Sunday, December 28, 2008

holidays in dakar

merry late christmas!

so i am in dakar celebrating the holidays and even though i was going to head back to the village today as i promised them i would spend the 31st there, i am still here because i got a nice little christmas present -- some kind of bug that has been making my stomach turn circles and have made traveling pretty much impossible at this point because i need to run to the bathroom every hour or so. oh well, i'm still in good spirits because at this point i'm just used to these kinds of things and it could be so much worse.

i got up here late in the evening on christmas eve and it was quite the epic adventure. so i woke up regular time (7:30am -- late for village life) and did all my morning chores, prepared my bags, and packed up my hut in preparation for a hasty departure. i was already a little bummed out because a bunch of people were already up in dakar or other places around senegal or west africa and celebrating christmas eve. i felt like i was the only person in peace corps senegal working that day and i was lonely, sad, and eager to be with others who actually cared that it was christmas (disadvantage of living in a muslim village). but, i made the choice to stay so i cheered myself up with thoughts of christmas cheer and potatoes and got ready for a day of potato planting and travel. turns out, the day was a lot more intense than i expected it would be.

talla left for the field first and i stuck around the compound until the women were ready to leave. i was getting rather impatient and annoyed because i knew that the women were done with their errands were just sitting around and procrastinating. it was already 10 am and i wanted to be at the field already! finally they called me and we headed out and just as we left the compound, adja came running from across the village yelling/screaming, "ARAM! ARAM!" when she got up to us, she opened up her skirt, flashed her panties at us, aram and fatou started screaming, and they all collapsed into a heap of laughter. i internally rolled my eyes and thought "here we go again." for some reason the women find it really amusing to flash each other (often sans panties) and these antics is often lasts for a while so i waited for it to pass.

next thing i know, they've gone from flashing each other to picking out lice from aram's hair. i leaned on my shovel and sighed deeply, feeling like an impatient boyfriend. picking lice from each other's hair is a common social occurrence among the women -- it took me a while to get used to this practice and to correct myself from thinking it primitive or crass. it's just what they do. i'm used to it by now but at this time i was so annoyed and frustrated and i thought it was absolutely ridiculous that we had places to go, things to do and they were standing around gossiping and picking out lice from aram's braids. i nearly stormed off on my own but instead just waited it out, trying not to get annoyed, and thinking of silly american things american women do that could be comparable to delaying important activity in order to pick lice.

finally the women were ready and we headed down to the valley. everybody who was there already remarked about how late i was. i had plenty of snarky retorts to say in english about it being no delay of my own but in Wolof, had nothing to say other than muttering, "yes, i'm late today." we started watering and after about an hour and a half's time, world vision had not yet shown up so we sat around in the shade (it was hot!), harassed each other's children, and gossiped. at noon WV showed up and potato planting commenced. it was a lot of work and everybody was bustling -- digging trenches, raking, marking holes, selecting potatoes, planting potatoes, watering. i was marking holes for the potatoes that were about 30-40 cm apart. this required me to be bent over the whole time and i had to work quickly because there were more people planting than marking so i was trying not to hold things up. sweat was pouring in my eyes and my back was aching by the time i was done. it was extremely hot and i was so extremely thirsty i drank water from a watering can (sand, twigs, and leaves).

around 1:30PM the WV guys were heading out so -- dirty, hungry, and sweaty -- i jumped into the car. i got lucky -- they were going all the way to kaolack (instead of just mbirkelane) and were willing to tote me along. it was nice -- there was air-conditioning and the car was fast. we chatted about our christmas plans (one of them is a catholic) and shared in our excitement for the holidays.

we got into kaolack around 2:45 and i ran off to kaolack house, dropped off some stuff, picked up some others and headed out to the dakar garage in hopes to get into a car, out of kaolack, and into dakar before the infamous rush hour dakar traffic started (there is only one road in and out of dakar, so you can imagine how congested it gets during rush hour in the morning and in the evening). unfortunately, 3PM is the hottest part of the day and there was not a single cab out so i walked about 20 minutes in the dead heat hating life until a christmas miracle occurred -- a cab with a nice cabbie who did not even try to overcharge me. i got to the garage and got the last seat of the last car which was a triumph but also basically just an uneven metal plate and quite possibly the worst seat i've ever had in a sept-palaas.

