Sunday, April 29, 2007

Going to Dakar

Tomorrow all of us Peace Corps trainees are going to Dakar for the day to visit the embassy and Peace Corps office there, mainly to do boring administrative stuff. I am very excited to go though, both to see Dakar for the first time (driving from the airport at 5 am the very first day in Senegal doesn't count because I fell asleep on the bus) and... because they are going to feed us pizza! It's so nice to have some American food once in a while, even if it isn't quite American...

Today I had lunch at a restaurant with some other trainees, and I ordered a hamburger. I haven't had a hamburger since leaving the US. And discovered that Senegalese hamburgers are made of: a pretty standard hamburger bun, a ground beef patty, ketchup... topped with a fried egg and french fries! Weird, but pretty tasty. (Course, my tastiness standards are pretty low and include just about anything that isn't fish, so if you try making a Senegalese hamburger at home and it's awful, don't blame me!).


I posted more pictures at

Saturday, April 28, 2007


written Saturday, 28 April 2007

This week my Mandinka class went to one of our families' houses to practice Mandinka. We found out (because one of the girls was doing it) that curling your toes down (like you might do to stretch them a little) means that you hope your parents will die soon. So if you do it accidentally and people notice, they will think you want your parents to die and that you are a bad person. Watch out!

Week recap

written Friday, 27 April 2007

It's a cliche to say it, but this week has really flown by. Tuesday we had our second language assessments; Wednesday we were issued our bikes and got the results from our language assessments (mine was good, but it doesn't really mean anything because it is really only how you perform on the last test that matters); and yesterday (Thursday) we had a talent show, with the talented among us (not me) entertaining the rest of us with songs, stories, and skits. Also I finally went to a tailor to get some clothes made, and they're supposed to be finished today. I'll try to post some pictures of me in my "complet" later (assuming it doesn't look terrible).

This weekend a bunch of people are going to the beach again, but I haven't spent much time with my family here and I'm pretty tired, so I'm planning to stick around town, hang out with my family, and hopefully sleep a little. And maybe go for a nice long bike ride on Sunday, now that we finally have our bikes (they did end up having women's bikes for us, so I was happy about that).

More Mandinka fun

written Friday, 27 April 2007

The word for radio in Mandinka means "suitcase that talks".

The word for airplane is "flying boat".

The word for face literally means "eye mouth".

Saturday, April 21, 2007


written Saturday, 21 April 2007

We are supposed to be issued our bikes on Wednesday (finally!), accompanied by a three hour bike training (which I hope is going to cover bike maintenance and not how to ride a bike). I'm really looking forward to having a bike, except that they are giving us all men's bikes. I think the seats for men's bikes are really uncomfortable, and the horizontal crossbar is really impractical for girls considering Peace Corps has been pushing us to dress "culturally appropriately" - a.k.a. long skirts.

So I decided to do something about it. I wrote a letter to the Peace Corps Country Director asking them to make women's bikes available for volunteers who want them, and I got most of the other girls to sign it. I'm not expecting much, but maybe they'll at least give us women's seats.

Anyway, it was a fun little project for a day. We'll see what happens.

More questions from my mom

written Saturday, 21 April 2007

1. What creatures have you seen there? Do people keep goats and chickens? What about lizards and insects? Do people there have pets at all?

Let's see... I've seen a few monkeys, but that's about it for exotic animals. People do have goats and chickens, and sheep, even in the city. One of the other trainee's families even has turkeys. All those animals are going to be dinner someday. I've also seen cows, donkeys, and horses wandering around in the streets, but I haven't seen anyone keeping such large animals in their courtyards.

Lizards are all over the place, scampering up walls and trees. I haven't seen any interesting insects really, just mosquitoes, flies, and regular-looking spiders.

People here don't really have "pets" the way Americans do, for company, but some families, like mine, have cats. I think the cats are there to keep away mice and other unwanted animals. No one here pets cats (except me, the crazy toubab).

2. Do they brush their teeth?

I haven't seen anyone brushing their teeth with a toothbrush and toothpaste like we do, although those things are available in some stores. People mostly use a special stick to chew on and scrape their teeth with, which apparently is pretty effective at preventing cavities. But people don't seem to be very conscientious about doing it every day, and when I visited the village a few weeks ago I saw that a lot of people were missing teeth.

