Wednesday, April 30, 2008


jay mailed me a secondhand ipod with 4gb of new and desired music on it. what a great gift! i am listening to the "new" daft punk album (alive 2007) on the stereo at the kaolack house and it is amazing. it might be eurotrash, but there is something about it that is really awesome. anyway, i am really enjoying myself right now, listening to music, eating good food (i cooked) and kind of, decompressing/recuperating after a really excellent weekend.

i turned 23 on sunday, the 27th. i don't think i ever predicted that on my 23rd birthday, i would be in senegal (let alone africa). i've always been one to (admittingly) make a big deal out of my birthday so i rounded up JC, shelley, chris, matt, tayo, joel and adrianne to head out to the coast to get away from site and to hang out. after a really stressful week of pepineering and personal emotions about the work load and life in general, i arrived in kaolack on the 25th ready to forget about all of that for just a few days. i ran some errands and picked up a sweet package from my mother that had cake mix (two!), chips, national geographic, ant killer, and worm medicine (for the cat) amongst other things. my friends started to trickle into the house and we spent the rest of the day chillin' at the house. that night there was a seder that i partook in (my first seder!), which was fun and involved good food.

the morning of the 26th we headed out to go to joal, a small fishing town. adrianne lives there as an eco-tourism volunteer (and i am really envious) so she hooked us up with a pimp house on the water with a huge kitchen and living room for a hell of a good price. granted the beach in joal is pretty scuzzy (as in, i didn't walk on it because it was so gross), but it was still amazing to have a house right on the water like that with big doors and the ocean breeze to waft in. it was as if adrianne had read my mind about what kind of house i would be happy in because she was right on.

so we dropped off our bags and headed out to lunch and ate seafood. granted we have fish almost every day at site, but there is something much tastier about lotte and sole and grilled shrimp than village fish. afterwards we walked across a really big wooden bridge to a little island called fadiouth where there is a neat church and mosque and animism baobab trees and alleys of little houses and seashells everywhere and a nice bar/restaurant on the water. we walked around and then had a beer at the restaurant where adrianne is friends with the owner and hangs out with her work partners there. because they all knew each other, her friend hooked us up with a free pirogue ride on the water. he got us a big wooden pirogue and rowed it himself (poled, really) around the mangroves and fish and past some historic granaries. it was really neat and enjoyable. i love being on water, especially in nifty little boats, so i was definitely happy. we stopped by a teeny cemetery island which was really pretty and gave a beautiful scenic view of mangroves and baobab trees on the horizon. it would be a good place to be buried.

after this little (and free!) adventure, we headed back to the house and made preparations for the night. JC suggested homemade dinner and i decided that i really wanted to make a nice dinner for my friends, so we went to the market and sent the others to a toubab store to pick up other items. the menu: salad with mustard dressing, pasta and chicken in a wine-butter sauce with mushrooms (canned, of course), onions, tomatoes, and loads of garlic, and for dessert: chocolate cake (from the mix) with a peanut butter frosting. sometimes i am amazed at the kinds of dishes you can make with such a limited array of ingredients and resources. (for the pasta: quickly sauté chicken so that skin is white in garlic and set aside in bowl with light marinade of wine and some fresh squeezed lemon juice. throw garlic and onions into a skillet with butter. add mushrooms and wine. melt down the rest of the butter in the skillet and add tomatoes and chicken. add salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. simmer until thick and toss with pasta.)

despite it requiring me to dismantle a whole chicken with a swiss army knife, i really enjoyed cooking for my friends as we all hung out in the kitchen/living room and hung out and chopped vegetables and prepared dinner and/or played cards while listening to music and drinking wine (JC bought me a quality medoc for us to split) and a little concoction adrianne mixed up that we decided to call an "awa fraise" (gin, tonic, strawberry foster clarks drink powder). i'll admit that we got a little saucy but we had a great time. i'm lucky to have smart and witty and often scathingly sarcastic friends so plenty of entertaining things were said and discussed. it was overall the exact kind of night that i needed -- hanging out in a pimp house with good food, drink, friends, and conversation. maybe it is a sign of my age (although 23 really isn't very old, as my villagers like to point out to me: i am still quite a child) but i don't really know what can be much more fun than having a dinner party with one's friends.

the next morning (the 27th, the actual birth day) we took our time in the morning. JC left pretty early because she had to go pick up a guest in dakar and then the guys went out to go see supposedly the largest baobab tree in senegal. they payed a mille to go ride on a charette and see a really large tree. i live under three big baobabs (maybe not the largest in senegal) and ride charettes all the time so i wasn't impressed by the idea and didn't buy into it and decided to stay at the house and hang out and read a little bit. shelley and adrianne stayed behind too so we went out to lunch at a place called le thiouraye (french spelling for the wolof word for "incense"), which is a quaint and perfect little restaurant/auberge on the water where we could eat with little fishes swimming right by us and mangroves and birds to watch. we ate more good seafood and chatted and i bought myself a birthday present of a bracelet that i guess i don't really need but gave myself an excuse to get.

