Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Babies and forgetting

Today I spent the afternoon at the new education and health center I just finished funding in village (through a USAID grant, through Peace Corps, FYI). My fantastic community health workers were weighing babies while women from the village were cooking a nutritional supplement meal of ndambé (beans in a tomato, onion, garlic, hot pepper, vinegar sauce—I will be cooking these weekly to store in my freezer in America). I was painting some project titles and a building name above the door with a 2.5” paintbrush I modified with a serrated knife and duct tape to a small round brush. The health workers are involved in a project of Plan Senegal for early childhood education and maternal and child health. So, the regional project manager came to the weighing to teach them some new curriculum materials. She lives in my road town, which I believe I’ve mentioned is 3 km away down the sand road and on the national highway… and I don’t really care for it. Although I’ve been passing through for two years, it’s big enough that I’m still a random toubab to someone every time I’m there. She’s a great lady though, who is doing really good work and not just in the capacities of her project. Every time I’ve met her, she’s spent some of her time simply explaining that development is meaningless without the work of local counterparts—if the community isn’t motivated to make a change, no amount of money from outside will do it for them.

So, I have a new friend in village, a 6 month old grandson of the local Imam whose daughter in-law I buy ice from every day. Funny how just like grown up people you immediately bond with some babies… Anyway, his grandma brought him to be weighed, and he was staring at me with a smile, so I took a short break from my work to hold him. … Totally in that phase where there is almost nothing better than holding a baby and just… being together… But, I needed to get something done. So, I put him down in his grandmother’s lap after a few minutes. He wasn’t having it. He cried, and sucker that I am, he was back in my arms pretty immediately. We walked around and looked at a charette, and after a few more minutes I tried again. Nope. Not yet. More crying. So I picked him back up, and at this point the project manager says to the health workers, “what? Have you ever seen this? A black baby that just wants to be held by a white person?” … I mean, I can at this point completely forgiver her ignorance, and even pity the fact that her world experience has been so limited that this is something worth commenting on for her. But, at the time I was really legitimately offended. I live here, I have for two years now, and very rarely does a thought cross my mind that has anything to do with the fact that we don’t have the same skin color. Only when someone else brings up skin-lightening creams or calls someone ugly because they’re dark dark. So, while in this totally blissful moment of just so legitimately being just a part of the community (maybe a weird-ish part, but a role we’ve all gotten used to together over the last two years), to have someone so starkly call me an outsider because of the color of my skin… Totally fascinating really, to have the experience of being a minority race…

I’m sure she meant no offense. And there are still some babies here that are scared of me, who have seen me only once or twice in their lives, but there are also babies here that cry when I leave them! Who the thought of leaving so soon and no longer being a part of their oh-so-precious lives makes me cry. There’s a woman named Cheika who has become my best female friend who started crying yesterday at the thought of my leaving, and people here do not cry in public. I only managed to hold it together to be to her what she has been so many times for me: a solid friend to lean on. … okay if I get any further down this road I won’t be able to make it back.

Letting that bit of weirdness go, I got back to work. Kids playing all around me, mom’s yelling at their kids, men bringing in charette loads of onions in sacks from the fields, the sun beginning to set. When I finally finished my work, I ate my beans on a mat in the sunset and just watched. At this point in my service, my life here, all the negative stuff seems to have just fallen away (mashallah), and there’s nothing left to do but be so overwhelmingly grateful for LIFE… One of those perfect-world moments, ya know? Anyway, after finishing my beans I took my plate over to clean it, talked to the ladies who’d been cooking a tiny bit, and started walking away, only to hear a friend who was cooking say “you guys are purposely acting stupid. You’re acting like toubab’s.” So, in all good humor I turn around and call her out: “did you really just say that? Did you really just say you guys are acting stupid, you’re acting like toubab’s?” … What??? She apologized, all of us laughing about it, and I assured her I wasn’t actually offended, while thinking, “d***! I just made myself the white girl!” Her response was “oh my gosh, I wasn’t even thinking about the fact that you are a toubab.” … Bam! It’s not just me that forgets, and there I was the one reminding everyone that I was different… just a strange little… mmm… One foot in both worlds, one of them, and still not. But totally beautifully accepted by the people that have seen me, talked with me, laughed with me, shared their lives and their babies and their beans with me for the last two years.