3. If you get water straight from a deep well, is it
clean enough to drink as it is?

Not by my standards. It seems that villagers do usually drink their water "as is" from their wells, but us picky toubabs need to filter it and add bleach or something to kill bacteria.

4. What is the deal with feminine hygiene? How is that taken care of there?

I haven't talked with any Senegalese about this, but Peace Corps people have told me that people mostly use cloths (good for the environment, but kind of gross). Tampons are available in the toubab stores, but they're really expensive and most Senegalese don't even know what they're for.

5. Is there any prenatal care for pregnant women? Do children get any vaccinations?

There is prenatal care for pregnant women, and one of the things I am supposed to do as a Peace Corps Volunteer is to try to teach people about prenatal care and why they should go for checkups. Doctor visits usually cost about $0.50, but even this is expensive for many villagers, so many people will only go to the doctor when they are very sick. Prenatal visits are starting to catch on, but women in villages still mostly deliver their babies at home unless they live really close to a health facility because being in labor on a donkey cart for an hour or two is not fun.

Vaccinations are available quite cheap for kids, and it seems that the Ministry of Health here is really pushing them and trying to educate people about why vaccinations are important. But it is still entirely up to the parents to do it, not like in the US where you have to have certain vaccinations to be allowed to go to school (and anyway not all kids go to school here, so if the Senegalese government tried to make vaccinations a requirement for going to school, it might just decrease school attendance).

6. Have you been fishing yet?

No. The village I'm being assigned to is supposedly only a mile from the Gambia River, though, so I may have the opportunity (not that I really want to - I don't like fishing or killing animals in general, and I don't particularly want to have more fish in my diet either).

Gas shortage

written Friday, 20 April 2007

Today after "school" (that's how I think of Peace Corps training) I went into my room at home to do homework. When I came out there was no one around. Strange. My house is always chock full of people. Then a little later my brothers showed up, with a big piece of scrap wood. "There's your dinner," they said. It was a joke, but only sort of. My host dad explained to me that there is a natural gas shortage all over Senegal right now - the ship that brings the gas here was late or something. It's in the port in Dakar now, but the gas hasn't been unloaded yet. So the gas canisters they use for cooking aren't available anywhere in Thies right now, and according to my host dad, they're not available anywhere in Senegal. So my family had gone out scavenging for scrap wood to make a fire with to cook dinner. My brothers chopped up the piece of wood they brought home with a machete (not the most effective tool for splitting wood), and now dinner is cooking.

I'm hungry.

More about polygamy

written Thursday, 19 April 2007

Today for Mandinka class we went to visit one of my classmates' host families, to practice Mandinka with them. After getting through the greetings and talking about where we're from and our families, the conversation got a little stuck. So the Mandinka woman we were talking to decided to get it un-stuck and spice up the conversation a little bit.

"So," she says, "I'm a third wife. My husband has two other wives. What do you think of that?"

So we had an interesting conversation about polygamy, in which she and my Mandinka teacher explained to us that according to Islam, if a man is married and he wants to have sex with a woman who is not his wife, it is better for him to marry her than to be sneaking around behind the first wife's back and sinning.

In America, they said, when a married man falls in love with someone new he has to get divorced in order to marry her. So it ends up with everyone getting divorced and remarried all the time. This is no good.

We told them that in America there are lots of couples that don't get divorced, just as in Senegal there are many non-polygamous marriages. But in any case, I told them, if my husband wanted to marry someone else, I would prefer to divorce him rather than continue to be married to him while he is also married to someone else.

I think they thought I was crazy.


written Thursday, 19 April 2007

I've talked to the relevant people here at Peace Corps about the fact that I am being posted to a village that speaks Pulaar and Jaxanke, and not Mandinka, the language I am learning. The conversation went something like this:

Me: I am concerned that I am not learning the language that is spoken in my village. What can be done about this? Can I start studying Pulaar?

Peace Corps: No. The last volunteer who went to your village studied Mandinka, and she did great.

Me: Yes, but she told me once she got there she had to speak Jaxanke, not Mandinka. And she couldn't speak with people who spoke only the dominant language, Pulaar. So how about at least letting me switch into Jaxanke class, since Jaxanke is similar to Mandinka?

