Sunday, April 06, 2008

New pictures

New pictures are up at

Independence Day

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Yesterday, the 4th of April, was Senegal's independence day. I went to Dialacoto to see the parade there; the kids marched by with their school clases, and the women with the women's groups (which mostly do gardening). My favorite was five guys who walked by with a fishing net and a basket; I guess they must have been the local fishermen, but they didn't have a sign.

In the afternoon I went to a "campement" (tourist hotel/campsite) with a couple of other volunteers, just to hang out for a while. We got lucky, and there were hippos playing in the river there – the first time I've been them. I took lots of pictures. Hopefully they'll be up soon.


Thursday, 3 April 2008

Yesterday I had my first real hitchhiking experience. I biked from Tamba to Missira with some other volunteers, but they were stopping there, so after that I was biking on my own to my village. But before I had gone very far one of the cotton company trucks pulled over and offered me a ride. It was hot and I was tired (plus hitchhiking is normal here), so I said yes.

They threw my bike in the back and I sat up in the cab with the two cotton company guys. I can't even remember when the last time was that I sat in a nice vehicle with real seats (rather than on a bench in the back of an Alham), but it was heaven.

The driver only spoke Wolof, so I couldn't really talk to him, but the other guy spoke French and he told me how he'd tried to immigrate illegally to Spain last year. He took the land route through Mauritania to Morocco, and then he took a small boat to Spain, where he was immediately taken into a Red Cross reception center. The trick there is to convince them that you are from a war-torn, unstable country, and then they can't deport you. But this guy made a mistake: they organized soccer games at the reception center, and while he was playing he accidentally spoke Wolof, tipping them off that he is from Senegal. So he got deported. Soon as he saves up enough money he's going to try again, though.

After only about 20 minutes (what would have taken me 2 hours on my bike, or an hour on an Alham), we got to my destination village and I got off. I really hope I can hitchhike again soon.


Bye bye, COSers

Thursday, 3 April 2008

This past weekend we had a party for the Tamba region "COSers" – volunteers who have finished their two years and reached their Close of Service. In just a few days or weeks (depending on the individual volunteer's scheduling) they will be hopping on a place and going back to "Amerik", as we call it here.

This group includes my closest volunteer neighbor, Dado. In about a month and a half a new volunteer will arrive to take her place in her village, and I will suddenly become the older, wiser volunteer, rather than one of the "babies".

It's weird to have so many volunteers going home to America and not be one of them. But hopefully my second year in Senegal will be even better than the first.

Marabouts and magic water

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Since I got discouraged about my village work recently, I decided I should spend more time on cultural experiences, at least until I get some new project ideas or enthusiasm for my old projects.

So last week I went to visit a marabout, who is like a Muslim shaman. They make charms and potions for just about anything – to help you get a job, to protect your health and keep bad spirits away, make someone fall in love with you, get revenge on your enemy… Of course something like killing your enemy is considered black magic, and many marabouts won't do that sort of thing.

The marabout I went to is a relative of one of my villagers, so we went together to see him at his house in Tamba. He sat on his prayer rug while we talked, and I told him that I wanted something to protect me from bandits when I'm traveling. He said no problem, he'd have it ready in a few hours, and then he left.

My village friend and I waited at the house, watching African movies on the TV and eating lunch. Finally in the afternoon the marabout came back. He had made a necklace for me out of snakeskin and some kind of hair. Presumably he said some prayers or incantations or something while he made it, but disappointingly I didn't get to see it because that part is secret. He told me that when I wear the necklace I will be protected against all physical threats, including bandits, wild animal attacks, and car crashes.

Then he told me he had also made me some magic good luck water as a gift. He poured the water out of the Fanta soda bottle it was in and into a gourd bowl, and then he placed a board over the bowl and told me to step on it. If the gourd didn't crack with my weight then that meant the magic water would work. So I stepped up onto the board. The gourd made a sound like it might crack, but it didn't. Then while I was still standing on it the marabout started saying incantations. Creepily, the wind picked up right then and blew really hard for a few seconds. The marabout said that was the spirits working. Then it was done, and he told me I could step off the board and poured the water back into the Fanta bottle. I'm supposed to wash with a little bit of it every day, and then whatever I do that day will be successful.

So that was my trip to the marabout. I haven't used the magic water at all, but I have been wearing the necklace. He also told me that it would be good if I would sacrifice a completely white sheep and not eat any of it myself except for the heart and liver, but I think I'm going to pass on that one.


Wednesday, 26 March 2008

It rained here last night, completely out of season. That's the second time that's happened this year (the first was in February, when I was on my way up to Dakar for vacation). My villagers say it's not completely unheard of to get rain during the dry season, but it still makes me wonder about global warming. One of my village women told me yesterday that if it rained she was going to start getting her fields ready for planting, in case the rainy season comes [3 months] early this year.

Unfortunately the rain didn't make it much cooler. I had to sleep inside last night, and it was miserably hot and sticky.

If you really want to have lots of kids…

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

I read somewhere recently that if you rub the dirt from inside a termite mound on your skin it will keep mosquitoes from biting you. We have lots of termite mounds around here, so I decided to ask one of my villagers if they've ever heard of that.

He said he'd never heard of it, but that one thing they do believe about termite mounds, or termites more specifically, is that if you swallow whole the queen termite, who is always at the base of the mound and is about the size of a man's thumb, you are guaranteed to have lots of kids. My villager said one of his friends swallowed the queen termite, and now he has almost 20 kids (with 3 different wives).

So if you're looking for fertility treatment, this is probably the cheapest and easiest method. Although surely also the most disgusting. Ew.