Thursday, March 12, 2009

mural mural on the wall

the morning of the 9th i woke up early and went straight to the school to start the mural. when tayo and ma'asou showed up, i had already made friends with the groundskeeper's family (although the women wound up being really annoying) and has started on the mural.

ma'asou looked bright and happy, munching on a bean sandwich and excited about having taken her first shower in an actual shower (that is, not a bucket bath). we spent the rest of the day until about 1:30 working on the mural. tayo's friend kim, a tostan volunteer, had joined us to help.

we took a break for lunch and i passed out for a nap. when i woke up chris was there! he had just gotten in from dakar. we had an excellent lunch -- ceeb u yapp (rice and meat) -- for gamou. at one point, juli came scampering into the room and shyly greeted me. the girls awkwardly eyed each other until juli left. it was like two kittens meeting for the first time. when juli left i told ma'asou that she could leave and go hang out until we had to work again and she immediatly left the room with a secret smile.

when we had lunch we went back to the mural from 4:45 to 7pm-ish. it wasn't finished but there was no more daylight and i was ready to go home after a day of mural painting which was a bit more difficult than expected because of the goopy, glossy, oil-based paint we were using and the constant throngs of people bugging us.

me, chris, and ma'asou went out to dinner. i had told her about hamburgers the night before and i promised her one. this time i bought her non-carbonated mango juice in a little glass bottle and she loved it. whe she was done, she lovingly rinsed out the bottle and asked me to fill it with water for her to keep. she seemed to really enjoy the hamburger and she and i talked about a picture alphabet book -- translating things into wolof -- and also about kaolack and th evillage and what she wanted to do with her life.

there's talk of her going to kaffrine next year to further her arabic school studies. we're not a very pious family or anything close so i wonder about this decision. i asked her if she wants to go. she said no. i asked her why. she thinks it's too far away. i asked her if she wanted to stay in the village. she shook her head. i asked her where she wants to go. she said, "anywhere." to this, i asked her if she wants to get married (the only way to get "anywhere") and she shook her head. interesting.

i dropped her off at tayo's and told her to go to bed because tomorrow morning i was dropping her off at a neighborhood where our villagers who had come to kaolack for gamou celebrations were to catch a car to go home. she nodded, we departed, chris and i walked back to the house, and i promptly passed out when i got to the house.

the following morning before heading out to the mural, i found out from tayo that ma'asou had not gone to bed (as instructed) but had been invited by her new friend juli to go pray at the mosque in celebration of gamou. so, she was oversleeping -- something i've never seen her do once in hte village. when she woke up, i left tayo and chris to wokr on the mural and carted her to the neighborhood of sam, where she met up with her relatives. sam was nuts -- the post-gamou flurry was insane. it was also pretty crazy to see my villagers outside of the village. i droppd her off, did some greeting, and then bounced so i could finish the moto. as much as i enjoyed having ma'asou around, it was a relief.

we finished the mural at a decent hour, took a bunch of pictures, and then went back to the house. went out to lunch with chris, hawes, jaime, and mark and had a few, well-deserved beers.

the next morning we went again to the mural and wrote the names of the women we had painted and signed it. we were very pleased with it. pictures will come soon...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

country mouse, big city

i'm currently in kaolack working on a mural project that tayo asked me to do for international women's day. i took the opportunity to invite ma'asou to come with me and see what city life is like, what i do in kaolack, and also to possibliy instill in her some sense of how there's a bigger world outside of the village and that she is totally capable of being a part of it if she chooses.

she was very excited for this trip and had her hair braided and a new complet (pants!) made for the occasion. she was very cute and endearing...but what also scares me is that the more i look at her, the more she is becoming a little lady and growing up quite rapidly. it also means that i don't have that much time before she becomes marriage material and stuck in a situation that stunts her potential to become something great. she's like 9 or 10 now so she has 6-7 years left before she gets claimed by some stinky old dude for a wife.