Can I get a Mashallah!?

Monday, May 13, 2013

May 2013... you're kidding me....

I have 18 days left in village. So I find myself in an entirely different mind-set than I was in for most of two years. Dealing with everything before was all about “how do I make this do-able, because I’m going to be here awhile.” Now it’s all about using the right skill I developed and reflecting back on that process of change. Hot season is back, the bugs are back, the onion farmers are back in village, and people are nos-ing left and right. It’s easier now to adjust to seasonal changes in social patterns that it was when I first got here, but it still always leaves me temporarily unsure what to do with myself. Meanwhile, I may or may not be leaving Senegal for the foreseeable future in under a month… Home for a month then back for a year? Or home until… ?? Not an issue I can let myself dwell on, and hopefully I’ll know soon.

 So, today I have a story. Like my normal stories, it’s fairly introspective and really doesn’t have a plot. But I think it’s worth talking about the fact that today was the last big party I’ll be here for in my village. The people of the Fall and Wade neighborhoods had a siarr. You’ve seen this word before in my post about Tivaone. The word practically indicates several things: going to the mosque to pray to Serigns (like big Imams); a party thrown for someone who has just returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca; a word used in the greeting “I siarr you,” which as I can understand implies honoring and celebrating, like Fat Boy Slims “I have to celebrate you, baby”; and finally, it’s a day-long event given by a neighborhood or village for their neighbors, extended family, friends, etc. In the morning each house makes thiakry (SOOOO GOOD!) which is the sour milk or sow poured over ceere which is millet flour processed into little balls, and if you’re lucky it’s mixed with little chunks of fruit like apples, pineapple, banana, etc. There is always a griot group present to sing and wax religiously, but depending on the siarr they spend different parts of the day doing this. Today there was no fruit in the thiakry, but the griots have been going since this morning and it’s now 9:15 PM. I would gladly make a trade there… Anyway, then we all eat rice and meat for lunch cooked in spices, onions and garlic. Yummy, but no veggies. Then there’s attaya and boissons (soda), and more griot action.

 This morning, I left my house looking fancy, right after all my family and friends had already left. So, when I got there I didn’t know where they were. And there were a LOT of people milling about that I didn’t know. But, where as in the past I would have immediately bee-lined for the comfort of the women’s cooking section, I felt a new level of comfort today realizing that I actually knew how this day was going to go, and where I could go, and what I could do. Even better, I was immediately rushed by my favorite little girl Maman, who, sweet little angel that she is, held my hand and walked around with me as I greeted people and made my way across the neighborhood. Then I was in the cooking area with all the women I’ve come to know and love these last two years. My hand still smells like onions ten hours later, but we take the good with the bad, right? The best thing about knowing how this day was going to go down was that I knew when I needed to be there to be fed and when I could back to my room or to get ice.

 Other random recent observations: language learning. I realized today why my French faded while my Wolof grew. When I first got here, no one could understand anything I said. Slowly but surely I could articulate some thoughts in Wolof. Had I spent those very first months putting that level of effort into French, I would be at least as good at French as I am now at Wolof. But rather than even letting the two co-evolve, I was so excited by the fact that people could understand my Wolof, and so keen to improve my ability and feel more at home in my village, that I focused exclusively on it. And now, as I’m trying to improve my French, I feel taken back to those early days of Wolof learning. I’m back to seeing the hidden irritation in people’s faces as I struggle to put together a sentence.  Fortunately people are largely patient here, and want to help you understand. Still, just tonight I was struggling to express myself in French, and just gave up. That’s what led me to this understanding. Because as soon as I said “I speak Wolof, but I need to improve my Wolof” the seller’s entire countenance changed. “Oh, if you speak Wolof that’s great. Just tell me what you want.” Well… pát.