Peace Corps: No. If you switch into Jaxanke, you won't reach the required Intermediate Low language level in Mandinka by the end of training, because you will confuse the two languages.

Me: But if I won't be speaking Mandinka in the village, what difference does it make if I achieve Intermediate Low level? Wouldn't it be better to have beginner level of a language I will actually be using, rather than a higher level of a language I won't use?

Peace Corps: Those are the rules. You must achieve Intermediate Low in Mandinka by the end of training.

Ahh, gotta love bureaucracy. On the plus side, though, they did promise to give me a Pulaar book at the end of training to take with me to the village, and if I can find someone in the village to tutor me in Pulaar, then Peace Corps will pay for it. So I am trying to look at this in a positive way: by the end of my two years here, I will probably have learned two, if not three, African languages. (I like learning languages, so for me that's a good thing).

Castes in Senegal

written Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Today we had a class about the caste system in Senegal. Not all of the ethnic groups have castes, but for those that do, it goes something like this: there are the nobles, which are at the top, and then there are the worker types, which are divided into woodcutters, blacksmiths, weavers, etc. Each of the worker castes are equal to each other, and apparently people have a lot of pride in their caste. After workers, there are captives or slaves.

So there are basically three levels of caste, and a Senegalese can tell what caste a person belongs to by their last name. However, in modern times, while people still belong to castes, they don't necessarily do whatever trade is assigned to their caste. So someone could belong to the weaver caste but be working in carpentry instead, because the money is better. Caste is still important though for marriages and maintaining social order. It is a big deal, and mostly not done, to marry someone from a lower caste.

This is just the quick explanation they gave us in class. Hopefully I'll learn more about it when I get to my village.

TV and power outages

written Tuesday, 17 April 2007

The most popular tv shows in Senegal are: Barberita, a Venezuelan soap opera; 24; and Monk. I think Monk must give Senegalese a really strange idea of Americans.

Anyway, all of Senegal watches Barberita, it seems. Even in villages with no electricity or running water, it is not uncommon for people to have tvs that they run off of car batteries. In Thies, just about every time Barberita comes on, the power goes out a few minutes later. I think that so many people are tuning in that it overloads the electrical grid. But don't worry - if the power goes out during Barberita, they make sure to re-broadcast the episode again the next day!

So last night Barberita was on, and after a few minutes the power went out. When this happens, my family uses their cell phone screens for light. I find it a really funny anachronism for people to be using cell phones for light while cooking over their little portable propane (or maybe it's gas? I don't know) stoves.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Fun language factoids

The word for wall in Mandinka means literally "body of the room", and the word for door means "mouth of the room". Windows aren't "eyes of the room" though, unfortunately.

Weekend at the beach

I spent the weekend at the beach in Popenguin, a village about 35 km away from Thies. One of my trainee friends organized it, finding a house for a big group of us trainees to stay at and arranging for an Alham bus to take us there and back.

The house was beautiful, with the most impressive features being real bathrooms! in every bedroom! with real toilets and running water! Such luxury! I really didn't feel like I was in Africa while we were there - the houses on the beach were all pretty typical beach houses, mostly Colonial architecture, and there were more toubabs than locals. We did see a couple of monkeys though, but I think they were being kept as pets by this toubab restaurant owner, so they don't really count.

So it was a really nice, much needed break. I got sunburned, but not too badly, and took a lot of pictures, which I will try to upload next time I'm on the computer (the computer I'm on today isn't letting me use any peripherals).

I'm back in Thies now, with only four weeks left to go of training, and then I will be off to my village!

I have a new mailing address for my village, so if anyone sends me mail (please?)after this Friday (April 20), please send it to the new address, which I will send out by email.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Today I found out what village I will be living in for the next two years.

My village sounds great. It is a village of about 700-800 people, very close to where I "demysted", about 70 km south of Tambacounda. There has been one health volunteer there before me, and I was able to talk to her about it a bit, and she says that she loved it.

Only one problem - I have been studying Mandinka, and the people in my village speak mainly Pulaar, and a little Jaxanke, which is similar to Mandinka, but still a different language.