anyway, we left for kaolack on sunday, passing through the market to pick up an ndaa (a clay pot made to cool and store water) for shelley. it was a lot heavier than i expected it would be and it made me sweat when i had to carry it from outside of the garage to karim's, where i was meeting with tayo to buy paints for the mural. from the moment we got fof the car in kaolack, ma'asou was shocked by how many cars, motos, and people were there. i kind of forgot about her and how this all must've been totally ne to her and walked quickly through the city with her gripping onto my nalgene with wide eyes. my hugest error was trying to cross a street while cars were approaching. the city in my skittered in between cars and ma'asou was terrified yelling, "AISSATOU, A CAR'S COMINGGGG!!" and got stuck in the middle of it all and like, straight out of cartoon, was spun like a top by the whizzing cars. oops. from that point on i slowed down a bit and remembered that i had wiht me a little girl who was experiencing a gazillion new things at the same time.

we got to karim's and i bought her a coke. she was intrigued by the television, the glass door refrigerator, and thought karim's assistant was a volunteer because he's not black (he's moroccan). the her coke somewhat erupted and fizzed over and her face had a look of pure terror and what the hell is happening?! i realized it was probably her first carbonated drink but didn't even try to explain what just happened. i figured i'd let her mull over that one...much because i don't even know if i can explain carbonation in english.

tayo showed up and drank the rest of her coke because she didn't want any more (much to my surprise, as i thought she would like it) and then we headed out to buy paint. we sped through the market and i had to call out to tayo to slow down a bit because she was almost aimlessly walking, unaware or unsure of how to dodge motos and squeeze herself between the hordes of walking people. eventually i had to physically guide her around by the shoulders and i could feel how tense her little body was.

we took care of the paint business and grabbed a direct cab to the peace corps house. she seemed relieved to be able to view the city from the confines of a car. when we got to the house there was a ton of poeple there, which was a little shocking to me, as i was not expecting it. i had a meeting to attend so sarah lent me her computer and we put on whale rider for her to watch, even though it was in english. she was intrigued for a while but then grew bored. i gave her an animal picture book and paper and crayons. this occupied her while we discussed the latrine project (a kaolack regional stratgey attempt to get latrines in all of our villages).

afterwards, tayo, me, kari, and matt had to prerecord the radio show that was to be played in conjunction with international women's day. ma'asou joined us and giggled at the plot and our attempts to speak wolof. it took us a lot longer than we expected it to and she would up passing out for a nap while my stomach grumbled for lunch. when she finally woke up we headed downtown again to get lunch. it was 4pm by now. i held her hand as we walked to the restaurant and she jumped every time a moto honked and whizzed by us. at lunch she sat awkwardly at the table on the chair. i realized she's probably ever sta at a table for a meal before. i had to get up and push her chair in for her. when we went to go wash our hands she forgot her shoes. my poor little country mouse.

i got her a fanta. she made a face of disgust when she drank it. it finally made sense to me that she probably doesn't like carbonated drinks, especially because these were her first fizzy drinks. but i ordered us a half cicken, fries, and salad to share and she ate to her heart's content. it was seriously a case of eyes bigger than the stomach -- she just ate and ate. i don't think she's ever had so muhc chicken to herself before and while i was happy to provide the food, there was the sad realization that while we in the village aren't starving, there is a serious lack of nutrition and fulfillment in the food.

speaking of which, while we were eating (and she was learning to eat with a fork and knife), she told me about the jackal that everybody had seen the day before. it turns out that it had attacked a goat and eaten a huge chunk out of the goat but it lived on and staggered around a while birds pecked at its wound until it was finally killed by somebody in the village. that morning i had eaten goat for breakfast and was so thrilled with it and touched that they had made me meat for brekafast, probably because i was going to miss the big holiday of gamou (the prophet's birthday) by being in kaolack. jus tturns out that i'm at the bottom of the food chain.

after dinner we went to tayo's house where she was spending the night and where i figured she could feel a little comfortable again after hanging out with me and other english speakers all day. wrong. tayo's house, first and foremost, is HUGE and filled with the best senegalese luxury. it's two stories and plush. it is also run by a woman, a matriarch, who also rents out a bunch of toher rooms and small buildings within the compound. it's practically a mansion of sorts and it was PACKED with people, especially because tomorrow would be gamou. there were tvs blaring, phones ringing, people running arond everywhere, and vats of food being prepared for the next day. i was even a bit overwhelmed by it all. when people asked her name she could barely squeak it out -- world's away from the loud, bossy, vivacious girl she is in the village.