 Meanwhile, my friends in village all want to talk about the fact that I’m about to leave. They tell me how the volunteer I replaced cried sooo much when she was about to leave, and I want to explain to them, I don’t know if I’m leaving yet! I mean, it’ll be different, yeah, but if I thought I was really leaving never to ever see them again ever…. I would be crying every time someone brought it up. I promise. As it is I waxed maudlin in a taxi today with two other passengers about how amazing Senegal is and how nice the people are and how much I wanted them (these three random people) to know how much I appreciate their country and the chance to have spent two years here. … Well, pát.

While I’m just writing about things because the point of this blog is to share my thoughts and experiences, I want to talk about the Muslim tradition of saying “Inshallah” and “Mashallah” like, 100 times a day. I love this. Inshallah mean’s God willing. Which we say in America, too, obviously, but not like this. Not this much. Sometimes Inshallah can grate, because it seems occasionally like a cop-out. Like, “no that’s not gonna happen, but I can’t say that outright because it’s impolite, so I’ll say it will Inshallah knowing that it will not, in fact, be God’s will.” That’s legitimately irritating. But Truly truly it’s based on a cultural standard that saying “no I won’t” or “no it can’t happen” to someone who is older than you or of higher social standing is waaaaay ruder. ::shrug::. Meanwhile, in its best manifestation, Inshallah recognizes what I believe to be a fact, that all things are God and therefore nothing happens that isn’t God’s will. So, it may be that my every intention is bent on a certain thing happening, and it seems 99% possible, but I’m still going to say Inshallah, thereby recognizing my small-ness. And don’t confuse humility with impotence. We are powerful creatures, but in the end… our ego-ic desires don’t necessarily drive the movement of the universe. I knocked on wood in America. Not because I believe in tree-sprites that would help my will along if I recognized them, but to remember that God, in all things—trees being one of my favorite manifestations thereof—is the real power and not my little desires based on an incomplete understanding of what will really be good for me much less the rest of the world. Okay, so Inshallah serves the same purpose. Nowadays, when I say something I really really want to be true, I have a double duty. I say “Inshallah” and knock on wood. … Point is, I like the pervasiveness of this word. If I forget even for one moment, someone will remind me. And having that kind of standardized recognition and sharing of recognition of the BIG UNIVERSAL OMNIPOTENCE of God is… something I like. Now, Mashallah means “behold the wondrous works of God(!),” approximately. And similarly, it is a reminder of humility. And again, it is something I felt missing in America. In fact, sometimes I struggled when people complimented me or something I had done. I wanted to have a quick, concise and understandable way to say “woooooah there! Don’t give me the credit. Behold the grace of God!” Well, Mashallah! Again, it has a little bit of a superstitions anti-jinxy aspect. Like, if you don’t want that gift or skill to be taken away as punishment for your vanity, you better remember to recognize the giver of the gift. Well… just like I’ve always been a wood-knocker, I just don’t really have a problem with that. Though, I have to admit I find it a slightly fearful and simplistic view of the will of God. But… pretty sure I can’t know what that will is anyway, so why continue in that vein. Point is, for me at least, that it is a constant and culturally enforced way of remembering that all good things come from God. It’s a way of reminding the ego that it is not that awesome power. But that when I live in surrender to God, I get to have cool stuff sometimes flow out of me. That’s a pretty awesome gift, mashallah.
Oh, and P.S. "pát" is like, I'm done. I'm not saying any more. New word for me, so I might be misusing it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

We're now less than three months from my proposed COS (Close of Service) date. As in, I've been in this country for nearly two years (minus a couple weeks). More on that to come. But for now, I just wanna show you a few photo's from the last couple days. After an exhausting stretch of Dakar/Med, Peer Support Conference, Close of Service Conference, and All Volunteer Conference, I got back to St. Louis, my second home. I seriously needed a day of alone time before heading back to site, but ended up "stuck" here for four days (24 hours alone time, three meetings and some paper-work/emails). Finally going back tomorrow.

