Peace Corps year 2

donkey of the month, september

donkey for september

I stood for about 15 minutes, video camera on standby, waiting for this jackass to do the trumpeting braying performance, but he just wandered around eating grass.

Kinda a peephole/spy camera view, yeah? That’s my wide angle adapter I’m holding.

Peace Corps year 2

index, month 22

Consecutive days with rainfall in Tamba: 7

Ratio of days in the village to days out of the village: 1:2

Maximum number of weeks the garden fence was intact before part fell down: 3

Meals I cooked for my compound: 1

Ratio of profit from jewelry sales that the women’s group distributed among themselves in the form of loans to the amount they deposited in their bank account: 18:1

Approximate ratio of the cost of one night in our COS hotel to the amount of cash I give my village family each month to feed and house me: 4:1

The rainy season has redeemed itself and the fence has been repaired.

I attempted to make gumbo for my family, but really it was more like chunky vegetable tomato sauce. No one seemed to mind.

I have thirteen village days left.

Peace Corps year 2

i put a spell on you…

In Senegal there are merchants who specialize in gris-gris supplies—goat horns, porcupine quills, cowrie shells, and the like for making fetishes. These little leather pouches are practically the first thing that a village newborn wears, and from that moment on people keep them tied around arms, necks, waists, and car steering columns. Though their place in official religion is perhaps dubious, they are ubiquitous.

This is one seller’s table in Tamba:

gris gris table

And down there on the left… Could that be…?

monkey paw

Yes, yes it is. Who wouldn’t want that around their neck?

Peace Corps year 2

home stretch, stretching for home

street scene from above

Riding a bus in Dakar, trying to absorb the brilliant blue post-storm sky, passing groups of men sitting the day away and rams tied to trees along the median, I felt how the city is still a whole, pulsating organism to me. It remains foreign and exotic—sensory overload in every glance. I worry that when I am finally, finally back in the U.S., I’ll wake up after the first night of sleep at my parents’ house and these past two years will only seem like a mefloquine dream—over-vivid and unsettling, but ultimately fading.

The ease with which I slipped back into the warm, sweet-scented bath of First World comforts does nothing to allay these fears. My group’s Close of Service conference last week was held at a hotel in downtown Dakar that had air-conditioning, CNN in English, wireless internet, and power outages that could be described as infrequent.

Sometime around when we called in an order for poolside ice cream delivery, I wondered: when I go back, shouldn’t I be one of those volunteers who has a breakdown in Wal-Mart or stands paralyzed in the cereal aisle, overwhelmed by the sheer acreage of consumer choices? If I accept that world as normal, aren’t I denying the lives I’ve been a part of for the past two years? It seems disloyal.

At the same time, I am done with being here. Just as every bad interaction can be redeemed by a good one (wowing pushy Dakar vendors with Pulaar), every good moment can be squashed, obliterated, and otherwise cancelled out by an awful one. My taxi driver Tuesday morning asked what office I was going to; when I explained what Peace Corps was and that I’d been living in Tamba (inconceivably remote and hot to Dakarois) for the past two years, he seemed genuinely amazed and pleased. He told me I was doing good work and wished me luck as I got out of the cab.

A few hours later, I and four other volunteers went to the gare (hectic and aggravating on the best of days) to get transport to Tamba. We found a sept-place to rent out, refused to pay baggage because we were paying for the entire car already, got in, and sat as the driver started navigating through rows of parked station wagons. Then he stopped. And got out. And he and his boss demanded that we pay an outrageous amount for our six small bags.

So we got out. And argued. They refused to relent. We refused to budge. They started pulling our bags out of the car and we demanded our money back. The backpacks were on the ground, the cash was in my hand, and a crowd had gathered to watch the white kids get screwed. It wasn’t the kind of cultural exchange Peace Corps promotes in the brochures.

In the end, we paid. We paid because we could, because we wanted to get the hell out of there, and because they knew we could and would pay to do so. We consoled ourselves with the fact that it was our last time to go through that ordeal, and as we drove away we indulged in a round of rather unkind sentiments.

Now I’m back in Tamba for less than a month before making one last trip to Dakar to COS. Peace Corps has bought my plane ticket; I have a touchdown time in Baton Rouge. Before then I have work to finish and reports to write and still that goodbye to say to the village, but I’m going home home home. I’ve been working on grad school essays and looking at Bay Area apartments. I can see a giant crack rushing along the ground towards me, and I know which way I’m jumping.

Peace Corps year 2

shopping in Dakar

On Saturday afternoon Molly and I went shopping in downtown Dakar near the Marché Sandaga, a sprawling mess of fabric stores and sidewalk vendors. We pushed our way past stalls selling fake gold and imitation brand name shirts, running a gauntlet of jewelry peddlers and men pushing carved figurines and patchwork bags in our foreign, white faces.

That walk epitomized what is so exhausting, so aggravating, about being here. Our white skin was a glowing beacon drawing in a steady stream of people who had no interest in us beyond our toubab money. The man insistently tapping me on the arm with a wooden giraffe clearly believed that I had come to the market that day with no other intention than to give my money to him, if only he were persistent enough.

However, like so many of my Senegal experiences, there was also a moment of triumph—a counterbalance to the frustration, redeeming the day. I stopped to try on sunglasses and greeted the seller in Pulaar. All the guys within earshot turned to me in surprise, and pretty soon I had attracted a crowd of five or six men marveling at the white girl speaking Pulaar. One of them took over translation duties since the actual vendor didn’t speak Pulaar and I was having fun by refusing to speak French. I went from target to novelty with just a few sentences, and that was victory enough.

Peace Corps year 2

a green hill's chance in bak-hell

I visited Glen’s village last week, and we climbed a hill to see where a monster supposedly ate a white person years ago. We didn’t find the monster, but the view was spectacular:

glen village panorama

I uploaded more photos of Glen’s site and the Bakel area, which is reportedly a scorched wasteland for most of the year. That’s why I only visit in the rainy season, when it’s all rolling green hills.


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