Saturday, November 22, 2008

counting the cars on the new jersey turnpike they've all gone to look for america


after a relatively painless 8 hour flight (minus some motion sickness during landing) i was greeted by my father, mother, and sister at JFK airport. it was a wonderful feeling to see them and to squeal and to hug and to feel them in my arms again.

i yammered away to them in the car on the drive home and they fed me a toasted sesame bagel with cream cheese. i've been craving that since i left america over a year ago.

after a hot shower and changing into clothes that i haven't worn in ages, my dad took us out to dim sum and i stuffed myself silly. little did they know that the past few weeks i have secretly been hoping that my first meals in america would be a bagel and dim sum. they know me so well.

one thing that sucks is that i am so freaking cold!!! i'd been saying that i was looking forward to the cold and autumn and stuff but this is just ridiculous cold and i take it all back. i have on more layers than i thought was imaginable.

on an unrelated note,
now that i have unlimited wireless, i've switched over to picasa for pictures. flickr is great and all but i've run out of room on there and i am too poor/cheap to pay for an upgrade. head over there for all my pictures since entering country.


at leopold senghor international airport waiting for the next few hours to fly home to america.

it was pretty sweet because i was all friendly in wolof and stuff and got to cut lines and made lots of friends. apparently living in a hut in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere will pay least at the airport where people are amused at your ability to communicate in their local language. sad thing is -- i'll probably lose it all in the next two weeks.

i've been fighting a really nasty cold and skin rash so i'm looking quite forward to getting away from all the conditions that lead to my weird illnesses and being cold and maybe getting the flu in america.

i am so incredibly excited to be home for the next two weeks.

if you want to see me, shoot me an email! i'm in america until the 7th of december.

america, here i come!

Friday, November 21, 2008


i fly home in 12 hours.

can't wait!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

waaw, men nanu!

the other day i was on a horse cart going through the bush and a man saw me and shouted (in english) "hey, toubab!" ("toubab" means white person/foreigner/frenchie/non-seneaglese)

i yelled back, "i'm not a toubab, i'm an american!"

he yelled back, "where are you from?"

i responded, "americans are from america!"

and he pumped his fist in the air and hollered "OBAMA IS YOUR PRESIDENT!"

i cheered.

it's been amazing to see the response that obama's win has garnered here. the range of knowledge varies but everybody is excited about this man, this american with african roots, that has been elected the president of america. they associate ideas of peace, hope, the end of war, a new era with his name.

my villagers were giddy and eager to ask me about obama. i talked about politics for the first time in my village after a year of living there because people are finally interested. even fatou -- who is so not interested in things that don't involve new earrings or a dance-off or village gossip -- asked me if i voted and who i voted for. how excited would they all be to know that when obama spoke, "and to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world...", he was talking to them!

of course i am thrilled too and am eager to see if this man will live up to the expectations he has made for himself. everybody calls him the first african-american president, but i consider him the first president of color. it really seems to me that he understands multiculturalism and pushes for diversity and understanding. this is one of several (personal) reasons why i voted for obama. (i could go into the political reasons, but that would make my blog just like every other soapbox blog, wouldn't it?)

simultaneously, i am cautious. i know that we cannot put all of our hopes for a better world on one man (as it is everybody's responsibility) nor do i think that simply because we've elected him in a momentous spot in time does that mean the entire world has changed. it makes me cringe when i read audacious statements made by the media about the end of racism or that "the election of barack hussein obama as the 44th president of the united states swept away the last racial barrier in american politics..." (international herald tribune, 6 nov 2008) when it is clear and obvious that there is still a lot more work to be done. i worry about those who will use obama's win as evidence of the fact that america is no longer discriminatory or that equal opportunity exists for all.

anyway, i seldom use this blog as a sounding board of my opinions but want to throw out my caution and reluctance to fully embrace obama as the answer to all of our country's wretched problems. as excited as i am about him and as much as i get that rockstar admiration for him, i know that it is personal responsibility that moves this world. we can cheer him on and swoon at his speeches, but if we don't actually live personal lives of active effort, compassion, and understanding (or at least the attempt to understand) all this "yes we can" stuff and hope in a better tomorrow is all just a lot of talk.