In Peace Corps med sessions they tell you to be vigilant in your self-care activities, and that you may find you have to essentially double them to deal with the stress of this life. Well, ... I love this life, but they weren't joking. And I would proudly say that this experience has actually improved my ability to create and care for positive self-care techniques. So, here's a couple I've engaged in in the last few days:

Cooking myself an excellent meal with market-fresh ingredients:
This is a tomatoe based vegetable and fish curry with fry bread. Soooo good.

Today when I realized I wasn't getting home today because my meeting went past 5:00, I decided to take the long way home. As I've mentioned before, sometimes just going for a walk through this city changes my whole perspective. I wandered through the market, and somehow got myself in a conversation with a henna artist. For the next ten minutes I was drawn on, surrounded by a crowd, being a celebrity. Sometimes it really hits the spot. Everyone wants to see the toubab that speaks Wolof...
So,First I agreed to 500 CFA. But that was for the Chinese hair dye that tears my skin apart. He said 1000 for the Indian henna. Although I never agreed, I knew I was caught. But he only did my indext finger and half of the work on my hand. So when he asked for his money I told him if I was gonna give him 1000, he better add to it. So I got the other three fingers and the side fill in. In the end he tried to get me to give him more, and although I refused, he still added the fingernails. ::shrug::

I moved along with my original plan: to buy some cheap solid-color cotton to do some bleach dying. AAfter going into six shops I finally found the perfect color. I bought it, walked home down the long, beautiful corniche... it was a bright and extremely windy day, and the cold-season migratory birds were bobbing on the choppy waters. Then I did this:

I left about a third of it un-dyed. It's 5 yards total. The plan is to take it all to a tailor and have them do something fabulous with it. :) I'll put pictures of that up in a bit.

Love, Senegal.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I recently posted to facebook the following: “Gamou-ed. In Tivaoune. Now I know I can survive anything.” And ya know, it was certainly trying at times. Overwhelming and at times extremely uncomfortable to say the least. But considering the fact that I spent all day yesterday smiling about it, it must not have been that bad. In fact, it was pretty crazy awesome. Perhaps at least in part for the fact that I pushed through all those challenges without giving up or even searching for respite by calling the volunteer that some crazy admin process placed in that city. Of course, when it isn’t Gamou it’s probably pretty much like any other medium sized city. So Gamou, what is that, and where is Tivaoune?

                Tivaoune is a city just outside of Thies on the way to St. Louis, right at the point on the national highway where you would turn to go to by training homestay site of Mboro. It is the religious center of the Tidian brotherhood (one of two major Islam groups here), and the home of their Serigne (big leader dude) and graves of lots of past Serignes. It’s a mid-size city with several mosques, one of which is still under construction. Gamou is a holiday of pilgrimage.  In other words, if you can, you’re supposed to go to Tivaoune and visit the Serignes. What exactly the date signifies is unclear to me. Something about Mohammad and the awesome creation of the world by Allah, or perhaps the bringing of Mohammad into it. When religious things are explained to me I get thrown off by the amount of Arabic mixed in, though I think probably most of it consists of things like special additions to the names Mohammad and Allah to mark their sanctity.

