Silly Shenanigans in Senegal

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Coming to America

In Senegal they do this little trick called “porte baggage” which basically means to carry luggage or bags in French.  Since most people there do not have cars they transport supplies by carrying them on the backs of their bikes.  Supplies can even mean what you might call a passenger in your car.  One of the crowning achievements of my service was when I ‘porte baggaged’ my little sister Bana 14 kilometers back to our village so she wouldn’t have to walk home for the school holiday.  Honestly, it was probably harder for her…seeing as she had to balance side-saddle style on a wire bike rack on a bumpy road the whole time.  I could argue all the extra weight was hard for me since she is about 5’5” but since she is about as wide as a 2x4 I’d be lying. 

Despite having one father, two mothers, seven kids, and one Peace Corps volunteer we were somehow short of household help (maybe because most of the kids go away for school, the father refuses to do daily household chores and the Peace Corps volunteer is not motivated enough to fight for her right to do chores), so we solved the problem by borrowing one of the neighbor’s kids.  A 12 year old girl left her compound 50 feet away from ours to come live with us and eat with us in exchange for her helping cook and clean.

In Senegal people love to move slowly.  I was in a huge rush while shopping in the market, so I was speed walking (not running, skateboarding, or doing anything obnoxious).  Regardless, at least ten strangers insisted that I slow down!

The Senegalese National Election was taking place during the last few months and it was an interesting event to witness.  In many ways it seemed like an election in the US.  In the big cities there seemed to be a lot more tension between political parties, with frequent riots and demonstrations, but in the small villages there tended to be very strong support of one candidate.  A little background info – the former President Abdoulaye Wade, decided to run for a third term, despite the fact that the constitution was amended during his service so that candidates could only serve two terms.  While this was not ok with people in the larger cities (where they have more access to news and education), this was encouraged by citizens in smaller villages.  When a representative of Wade visited my small village there was chanting and drumming and dancing well into the night, but when one of the other candidates personally visited the welcome was warm but completely lacking in enthusiasm.

Prior to election day there were plenty of obvious bribes snaking their way around.  But in my part of the country things were actually quite calm.  I heard about demonstrations in the regional capitals but I didn’t experience anything first hand (not that I’m complaining).  On Election Day, everyone with a Senegalese identification card can vote.  They go to the school, where there is a stack of photos for each candidate.  They select a photo from their favorite candidate’s stack and then place it in the bag for that candidate.  After they vote someone marks their finger with a pink marker to indicate that they have already voted.  They tally the votes that night and then send them to regional capitals to be combined with the other votes.  The votes for each village are then announced over the radio.  Wade won in my village, and in many small villages.  But he did not get enough of the majority to win outright, so there was a run-off a few weeks later between the second leading candidate (Macky Sall) and Abdoulaye Wade.  There were numerous other candidates, including 2 women!  One of whom is a stylist/model?  Regardless, none of the other candidates made it to the run-off, and pretty much anyone who voted for a candidate other than Wade voted for Macky Sall in the run-off so he was the clear winner in the run-off.  Yay!  Not only was I happy about this from a political stand point, but also because Macky Sall’s symbol is a horse J.  I heard some crazy stories about bribes gone wrong.  One village was partially burned because of unhappiness about a bribe.  No one was hurt but it was still devastating.   Another village chief who was given a car by Abdoulaye Wade, lost his car the day after the election because his village voted for another candidate.  At least the second story is rather amusing.

Election Day was a bit like a holiday in village.  A chicken was killed, everybody dressed up and we ate oily rice!  There was a little bit of rice left over so one of the women gave it to the cow…who licked the bowl clean…hehe. Well, almost hehe.  After the cow licked the bowl clean they filled it with rice again and gave it to the kids.  Makes me wonder how many times I have unknowingly eaten from a bowl licked clean by a cow.

On a non-election related note, you should be happy to hear that singing in the shower is not just an American phenomenon, nor does it require running water.  My neighbor was singing in his bucket bath the other day.  Made me giggle.

Now onto the mushy subject of saying goodbye.  After two years of being excited to come home to the US, I was still excited!  But I wasn’t quite as pumped as I always thought I would be.  It feels wonderful to be home now, but leaving was quite difficult.  Leading up to my departure from village I was starting to get a little frustrated by the constant pleas of villagers who wanted to ensure I gave them this pair of pants, or that water bottle, when I left.  The day I got the most frustrated I was of course reminded of why I really like my village.  One of the women (Isatou Toure) who is amazing (mostly because she has a job and is older than me and NOT married yet) cried when I came to tell her I was leaving in a week.  Really cried, not the fake Senegalese cry I hear a lot of.  Of course this made me cry.  She also ran into her room to get a necklace she wears all the time.  It is a big red heart and she gave it to me.  I carried it around in my hand all day like a security blanket.

Another woman named Tako (like taco…her mere presence makes me hungry) promised she would quit chewing tobacco if I stayed.  Another family gave me an entire outfit.  My pregnant sister-in-law promised to name her baby after me or my Mom if it was a girl or after my Dad if it was a boy.  She probably won’t but it is still funny to think of a Senegalese kid named Kelly, Diane or Ed.  My counterpart Gano, scoured his garden for some early cashew apples and found two.  Made me cry…again.

On my last day, my younger brother, his friends, and I, ripped up all my old papers and made paper bricks that can be used to fuel the fire.  It was an appropriate way to end my service, ripping up paper AND recycling.  It was very therapeutic.

My last day in village we ate cabbage from the Master Farm that I helped improve and leaf sauce made from plants in the women’s garden I helped set up.  The women came over in one big group to say goodbye and they brought me a decorated gourd bowl called a ŋaatangel and matching necklaces for my sister and I called caakaje or ŋaajooje.  And I cried again.  I didn’t struggle too much saying goodbye to the men (yes Senegal made me super sexist) but leaving the women was incredibly difficult.  They talk about you in third person when you are leaving, and they say all kinds of nice things about you.  So I kept on crying and they kept on saying don’t cry, stop crying, you’ll give yourself a headache.  You are actually supposed to fake cry when leaving, and you kind of pinch the bridge of your nose to indicate that you are in fact crying.  One of the men I barely know came to say goodbye and he complained that I wasn’t fake crying for him, so I fake cried so that he could promptly tell me to stop crying.