("waaw, men nanu" is "yes we can" in wolof)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

special surprise

i got the seed taken out today.

the dentist laughed at me and then after some digging around, plucked it out. it made a nice squishy popping sound. he then made me rinse and as i swished, i felt something else come loose.

turns out there wasn't one seed but two!

he told me not to eat watermelon anymore. that's kind of disappointing...

Monday, November 10, 2008

attack of the watermelon

so guess where i am?



on saturday i was happily eating a watermelon and as i bit into it, there was this sinking feeling of "oh shit."

i managed to bite into the watermelon JUST right so that the seed slipped into the little hole left from my wisdom tooth extraction. the seed is wedged in the hole, a perfect fit, and i struggled to get it out for an hour and a half before i finally called dr. savage and told him my ridiculous plight.

the seed is deep down in there and happy as a clam and no amount of swishing or attempt to fish it out with tweezers (two types, i might add) is getting it close to leaving so i had to come back up to dakar to see the dentist who will hopefully extract it tomorrow morning.

my goodness. what are the chances?! sheesh.

the culprit

Saturday, November 8, 2008

snake kill #2

just as i was writing and complaining about having a dull day -- i spent the morning shelling peanuts and hunting wasp's nests in my hut -- i caught a glimmer of goldish-green out of the corner of my eye. i looked to my left and there was a huge snake slithering into my hut through a hole in my screen door and heading towards a little hole in the ground. i slipped away to grab my machete and when i got back it spotted me and froze. i did too and we stared at each other for some time -- was i even breathing? i won the standoff and it started to creep into the hole (funny thing about this hole is that i've continually been trying to fill it up with clay and it would get reopened and i would get so annoyed). it was an awkward spot since it was in between the wall and the leg of my bed but i decided it was now or never and struck. i missed. it bolted in the other direction and i went for it a few more times (gashing up my "cement" floor) and finally cut of a bit of its tail and then chopped it in half at the mid-section. blood sprayed everywhere (in a nice writhing pattern, i might add) and i ran outside to find talla. aram and talla helped clean up the blood but it's still all over the wood frame -- i don't think that stain is coming out.

considering how perfectly snaked sized the hole in my screen door is, i wonder how long the snake and i have lived in harmony with each other.

i like my little hut but i look forward to the day that i don't have to constantly be battling and worrying about ants, crickets, wasps, earwigs, flies, mice, scorpions, frogs, gigantic beetles, lizards, and snakes taking oevr my hut while i sleep. these infestations come in cycles and it drives me crazy -- but i'll count my blessings and be glad that i don't have termites or bed bugs. yet.

Friday, November 7, 2008

a few days in palmarin

i'm still incredibly sad about jamm rekk. there was a really sad and empty moment this morning when i opened my door and there was no little kitty zooming across the compound to greet me and scamper into my hut for 10 minutes of cuddle time. losing a pet is a really terribly, awful feeling -- especially when she was one of the strands of sanity in my topsy-turvy life in the bush. she was one of the best cats you could ask for -- super smart, cute, affectionate, friendly, social, a great mouse hunter, independent, and everybody in the village liked her. i am really going to miss her presence in my life.

in other -- less sad and tragic -- news, i am finally out of dakar and back in the village. dakar was quite nice -- with all the luxuries and amenities one could ask for. my home-stay host was super kind and generous and hospitable and let us full access to his house, kitchen, and everything we needed. one of my last days there i made pork and shrimp dumplings from scratch! chris made the dough and i made the filling and they turned out pretty delicious and enough to feed 7 people.

