Monday, June 18, 2007

Village in the sky

written Saturday, 16 June 2007

Today at lunch my host sisters asked me if I know about the village in the sky. At first I thought they were talking about heaven, but they said no, they mean a real village, with people and huts and sheep and donkeys. They said a previous volunteer had told them about it.

I'm guessing that the previous volunteer had been trying to talk to them about space travel, or the international space station, or maybe even the possibility of life on other planets. I could have tried to explain space travel to them, or maybe talked with them about whether they believe in aliens, but they have been giving me a really hard time lately, laughing at my toubab ridiculousness, so I just took the opportunity to really enjoy laughing at them and their village in the sky for once. (They weren't offended).


written Saturday, 16 June 2007

Today one of my villagers told me a Mandinka proverb: No matter how long a tree trunk is in the water, it can never become a crocodile.

He was laughing at my bad Mandinka at the time, so I think that what he meant is that I will never be fluent. But I am happy to speak pidgin Mandinka that everyone laughs at, as long as I get to the point where I can make myself understood easily.

Village news

written Friday, 15 June 2007

If my village had a newspaper, this is what would be in it:

Khadija the Toubab is brought into the village by gendarmes and visited by them again a week later

My "security incident" is still the most exciting thing to have happened here for a long time, it seems. Nearly every day someone asks me if I have seen the guy again or assures me that he will be caught, or that he has left the village for good (the person everyone in the village suspects hasn't come back to the village since just after the incident).

I was brought into the village by gendarmes at the request of Peace Corps, who thought after I reported the incident to them that it would scare off any potential future bad guys if the villagers saw me with the gendarmes. So on my way back from Tamba last time, instead of biking straight to my village, I went to the gendarme station in Dialacoto and they gave me a ride the rest of the way to my village. Then they came back a week later to show me a picture of a suspect, but it wasn't the guy.
Horse cart runs out of control on mountain, one passenger injured
Horse cart accidents make me think of the 1800s and early 1900s (maybe I am thinking of Black Beauty?), but I guess they are still a danger here. Apparently the cart just got going too fast down the "mountain" (it's really just a medium-sized hill, but in such a flat country everyone calls it a mountain) and partially tipped over, throwing a man off. A pregnant woman, the only other passenger, managed to stay on. The horse ran out of control into the village until some men managed to catch it. Then they went back and found the man who had been thrown off and took him to the hospital. He has some broken bones but he's going to be okay.
Leprosy scare!
My counterpart gave a health education class for the village women, and besides talking about how to prevent malaria, he talked about warning symptoms of leprosy: discolored spots and acne-like rashes that don't hurt or itch. Now we have a flood of people worried that their pimples or heat rashes are really leprosy. I feel bad for people to be spending their scarce money on going to the doctor when it turns out to be nothing, but I'm certainly not qualified to diagnose, and I guess it's better to be safe than sorry.
First heavy rain causes awful flying bugs to pop out of ground

We got the first really heavy rain two nights ago, and the next day thouosands of little flying bugs were popping out of the ground everywhere. They are attracted to light, so we had to eat in the dark last night so they wouldn't all get in our food. (Although with no light to see by, I think there's a good chance we ate a few). My counterpart says that in the time of his grandparents, people used to use lights to attract the bugs to bowls of water, where they'd drown, and then they would cook and eat them. But they don't do it anymore, and he says he himself has never eaten them (at least not on purpose). He promises me that they will disappear in a day or two. Right now there are so many landing on the roof of my hut that it sounds like it is raining.

Beliefs and castes

written Friday, 15 June 2007

Today my counterpart explained to me some of the cultural/religious beliefs here: the word "bisimillah", which is used in the Koran, comes directly from God, he says. If you say it before eating a meal (like we might say "bon apetit") you will be protected even if the food is bad or poisoned. - Although "protected" only means it won't kill you. Vomiting, diarrhea, etc mean that the protection is working to get the bad stuff out of your system.

If you say "bisimillah" before going on a journey, you will come back safe. And if you say it before going to sleep you will only have nice dreams.

He also showed me the "gris-gris" that he wears on his arm - a small leather pouch which contains words from the Koran. Wearing it protects him from evil and bad things happening.