I am going to end this blog the way I ended my service.  So here is the story.  I had asked everyone in my village to come say goodbye to me in my hut on my last day in village.  At 10PM the doctor and midwife who I had worked closely with had still not appeared and I was feeling quite sad.  So I decided they weren’t going to come and I should just go say bye to them even though they apparently didn’t care.  When I arrived at the health post I learned that they were planning on coming but they were helping a woman with a very difficult labor.  She had been in labor since the previous day and had come to the post for help.  I had had coffee earlier to make sure I could stay up late to say my goodbyes so I decided to move over to the health post to watch the delivery.  I watched the doctors hook up an IV to help speed the mother’s contractions.  She was very calm despite her troublesome labor- this was her 6th child.  When the IV was half drained the doctor began to get more agitated and said if the baby was not delivered by the time the IV ran dry we would have to call an ambulance (which would mean she would arrive at the regional hospital about 4 hours after we called).  He started pushing on her stomach rather aggressively during the infrequent contractions.  He let me feel the cervix several times and the last time I was able to feel the baby’s head!  It seemed like the baby was stuck like that for a very long time, and I started to worry that either the mother or the baby was not going to be ok.  The doctor kept pushing while I held the flashlight and tried to be encouraging. At 3 AM, the mother finally delivered a healthy baby boy.  I could not have asked for a better end to my service.  I went back to bed so excited that I didn’t fall asleep until 4 AM (the people at the wedding in my village were still dancing up a storm).  2 hours later I woke up (finally the wedding partiers had gone to sleep), cried so hard I could barely even say goodbye to my Senegalese family and then left village.  My bike ride out of village wasn’t the victorious joyride I had always pictured, instead it was a subdued and conflicted ride.  I felt numb, probably the sadness of leaving home canceling out the joy of going home.  But as several people have pointed out, that’s a good thing.  It means Thiewal Lao meant something to me…means a lot to me.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How to Fly a Dog from Senegal to the United States

For anyone aiming to take a dog back to the US, here’s a little summary of what I did…hope it works for you!  It really wasn’t too bad!

Most Important

·         2 Rabies Shots – I believe the second has to be at least a month before you leave and the first has to be three months before that.  You can do them earlier but the last one has to be within a year of your departure.

·         Pet Passport – It is a little Carnet de Sante Veterinaire, and it needs to have the stickers from both rabies shots along with the dates and the vet’s stamp and signature.

Possibly Less Important

·         Export Permit – Mine was not checked but it was free and easy to get from the Bureau d’Elevage in Kolda, it’s a single sheet of paper and will be signed and stamped at their office.

·         Pet Passport Packet – On they sell 3 different forms for pet import into the US.  The forms are emailed to you together and they cost about $10.00 total.  Again, no one asked to see any of these forms when I took Kindii (my dog) to the US.

Prepping for Departure

·         I ordered my ticket directly from South African so that I didn’t have another website in the middle like Kayak, etc.  I figured if for some reason they refused to take Kindii then it would be easier to deal directly with the airline than with any kind of travel agency.

·         I selected a flight online, then called the SAA cargo department to ask if I could take a dog on the flight, then bought the ticket and then called the cargo department again and officially reserved a place for Kindii.

·         A purchased a cage from Lufthansa (SAA doesn’t have them) – I called Lufthansa Cargo a month or two ahead of time and asked them to keep a cage for me and told them when I would pick it up.  When I went to Dakar I went to the cargo department and purchased the cage (60,000 cfa cash only).  This was about 4 days prior to my flight.  All of the cargo departments are to the left as you walk into the airport complex – each airline has its own building, you can find the one you are looking for easily enough by asking. (Lufthansa Fret or South African Fret)

·         Within three days of departure you need a certificate from a vet stating that your pet is healthy and free of screw worms – no idea what those are…the vet here also had no idea what I was talking about, so he just wrote that Kindii was parasite free.

·         After I had all the vet info I went to the SAA Cargo department with all the forms and told them I had made a reservation.  They took it from there – I just signed many a form! I believe this is also when they weighed Kindii and her cage together and I forked over the money for her “ticket” based on this number.

Day of Departure

·         I arrived at the SAA cargo department 3 hours prior to my flight with Kindii, her cage, and all the forms.  I attached an upside down baby bottle filled with water to the inside of the cage (no idea if this worked, she didn’t seem to drink it) and taped a bag of dog food to the top of the cage with instructions to feed her through the cage door if the flight was delayed more than 5 hours.

·         Make sure all the forms and live animal stickers are attached to the cage and then go catch your flight in the main part of the airport!

·         One website suggested reminding the flight crew that your dog is in cargo when you board to ensure the pilots monitor the temp and pressure in the part of cargo where your dog is.  I did this and I’m pretty sure the flight attendants thought I was super paranoid…but I felt better.


·         I arrived in Dulles, and after I made my way out of the airport I drove over to the shipping department and picked up Kindii!!!!  She didn’t seem too frazzled!


·         Technically there is a law stating that dogs cannot fly in cargo when the runway temp is outside of 45°F-85°F.  I think they don’t follow this rule exactly but it’s something to keep in mind.

Phone Numbers

·         Kolda Vet – Bubacar Diallo – 77.943.9325

·         Kolda Vet Dr. Badji – 77.613.8166

·         Tamba Vet – Dr. Ibrahiima Lowe – 33.981.2430/77.554.4424/77.360.5020/

·         Airport Vet Dr. Cherif Seye (right near the Statue) – 77.639.2393/33.820.5667

·         Lufthansa Cargo – 77.450.2977

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Adventures of a Half-Thumb

So I found a rather large rubber band hanging around my hut a few weeks ago and decided I didn’t want it.  I strolled on over to my mom and informed her.  She was quite happy to take it off my hands and when I asked what she was going to do with it she demonstrated, by putting it over my younger sister’s head and using it as a belt.  That’s creative re-purposing for you.
The mother of the two malnourished twins I wrote about a little while ago is still living in my family’s compound.  The first time I saw her after returning from vacation she was only carrying one of them.  I asked where her other child was.  She repeatedly put her palms together like she was praying, tilted her head sideways and laid her head to rest on her hands.  I asked if he was sleeping but she kept repeating the motion indicating that I hadn’t gotten it quite right.  He died.  He died while I was home, presumably because of malnutrition.  She said he would not eat the nutrition loaded moringa powder I suggested.  I didn’t know what to feel. Upset? Angry? Frustrated? Just plain sad?  As with other similar events I have written about, I really didn’t know this child well.  So what struck me most was the injustice of it all.  There is a health post in my village that gives away free high calorie bars to malnourished children.  Free.  All his mom had to do was walk 200 yards to the Health Post.  Why didn’t she?  I don’t think she didn’t care, because she now has several of the high calorie bars for her other son.  I don’t think she didn’t know, because I told her.  I think she didn’t understand.  So many Senegalese don’t view sickness the way we do.  They’ve been sensitized to understand that malaria is a problem…but malaria comes and goes, or kills, quickly.  They can see the connection.  It’s so much harder to see the connection between malnutrition.  The same thing goes for STDs, and even family planning or pre-natal health.  I’m going to blame the educational system here again, as I often do, because it doesn’t teach students to comprehend.  It teaches them to memorize, instead of think.  So it isn’t surprising they struggle to understand an abstract concept with no easily visible cause and effect.