I am going to talk to the language training coordinator tomorrow to see if I can start learning Pulaar. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Big week

written Tuesday, 10 April 2007

This is an important week for me. It is the halfway point of training, and the week of the first exams and evaluations (I had a health quiz on Monday and a Mandinka exam today - I think they both went well). We were also supposed to be issued bikes this week, but the bike man has apparently gone off to Ghana for some reason, so we have to wait another two weeks. Beginning this weekend, we are finally allowed to leave Thies and go traveling about on our own, so most of the trainees (including me!) are planning to go to the beach this weekend (only about 35 km away).

AND - most exciting of all - on Friday we find out what villages each of us are being sent to! I can't wait. Apparently the staff blindfold us and place us on a giant map on a soccer field, so we can have an immediate visual of where we will be in Senegal and which volunteers we will be living near.

Answers to my mom's questions

written Tuesday, 10 April 2007

1. Is my host family paid?

My host family is paid by Peace Corps to give me my own room, to feed me dinner every night, plus breakfast and lunch on Sundays, and to do my laundry (except underwear, which I have to do myself). I'm not sure exactly how much they get paid, but Peace Corps says "not a lot" and the families take us because they want the cultural interaction of having an American live with them. My family certainly has never made me feel like they're taking volunteers for any other reason than because they like to, but for many families it seems that the motivation is a hope that one of their children will end up marrying the volunteer living with them and get a green card to go to the US.

Once I get to the village, though, Peace Corps does not pay the families we will be living with there, and we are expected to contribute to the family, either through money or buying food, out of our Peace Corps stipend.

2. Where does concrete for the houses come from?

I'm not sure, I'm sure it's made somewhere and brought into town just like in the US. But in the villages the buildings are made with homemade bricks, which you can see being made out in fields.

3. Do peoople own their land?

In cities I think people own land just like in the US or Europe, but in the villages there is communal ownership of the land. It is up to the village chief to give permission for people to use the land, for example if a family is growing and a new hut needs to be built.

The village chief is a hereditary position (not democratically elected).

4. How do they earn money?

My host father is a teacher of agricultural engineering, employed by the government. My host mom is a housewife.

More generally, though, Senegal has a very high unemployment rate, which has led many young people to try to go to Europe as illegal immigrants. In the villages people are essentially subsistence farmers.

5. Is there a place to go swimming?

There are swimming pools in some cities, mainly at tourist hotels, but the water isn't treated with chlorine or anything, so Peace Corps recommends not swimming in them because you can catch parasites and other nasty things there.

I am hoping to go to the beach this weekend though...

6. What vaccinations have I had?

I have had about a million vaccines, including: rabies, Hepatitis, flu, MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), tetanus, and yellow fever. Every week it seems we get two or three more shots.

The only vaccination required to enter Senegal, though, is yellow fever. Plus it is recommended to take anti-malarial drugs (I am on mefloquine, which gives crazy dreams, as I have written about before).

7. How does bathing work?

At the training center we had showers, but both in the village I visited and now at my host family's house the system is bucket bathing - fill up a bucket with water, carry it into the shower area, and use a cup or something to scoop water out of the bucket and pour it onto your head. You end up using a lot less water this way (cause you have to carry it yourself, potentially a fairly long way if you are in a village and have to go to the village well), so it's probably good for the environment, but I don't feel like I get nearly as clean as with a real shower.

8. What kind of music do they have?

The traditional music I have heard has been either drums (tam-tams) or the balaphone (xylophone) which was played at the baptism I went to. But American pop music and rap are pretty popular here (my family is a big fan of Shakira).

9. Have I been bitten by mosquitoes yet?

I get bitten by mosquitoes every day, usually after it gets dark but before I go to sleep under my mosquito net. I've been averaging about three a night, and the mosquitoes seem to prefer biting my ankles for some reason.

According to the Peace Corps doctor, even with the anti-malaria drugs you can get infected with malaria, and the drugs just keep the little malaria animals from being able to multiply in your body, until you stop taking the drug (which is why they give us extra anti-malaria drugs when we finish service and go back to the US).

So it is possible that I have little malaria monsters hanging out in my liver. But I'm over it. I just add it to the list of tapeworms and other parasites I've been exposed to and may now be harboring. As long as I don't feel sick and no monsters are popping out of my body, I'm not worrying about it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


I have added more pictures to Please check them out!

