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Peace Corps year 1

index, month 5

Books read: 6

Baby rats found living in a cabinent in my hut: 4

Adult rats caught in a glue trap placed on top of my other cabinent: 1

Times I had to drop an ax head onto said rat to kill it: 2

Donkey carcasses seen on the side of the road: 2

Rides hitched to Missirah in the back of a bread truck: 1

American visitors to my village: 5

Price of a kilo of mangos, in cfa: 200

Equivalent price, in cents: 40

The rats: Dropping the ax on that poor guy was traumatic for both of us. I had to do it twice because I was outside at night, the rat and the cardboard he was stuck to on the ground, and I still had to turn off my flashlight and count to three before I could get myself to drop the ax. All I could bring myself to do with the babies was toss them over the back fence, apologizing all the while. I had rodents as pets, dammit. And now it’s a bit strange to walk into my hut and not hear frantic scurrying up the back of a cabinent or out the top of my roof.

Hitchhiking: Don’t worry, Mama, I plan to only get rides from strange men when I’m traveling with someone else (Cory was with me; we sat on boxes of instant yeast). Or if I’ve been waiting for a bus for over two hours. Or maybe if it’s raining.

Mangos: You folks back in America may have air-conditioning, cable TV, microwave dinners—hell, you might very well be reading this on your PowerBook over a wireless internet connection, sitting outside in beautiful spring weather, eating a slice of cold cheesecake and sipping a raspberry mocha latte.

I get fresh mangos for 40 cents a kilo.

Who’s laughing now, hunh?!

That’s what I thought. Raspberry mocha latte hurts when it goes up your nose, doesn’t it?

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Peace Corps year 1

cause we kan-kan-kankouran

The highlight of last week was a visit to Kim’s site, where (on her fifth-to-last-day there) her village’s women’s groupement put up 100,000 cfa for one heck of a going away party.

A group of us biked in from Missirah in the morning. We arrived, greeted, and then put on our Senegalese finery. The party was already in full swing—a crowd was gathered in the shade of a neem tree, dancing to tam-tams and awaiting the arrival of the kankourans, leaf- and bark-covered guys who lead the dancing and scare children. They’re exclusive to Mandinka and Jahnke culture, and apparently make special appearances at circumcision ceremonies.

Kankouran

What followed was much dancing (on the part of both the Senegalese and the Americans—the latter much to the Senegalese’ amusement), the biggest bowl of rice any of us has ever seen, and then more dancing. Josh was in particularly fine form (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B), though we all participated:

Clare dances

I took enough pictures and wrote enough captions to feel justified in telling y’all to go look at the gallery rather than expect a detailed description here. The only thing I didn’t photograph was the nighttime dancing, when the kankourans appeared in different costumes—all leaves and no bark or masks, resembling a giant bush with legs that danced like a big green Snuffleupagus.

Then Volney returned to France, and I returned to village life during the hottest, driest month of the year. My goal for the week is to get work started on a shade structure for my backyard.

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Peace Corps year 1

pular, park, people, oh my!

Since my last update, I:

Pular class

– Attended a village “alphabetization” class, where the women and teenagers are learning to read and write Pular. A teacher from Tamba (from the NGO TOSTAN, I think) comes to the village to hold a two- or three-hour class four days a week; everyone has a grand time, laughing and enjoying even their mistakes.

crossing park bridge

– Went to the Parc National Niokolo-Koba, Senegal’s largest national park and Molly’s ecotourism site (info). Saw a bunch of animals and took a bunch of pictures of trees, with very small animals in the middle of the frames.

Molly pounding grain

– Had a tuubaako slumber party in my village when Volney arrived for his two-week vacation in Senegal and Molly and Mariah came to hold a meeting with the women’s groupement. The meeting went very well, despite my horrendous English-Pular translating, and Volney claims to be enjoying himself, despite all the sweating and the millet.

– Spent three hours in a muggy cybercafe uploading photos while the French VirginMega webcast played “It’s Raining Men” and “We Are the World.” So go “oo” and “ah” and leave some comments, yo.

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Peace Corps year 1

osama

I feel I should provide some context for one of today’s uploads:

Shopboy and Osama

These photo albums are a pretty common sight in boutiques around Tamba, as are Osama shirts and stickers. There are also World Trade Center-themed items, such as American flag/WTC flip-flops and table lamps I’ve seen in Thi├Ęs and Dakar that have pictures of the Towers printed on translucent panels.

I’m not sure how to interpret them—do the Senegalese buy these things to make a statement of anti-American sentiment, or are they just cool because they’re people and places that are in the news? Americans aren’t particularly hated here; the country’s 94% Muslim, but the government is friendly with the US and has diplomatic relations with Israel. The only political discussions that seem to come up concern George Bush and how much he loves wars. That and the occasional “Who won the election? John Kerry?” question.

So I view these things as weird cultural artifacts, more entertaining than disturbing, and certainly not threatening.

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Peace Corps year 1

oh yeah and

The latest ET was Laura, who has returned to the world of air conditioning, ice cream, cable TV, and grad school applications. Today I’ll be dedicating an hour of sweating in front of a broken fan especially to her. Pouring one out for the homies, so to speak.

Also, the start of album Month 5 is up: donkeys! bissap! kittens! and so much more!

Peep Thug Life

Word.

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Peace Corps year 1

index, month 4

Ratio of days in my village to days out of my village during month four: 1:1

German tourists who called me from Tamba after finding my cell number on the internet: 1

Average number of goats who come through the hole in my backyard fence at any given time: 3

New ETs from my stage: 1

PCVs from my stage still in Senegal, out of the original thirty: 25

ETs from Small Enterprise Development, AgroForestry, and Agriculture programs, respectively: 2, 3, 0

Ratio of neighboring villages to weddings in neighboring villages: 4:3

Ratio of married women in my galle who are either nursing a child or pregnant to those who aren’t: 1:1

Ratio for those under thirty years of age: 2:1

Minimum number of toddlers given or allowed to keep a dead D-cell battery as a toy/pacifier: 3

Successful village meetings I called and/or attended: 3

Meetings during which I understood less than 10% of the discussions: 3

And on the home front:
Shots of insulin administered daily by my mother to my cat, Squeak, who was recently diagnosed as diabetic: 2

In town for a regional meeting; talked into being the Tamba rep for the Volunteer Advisory Council; hosting a Dakar student this coming week; still sweating.

To make sure I’ve acknowledged my sources of inspiration, here’s what the index thing is based off of. Can’t remember if I’d mentioned that before.

And for those of you acquainted with my dear little tubby cat, she’s apparently going to be fine—might even lose some weight.

Though I’d rather not think too deeply at the moment about the gross absurdity of a world where a cat gets insulin twice a day (Thank you, Mama!) and yet millions upon millions of people, including my current neighbors, will never have access to even the most basic preventative medical care.

That’s what all those long empty village hours are for.