in the afternoon everybody went back to kaolack but chris and i stayed behind in joal because we were going to pout (pronounced "poot" -- really!) the next day to go see mandi, a SED volunteer from our stage. we switched to a nice little auberge (inn) and then went to see adrianne's house that is covered in sea shells and has the tiniest/shallowest well i have ever seen in my life. my sister and my parents called and it was so great to talk to them and made me miss them so much but i know that they love me and are so incredibly supportive of me and i'm not going to lie, i almost cried after we got off the phone. we then went out again for sandwiches and beers and chilled at a restaurant. it almost felt like we were in america again and it was really fun hanging out with adrianne and chris who are such smart people and have such fun conversations. i don't remember when the last time it was that i hung around in a bar/restaurant with friends and beers for a few hours. on the walk back to the auberge we made a friend with a health post worker and then chris braved his life against an angry guard dog that was standing at the door of the auberge so that we could get inside.

monday we left joal for thies so that we could get to pout (traveling in senegal is all about taking lots of rickety cars for long amounts of time in roundabout ways). adrianne had to pick something up at the training center so she came with. i took advantage of the trip to thies to talk to the bank about my new atm card (that i STILL haven't gotten) and failed miserably but whatever, i was made to feel better by pasta (lasagna!) at magic croissant and then going to the training center and seeing the trainers and old friends. i hadn't been back in thies since IST and i actually think it is probably one of the nicer cities in senegal and like it a lot more than i used to. we stopped by a really good toubab store where i found very expensive soy milk (!!!!!!) and chris bought real bacon (gross). we said our goodbyes with adrianne and then boarded a car to pout, the land of abundant fruit (it rhymes!) and mandi.

we got to pout and met up with mandi (whom i haven't seen since WAIST) and met her absolutely adorable months old kitten (seriously not much gets cuter than this cat) and had dinner for breakfast -- french toast and bacon. we caught up and chilled at her really nice house until we all stayed up way past our bedtimes (admittingly, 10PM). in the morning i was woken to ellie, mandi's kitten, romping around and frolicking around on top of me and the sheets as if i was a playground. since she weighs like, less than a pound, it wasn't a big deal but she was going a little nuts, ramming into us and biting us and pouncing on anything that moved. we then went out to a monastery called keur moussa, a place known for its goat cheese and grapefruits (in senegal!) that i have been dying to go to ever since the SED'ers went during IST. we pulled up and mass had just started so we attended mass and it was really quite beautiful. the church is adorned in gorgeous art and the music was done with koras and djembes and the monk who led the singing had the most heartbreakingly beautiful voice. i have only attended mass in central america and thought little could top it, but this mass was peaceful and transformative and really wonderful. after mass they opened up the magasin to us where we loaded up on goat cheese, grapefruit, grapefruit and ginger juice, and (another gift for myself) a jasmine extract spray (it is really comforting to smell nice after a long day sweating up in the pepineer!). i don't even know when it was the last time that i had goat cheese and grapefruit (as they are not common items in senegal or the life of a PCV) so i was extremely happy to have these back in my life.

after lunch at mandi's house chris and i began our journey back to kaolack. we stocked up on a few more kilos (literally) of fruit and squeezed into a rather squishy sept-plaas. i was sandwiched in between chris and a nar and sitting on an uncomfortable hump but i guess things could have been worse. after a few hours in the car, we finally got to kaolack in the late afternoon/early evening and after tossing all my bags to chris i rushed out to the market before they started to take it down to buy produce for dinner. JC and her guest were passing through the house too so i prepared a dinner of bean and corn burgers which we accented with goat cheese and lettuce. (tastes like veggie burgers and very easy to make: sautee garlic and onions, mix into mashed beans, canned corn, oatmeal, soy sauce, mustard, salt, pepper, red pepper, italian seasoning. form into patties and cook on a skillet or bake.) dinner was pleasant and extremely filling and ten thousand times more satisfying than what we eat in the village.

after an exhausting day of traveling, sleep could be no sweeter and now it is today and i am taking care of some business in kaolack before heading out to sokone in a few days for a kaolack region wide meeting in which we will create a strategy for how we will align our work with each others'. after such a weekend, i feel totally refreshed and ready to get back to work -- the pepineer and new trees and fruit trees don't seem so daunting anymore and i am actually looking forward to getting back to site and getting started on the next phase of the pepineer process.