Gris-gris are made by marabouts, a kind of religious leader (I still am not clear on the difference between marabouts and imams). The secrets to making gris-gris are passed down from marabouts to their children, so they stay in the family. (My counterpart said it is like taking your car to a mechanic - the mechanic will fix it, but he won't show you how to fix it yourself because he wants you to come back and give him more business. I thought it was funny that he would take such a pragmatic approach to religion).

This led to a discussion about castes. In Mandinka society, he told me, there are three castes: the marabout caste, which my host family belongs to, who are religious and political leaders; the nomad caste, which is sub-divided into trades - my counterpart belongs to the metalworker/blacksmith caste group; and the slave caste, which practices sorcery based on pre-Islamic animist beliefs.

I asked him if people don't think it is wrong to mix animist practices with Islam; he said that Senegal is not like Arab countries - here it is no problem to mix elements of different religions, to marry someone of a different religion, or to convert religions. I am still trying to figure out what this means in terms of how important religion is in society here.

One month

written Friday, 15 June 2007

Today I have been living in my village for one month. I feel like it is quite an accomplishment, just to have survived this long.

Hopefully the volunteers who have been here longer are right and life will only keep getting better here.

Daily routine

written Thursday, 14 June 2007

Now that I have been in the village several weeks, life is starting to settle into a routine, although I have learned that it is best not to count too much on something happening at a particular time (like getting time to myself to read or write letters) because invariably it won't work out the way I planned, and if I was counting on it too much I will be grumpy.

But anyway, here is more of less what my daily routine is like: between 5:00 and 5:30 the animals wake up and start making all kinds of racket (the donkeys making their awful being-tortured-to-death sound), which means that I wake up. I lie in bed until about 6:00, when there is a little more daylight, and then I get up and bring my mosquito net and mattress inside my hut. After I get dressed (always a skirt unless I am biking somewhere that day) I make tea on my little gas stove and listen to the BBC on the wonderful little shortwave radio my parents sent me. A little after 7:00 I walk over to my family's compound for breakfast. We sit outside on little stools and eat porridge (cornmeal balls in sugar water) out of big communal bowls.

After breakfast I go to the well to get water. Usually one of the other women will pull the water up for me because they think that I am incompetent, but I carry the bucket of water back to my hut on my head by myself. I have gotten a lot better at it, so people don't laugh at me anymore, but I still spill a lot more than the village women do.

Back in my hut I pour some of the water into my giant water filter to make drinking water (the rest of the water I use for bathing), and I sweep out my hut - there is always a lot of dust falling down from the thatch roof. Then if I am lucky I get 30 minutes or an hour to read and write letters, but soon I always get visitors - my counterpart, one of my family members, the kids looking for a place to play, or one of my other villagers. So the reest of my morning will be spent talking to people and trying to learn Jaxanke/Mandinka from them.

Around 1:00 I go over to my host family's compound for lunch - rice with peanut sauce, sometimes with a little fish in it. We eat inside one of the huts in order to be out of the sun. After lunch it is rest time. If I am really tired I will go back to my hut to take a nap, but usually I stay and hang out with my family members and help shell peanuts, the one chore I am not considered completely incompetent at (although I am still a lot slower than the other women).

Later in the afternoon my counterpart will come over to my hut to help me study Jaxanke and Mandinka, and also to explain things about the culture and community that I have questions about.

About 6:00 pm is bucket bath time, which I always try to make last as long as possible, but I still never feel like I get completely clean. After bath time I have some time to myself again to read (wish I had a newspaper!) until about 7:30, when I go over to my host family's compound to hang out and play with the kids until dinner (corn meal with peanut or bean sauce, or for the first time last night with a leaf sauce that tasted like spinach - yum!) After dinner I stay with the family for a while and look at the stars, and then I go back to my hut and read a bit until I fall asleep.

So that's my life. Of course not every day is like that. If I am lucky, I will get to go on a bike ride somewhere - to town for a health meeting, to the weekly market, or to a wedding in a neighboring village. And after my "integration period" is over in a few months, I will start doing some real work.