regardless, i was on my way and trying my best to stay in good spirits but then we -- despite my attempts to avoid it -- got stuck in traffic for two hours and i kept hearing from chris who was at a christmas eve party and i was livid that i was stuck in traffic, dirty, tired, hungry, and my butt hurt like nobody's business when all i wanted to do was to be out of the car, clean, and drinking a glass of red wine. i really wanted to head straight to my homestay rather than the party since i was disgusting and cranky but chris managed to convince me to go to justin's (a third year volunteer) apartment where the party was.

i finally got to justin's around 9pm and was just about fed up with everything. i was beat, exhausted, and was ashamed of how dirty and disgusting i was. everybody greeted me kindly and in the christmas spirit but i guess i was just emotionally drained, so after walking in, walked out of the apartment and broke into tears in the dark hallway. i just wanted to...i didn't even know. i was just flat out tired and it was such a long day and everybody seemed like they had spent the last 10 hours playing and having a good time and i was wallowing in self pity and crying about how i had gone through hell and back. chris managed to calm me down, i went back into the apartment, took a shower, had some eggnog, and started to feel a lot better -- much due to the fact that top gun was playing.

the next day -- christmas day -- chris and i headed out to goree island where some other peace corps volunteers had rented out some rooms at an auberge (inn) and were planning a nice christmas dinner. we took the ferry with mandi and her boyfriend terry who had just flown in from england to visit her and got to goree where it was stuffed full of tourists, very cold, and overrun with cats. i hadn't seen some of those folks in a while so it was a happy reunion and we made candy cane reindeer (thanks to a care package) and sipped on grey goose screwdrivers. chris and i also took a walk around the island and by the time we came back, there was quiche to be eaten. it was yummy. kira -- who had coordinated much of the day -- and mandi had bought a bunch of yummy food and christmas dinner (which we ate around 2pm) consisted of a pineapple glazed ham and mashed potatoes. even though i don't eat much pork product, the ham was quite tasty and it felt like christmas. terry had even brought christmas crackers from london and we enjoyed getting our prizes and wearing paper crowns.

unfortunately, i got quite ill -- probably food poisoning from some street food i had eaten for breakfast -- and threw up a bit afterwards. that pretty much sucked -- mostly because there went christmas dinner. since i wasn't feeling great, chris and i decided to head back to mainland dakar earlier than we had planned, said our goodbyes, merry christmases, and happy new years, and got back to the homestay around 8pm. chris made some cinnamon rolls (with icing!) which smelled delicious but i was still throwing up so i had to opt out. even so, christmas was a nice affair despite the weird little stomach bug i got. it's always nice to spend christmas with friends, regardless of where you are or what happens.

the next day -- boxing day -- i was feeling a bit better and had promised to make up for the lack of a christmas eve dinner with a big boxing day dinner. we decided on squash soup and vegetable lasagna so i spent most of the day preparing that. jc had just gotten back from a trip to sierra leone and was heading out to ghana to meet up with her boyfriend so she came up to dakar and got to wallace's house just in time for dinner. it was nice. chris, wallace, jc, and i had a nice dinner together and the lasagna was not just a lasagna but a lasagna monster. i have developed this fear of never having enough food (i attribute it to living in the village and not having much money) so i went a little overboard with the veggies but it was stuffed full of zucchini, carrots, spinach, eggplant, tomatoes, and mushrooms and smothered in ricotta, parmesan (brought from italy!), and mozzarella. thankfully i was feeling a bit better that day (although still extremely weak from emptying the contents of my stomach the entire night prior) and could eat some of the food.

hopefully i can get rid of this stomach bug by tomorrow and head back to the village. chris is coming with me and then we are spending new year's with my villagers who have made me promise to celebrate with them. last year we didn't do anything -- or at least i didn't, i went to bed at 10 -- so i'm curious as to what will happen this year. i am thinking about buying firecrackers as a present and setting those up on new year's eve. that could be fun! (or disastrous...)

i have a few pictures up from the village and of christmas, you can check out candy cane reindeers, cinnamon buns, and christmas crackers here. (oh and, there are also pictures from thanksgiving in america -- a bit overdue-- here.)

well, that's about it for now. happy 2009 everybody! 2008 has been a crazy year and i look forward to the craziness that 2009 will grant me. hope it is a wonderful year for you all. i'll see you soon -- it's my COS year. :)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

merry christmas!

for your entertainment:

ant bite on the butt

an ant bit my butt yesterday during lunch. it was not a very pleasant experience and now i can't stop scratching at my butt and the bite's swollen to the size of a golf ball.