so i am 23 now and i'm in senegal, west africa serving as an agroforestry extension agent. i live in a hut in the senegalese bush with a small kitten and a family that has 2 wives and 10 (or more) kids. i have no electricity and running water (aside from a community shared spigot) and incredibly far away from my (real) family and american comforts. i have a tree nursery of about 3,000 sacks and work with farmers in a language i had never heard before september 2007. if this doesn't call for an interesting year, i don't know what will. i am very lucky to be alive and to be here and to have my health and family and friends. i am grateful.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

awa naps

between the hours of 2 to 5 it gets really freakin' hot and there is really nothing to do but nap. i often partake. sometimes i read or write or creepily watch the children and draw them.

here's awa taking a nap.

and no, its not that i don't have a handle on my proportions, her head actually is much bigger than the rest of her body. don't make fun of her, she's like, 4 years old!

rough day

today was really rough and perhaps the first truly aggravating day at site in a while. it was a flurry of of mixed emotions and i am utterly exhausted. it didn't help that today was blazing hot and i have a wicked sinus infection. seeding 3,000 sacks and two bareroot beds is turning out to be a lot harder and more time consuming that i thought it would be and i have found myself crouched over my pepineer for hours on end seeding. this process also requires seed pre-treatment in the mornings and evenings as each species has a different amount of time to soak in water in order to get the most sucess from the seeds. it wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't so fucking hit -- the sun is blazing by 10AM and i practically water my trees with my sweat. i haven't had much help -- not that i ever really expected it for this part of the process -- but it hasn't bothered me until today when i went down to the valley to help out the world vision pepineer.

diakho had stopped by the other day and asked me to come out and help with filling sacks and to talk with the world vision people so that we could collaborate. i told her that i would go when i was done seeding, but it turns out that the seed of my favorite tree (Cassia siamea) is a bitch to seed as they are thin and small and i guess because of the properties of water (adhesion? cohesion? i always forget.) stick terrible to the skin and require extra effort to seed. because i am a time and commitment freak, i started to stress out when it was 11:30 (and i had started at 7:45) and i still wasn't done. i don't like breaking my word and even if the Senegalese are notorious for making commitment they don't intend to keep, i have made it a point to live to what i say here. by the time i was done it was 12:30 and i was exhausted and thirsty but because we've had problems with our robinet resulting in red water (which i am too scared to drink) i went thirsty and headed out to the valley with fatou.

when we got there, we were approached with a scene that should have made a forester's heart jump for joy -- throngs of people gathered filling sacks, sifting soil, and laying out beds for sacks. but maybe it was the heat or the thirst or just my pride, but i got angry instead. where was this kind of help when i was seeding my sacks? i was happy to have 10 people help me with my sacks that took me 3 weeks to fill but i couldn't help but realize that in one day, WV would triple, quadruple the number of sacks sitting in my pepineer. was this why they wouldn't let me do my pepineer in the valley? why didn't anybody tell me this was going to happen?! i wouldn't have felt the need to do a 3,000+ sack tree nursery if i had known this was going to happen!

most of all, i got angry at the men. i've been increasingly getting sick of the males here -- the constant propositions, the laughing and disbelief when they discover i am not married, the lectures about how a woman is incomplete without a husband and children and that i can't possibly be happy, the swaggering, the laziness, the cockiness, the sitting around and watching us women pull water for hours while they do nothing and complain that there is no work in this country. the men in my village are actually very kind and respectful of me -- but only two men ever showed up to help me when i was filling sacks. but i can't even count the number of times fallou (not the baby and whom i refer to as the "village idiot" in my head) has come over and yanked away my shovel telling me that this is why i need a husband and then subsequently shoveling a load smaller than mine. and of course every day i have to deal with talla treating me like an idiot and his wives as servants because we are women. so it was absolutely infuriating to show up at the valley and see ALL the men of my village there and filling sacks. and there was talla, flapping around, acting important and greeting me with an "oh, you're here."