                So I got invited to go by Modou, and couldn’t pass up the chance for a number of reasons. Though I’m fairly sure that if anyone else had invited me the doubts and concerns I had about accessible privacy and comfortable sleeping quarters would have overwhelmed my anthropological curiosity. Anyway, the time came, and after a bit of stress and confusion, there I was on a normal little beat up bus like I always take from St. Louis to Fass, on my way to Gamou. See for gifs that might explain some of my thoughts, particularly “I immediately regret this decision” and “That is a crazy thing to do.” But I was sitting next to a good friend, Modou was directly in front of me, and so we went. When we got off in Tivaoune it was already after 11PM, and the streets were absolutely packed. This was the night before the actually day of Gamou, so everyone was still arriving. On a normal two lane road, at least one edge was lined with Buses and “cars”, both sides were snaked with lines of people, charettes were rolling by with shocking frequency while two directions of traffic still tried to pass through. At about midnight we got to a house. Turns out it was the house for my host sister (who lives far away and I hardly know)’s husbands family. Large compound, lots of room, and about 100 people sleeping on mats in the sand under plastic tarps. I knew Modou’s father’s family had a house somewhere else, so I hesitantly thought “surely this is not where I’m sleeping.” … Wrong. Of course, if I’d know I would have brought a blanket, but… I didn’t and a packed in a hurry. The under-the-tarp space was full so me and a girl from my family who came with us to see her boyfriend got a mat and a sheet right at the edge of the puddle of bodies fully moured in sheets. When the two men left to go find their sleeping quarters I was too exhausted to do anything but lay down. I tried to mimic those around me hoping that magically I wouldn’t be too cold to sleep. Surely it was about 62 degrees, but for me… that’s really freaking cold. I had on full length exercise leggings, my shin-length yoga pants, a light cotton wrap skirt, a tank-top, a t-shirt, and a thin sweater. I wrapped in the sheet, even pulling it over my face hoping my breath would warm me. Not enough. I got out both skirts I’d packed, parts of my absolute nicest outfits, to use as extra sheets. I used the cape I’m crocheting for my mom as a pillow (in a zip-lock bag) but couldn’t chance ruining or soiling it by using it as a blanket. Last I looked at my phone it was 2:40, and I dozed. Only to be woken by RAIN.  … RAIN!!!... Like I said, there wasn’t room left under the tarp. Fortunately it was only a sprinkle, and since there was LITERALLY nothing I could do but wait it out, that’s what I did. After the sun rose and I heard the mosque call the morning prayer I actually slept a bit. Of course, then I woke up at about 9 to lots of people asking “Who’s the toubab? Who’s guest is she?” And no one actually knew the answer. So—Thank GOD I managed to not be completely wrecked with grouchiness—I told them who I was and what connection I had to the house that I would be staying there. Thanks to my experience here thus far I knew the best place for me was with the women who were cooking breakfast. First, they had a fire. Second, if I was with them, I’d get the first taste of coffee. I had survived the night, and new that things could only get better from there. And if it came to it, I could always leave before nightfall.

                Modou called pretty soon thereafter to explain that he’d left me there because he wasn’t sure of having a better place for me that late. He slept in the back of a friend’s car. He was going to check out his dad’s family’s place and come get me in a bit. Good, cool. Warm, coffee. Mind you, I’m still in this house with a hundred strangers, and this one woman just decides she’s going to sort-of sponsor me. Thank God for her. I got breakfast, got a shower, laid down for about 30 minutes to meditate. Then we went out to walk around a bit, and when we got back Modou was already there. We sat and talked on a mat, I met his cousin, and then we all went over to his Dad’s house.

                As soon as we got there, I was instructed to get in the back of a truck and sit and talk to people… okay, Senegal. The people there were great and this became my home base for the rest of Gamou. Turns out his Uncle and his wife drive this truck down for Gamou every year so they can have their own room to sleep in and sit in all day drinking attaya and soda and eating yummy stuff. I don’t remember them calling me a toubab once in that truck, and we just talked and talked for several comfortable hours. After meeting one of his sisters, she took me into the house and I met a few other people, but there were, again, about a hundred people there. So, man, Thank God for that truck, and Thank God for those wonderful people. We ate stupid amounts of meat in onion sauce with friend potatoes, only later did I learn that I was eating camel… We drank stupid amounts of attaya, of which I was given (Every Time) the first cup, despite my protests. And in the evening we went back to the other house where I had left my clothes and such so I could put on my second nice outfit, only to sit in the truck for dinner and tea and then go to sleep. But, it was just so much Fun! The guys left at about midnight to go Siarra ji (walk around through the mosques praying and “gnaning” (asking for…) Allah) and go to jangs (those loud things in tents where griots eat the microphones and people in boubous sit around swaying and clapping). So, it was just me and the older folks in the truck, and we joked and laughed a bit before lying down to go to sleep.

