Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I BIKED 37 KILOMETERS

after the supposed "day trip" to kaffrine, shelley and JC convinced me to go back to shelley's site as JC had plans to spend the night there. the catch: they were biking the 37K required to get there. shelley had done the ride before and they managed to convince me that the laterite road would be a straight shot (implying flat) and that i could do it too.

i had left my bike at joel's place since the deflated-tire-ride-through-the-bush incident so i picked up my bike, pumped up the tire and we headed out. immediately i knew that my jeans and messenger bag (with my laptop in it) were going to be a pain in the ass. (little did i know that the seat itself would become a pain in the ass.) within the first stretch of biking, i was already exhausted and frustrated and totally despondent that shelley was racing up and ahead and while JC was not keeping up with shell (who is a bike beast, i have determined), she was way ahead of me and my out of shape fat ass was lagging behind. when i finally caught up with them, they were waiting for me at the trees for the future building where i took some of shelley's elastic rope and strapped down my bag to the back of my bike. this made a considerable difference in my exhaustion but i was still tired as hell and being that we weren't even 1/4 of the way there yet, totally not sure if i could make it and cursing myself for succumbing to peer pressure and the bike ride.

some time into the trip (the point of no return, i suppose) i just accepted my fate and plugged along, ignoring the fact that i was behind and just focusing on the idea that at some point, i would get to shelley's village and the end of this bike ride from hell. the laterite road was red sand and cruel in the sense that much of it was a slight incline with never a rewarding downhill respite. moreover, anytime a car drove by (which was depressing in and of itself), we were pounded with a plume of red sandy dust so thick that shell and JC would disappear from view. also throughout the trip was the constant haggling from villagers ("where are you going?" "give me your bike!" "toubab!" "you look tired!"), screaming kids (and the occasional chasing posse), and honking cars and motos. it was somewhere along this bike ride that i accepted the fact that God had not created me a natural athlete and that i should be content with the other abilities that i was given in lieu of that missing factor.

after 3-ish hours and sundown, we FINALLY made it to nganda and by then it was dark and i was totally tired and my legs were like jello and i was shivering from the cold evening air on my streaming sweat. we stopped by a butig to pick up chocomousse (chocolate spread), juice, and the 2 cans of fanta i had started to crave maybe 15 minutes into the ride.

we then bike the 1K left to shell's site in almost complete darkness. it felt like the longest kilometer of my life. but we amazingly made it to shell's compound -- the house of the great cisse, where i had spent some time when i demysted. (prior to shelley's presence, the PCV here was good friends/dating the girl i demysted with who's village was about a 15 minute bike ride away.) getting off a bike never felt so good. we took quick showers, which left us all bitterly cold (the nights here are getting frigid) and i chugged my fantas which tasted better than ever even though they were cold and stung my teeth and made me shiver even more.

we were called to dinner so we entered bocce's hut and had an amazing dinner of fish (loads of it, too) on a huge bed of lettuce with a mustardy dressing and village bread. JC and i were so happy (as we do not get food like this at our sites) and we scarfed down the food as if we hadn't eaten in days. it was delicious and food never tasted so good.

what was really interesting for me was how much my perspective on things have changed. shelley's village is the first experience i got of a peace corps site in senegal as i had visited this very compound during my demyst 4 days into my being in country. then, i was shocked and uncomfortable with the number of wives (4) and women and children and grandchildren living in the compound. i was terribly intimidated by bocce and felt that i could never relate to him. i was bewildered by the presence of talibe there. i thought the place to be noisy, dirty, and cluttered. i felt that it represented senegalese poverty. i was grossed out by having to eat on the dirt covered floor and lost my appetite at the idea of eating out of one bowl. i remember not knowing how i could adjust to this kind of living and knowing for sure that i could not be placed at a site like this.

what a difference in experience this time around. i'm so glad that i got to go back to my demyst experience and see how i have grown and adjusted. this time i found bocce endearing and we talked about fields and seeds and agfo plans. i was readily willing to eat in his hut and hunkered down on the floor to feast on the food that i ate with my hand. i savored the food and appreciated the wealth that i now see bocce has (it turns out he is actually quite well off and owns a lot of land). i found the women to be lovely and kind and the number of people did not even unsettle of me. the presence of talibe was still a bit strange for me, but i appreciated so much how they are taken care of and treated in comparison to the other talibe in senegal. this time around, the compound seemed lovely and clean and grandiose, as opposed to the dirt and squalor i saw the first time i was there.