Moving on.  I brought back obscene amounts of lipstick, eye liner, hand cream, etc.  (Thank you Aunt Carol, Mrs. Cubit, Mom and Mandy!)  The women in my village LOVE it.  And I’m also getting a kick out of it because now as I am just walking around village I see so many highly make-uped faces.  It’s really funny!  The little kids have been having a blast as well.

The girl who I have now mentioned twice in previous entries (she was married, sent to another village, and then returned, only to be dragged back) is now back in my village for good.  Apparently she kept running away so her husband gave up.  He appears to have done so graciously in the end.  The money that was exchanged was unexchanged and if the baby is born (she is pregnant) they will meet again to discuss its future.  Why, you may ask did she think her new village was so bad?  Her husband was just fine…there just weren’t enough young people in her new village.

While I was sitting with my moms cracking peanuts the other day 6 donkeys came stampeding through our compound.  The funny part wasn’t necessarily the herd of donkeys, but the fact that my family (and I) didn’t react at all.  I asked whose donkeys they were, and my mom informed me that they belonged to a village about 1k away.  I was really hoping a disheveled donkey herder would come dashing through our compound but I wasn’t that lucky.

I was sitting with my friend’s host mom and older sister a few weeks ago.  His mom started to pray, then turned abruptly to his sister and said, “O I forgot I have to take my shirt off.”  I thought this was an interesting preparation for praying.  She continued to change into a new shirt.  She then explained to his sister that she had been wearing it since the day before.  I figured this was why she needed to switch, but then she continued on to explain that the baby had peed on her yesterday, and she couldn’t pray with dried pee on her shirt. Duh.

Since my service is winding down, I decided I needed to get serious about collecting money for my projects – namely the money for the women’s garden.  It was pretty much a mob shake down.  The two mob bosses (the two women’s group presidents), the fast talker (one of the president’s sister wives) and the intimidator (clearly that was me) walked from house to house collecting money.  We actually succeeded in collecting almost all the money and I’m going to attribute that success to my terrifyingness.

It actually makes me feel kind of mean, making everyone pay up for the garden.  Yes, before we started the project I made it clear they would have to pay.  But because they took so long to pay, I fronted the money.  So now, all the money I collect from them goes straight to me, and I really don’t need it as much as they do.  The problem is, they are more likely to use the garden if they have contributed financially to it.  I have decided to take the money and then secretly re-invest it in the garden. So I can sleep at night…or not.

One night in my hut I awoke to a scruffle.  I’ve been a wee bit paranoid sleeping lately (I think my malaria meds are getting to me), so I jumped up and frantically shone my headlamp around my hut.  What I found was not, in fact, the ax murderer I was expecting but a mouse chasing a frog.  They disappeared from view and the mouse returned a bit later dragging the dead frog. Seriously!?  I thought mice ate cheese (I never considered the possibility that there is no cheese in Thiewal Lao).  I never knew they were such ruthless hunters.

I think working as a volunteer here must be similar to being a parent…except I’m not taking care of children, I’m taking care of fully grown adults.  They come to me when they have disputes and expect me to solve them.  It gets frustrating being asked to constantly solve the problems of adults.  Kids are one thing, but adults should be able to face the responsibility.  The problem is I really can’t solve many of their problems, they have to.  It’s a frustrating predicament which I feel acutely some days and not at all other days and is probably largely responsible for all the times when I’m the one acting like a child, and my Senegalese friends are the ones taking care of baby-adult me.  Yes…I’m a hypocrite.

I had a moment of integration a week ago.  I waited literally all day, by the side of the road, for a car that never came and I didn’t even care.  I felt so Senegalese J  And since I am now so wonderfully integrated I decided to stop tolerating the amazement that people express when they see me doing household chores.  Example – “Wow Jenaba, you can do dishes?! You can get water from the well!?”  Yes…as a matter of fact I’ve been doing dishes for a while now and I pull water every day. How exactly do they think we do dishes in the US?  (we don’t always have a dishwasher J)

One of the women in my village was beaten by her husband.  The village was a bit disapproving of the incident which made me happy, but there still wasn’t much being done about it.  I asked the woman how I could help and she asked me to talk to her husband.  So I did.  I was a bit nervous, but I think it went well.  I asked why he hit her and he said she talked back.  We talked about it for a bit and I don’t think I changed his mind, but I think he will think about it a little more in the future.  It felt good to chat about it.

And now for the most awesome moment of my February (thus far).  While waiting in the garage to head back to my village I saw a woman with twins.  But what really struck me was her thumb.  She had one thumb that split at the joint, so she had two tips on her thumb complete with two fingernails (one for each tip).  Seeing as I only have half a thumb I got really excited!  I got the woman’s attention, and then before I could say anything else she tried to give me one of her children.  I respectfully declined and then showed her my thumb and asked if she would give me one of her extra thumb tips (this is a little bit more acceptable here than in the US).  She appreciated that joke.  I then asked if I could take a picture of our thumbs together.  She said sure, but I would need to pay her…two dollars!  Lets summarize, she was willing to give me one of her children for free, but a photo of our thumbs together was gonna cost me.  I was willing to pay about twenty-five cents…so I am going to have to live the rest of my life without the double thumb, half thumb photo.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

But Seriously…Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite.

We’re gonna start today off on a slightly more sobering note, mostly because recently another volunteer said something to me that I think pretty accurately sums up the level of education available in Senegal. She said, “I always knew I shouldn’t take my college education for granted, but I never realized I shouldn’t take my elementary school education for granted.” For all the complaints we have about education in the United States, most of us really do get an amazing education, not just in reading and writing and arithmetic…but in logic, reasoning and creativity, areas that we might not directly address but nevertheless help us to become successful confident individuals. The kids here don’t learn any of these more abstract concepts and being here has made me realize how crippling that can be.

Anyway, moving on…my Senegalese family has amazed me twice in the past few months with small gestures that really made me feel like part of the family. The first surprise came at the end of a four day training I had helped organize. My moms were cooking and when lunch came and we opened up the bowls, I was amazed to find…my favorite Senegalese meal! Seems like a silly thing I know but this is a meal we never eat in village and I’m pretty sure my moms had to ask someone else to teach them how to make it – regardless, it was an extremely touching gesture. The second thing that happened was my Senegalese moms getting truly upset when I told them Kindii (my dog) would officially be going to the United States in about a week. I always thought they really didn’t like Kindii, and while that may be true for the vast majority of Senegalese people…apparently my family (minus my youngest sister who literally kicks Kindii whenever she approaches – to be fair I think it is because she is scared) really does like her. I offered to get them another dog, and they told me “no dog could ever replace Kindii, she follows us around, and she is part of our family.” I did try to explain that any dog would love them and follow them around if they fed it and didn’t kick it…but whateves.