Easter in Senegal

written Sunday, 8 April 2007 5:00 pm

I just got back from an Easter party at a Christian Serrer (Serrer is an ethnic group) family's house that I went to with my host mom. I didn't realize until we got there that we were going to be doing all the work, but I got to learn how to cook a little more, so it was fun. Except for touching the dead animal parts (okay, meat, but it still looked like goat pieces) which completely grossed me out. Also, cooking over a fire in 90 degree weather is not exactly refreshing. But the meal was a big plate of peas with meat and fried potatoes mixed in, which was way more vegetables than I've had at any other meal in Senegal, so I was happy. There wasn't much happening at the party besides people sitting around and eating, but my host mom told me it was because there had been a death in the family recently; normally they would have music and more of a party atmosphere.

Anyway, I think it's interesting and a great example to the rest of the world that each religious group in Senegal invites people from other religions to celebrate holidays with them, so Muslims can look forward to and enjoy Christian holidays, and vice versa.


written Sunday, 8 April 2007

I had an interesting talk with my host mother last night about polygamy. I wanted to know how she feels about it, because she had told me that her father had two wives, but she herself is a single wife. And of course for me polygamy is a very foreign thing.

She told me that she thinks polygamy as a tradition is fine, and that whether or not it works in a family depends entirely on the people involved and how they treat each other. If the man is fair with both (or all, if there are more than two) his wives, and if the first wife is given respect as the senior wife, then, my host mom says, everyone can live happily. She said she would not mind being one of multiple wives under those conditions, and if her husband did take a second wife, then she would want to be close to the second wife as if they were sisters.

Polygamy is still definitely not for me, but it is interesting having someone I respect support it.

Things that never even occurred to me to worry about

written Saturday, 7 April 2007

One of the other trainees got peed on yesterday by one of the bats that sleeps hanging from the thatch root of our disco hut, where a lot of our classes are. I still laugh every time I think about it.

Of all the things I was worried about happening to me before I came to Senegal, getting peed on by a bat was not one of them. But it is now. I'm being careful not to sit under the bats' area in the disco hut anymore.

Cultural events

written Saturday, 7 April 2007

On Thursday, my Mandinka teacher took our class to a baptism at his house (his cousin's baby son was being baptized). Baptism traditionally takes place one week after a child is born, and is both when the child is given its name and when it officially becomes a Muslim.

We got there a little late for the actual ceremony, so we didn't get to see much... except for three sheep being slaughtered. Ew! I took pictures of it with my eyes closed.

Then, when I got home in the afternoon, there was a wedding taking place at the house next door to mine, and my host mom had told them they could use our courtyard for cooking. So our yard was jam packed with old ladies and giant cauldrons full of couscous.

My mom took me next door to see the wedding, but there wasn't much happening, just a lot of girls in very preetty boubous sitting around talking. They did have a griot (traditional singer), who when he saw me, the toubab sticking out like a sore thumb, starting singing me a song (Bonjour! Ca va? over and over). Of course him singing to me made everyone stare at me, and I had no idea what to do (later I found out I was supposed to give him money, but I didn't have any with me anyway), so that was an awkward moment. I got some great couscous for dinner though.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Missing Things

written Wednesday, 4 April 2007, 3:30 pm

The parade was pretty much a bust. I walked over to the Place de France with my host brother and sister, and there were lots of people there, but we couldn't get close enough to see the parade. It seems that the parade was only about a block long, from an intersection over to a plaza area where there were stadium seats (I don't know if they were set up for the occasion or if they are there all the time). So if you had a seat, or if you got there really early and got a good spot on the sidewalk in the one block area of the parade, it was probably great. But after standing out there and getting really hot for about an hour, we came home. And watched the Dakar parade on tv.

Today is a really hot sticky day (one of the very few humid days I've experienced in Thies - usually it's hot but not humid, which is more comfortable but then I don't notice how hot I am until I start feeling sick and have to go drink about a gallon of water). This weather makes me think about all the things I miss from home, including:

1. real showers where you can adjust the water temperature (the wussy showers at the training center don't count - not enough water pressure).
2. any kind of food that doesn't involve fish or rice, but expecially cereal with really cold milk
3. baked goods and anything else with refined sugar (although cookies and other things are available here, it's just not the same somehow).