after dinner we headed back to shelley's hut (which is huge!) and warmed ourselves with cups of earl gray tea (what a luxury!) and for some reason were overcome with an intense chocolate craving and ate loads of cookies with chocolate sauce all over them. when the cookies were gone we made chocolate covered oranges. we talked and talked and talked about peace corps, stupid things, serious things, memories of our past lives in america, anecoanecdotesdotes from our times at site, observations about life in senegal, debated, postulated, theorized, questioned, and laughed. it was precious conversation and as if making up for all the time we don't speak english, chatted until 2AM. we all felt like it was a sleepover and relished in the girlishness of it and the happy fact that although we were miles away from home and our families, we had each other to talk to, laugh with, and trust.

at 2 we climbed into bed and sleepy-talked a bit more until we all passed out. i was warm during the night for the first time in a long time because of the shared body heat.

around 6AM i woke to the sound of the talibe...chanting? praying? reciting? i drifted in and out of sleep until 7:30 when shell woke us up to go and have cafe touba with bocce and get our bread. we chatted with him for a while and then he sent us back to she'll shut with coffee and village bread. god i love village bread...it is so good. i savored every bit of it as we do not have bread at my site.

mamadou, the agfo director, had been doing site visits and that day was stopping by shelley's village. he showed up around 9 and JC and i went outside to let shelley chat with him while we shelled peanuts and talked to the women. one of the women remembered me from my first time there and was pleased that this time around i could actually talk to her. eventually we were invited back into the hut and bocce gifted mamadou the hugest papaya i've ever seen. i took on the job of cutting it up and it took quite some time but was delicious and i couldn't stop eating it.

in the meantime, shelley caught one of the mice that have been plaguing her hut. instead of my recommended execution of throwing it against a wall -- quick and instantaneous -- she and JC proceeded to drown him. it eventually died (shelley had made the mistake of naming it and thus giving him a soul) and left us all feeling slightly guilty at the murder of gusgus the mouse.

bocce insisted that mamadou stay for lunch and killed a chicken and we feasted on another amazing meal. chicken is so rarely eaten -- despite them being everywhere -- that we couldn't believe our luck and overate and groaned and suffered the consequences of our gluttony later. lunch was followed up with intensely sweet bissap juice that i also regretted consuming later. bocce is a very good host.

mamadou departed and after taking a quick walk around the village in an attempt to walk off lunch, JC and i prepared to leave. at this point, i was hit with intense food coma topped with the exhaustion of the bike ride and so little sleep. moreover, i was facing a trip back to site that involved taking a car to kaffrine and then switching to a car to birkelane and then a 7K walk back home. i wasn't quite ready for such a trek, but knowing that mamadou would be at my site at 8:30AM the next day, knew i had to go.

i caught a car -- a truck with a make shift roof in the truck bed (where i sat) -- and we headed out to kaffrine. i always amaze myself at my ability to sleep anywhere because despite being jostled around int eh car, the wind in my face, and the red dust in my lungs (once again), and the uncomfortable seat i was perched on, i was able to doze off a bit and refresh myself with this power nap. the trip took quite some time and at one point we got a flat tire and also lost some sugar from the load on top of the truck. i was a little nervous because i was cutting close to having to walk in the dark -- something i never want to do -- through the bush in order to get home. but i am adjusting because while i was worried, i was not stressed.

finally got to kaffrine and walked across town to the other garage and caught an al-hum on its way to kaolack. the guy tried to charge me the kaolack price of 1000 CFA even though i was just going to birkelane and i surprised him by knowing that he was trying to cheat me and calling him out on it. he lowered it to 800 and i laughed at him. i told him i knew the price was 350 to birkelane and he relented and led me to the guy who was taking the money and writing receipts. he said the price was 400 which kind of annoyed me but at this point it was 5:30PM and i really should have already been in birkelane and walking at this point so i agreed. i was pleased when i heard him later charge several senegalese the same price for the trip to birkelane meaning that i hadn't been cheated.

a gigantic woman practically sat on me and they crammed as many people as possible into the damn car so it was quite a squishy ride. by the time i was in birkelane i had decied that i would try hiring a charette (horse cart) instead of walk. i stopped by moussa's butig to buy phone credt and ask about the price of charettes. (i'm so glad i actually have senegalese friends now.) lucky me -- thiam, who lives in my village, was there and he had a charette ride and offered me a ride as well! hooray!

i was very pleased and felt quite proud of myslef for having managed this trip and my stress level. i finally felt a bit like a PCV: able to know and bargain prices in Wolof and use my friends as connections and getting home on my own.

in the end i wound up back at site around 8:30 exhausted and dirty and tired and finally finished with my epic adventure that was really supposed to be just a day trip to kaffrine.

good night!

2 comments:

treesaver said...

THIS POST IS TOO COOL.

natalie said...

nooooo gusgus!!!!