So a while ago I attended my first partial Senegalese wedding. Well, the girl already came back to my village. She showed up late one night after apparently walking over forty kilometers. She said her husband wasn’t treating her well and was beating her…and of course she is already pregnant. This happened about a week after another woman who I had never seen before showed up in our compound and without a word walked into my Dad’s hut…then we all heard this terrible wailing. It continued for about ten minutes and then she came outside and walked away. I asked my moms what was going on and they said that she was my dad’s younger sister who was married to a man in a different village. He was not providing her a place to sleep or food to cook for her children. She showed up with twins, one on her back and one in her arms and it sounded like she may have walked just as far as the first girl. Later in the day a woman came into our compound with one incredibly malnourished child…and I called her out a bit…I stated a little harshly that it was irresponsible to have children you couldn’t take care of and that she needed to make more of an effort to take care of her one incredibly sick child. I know this seems more than a little bit mean but sometimes I get sick of seeing problems that could be solved with a little bit of planning on the parents’ part, things that aren’t so much about poverty as they are about a lack of foresight and education. Well this all blew up in my face, as this was the woman who had entered my dad’s hut wailing that same morning, I hadn’t really seen her face and since she was only carrying one of her twins I didn’t realize it was her. I felt awful, because in reality it was her husband I was upset with. She was doing everything she could to help her children and she probably didn’t want additional children but couldn’t do much about it since her husband already proved he couldn’t provide food or shelter for her and the children. She agreed to come over later and we talked about ways she could supplement her childrens’ nutrition for free. Now, to jump all the way back to the first pregnant girl who came back to my village…this time it seems things were her fault and not her husband’s. To her credit she is an incredibly strong willed girl, in fact she is a token teenage girl – knows everything. She wanted to get married and though everyone in her family, including her ‘adopted’ father told her not to she insisted. So she was married and went away, and she hates it. Her husband treats her well but she hates it. I learned all this because I saw her husband dragging her out of our village to take her back to his and I was appalled. I asked my moms why they were letting this happen and they explained. Yes – I do still have a problem with a man literally dragging a girl away…but here’s the thing. She asked for the marriage, her family paid her husband and paid a great deal of money to do what she asked, and within weeks she wants to take it all back. It’s a sticky situation but I understand where her family is coming from. It’s all very Kardashian.

Enough intensity. I was chilling by my hut the other day when what to my wandering ears should I hear…but the bouncing and pounding of ten big pestals. Turns out the kids were pounding in preparation for the Monde. Which is this very interesting tradition. It starts when the men head out into the bush. They walk for about twenty minutes to a seasonal pond where they then begin digging holes. Then the young boys fill the holes with water. They pour in a mixture of tree bark and salt that the women pounded up the night before. Then they crush up a tree root and wash it in the puddles they dug. I think they are also supposed to add a bit of soured cow’s milk to each puddle but this year Kindii got to the cow’s milk before they could add it to the puddles. Next we all stand to the side as a stampede of cows comes flying our way. Apparently the cows love this craftfully concocted puddle mixture. It’s basically the Senegalese version of giving a cow a salt block.

Generally village is a happy relaxed place but every so often ginormous fights break out…rarely, if ever, do I know the reason for these fights…but nevertheless they are generally interesting. In the last big fight one guy went after the other with a solid wood stool, and then with a 5 ft long, half foot wide tree branch…

Another story illustrating all the emotional growing I’ve been doing in Senegal. I was working in the garden with the women and trying to encourage them to use a technique they had already learned at least three times. I was rather furiously digging while trying to demonstrate the simple technique for the fourth time…and also rather furiously sweating…which meant the women started giggling at the silly sweating white girl. Usually I could take this in stride but since I was trying to help them and they really didn’t seem interested and I was exhausted I just threw my shovel down and walked away. I walked around for a while until I was calm enough to go back, but by this time only three of the older women remained. The ‘women’ who had been laughing at me were really all teenage girls – hard to remember since they all have kids and run households. Anyway when I saw the three older women I tried to explain myself and as per usual, started crying since I have zero emotional control in Africa. It was totally worth crying to see their reaction. They were at the same time incredibly touching and hilarious…meaning I stopped crying pretty much instantly and started giggling. They have no idea what to do about crying people so they both took off their head scarves and laid them on the ground and said don’t cry child, its ok child. I have no idea about the significance behind the tika removal but it worked  Also those women actually hugged me! Which is a rarity in Senegal and really made me feel better.

While lying on the floor in my hut one day I was suddenly joined by a gaggle of screaming women. Turns out the Conqueron was coming. The Conqueron is a basically a huge double machete wielding Cousin It. He comes around with a bunch of dancing drumming young boys when circumcision season comes around. A few nights later two other female volunteers were spending the night in my village and my mom called me over and said…look I know you have seen the Conqueron before and it hasn’t been a big deal but tonight is the real thing. When the Conqueron comes you must hide. Apparently if any woman sees the Conqueron he is allowed to machete her head off…luckily this isn’t really how it goes now a days. Anyway, myself and Kindii and the two other volunteers were conversing merrily outside my hut in the dark when we suddenly hear the drums entering my compound. We froze…I looked around…not a woman in sight. All the hut doors firmly shut. Sharon, Katie and I pretty much lost it. I grabbed Kindii (who knows if the rule applies to dogs?), Katie body slammed Sharon into a wall in an effort to get inside my hut first, and we all somehow made it into my hut in time to slam the door shut and fall on the ground in fits of giggles.

One of my recent car rides was filled with fun. First…the front door was tied shut with twine. Second I met a Korean from the Korean version of Peace Corps and he was able to understand me when I said I was hungry in Korean. Of course he spoke excellent English. Third…The keys fell out of the ignition while we were driving…but the car kept going. Fourth…I started out in the back seat of the station wagon but then there was extra space in the middle seat. Instead of getting out and back in via the door I just put my legs over the seat back and then was pushed the rest of the way over by the guy sitting next to me.

Senegalese people…even the ones I like and respect…are constantly trying to get as much money from Peace Corps as they possibly can…who can really blame them? I usually find their innocent attempts amusing…like recently when my counterpart tried to convince me that we needed a 25 kilogram pound bag of salt…for one lunch.