yesterday after lunch some guys from world vision showed up to give talla seeds and instructions for the dry season garden project. the timing worked out well because just at that time ousmane (my teenage neighbor who has a crush on me) had asked me to change the time on his cell phone for him and i had to step outside to give it to him. martin -- one of the WV guys -- saw me and very enthusiastically started to talk to me about so and so and whatever. i always enjoy dealing with the WV guys because they take me seriously -- that is, they treat me like a colleague and seem to know and/or appreciate that i'm not just some dummy who wound up in a different country but that i am actually trying to achieve something (although the longer i am here, the less i am certain of the "something"). i suppose because we are all working together in "development" we can understand and respect each other.

they were heading out to the valley so talla -- whom i am getting along with more and more everyday -- invited me to go with them. i've been spending my days doing chores in the morning and obsessively reading tolstoy's anna karenina in the afternoons so i was like, hell yeah!! and practically bounded over to the truck. we went to the valley and talla was instructed in potato planting and i listened in -- more amazed as to how much i understand now without effort than just how much goes into planting a potato.

so we have to do all this soil and seed preparation and then on wednesday, they're coming to help us seed the potatoes. it was clear that they wanted me to participate as well, which made me happy until i realized wednesday is christmas eve and i had plans to go to dakar and to make a nice christmas eve dinner with chris. i was a bit sad that i would miss potato planting but then thought more and more about how i've managed to miss several "big" agriculture/agroforestry days because of a combination of being misinformed, out of the loop, or simply away from site and that i was fully in the loop this time and there was no major excuse for missing this. so i -- reluctantly -- chose work over play and decided that i would stay in the village until potato planting day, plant potatoes in the morning, head out to dakar as soon as possible, and instead of a christmas eve dinner, would make a big boxing day dinner.

i've recently been feeling a lot better about my service -- it helps to have had a vacation and i think in the meantime, i had my breakthrough with language and culture. it feels as if everything has suddenly fallen into place and i am finally relaxed and comfortable in the village. wolof comes rather quickly to me these days and i've been a little more chatty than usual. behaviors that used to upset or frustrate me are no longer so and i actually find myself behaving in the same way at times. it probably helps that i am off the mefloquine now and really, my anxiety has amazingly vanished (who would have known that it would have had such an affect on me?)

moreover, i've finally started coming to terms with myself and the fact that my service didn't wind up the way i had "expected" it to. before coming to senegal, i imagined myself as the rockstar volunteer, speaking the language fluently, talking with everybody, loving everybody all the time, carrying babies on my back, single-handedly reforesting the country, making big and wonderful things happen in my village, etc. and when i couldn't be that volunteer i pictured myself as, i was sorely disappointed and frustrated and kept knocking myself for being a crappy volunteer. but i realize now that those were fairy tale expectations for myself and the more of that kind of pressure i put on myself, the more i'm just going to keep on feeling like i'm failing...when in fact, i haven't really. i can only do what i can and while i keep comparing myself to other volunteers, my village isn't comparing me to anybody. i'm just aissatou to them. and these days i'm becoming more and more comfortable with aissatou.

Monday, December 22, 2008

working hard

i'm really lucky to have such a motivated village -- they really work hard and i'm always impressed with the way they all show up for community gardening and pepiniering.

today we spent several hours watering, double digging, and applying (chemical) fertilizer to the beds for the community garden. there are plans to grow potatoes, onions, lettuce, carrots, two types of radishes and beets (even though nobody knows what radishes or beets are so i don't really know why WV gave us the seeds but at the same time it's good for them to grow new types of crops and i'm glad to see that the villagers are willing to try something new), parsley, and fudden (a plant they use to make henna).

it was hot and rather late in the day but tons of people showed up and all the women watered while the men did the digging. the old me would have been resentful of the strict gender roles and would have been spiteful of watering but i guess i've changed or adjusted and enjoyed watering with the women. there are always those several women who work their tails off -- never taking a break and really eager to participate in the process. i like hanging out with them and working with them and we worked and chatted and joked around. it felt good to work hard and sweat with the community. i was even able to sass this one guy who drives me insane because he always asks me stupid questions and bugs me and my posse of women were absolutely delighted that i was able to get him to shut up. there's also this one little old pulaar lady from the neighboring pulaar village and she is too old to carry water or the watering cans but stands around with a little bucket and diligently refills any empty watering can by her and we absolutely love each other even though we can barely speak to each other because she does not speak much wolof and i know one phrase ("i don't speak pulaar") and one word ("goat") in pulaar.

