Saturday, January 31, 2009


the wonders of medicine are amazing. overnight, with the first few doses of medication, fallou's eyes have greatly improved. he can actually open them now. and his whimpering has gone down. i do not regret buying him those meds. moreover, they've administered the eye drops to the rest of the kids who wake up pink-eye crusty so maybe we will finally get rid of this nasty little disease that's been plaguing the compound.

i, on th eother hand, have fallen ill to some kind of flu or sinus infection sor something. i have a fever, congestion, and a sore throat. my head throbs and i am weak. i was supposed to go to toune today but instead have been in bed all day. i slept through most of it but the waking moments have been rather unpleasant. all the noises are amplified and unfortunately, i am surrounded by shrill, noisy children. the women have been worried but have given me my space, although at one point aram came in and rubbed my head in quite a motherly way and straightened up my hut a bit. i was in too much of a stupor to be embarassed at the state of my hut and myself and found it rather comforting, actually.

i must have jinxed myself because just the other day i was thinking about how i haven't been majorly ill in the village for quite some time. spoke too soon, i guess (even if it was just in my head).

Friday, January 30, 2009

medicine ain't cheap

fallou went to the hospital today. the whimpering was too much -- he was clearly suffering from something. so i told fatou if she would pay the 100CFA doctor's fee, i would pay for any medicine needed. fatou then asked talla who seemed a little sheepish but appreciative. he tried to get me to go because he claimed he had work to do in the pepiniere but i said no. it's not my baby and talla was not getting out of the responsibility of taking his wife and the child he spawned to the hospital! moreover, i didn't want the doctors/staff to see their toubab benefactor -- making us susceptible to unnecessary prescriptions or unpleasant talk.

they just came back with almost 4,000CFA worth of meds. it seems that he has bronchitis (as one medication indicated). there was also some medicine for his eyes and some other syrup with a picture of lungs on the packaging (can't understand the french). seems like he will be okay.

i wonder though, what would have happened had i not provided the money? that's a lot of money and i can't see anybody in the being able to afford 4,000CFA for medication. a part of me regrets having to be the one to provide the money, as if i were the head of the household, but could i really let the poor thing suffer like that and do nothing when i had the means to help him? perhaps it wasn't "sustainable" nor did it do anyhting to teach about savings but i'd have to be a stone cold bitch to let the littlest member of my family -- who can't even speak or fully express his hurt -- stay ill so i could teach a lesson. nor can i even the the lesson now as an afterthought, as i've just found out that we ran out of rice and don't have the money for any more. how do i tell them to save money for emergencies when we can't even have money for daily life?

also, dame has learned how to say NO and the significance of the word. everybody always teases me because it is all i say to the cat. they asked me what it means and i told them. the other day aram (his mom) commanded dame to take off his pants and instead of doing so, i heard him yell "NO!" and then stomp around saying "no, no, no, no, NO!" (with his pants still on). oops. maybe i should start saying "yes" more often. or maybe the next time they ask me for money for rice i can just stomp around and yell no, too.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

thieves and pinkeye

last night around midnight we were awoken by nefie ba (next door neighbor) who barely ever lifts her voice -- yelling and whooping at the top of her lungs and banging on doors. "SAAAACO!!!!" another attempted burglary in my little village.

the first thing that crossed my mind was a mental sigh and the thought "the poor stealing from the poor." the next thing was to get annoyed and pissed -- don't steal from my people who work so incredibly hard for the meager living they make! at least there is some justifiability in the poor stealing from the rich (not that i condone it) but don't thieve from people who've decided to continue plodding along instead of resorting to thievery and tricks to make money. the burglar got away empty handed -- alxamdoulilah.

in other news, fallou (the baby) has been sick. he's been sick for over a week now. his eyes have completely crusted over, he can't open them, he can't breathe clearly, and he has a rattling cough. he whimpers every waking moment and it is absolutely terrible to hear. they have no medicine for him nor do they really know what it is. ma'asou had pink eye a few months ago and since then it's kind of stuck around, being passed from child to child. i've tried my best to tell them that whatever it is, it is probably contagious -- i'll see fatou or aram clear the eyes and snot of one kid and then move on to the next kid with the same hand. they don't seem to understand or believe me. i'm starting to think that i should pay to take fallou to the health post in mbirkelane or kaffrine if he's not showing signs of getting better in a few days.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

welcome to the technological frontier

i've finally discovered skype.

it's pretty amazing.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

where are you sarah?