I recently woke up to find a line of three red bites running down my leg. Convinced that I had finally contracted bed bugs I frantically stripped all of my sheets and threw them in the washing machine on hot. Wait. I don’t have a washing machine. What I actually did was ask my mom to boil ridiculous amounts of water so I could then soak all my sheets in water and then wash them by hand and hang them out to dry. After I had everything back to normal…I learned that bed bugs bite in clusters of three…not lines of three. At least now I actually know what to do in the event of a bed bug attack.

I watched one of my moms cut her toenails…with a steak knife.

Also I watched my grandma get sick and vomit on the ground 3 feet away from the dinner bowl then drink water directly from the spout of a tea kettle. No one in my family even acknowledged the event and my grandmother scraped dirt over the vomit. Yum.

I think I’m going to leave you with that little bit of TMI.

Monday, September 5, 2011

How to Open a Ziplock Bag…and Other Useful Life Facts

First of all, for those of you who are crazy and read my blog…I’m sorry!!!!!! There is currently only one working internet connection for all the Peace Corps volunteers in my region and I have been doing lots of school applications. I have loads of updates which I will try to keep brief (and y’all know I’ll fail). I am going to write this post about funny happenings and day to day life/events in addition to another post (before this one) about my projects!

I learned the Wolof word (I speak Pulaar) for a big fish. This is the kind of fish you are lucky to catch, and the kind only eaten by the more financially stable Senegalese, aka the kind that I have never seen in Thiewal Lao. The word is Thiof (sounds a bit like choff) and apparently it can also be used to describe a sexy man. As in “I’m going to go to the bar tonight to score me a Thiof.”

At the start of Mango season while sitting outside my hut I suddenly saw 10 kids go screaming through my compound. I thought someone might be dying…no, no, just a fallen mango branch, gotta get those mangos while they’re hot! I walked over to the tree to see one of my Moms (who is a grandmother) emerging from the depths of the fallen branch/half tree with a grin on her face like a ten year old and a bucket of mangoes on her head…yea that’s right she outsmarted the kids and brought a bucket. We then feasted on boiled green mangos and mangos pounded with pepper and chicken bouillon seasoning.

I have seen a lot of ridiculous car care techniques in this country…one of the more recent techniques involved stopping the car en route, fishing out some laundry detergent, giving the engine a good wash? And then continuing on our merry way. I, for one, did not notice a difference post wash.

I saw a freshly born infant (I mean within the past 2 hours) with penciled in eyebrows.

I had a lovely Easter here. We went to a Senegalese catholic church in the morning and the music was a really cool mixture of traditional hymns, African instrumentation and gospel style singing. Then we discovered a random park, complete with a mangrove lake, beach, live music, yummy food, AANNNDDD a ridiculously nice show stable, complete with 2 large rings, full size, non-malnourished horses, jumps galore, wifi and food. Clearly I was a bit hyper. Right around Easter I also took a day trip to the beach where myself and two of my friends were joined by a Senegalese man. This is not very abnormal, but when he started singing either O My Darling Clementine or the Banana Boat Song (Daaaaay-O) – can’t recall which – things started to seem a bit fishy…and I don’t mean thiofy. We were mildly annoyed so we started to leave the beach. Our new friend accommodatingly followed us, at which point, while walking up the steps behind us, he says, “All the girls with the jai fundes…these I love.” For anyone wondering right now a jai funde is a big booty J

Despite what that man said my booty has not become more Senegalese, my bargaining skills on the other hand, apparently have. While in Ireland I somehow managed to accidentally bargain for a bagel and some ginormous meringues. Go me.

With the arrival of rainy season I have again seen the departure of my phone reception, but this year I have shown my status as a second year volunteer and have developed my skills as a bush messenger. While in the garage waiting to catch a car from my regional capitol back to my road town I met a guy who needed to deliver an important (or we’ll just pretend it was important) governmental message to my village and another near me. Never mind that he didn’t know me, he entrusted both letters to me, given that “I want to be a postal worker” vibe I so casually emit.

The other day, while adventuring via a small bus we like to call an alhum (short for alhumdulilah, or ‘praise be to God” in Arabic), I was fortunate enough to witness the towing of another alhum using…drumroll please…an old fishing net. Bet you can guess how well that worked out.

When you take a sept-place (old decrepit station wagon) around Senegal, you generally have to pay to put you baggage in the back. On my way home from Dakar a while ago I didn’t feel like swinging by the bank prior to heading to the garage. Cut to me, sitting in a sept-place with 7 other passengers and 4 bags in my lap. We drove this way for a while before the driver finally turned around, boggled by the toubab peering out from behind a small hill’s worth of luggage. When I explained my pathetic monetary situation he just started laughing, pulled over, jumped out, opened my door, took all my bags, and placed them in the trunk. It was incredibly kind of him as very few drivers would do that but I think he was also just getting a lot of enjoyment out of seeing the poor white kid.

When I finally did go to the bank I waited in line for over 3 hours to cash a check to myself while 100+ people went (thank you new ticket-number-taking-system-mabob) ahead of me. Why didn’t I just use the ATM conveniently located next door, you ask? Why, because despite being on order for the past 17 months, my ATM card has not yet arrived.

Going back to the subject of my decrepit apparently poor looking self, another time I was enjoying the delights of sept-place travel I started out in one car. That car got a flat tire. Switched to a new car. That car had a loose wheel. I know this because the driver had to keep stopping, running around to the opposite side of the car and tightening the bolts. During one of these repair intervals the guy sitting next to me started trying really hard to give me about 10 dollars in cfa. No idea why, but I guess my village clothes look every bit as bad as my Senegalese moms say they do.

Another time while waiting in the garage for a car I got asked on a legitimate date by the guy simultaneously trying to sell me phone credit for a phone provider I don’t use. Not once, but thrice. I get marriage proposals all the time…no big deal…but a date, now that’s fancy.

I watched my friend Chelsea’s aunt eat honey a while ago. No, not the lovely refined, clean honey you are thinking of. Honey with whole bees just floating around in it. Don’t worry, she didn’t actually eat the bees, just spit them out one by one.

The other night, while sleeping I started to notice that my rear end was feeling rather itchy. Yes…I scratched it. I finally decided it was not a mere mosquito bite. Upon mirror aided examination, I learned that I had developed a 2 inch scab. Apparently this is what happens when you fall asleep on an earwig.

Upon returning to my compound one afternoon I found my mom Alliou deep in thought, head bent over her lap, rubbing her hands together. As I approached I noticed she was holding a zip-lock bag in her hand. After I inquired what her goal was she informed me she was trying to open it, at which point I got to unveil the magic of the zip-lock. Given the lack of skills which accompanies most of my endeavors into Senegalese household chores, it was nice to feel competent for once.