Rationing food

written Thursday, 14 June 2007

Yesterday I went to the lumoo, the weekly market, in a neighboring village and bought some food for my host family (onions, beans, okra, and some spices). When I got back home I gave the food to my host sisters, who divided up the food into separate piles for each of them. I had seen them divide food like this before, but it didn't make any sense to me since the whole family's food is cooked together in a big pot (or two - one for the rice or corn meal and one for the sauce) and then everyone eats the same food out of common bowls.

So I asked my counterpart why they divide up the food like that, and he told me that each woman has a day of the week (or two days, depending on the number of women in the family) when it is her turn to cook. They divide up the food in order to ration it out so it will last the whole week. Otherwise, the women who do the cooking the first few days of the week will use as much ingredients as they want for their cooking, without regard for what the women who cook later in the week will need, and then the food that is supposed to last a week will only last a few days.

I think it is an interesting system in a society where pretty much everything is shared.

More Mandinka fun

written Thursday, 14 June 2007

The word for rain literally means "sky water".

The word for cloud is the same as the word for "water bottle".

(I am learning weather words since we are finally having some weather that isn't hot and sunny).

Going along with a bicycle being called a plastic horse and an airplane being a sky boat, a train is called a "land boat".

The word for the color green means "the color of leaves". Yellow is "the color of nete powder" (nete is a fruit which is dried and made into a powder, I think for traditional medicine). I haven't figured out what the other color words mean yet.

Girls' education

written Sunday, 10 June 2007

Yesterday I went to a neighboring village for a wedding, and most of the day I was "babysat" by an 11-year-old girl who was in charge of taking me around to greet people, making sure I got lunch, etc.

She didn't speak any French, which is an indication that she hasn't spent much time in school, so I asked her about whether she goes to school. She told me that she "finished" school last year and now she stays at home to help out with the housework. She showed me her school notebook from last year - she was just beginning to learn how to write letters (she was really terrible at it) and learning single-digit addition and subtraction (which she got perfect scores in).

She seemed like a smart girl, and was certainly very nice to me. It makes me sad to think that she's going to grow up essentially illiterate with no options for her life other than to do houose chores until she's married (probably when she's about 15), and then have babies and do more house chores for the rest of her life.

More on helping out

written Sunday, 10 June 2007

Several people have written to me essentially saying of course I should help out the people here by giving them money, or medicine, or whatever, whenever I can. How could I not be sure that it is a good thing to do? So I wanted to write a little more about why I think it is not such a simple issue.

Since coming to Senegal, the other volunteers and I have experienced, to varying degrees, the problem of being perceived and treated merely as rich toubabs, as possible sources of gifts and money, rather than as real people. For example, when I go on a bike ride, in every village I pass children will run out of their compounds and chase after me, yelling, "Toubab! Give me a present!" or "Give me money!" Other volunteers have told me that even their host families, who are supposed to treat them as members of the family, treat them instead just as a source of income, constantly demanding payment for everything they do for the volunteer - meals, laundry, getting water from the well, etc. Some volunteers have even had their families give them "gifts" of Senegalese clothes and then demand exorbitant amounts of money as payment for them.

This may seem like silly little things, which we shouldn't be bothered by. But it is very hard to "integrate" into a community and to try to make friends when it seems that everyone is out to see what they can get out of you. Imagine trying to make friends, but every time someone is nice to you or does something for you they demand payment or presents immediately after, so you end up feeling like all your interactions with peoople are nothing more than commercial transactions. It's very discouraging. (I want to be fair, though, and say that both my host families have been great and treat me like a real person rather than like a pot of money, except for the one sister I mentioned in an earlier post). But I think this struggle to be perceived and treated as a person rather than a source of money and gifts is one of the hardest parts of living here (contrary to what I thought before coming here - the lack of electricity, running water, etc isn't a big deal at all).

So not wanting to undermine my efforts to be treated as a person is one reason for my hesitancy to "help out" my family and community members with money and gifts. The other reason is that I want to combat, rather than contribute to, people's mindset here of dependency.

On a large scale, this mindset can be illustrated by a conversation I had with a village man recently, in which he told me that Africa's problems are too big for Africa to solve. America and Europe must come and solve the problems here; there is essentially nothing that Africans can do to help themselves, he said.

