Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Back to America!

After a week of much paperwork, running around, and stress in Dakar, last Friday night it was finally time for me to go to the airport, hop on a plane, and come home to the U.S.  I got lucky in that an American woman I'm friends with who works at the embassy in Dakar was flying to the U.S. the same night, so we went to the airport together.  Everyone there knows her because she flies so often, so she gets VIP treatment, not having to stand in lines with the masses.  And since I was with her, I got the VIP treatment too!  Someone came over and told me to give him my  passport and he would take care of everything, which he did.  It made the whole experience so much more survivable, especially since it was 3 am and I was exhausted.  The flight was fine, except that Delta's "dinner" meal (served at about 4 am Dakar time) was ham sandwiches.  On a flight from a country that is 95% Muslim!  A woman across the aisle from me complained, and the stewardess (or air hostess, or whatever you're supposed to call them) told her she should have ordered a special meal ahead of time.  That made me kind of mad.  On a flight from a Muslim country a non-pork meal should not be considered a special request!  I didn't specially request not to be served monkey eyeball soup, (a la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), but I was still be pretty shocked if they had served it on a flight to America, especially as the only meal option.

Okay, enough ranting about Delta's cultural insensitivity.  I'm back in America  now, and everything seems pretty normal, not too much culture shock, except: all the electronic noise! Heating fans, TVs, kitchen timers, phones ringing... sitting inside my friend's apartment, all these background noises that I would never have noticed before are making me feel like I am inside a bomb that's about to go off.  And it's very hard to concentrate.  I used to be an excellent multi-tasker, but now everything is distracting me so I can't pay attention to anything for more than half a second, so I can't keep up with conversations, and I am feeling lost and confused...  But I have confidence I will get used to all this again, and everything will be fine.  Inshallah!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Goodbye, Tambacounda

Yesterday I made the 10-hour Tamba-to-Dakar trip for the very last time (not counting possible trips back to visit someday). Everyone keeps asking me how it feels to have left my village, to know that I may never again see people who have been my family and friends for the past two years. The truth is, I don't know. I think I should be feeling really sad about saying goodbye to them all and to the incredible life I have been living for the last two years. Probably I will feel that eventually, maybe on the plane home, maybe later. But right now mostly I just feel relieved to have gotten the stressful goodbyes over and to finally be released from the never-ending village guilt.

And I wish I could say that my village goodbyes had gone well, that they were heartwarming and had left me with a warm fuzzy feeling. I wish that they had been. Instead, when I told my villagers it was my last week, all I got was people coming to my hut or pulling me aside to tell me, "When you leave, I want you to give me x. Okay?  Don't forget!  I've got dibs!"  The closest I got to anything like an "I'll miss you" was my host mother saying "What am I going to do when you're gone? We're not getting another volunteer after you, so who's going to give me money for going to the doctor and buying spices?"

After a couple days of that, I just couldn't take it anymore.  All I'd wanted was to have some quality time in my village, doing normal village things with my friends and family.  But except for the kids, who were adorable as always, I couldn't enjoy anyone's company because all they wanted to talk about was what presents I would give them.  So I decided it was time to leave, before the goodbyes could turn me bitter about my whole Peace Corps experience.  So I told my village I had to change plans and leave in the morning, instead of two days later as I had originally planned.  And then I finally got the nice goodbyes.  I invited my sisters over to my hut after dinner, planning to tell them that they could divide up all the stuff in my hut among themselves.  So they came over, but instead of immediately looking over my stuff and arguing over who got what as I had expected them to do, they just sat on my bed and wanted to talk.  So I ended up having a really nice last evening with my sisters, which made up a lot for the last couple of days.  And then in the morning I got up and biked out of the village before anyone was up (as I had told them I was planning to do) so there wouldn't be any chance for my nice goodbye to be ruined by more "gimme gimme".

So I guess the way my service ended was pretty typical of my whole experience in Senegal: lots of stress and frustration, with some really nice moments thrown in to make it all worth it.  