Kindii, my lovely Senegalese dog briefly made a habit of carrying around a dead chicken foot. Not just carrying, noooo. She would toss it into the air, often in my unsuspecting direction and then try her hardest to catch it. Thankfully she has outgrown this stage…for now. She has been hanging around with a baby donkey who seems to be having a positive influence on her.

One of the girls in my compound recently got married. I got my hair specially braided and everything. Unfortunately, the bride leaves so I didn’t get to see the actual ceremony. But the bride’s preparation is pretty cool anyway. People start showing up in the afternoon bringing gifts; fabric, wash tubs, food bowls, etc. The old women set up a big display and make a big production out of counting and recounting and rerecounting the gifts. Then they yell out loud how many of each item she received. “6 small buckets, 4 large buckets, 3 wash tubs, 5 large eating bowls, etc etc etc. All this time you don’t see the bride, but as night approaches she comes out and sits on a stool and is bathed and dressed (with appropriate modesty) in front of a circle of women while she wails and cries and generally acts unhappy (though mostly it seems to be just an act). She continues to cry and hide behind a white veil while the women do one final counting and packing of the goods, they she and her family and friends all jump on a horse cart and roll off to the wedding. And that’s all I know cause they rolled away.

I think one of the hardest things about being here is not having my Mom to baby me when I’m sick. But recently, when I was pretty sick I village, I was extremely touched by the compassion my two Senegalese moms had for me. They said they knew how much I probably missed home when I was sick and they wanted to help. They made me juice (which I have never seen them do before) and prepared a special breakfast (again, one I had never seen) made from the yellow powdery inside of a medium sized seed pod, soured milk, millet and sugar. They told me it was supposed to help sick people and I know they went out of their way to prepare it. It was an incredibly thoughtful gesture that made me so glad I have this amazing village family!

The other night, I woke up to hear Kindii growling and barking more violently than usual. I was a little bit scared because I assumed something or someone must have entered my yard, I couldn’t see why else Kindii would act so crazily. I got out of bed and pulled back the fabric that acts as my door…no people or animals…wait, Kindii was directing her anger toward a brown pile over in the corner. Could there be a snake hiding behind a piece of bark. I worked up the courage to flip the bark over with a long stick…nothing. Kindii was doing absolutely nothing, except growling ferociously at a strip of bark that had fallen into my yard…silly dog.

A few nights after this incident, it poured all night. Kindii was not in my hut when I woke up so I decided to look for her. Apparently, though I had slept right through it, the 10ft by 15 foot thatched awning attached to my house collapsed during the night. I have no idea how I can be so talented at sleeping. After worrying that Kindii was stuck under the fallen structure, I finally found her wandering around by the women’s hut. Phew! My mom then told me I should go to the faro (the seasonal creek where they do rice farming). She said I wouldn’t believe it and that you couldn’t even see the women’s garden, which is right next to the faro. I wandered on down. It seemed that almost all of my village was there yelling and screaming and cheering! It was like a carnival. We had a river…and a dam…and even some mini rapids! Whoot whoot! People couldn’t cross the faro to get to our neighboring village Bassoum, which is also how we get to the dirt road we use to get out of village. All the kids where playing in the water which was just great cause I am sure I am the only person who can swim for miles. In fact, later in the day my counterpart walked up to me soaked up to the neck. One of the kids had wandered too far and my counterpart had to go in after him, had the water been a foot deeper I have no idea what would have happened. People here just seem like they can’t be bothered with watching their kids which is both frustrating and worrying, but luckily everyone was ok. Apparently this magnitude of flooding only happens every few years so I hope there is nothing to worry about for a while. It was a rather joyful day though in most respects.

While walking through one of the women’s groups’ presidents houses the other day I noticed some very pretty fabric which I stopped to exam closer. It was decorated all over with different sex positions. I thought this was relatively amusing given that showing my knees here is considered slutty and when I mentioned this to Mymuna (the women’s group president) she didn’t seem the least bit perturbed. She even seemed to say, “why shouldn’t I use illustrated sex position fabric in my interior décor”…I couldn’t think of a reason.

I’ve also recently been pulling up A LOT of grass, in the women’s garden, and my Master Farmer garden, which has led me to remember…I am allergic to grass. Clearly not in any kind of intense way, American grass really doesn’t do a thing to me. But ripping big handfuls of meadow grass out by the roots for a few hours, that does. It’s quite itchy, and kind of like mowing the lawn by hand…fun J

While working in the women’s garden I also had a chance to demonstrate my impressive ax swinging skills. There was a tree in the way and of course no one was doing anything about it so I rather angrily wandered on back to the village, returned with an ax and started hacking away. The women asked me to stop but I refused, trying to prove a point that it wasn’t ok to just ignore trees that fall on the new fence. I also wanted to prove that I was not in fact completely useless and could actually use an ax. Well I got so riled up that I swung, missed and gave my big toenail a trim. Luckily it was an incredibly dull ax and my toe does not now match my half thumb! Also, needless to say, my village still thinks I have the motor skills of a two year old child.

On my way into Dabo (my road town) for the weekly market I was convinced I saw Siamese twin dogs, joined by the back leg. When I returned three days later I saw the same odd creature and decided I needed to investigate. It was not Siamese twins. No, no, it was in fact 2 dogs stuck together in the act of doing it doggie style, except they were now butt to butt in an odd, incredibly painful looking kind of tug of war. I tried to see if I could help but they wouldn’t let me get near them, yikes!

Finally, while heading into Kolda on an alhum, the guy across from me asked his neighbor if he could borrow some matches. He took three matches and placed them in him mouth like he was going to chew on some pieces of straw. He waited like this for a good ten minutes then one by one started chewing the matchsticks and rather absentmindedly spitting the remains at my feet. I have no idea what to make of this as it was completely random and not actually directed toward me, my feet where just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Hope you enjoyed my update JI’ll try to get another one up before toooooo long!


My biggest project at the moment is called the Master Farmer program. It’s a Senegalese-wide program involving local farmers, and Peace Corps volunteers and trainers. My Master Farmer was just selected this spring so we have been scrambling to get everything in place during rainy season. Though my Master Farmer has been working diligently, it has been a bit difficult. The goal is to develop a one hectare display garden that uses experimentation to determine and showcase successful gardening techniques. I know approximately nothing about gardening and Amadou Gano, my Master Farmer is equally knowledgeable regarding the scientific method. So what it comes down to is the two of us standing in the Master Farmer Plot looking confused. No…actually we are getting a lot done. Gano has taught me more about farming than I will ever need to know and I have been able to start explaining how to run an experiment with proper controls. Although our millet demonstration can be considered nothing but an epic fail, our corn and rice plots are kind of on schedule and our bean field has the potential to be officially on schedule. The garden construction is almost complete, we have started a live fence (closely planted, often thorny trees for when the new chain link fence wears out), and will be outplanting 24 fruit trees in addition to the ones he already has. This project is still in its terrible twos, and there is a lot left to do, but it’s looking good so far!

