This place never EVER ceases to amaze me

Trip Start Mar 11, 2007
1
25
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Trip End May 2009


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Flag of Senegal  ,
Sunday, September 28, 2008

So this month started off with a pretty cool event.  The Dakar Isle de Goree Traversee meaning myself and about 15 other peace corps volunteers swam from Dakar to Goree Island (Gorée is known as the location of the House of Slaves (French: Maison des esclaves), built by an Afro-French Métis family about 1780 - 1784. The House of Slaves is one of the oldest houses on the island. It is used as a tourist destination to dramatize the horrors of the slave trade throughout the Atlantic world.  It was rumored to have been the slave-shipping point for all Africans captured into slavery. It was said to be thier last stop before heading to the Americas. Today it remains an important trading post)
The island is about 3 kilometers away, although for some reason they upted the race to 4 k this year even though it was the exact same route...hmm.  Also the reace was sapose to start at 10:00, we showed up at 9:00...it didn't start till 12:30, typical. About 500 people signed up to swim, drink salt water and offer thier bodies to the waves and blistering sun made worse by the reflection of the water. Cap burn happened, and it was not so fun (I put sunscreen on I swear, I guess I needed to reapply for a third time.)
I preconditioned for the week before the race, going to the pool and only ever swiming about half the race (swimming laps in a pool can be a little boring...) I swam two open water test swims and hnd serious doubts about doing the race because the salt water that gets into your mouth is so intense.  It makes you gag.  You have to make yourself not swallow...also I had heard that you swim with plastic bags, bottles, and various pieces of trash, not to mention you swim through streaks of oil that leave black wavy marks on your body...why would I want to do this?  Good question...perhaps it was the challange, the comrodery, the rumored sandwich, t-shirt and red bull at the end, I don't know.  Its something I will probably never do again...but while doing it...it was really quite peaceful. You get into a rhythm of stroking and breathing.  After the initial start of flaling arms,legs and waves, it then becomes just you and the open water.  When you come up to breath you look up at the blue sky and every now and then you look to see where the island is and readjust your course accordingly.  The salt wasn't nearly so bad as it had been at the other open water site so that was a welcomed surprise that not all salt water has the same salinity. At the end I was pumping what was left of my strength and I was racing a 14 year old boy...he beat me, I came in 154 though and I was pretty proud of that.  I practically fell over from exaustion while people handed me my number, water, redbull and...where was the sandwich?...oh you downsized to little crackers...well that's ok... I didnt' do it for the sandwich...it just would have been really really nice.

Since the swim, village has been interesting.  The maribout, or religous leader, of my town died while I was in Dakar for the swim.  Apparently it was a pretty big blow to the village and now everyone will ubstain from any form of dancing for an entire year out of respect.  So all weddings and babtisms will have no dancing...no dancing...NO DANCING!!  That's my life here in this village, that's how I connect to people here....the women's groups and celebrations...now all will be reduced to sitting around and talking and eating...the same thing that we do everyday.  I know this will be hard on everyone and not just me.  Everyone here loves to dance, I mean its thier other life.  Kids play thier tomato can drums and beat on tin chairs and they dance.  The women have the weekly get togethers to escape from the house, dress up and beat on pots and pans and dance. Babtisms and weddings happen at least once or twice a month and they are always dancing!!! Well I guess its good that I only have five months left...five months...wow. 

It went so fast and yet sometimes it didn't go fast enough...like the month of September-Ramadan.  I don't want to disrespect this month in any way its just that it is the nightmare of any Peace Corps volunteer who actually came here to work.  Basically you have to resign yourself to let sleeping dogs lay, because well they aren't eating, and they aren't drinking (even though its utterly hot and humid out).  I tried fasting for a day because everyone is always telling you that you should do it with them for solidarity, so I thought sure I'll try, why not, then I can actually say I tried.  My host mom didn't think it was a good idea, saying it rather condecendingly, which made me all the more want to try.  Oh Desneige, you and your pride! I realized later that she had a valid point...I don't pray...I'm not Muslim, I'm not helping them by not eating and drinking.  The day I fasted left me utterly useless.  My body felt so tired and lazy and I couldn't do anything...I read Fountainhead and got over half way throug with it (great book by the way!). My reasoning now for why I don't fast is that I don't like the way I feel...my body...useless, lazy...I already feel enough of that here so once I got over why I don't fast...I'm feeling much better.  The breaking of the fast is my favorite part, we eat a fig, drink this speacial sweet tea (which I went and harvested in the wild), curddled milk like yogurt here, watermelon, bread with a speacial sauce that changes each day and these string beans prepared like edemame...so good.  But I don't get all of that just at my house...my house is a little different so I basically go to different people's houses each night and get a variety of what really happens at the breaking of fast.  This is the only way I survive Ramadan...because on top of this....meals are now left overs at lunch and dinners are at 10:30 at night, also the young men of the village like to stay up really late and they talk loud and laugh...then they sleep till 2:00 the next day...that way they only have five hours of real fasting...I get mad at them though because the mothers and young women and the farmer men work all day and fast... and then they have to deal with loud talk at night...I just don't get it.  Respect is huge here and yet the respect of sleep...not respected at all.

But now I am back in Dakar awaiting the arrival of my mother.  Only four days left of Ramadan and then Koritee with my mom! And then two weeks later my dad comes and its a little vacation in Senegal for us three!

These last five month are going to be the hardest.  Because I'm dealing with a new director at the school which makes all work done before he was there...pretty null and void...starting over agian when you only have five months left is hard.  I want to work on fixing up the Nguith library they have and don't ever use. We have so many French books! Kids and young and adult and some research books.  While other villages are working to build libraries, mine has one and has let it go to waste...I want to work on creating a literacy program at the school but we'll see if the village elders can pull together to help fund it.  I know that if a few people from the village pitch in we can fund it and I don't want to ask anyone from home to give because that's what happened last time, people from home helped build it but the village wasn't really part of it...when my village friend and I asked to raise some money within the village the elders asked..."what's a library?" Other projects include maybe doing a play based on a children's book about picking up trash, and also doing the evaluation on the Trash project in the village this time putting the women in charge and not the men...something that should have happened long ago...I had a great univeristy student help me explain more about incorporating compost too and so I hope that within these next five months the village will take control of thier project and really make it great.  I beleive they can...it just takes a long time....

ok love you all and I'm hanging in there...I can't wait for the cool season here...and then home!

Desneige
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