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Rescuing the devil cat baby

When I arrived back in my village for the last time, after my very long trip to Thies and Dakar and America, I was greeted, as usual, with chants of “Khadija came! Khadija came!” and then the various kids I am friends with ran over and insisted on rolling my bike into my hut for me and sweeping out my hut and yard.

This time they decided to do a very thorough cleaning of my yard, so they tilted up my rotten, termite-infested outside bed to rake out underneath it as well. And there they discovered three adorable, tiny kittens, which looked exactly like the devil-cat that was once the bane of my existence, so I am sure they are her children. I should clarify, though: to me, the kittens looked adorable; to the kids helping clean up my hut, apparently they looked like evil monsters which must be immediately exterminated before they are able to carry out their dastardly plan to destroy the universe. I know this because immediately the kids started screaming, chasing after the cats, throwing things at them, and one child even tried to stomp on them. Which made me think of serial killers – don't they, as children, supposedly enjoy torturing and killing small animals? Probably this is a cultural thing that does not translate, though. At least I really hope so, or else a good proportion of my village kids are growing up to be serial killers.

Two of the kittens managed to run into the inside room of my hut, where the kids know they are not allowed to go. They asked me if I wanted to make an exception and let them in, just this once, so that they could de-monsterify my hut for me; I declined. The other kitten had escaped under my fence, out into the village somewhere. Or so I thought, until a while later when I was taking my bucket shower and heard a meowing somewhere around. At first I thought it was somewhere on the other side of the fence, crying because it couldn't find its brother and sister (still hiding behind a cardboard box in my hut). Eventually I realized, though, that the sound was coming from underneath me, from the pit of my latrine. The kitten must have fallen (or jumped) down the poop hole when the kids were chasing it.

This realization made me very sad. There was no way it would be able to climb out, which meant it would die down there, and probably I would have to listen to it cry and die slowly over the next few days. I considered the options: lower a bucket down the poop hole, somehow lure the cat into it, and haul it up? But the hole is too small for a bucket. Break the concrete floor of the latrine to make a bigger hole? Not very feasible, and anyway falling concrete would probably end up falling on the kitten and kill it. Throw some rat poison down the hole, so at least the cat would die quicker and hopefully less painfully? If I couldn't think of any other options, then yes.

But first I decided to go see if my friend Mamadou had any ideas. Given the kids' reactions to the kittens, I wasn't expecting a lot of sympathy from him for the cat's situation, but I thought it wouldn't hurt to try. Sure enough, he had an idea: we could lower a pole down the hole which the cat could then climb up. So we tried that, but none of the poles were long enough to reach the bottom of the pit. So then we attached two poles together with wire, and this time it was long enough. But I didn't hear the cat trying to climb it. Mamadou said the cat was probably just too scared and we should go away and leave it alone for a while, and then the cat would come out. So we went.

But when I came back later to check, the cat was still down there. I thought the pole was probably too narrow and hard for the cat to get its claws into, so I pulled the pole back out of the hole, found a big rope, and wrapped it around and around the pole, so that the cat would have something to stick its claws into. Then I put the pole back down the hole. This time the cat immediately jumped onto it and started climbing up. Soon it was out.

When I told this story later to other Volunteers, their first question was, “So then you adopted the kitten, right?” I will admit that I thought about it – after all, I'd saved its life. Seems like it must be meant to be my pet. But then I thought, what? Adopt a feral, poop-covered kitten, when I have only a few days left to live in the village? Get it all used to humans, so when I leave it will be an easier target for the possibly-future-serial-killer children? I don't think so.

So the cat ran off, and I never saw it again. But I like to imagine that it cleaned the poop off itself (although I don't like to imagine the actual process of it using its tongue to lick the poop off its body!), and found a nice, happy place to live. And hopefully will grow up to be something nicer than its mother the devil-cat.

Parade for Hu Jintao

While I was in Dakar in February, my friends and I happened upon a parade to welcome Hu Jintao (and more Chinese money) to Senegal. Some photos from the event:

I had to fight off about five Senegalese women to get this shirt (they were throwing them into the crowd):