Friday, November 16, 2007

installation day

is this really happening? am i really sitting in my hut writing by candlelight (2 candles stuck in gazelle beer bottles) in the middle of the african bush? YES. it is. and its crazy. the day has been surprisingly stable although my brain activity is going nuts. but no gut wrenching feelings of fear or regret. in fact, this all feels quite natural and when the peace corps car drove away, i was actually rather relieved to be on my own and to get started.

how can i even go about explaining this day?? it started very early: me, JC, and kyle had one PC landcruiser to load up all of our stuff -- including ourselves -- which i found to be rather ridiculous but our driver eventually managed to get everything loaded and with a good amount of leg room to spare.

so we're driving through the bush to install me and we come up to a village and my heart starts to beat faster and the apprehension grows and i am feeling all kinds of jittery excitement and am secretly kind of disappointed that there are no baobabs...and we drive right through it. faked out! and proof that i really have no idea where the hell i am going, where i am on a map, and if i'll ever actually really figure that out.

anyhow, one thing that is nice is that the bush is actually pretty. my first impression of the kaffrine region was that it was plain and ugly and we kind of bummed that i would be surrounded by dirt and dust and sand. but as we're driving to my village i am seeing beauty everywhere!

we keep driving and all of a sudden i hear bamba exclaim "talla ka!" and i look out the window and see a dude on a rusty dinky motorbike wobbling down the sand road with his blue boubou billowing after him. we follow him. clearly we are almost there. my heart is beating a little faster. i see some huts in the distance and suddenly there is a hoard of young boys yelling and cheering and pumping their fists and chasing the car and there is even a boy on a regally decorated horse galloping behind us. at first i think the boys are harrassing us -- not cheering our arrival -- and i am literally saying out loud, "please don't be my village boys, please don't be my village boys." bus seriously, it was beautiful and all my feelings of fear being to dissipate as we come up to this beautiful village flanked with fields and baobabs and wide-eyed cream colored cows. i am greeted by all 280 (and more) villagers and a sabaar with children clapping and women dancing and all i can see are wonderful faces and smiles and all sorts of whirling brightly patterned colors from the women's clothes. i have never been so well received! never in my life have i had an entire community stop their daily activities to say hello to me.

the sabaar stops as we climb out of the car and i am led to a table where i sit and the children are arranged in front of me and they sing me a song of welcome (in french). many speeches are made -- all very encouraging and warm and assuring. bamba encourages me to say something so i muster up the courage and stammer out some weak wolof sentences about being happy to live there and hoping that we will work and live well together and that i will try hard to learn wolof and help. i'm not sure at all if any of what i say makes sense but everybody cheers and seems to comprehend -- or maybe they are just very excited and want to cheer.

i then walk to my hut and my village really is very nice. clean and crips and organized and well constructed. we come upon my family compound and my brand spankin' new hut. small but strong and well-constructed. my walls are even painted a bright happy green! the yard is spacious and the douche is brande new and very nice. even my fence is brand new, so much so that the seeds are still falling off from the dried grass. everybody wants to see my hut so they all squeeze in and examine everything. it really is a nice hut. we are served lots of soow (kawga steezy) and i can't drink much more than half a cup. soow, by the way, is milk straight from the cow and left out in the sun/heat to ferment -- a type of yogurt, i suppose. its good but new and bamba tells me that i am not obliged to drink it all and then talla forces more on him and he can't refuse and reluctantly drinks the rest (ha!).

eventually the PC crew peaces out and its just me and my village. i re-enter my hut and see that a group of men (key players of the community, presumably) have all settled down in the hut to chill and talk. i am a little worried because PC and other PCVs have always told us to set our boundaries ASAP regarding people in your hut but then i don't want to evict them when thay all probably built this hut and moreover, they're letting me -- a female -- in on their boy's club so i let them chill and figure i will enforce boundaries tomorrow. they hang out there for a while and eventually i stop trying to comprehend and start to space out and accidentally fail to stifle a yawn and they all jump up and bustle out. so that's all it takes.

now i have time to rest and get my hut in order. i do this for the next few hours but everybody keeps coming in to feed me watermelon, maffe (kawga steezy, as well), and to help me arrange things. my hut is so nice and pretty and the village is so motivated and i live under three huge baobab trees. i am happy.

at some point i go to fetch water with one of my moms (did i ever learn her name?? is it too late to ask??) and i ask where the well is. she laughs and tells me they have a robinet. we have running water! (thank you, world vision!) still, the communal robinet is a ways off and it is a lot of work to carry (on your head) the bucket full of water. all the women want me to carry it but my mom doesn't take them seriously and does it for me but i think i will learn to do this soon so that i integrate myself into the community and not add onto my mothers' already heavy workload. the women point to objects and ask me what they are. luckily i know the words for donkey, horse, charette, sheep, and goat in wolof and they are all pleased and proclaim i can speak wolof (wait till they try to have a real conversation with me!).

the day also includes a one hour nap, watching more dacing, discovering that i have misplaced both my flashlight and headlamp, and lots of communication blunder. whatever, i have 2 years to get this language down and i feel like for a first day i'm not doing too bad. i'm really tired and we have a dog that won't stop barking (probably because of the strange toubab presence) but i choose sleep over all things right now. this is a crazy experience. it really has begun.

things to do:
- see fields and gardens
- learn names!
- discuss with talla what to call him. dad? brother? talla?
- find out my moms' names (discreetly!)
- find out just how many little kids live in my compound? (so many!)
- maybe figure out where i am on a map?
- set boundaries and enforce them

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