now i'm back in the village and this douchy man has showed up and is as glib and fast talking as the most stereotypical salesman. he's raking in the dough by putting cheap "silver" caps on women's teeth with a crappy battery powered drill and super glue. they are 500 CFA each -- aram got one, fatou got two and there are a bunch of other women running up to him to get their teeth done as well. where does this money come from? they come asking me for money practically everyday and constantly tell me that there's not enough money for oil or vegetables or fish or whatever and i fork over the money and then tooth-cap man comes into town and suddenly we have 500 CFA pieces to toss around. i feel extremely suspicious of this man and he is annoying and rude. i don't like him and am feeling protective of my women, but what can i do about it? (other than sit in the corner and glare at him and refuse to laugh at this jokes.) i want to judge the women for the frivolous waste of money, but then again i spent a good amount of money getting my lip pierced in america so what right do i have to judge them about spending money on silly cosmetic changes to the body?

Friday, December 19, 2008


woke up at 2am to a familiar noise at an unfamiliar time -- rain? i lay in bed in the darkness listening to the wind and the subtle plopping of rain drops. my mind cleared and i realized that i had clothes on the line so hopped out of bed (amongst mewling protests of the kittens who had managed to sneak back onto the bed after i had kicked them off a few dozen times). when i got outside it was truly raining and there was a cold breath of wind rattling the crunchy leaves of the baobabs together. i got the clothes down but then i stood there for a few minutes, mesmerized and shivering but strangely comforted by this unusual dry season rain. i went back to bed unsure if i was dreaming, but then woke up again at 6 still to the sound of light rain. it was quite unexpected.

now today is grey and cloudy and cold. it feels like a proper december day, which is funny because just yesterday while i was walking through the bush with fatou, i was thinking how much it did not feel like december or winter, for that matter. it certainly is colder now that the rainy season is over -- i need a long sleeve shirt or sweater at night and in the mornings, but during the day it is still hot and the african sun makes its presence known. but today it is chilly, dreary, the leaves are falling, and i realize that yes, it is december, almost the end of the year, and that things are coming to a close.

i sat in the yard and smoked a cigarillo while doing a crossword with the kittens in my lap and wasn't sure if i felt sad or at peace.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

kittens galore!

a few days before i left for america, i was at chris's site, i was still mourning for my loss of jamm rekk (still am) so it was rather exciting when chris's little brother came running up and telling us that there are kittens that are just like sacckat (chris's strange black and white runty cat) and would we want to go and see them? being the crazy cat lady that i am, of course i did and it turns out that the kittens were in chris's garden -- 4 tiny kittens meowing their heads off for their mother. they weren't at all like sacckat -- they were striped (or at least parts of them were) and they were absolutely adorable (that's not to say that sacckat isn't cute).

of course i cooed over them and a fuzzy little brown stripped one came tottering out from their hiding place straight into my hands. nothing gets me better than a kitten who chooses me. i immediately felt that i had to have him but it was terrible timing as i was leaving for america. considering the increased amount of foot traffic since the discovery of the kittens (seemed like all the kids of the town had come to see what was going on) there was a huge chance that the mommy cat would come and whisk them away to a new hiding place and i would once again be in a sad, lonely, catless world. a plan had to be hatched.

i called jc who had been wanting a kitten as well and gushed about the adorable kittens and did she want one? she said yes -- but the timing was bad, she would soon be going away for almost a month so there would be nobody to care for her kitten. being that she would leave when i got back i suggested we cat-sit for each other. it was a tempting offer and she agreed to it -- especially because there was a little grey striped one just for her -- but we still needed somebody to watch the cats for the week between my finding them and when she could get out of site again to pick them up. i began a desperate string of phone calls to see if anybody would cat-sit (failing to mention that they were extremely tiny and helpless) but everybody had a really good reason as to why they couldn't take 2 kittens under their care (especially with no particular incentive or reward). i called karim and offered him a kitten, which he heartily agreed to but then when i asked him if he would take 2 more for the week, he said, "oh no...3 kittens is way too much work." i was disappointed that i had now committed myself to 3 cats but only had a home for one of them. i was stressed out. finally, i called laura who was hesitant at first but then giggled and said, "sure! it'll be fun." i was elated and laura is a saint.

so operation kitty grab was in full gear and i went off to buy a bucket for cat transport and some food. as we came back to the compound we could hear the cats screaming. what was happening?? kids came running up to us telling us that the cats were crying and when we went over to see what was up, we realized that the poor things were smothered in ants! an anthill must have been knocked over or something and the ants were retaliating in anger on the kittens, swarming and biting. we grabbed the kittens and tried shaking and brushing off the ants but there were so many and cats were screaming, children were yelling, and everything felt chaotic. what was supposed to be a light and easy affair became a few minutes of crazy. it was dark by now so all i could see was whatever was in the beam of the flashlight -- a kitten covered in ants, a kid trying to get into the garden, the mom cat staring at us from under an eggplant bush. finally, we grabbed 3, leaving the runty one behind so to decrease his competition and i,prove his chances (i felt horrible about it but this was the justification), and ran into chris's room and put them in a big bucket. suddenly everything was calm again and we (cats and humans) were all exhausted from too much excitement.

