Wednesday, July 30, 2008

the single post in july

rooftops of kaolack at sunset

this has been a busy, fun, and successful month but my blog has suffered as a consequence of it. sorry!

my sister came to visit me from july 7 to the 25th and we had a blast. after our happy reunion we hung out in dakar for a few days, where i took her around on a little food based tour of the city (she didn't understand my excitement over
being in a place of gastronomic abundance).

after that we went to an ecolodge in toubakouta in the sine saloum delta. it was totally gorgeous and fun and exciting because we got to go on these nature walks where we waded waist high in water through mangroves and felt like we were in an indiana jones movie or something. we joked about how we spent our childhoods pretending this stuff happened when the suburbs flooded and now we were actually living it out (no poisonous snakes though).

we then spent a week in the village, where she became "ouly ka" and had a great time with my villagers. she helped me begin outplanting my trees -- the trees have homes now! we began a live fence of various thorny species in my compound and then helped outplant a live fence in the valley with trees from the world vision pepineer. it is exciting to see my baby trees being move out into the big wild world and i am crossing my fingers and hoping that they will make it despite all the dangers of goats and cows and children and drought and heat and all the brutalities of the bush. i took advantage of her teacher skills and had her help me teach the english classes with the girls and she was amazing, my girls are now able to read silly sentences like "the fat cat on the mat eats meat." jamm rekk (my cat) was a great help...she would sit in the middle of the class (my hut) and nap and purr while we spelled out C A T and proclaimed "cat!"

we left the village with leanne crying on the charette and then went out to saly, a beach/resort area on the coast that i've heard makes one feel as though they've left africa. while i wasn't entirely looking for that experience, we tried it out for a spin and found a wonderful hotel in the village section of the town. by doing so we got to hang out with other senegalese but still have the sweet experience of a pool and nice beds and hot water and good plumbing and totally excellent food. chris and JC joined us for this leg of the trip which was great because it was all my favorite people and we all got along and i was a very happy girl. the town itself is wild and truly does make one feel like they are no longer in senegal, it is especially worlds away from rural senegal and while it was a little bit jarring, it was a welcome change in scenery. while i love the village, it is nice to get away and appreciate the other ways of life -- like happy hour and kir royals and pizza and the beach and good food and staying out late at night because there is electricity to light the bocce ball game we played with our new friends we made with the hotel staff.

leanne left senegal to trace the slave trade route in ghana which sounds totally awesome and i wish i could have gone with her but alas, i have work here in senegal. trees must be planted and girls must be taught and radio shows must be done. two days ago (monday) JC and i broadcast peace corps first radio show in the kaolack region. tayo set up a peace corps radio show with Radio Communitaire Sine-Salom FM (96.4) every monday afternoon. we have an hour of air time to discuss peace corps and whatever other topics we feel are relevant to the kaolack community. he asked JC and me to do the first show, to introduce peace corps and our intentions for the radio show. we were at first a little nervous to do so but agreed nonetheless and wound up having a great time. we got to feel super cool in a radio recording studio with fancy microphones (but no headphones) and we talked about peace corps (our work, the different sectors, cleared up myths about the peace corps organization) and ourselves (brought up issues about women, education, ethnicity) and differences between american culture and senegalese culture. i also got to play a bunch of music and rocked out kaolack with a playlist that included elvis presley, salt n' pepa, phil collins, michael jackson, the fugees, and creedence clearwater revival.

heading back to the village today and hoping to stay there for a good chunk of time, since i've been traveling in and out for the whole month of july. i'm a little reluctant to leave but i think it is just merely because i've been spoiled by the luxuries of electricity and running water and food. things at site have really been improving since the rains have come and my work in the pepineer hasn't been completely ruined. leanne also helped me realize that i've come a long way in terms of my language skills and integration into the culture and that my village and i are having a great time with each other and i am thinking more and more these days that i am actually making an impact. its exciting. i'm almost a year into my service and things are finally feeling like they are coming together.

KANGSTAs back together!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


a pretty intense storm is coming in from both ends of the village. its been 3 hours of impending storm and totally awesome to watch in the great expanse of african sky. the clouds have been rolling in and its been an endless light show, lightning dancing among the churning clouds, crawling in from the edges of the village while we've been standing under a perfectly clear, star-filled hole in the clouds. seeing sights like this almost makes all the frustration worth it alone.

but actually, things are really starting to get better. i don't want to say anything TOO soon, but i feel as if my wolof has finally gotten to the point where i understand a good part of what is going on around me, what is being said to me, and what more, i am speaking up more and being understood. this makes a world of difference.