i spent a good hour being grilled by these men who lived there, lounging around with their zippers undone, watching tv and insisting on how i don't physically look american (which i argued until they sucuumbed) and pounding me with questions that i was determined to answer with full confidance and authority because i knew they were playing their stupid seneagelse male game with me. ma'asou's eyes were glued to the huge flat screen tv that had a soccer game on.

around 7 we headed out to work on the mural. we had obtained a projector and to save ourselves lots of time were going to project the images on the wall and trace them with charcoal. it was a little worrisome at first because we didn't have enough extension cords for everything to work out but eventually we fiddled around enough and adjusted our plans so that it was possible. ma'asou was thrilled when the projector finally came on and threw images on the wall. a bunch of others were as well and we got ourselves a small audience as i charcoaled imagies on the decrepit wall.

when i was done we went back to tayo's and i found myself incredibly exhausted from the day of traveling, meetings, murals, talking, and baby sitting. i also figured ma'asou was exhausted so i elft her at tayo's and went back to the PC house. i'd decided on having her stay at a senegalese house for her own comfort and mine. i felt a little bad at first, almost as if i was abandoning her but then, it was probably the first time she's ever been completely on her own and i thought the taste of independence would be good for her. when i left her she still had a look of shock and overwhelm on her face, but we had introduced her to some family members who promised to care for her, including a sweet girl of around the same age named juli.

tomorrow we start painting the mural. ma'asou will help out. the day after tomorrow she will go home. i'm tired. this is a new experience for the both of us -- her first experience in the big city, my first as a big sister.

Friday, March 6, 2009

legitimize, recognize

there's much to write about but my writing's been a little lackluster recently and my motivation to write is wilting. i'll blame it on the weather. it is hot. i had almost forgotten about the days where sitting makes you sweat.

yesterday i had to go to kaffrine to see baay keba mbengue (jc's host dad) in the hospital. jc has left for a vacation in america, but keba's been quite ill recently -- an infected foot which has led to other problems -- and was taken to the hospital on tuesday. jc left her family my phone number in case they needed anything an on wednesday evening her brother called me about going to the hospital for a "meeting." i was caught a bit off=guard. i hadn't actually expected them to call me and i was worried that perhaps they would be asking me for money or to make some kind of assumed-informed crucial decision regarding his health.

i called shelley and asked her if she would go with me -- combined forces. she, thankfully, agrees despite her village being a bit further than mine (although she has a car that goes directly from her village to kaffrine, as opposed to my wild-goose chase for a charette out of my village).

the next morning (thursday) after catching a charette all the way to kaffrine, we met up at the hospital. a bunch of keba's relatives were there, including a woman i mistakenly thought was his wife for quite a while. it was interesting how much they trsuted me and saw me as somebody who could help. i guess they can also tell that jc and i are good friends and have each others' backs.

there was difficulty getting into the hospital. there was a very stubborn guard who insisted we could not enter until 1pm (it was 10:30am). there was even a scuffle between a man and the guard and a bum rush and crowded chaos that i got caught up in because i was trying to pull the woman-i-thought-was-jc's-mom-but-was-actually-xadi-wilane out of the way from the crowd and an approaching car. finally she managed to coax the guard, telling him that we were here to buy the medicine. aha! so we were here for our wallets, but i didn't mind too much because the last time i saw keba, he was really ill and it was quite worrisome.

we got in and i was rather impressed with the strutcutre and cleanliness of the hospital. the only other hospital i've been to was in thies when anne marie (my then-host sister) had malaria and that place was rather cruddy and hot and filled with flies. keba was in room 3 and we entered. keba hastened to sit up, which was really much easier for him than the last time i saw him, but he was shirtless and we saw how skinny this already skinny man had gotten. but he truly looked far better and healthier. he had had an operation on his foot (there had even been talk of amputation!) and was now in the recovery stages. there was a bunch of other family members -- including the real wife/mom -- and they were happy to see us.