jc's parents flew into town earlier this week and invited me to go to palmarin with them. of course i agreed so i said goodbye to dakar, chris, and the 1.5 weeks of wisdom tooth extraction and fun and headed out to the delta with the kollmorgen's. palmarin was quite nice and the hotel we stayed at was really impressive. the first night jc and i stayed in the famous (and worthily so) baobab tree houses and her parents stayed out in a "lagoon house" (a house on stilts in the water). the entire grounds of the hotel was very beautiful, neat, well landscaped, and each hut was creatively designed and well decorated. the french owners of the place had really invested a lot of time and care to create a little oasis and we found out later that it was solar powered (enough to power computers, washing machines, and all the lights, fans, fridges, etc very reliably), environmentally friendly, and the local community was highly involved in its building and running. the tasty and pretty food was all prepared by local women who had been trained by the owners and very few of the senegalese staff had ever been to hospitality school. the owners and the staff seemed to have a very friendly relationship with each other and jed (the eco-t volunteer there) seemed to think very highly of them.

the treehouse we stayed in was so neat -- the bathroom built around the base of the tree (one showers in the groove of two gigantic roots), a second floor balcony/terrace at the middle of the tree for a hammock and finely crafted table and chairs, and the third and final level up amongst the branches housed a little room with gigantic west-facing windows and a terribly comfortable bed. the entire place was magical. the first night jc and i stayed up late on the second floor balcony with a bottle of wine (her early birthday present) and chatted and caught up, as we hadn't seen each other in some time. we also anxiously waited for news about the election, but alas, even what we thought was late was too early in america and we headed to sleep drowsy from south african wine, american and filipino treats, and the talk of deep friendship.

at 4am i woke up to pee and made me way down the precarious steps in my sleep daze, having to stumble over a fat dog who had climbed up to the stairs between the second and third levels and was sleeping and snoring on a step. when i was done and back up in the tree, i checked my phone for election updates (i had commissioned several people with internet/tv access to text me updates throughout the evening) and found that my phone had no more space for new messages. i promptly deleted them and my phone was then flooded with news of the election. it was very exciting and just as i was finished reading them, i got a text declaring barry the victor. i was elated! after an hour or so of texting excitement i fell back asleep.

when i woke up later that day, there was a feeling of great excitement over obama's win. the french owners were quite elated as well and invited us to celebrate with them and we drank 2 bottles of champagne and discussed politics with our new friends (the owners spoke a little english and their daughter and son-in-law were fluent). it was amazing to see how invested they were in our american election and it really helped me see just how negative of an impression we've managed to make ourselves abroad in the past few years.

later that evening jed stopped by to say goodbye to the owners -- he's cos'ing and out of the country soon. he was with his dad (american/real dad) who was a really interesting guy to talk to. we all had dinner together - the owners, their daughter and son-in-law, jed and his dad, jc and the kollmorgens, and me. the dinner was delicious and the owners were generous with 2 bottles of (free) white wine and we all had a lovely evening together.

the next morning it was away from vacation and back to site and i found that despite feeling a bit apprehensive about being back in the village, i was looking forward to it. i met this cool guy who i hired to take me home and we had a nice talk. i found out he is from a village right by mine and i asked him about trees and if he wanted to make his own pepiniere next year. he seemed very interested and gave me his phone number and a watermelon as a gift. i am getting excited about next year's work season and i kind of just want to fast forward through the next few months.

of course i then came home to the saddest news i've received in country and it quickly took muc hof the past few days' joy from me. i called chris and cried and then called mommy and sobbed (both handled it very well). i wasn't at all expecting to lose my little cat and as old as i am and as much as i've been through, the loss of a pet is still absolutely devastating to me. it's also been really frustrating because there's no word for "sad" in wolof and i haven't been able to express to anybody in my village just how much of a loss this is to me. they don't understand the attachment americans develop to our animals. well, i hope she's having fun in kitty heaven -- maybe scampering around with all the cats we've lost in this country. raising a pet is hard in africa.

the saddest news

sad news. terrible news, really.

i came back to the village today and was looking forward to finally being back home in my hut with my people, my kids, and my cat. and then i found out that jamm rekk died while i was away. apparently she was sick for a day and then died in the compound. they buried her for me.

i'm pretty devastated. it's so incredibly sad and i loved that cat a lot and my experience here will be totally different now that my little striped cat is no longer around to follow me, meow at me, and mingle with my villagers. she was a special kitty and it is really, truly, upsetting.

i will miss her very much.

jamm rekk ka rip