On a smaller scale, this translates into my villagers having no answer for what they want to do with their lives or what they might do to improve their standard of living other than to emigrate to America or Europe. And the community as a whole fails to take steps to improve things here, such as doing what is needed to build and staff a health hut in the village, because they are hoping that an American or European NGO, (or maybe me, their Peace Corps volunteer), will come along and do it for them. And in the meantime, they go without.

So "helping out" isn't such a simple question of doing what I can afford or am generous enough to do. It affects my relationships with people, with generosity not necessarily having a positive impact on the relationship, and it has an impact on the way people make choices and plans here. Now that I gave my friend money so that his wife could go to the doctor, will he expect that I will pay for all his family's medical expenses while I am herer, and therefore make no effort to save the money himself and spend all the money he gets on cigarettes instead? I don't know.

Cultural misstep

written Friday, 8 June 2007

On Wednesday one of my village friends invited me and my counterpart to have breakfast and visit with him the next day. So at dinner that night I told my host family that I would be having breakfast at his house the next day. They said okay, so I thought everything was set.

But in the morning, one of my family members came knocking on my door, telling me to come to breakfast. So I told her again that I was having breakfast with my friend, and she said okay and went away.

When I came back from the breakfast a few hours later (rice porridge instead of the corn porridge my family eats) my family members kept asking me where I had been. So later when I was studying Mandinka/Jaxanke with my counterpart, I told him what I had said to my family and asked him if I had used the wrong vocabulary or grammar structure, since they hadn't seemed to understand when I told them I was having breakfast at my friend's house.

He said that what I had said was grammatically correct, but culturally wrong. He said that by telling my family that I was eating elsewhere, I had implied that I don't like their food. I was confused. Peace Corps told us that it's very common to eat with other families; indeed, if you happen to be at someone's house at mealtime they are obligated to invite you to eat with them, and to be polite you should eat at least a few bites, so as not to give the impression that you don't like their food.

So I asked my counterpart if Peace Corps was wrong and I should always eat with my host family. He said no, it's fine to eat with other families, but I shouldn't tell my family ahead of time that I'm planning on eating elsewhere. Instead, I should just say that I have been invited over for a visit, and then I can tell them later that the other family fed me. And here I thought I was being polite by warning them not to expect me for breakfast! My counterpart said he would go over and talk to them so they won't be offended.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

New pictures!

Finally got some new pictures up at Take a look!

Monday, June 04, 2007


Apparently the breakfast porridge is made from corn, not millet like I thought.  (They said it was made from mille, which I guessed meant millet but apparently that's corn).  And we've been having corn meal with our peanut sauce for dinner too.

Legislative elections

written Monday, 4 June 2007



Yesterday elections were held for the Senegalese parliament or legislature (I can't remember what it's called at the moment).   In my village, people went to vote at the school, and in the afternoon I went over to check things out.


It was very quiet.  There was one person from the gendarmerie (like the sheriff's office in the US) to officially keep things under control, but he just sat there drinking tea as people filed in to cast their votes. 


Inside the school they had hung up a curtain for people to go behind to do their voting.  Once the person had chosen who they wanted, they put the card in a brown envelope, came out from behind the curtain, and dropped it into a clear plastic box.   Then their finger was dipped in bright pink ink to prevent people from voting twice.


After checking out the voting for a while, I sat around with the village elder types (not an official position, they are just the guys who seem to be doing most of the running of the village, under the supervision of the chief).   One of them was complaining that people in the village had been voting for candidates who had never visited Laboya or given the village anything.  According to him, people shouldn't bother voting according to issues, because politicians always lie about those things anyway, but instead people should vote for whoever gave the village the most (like by visiting the village and handing out free rice).   I thought it was an interesting perspective on democracy.

Village Justice

written Sunday, 3 June 2007



Friday morning I biked over to a neighboring vllage to attend a wedding.  Many of my family members had gone the day before, or even several days before, and spent the night, so I was biking by myself.   The road to the neighboring village is really just a path through the bush (too narrow for cars, but there is a long way around that cars can take), so it's a very nice bike ride, although it had rained the night before so the path was muddy and even more rutted than usual.


