Wednesday, August 12, 2009

i cook lunch and teach a senegalese wolof

yesterday turned out better than it started. thank god. i think the huge storm the night before had really fucked with my head -- living in a collapsing hut can be psychologically draining. i'm refusing to move out of my hut (maybe stupid, but the only thing i can do to keep me from going crazy) so they've put up buttresses against the weakest wall and we'll see who lasts longer -- me or the hut. but last night's rain was very close to the earth and every thunder bolt would make my doors rattle and i cowered all night in bed thinking that the next clap of lightning and thunder would bring the walls tumbling down and the roof onto my head. it didn't so now i have greater faith in the structure.

so yesterday morning i headed to diassoume wilanene to help xadi wilane, aram cisse, and fatou diop outplant but when i got there i found out that they had gone out to the fields. i was a little annoyed because i had told them on sunday that i would bet here tuesday...but i've been here too long to really expect people to keep dates and appointments with me especially when i agree that crops and livelihood come before trees.

so when i got back to the village i was left with nothing to do. i had planned on cooking lunch for the family on wednesday (since i had plans to outplant on tuesday morning) but was bored so decided i would cook lunch that day and try to outplant wednesday morning.

the plan to cook lunch was born out of a conversation i had with fatou a few weeks earlier. i was heading out to dakar and she asked me, "aissatou, when you go to dakar, how do you eat?" i told her that i cook for myself and she was absolutely incredulous. "you can cook???" she asked. she barely believed me. i wanted to be like, "homegirl, i could cook circles around you!" she asked me how come i never cook lunch in the village and i replied because i'm not talla's wife (thank god) but that before i went to america i would cook her a meal to show her that i know how to cook.

so i killed my crazy grey chicken (i did the slaughtering -- to the amazement of the women as women don't kill animals in senegal) and made the family chicken chili over rice for lunch. it was packed with onions (1/4 kilo), green peppers (1/4 kilo), corn, kidney beans, tomato paste, garlic, and tomatoes (1/4 kilo). to my surprise, they really loved it. i was unsure that they would because there are loads of peace corps stories about volunteers who cook their families a meal who then find the meal disgusting and refuse to eat it. there was a lot of hot pepper and cumin in this but man, they wolfed it down. i'm not sure if it was because there was just so much stuff in it (for god's sake -- an entire chicken!) or if they actually liked how it tasted, but regardless they ate it and they ate it all.

i found that i really do love feeding people good, healthy, nutritious food and i think it is my ultimate gesture of care. i made sure there wasn't a bit of unhealthiness in this meal -- no msg, no maggi cubes, nothing unwholesome went into it. the women were very interested that i used ingredients they were familiar with in a totally different way and they were totally impressed that i didn't need a bit of maggi or msg.

but my god, i learned that it is hard to cook in that kitchen. the smoke from a 3 stone fire is unbearable -- even in a mud stove. if you breathe through your mouth it sears your throat. the kitchen hut gets hot and smoky -- was sweating and choking like mad. moreover, both the women were super curious so they squeezed themselves in there with me to watch and ask questions the entire time. i mean, i've always known the kitchen to be a rough hut from helping cook and stuff, but this was the first time i was standing right over it, in the blast of everything. at one point aram, watching me struggle, asked, "is there no smoke when you cook over a gas?" and i emphatically yelled "no!!!"

i was worried there wouldn't be enough food but i managed to feed 16 people for lunch and a dinner bowl for me and talla. plus, a small bowl was sent to yaay fatou for a taste.

of course i received little recognition, praise, or thanks for the food -- it's not in the culture and i think it makes a woman's job even harder. but the empty bowls and seeing the women and children chow down were enough for me to feel satisfied. however, with talla it was a different story. we ate together twice this strange and new food that i guarantee he's never eaten before and he didn't mention a thing. ate it as if it was just another mafe lunch. not even a word about what is this or that i cooked it or that i had killed one of my chickens for lunch. it made me very disgusted with him. i highly doubt that being talla's wife is a very fulfilling job.

later in the afternoon i went out to see yaay fatou in her field because i knew that she was outplanting. i love that woman and will miss her when i leave. she was outplanting in some flooded area so we shlucked around in the mud. yaay mag was there too and i felt bad because she was like, "aissatou, i know nothing about trees! nothing!" because her pepiniere had completely died not once, but twice. yaay fatou retorted, "it's because she doesn't have any luck!" i agreed but then yaay fatou quipped, "she doesn't have any luck because she's ugly! ugly people have no luck!" i thought this was hilarious and laughed for some time. i promised yaay mag i would give her some trees from my pepiniere because she really had tried and really had no luck.

then i was helping yaay fatou plant tomatoes and she was yammering away and goes, "ah! aissatou! aissatou dafa begg nibbi." this is interesting because "begg" means "to want" and she was saying "oh aissatou! aissatou wants to go home." but "begg" is an interesting verb because when somebody needs to go somewhere or has plans to go somewhere, "begg" is used in this context even if there is actually no particularly desire attached to it. i've never liked that because i'll say something like "i have to go to kaolack tomorrow" and actually don't want to because kaolack is gross but in order to say it, i need to use the verb "begg." (god i hope this makes sense.)

i was feeling playful with yaay fatou so i snarked back, "deedet, dafa war nibbi!" which means "no, she has to go home!" i had pointed out the difference between wanting to do something and having to do something and she totally got and she laughed and laughed and repeated the story a million times to anybody who would listen and telling them all that today i beat her in wolof and that "now, now aissatou understands wolof." it was a slightly triumphant moment for me because for two years it was "aissatou, you still don't understand wolof?" and moreover, it was a great laugh and we had a lot of fun.

then i went out to aram cisse and xadi wilane's fields because they had heard i had come in the morning and wanted to outplant. i helped out a little and outplanted some trees. i'm really proud of my farmers. yaay fatou and i had sat in aram cisse's field for a while and the whole time aram babbled all these ideas she had for how she would improve her field with trees and vegetables. it was cool and i should have been hanging out with these old ladies a long time ago. i outplanted trees with them until the sun started to set and they sent me home because i was tired and getting destroyed by mosquitos.

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