my 17-year-old sister visit for a week while we were there. My mom got her hair braided, learned some basic Pulaar, got caught in a rainstorm with me, pulled her own water and carried it, and went on field visits with me. We worked in my garden, did laundry, played a LOT of Bananagrams, and made up silly names for things like her crank flashlight (Cranky, since you asked).
We went to the weekly market in Katie's town, where my mom ventured out and bought some traditional Pulaar fabric with only minimal assistance from Katie while I, useless expat that I am, lounged around in Katie's yard and enjoyed her hammock. Over the course of the next few days, my mom made herself a complet with the leppi she'd bought, and wore it to the big party I threw for her.
Think about it--under $200 for a huge lunch for my entire village. We killed a goat, cooked around 100lbs of rice in 20L of oil with a few cabbages and jaxatus. And by we, I mean the women of the village. It was truly a great party...as I went to go pull water near the end of it, everyone told me that if I wanted it to be a truly great party, I should have bought them some music so they could dance all night. Ah, right. I'll import loud, expensive electricity and powerful speakers. Definitely going to do that. That wouldn't be annoying to have at all in village--Akon on repeat. Mmmm-mmm good. I told them to dance without music. As I was coming back from the well for the last time, the storm I was watching obscure ridge after ridge of hills and mountains finally reached the village and then drenched the village for around 4 hours. It was a really great way to end a party--and I mean that in every sense of the phrase. I loved the party--it was great. I'm very glad I did it. And I will never do it again.
Even though we got to get rid of the most annoying goat around.
We had planned to leave the next day, but then my mom broke her toe stumbling on her way back from the latrine late at night, so we put it off for a couple days. On the day before she was scheduled to leave, Tamba disappeared with my machete...and came back carrying a 50-lb bunch of bananas--his gift to 'his wife'. That's what he calls my mom, because I gave her the same name as Aissatou, his wife. He doesn't mean it in any predatory or disrespectful way, it's just a very affectionate way of emphasizing that she is part of the family. So he brought her 50lbs of bananas, 30lbs of which I brought back down on the back of my bike. They made carrying my bike on my shoulder a little bit complicated, but the hardest part was getting the bike up there. My mom helped me, but the first time we both underestimated how much the other person was going to lift, so I ended up nearly falling over backwards as we enthusiastically (nearly) tossed the bike over my head. But we made it to Kedougou.
She got sick for a couple days, but then we were off to Kaffrine to visit a good friend of mine who is the volunteer there. My mom and my friend really got to bond over gardening, and it was fun to see her site, since she's seen mine. After that, we went to Dakar and spent a couple nights in the Fana Hotel, and attended the newest stage's swear-in ceremony at the US Ambassador's residence before heading to Lampoul with my friend Teresa and riding some camels, staying in Bedouin-style tents, and meeting some delightful French tourists, Paul and his daughter Margo. My mom said the tents were way too warm, but Teresa and I thought it was nice and cozy. That's acclimation for you.
After Lampoul, my mom and I spent a couple days in Thies, and then went back to Dakar for my birthday. We stayed at a really nice place that overlooks the straight between Ngor and Ngor Island, and went out to the island to have dinner with Mark and Brigette that evening. All in all, it was a delightful birthday, even though my mom had to fly out very early the next morning. I took her to the airport, and then discovered an ingenious way to get a great fare from a taxi from the airport with minimal bargaining. You just walk over to the arrivals area--the taxis aren't supposed to pick people up there, because they're basically hopping the line that waits at the departures area. But the pseudocops can't really enforce that very well, so you go up to a cab and tell them a ridiculously low price (i.e. the price for any normal Senegalese person to go where you're headed). They'll agree, so you quick hop in the back and off you go. Much safer than walking out to the Rte de l'Aeroport.
For the next couple of days, I stayed with Mark and Brigette and worked my tail off on the application for the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship. When I'd turned it in, I went down to Kedougou like a bat out of, well...and went back to village. While I'd been having my birthday, the new stage had installed, and so it was fun to come back and have new people in the region.
In November, there was harvest in village--fonio, peanuts, corn, beans, millet, sorghum...I spent a lot of time handwriting the many drafts of my NSF Predoctoral Fellowship application and my graduate school applications. I felt sort of like Abe Lincoln, actually. Except, I'm pretty sure he didn't sit on one plastic bucket and stack two others to write by candlelight with a ballpoint pen on graph paper. But the candlelight is definitely a similarity. Anyhow, I bought my tickets to come to the US for unofficial graduate school interviews, turned in my applications, and then headed back up to Dakar with CJ and Yasmin (the two new Ag PCVs) for the Sustainable Agriculture summit. Right after the summit, I discovered I'd lost my wallet in Dakar.
Luckily, neither my personal passport nor my Peace Corps government passport and WHO card were in my wallet. So, I lost some trivial things, but nothing hugely important. And in early December, I flew to New York to visit Andrew and Paul before going on my whirlwind grad school tour.
Andrew took me shopping for presentable clothing and bought me lunch--both completely lifesaving things to do. Especially given how much I truly am bad at shopping for clothes. Paul fed me all sorts of delicious food over the course of the long weekend he and his housemate were kind enough to let me spend at their place. He also took me on walks all over the city (with an emphasis on bridges, photography, architecture, and gallery exhibits). It was wonderful to feel chilly and to have the acres of conversations we had...also to walk in companionable silence. I really can't say how much I like New York City in general--and I know everyone's going to disagree--but it seems awfully clean and polite to me. Everyone's courteous, and there's hardly any trash around at all.
Okay, I promise I'm not a bot, but MegaBus. Gosh. I'm so impressed by MegaBus. I paid (well, actually, a friend paid, and I still haven't paid him back) $13.50 for a wireless-equipped four-hour ride to Boston South Station. How is that even possible? What will they think of next, in the magical land of the USA?