As I was biking along, I passed a man by the side of the path fixing his bike.  I asked if he needed help, but he said he was fine, so I continued on.   After a few minutes he caught up to me and rode along behind me for a while.  We exchanged greetings and chatted about where we were coming from and where we were going, because that is what people do here.   He asked if I had a husband, and when I said no, he said he would like to marry me.  Which is also very normal - men here always ask me to marry them and take them to America, and women ask me to take their children back to the US with me.  So I just laughed it off and said, "how can you want to marry me when you don't even know my name?"   "Okay," he said, "my name is Ousmane Ngom.  What's your name?"  I told him my Senegalese name, Khadija Tanjian (no point in lying because it's a small village and he could easily find out my name.   And if anything, telling people my name makes me safer because then people know that I am in the village chief's family).


"Okay," he said, "now we know each other.  Now will you marry me?"


"No," I said, "I have a fiance already."  (My imaginary rich American fiance has come in handy many times here.   I am starting to wish that I had just gone ahead and said I was married, but it's too late to change stories now).


"Is your fiance here?" he asked.  I said no, he's in America.   "Well then, he doesn't count," the man said.  "You need a man here.  Pull over so we can talk."


Up til this point it was a very standard conversation that I've had about a million times since coming to Senegal, but when he asked me to pull over - in an isolated area in the middle of the bush - I started to get a little nervous.   "No, I can't stop," I said, "I'm running late."  And I started to bike a little faster, to try to put some more distance between us.   But he also sped up, at which point I really got scared.  I saw him reach out his hand to try to grab the rack on the back of my bike to force me to stop, but I biked even faster so he couldn't reach it.   "I said pull over!" he yelled, as if he were angry now. 


"NO!" I yelled, and biked as fast as I possibly could.  My Peace Corps bike is about a million times better than his ancient one-speed bike, so there was no way he could keep up with me, but I was terrified that I would crash my bike or blow out a tire by going so fast on the muddy, rocky path, and then he would catch me.


But I didn't crash, and after a minute I looked back and saw that I had gotten so far ahead of him that I couldn't even see him anymore.   But I still kept going as fast as I could until I reached the village.


At the village I pulled upp to the little store at the edge of town, but I was so worked up that all I could think of to say in Jaxanke to the man at the store was "there is a bad man out there".   He probably thought I was crazy.


After I caught my breath a little I continued on to the compound where the wedding was being held, where I found my host sisters and told them what had happened.   They said I should tell my host fater, who is the village chief, and the other village elder-types.


So at the end of the day I went back to my village (accompanied by my sisters - I wasn't about to go anywhere alone just then), and told my local counterpart what had happened, and then he got the other important men and the chief together and told them the story.


Since the man had told me his name they at first thought that identifying the man wasn"t an issue, but when I told them that I spoke with the man in Jaxanke they knew he had given me a false name, because it was a Serrer name he told me and there are no Serrers in the area who speak Jaxanke.


Nevertheless, with the information I gave them that the man spoke Jaxanke and French, and by asking around about who would have been on the path at the same time I was, within just a few hours they had identified the man. (Pretty good detective work, I thought).


Apparently the man hasn't come back to the village - because he is afraid of consequences against him, my counterpart says.   But if he does come back, the elders are going to go talk to him to tell him that they know who he is and what he did, and that they'll be watching him, and if he ever does anything again they're going to turn him over to the police in Dialacoto.   They're also going to hold a meeting of the whole village to tell them what the man did, as a sort of public shaming, and also to warn anyone else against messing with me.   They say that if anything ever happened to me, the special toubab guest, it would bring shame on the whole village, so this is a big deal to them.


It's a very different way of dealing with the problem than would have been done in the US, but I think this is likely to be even more effective than the American style of calling the police, and even if he gets sent to jail for a while, he would get released after a while and the community would never know that he is a bad person.   So I feel perfectly safe and happy with this solution.

Helping out

written Thursday, 31 May 2007



One of the things I like about Peace Corps, in comparison with a lot of other development organizations, is that it focuses on helping communities to do things for themselves, rather than coming in with piles of money and doing things for the community.


So I told myself when I came here that I want to stick with that model and not be giving people handouts, even though I am a "rich toubab", because handouts are not a sustainable solution to problems here (and also because my Peace Corps allowance isn't big enough to allow me to do very much other than cover my basic expenses, which is what it is intended for).


