Peace Corps year 1

gallery update

Today I uploaded photos of Molly’s village, Cory and Josh’s village, random stuff around my hut, and the Tamba women’s retreat.

dogs on road

Plus, I offer you your first hints of the glory of donkeys (hint 1, hint 2). Go. Listen. Believe.

Peace Corps year 1

ramadan fizzles out

Since the timing of Ramadan goes by the lunar calendar, the dates change, moving something like ten or eleven days ahead every year. The imams watch for the moon, and then announce holidays based on when it shows up or disappears. Yet here at least there always seems to be some debate over when exactly that happens.

Last Wednesday was potentially the end of Ramadan, so at dusk my entire compound stood with their break-fast bread and tea, craning their necks to look for a sliver of the moon in the pink clouds at the horizon. No such luck; tomorrow would be another day of fasting.

However, the next morning the word was going around that people in Saare Madi, one village over, had seen the moon last night. Ceerno Jallo from Saare Kali was sent to verify; as Deya explained it, if Ceerno decided they really had seen the moon, it would in fact be Korite today. I asked Deya, had anyone checked the radio to see if Mecca had celebrated already? (Apparently holidays here often occur the day after they take place there.) No, he replied, they’d just wait and see what Ceerno said.

This is the rough equivilant, for you Baton Rouge people, of a priest in Denham Springs driving his pickup truck over to Plaquemine on what might possibly be Easter morning to ask a priest there if it is in fact Easter morning instead of, say, turning on WAFB to see what the bishop says.

So anyway, we flagged down Ceerno Jallo as he rode back home on his bike, and he confirmed that the moon had been seen and today was Korite, and so then everyone was happy and sat down to breakfast.

As on Tabaski back in January, the surrounding villages gather in Saare Kali for prayers on the morning of Korite. Last time this involved a mad dash to the service, followed by a day of sheep slaughter and fancy outfits. Not so much for Korite.

Around 10am we take a charette to Saare Kali. When we arrive a crowd of men is gathered around various pieces of cow, so I follow the women into a hut to sit and wait for them to finish and the prayers to start. Other than people passing through to greet, hunt for clothes, or deliver water, it’s just us guests in there.

We sit on the beds and wait. My moms gossip in soft tones about people passing outside; every once in a while someone goes to the hut door to peer out at new arrivals or to check on the progress of the cow slaughter. A woman and her little girl, hair unbraided and sticking straight out from her head, come in to greet our group. I open my eyes wide, cock my head to the right, and smile broadly, and her hesitant curiousity turns to terror; she starts screaming and has to be shooed outside by her mother. I think, Yep, still got it.

And we wait. One by one the women lie down instead of sitting on the beds. Bidji and Aljuma get restless and start talking about heading back. I sit with my back against the curved wall of the hut, trying to ignore the flies, and watch a woman outside cutting indecipherable chunks of cow into smaller indecipherable chunks of cow. Watching her, I imagine how when I’m back in the U.S. I will set aside a week of celebration for every possible type of food: a week for meat (bacon and sausage for breakfast, lamb kebobs for lunch, chicken fried steak for dinner), a week for fruit (berries in the morning, peaches midday, blueberry pie at night), a week for cheese, a week for boxed breakfast cereals. Today I’ll probably have to settle for some cow intestine.

Bidji and Aljuma leave. Two-year-old Aadama is running out of ways to entertain herself. I don’t have a watch, but I know we’ve been sitting there for hours now. I casually wonder if Bandi, who I locked in my hut so he wouldn’t follow the charette, has destroyed anything yet.

At what turns out to be about 1pm, I give up. I walk the kilometer or so back to the village, enjoying how my outfit, which is a huge forest and lime green tie-dye boubou—about three meters of fabric folded in half, with a hole cut for my head—billows in the wind. I feel like a tent, or maybe Jesus, but look more like a psychedelic flying squirrel.

People eventually return and change out of their nice clothes. Things are pretty calm until lunchtime, when they continue to be calm as first the men and then the women go as a group from one household to the next, eating a bowl of food at each compound. Nice (but not new for Korite) clothes are re-donned, I go around and take some pictures… and that’s about it. A few boom boxes going until midnight or so, but no goat carnage, no brand-new outfits. I figured that after a month of fasting they’d be ready for a huge feast, partying til all hours… but it was all very sedate. Photos are here.


Excitement has arrived, however, in the form of giant dump trucks: preparations have begun for the construction of the second village well! Only a month and a half after they were supposed to!

So far they’ve delievered coils of wire, great loops of rebar, a load of dirt, a load of rocks, and six metric tons of cement. Standing in a cleared field to watch the truck dumping out dirt, surrounded by a crowd of children, I had a clear vision of my entertainment for the next month and a half. They’re supposed to finish the digging by Christmas; keep those fingers crossed.

Peace Corps year 1

index, month 11

Times the village TV has been turned on since Alahji returned to Spain: 1

Minimum number of clandestine card playing sessions held while the heads of household were out of the village: 4

Motorcycles (not mopeds… motorcycles) bought by my village father: 1

Lowest temperature observed in my hut, in degrees Fahrenheit: 74

Approximate hours during the day that people go without eating or drinking, in observance of Ramadan: 13

Trainees from the new group who have ET’d, out of 44: 5

Heinekens I was forced to drink with dinner at Massa Massa because they no longer carry the fantastic Belgian beer: 3

Times I ate ice cream while in Thies: 5

Sessions in which fellow PCV Hannah and I brought the trainees ice cream to bribe them into a) being awake b) liking us: 1

Trainers who told me they thought I’d be the Aggie from my stage to ET, because I was “quiet”: 1

The TV. It’s awfully purty just sitting there being shiny and ridiculous, but it requires gas to power the generator to power it. And gas costs money, so without Alahji to hand someone the cash to buy fuel in Tamba, it has only been run once. I was, naturally, summoned for tech support, which called for hooking the generator, converter, and tv cords up in the correct sequence; figuring out that the remote batteries were dead; and preventing Tali from poking a knife into an extension cord socket. Then soccer was watched, and there was much rejoicing.

I spent the week before last in Thies, playing the role of the wise and wizened (or maybe just rumpled and slightly dirty) Volunteer for the new group of trainees. It was their third week of PST, the time when wide-eyed optimism is, for some, fading to the dazed squint of a person subjected to three and a half hours of language class five days a week. And there are still five weeks of training before they swear in and go to their sites.

Poor bastards. I tried to be encouraging, but it was difficult when all I could think was “Damn I’m glad I never have to do this again.” PST runs on an exhausting schedule, convinces you you’ll never learn your language, and chips away at rosy preconceptions about Peace Corps life and work. Add to that the pressure of pleasing your host family, waiting for site announcements, and scuffles with admin, and it’s a miracle anyone makes it to swear-in. But they do, and this seemed like a pretty savvy group. Lots of guitar players.

Thies was an odd place for me that week—a year through service, I was halfway between the newly-arrived trainees and the COSing volunteers who were also there as trainers. It seemed equally possible that I had never left PST (trying not to cry in language class or fall asleep in cross-cultural sessions) and that I was already on my way out (overearly nostalgia for the village, last-minute panic about leaving). Neither was true, of course—instead I’m this strange in-between, giving reassurance to one group while seeking reassurance from the other.

I was proud in an indignant sort of way when Youssoupha told me that I had surprised him by not ETing. Apparently, for the Senegalese, quiet = unhappy = going to leave. Bah.