In Boston, I got to spend a bunch of time with a finals-stressed Maddy. The time was good, regardless, and I also got to talk to two really awesome professors about possibly working in their labs. I was blown away by how relieved I was to discuss science with people, and to have many of those conversations under many different circumstances. The campus was impressive, the students and professors interesting, hospitable, helpful, forthright and encouraging. The department to which I'm applying seems like it'd be a great fit for me, and I'm excited to think I might have a chance at getting in, despite having forgotten a word or two of English during my talk at a lab meeting. (Yes. I forgot the word for 'production' and asked a room full of non-Pulaar speakers "...does anyone know the word for 'fewnugol ngol'? It's like....when you're making something? The making of something? OH! 'Production'...right...")
Another highlight of Boston was that Kevin, bless him, came all the way from Ithaca to spend most of a day with me. I can't really tell you how much that meant to me, or how much I enjoyed it.
From Boston, I flew to Toronto, where I met more amazing, kind, interesting, helpful, brilliant scientists. I loved the campus, the professors I talked to, and the potential lab. It was also my first experience with real cold (something I really miss here, if you hadn't heard). I stayed with some wonderful undergraduates, got to talk to a lot of really great, bright scientists, both professors and students, and came away with a really positive impression. Oh, and the undergrads I stayed with taught me how to play Settlers of Catan. I was resistant to learning to play it (the same way as I was resistant to reading Terry Pratchett for the longest time), but it's. Just. Awesome.
Toronto to Austin was the next leg of the trip. (I had to go in and out of security twice because of snowstorms and flight cancellations, but the CanadaAir people were incredibly helpful. They caught the problem before it became one and routed me more efficiently--one less stop--and cheerfully. So, go them!) Rob and Beth put me up and facilitated my getting a tour from Nichole...neither of the professors I'd like to work with, potentially, were there. But Rob, Beth, and Nichole pulled out all the stops and showed me research stations, greenhouses, tons of butterflies, the student radio station, the turtle pond, the program secretary (who knows everything there is to know and who was also incredibly helpful) and the phenomenon that is deep-fried avocado tacos. I can't thank them enough for their kindness, generosity, hospitality and patience. Hooray, Austin!
From Austin to Denver--I nearly didn't catch my plane. Thankfully, the security people looked at my Peace Corps ID and my flight time, and were very, very helpful. From Denver airport, I went to Golden, showered at my dad's place, and then we went over to Boulder for my last two meetings. I got to meet students from the two labs I'm interested in, and went to lunch with one of the labs. Then I went to the other lab and was able to talk with Susan, a student who's doing her Ph.D (partially) on a sister system to the one I looked at in Costa Rica. We had a great time talking--she gave me a lot of her time. Boulder's campus is gorgeous, and of course it's pretty close to home (relatively). And, unlike anywhere else, it does have mountains. This isn't a dealbreaker, but when I saw the Rockies from the plane, I choked up a little bit. So sue me, I love my mountains.
Just to be clear: I love Peace Corps, and my stage-, sector-, and region-mates, but I do miss the kinds of discussions I got to have while I was visiting schools. It was like getting a drink of water after a long, dry hike.
After Boulder, I finished turning in my applications! I had dinner with my younger brother and my dad! My dad and I drove over the mountains! I got to see my stepmom and her mom and brother, which was really great. I also got to meet my mom's huge dog (who is incredible), and just got to spend a bunch of time at home--both of them.
Not a lot of snow happened. But then, right as I was planning to leave for three days or so in New York to see more of Andrew, and to see EmN and Jess...the weather started dumping on NYC. Great. I spent 6 hours on the phone fighting with airlines, was postponed a day, and then flew through DC, where Ari and Sophie came to my rescue by providing me with a couch, breakfast, and a ride to the same airport from which I initially departed for Senegal.
Upon arrival, I went to Mark and Brigette's and worked on my last application, turning it in 30 minutes before the new year. Woo-hoo! I came back down to Kedougou. We're going to try to adapt Fern Gully for the Earth Day radio show. I wrote a new version of Cinderella, which I'm now translating for radio, also.
I'm in terrible shape for biking up and down the mountain, but that's okay. I'm also a lot healthier than when I left. It was great to get back to village, and my geckos were happy to see me. How do I know? Well, now one of them talks to me from wherever he is in the hut. And if I talk to him (mimicking his noises), he'll answer me. So, now I don't just have pets, I have a roommate. So that's fun.
We also had a regional retreat for a couple days at a nice campement in Mako, which is maybe an hour away from Kedougou. It was good, productive, interesting, all those great things that you always want a regional retreat to be and only sometimes end up achieving. Tomorrow I'm going up the mountain in the Peace Corps car to help set up Katie's site for her replacement (congratulations, Katie! Newest Kedougou RPCV!), and then we're going to my site to keep working on the world map mural that's in the works. We means me and Rachel (a new AgFo PCV), and possibly CJ. CJ might not come, but we'll see.
Other than that...I should start hearing from grad schools in the next three weeks or so. I should also put a caveat here that my descriptions of schools shouldn't be taken to be intentionally denigrating of any of them. I loved all the places I visited, and any disparaging or belittling comment I may've inadvertently made is simply a result of it being very late and my wanting to go to bed so that I can get up and get on the car nice and early tomorrow morning.
In a couple weeks I'll be heading up to Tamba to help translate for the eye clinic there, so I hope I can post pictures of the finished world map at that point, and also get back into the habit of updating the blog more often. Until then!
Monday, January 24, 2011
(The Internet tanked before I could post this my last time down....so it's written by me-of-last-Tuesday instead of me-of-Now.)