But theory has collided with reality, as I found out that one of the people here who has been very friendly and helpful to me couldn't afford to send his wife to her pre-natal checkup or to buy whatever medicines the nurse prescribes her.   So I gave him the money, which only amounted to a few dollars.


It may not be solving the problem in the long term, and I really think people should consider whether they can afford to feed their kids and provide them basic medical care before they decide to start having kids, but I couldn't let the mom (who has also been very nice to me) and her baby go without something they needed just because it wasn't a "sustainable solution", when it was so easy for me to help out.


I hope I did the right thing.

Teaching English

written Thursday, 31 May 2007



When I applied to Peace Corps, the one program I wasn't interested in at all was teaching English because I thought, what's the point of teaching English to villagers who most likely will never have any need or use for it?   So it is ironic that the one thing people have consistently asked of me since I got to the village (besides asking whether I will take them or their child back to America with me) is to teach them English.


It is mainly the men who ask, and I think a lot of their motivation is that they hope to emigrate to America.   At first I was resistant to the idea of teaching them English because I don't want to give people false hopes of being able to go to America or to encourage anyone's illegal immigration plans.   But after seeing how motivated people are to learn - many of them have already bought themselves books for learning English - I have decided that I will try out teaching an English class once or twice a week.   After all, I think it will be good to encourage any sort of interest in learning here, and it will help me build relationships with people here that could lead to opportunities for other sorts of projects.


We have agreed to hold off starting the class until my three month "integration period" is over, so that I can focus on learning the local languages.   So I will probably start the class in September.  Wish me luck!  (And if you know of any good English as a Second Language books I could try to get, please let me know).


written Wednesday, 30 May 2007



Today I went by myself to the lumoo, the weekly market in a nearby town.  I was a little nervous to be going by myself, but it turned out really well.   I was mainly going to buy food for my family (onions, dried fish, and some spices), so I didn't have to bother haggling with the vendors because the food prices are fixed (at least, as long as they know you're going to be coming back the next week.   For tourists they probably jack up the prices like everyone else).


I made sure to remember to do greetings before trying to buy anything, and I introduced myself and asked the vendors' names and where they were from.   So everyone was really nice to me.  One woman, who I was buying onions and spices from, told me that her last name is Kebe.   I said, "Kebe!  In Thies my name is Fatou Kebe!"  She said that she is related to my host family in Thies, and that makes me her daughter.   So she gave me a cabbage for free.  So nice!  I am definitely going to buy from her every week.


So my first going to the lumoo by myself experience turned out really well, and in the end wasn't scary or intimidating at all.


My life here (at least so far) is turning out to be quite the rollercoaster.  Sometimes I have difficult interactions with people (mainly due to not being able to communicate easily) or I just can't get any time to myself and I feel like I'm in prison, and then I get frustrated and homesick and wonder what I'm doing here and think that maybe I should just go back home.   But then I will have a nice interaction with someone, like the woman who gave me the cabbage, or a Pulaar woman I bought a cup of coffee from - we couldn't communicate at all, except by charades, but she just laughed and talked to me in Pulaar, and I laughed back and talked to her in Jaxanke - and then I feel happy and glad that I came here, and I want to stay and learn some more.

Meeting protocol

written Tuesday, 29 May 2007



Yesterday I went with my counterpart to a meeting at the health post in Dialacoto for local health education volunteers (villagers, not Peace Corps volunteers), and I got my first real experience of how meetings are run here.


I left the village with my counterpart just after breakfast, at about 8:00 (even though it would mean getting to the meeting too early, but it is better to travel as early as possible, before it gets too hot).   We got to Dialacoto between 8:30 and 9:00 and were the first ones there except for the Africare (an American NGO) staff member who would be running the meeting.   By 9:30 there were several other people there, but it didn't seem like we were getting started anytime soon, so I asked my counterpart what time the meeting was supposed to start.   "As soon as everyone gets here," he said.  "Some people have to come from far away."


We finally got started around 10:30, but for the next hour people kept trickling in.  And whereas in the US if you are late for a meeting you usually sneak in quietly and sit in the back, here every time someone arrived the whole meeting would stop for five minutes so the newcomer could greet each person in the room.