after much discussion, we each lent 10mille to pay for the medicines he needed. it was not an easy loan but it would be foolish of us to not pay for his medications so that his healing would reverse and take a turn for the worse. it was teh right thing to do but medicine is truly expensive and they -- and i say this with no intention of boasting or disdain -- are lucky to have a community of american volunteers who may be poor in the eyes of other americans (my father laughed at my w-2) but are terribly wealthy in the eyes of villagers.

i spent the afternoon hiding from the heat of the day at lindsay's (the volunteer in kaffrine). ben was there too. as was rumi (jc's cat). i ate a very small amount of lunch because the little boy across from me had a lot of snot and was coughing into the bowl and the little girl next to me kept smearing her hand around in my place at the bowl. pretty gross.

i headed home around 5pm and squeezed myself into a very hot mini car that was loaded with people and 2 huge sheep as well as an entire roofrack crammed with sheep and goats that kicked screamed the whole ride home. one of the ladies from the hospital party was in the car too and she was very happy i was there and it impressed everybody else in the car that i had some kind of business beyond greetings with this woman.

talla and i had agreed that we would meet at the world vision office in mbirkelane where he would pick me up. so i went, and of course, i was early. luckily marin was there and we wound up having an impromptu meeting. i told him about my big village meeting on monday and how i was disappointed that nobody had come to speak to me about pepineres yet. he's very no-nonsense and doesn't take any crap or village-excuses. he's senegaelse so i guess he can do that without seeming too pompous or elitist -- i think he just tired of the crap and because he's senegalese, is ermitted to be a hard ass. maybe PCVs are too soft, but that's probably because we don't want to be culturally inappropriate or rude.

anyway, i told him my plans and thoughts for this year and gleaned a bunch of information from him about their work this year -- info that i would have never been able to get from talla. he was very encouraging and told me that we would have another meeting in the village to discuss my work. another gentleman working there was extremely impressed with my wolof (!!!) and said i spoke like i had been here 3 years instead of almost 2 (!!!). i was flattered and prettly pleased. i told him i was happy and he said that he understands how hard it is to learn wolof. that was a great acknowledgment to hear. i twas also great how muhc martin wants to help me because for so long WV has been a presence in my service here but now we are actually full throttle in a working relationship now. synergy is happening and it feels great -- especially since last year i secretly harbored unwarrented made up feelings of competition with WV.

when talla showed up, martin -- whom talla respects very much -- told him he must help me and that i had good work to do and totally legitimized me by putting me on the same plan as him (martin, not talla). i think talla is finally starting to see me as something substantial instead of some dumb little girl who wandered into africa. the whole charetted ride home we discussed work and found much common ground.

translating for gabe last week helped me a lot because i had to focus so carefully on wolof and i've recenlty felt like i've spoken very clearly. my language is not very complicated or grammaically sophisticated but it is clear and correct and lots of people are understanding me.

what was also amusing was that we picked up mansour diop on the way home -- the man who drove me home on his donkey charette the night i freaked out about riding my bike at night in the bush and could go no further than his village. all this time he's been a name and a saint but never a face (because it was dark) and i finally got to see what he looks like.

later in the evening martin called me and told me that he'd be coming tomorrow (today). i was surprised but again, pleased -- it feels so good to be taken seriously!

so today he showed up and had a small meeting with some village leaders in the valley and lectured them about me and my work and how nobody has taken me seriously about pepinieres. what was awesome was that muhc of what he said was verbtain what i told him -- that the WV trees would not be enough for individual needs. i even dared to speak up a few times which showed that not only was i following the conversation but that i was also serious about all this. it became quite an interesting discussion and i am indebted to martin and WV a thousand times over for helping me out. people were impressed with what was said and i think the point is finally being driven home -- people must have their own pepinieres and learn how to do it themselves. they can't just rely on WV and must acquire the knowledge for themselves.