as i was walking to a pile of soil and sacks, i was stopped by a huge belly in camouflage and a hand that grabbed mine even before i could look up. ugh, it was m. camara, the birkelane eaux et foret agent that i have been told by mamadou to not work with for a number of reasons, the main one being that he is a rude, abrasive, fucking psycho (really). he was supposed to be my counterpart but since he declined the invitation to counterpart workshop back in IST (oh, and because he is a fucking psycho), i was switched to another guy who has been disappointingly MIA but at least not a crazy person. i've run into him before and have always run away from him because he terrified me and disgusts me. so he stops me in my tracks and without greeting me or anything, demands my name. i tell him and he starts raving about the fact that i have pulaar last name. he is clearly a man who caves for attention and is yelling and i feel everybody turning their attention to this stupid scene he is making about my last name. i have a little spiel about the being wolof but having a pulaar last name (because its not like the first time anybody has said this to me) and people usually quit after i give it because it makes them laugh (it involves me saying "i don't speak pulaar" in pulaar) but of course this doesn't do anything for him and he goes on and on until abdou, the chief of the village, comes over to greet me. this makes camara stop (finally) and i literally see him puff up his chest and try to get all official and down to business and he starts to go off about how i've never gone to see him when i am supposed to work for him and that its just because he didn't go to thies for CPW (well, kind of...) and blah blah blah and i suddenly get the gist that with this lecture and the going-on about my pulaar last name, he is trying to embarrass me in front of all these people so that he can feel big and important. this, of course is not going to fly with me and stow away the humble peace corps volunteer persona and whip out angry american, stand up straighter, look him in the eye, and raise my voice. i interrupt his babble and sternly tell him, NO -- i don't work for you, i work with aly in kaffrine and if he has a problem with that, he needs to talk with my boss mamadou who works for corps de la paix. its the first time my villagers have seen me legitimately and totally pissed (other than on sunday when some dude called me a "ching chong" to which i yelled at him that he was rude and that i had a name and that what he was selling was ugly and even so, only yaay fatou witnessed this and after he left, she quizzically asked me what a "king kong" was) and he was quite startled by my assertion. i stood my ground, glaring at him, and he waved his hand in dismissal and went off to go practice his authority elsewhere.

at this point i was really riled up but put away my pride and reminded myself that only one man had offended me -- not the entire community -- so there was no reason to get angry at them. i forced a smile and chirped ,y greetings and headed over to fill sacks which i took out my anger on as i stuffed them full of soil. however i kept replaying the scene in my head and got more and more annoyed and soon got fed up with filling sacks. i'm TIRED of filing sacks. this ended for me LAST week, why was i here doing work i had already done? plus, i was tired and getting increasingly thirsty so i stopped after 20 or so sacks. fatou could tell i was fed up so she told me to rest and sit against a tree, so i did and had a nice conversation with a pleasant pulaar fellow (in wolof because i don't speak pulaar) who had something stuck in between his teeth and tried to teach me some words in pulaar but i was unfortunately not feeling very chatty so the conversation didn't last very long.

eventually i screwed up the nerve to announce that i was going home because i was tired and had other work to do. as i was heading out, relieved and ready to drink water until it came out of my ears, i ran into diakho who was very happy to see me. i told her i was going home but she insisted that i walk with her a little before i did. she held my hand and dragged me around and then i asked the damning question of what types of trees they were planning on planting, seemingly innocent, but damning because she replied, "let's go talk to eaux et foret about it!" NOOOOO. but i let her drag me over to where he was sitting (away, in the shade, watching -- probably supervising in his mind -- the women who were preparing lunch for the volunteers) as i clenched my teeth and told myself that i would probably get sent home for smashing somebody's face in with a shovel.

as soon as he saw me he started AGAIN on the pulaar last name thing saying that it just wasn't possible, that there was NO SUCH THNG as a wolof with KA for a last name. diakho -- who had not been there for my previous encounter with him -- simply replied "yes there are!" and tried to get on with business but camara wouldn't get off it and asked the idiot sitting next to him if there were wolofs with pulaar last names and this old guy goes, "no, there is no such a thing." camara has his victory and then this old guy starts to go after me, asking me why i would dare visit his village but not do tree work with them. he tells me i have n oreason to go there if i don't want to work with them. i correct him and that 1) i have family in his village which is why i go and 2) i have full intentions of working with his village but currently is not the best time fore me. he snarls at me that i have no family there and i throw back that YES, i do and rattle off a few names of aram's relatives who live there. he goes from angry to injured and simpers, "why won't you work with me? my family was living with you when you got here!" so he does know who i am (and therefore, thows that there are wolof KAs) and maybe he is just old and senile so i give in a little and am nicer. he then takes 5 minutes to remember the name of the girl who was living here when i got here (sey) to which i ask about her health and he answers and then shuts up, sulking.

in the meantime, camara has been yammering away to diakho and bitching about how PC screwed him over (not true, he never answered our letter of invitation) and getting increasingly angry when diakho artfully steers the conversation back to what i was there for. turns out, he's not even the one with the seeds, WV has them and gave them to abdou. still, i ask, what kind of trees? he must know. he looks at me and tells me that i don't know the names of trees. i then tell him actually, yes i do, in fact, the wolof, english, and latin names. he asks, "latin?" and looks befuddled. i curtly respond, "guy-baobab-Adansonia digitata; daqaar-tamaring-Tamarindus indica." he gets the picture and even allows a slight look of impression and tells me a few names in latin and starts speaking to me in french. my french isn't very existent these days, but i can still understand it well enough, so because i refuse to let this man treat me like i'm lesser than him, i repeat whatever he says to me back to him -- but in Wolof, pretending as if i am checking to see if i get what he means but really probing to him that i totally get it and that he doesn't have to condescend to me by speaking french, i know his local language.