anybody notice that sarah palin has not been in the news at all?

she wasn't even invited to the dinner obama hosted for mccain (pre-inauguration) nor did i catch a glimpse of her at the inauguration. was she even there?

not like i miss her that much, it's just a curious thing to me.

dakar is so nice. it can be so hard to leave sometimes. although...i do miss wolfgang.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

what a day!

just came back from watching the inauguration at ganalle's in downtown dakar with a bunch of other peace corps volunteers. they opened early for us and we all showed up around 3pm, giddy with anticipation and marveling over the gigantic crowds in washington, dc. even though i was awed by the size of the audience there in america, i was glad to be in senegal, in dakar, with my peace corps community, watching from across the ocean and experiencing this moment in history in a strange corner of the world.

and even though we were in a little bar tucked away in dakar, far away from it all, when the inauguration began, we cheered and whooped and clapped. we stood and sang and held our hands over hearts and mostly, we celebrated the inauguration of barack hussein obama as our 44th president as citizens and servants of the united states of america. it was really thrilling. my heart swelled and was close to bursting.

as i watched the pomp and circumstance and marveled over the "traditions" of the way inaugurations go, i suddenly realized just how big of a deal it is that this transition of power is so peaceful and smooth. as silly as it may seem that certain figures march out with the other or that the process of one family moving in and the other moving out at nearly the same exact moment is precisely orchestrated, it is simply amazing that this transition occurs with no blood running in the streets or buildings being charred or crowds being trampled. the pomp and circumstance is -- in a way -- a blessing and a testimony to what our country stands for. i guess i never even bothered to truly think about it until in a country on a continent where these kinds of things (changes/transitions of power) hardly ever happen without a coup d'etat (mauritania), fraud (zimbabwe), violence (kenya), angry public protest (guinea), or at least days of contention or delay about who actually won (ghana). (granted we had the whole bush/gore debacle but other then chads littering the floor -- or the lack thereof -- there was no blood streaming the grounds.)

it was really an amazing moment and i can't even believe that i had originally planned to skip the whole thing and stay in the village -- where i don't even have a radio! -- and just read the speech later. silly. it was definitely worth watching and i will be glued to the news for the next few days to see what will happen.

and the speech! what a punch it packed. what sent chills up my spine was when he said, "To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy." what wise words -- and i don't see them applying only to the leaders of countries or nations but to all people.

will i be one who builds or one who destroys?

obama, i can't do much right now then chant, "obama! obama!" from here across the atlantic and drink to your health and i doubt you can hear me or the tons of others here that are cheering for you but we are and will and look to the day “when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead man and when white would embrace what is right.”

Monday, January 19, 2009


tomorrow's the big day!

everybody in senegal is very excited -- even those in my little village. they were all very understanding of my need to leave the village and come up to dakar to watch the inauguration.

there's a big club in dakar hosting a big inauguration party tomorrow. on my stipend, there's no way i can afford to go but at least i can sneak a picture. as you can see, obama and i are touching hands. maybe i can get some of his charisma through osmosis.

it's history in the making!

*update* the new york times was calling for readers' photos of the inauguration buzz so i sent one in...and they posted it! i'm in the new york times! check it out.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

door repair

my front screen door has been terribly broken for some time and on sunday, i finally went to the quincallerie (hardware store) in mbirkelane and bought some material to repair it with. i even managed to make friends with the owner. since the kids push on the bottom half of the door and the cats (jamm rekk [rip], rumi, and wolfgang) like to climb the screen, i decided to put wood on the second half of the door.

i've never repaired anything like this before and memories of struggling in shop class made me helplessly long for talla or chris to fix my door. as a consequence, i let the door remain as it was for quite some time until it was finally just torn to shreds and kept together with string and duct tape. this morning bouba ndiaye said some stuff to me about my "productivity" that was completely wrong (he doesn't even live in the village!) but regardless, it made me feel terrible about myself and my service so i sat on my bed and brooded and stared at my broken door. suddenly -- as if to prove bouba ndiaye wrong -- i decided to quit being a damsel in distress and fix the damn thing myself!

chris had given me a good idea of how to go about fixing it so i proceeded to dismantle the pieces (making a racket) and then cut and glue and nail things together. after 2.5 hours...i did it! despite nailing my own thumb a few times, it came out quite well and i'm very satisfied with the job that i did. it reminded me of my childhood when momma gave me (for christmas) a real (that is, not a kiddie-type) toolbox fully equipped with hammer, screwdrivers, nails, wrenched, etc. and i would spend hours in the basement tinkering around -- never really making anything, but just getting pleasure out of nailing nails into wood. thanks for the training, ma!