I am also working on a garden with the two women’s groups in my village. Picture your least technologically gifted and least rational minded grandmother…now multiply her by 30 and imagine building a garden from scratch with her and her 30 clones. That’s kind of what this is like. Truth is, these women are amazing, they get up at the crack-o-dawn, make breakfast, take care of their ten children, wash clothes, go to work in the rice fields, come back, make lunch, go back to the rice fields, then back home, make dinner, clean the kids, and go to bed. For the past month they have been doing all of that WHILE fasting for Ramadan and they still somehow managed to come out and finish their garden, aka dig 400 holes, mix and pour cement, put up the actual fencing, weed A LOT and start planting 5 kilos of beans BY HAND. They are just lacking a bit in the logical reasoning department. I’ve mentioned before that reasoning was always something I considered rather innate…well now I’m fairly certain its mostly not, we just learn it from an early age in school. Actually going to the garden can also be a bit of the challenge but ever since I gave one of the presidents a whistle things have gotten a little better. This darling elderly woman goes harrumphing around the village, whistle ablaze, business face on, and the women miraculously listen! I really do enjoy working with the women even though I go through more emotions during one afternoon with them than I did during a whole month in the U.S. I realized just how much my rowing coach had influenced me when the site of my women sitting and doing nothing instead of working made me a wee bit crazy. I was instantly reminded of all those fun afternoons loading up the boat trailer – holy Hannah Montana we were efficient.

My third big project, which I consider all my random bits of work at the health post has also been going well. In a week, we will hold our second big training for the health workers. The first training went well. I did a condom demonstration and for some mysterious reason my demo condoms kept disappearing. I felt like a fifth grade teacher. Ok, I am going to walk out of the room now, when I come back I expect the condoms to be on my desk…although in fifth grade the problem is probably related to smelly magic markers, not condoms. Anyway, back to the health post, the new doctor is, as far as Senegalese healthcare workers go, AMAZING. He is interested in all my projects, while being critical and involved. He is constantly taking notes, assuming responsibility, and addressing the areas need for dynamic well-thought out healthcare. My only complaint…that big beautiful nutrition mural I painted for a week last December…obliterated. They decided to do some remodeling, though apparently the only wall that needed to go was also the only wall I had painted a mural on. They felt bad but that didn’t quite appease me.

Next up, a scholarship for middle school girls! Myself and one of the new volunteers interviewed and visited the homes of nine girls selected for an annual scholarship, called the Michele Sylvester Scholarship. In the end, three winners were selected. Volunteers all over the country can do this, and at each school they choose to participate with, they can select nine applicants. We will hopefully be doing some kind of leadership camp with all the girls later this fall. The scholarship pays for the school fees for all nine candidates and pays for books and materials for the three winners. It is really cool to go talk to the families and tell them in person how proud we are of their daughters. It makes the families realize how important education is, especially when two toubabs are willing to bike deep into the African bush just to congratulate their daughter.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

24 Hour Bus Rides

Before I talk about my amazing bus trip, some random updates.

There is a new fashion in Thiewal Lao now that it is “cold.” Sometimes villagers wear the hood from a winter jacket. Not the jacket, just the hood, you know the zip off removable kind.

One of the 3 women’s groups I am working with started their project, which is the production of ceramine, an enriched porridge that can help prevent malnutrition in kids. Making ceramine is a nerve wracking experience. I walked next to Mymuna (the women’s group president) while she carried about 10 kilos of ceramine flour on her head with no hands in an open container. I was nervous walking next to her because I thought I might somehow trip, causing her to fall as well. This was a foolish fear, women here are so good at what they do that she could probably trip and fall without a drop of the powder falling from her head.

The idea with ceramine is that eventually they will sell it to pharmacies and medical centers, but that is a long way off. For now I am just excited that they sold their first trial batch in 1 day! People here call it medicine and now the adults tell me that it cures chest pain (it is nothing but flour made from a variety of grains). It is supposed to be for the kids but hey, at least my village women are making money! The porridge is made from rice, millet, peanut butter, beans and corn, all of which are grown locally. The women also add sugar and moringa (the miracle leaf – since it is loaded with vitamins and grows like a weed) to boost the nutritional value and make it taste better. The woman made a second batch which they sold on their own and a third, larger batch that I sold during the Kolda “Donkey Rally,” a 100k donkey back ride across Kolda to educate villagers about nutrition and moringa. Due to all the luggage we had to carry I had to wear the same outfit for 5 days straight. I also slept outside a few nights with no mosquito net to keep the bugs out. On the last night I woke up with a big frog chilling on the back of my knees. Gross. While the donkey riders did causeries about nutrition I walked around selling ceramine. When a white person sells it goes a LOT faster. I was pretty much mobbed on the second day of the ride and sold about 100 bags in 10 minutes. People were shoving money at me, which is unheard of in this country! Hopefully they will like it and continue to buy when new women’s groups start marketing the ceramine. My friend Wilma magically showed up to help me while I was under attack. We decided there is definitely a market for ceramine so we are going to train a bunch of women’s groups to make it sometime early September!

Ceramine has also made me realize (again) how much we take our amazing education for granted. Basic skills here, like counting money or keeping a balance of your funds are beyond the skill and understanding of most villagers. Simple addition and even recording numbers is impossible for all but one person in the women’s group I am working with. The other group in my village has to ask one of the male teachers to keep track of their funds. And even then, teaching them to act as treasurers is extremely difficult. After 4 batches I still need to do most of the book keeping even though it only involves simple addition and subtraction. When counting our profit it took 3 women counting together about 5 minutes to total up about 20 dollars worth of funds. This is the kind of thing most of you can do it your heads in 20 seconds. So the point of this is just to express how ridiculously happy I am that America makes us go to school. Here school is not mandatory and even if you want to go to school, if you fall behind you might not be allowed to. Even those who finish school don’t get an education comparable to what most Americans get.

Thiewal Lao did have its first “adult class” though. The village adults asked for a weekly class where they could learn to read and write. So far the class only goes down if I teach it, but I’m hoping that will change. My counterpart is supposed to teach this week and he is pretty reliable so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Word on the street (or more like the dirt path) is that my health post is opening TODAY! I am going back to village and there is supposed to be a big welcoming party for the nurse that will run the post! So exciting. I believe the idea for this health post started all the way back in 2004. The volunteer before me spent her whole 2 years working to see this post completed and she did an awesome job. For the past year we have just been waiting for the nurse to finish up school!