                Buuuuttt… Gamou is strangely like a music festival in America. You have your home base, and your place to sleep, but there is never a moment where it’s silent. There is constant music in the distance, constant coming and going of people doing who know’s what. You fall asleep to these sounds and wake to the same.

                The second day we sat around for until lunch ended, and the women told me they were going to Siarra ji, if I wanted to come along. This was the whole point of the holiday, so Yeah, I wanted to go. But, midday, the truck full of people, I had to do a quick change. The night before with only three people in the truck I had pulled on my sleeping pants under my skirt, and changed my shirt while no one was looking. This time though, there were a dozen people milling about. I wrapped my nice skirt over the dingy one I had been wearing all day, then moved to the back corner of the vehicle with my top. After awkwardly trying to get someone to hold up a sheet for me to change my shirt with no luck, I just took my top off. It’s integration, right? When we got back from Siarra-ji-ing, everyone was impatient to leave and the truck was already pulling away. But there was no way I was traveling in my fancy clothes. So, right there on the side of a busy street in Tivaoune, I did a Senegalese change. This time I wrapped my dingy skirt over my nice one and pulled the nice one off, then, again, I just had to take my top off. … Writing it makes it sound like no big deal, but this means that for just a moment I was on a busy street in one of the religious capitals of my host country in a skirt and a bra. But this is Senegal, and no one I was with even flinched. … Integration complete.

                I guess that’s the end of the story. As with all celebrations here, the actual event is enfolded in hours of sitting around talking, drinking tea, and eating meat. There’s the basic fact. But as for the experience, I was amazed how comfortable and NON-displaced I felt. After my first painful night, once I got to that truck, I felt like I was just a part of the family. No one even called me toubab! Well, none of the people I was actually sitting with. There was plenty of that on the streets. Although I had no private space, struggled with the basic comforts of going to the bathroom, brushing my teeth and taking a shower, I felt comfortable and looked-out for. So,… the end. Onward.
Check the pictures.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

So, ya know how I mentioned that this is just the place where I live now?? SO much even more so now that cold season is here. There’s a freedom in cold season that comes from the ability to travel whenever you feel like it because you don’t constantly have to think about heat exhaustion, dehydration, or sunburn. In the last week I’ve walked to my road town three times (back twice), and today I took a detour to see the well my boyfriend is having dug in his new onion field. I see a man from my neighborhood who Always greets me with my last name phrase of respect (Points for him!) squatting on the edge of the well. They’re champion squatters (amazing balance and longevity), but it gives me that squiggly feeling in my stomach to see him like that, so despite his being a grown man I say before thinking “you should scoot back…” He chuckles a bit but my comment is otherwise ignored.  One of the workers asks me if I eat peanuts, and why. I laugh and tell him his question is silly. My gorgeous boyfriend shoots me a glowing smile, the kind that dimples the corners of his mouth and sparkles in his eyes. The worker adds, “I knew a guy that said if you eat a handful of peanuts every morning you can stay strong and vital 'til you’re a hundred years old.” “I dunno, you should try it. I mean, they’ve got protein so they build your muscles,” I feebly add… Yeah, I’m the one who’s here to teach about health… Caught up with some women from Fass on the path who had apparently gone to my village to get some bissap and peanuts (?? Something I don’t understand is going on there). When I got to Fass I was on “a mission to civilize” (Newsroom anyone? This is not, actually, a good idea) the rude children who call out “toubab” and then ask me for money. I called a couple of them out, asking if they greet everyone with a request for money. They said they did. So when a Senegalese man passed I encouraged them to ask him for money. They, of course, didn’t. In closing I told them “of course you don’t greet people that way. It’s rude. Don’t do it to me again.” Point of the story? If you’ve seen Newsroom, you probably know the result is you look (and feel) kind-of like a jerk/bully, and nothing changes in the behavior of the other person, but for just a moment you’ve made them feel small (which is, generally, a wretched thing to do to someone). ::sigh:: Well, onward. So, I got in a super cramped clanky windy bus-ish-thing and made it to town. I’m trying to live on the cheap right now, so I decided to get some street food. Got an accara sandwich, which is bean flower fritters with spicy onion sauce on a baguette. YUM! So, laden with my backpack, my Arabic newspaper wrapped sandwich and a large plastic bag of peanuts I’m taking to a friend’s husband’s house for her, I decide to get a coffee before I catch a cab to the apartment. It’s dark by now, but the streets are still bustling and lots of full cabs pass me before I can flag one down. It’s windy and cold, and I’m wearing three shirts, jeans, and finger-less mittens I found in our clothing exchange box (best.find.ever.), but I see Senegalese people in tee-shirts, ashy children in shorts, some wearing coats and scarves and hats… I get in the cab and offer the driver some coffee (sorry Virgos, but its rude not to, even with a complete stranger. And, sidenote, I actually take this very seriously. If someone is drinking coffee in front of me in a place where I cannot procure my own and does NOT offer me a drink… I take serious offence. If you’re going to consume something not easily available to everyone else, do it in private where no one can know about it. You save feelings on both sides.)… okay I offer the driver some coffee, he laughs with delight at my non-toubaby-ness and politely refuses. Friendly greetings and small talk ensue. When he lets me off at the apartment he thanks me. “No, you’re the one who gets thanks,” I reply. “Until next time, God willing,” he says, and I repeat “God willing.” And just as I’m about to close the door he sneaks in a “you’re really pretty.” I chortle and thank him, then go eat my sandwich. It’s really really good. But the cold has given me a serious case of chapped lips (chapped everything, really. Wish I had my camera to show you my feet…) and the kaani burns so bad I have to force myself to keep stuffing down the bean fritter goodness. 300 CFA, belly full.
Alright, well, I dunno. I had some energy to blog, so theres a little snapshot of an evening in the life.