It seems funny how short that list is, and maybe especially that it doesn't include air conditioning. But I never liked A/C in the US much - people always set it too cold for me.

I am having another Senegalese day with my family. After the parade, I watched the Dakar parade on tv with my family for a while, then I went to my room and wrote letters and read for a while til I fell asleep. Then we had lunch - fish and rice! - then attaya tea and frozen juice called radi in Wolof or radio in Mandinka. My host mom showed me how they handwash clothes here - they are supposed to wash my clothes for me, except my underwear which I have to do myself, but I asked her to show me since I don't feel like I really know how to do it - so we had a nice half hour laughing at how terrible I am at washing clothes - I'd make a pretty poor housewife in Senegal.. Now we are sitting around again watching independence day stuff on tv. It's a fast-paced life.

Independence Day

written Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Today is Senegal's independence day. I have a much-needed day off from Peace Corps training (I feel like they are trying to prepare us for slowness and inefficiency in the villages by being slow and inefficient themselves). There is supposed to be a parade this morning, which I am planning to go to and will hopefully be able to take some pictures of. There was also a quasi-parade last night - my family had told me that the army was supposed to make a tour of the city with torches and tam-tam drums, but all I ever saw was a huge mass of people walking to the Place de France (basically the main square), where nothing was happening.

I did discover, however, that Thies has bumper cars! My host mom took me and my siblings to watch people riding in them after we got to the Place de France and saw that nothing was happening. I found bumper cars in Thies to be very typically Senegalese - five or six people crammed in each bumper car made to hold only two small people, and everyone driving very carefully, not liking to crash into the other cars at all. And of course one car that would only drive in reverse.

I'll try to write more later today, after the parade.

Hand-washing and disease

written Sunday, April 1, 2007

I didn't mention in my earlier post that I have had diarrhea ever since our delicious yassa lunch this afternoon. I blame the fact that my 2-year-old sister was sitting next to me and kept reaching into my section of the bowl with her dirty hands.

In spite of the fact that the Senegalese government runs really great, looong commercials regularly about how important hand washing is to preventing disease, and despite that it is so dusty here that you are filthy the minute you step out your door, people just don't wash hands here.

I know that it is hard to change behaviors. Even when people know something is bad for them (like smoking) they often continue to do it. Or fail to do something good for them just because it is not their habit. Certainly lots of people in America don't wash their hands regularly.

But as my experience this afternoon proves, hand washing is really important. Especially in an environment where goats and sheep and other animals are running around and pooping in the streets where children play, where trash is just thrown into the street, and where it is so dusty that I have a washable "tan" five minutes after leaving my house.

So, challenge number one when I get to my village: try to get people to wash their hands before meals.

A Senegalese day

written Sunday, April 1, 2007, 7:00 pm

I have had a very nice Senegalese-tempo day today. I was afraid I'd be bored with nothing planned to do today, but it's actually been really nice.

After breakfast (baguette with nutella and kinkelibe tea, which is amazing and tastes like chai), I went for a walk around town with another volunteer who lives near me, just to get a better idea of where things are and how to get around here. After walking around for about two hours, including figuring out how to get to the Peace Corps center from where I live, we went home and took naps. In the early afternoon we had lunch - my first time eating yassa, which is chicken curry with rice and is really good - and then we spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with the family, learning how to make attaya tea and mango jelly (both yum). Then a quick trip to the "cyber" to read emails, my daily bucket bath shower (oh how I miss real showers!), and now it's more relaxing time until dinner at 9:00 and then bed.

I think I could get used to this kind of life.

Week Recap

written Sunday, April 1, 2007

It's about 7:00 am. I have been awake since 5:00 because, as usual, the muezzin - the call to prayer - woke me up. I always lie in bed hoping to go back to sleep, until 6:00 when I have to get up for school (Peace Corps training, I mean. It's funny how I think of it as school). Today is Sunday, though, so no training today. I was hoping I would be able to get back to sleep and sleep in a bit, but no such luck. The prayers seemed to be especially long and loud this morning, probably because the Prophet Mohammad's birthday was yesterday. Most of my family members went to Traore (or something like that, I don't know how to spell it), which is the capital or headquarters of the religious brotherhood they belong to, to pray in the mosque there. So dinner last night was very quiet.