I had my first small fight with my Senegalese family and it was mainly due to my frustration with the women’s unwillingness to stand up for themselves. I am so glad to have grown up in a society where women stood up for their rights before I came along. I believe it took an incredible amount of courage for those first women to challenge gender roles and I’m really glad they did. I just wish there was a way to get the women in village to start challenging their own roles. They are really held back by gender roles and it is sometimes extremely frustrating to see the struggle. On this particular occasion all of the women in my family were angry about a decision made solely by the village men. They were talking about it but refused to do anything. The men made the decision and even though the women didn’t like it they didn’t challenge it. It’s a situation I can’t do much to change unless the women themselves will work with me and when they refused to it was hard to take. I know it’s hard, and it’s something I never had to deal with but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

I did bring a Cosmo into village to read and I read it with my moms (they just checked out the pictures). This was hilarious because this particular Cosmo happened to have an illustrated sex position guide… Not the kind of thing Senegalese Muslim village women are used to seeing! I tried to balance out their new perception of America with a Smithsonian a little later on.

Kindii has picked up a new cow herding hobby. Yes Kindii is still a puppy (aka just about ready to start fighting goats) and yes, cows here are the same size as American cows…she is ‘cruisin for a bruising’ as my Mom would say. She has also kept me entertained by picking up about 10 mango fly bites. These lovely parasites lay their eggs under your skin and then the larvae mature in your skin, or Kindii’s skin in this case. Then I get to experience the joy of popping 2-4 cm long larvae out of Kindii’s skin. It is delightful. She also picks up an insane number of ticks, I have pulled at least 30 off of her in the last 2 weeks. I have escaped the mango flies and ticks so far!

Now for the bus ride….o so amazing…not. 24 hours total (this would take half a day in America), 3 break downs, 2 buses, 1.5 liters of vomit, boom. So this is how it went down. It started out like any normal sub-par Senegalese bus ride. We had pretty good seats next to the door (there is no AC so being next to the door is important). It also means you get more leg room. A Senegalese bus is basically a really old greyhound with no AC and no bathroom and no TVs. The isle is filled with fold down seats so once everyone is on you are stuck in your seat. When the bus started we were in pretty nice seats. My knees weren’t jammed into the seat in front of me and I was sitting with all my volunteer friends. We had food and computers to watch movies on…all looked good. About halfway into our ride, as it was starting to get dark, our bus pulled over. It was broken. We sat on the side of the road in the dark and on rocks, for about 7 hours, till around 1 in the morning, when a new bus came to pick us up. When the new bus arrived there was a crazy mob of people trying to make sure they got a place on the new bus. It was kill or be killed. Somehow we all got seats (no thanks to me) although now we were no longer all together. The new bus had approximately zero leg room. My knees projected about 6 inches into the seat in front of me, regardless of how that runs in the face of known physics principles. The new bus had gas line problems. The gas line was directly below my seat. We had to stop and fix that twice while I stood in the lap of the Senegalese person nearest to me. Then, my friend next to me stated to feel sick, but she was directly in the middle of the moving bus. So when she vomited, it was into the first thing she could find, a plastic bag with holes in the bottom. A good 1.5ish liters of vomit later, and the bus is still moving and she is still stuck in the middle. She did the only natural thing to do, which was to pass the bag to her neighbors and have them drop it out the window.

That was our bus trip to Dakar for WAIST, the West African Invitational Softball Tournament, aka WAISTed. Try and guess which we do more of, drink or play softball? All the teams dress up ridiculously, there were cops and robbers, German lederhosen, ballerinas and a variety of other costumes. Kolda (my region) was Space Corps. Clearly our costumes were the best. We pretty much just danced for 4 straight days.

Once I got back to village one of my moms informed me that someone had died. Only what she was really saying was that the wife of someone named “Died” (the Pulaar word for die is actually his name) had a baby. And actually two babies had been born in that household. I offered my deepest sympathies since I seemed to think that a mother had twins and then died right after giving birth. My mom looked at me quizzically and then left. About an hour later I figured out what really happened. Clearly my Pulaar is still a little rocky.

Someone actually did die in my village though. It was actually a distantly related family member (I actually didn’t know her) but she lived in my compound. She was an old lady who had been sick enough to travel to a large hospital in a different region of Senegal. She died there and they brought her body back for the funeral. This was my first funeral, not even just my first Senegalese funeral, but my first funeral anywhere. It was an interesting affair. Everyone was generally upbeat in the beginning, just enjoying getting together after so long. Kindii regaled everyone with her amazing tennis ball fetching skills for a good amount of the afternoon. We at oily rice thrice a day for a good 3 days (uuugggg). But when the body arrived at night the whole atmosphere changed. As soon as the car pulled in everyone rushed up and tried to help remove the casket from the roof while wailing loudly. When you enter the hut where the body lays you start wailing extremely loudly as well. Maybe I just don’t understand, or maybe letting out that sound is therapeutic in some way but the overall effect is very fake. You can tell there are some people who are really upset but mostly it just seems like an act. I have heard this from other volunteers, but maybe it is just cultural confusion on our part. The grief did seem real when they all sang though. It was late in the night after I had gone to bed, but I heard their eerie chant and could appreciate how they felt. The coolest part was that when I woke up the next morning, a baby girl had been born in our compound. It felt kind of magical. It also reaffirmed the impressiveness of Senegalese women. Dabu had the baby and she wasn’t in labor when I went to sleep. When I woke up the baby was clean and wrapped and sleeping. Dabu was sitting calmly in the same outfit she was wearing the day before (typical here) and looked as if nothing had happened. She had probably made breakfast that morning (no easy task here). All of the women were dressed up and sitting in the hut with her. Everyone who visits gets to hold the hours old baby. My last experience with a newborn in America was never. And the last American Mom I knew with a young baby made everyone wash with hand sanitizer before touching the baby, and that baby was a few weeks old I think. The people holding the Senegalese new born had definitely not washed with soap before touching.

More concerning babies. I mentioned before they are always on their Mom’s backs. But I am really impressed by the way the Moms never hit the babies’ heads on the huts while going in and out. I smack my own head on my low hanging roof approximately 2x a day so the fact that the infants heads stay safe when the mothers don’t appear to be paying a drop of attention is amazing to me.

And the last random closing statement is regarding injuries here. I am learning that my cuts take at least five times longer to heal here than in America. I guess malnutrition is messing with my blood…interesting.