the next point of worry was that now that we had them, i realized just how small they were and that perhaps it was too soon to take them from their mom. i felt awful -- in my attempt to help them i might have made things worse! though they ate some fish offered to them, they couldn't lap water out of a bowl and they suddenly seemed so small and helpless. i felt helpless too and was terribly worried that they wouldn't poo on their own. i'd seen a kitten die during PST from a failure to poo and it was a terrible sight and i didn't want to see it again. so i stressed all night about whether or not they could poo and told them that all i wanted for them was to poo (foreshadowing).

the morning following -- no poo and disappointment. nonetheless, it was time to bring them to kaolack to be picked up by laura in a day and a half. because they were so small it was pretty painless -- they sat in the bucket quite silently and caused no ruckus. we stopped by karim's who knows towns about kittens he told us that they were 2 weeks old and were still drinking milk but just about done. he gave us a bunch of advice, lunch, and after managing to feed them some milk with an eyedropper (after much coaxing) we left, depositing the kittens in the kaolack house bathtub and left for dakar.

long story short, they were picked up by laura, adored by everybody who passed through the house, brought to sokone, then back to kaolack for thanksgiving and turned over to jc, once again adored by everybody, fed some turkey and Takabski meat, got off of milk, and were still alive and kicking when i got back from america and jc turned them over to me. they -- especially mine -- suffered from diarrhea and pooped themselves a bunch of times (after all, i had begged them to poop) and suffered a bunch of traumatic baths. as they've gotten bigger, they've become more to manage -- they are demanding now and noisy and will scream until i cave into their demands. it's like having a child -- they must be fed and washed and trained and they live their lives in 3 hours cycles: play play play sleep wake pee eat play play play poo sleep wake poo play play play sleep and i have become inextricably bound to this cycle because when they wake they pounce and romp all over me and bite me and then they scream for food or poo on the floor so i must wake to take care o these things. it is a lot of work -- i've never had a kitten so young and it often makes me miss jammo and how easy it was to take care of her. but it's too late for regrets now, so wolfgang leviticus (mine) and rumi (jc's) remain here and have dominion over my life. like a real mom i now find joy in being able to lock them into the hut and run away and love them when they're sleeping and purring or playing with each other but really hate them as soon as they wake and beg for food. oh well, at least it's something to do during the dry season...

say hello:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

welcome back to the village

the gifts were a success! talla immediately used his new razor, the hoodie fit ma'asou perfectly, everybody has nail polish on (including the boys who now have pink toenails), the women are obsessed with looking at themselves in their pictures, and the little boys keep getting yelled at for dragging their new clothes on the ground every time they are asked to show off their new (nintendo-themed) clothes.

here are my (suddenly) camera shy boys in their new clothes:

so i'm back in the village and yes, i realize it's been nearly a month since i've written and yes, i am ashamed. i guess it is a lot easier to sit down and write when there are several hours of the day to kill. actually, i don't know how true that is since i had several hours a day to kill while i was in america. i guess it's because in america there are things like tv and internet and places to go to distract one's self.

but on that note -- america was awesome. it came and went like a flash but it was truly wonderful to be back for a little bit -- i had missed it more than i thought i would and not in the ways i had expected either. i had definitely missed my family, my friends, the good food and spirits, but the glittering aspects of america that make america so great in the eyes of others -- the houses, the cars, the money, the array of this and that and everything -- were overwhelming and it was rather confusing at times. at first i was shocked at the reminder of just how much we have in america, then disgusted, and then easily fell back into the routine (i knew this when i bought a $1.75 cup of coffee that i only drank a third of before i threw it out). i kept getting torn between feelings of loving america for its abundance of options and then despising the place for its lack of simplicity.

i suppose the lesson is that it's utterly impossible to place the label of "good" or "bad" on the place. i love america for what it is and am more than grateful for having the bonne chance of being born there and having the plethora of options and opportunities i've had since i was a little girl. but i also realize the little beauties of life in senegal and can see where the glittering lights of america have blinded me. i guess i'm pretty lucky to have the chance of living in two worlds that are so opposite of each other.