The meeting was mainly conducted in French, but there were a few people there who didn't speak French, so every few minutes the meeting would pause so someone could translate what had been said into Mandinka.


So the meeting, which I had expected to take just an hour or so, lasted four hours.  I think it was a good experience for me for planning health education meetings in my village.


written Tuesday, 29 May 2007



The average temperature here (at least for the last two weeks since I've only been here that long) is about 110 degrees in the shade.   It's hot and I am always sweating, but it's not miserable like I was afraid it would be.  I keep thinking it must be going to get worse until I am properly miserable, but instead people say it will start getting cooler when the rains start.


On another note, the kids here are fascinated by my simple outdoor thermometer and come over every afternoon to check what temperature it is.   I suspect the adults think it's pretty neat too, but just don't want to show it.  Another piece of simple technology they just don't seem to have here.

Telling time

written Monday, 28 May 2007



Two funny things about telling time here:


I had been warned before I came to the village that life would run on "African time", so if I try calling a meeting for 3 pm, people would most likely start showing up at 4 or 5 pm.   But to the contrary, I've (at least so far) found people to be very time-conscious here (although I have yet to try calling a meeting).  Several times people have noticed that I wear a watch and asked me what time it is.  If my watch says, for example, 3:28, then I'll usually round it and tell them that it's 3:30 (easier on my language skills).   But then they will look at my watch themselves and say, "No, it isn't!  It's 3:28!" as if I had been trying to trick them.   They want to know the exact minute it is!


The other funny thing about telling time here (especially given how time-conscious people apparently are) is that people don't seem to know how to tell time on analog clocks.   Just the other day, my 13-year-old brother, who goes to school and is pretty smart, was playing with a toy clock and asked me to teach him how to tell time on it.   It only took him five minutes to understand once I explained it to him; it's strange that they overlook teaching simple things like that at the school.


written Monday, 28 May 2007



My counterpart told me today that I have made a good impression with the villageers by accepting so many visitors to my hut (as if I have had a choice).   But, he said I need to start visiting more of the villagers' compounds.  Unlike the US, where you usually wait to be invited over, here you are supposed to drop in on people unannounced, and even stay for meals.   My counterpart says that visiting people like that shows respect.  So I guess I am going to start dropping in on my villagers!


Politics, finally

written Sunday, 27 May 2007



Since coming to Senegal, I've had almost no exposure to what's going on in the rest of the world (except now for my weekly Christian Science Monitor, thanks!) and pretty much no one to talk to who's interested in politics.


But today I had an interesting discussion with one of my sisters, who asked me if America is still fighting in Iraq.   She knew that Saddam Hussein had been executed, and wanted to know why we're still there.  She said, "it's the oil, right? America wants Iraq's oil.   But doesn't America have its own oil?" 


I think it's really interesting to find out what bits of world news make it to uneducated people in isolated villages like this one.   I tried to talk to her about Sudan as well, but she'd never heard of it - I had to tell her it's another country in Africa.  So it wasn't exactly the kind of political conversation I used to have with my friends in DC, but it was interesting for me nonetheless.

Back in the Village

written Sunday, 27 May 2007



Yesterday I got up at 5:00, packed up my stuff, and biked the 75 km from Tamba to my village.  It only took about 4 1/2 hours, with a 45 minute break halfway down to visit another volunteer and eat a bean sandwich for breakfast.   I was pretty proud of myself for biking the whole way, although my back was really hurting the rest of the day.


I am feeling a lot less stressed about living in the village after my little break in Tamba; it helps that I am managing to get a little more time to myself during the day.


As other volunteers had warned me to expect, one person did ask me yesterday if I had brought her a present from Tamba, which I thought was pretty tasteless and self-centered given the reason I went into town.   So I just said "no, I didn't", and when she asked why, I said "because my grandfather died".  Luckily, she is the only person here who seems to be interested in me only as a potential source of presents; the other villagers were all very nice and gave me their condolences and asked about my family, although some of them did repeat that death is a part of life and we should accept it and not be sad.   But I knew they were trying to be nice and helpful, so I didn't really mind this time.


Last night it was windy and cooler, so I thought it might rain and brought my bed inside.  But it didn't rain after all, so now I am disappointed that I slept in my sweltering hut for nothing instead of the nice cool outside.