Shouldn't I blog something retrospectively about Tabaski?
I'll upload pictures. Let me just say, it was awesome. Awesome outfits. Lots of meat and delicious yumminess. Fun dance party (?). Fun photo-shoots. LOTS of attaya.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"I thank the Lord for the people I have found." -Sir Elton John
"Ain't never lived a year better spent in Love." -Mumford and Sons

I'm here for just over five more months. And I've been here long enough that this is finally just the place where I live. There are So still things I don't understand, things that shock and jar me, and much of the Wolof language that I still don't know. But by and large my ex perience is full of the comfortingly normal stuff of daily life. But that daily life is definately different than the one I had in America. I think there is a large amount of stuff that I no longer even notice as different. Like my shower being scooped out of a bucket and the daily routine of tucking in my mosquito net. I get cold enough to need a sweater and scarf at about 73 degrees. So, it has become a bit daunting to blog.

Cold season is back, which is LOVELY. Just unbelievably lovely. All the people in my village are finishing the work of their rainy season crops. The beans have all come in, the men are finishing the last work of the peanuts and the women are finishing the last of the bissap. We just celebrated Tamkharite, which is the Muslim New Year. Night time meal of millet with meat and vegetables. FIBER!!!!!!!!!!! Which means, also, that Tabaski was already about a month ago. Which is just unbelievable. ... ::sigh:: Three lovely days. Photo's on facebook.

And, now I have to run back to village before it gets any later! I'll try to come up with something more to say sometime soon.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Girls Camp!

Camp Geum Sa Bopp (Believe in Yourself) ended yesterday morning. I saw the girls back to village and then came immediately back to St. Louis to recuperate for 24 hours. It was an amazing (but exhausting) experience. We go through most of our lives Not paying attention to the FACT that women are still not given equal rights to men. I almost qualified that statement with “in some parts of the world,” but the fact is that even in America there is clear inequality in some contexts. It’s a difficult thing to face the reality of this inequality and associated hardship, more so when you feel incapable of doing anything about it. So, this past week was an emotionally charged oscillation between kin-tingling optimism and angry depression. But the knowledge that what we were doing must in some way add energy to the slow-changing situation here in Senegal kept us all pushing through the exhaustion.