moreover, the rains have really improved the shape of my pepineer -- attesting much to my primary problem having been the salty robinet water - and there's been more work. my transplants have all survived and i guess that proved to talla that i do have some idea of what to do and how to do it (especially ecause i did it on my own initiative) and he actually asked me -- kindly! -- to "gontu" (wolof for the verb "to go to work in the afternoon") in the world vision pepineer.

i gladly accepted but didn't go immediately because my girls had come for english lessons and i wasn't about to abandon them for him when they have become so committed to learning. we had an one and a half hour lesson today and i really am so proud of how fast they are picking up. even writing the alphabet is new to them and i have watched their progress -- what was once chicken scratch sprawled disorderly across a page is now becoming neat, straight, and even includes a hint of their personalities. we learned lower-case letters today and the sounds of the first 10 letters and when i had them piece together B, A, D and D, A, D they all lit up when they discovered that they had just read their first english words (odd word choice, i know, but i only had A through J to work with...)

after the lesson i went to the WV pepineer and helped talla, mbaye, and penda transplant xot u buteel (Eucalyptus cameldulensis) under the blazing sun. nobody treated me like an idiot and that was enough to make my day. talla even told them all about my i had asked him to stop working in my pepineer the other day because i like to work that much. that might be the first time i've ever heard him brag about me. (i am perfectly aware of the contradiction of despising this man as much as i do but wanting his acceptance and approval as much as i do...)

we were there until the sun started its descent and i then headed back with fatou and aram (who had come to the valley to seed bissap) who carried two watering cans full of sweet rain water from the valley for my pepineer. everybody now seems to get that i DID know what i was doing all along, i just got majorly screwed with our salty water which killed all my trees.

on the way back i saw a bunch of frogs catching and eating grasshoppers and decided that i would bring some back and put them in the pepineer to eat the grasshoppers that have been ravaging my baby trees. i'm not a fan of chemical pesticides so i figured that i would try my hand with integrated pest management with ash and frogs (termites hate ash). problem is, i, realized i'm kind of afraid of frogs and wound up flinching and squealing away at the last minute as i tired to catch them. all the women laughed at me and were at first utterly confused at my lame attempts to catch frogs but once i explained to them my intentions they caught on and started to point out every single from they saw. fatou volunteered to go after them and was such a funny sight running around the field with fallou sleeping and strapped to her back giggling and catching frogs. she kept telling me that there was nothing to be afraid of and tried to convince me by saying that they're nice and cool and pressed a croaking frog to her forehead. she offered to do the same for me but i declined. regardless, she forced me to take the frog from her and put him into the watering can and i'll admit i felt somewhat queasy the first time i had the little dude in my hand, cold and kicking and croaking. we eventually got 5 big ones -- rejecting the little ones because fatou said that they themselves would get eaten by grasshoppers and put them inthe cans and headed home.

the frogs were persistent little buggers though and the whole walk home, kept leaping out of the watering cans in a suicide leap, as the cans were all the way up on the heads of the women. they would splat onto the ground and sit stunned for a second (surely they weren't expecting such a long fall) and then go jumping off into the fields. aram and fatou made me go after them and since this happened the entire way home, i finally got over my fear of touching frogs -- although its still a weird and gross sensation to me. i also got peed on twice. i put them in my pepineer and hopefully they will be of use and do some bug killing.

anyway, the storm is upon us now and it is a slow and steady downpour. its a big, slow, heavy storm -- it feels like i live in the floor under God's and he's moving in new furniture or something -- the thunder is absolutely an endless rumbling and cracking and we live in an apartment on times square (a nice one, too) because of the constant flashes of lightning. i can't say i've ever experienced a rain like this, there are no tall buildings or trees to keep this storm from practically sitting on our heads and its as if we're actually in the clouds (albeit, enclosed in a box) as the very action of clashing charges of electricity or whatever it is that is happening up there. i don't really know, i used to have no interest in meteorology other than how it would affect my day and what to wear in preparation for it (as one hates to be unprepared for a storm).

i am noticing these days that being raised a suburbanite-turned-city inhabitant has kept me very ignorant of how people actually interact with weather -- rather than just have it affect them. the first time it rained here, i was totally unprepared -- ending up with drenched clothes on the line, soggy floors, and no foretelling of what was going to happen. this time when the storm came, i didn't go fleeing inside 10 minutes before it was going to start (out of fear like i did last rain) but i did go in to take the clothes down, open the lids of my bucket, set out my big buckets under the eaves of my neighbor's tin roofs (one of the few tin roofs in the village) to catch water and thus save myself an entire day of getting water, and half shut the door so that i could catch the breeze but not soak the floors. now i just haven't had the american foresight to get hot chocolate for this because it would totally be appropriate for a moment like this.