Life in the slow lane.
Trip Start Mar 15, 2005
27Trip End Apr 01, 2007
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Its just outside the family compound in Sokone where I've been staying for the past couple of days. The streets are mostly sand, except the main road through town that heads off to Gambia. No buildings over one story, no running water inside, only at the entrance to the compound and it remains locked so that people don't steal it.
I am visiting a volunteer named Julie who has been in this country for one year. PC calls this experience demystification. They send us 'newbies' out into the real world for three days to stay with a volunteer who is half way through the Peace Corps journey. Its a great opportunity to see how the daily life of an American living in Senegal really works. Yesterday one of Julie's host cousins got married and was graced with 3 'Toubabs' (white people) at her party. We were the main attraction. Under the mango tree where I now sit there were about 80 family friends all sitting in plastic lawn chairs listening to very loud music. The crowd was extremely excited when Maggot, a family friend..and yes, that was her real name..encouraged the 3 Toubabs to get up and do the "lumble enar" a dance that consists of one incredibly awkward move.
That move is shaking your butt as fast as you can without moving your feet. Sure, ladies on MTV make it look easy but when you're standing in front of 80 clapping Senegalese people excited to see your posterior jiggle, panic strikes. Don't get me wrong, I did my darndest to jiggle. One can't have inhibitions here and expect to get away with it. Its all in good fun when the crowds double over laughing (or so I was told on our walk home that evening).
While in Sokone I've helped Julie plant lettuce in some of her micro gardening tables. A table has about 5" of storage above its surface, covered with plastic and filled with peanut shells . The shells retain the moisture and the plastic keeps it all in. We planted some melons, cucumbers, peppers and eggplant too. I'm sure I'll get into micro gardening in some detail at a later date because this is the kind of work I will be doing in my eventual assignment.
I made it to the post office and it costs about $1 to mail a letter. The PC gives you enough money to live, but perhaps not enough to write letters every day. I'm curious to know if the demystification process has caused any of the trainees in my group to rethink the PC. When Julie's class did it a year ago 8 out of 40 dropped out. The 32 in my class are spread all over Senegal at this point. Some of them were trucked 14 hours towards Mauritania so I consider myself lucky to be only 2 hours away from our training site. Tomorrow Julie is going to help me get a couple of panyas (wrap-around skirts). We'll buy the material and take it to a tailor. Materials and labor will be about 6000 CFA ($12).
The temperature has been in the upper 90's-100 for the entire time I've been here. I love it! I may have to re-think some of the clothes I brought though. My previously favorite pair of pants creates a pool of sweat every time I sit down. I think it might make my integration a bit more difficult if I were forced to constantly explain that I do not have an uncontrolled bladder. Walking down the sandy strees watching Julie interact with her community is surreal. It goes something like this: you see someone you know or maybe someone you don't and you say: "Asalaam Alekum" they reply: "Malakum Salam"
Then a series of greetings is exchanged: "Naka wa ker ga?" (how is your home?) -"Mangi fi rek" (Peace only)-"Yangi nos?" (Are you having fun?) - "Tuti rek" (only a little)- "Tanga na..ca va?" (The sun is hot, how are you?) - So far this may not sound that out of the ordinary. But..the kicker is, you continue to repeat greetings as you approach one another, shake hands, and slowly contine on your way. The talking never stops, the greetings can continue with questions like: "how's your mom/dad/family?, "how is work?", "how is your health?" "how is the heat treating you?" etc. You go on greeting people until you are so far out of range, or you can't hear them anymore, or one of you says goodbye.."bu chicanum". (Please note that this is the first exposure to Wolof so I'm probably butchering it)
Everyone is so friendly though and I don't even mind the little kids screaming "toubab" as I walk by. It is slightly bothersome to have people always asking you to give them your things. Kids and adults always ask if they can have your water bottle. I've learned that "bennen youn" means "another time" which works quite nicely.
Oh, the food! Here in Sokone at Julie's compound, the family cooks lunch and dinner. They bring a bowl of food to her hut, and we all sit on the floor and each have a spoon. You only eat in the triangle in front of you. So far the meals have been either a rice or millet base-with goat, chicken, or fish on top with a few vegetables. For breakfast it's been bread and a fruit. We drink sooo much water. I haven't had trouble with dehydration, thankfully..but that means between 4-6 liters of water a day. All of the drinking water I have to bleach, veggies too since they are grown on the surface of the ground with direct contact with manure.
I did find a cookie in one of the toubab stores, called biskreme. It has chocolate in the middle...Life saver. My sweet tooth hasn't been tamed..not yet anyway. For bathing and using the bathroom things get a little tricky. Bucket baths are the standard practice. Exactly as it sounds. You stand in a bucket and pour water over yourself as you do your best to throw some soap on. There are real toilets at the training center, but host families and volounteers have a hole in the floor. It'a a little hard to get used to but so far I've been able to manage. Haven't gotten sick yet either. Thankfully.
I have had some of my vaccinations. For malaria I'm taking a pill a week that may cause crazy dreams and halucinations. I got my shot for yellow fever in DC. We got 11 or 12 more shots during training. There aren't many bugs during the hot dry season. Mostly the wildlife I see is lizards (which the Senegalese seem afraid of) and some mosquitoes at night. But I haven't even been stung once. In Thies there are hundreds of ferral cats but I haven't seen any in Sokone. Just goats and some pigs which all belong to Catholics) because 90% of people are Muslim.
It's pretty overwhelming to be here. I try to take every minute as it comes. No expectations and total patience. It will be a huge comfort to have a little more language under my belt. I'll keep in touch as best I can. E-mails are the quickest but it is expensive and I often don't have enough time to read all my messages.
Who knows how close I'll be to an internet cafe once I settle down in my own village.
Staying in Sokone these past few days as been such a great experience. Julie fits in her community. She speaks the language and understands the ritual of greetings and joking. She has a successful micro garden with a Senegalese counter part and has found a way to work productively and happily. I can only hope to make it look so easy a year from now.