i totally failed to take a "before" picture, but this is kind of what the door used to look like. it's actually the back door of my hut but they were constructed the same way. except, imagine the door with the screen falling out (both top and bottom), the screen ripping (cats & children), and the door sagging down on the right corner (dinky wood, i guess).

now, this is the "new" door! because of all the extra support from the bottom half, the door doesn't sag anymore and satisfingly slams shut anytime i open it.

every seems rather impressed of my door and all think it a wise upgrade. it feels good to be handy.

playing in mud

the other day (friday) when chris was here, we decided to build a mud stove. i learned this skill back during PST (or was it IST?) and have been meaning to do this in the village but it is a lot of work to collect materials and therefore never got around to it. but since chris was here, he managed to convince me and the women were looking forward to having a mud stove so chris and i spent a day collecting and preparing materials. this required us to go to the old swimming hole (that is now dried up) and collecting 2.5 bennoirs (a bennoir is a really big bucket) of clay and me putting it on my head and carrying it all the way back to the compound. that stuff is heavy!!! i was exhausted. it had to be "clay soil" so we sat there for 2 hours -- me with a hammer, chris with a big rock -- breaking big chunks of clay up into little pieces. at one point chris asked, "isn't this what they do in prison? take this big rock and give me smaller rocks." i seem to recall that nelson mandela did some work like this on robben island so i'm glad that he and i have could have a slightly similiar experience in life.

after that it was 1 bennoir of dry horse manure (also a thrill to break into smaller pieces). i managed to breath in too deeply and got a bunch of manure dust up my nose and down my throat. then it was 1 bennoir of millet chaff (the leftover from when the women pound the millet heads). we then mixed it up, added a bennoir of water, and i got to stomp around in it -- which i found was quite beneficial to my dry feet (like a quickie spa!) -- until it was all muddy and squishy. we set some rice sacks over it and let it sit overnight.

the next morning we built the oven. first i had to cut off the unopened end of a tomato can, so i learned how to use a manual can opener on my pocket knife (after 23 years of life i finally know how to use a manual can opener) and cut it off. then i realized the can was far too small (the can is for where you enter the firewood) and had wasted a perfectly good can and had to run all around the village looking for one. finally yaay fatou (always to my rescue) asked me what i was looking for her and when i told her, dug around her boutique and found me one that was big enough. so we built the oven and now it sits and dries for two weeks and then the women can use it. since the clay insulates the pot and keeps in the heat, the use of a mud stove should decrease wood consumption by as much as 30-40%. it's pretty cool and i've been meaning to build one for the family for a while. my neighbor has already requested one (though i think i'll have to make the condition that materials be collected and arranged before i come and build). the women are pretty excited about -- they had one once (probably built by the peace corps volunteer who started my site -- he lived with talla's dad in another village) but it broke. hopefully this one stays together for some time.

the kitchen hut is pretty dark so i couldn't get a proper picture but i'll try again when the women can finally use it. ours isn't as big as the one in the illustration above but it's still pretty nice.

Monday, January 5, 2009

money matters

it's really hard for me to not get annoyed at the women sometimes. fatou, especially. it's like we're related: i care about her but she gets drives me nuts with her loudness, obnoxiousness, and constant need to use my things. this morning she's been relentless in coming to my door and asking me for things.

it is a constant barrage of demands. aissatou, give me money for fish. aissatou, give me money for oil. aissatou, give me money for vegetables. aissatou, i want sugar. buy us some? aissatou, i need matches. aissatou, lend me a needle. aissatou, where is your string? give me some. aissatou, cut these onions. aissatou, give me a plastic bag. i could easily save up my plastic bags too but no, instead i'll give it to the kids to tear into shreds and throw into the bush and then come and ask you for the bags that you carefully save up for yourself in the future. aissatou, give me a nail. aissatou, lend me your tool even though i have one too. aissatou, take pictures o fme and then print them out for us. aaargh.