afterwards talla came to talk to me. he says a man from another village wants his own pepiniere. talla is also finally owning up to his role as my counterpart -- he gets what i want to do and is offering help. tomorrow we're having one more meeting with everybody at the valley and we will start signing people up. talla knows of a few people in his mind who are good potentials -- many of them come from other villages and he offered to take me to these places to do pepinieres. we shall see what the outcome is tomorrow but i really feel like things are coming together and this year can't possibly be as much of a clusterfuck as it was last year.

but i won't get too excited yet and we'll see how tomorrow goes. however, i really think i've finally got my point across -- i was disappointed for a while because i felt like everyubody was just humoring me and not really seeing my purpose or point -- and i am finally being legitimized. i am also so thankful for all the people who have been helping me out -- trees for the future, world vision, and people like jc who have been encouraging me and understanding and giving me ideas about how to achieve this breakthrought.

i also harvested and ate my first papaya off of my tree today. the fruits are very small but it was delicious. i saved the seeds for this year's pepiniere. i'm starting to feel like a real farmer.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

my first village meeting!

the hot days of the dry season have definitely started. the mornings are still cool but the heat starts to creep in around noon and by this late part of the day, i'm sweating by just sitting down.

on monday, ethan, gabe, omar, jc, ben (a volunteer who lives outside of kaffrine), and el-hadji (a charette driver) showed up in my village around 2pm. they showed up for my first village-wide meeting in which i was planning on explaining how this year everybody could have their own pepiniere (if they wanted it) and then have omar talk a bit about agroforestry and the technologies we could implement.

i was very nervous about not only the meeting but also felt like this would be a test of my wolof and knowledge of senegalese hospitality. turns out i've imbibed more information that i thought and knew to get my guests soow (curdled cow's milk with sugar -- the best stuff ever), a great lunch with of rice with fish, carrots, eggplant, cabbage, pataase (a kind of sweet potato), jaaxatu (bitter tomato), and tamarind sauce (a very expensive lunch), tea and sugar for them and all the meeting attendees. i even remembered to have lunches brought to the neighbors on both sides of our compound. the women were rather pleased with my ability to entertain.

the meeting itself was short and quick. it was a bit of a big deal for me because it was my first village meeting. everybody showed up dressed nicely and ready to hear what i had to say. i spoke for a while in wolof, first making mention that i was nervous about speaking wolof in front of all of them and that i hoped it would be clear. after i spoke there was a murmer of approval, claps, and several exclamation of how i now understand wolof. omar spoke for a bit and then there was a few short speeches from the village...and then it was over. there had been a lot of anticipation and build up on my behalf and just like that it was over and after a tour of the valley, my guests were whisked away on the charette.

ben stayed behind to hang out. i like him and we had fun chatting and talking about familiar places as he is from nyc and went to school at princeton. he also provided a nice break and excuse to fill my day with not doing muhc after a few days of what felt like the longest days ever of my service.

up until now (today) nobody has showed up to talk about pepinieres, which is a little discouraging and makes me feel that i will soon have to travel door to door selling the idea of a personal pepinere, which is something i'm not really thrilled about doing as i don't want people to have pepinieres of of obligation to me but because they actually want it. but maybe i am just being american impatient.

Monday, March 2, 2009

trees for the future

after WAIST in dakar, wolfgang and i eventually got home on thursday morning but after a day there i had to leave on friday morning for a meeting with didier at world vision and to go to kaffrine/JC's village/ngodiba to help JC out with a trees for the future formation (training).

i left wolfie in the village, filled up his bowls, and left the back door open a smidgen. i had decided to bike to mbirkelane which was a stupid idea because so much of the road is sand sand sand. i was huffing and puffing within the first ten minutes. it took me nearly half an hour to get a bit beyond mbanda peul and iw as already infuriated the bike ride because it wasn't so much of a bike ride but my jumping on and off the bike, hitting 2 seconds of bikable road only to then hit a sand dune. turns out, abdou dia (the village chief) was behind me the whole time and finally sidled up to me as i was pushing my bike, snickering at me and remarking about how the road is sandy. we walked together for a while and discussed the latrine project but finally a stretch of good road showed up and he sent me off since we were both concerned about my being late for my 9am meeting.