maybe diakho senses the tension because she again changes the subject and gets him to begin bemoaning the troubles of his work and the lack of money and a whole bunch of other shit that i stop listening to because i am so freakin' thirsty and want nothing but water. suddenly, he gets up and says he's leaving. as he passes me, he touches MY BELLY (!) and says condescendingly, "don't worry, we will work together" and i am seething inside and want to badly to hurt this man but refuse to let him get the best of me. he finally leaves and diakho starts a conversation with the old crazy guy and i finally implore her if i can go home now. i barely wait for an answer and start walking back.

at this point it is about 2:30PM and the sun and heat are just getting at its worse. the sand is burning through my sandals and even though it is like, a 1/3 of a kilometer away, i keep picturing myself passing out on the road of dehydration and the buzzards picking at my carcass. i finally get back and practically collapse onto the floor. i am sweating like mad and trembling so i drag myself outside and douse myself in water and wrap myself in a wet sheet. i drink the bucket of red water -- i would rather get sick than be thirsty and sweat for the next hour. in the meantime, aram brings me lunch -- she looks a bit confused at my state of being but wisely leave me alone. i eat and it is good -- but it is both hot and spicy which increases my sweating and the hut is hot and the air is stale and i am overall terribly uncomfortable.

i give up on the hot food and tear into two mangos and in the meantime, text mamadou telling him to please call me. 5 minutes later he does and it is so good to hear a familiar voice speaking english and i tell him about the situation with camara and ask that he makes sure that the man is aware of the fact that he is not -- and never was -- my counterpart. mamadou immediately replies that he will set the situation straight. he also expresses his appreciation for my calling him which is good because i was scared that i was blowing it out of proportion.

i allow myself a short break but really, there is way too much work to do to allow myself the rest of the day off so at 5, i drag myself out of the hut and start seeding again. it is still hot and i am, once again, sweating profusely. despite all the sweat i have substantially calmed down and the mundane task of seeding further soothes my frayed nerves. aram comes to help me out a little and we chat but she is not feeling too well these days she stays for a little. i wouldn't want her overworking herself anyways since her health has really been worrying me. by the time i've doubled dug and seeded a bareroot bed for my two Leucaena species, i am exhausted. it is not so much that the work is rigorous but the heat really wears you out. i muster up the last of my energy to water the pepineer and finally head back into my hut. unfortunately though the day's work is not done, i still have afternoon chores to do before i can shower and call it a day. mamasou saves the day by coming in and sweping my hut for me and dusting and helping me put things away. this girl is such a godsend and i often do consider her the little sister she so badly wishes to be.

in the meantime, dey fatou sees my failed attempts to shell mango seeds (a hammer, a nail, a knife, and mangled seeds strewn about my floor) and successfully shells one for me. i am delighted and it turns out that shelling mango seeds is something she seems to enjoy doing. she basks in my praise and runs off and shells 3 more. i plant them and pray that they will work and not get attacked by termites.

finally i can shower and it feels wonderful. i am a little frustrated to discover that i accidentally left my soap bar out in the sun and it has melted all over the place but it is a small frustration in comparison to the rest of the day's events. i'm finally bathed and can call it a day and head over to my stick bed when talla comes home and announces that he had SUCH a long day but that he HAD to be there because he knows SO much about pepineering and acts all smug and important and doesn't even have a clue as to the amount of work i got done today. i don't mention it but later fatou does and he is surprised (isn't he always when i demonstrate my ability to act independently?) and instead of saying anything positive, he instead admonishes me for going to fill sacks if i ad all this work to do here. to this fatou snaps that i had told diakho i would go but he doesn't get the hint to shut up and tells me that i shouldn't got ot eh valley if i have other things to do at home because they "don't need me." i nearly ask him, why then, is there an agroforestry volunteer living in his compound? but instead let it go and i answer him with silence.

so it is finally the end of the day and i am only left with two assurances, 1) that i will sleep well tonight and 2) with the way things go here, tomorrow might wind up being the best day and if not the best, probably better, so there is no point in letting my anger and frustration ride over. thank God the day is finally over and i have no died of dehydration and hopefully tomorrow will be nothing like it was today.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

the miracle of the mango!

i used to be a really big fan of mangos until one day, some time ago, i ate a mango and broke out into hives, my throat closed up, and my lips and hands were swollen and itchy. tragically, i had developed an allergy to mangos and for years i enviously watched others consume mangos while avoiding them (mangos, not people) for fear of death by mango.