today specifically it's been money for fish, money for oil, matches, for me to pick rice, for me to babysit, and for a needle. she either comes herself or sends one of her kids, which makes it even more aggravating because the kids are always unclear and then i can't express my dismay. what is even more irritating is that they (because this is not to say that aram doesn't do this either, she just happens to be less annoying) use the word "abel," meaning "to lend." they use this even for the asking of things like matches (especially matches!!!), plastic bags, or nails, when in reality, it's not lending at all! it's annoying because it happens everyday and because matches are cheap (25CFA a box), but they refuse to buy them, because they know that i have them and am a pushover and will give them (because how do i get out of it?) matches when they ask for them. how come then can constantly afford to buy incense (about the same price) or toothcaps (500CFA) or beignets (50CFA) but they can't afford 25CFA for a box of matches that will last them 2 weeks?! what is most upsetting is that recently they've taken the liberty to entering my hut on their own and taking my matches. it drives me crazy.

i've been here for over a year now and i still can't solve this problem or that of money. i give money to talla for food and my water but instead he treats it like it is his slary and does god knows what with it. (this is a common issue that volunteers have with their monetary contributions.) the women come to me for money and i either refuse them and tell them that i've given talla money already but more times than others, i succumb because i feel bad and/or can't stand another day of eating the same damn crap we eat everyday and if i give some money, there is at least the chance of being fish or vegetables.

i can't directly give them the 20,000CFA/month i give talla because of cultural things and it causes conflicts. (i've tried, it was awkward and uncomfortable and ultimately did not work out.) if i don't give money but instead buy vegetables on my own in the market, they wind up selling the nice vegetables i buy them so that they can get money to buy crappier vegetables and use the leftover money to buy sugar or tea or candy and still come to me for money for fish or oil. it's overall one bug fucked up situations that happens over and over again and never ceases to make my stomach turn. i dread the sound of footsteps at my door because i know it means somebody's coming to ask for something and it can be so hard for me to refuse. sometimes i just want to scream at them to stop asking me for money but i'm pretty sure that won't be helpful. money matters is already something that i find difficult to talk about and then to have to talk about it in wolof and then there is always the nagging feeling that in comparison to them, i'm freakin' filthy rich and can totally afford to give them everything they want/need. but i didn't come all the way here just to be a money machine. that's not my job.

it's so incredibly awful and i'm so disgusted at this system of men controlling the money and therefore the women having no income of their own and their subsequent powerlessness and the lack of "shame" of having to ask somebody else for money everyday.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

pigeons for the new year

i suppose i should mention that i eventually got to light some fireworks. on new year's day i was determined to light the fireworks. after all, thay had cost me 2,500CFA! up until new year's eve i kept envisioning some beautiful bonding moment between me and the village -- all of us out in the darkness and lighting fireworks and oohing and aahing as they burst over our tiny village in a "forgotten corner of the world."

but by the evening i was in a bad mood because fatou had pissed me off and i -- in turn -- had pissed her off and the sour air was permeating into everybody. (sidenote: this was the first time in my year or so of being here that i ever snapped at her and while i felt bad about it, i also felt kind of relieved that i've finally stopped being such a pushover and am a bit more...myself. that is, i have expressed myself as somebody who gets angry or annoyed or can have my limits pushed. that's not to say that all this time i've been the "happy" volunteer -- i am often grumpy or sad or far from chipper. it is just that for so long, in my attempts to be a "good" volunteer, i have shied away from putting my foot down in various situations that i would never had a problem with in america or an all-english speaking contetxt.) the whole compound seemed bitchy and angry and i didn't feel like lighting the damn fireworks now or ever. but i had to! they were just sitting there and i had gotten them for the village.

so after dinner i took out 3 and announced that i was going to go light some fireworks (not pigeons). talla immediatly began to panic, clearly thinking that i was going to light the compound on fire. even though i had this fear as well, i got annoyed at him. i felt old feelings of teenage rebellion gurgling up inside of me -- who was he to tell me what to do? i could do what i wanted! why doesn't he ever think i'm capable of anything?! i grumpily said "bay ko, rekk" (forget it, then) and that if he was scared i would just wait until i got to kaolack or dakar. but he insisted i light them but proceeded to ask me a million questions about whether or now i would be putting the village in peril. i was just about to give up when he decided i go into a field and light them. so we went and i set up the first firework. i lit it and we all (me, talla, chris, and ma'asou) took a step back. the firework launched and was a total fart of a firework. a total dud. it went like, 10 feet into the air before sputtering out and dying. i was disappointed and talla was relieved. we set up another and chris lit it. this time it shot up a bit higher but exploded into all kinds of color. pretty. we set up the third and i offered talla the lighter. he lit it and it shott off into the sky ablaze with color, making the perfect whizzing firewcracker noise, reaching marvelous heights, and exploding into a dazzle. talla was delighted and cheered like a little kid and gloated about how his firework was better than both of ours.