Why do I say the situation here is already changing? I’ll give you, as an example, my very favorite moment from the week. It took place during one of the harder moments from the week, so let me explain. I was responsible for an activity to encourage the girls to look critically at gender roles. Tragically, critical thinking is not structurally encouraged here in the educational or social spheres. Education follows, pretty exclusively, a memorization and reproduction paradigm, and the culture is highly community focused, and people are expected to accept and conform to community standards without thinking for themselves about what seems right or wrong. This is an oversimplification, and I’m also casting it in a negative light when it has its advantages. However, for the purposes of the activity I led, it made things difficult. We started by doing an activity called “agree/disagree” where we read a series of statements to which the girls respond by taking a place in a line under signs that read “agree,” “somewhat agree,” “somewhat disagree,” and “disagree.” Responses encouraged conversation, at least between a few vocal people, about whether or not men and women had easier or harder lives and were more capable of working in business or not.

So, feeling optimistic, we split into small groups to continue discussing these issues and gender roles in general. Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding between myself and one of the counterparts that led these discussions to be more school-type question-regurgitation-ish than critical thinking, open conversations. The girls were simply reproducing lists of traditional gender responsibilities and NOT talking about where these standards came from and how they were restrictive or supportive, reasonable or not, etc. In fact, when a friend of mine asked her group “where do these ideas about gender limitations come from?” Someone responded “God,” effectively ending all possible future explorations there. So when we asked two girls from each group to get up and summarize their group conversations, we were all freaking out a little. It seemed that rather than encouraging women’s freedom, we were enforcing traditional gender roles! We didn’t know what to do. We tried to ask them to talk about how they felt about the roles or what they thought about them, but it was like we hit a wall.

When the second group got up to read their list, I told them to skip over anything they had that had already been said, and to only say things that hadn’t already been covered. This group, with a wonderful young woman from my village leading the summary, skipped to question three, which was “Think about your grandmother, your mother, and yourself. How have gender roles changed over time?” What she said still gives me chills. She explained that her grandmother wasn’t allowed to speak in the home and was expected simply to do what she was told by the men of the house. That even her mother wasn’t allowed to make decisions about her own life, that she had to married to the man her family chose, and again had no voice in the home. But, she continued, her generation was the first to have a voice. They were allowed to speak their opinions in the home, to chose who they want to marry and reject those they don’t want. Silent all these years… … Okay, I will not cry in a public café… Saving grace. This activity was immediately followed by a talk with a Human Rights Jurist. She’s a Senegalese woman who has master’s degrees in human rights and international development. And there was nothing compromised in what she said.

Clearly parts of the camp were pretty heavy. And we were regularly reminded that these beautiful young girls, full of so much promise, lived in the same world we all do, where far too many women become victims of abuse. Sometimes it seems to me that innocence is dead. Then I see the smiles on the girls as they sing songs and drum along, when they saw the ocean for the first time, when they were just sitting around talking together, and I know nothing can kill LOVE. And I know that because of this camp, for one week, these girls were given a boost. They were given a chance to lighten their loads, they were given encouragement and knowledge of how to pursue what they want in their lives, they were given a community where it’s normal to be strong and intelligent, they played and laughed and sang and danced.

Meanwhile, we volunteers got to learn some really fun new camp songs and bond both with the girls from our villages and with some amazing Senegalese women,  a couple of whom I’d like to take home with me just to be present in my village. True role models.

It’s a bittersweet ending, as camps always are. You wish you could all stay, but you know you have to go back to your daily lives. You hope the lessons learned and the energy created persist in the campers’ lives, and you just have to trust that it will have some impact.
Finally, I just want to say again, THANK YOU to all our donors. You guys made this possible, and at least for me, this has been the most meaningful thing I've done for the people of Khatete so far. Please know that your support, both financial and in spirit was greatly appreciated, and truly made a difference. THANK YOU! I can't say it enough.