but because i missed the sweet succulence of a good mango, i would often sneak a taste -- only to break out into hives and gasp for air through a constricting windpipe, thus reminding myself that mangos were off limits and never to be eaten. it is torture to desire a fruit and not be able to eat them, particularly when they are such a universally loved fruit like mangos and when in season, everybody else is sinking their teeth into the beautiful red-orange flesh of a juicy, sticky mango.

throughout this time, mangos have constantly reminded me of my handicap. once, while in el salvador, i lived under a giant mango tree for several weeks and every morning the tree would taunt me by dropping its plump fruit on my tin roof as a means of waking me up. or, my parents would buy them by the crate and have them for dessert and forgetting my deadly allergy, offer me some to which i would be forced to refuse and to choose the lowly banana as an alternative.

imagine my fury when i discovered that senegal is abundant in mangos and part of my job would be growing, grafting, and pushing mangos. other volunteers spoke about how wonderful mango season is, some called it their favorite time of year and in the meantime, i pretended not to care and to favor the citrus season, while secretly crying tears of envy and fretting about how i could work with mangos and not eat them.

mango season has started recently and it has been painful to watch everybody feast on mangoes are are ONLY 350CFA a kilo. i've politely refused them numerous times, trying to figure out how to explain what will happen to me in wolof and fighting the temptation to grab one and eat it. in the meantime, i've been worried because everybody in my village wants mango trees but the only way to obtain seeds is to eat them. quite the conundrum.

then the other day, somebody gave me a mango and not wanting to reject a gift, i took it. i set it on my desk and for a day, the fruit with its tantalizing scent and color called out to me to be eaten. a few times i picked it up and sniffed it, trying to satiate my craving but this only made it worse, as upon touch i could tell it was at its peak of ripeness and ready to be consumed.

the standoff lasted about a day until i discovered that my bananas and precious avocados were infested with fruit flies and in my distraught desire for fresh fruit, grabbed the mango and a knife and butchered it, as it had been begging me to do. it was delicious and i didn't care if giving into the mango was the way i was going to exit the world until it was wholly consumed and i was picking its fibers out of my teeth. i waited for the allergic reaction in anxiety and fear for the next few hours -- BUT NOTHING HAPPENED!

have i miraculously been cured of my affliction? granted, the next day i had a pretty itchy and awful rash on my arms -- but hey, it might be heat rash. anyway, i'm too busy to care -- i have a few years of mango eating to make up for!

Monday, April 7, 2008

his days are winding down...

pedro has a date with death.

i was asked (for the millionth time) the other day if i will ever eat my chicken and as much as i don't want to...i suppose that is what chickens are for.

fatou and aram have suggested that pedro be my sister's welcome dinner when she comes to visit in july (hurrah!) and i tentatively agreed. i let leanne know and she wailed a response (via email) of, and i quote, "nooOoooOooooO." too bad, because the news has gotten around and everybody knows that pedro's got a death date.

maybe its for the better because he's always the first cock to crow starting at 5 in the morning and it is really becoming a pain in the ass.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

pepineer party!

as much as talla makes my work life miserable (primarily because he treats me like i'm an idiot and won't ever respect me unless i magically obtain a penis and a herd of cows -- and even if given the opportunity, i wouldn't take it), the women of my village make up for it.

this morning started out with talla making me want to rip out my hair because of the condescending way he was talking to me and i was sure that my work day was doomed to be a day of talla pointing out the obvious, not letting me shovel or push wheelbarrows or sift manure or mix soil or even breathe while trying to explain to me the basics of multiplication as if i never got beyond elementary school. i was doing everything i could to maintain my calm and not lose it and the morning wasn't looking very pretty.

i had mentioned to the women that i would need more water than usual today, because in the past few days i've been using my bath and drinking water to mix soil for the sacks and really scraping the bottom of the barrel for water. i felt pretty bad about it though because i personally think that carrying water is one of the hardest chores women have to perform -- hence my not asking for more water until today. i got the extra water -- more than i needed, actually -- so i was feeling a bit better and happier because of that luxury and then all these women started showing up to the compound with water for the pepineer! i thought that was pretty awesome of them and once again my confidence in the women's motivation for agricultural and trees was confirmed.

as the work day commenced, i tried my best to bite the bullet and work on being humble with talla -- my latest attempt at getting along with him is acquiescing. after all, he is the one who lives here and i am only here for 2 years and won't have to live with the consequences of my work (good consequences, hopefully). part of this acquiescence is changing over to his soil mixture for the sacks -- i've never really been outright against it (as he seems to think), i'm just not familiar with it and since i didn't come all the way here to fuck up, was reluctant to try it when i was certain that 2 parts sand to 1 part manure would work.