i eventually got to WV at 9:34am, washed my face, and commenced my meeting with didier. it was cool because he treated me like a colleague, introducing me to everybody who works an important office and truly seeking a partnership between our two organizations. i was a little worn out and flustered from the bike ride so had a hard time understanding everything but we managed to discuss what i would like to do and what he would like to do in regards to health work in the area. there are lots of good ideas but i tink the best solution is for me to work with him a little but to really try and push for a health volunteer to be placed there, since there is so much work that can be done. he wants me to do all this stuff that i don't think i am really trained fopr and moreover, th enext few months i want to focus on trees, but simultaneously, i didn't want to disappoint and ruin the chance for a good partnership. we are going to have another meeting with his boss on the 16th.

after the meeting i hopped onto an al-hum to go to kaffrine where i met up with jc and after running a few errands, we headed back to her village. we had luch and then made a porridge for her dad who has been very ill with a foot infection recently. the porridge is packed full of nutrients and is supposed to be for malnourished children but i 'm sure was equally beneficial to the ailing keba (her dad). it had peanut butter, bananas, a little sugar, water, and oil and was mixed into millet flour.

we then headed out to ngodiba -- an hours walk through the bush in the heat -- to help ethan and gabe, two guys from trees for the future, with wolof translations. they had come (from the states) to do some filming, attend the big training, and to check up on how the ngo is doing in country. jc's been their liason for a good chunk of time and working her tail off with/for them but she asked me to come out and help her for the training. both ethan and gabe are returned peace corps volunteers so of course there was an instant camraderie.

most of the afternoon involved walking to different fields all over the gigantic village of ngodiba and translating. when we got back we were totally tired but omar (the senegalese trees for the future relais) insisted on giving us dinner which took hours to prepare even though it was just eggs and macaroni. i'll have to admit that most of the evening was rather agitating and i couldn't adopt my american mentality to senegalese hospitality. by the time jc and i got out of there and walked through the bush in the dark night, it was past 11pm. i was pooped from what felt like the longest day ever and promptly passed out.

the next morning we got up super early and again walked an hour to ngodiba where things were getting set up for the training. i got a TFTF t-shirt and felt rather official. i spent the whole day sitting next to and muttering translations into gabe's ear, which -- though tiring -- helped the day go by faster than if i had just been there for the PCV presence (made up by all the volunteers in the area -- shelley, ian, susannah, matt, ben, and lindsay). later in the afternoon i read out names and materials for the "giving out of materials" period. by the time the training was over at 6pm-ish, jc and i were pretty spent.

still, there was a bit more work to be done -- we were going to interview omar in his field -- so it wasn't time to go home yet. i called the village to tell them that i wouldn't be getting back that day, but the next (sunday) and that i would meet up with them at the market. at that point, talla, in a rather panicked voice, asked me if i had brought my cat with me. i told him no, thinking it was an odd question. this threw him into a frenzy of fast wolof -- he hadn't seen my cat since i left and he was certain that it was gone, it had run, left, disappeared. my heart sank and i liked through my teeth, telling him that it would be okay, the cat would come back, while my mind conjured up images of a dead wolfgang leviticus, eaten by snakes or hyenas or buzzards.

i got off the phone and panicked, called chris, my sister, my parents. jc tried her best to comfort me. it was hard though because i wanted to be freaking out about wolfgang but there was work to be done and moreover, there was nothing i could possibly do about the situation. eventually the day came to a close, jc and i trekked another hour home, had dinner, and then after some giggly girl talk (interspersed with mourning for wolf), fell asleep.

sunday i made my way out of her village, through kaffrine, and then on to mbirkelane where i met up with fatou and a bunch of other women from the village. i immediatly asked fatou about wolfgang and she started giggling and told me that talla was stupid and totally wrong. apparently, shortly after the phone call, wolfgang showed up and romped around for some time. what a relief. i spent the rest of the day buying lot of vegetables, sugar, and tea in preparation of ethan, gabe, omar, and jc's coming to my illage to help me out with my first big village-wide meeting.

when i finally got home, wolfgang came zooming up to me and happily greeted me. home sweet home.