Peace Corps year 1

index, month two

Plastic flip-flops repaired with string and duct tape to avoid the hassle of buying a new pair for $1 at the Tamba market: 1

Other PCVs’ sites visited: 3

Ratio of Alham rides where I was comfortable to rides where passengers were squeezed in like sardines (the standard seating arrangement): 1:3

Meals that the liter of vegetable oil and 800g of tomato paste I bring home every two weeks lasts for: 1

Baby chickens whose feet I’ve untangled from string, hair, etc: 3

Baby chicks who, after being accidentally stepped on, were miraculously healed by having a gourd placed over them and banged on with a stick: 1

Animals slaughtered in my village in as many days for Juulde, the Islamic “Feast of the Sacrifice”: 2

Cellphones which rang during the Juulde prayer service: 1

Hour of the morning that music was played until on Juulde: 3

Flashbacks to middle/high school parties: 1

Possible topics for my village conversations: 3

Ratio of instant coffee to water in the “coffee” sometimes made with breakfast in the village: 1:68

Ratio of instant coffee to sugar in said “coffee”: 1:10

(Ok, the miraculous chick cure deserves elaboration:)

When I visited Josh and Cory, one of their brothers made a lunge for a baby chick whose feet were tangled up in string. He caught the chick, but in the process stepped on one of its siblings, who lay on the ground kicking and chirping pitifully, unable to stand up.

He tried to right it a few times, but when it kept falling over one of the women brought out a small gourd bowl, which she put over the chick and then banged with a stick. We laughed, thinking, Oh great, not only have they crippled the poor thing, now they’re gonna deafen him, too. But damned if that baby chick didn’t wobble out from under the gourd after a few rounds of stick banging.

(As does Juulde:)

People had been preparing for Juulde (known in Wolof-speaking Senegal as Tabaski) for weeks—buying clothes, making jewelry, braiding hair, henna-ing feet. I think in a lot of ways it’s like Christmas, in that everybody gets together, gets dressed up, eats a lot, and gives presents: moms would go to Tamba and come back with new shoes, new jewelry, and new clothes for the kids.

On the day itself, last Friday, everyone was up early, sweeping the compound and primping. I went with some of the women to a neighboring village for morning prayers—naturally, we were running late, so they ran the last bit of the way before taking their places in the row of women behind the men, everyone lined up under a giant tree.

I sat a few yards away, behind everyone, and watched, taking the occasional picture. At one point three men, dressed in white, went to the front. They stood in a circle facing each other and put a piece of white cloth over their heads, then recited prayers aloud. The highlight of the whole event for me was when one of the three’s cellphone went off mid-prayer, and he handed it off to a guy in the front row, who stood and walked to the side of the group to answer it.

We returned, people continued to primp, a ram was slaughtered (I took pictures. There was lots of blood.), and lunch was served at 4pm. The meal was what is apparently the national holiday dish of Senegal (I had essentially the same thing in Thies for Ramadan): macaroni, tubers, meat, french bread, and oil.

After people ate, they bathed and then got dressed up again (most had changed clothes during the day) and went around in big groups from compound to compound with a boom box, talking and dancing.

Aaaand that continued until 3am.

The next day the girls kept all their jewelry on, a goat was killed for dinner, and people stayed up late again talking and listening to music. The middle/high school flashback came when I went into the hut and backyard where all the village kids had congregated. The older kids were inside the hut, sitting on Aissatu’s bed with a boom box, lit by one candle in the corner. The younger kids were clumped in the backyard around a competing boom box, the boys on a mat, the girls in little packs of giggling. It was so creepily reminiscent of far too many parties I’d been to that I only managed to stay a few minutes before I practically ran out of there—I just knew someone was about to bring out the clandestine cigarettes or bottle of Boone’s.

Pictures from the celebrations are up, with apologies for some mis-labelling, mis-rotation, and mis-ordering—IE won’t let me log in to fix things today.

Peace Corps year 1

screaming children; painting; more peanuts

The second visit to Hydraulique last Monday was successful—I brought Gretchen along with me, and after only a minimum of sitting around and waiting for aforementioned Important Guy to show up, I was holding a revised estimate for digging the second village well. After I.G. gave a rather condescending explanation for why it was about 300,000 CFA higher than the last one, he begrudgingly made me a copy of the first estimate, keeping the original for himself for some unknown reason. Whatever. Progress was being made.

Then things went kinda downhill from there. The pizza that night was an abject failure and shall never be spoken of again (hey, you’ve gotta hit those lows to make the highs better, right?), and Tuesday morning I stood at the package window at the post office for a very long time only to confirm that I still, in fact, had no packages despite the fact that I knew four or five had been sent to me (remind me to tell y’all about the glories of the Tamba post office sometime), then sat at the tailor’s waiting for him to finish my clothes which were supposed to have been finished the Friday before (a dress and a jacket, pictures eventually), then had the joy of riding back to the village past hordes of children doing their usual “toubab” screaming thing.

…which I got to hear twice on Wednesday when I rode back into town for the day to email my program director about the new well estimate.

I made an honest effort to be constructive in how I deal with the screaming kids… never again. At least not for a while.

Instead of yelling a greeting in Pular and pedaling faster like usual, I stopped in the middle of a particularly large, loud group of them, who’d been yelling since they spotted me at 100 yards or so. I smiled, said hi, and told them (in Pular) that no, I’m not a toubab, in fact my name’s Djenaba Bah, and next time they see me they can scream that instead. A few of them nodded and said “Djenaba Bah!”, then I asked one or two what their names were, smiled again, and told them I had to go home now.

The second my foot hit the pedal and the bike moved forward: “TOUBAB! TOUBAB! TOUBAB!”