anyway, we were switching over to "suuf siin" and as talla was out with ousmane (a nice young man with gangly limbs who comes over often to tease the little boys and never once has asked me about my husband or boyfriend or children or has tried to take away a machete or shovel or wheelbarrow from me) gathering this stuff and i was sifting sand (after being carefully instructed what constitutes a "full wheelbarrow" and to not try to empty it myself because it would be heavy -- despite the fact that i just did this by myself the day before when he was out all morning) all these women started to stop by and ask me if i was starting work. strange, by my business is everybody's business, so whatever.

nday ndao, yaayfatou wilane, and mameroke wilane, along with fatou and aram (who have become my closest friends and accomplices when it comes to dealing with their difficult husband), have been consistently coming over to help fill sacks and have really helped the process and will get first dibs on trees and my labor (they don't know this yet) and they came over again and we started to fill sacks. then maam ndao came over and then mamecoumba wilane and then awa mbengue and then aram sow and then salla niang! 3 more women came over but we had to tell them to come back another time because there was simply not enough room. i'm pretty sure the women spread the word at the robinet this morning and all these awesome women decided to come over and help me -- like they always said they would and it realy made me appreciate the power of women and community.

fatou was cooking lunch today and called me to the kitchen hut and suggested i buy extra fish and rice so that everybody could have lunch here after the sacks were filled. awesome idea and i readily did so. we also had a secret conversation in which she helped me remember 2 of the women;s names and as we whispered in the kitchen, i felt way closer to her than i did when ij ust got here and felt like she didn't like me.

it was a lively sack filling session. i didn't say much but enjoyed the environment and listening to the conversations and was incredibly grateful that i wasn't stuck with filling 4,000 sacks by myself. together we filled like, 500+ sacks and i wanted to gather everybody in a big group hug and show them how much i loved them but of course i wasn't going to do that so instead we hung out and i made silly jokes about my cat and her late night cavorting and they laughed and laughed themselves sick. i told another PCV about today and apparently this kind of community organization and motivation is rare and my friend quipped, "wow, they must really like you!" that makes me feel really great and even if it has nothing to do with them liking me, i'll attribute it to that and feel a lot better about myself and my role here at site.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

just another morning

today started out with histrionics from coudja (little girl from next door). she came running into my hut just as aram entered carrying my morning water. coudja was trailed by some woman (whom i ought to know, considering that she lives next door, but don't) who was trying to hit her for something (kids get hit all the time as punishment here -- hits are doled out quite frequently). coudja was wailing and she was naked if not for a thin sheet of fabric wrapped around her tiny, skinny frame. she was clearly in trouble (she hit the baby) but the women were finding the whole chase-the-child-thing funny as the woman chased coudja around and around aram as aram stood there balancing water on her head. she finally reached coudja, gave her a light smack, and ran off. coudja very obviously overreacted, throwing herself onto the floor and screaming her head off, her skirt thrown aside, and her very skinny naked body writhing on my floor.

just another morning at site...

faceless friends

it pretty much took me two days to get back to site when i had only gone for one night. it wasn't that i didn't want to be there, but i was struck with such exhaustion that i couldn't bear the thought of going back to site and working -- which is somewhat ridiculous because for so long all i wanted to do was nothing but fill sacks and now i have worn myself out.

i finally dragged myself out to site around 4:30PM. i had to wait for the 7-palaases to fill up for quite a while and in the meantime, made friends with the young, good-looking arabic teacher sitting next to me and a woman who sold me some bracelets through the window.

i wasn't really sure as to how i was going to get back from birkelane to site because i was unable to reach talla all day but figured that that was a lame excuse for me not to leave the house and hoped that something would come up or i would just ball up and walk the 7k in the heat.

i got to birkelane and was greeted by the charette drivers who tried to convince me to hire out a charette. i almost fell for it when a guy lowered it down to 1750CFA (instead of 2000CFA) but then realized that i would be setting a precedent and this would happen every time i gout out of a 7-palaas in birkelane and EVEN if he lowered the price, 1750 is a damn lot of money for a freakin' charette ride. just as i was heading out to walk, i heard thiam calling me over from the butig -- i had actually been avoiding him because i had forgotten to go to a wedding at his wife's house last weekn and i felt really bad about it.

but he was friendly as ever and got me a charette ride but i would have to "wait a little" and in the meantime, would i not go and see his house/compound in birkelane? so i agreed and went and his compound is huge and cool and a mix of seerer, pulaars, and wolofs. everybody was really friendly and kind and i feel like i have another place to seek refuge in birkelane if i have the need.

