Peace Corps year 2

take THAT to the bank

Today Mariah and I managed, in under seven hours, to help my village’s women’s group not only register as an official groupement but also open a bank account and make their first deposit.

Since this involved visits to three large bureaucracies, we were fully prepared to be bounced between ten different people, none of whom would be at their desks, and to finish the day having made zero progress. But for whatever reason (lunar alignment? toubab charisma?), we sailed through each and every stop along the way (except for the photo store, but even there we emerged victorious), and the women are heading back to the village tonight with an assortment of signed and stamped forms and a little booklet saying they’ve got 34,500 CFA in their account.

It’s nice to be heading out for vacation on one of these rare notes of success, feeling that I’ve earned myself a bit of cold weather and some fish ‘n chips.

Peace Corps year 2

index, month 16

Dump-truck-loads of dirt delivered to galle: 12

Approximate number of cement blocks made so far: 2,500

Days before the rubber ball I gave to the little village kids popped: 3

Days before the soccer ball I gave to the big village kids no longer held air: 12

Approximate radius of sheep snot (from simultaneous sneeze/head turn), in feet: 4

Brothers who work abroad in Spain currently visiting the village: 2

Number of wives each will have before they return to Spain in May: 2

Motorcycles successively purchased for my village dad with Spain money: 3

Births in the village: 1

Average temperature range over a 24-hour period, in degrees Fahrenheit: 30

Dirt is being converted by four guys working mornings, sleeping midday, and leaving mid-afternoon into cement blocks for paving the compound and eventually building a second batiment.

Village soccer balls, much like rock stars, tend to live fast and die young.

As do most consumer products here. Why are we on motorcycle #3? I know the first one didn’t have the correct papers, but I’m not sure what was wrong with the second, and the third has a key-fob-activated alarm that required some explanation on my part. One of the other gifts this trip was a DVD player which I’m told was relieved of its magic smoke on the first try.

Wedding description forthcoming.

Peace Corps year 2

well shave my head and call me toubab!

My adventure last week was a trip to Fatu’s husband’s village for Mahamadou’s pembugol. or naming ceremony. For most kids this occurs a week after their birth—Madamadou’s was delayed for over two years while the family waited for his father, who is working abroad in Gabon, to send money for the festivities.

I went along partly for the adventure and partly because over the past year-plus I’ve declined invitations to all sorts of other out-of-village events and overnight excursions. I figured this trip, pitched to me as a one-nighter, would quiet my village integration conscience on that score.

Madame, Fatu, Mahamadou, Kanni, and I took a charette to the road on Tuesday evening, caught an over-stuffed alham to Missirah, and met up there with a relative for another charette ride out to the village. When we arrived the five of us were ushered into a hut where we were greeted by everyone in succession and then served not one but two dinners.

These, for anyone who was wondering, are the essential core—the rubbery innards, say—of Senegalese celebrations: sitting and eating.

Both of which I can do like a champ.

Witness: Nighttime—sat and socialized. Slept in someone’s vacated hut. Morning—served two breakfasts; sat. Watched as women shaved Mahamadou’s head while the men prayed outside, with dad on the cell phone from Gabon. Afternoon—ate three lunches. Sat. Evening—walked(!) to a neighboring village; sat. Returned; sat. Ate goat. Morning—sat; served two breakfasts; headed back home. All told, two nights and no fewer than eleven meals. And enough social sitting to last me for a while.

Mahamadou eating

However, if that little adventure didn’t muzzle the slobbering mutt that is my village guilt, the two simultaneous weddings in my village this week sure as hell will. Thankfully, after that it’s off to England for three weeks of what will decidedly not involve sitting and sweating.

Peace Corps year 2

field trip

Hawa and Pinda in garden

In an unwitting observance of International Women’s Day, on Wednesday I took two of my village women, Hawa Soh and Pinda Jallo, to Cory and Josh’s site to see their village’s garden. My idea was for them to bring back inspiring tales and momentum for our village’s own gardening plans.

We left around 7am to walk the five kilometers to the main Tamba-Kedougou road. I asked Deya about having a charette take us, but he said that they needed the charette for hauling water and assured me that the women could walk it no problem—they could leave at 5am if they needed to. Gee, thanks. So Hawa led us on a series of dirt paths through the brush until we got to the paved road.

Wednesday is market day in Depo, a town about 60 kilometers down the road to Kedougou. Buses take people and goods from Tamba to the market in the morning and then return in the evening, so we were fairly certain we’d be able to get a ride to Cory and Josh’s village, which is before Depo. We sat at the road and watched alhams with people packed inside and hanging off the back barrel past, roofs piled high with sacks, boxes, buckets, tables, and the occasional sheep. The buses were so full with passengers that the guys who load baggage were actually sitting on top of the great mound of stuff that was often as tall again as the bus itself. Eventually a mostly empty minicar stopped for us; it qualified as a cushy ride since I had both butt cheeks in full contact with the seat for the entire trip to Cory and Josh’s village.

Maintained by the village women’s group, the garden is a quarter-hectare of giant green veggie goodness. Each woman is responsible for a two meter by twenty meter plot, which she seeds, weeds, and waters twice a day every day. Hawa and Pinda were suitably impressed and had questions for Cory’s moms, who explained transplanting, watering, etc. The moral of the story was that even though a garden is a whole load of effort on top of all the work women already do every single day, the payoffs are very attractive: vegetables to eat and vegetables to sell.

As the visit was winding down, Pinda asked to buy some veggies to bring back to our village—Fanta disappeared to the garden and came back with a bowl of onion greens and cabbage leaves that she insisted Pinda accept as a gift:

women and greens

The three of us caught a car back to our turnoff (less comfortable this time: one cheek on the seat and one squashed against the hip of the guy next to me), where we headed back through the dust. The sky had been grey-brown with it since the morning, which was nice for keeping the heat in check but tiring in some way—the light at half-strength and nothing but dust to breathe.

That night after dinner, a group of women (not everyone, but that’s normal for village meetings) gathered in Pinda Bah’s galle to hear about our visit. After a short introduction from me, Hawa and Pinda launched into a description of everything they had seen and learned—giant onions, how to make a pepiniere, watering—including details that I’d already forgotten. Normally during these meetings women are having side conversations, fussing at children, and coming and going regardless of what’s happening in the meeting. But this time there was complete silence—everyone was listening with rapt attention.

So the field trip was a success. Now all we need is a finished well and a garden fence, right? Right.

In the meantime, hows about some donkeys?

donkeys in hut

(Good luck and see you soon to the new stage, who arrives in Senegal on the 16th.)