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!)

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