afterwards, i hung out at the butig and watched manchester play some other team with a bunch of men and felt like one of the boys. by then it was already dark and i was pretty sure that i was going to be having an adventure. i was also a little nervous because i had an impending night charette ride with a man i only knew through a friend of a friend: either a good situation for an accident or a rape -- and i wasn't sure if i should do it but then i would have to stay in birkelane which could turn out equally as shady.

the dude shows up -- his name is cisse ba -- and he darts out off into the darkness and i have to keep up with him carrying my bags and struggling in my pagne (a tie-skirt). he at some point offered to carry a bag but i wanted to prove a point so i continued to struggle and resulted in being drenched with sweat from dashing along in the thick humidity of the night. cisse walked faster than any senegalese i've ever met and moreover, seemed he seemed to have nightvision and did use a flashlight or anything. in the meantime he yammered away and apparently we had met each other before.

we show up at somebody's compound (we are still in birkelane but on the outskirts of town) and everybody greets me as if they know me but i can't see a damn thing because its dark out and there is no moon but you know, there's nothing else i can do but play along and try to figure out who these people are. i am sweating like mad and a little disoriented because i am still not entirely sure what is going on -- i have been passed on from one person to another and i just have to trust that this will get me home. after all, everybody knows each other and each other's business so it would be utter stupidity for somebody who is a friend of a friend of a friend and lives in a neighboring village to do something cruel or unkind to me. moreover, while senegalese can be aggressive ad pushy, they are ultimately kind and generous people and do not have bad intentions.

i am invited to put down my bags and sit and as i do so there is a lound rustling and my skittishness makes me jump and audibly yelp, to which everybody jumps up and goes "its a goat! its just a goat! don't worry!" my fears are assured -- i am with good people. and what more -- they are going to feed me! we eat a yummy dinner of ceeb and i impress them with my ability to eat with my hand. we chat and i like them because they ask a lot of questions and are patient with me as i try to find my words for answers. i am a little worried though because it is getting rather late and nnbody seems to be in a particular rush and i am hearing the option of spending the night tossed around. but if there's anything that i have really been learning here in senegal, its learning to be patient and not to stress or worry or freak out and trust that everything will work itself out (a big deal for somebody as high strung as me).

eventually, cisse gets up and gets the charette ready and we starting loadig up to goat. the goat comes iwth us. as does the other an who has been talking to me like we've known each other forever and was apparently at the ngente at our compound because he was asking about my friends. they shitty part about that was that i was planning on asking cisses what this homie's name is as soon as we got on the road but now i will have to continue pretending to know him and hoping tha the doesn't ask me if i know his name (which happens all the time). i at least knew the women's last name and had seen a little of her face in cnadle light but this guy i absolutely do not know what he looks like or heard anybody utter his frist or last name. at this point i am certain that these people do not have ill intentions but i am burning with curioisity to know who they are.

we head out and i will admit, it is a little terrifying to ride a charette at night -- but it is also beautiful to ride under the expansive night sky and stars, away from the glow of tiny birkelane and into the near complete darkeness of the bush. i have been down this road enough times now to recognize certain landmarks and can pick ou tthe dark outlines of trees that mark the path home. it really is a visceral experience and despite the terror of riding in darkness, its totaly worth it and by the time we reach my village, i almpost wish we could keep on going. i say "almost" though because at this point i am exhausted -- it is definitely past my beditme and the men were chatty with me on the ride and i was at this point really racking my shutting-down-brain for answers.

i know its really late because everybody is already inside sleeping when we approach the compound but eventually talla shows up and me and the two men -- who remain faceless to this point -- say goodbye with promises of my visiting them in their village (how?? i don't know what they look like!!). talla and i greet briefly but all i want is to sleep so i head inside. while i am unlocking my door, jamm rekk comes running -- zomming, really -- up from out of nowhere, which pleases me because she actually recognizes my voice and me and seemingly missed me because she won't stop pestering me and purring and meowing for attention while i stumble around in the darkness trying to get ready for bed and shaking off the dust that has collected on my bed. it really seems that she missed me because she actually spent the whole night sleeping with me on my bed (ew, i know) when she usually leaves after an hour or two to go cavort out in the night or to go sleep with the kids (she's known to spend the night in fatou's hut one night and then aram's the next).

i readily pass out and sleep harder and better than i have in a while -- since i was afflicted with hardcore insomnia last week and slept an average of 4 hours a night -- and while my mattress isn't the amazing one i have back at home, i love my straw mattress and bed as it is actually very comfortable and have an amazing night's sleep after an unexpected nighttime adventure that resulted in my getting home at 11PM when i left kaolack at 5PM, but what matters is that i got home through the help of friends and made new friends along the way -- even if i don't know what they look like.