Friday was great, though—I took my first solo Alham trip, headed to Josh and Cory’s village (about 40 k, I think, down the road to Kedougou), managing to only get mildly lost between my village and the main road and then find Josh and Cory’s hut relatively easily after getting off at the wrong stop at their village. They’ve got a great hut and a great yard in what seems like a very cool village—friendly people, a huge village garden, and, best of all, a bread oven no more than fifty yards from their front door.

We greeted people, sat around and ate, shelled some peanuts, pulled some water, ate some more, and then went to chat with the bread oven guys and purchase some of their gloriously warm, freshly-baked village bread for 75 CFA (15 cents) a loaf.

Clare and Cory carry water

I slept outside on the stick bed, enjoying the stars, the wind in the trees, the braying donkeys, and a breeze that was cool enough to justify snuggling down under a sleeping bag. Then at 5am their mom started pounding grain, the roosters started announcing “Hey, guess what, in an hour or so it might start to be dawn!!”, and the Koranic school kids started chanting, but it was all still very enjoyable and pleasant in a morning-in-Africa kind of way.

We had breakfast (village bread toast!) and then biked the 12k or so to Jessica’s village, where Molly had also arrived for Jessica’s painting project work day. We spent the morning painting some very attractive wildlife on school buildings, ate the Christmas fudge Molly’s mom had sent her, and I had a joyous reunion with my iPod, recently carted back across the Atlantic by a fellow PCV and to Jessica’s by Molly. Then we had lunch and sat around discussing development work, Peace Corps, our current frustrations, our expectations for the next two years, etc. It was a good day—the painting was fun, and somehow even just sitting around in someone else’s village feels constructive since it’s someone else’s village.

Now I’ve got a made-by-Josh cake to look forward to, care package goodies to eat (thanks, Suzanne and my lovely parents!), and music to drown out the screaming kids on the ride home.

Mmmmm, music. It also helps with the goats.

Peace Corps year 1

nothing for a man to do but sit around and think

So far village life for me is a lot like camping. I treat all my water, do my dishes in a bowl, squat to pee, see at night by flashlight or moonlight, sit around a wood fire chatting, crawl into bed every night under my tent-like mosquito net, and go into town occasionally for ice cream and a shower.

The neighbors are a bit different, of course—obnoxious herds of goats rather than retirees with generators or troops of boy scouts with, well, boy scouts, and actual illiteracy rather than the Michael-Crichton-reading kind of illiteracy.

I feel useless much of the time, but I think I’ve already said that that’s reportedly normal. I read a lot. Then feel guilty for reading a lot. It’s difficult, trying to feel like I’m an active member of the community (or at least a mostly inoffensive one) without feeling obligated to give 100% of myself 24 hours a day. I haven’t yet found a comfortable balance between village time and American-for-a-bit time.

Coming into Tamba on a regular basis definitely helps—even just a few English conversations, an hour or two online, and some refrigerated food does wonders for the spirit out here.

I’m in town today after a successful (I think) trip to the government well contractor, the Ministrie d’Hydraulique, with Bomba Bah and Ceerno Jallo. They showed up at the Peace Corps office, we caught a cab, where I had a surprisingly good conversation (in French) with the cab driver about why on earth I’d leave behind nice cars and big buildings in America to live in the African brush for two years, and while the director wasn’t there (he’s in Japan, which seems to sponser a lot of aid projects around Senegal), some other Important Guy was there who we could talk to instead.

So we sat in the front room and watched a guy cut a hole in a cardboard box.

Then, after he was done and a few people had gone in and out of Important Guy’s office, we were shown in.

We sat across from Important Guy, who’s a bit on the tubby side, in his air-conditioned office, and introductions were conducted in French, Wolof, and a bit of Pular. Then an explanation for our visit, also in French, Wolof, and Pular (Ceerno and I.G. in Wolof, Ceerno translating to Pular for Bomba, me asking I.G. what was going on in French), during which I handed I.G. the sheet of paper I had with last year’s quoted estimate for digging and building a new village well.

He looked at it, read it a few times, and started clucking about how gas prices had gone up, other prices had gone up. He got a calculator out of a desk drawer and set it down next to the sheet of paper. I tried to explain how we needed to know that if they started in March they’d finish by May, before the rainy season, and I think he took that as a bit presumptuous (The client setting requirements? Bah-hah!) and lectured me about how sometimes the ground is hard and you can’t dig as fast as you thought. I nodded a lot and smiled.

Eventually, he decided that if we came back at 5pm, maybe 5:30, he might have had a chance to make a revised estimate. Though he had a lot of work to do (here he gestured at his computer, which was turned off), so if he didn’t finish it by then, well, we could come back tomorrow.

Ceerno and Bomba thought this was fine, I could stick around and come back in the evening, and I smiled and nodded, and we all shook hands with I.G., then shook hands with the guy who’d been cutting the hole in the cardboard box out in the front room, then headed back to the Peace Corps office.

I’m fairly certain this was what I should consider a successful meeting. We’ll see if that luck continues when I go back in an hour or two.

At the very least, having to go back means that it’ll be too late for me to ride back to the village before dark, so I have an unexpected buy not unwelcome reason to stick around the regional house tonight and make pizza with friends.

Oh, and just in case anyone wants to brush up on their Pular before stopping by to crash on my hut floor, this is for you! (The book we used in training, though we had black-and-white xeroxed copies with pages missing. Helpful and entertaining!)

Peace Corps year 1

beginnings of gallery month two

…are up.

I’m doing well. Boredom is currently my primary nemesis.

I hope to have time for a quality post when I come back to Tamba in a few days to (finally, hopefully, please please please) go to talk to the well contractor with Bomba Bah and Ceerno Jallo.