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.

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