I bought a cell phone yesterday. It seems strange to have one in a country where most people don't have electricity or running water, but they're very common here and I guess network coverage is pretty good. Almost all the Peace Corps volunteers have them, even those living in remote villages without "reseau" (network coverage) so that they can get in touch with people when they are in town. It's' free for me to receive calls on the phone, so I'm hoping (hint hint!) that friends and family back in the US might call once in a while.

A note on being called a toubab: I have learned in the past week that in Senegalese culture it is very normal to point out differences between yourself and someone else, and even to tease the other person about whatever it is. According to one of my teachers, this is part of the key to Senegal's ethnic harmony - it is normal for members of different ethnic groups to tease each other and give each other a hard time, but it is absolutely unacceptable to ever be offended by it. In fact, if you become offended, my teacher says that the village elders would call a meeting of everyone in the village to tell you how wrong it is to be offended or to hold a grudge, no matter what the offense was. So for example, the Pulaar teachers at the training center will shout to me Mandinka musoo! (Mandinka woman - because I am learning Mandinka), and I am supposed to respond back Pulaar kewo! (Pulaar man!). This is normal, friendly teasing. So, now that I know that, I don't mind being called a toubab at all, and I just respond back Senegalais! (Senegalese man or woman). (Pinching I am still not okay with, though).

Fun factoids:
• The word for bicycle in Mandinka is foolee suwo, which literally means "plastic horse".
• To be educated in Mandinka culture means to master values, rather than to gain knowledge.
• The word for education in Wolof literally means "stick".

Hot milk with mint, and a dance party

written Friday, March 30, 2007

Last night after dinner I was writing blog entries on my Palm, and the kids were very interested in my Palm, even though they had seen it before. I decided to show them how to play games on it (Solitaire), so I ended up staying with the family longer after dinner than I usually do so that the kids could play.

They always bring out a teapot and portable stove (it's like a camping stove, a big kerosene burner - that's what everyone uses for cooking here) after dinner, which I always assumed was for making attaya, which is a traditional, very caffeinated tea. So I would always tell the family I had to go to bed when I saw the tea supplies coming out, because if I stayed I would have to drink it and then the caffeine would keep me awake all night.

But last night I was busy showing my sister how to play games on my palm pilot, so I didn't really notice them bringing out the tea stuff. Until I got passed a little glass. It was too late to get out of it at that point, so I drank it. And discovered that it wasn't attaya after all, but some sort of hot milk with sugar and mint concoction - SO GOOD! I told my family I really liked it, and my mom said I should stick around for a second glass then (it's traditional to have three glasses (shot glass size) of attaya, and I guess they do it with the milk stuff too). I said definitely I would stick around for some more.

And then the fun started. One of my brothers (or cousins? I still don't really understand how everyone is related or who exactly is living at my house) turned on the stereo and started dancing, very flamboyantly to make everyone laugh. And then out of nowhere, it seemed, more boys showed up, and for about an hour there was a teenage boy dance party in my living room. My host mom, little sister, and I sat there and laughed our heads off at them.

So it was a very good evening.

And P.S. I'm not sick at all this morning after eating the salad. I guess it's possible that now I'm hosting a tapeworm or something. But so far, at least, I'm really not worrying about it.

Hot New Technologies

written Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tonight after dinner my host mother pulled out an ATM card and asked me, Do you know what this is? I thought she was referring to the bank the card was issued from at first, but then I realized she meant the card in general. She explained to me how her sister in New York puts money in the bank there, and then calls my host mom, who then takes it out of the ATM machine here. It's the hottest new technology here.

Adapting Quickly

written Thursday, March 29, 2007

We had fish and salad for dinner again tonight. Fish with the fish heads still attached, of course. And whereas last time I spent at least half an hour stressing about whether I would get sick from salad washed in untreated water and being grossed out by fish heads, this time I just thought, Mmm, looks good. I'm hungry.

And it was good, and I ate a lot. We'll see if I'm sick in the morning. Right now, though, I'm thinking that even if I get sick, it will have been worth it, it was so yummy. Of course in the morning I might change my mind about that.