it is therapeutic lighting things on fire so i felt a bit better after that, talla was in a good mood, fatou and aram thought they wre pretty, and children were tittering away in excitement over the fireworks so things started to feel a little more normal again. now i just need to figure out what to do with the remaining 9...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

happy new year

before i left site for christmas, all the women made a big stink about me leaving and made me promise that i would be here and celebrate the 31st with them in the village. so i promised them and subsequently dragged chris back with me here. i bought 12 fireworks in dakar to celebrate the new year with and was really excited about sharing them with village and kept telling everybody that i brought "pitax" back with me from dakar. people were pretty impressed. i didn't find out until much later that they're called "pitar" not "pitax." in fact, "pitax" is a pigeon -- so everybody thinks i brought pigeon (and not just one but twelve!). whoops. no wonder they think i have so much money.

anyway, i figured new year's eve -- which they call "the 31st" -- would be kind of a big deal since the women had been talking about it for so long. but the day was rather normal and uneventful until around 7pm when fatou asked me for 500CFA (around $1USD). she and aram and some other women were pooling 500CFA each for a "really good dinner." i eagerly gave the money because the food at site has been so terrible recently and figured it would all work out well -- we'd have a yummy dinner and then light fireworks and we would all be happy and celebratory together, ringing in the new year.

around 8pm a bunch of women came over and started cooking. i helped cut a few soggy overdue potatoes and onions that had begun to sprout and complained with the women that our (total) 2,500CFA bought such shoddy vegetables. even so i was excited -- potatoes and onions are always likely to be a good thing. but then at 8:30ish, aram brought out dinner. i was slightly confused -- weren't we cooking it? weren't we going to eat potatoes and onions and instead this was just millet and leaf sauce. i figured that this was just to tide us over until the big dinner so we ate just enough to curb over hunger but left plenty of room for more food.

9pm -- no food. 10 pm -- no food. at this point chris and i are really tired -- it's bed time in the village -- but dinner still hasn't come and we want to be awake for the new year and light fireworks. i am growing increasingly impatient and irritated and wish somebody would tell me what's going on, but in the meantime the women are all crammed into fatou's hut screaming and laughing and drinking tea and having a hell of a time. chris and i fall asleep but in the half-quasi-anticipatory kind so it's nothing substantial and most of all, we are hungry!! i wake up at 11 and still no food so i wander around my hut until 11:20 when i decide that i'm giving up, closing my door, screwing the fireworks, and getting some real sleep. i am mad and hungry and cranky and annoyed that once again, i've been kept out of the loop and that this is the stupidest new year's ever and i have no idea when i even let them convince me to be here for new year's if NOTHING is going to happen. i think of all the other places i could be. i think of the champagne i could be drinking. finally, it's 11:30 and just as i am about to shut my door, aram sows up wtih a bowl and tells me that "dinner is here" (even though it had been sitting there in the kitchen for the few hours -- it's not like it takes hours to cook up some potatoes, onions, and macaroni pasta). she also mentions that there was no bread but we should eat until we are full. at this point we aren't even hungry anymore -- just really sleepy and disappointed -- but we settled down to eat. it was cooked in so much oil and salt that we could only stomach a few bites before essentially giving up. had there been bread (or coke) i suppose it would have soaked up the oil and lessened the saltiness. overall pretty disappointing.

despite having had dinner we nixed the idea of fireworks because other than the women in fatou's hut who were now also eating and still screaming and laughing their heads off, everybody else in the village was asleep. minus them, the place was silent. what's the point of fireworks if everybody is asleep?

chris and i stayed up until midnight, said happy new year to each other, i hummed "auld lang syne" (because i don't know -- nor will i ever -- the words) and we promptly passed out.

i realize now that the women probably don't even know the significance of new year's eve. they call it "the 31st" but made no mention of the new year or anything along those lines. i figure they just know the 31st as some holiday that in recent times has been increasingly celebrated and see it as an excuse to be festive. they don't care about the calendar or date, nobody said happy new year or cared when i mentioned that 2008 is over and 2009 has started. to them, tamxarit is the new year (or 10 days after the first day of the new muslim year), so why would my new year mean anything? i still don't understand why they needed me to be there, but oh well. happy new year. we'll see what kind of crazy adventures await me in this new year.