Friday, September 21, 2012

Its The Simple Things: Waterfalls and Teddy Grahams

I just spent six nights in Kedagou, another region here in Southern Senegal, for a language seminar. About a month after install everyone meets up with a few people from their class, who also learned the same language during training, to answer any questions that may have come up regarding language during our first stint at site; many volunteers find it to be more of a review.
Since language seminar is more relaxed than actual PST we had plenty of free time. Something that volunteers tend to do a lot in their free time, especially while at regional houses where there is the luxury of a stove and oven, is cook. We made a good combo of foods from all around the world. One of the foods that I made, and was very proud of, was boiled peanuts. Considering my cooking abilities I was surprisingly shocked on how they turned out. Peanuts are in season here, and like all foods that are in season, you tend to feel like you are overdosing. Since I couldn’t think about eating any more roasted peanuts, looking for another texture, I remembered my mom boiling peanuts as sort of a treat. They tasted just as good as I remember.
To take up some time Diane, Anthony, Kyle and I decided to bike to a waterfall that is about 5km (about three miles) from Kyle’s village. Considering we were about 25km (about 15.5 miles) from Kyle’s village in the first place this was just the thing to take up a good part of the day. Our language teacher is not much of the outdoors type so she decided to catch a ride with one of the house’s security guards on his motorcycle. The bike ride took us about 2.5 hours to get there and it was quite the ride. 25 miles is a good distance on a bike in the states but considering we are in Africa it’s a hell of a hike. We are riding in the rainy season which means, even though it’s not raining, the roads consist of mud and potholes filled with water. Have you ever tried biking in wet mud/sand? It’s hard to say the least. We were all champs and I think I did pretty well keeping up with the pack considering I have never biked that far at once in my life. Once we got to the closest village to the waterfall we devoured an omelet baguette sandwich and then started our 45-minute hike into the forest. This is something that I was more used to; it reminded me of a lot of the hikes that I used to do in Hawaii.  After passing streams where women washed cloths, trees where orangutans howled, and paths where centipedes were making themselves known we reached the waterfall at last. It was a long day but well worth the trip. Kyle told us that apparently the waterfall we were at, Dindefello, is taller than Niagra Falls; not nearly the width which made it appear to be smaller but in fact it was taller. We swam in the cold water, not as cold as I remember Hawaii’s waterfall swimming holes to be, and lay out of the rocks. It was a nice break from the Senegal that we were more familiar with.
We were reassured that there would be a car waiting in the village; they leave regularly from this spot considering it is mildly touristy. I am not sure why I believed a small village 25k off a main road would have cars that leave regularly but needless to say, it didn’t. Diane and Anthony said they would bike back to Kedagou if it was the only option while I said that I would be willing to try ANY other option, ie sleeping at Kyle’s until the morning when there is a car. By a stroke of luck another local NGO, AfriCare, would be riding through Kyle’s village a couple hours later and going straight to Kedagou. We took the ride. Four grown adults in the back of a pickup; air conditioning blasting (almost too cold but I was not about to complain), smelling like we have been biking and hiking all day while our heads are filled with a hint of motion sickness from dodging potholes, but we made it just as it was beginning to get dark. Once we were home, showered, and fed, I can honestly look back on the day and say it was great.
I am not sure if I developed sensitivity to dairy or had a stint of bad luck but I believe the strawberry milk that I indulged in the following night was trying to end my life. I was tired from the day before, and looking forward to continue my book by Bill Clinton called Giving, so I went to bed early after drinking strawberry milk, made of whole milk, with dinner. Upon falling asleep I was awaken a couple of hours later with stomach pains worse than I have ever had in my life. The stomach pains were accompanied by bowel movements, no details needed, and this went on all night. There was no sleeping, just laying, staring at the ceiling trying to convince myself to fall asleep. I would get up to grab water, though I didn’t want to drink much because it would just make me have to go to the bathroom even more than I already had to. While getting water the smell of the kitchen would make me nauseous so I would lie down in the hammocks, then I would get cold and move inside, to then be interrupted into going to the bathroom again. This rotation happened about four times in the night resulting in about three hours of sleep. The five-hour car ride back home, not including waiting time for public transportation that ended up totaling eight hours, seemed longer than it already was. I am only sticking with fake dairy from now on, if any.
Diane and I caught a ride with a Peace Corps car to Tambacounda, which not only saved us about 3000CFA each but also eliminated having to squish in a septplace, listening to locals screaming in foreign languages, and the occasional smack on the head as a result of fans being waved. We were dropped off at the garage, what the public transportation depot is known as, and waited over two hours four our septplace to Velingara to sell all seven tickets. We passed the time with some quality people watching, drinking over sweetened juice slushy’s, eating omelet and baguette sandwiches and watching men sell car tickets as they make tea and clearly worry free that our car is going nowhere fast.
Finally reaching Velingara, after the longest 24 hours of my life, Diane told me it was not necessary to wait for her bus that takes her to her village; I was glad she told me to go home. I usually wait at the garage to make sure that 1-there is a bus for her 2-she gets on it and 3- it actually leaves town, since there is not much I can do once it leaves town, but today I could barley keep my eyes open after the night I had and the prolonged day of waiting for public transportation. I ran home, put on a smile for my family since I didn’t want to explain why I was so tired, took a bath and called it a night. Sure it was only 5pm but I blamed it on my long trip from Kedagou and I went straight to bed. I woke up for a couple hour rally at 1am to watch Its Complicated (good movie by the way), not feeling the best but better, and didn’t wake up again until 9:30am. The sleep and water was all I needed to feel back to normal. Alhamdillilah.
It had been a while since mom and dad said they sent their package so I decided once I woke up from my coma that I would rush to the Post Office. Sure enough there was a package for a Kelly Blodge, I just assumed that it was for me. I paid the 1000CFA to get it, a customs fee, and the postal worker smashed it into my bag as an attempt to help, and we will find out if anything valuable was in it I guess. Once I got home I went into my room, shut the curtain, and began to open the package from my parents in private, not wanting my family to see that I got something. There is no real reason not to show them other than the kids would want everything in it and my brother would be convinced that I am even more rich than he already thinks Americans are. Velveeta Cheese and Life Savers don’t make one rich but to an African it’s all the same, goods from America. I am not quite sure how my parents did it, not sure if I should credit mom or dad or both, but they sure did hit the nail on the head with this one; Teddy Grahams, Velveeta Cheese, Granola Bars, Furikaki Seasoning, Soy Sauce, Dried Mushrooms and Strawberries, Drink Mixes, Instant Potatoes, Trail Mix, Sprinkle Butter, Soup and Pesto Packets, Life Savers, Gum (naturally sweetened with 100% Xylitol for positive oral health benefits - thanks mom) and Werther's Candy. I did end up giving the box to Nene who was shocked that I was going to throw it in the trash for biodegradable items; I thought I was recycling but she took it a step further and made everyone in the family a fan. I have no idea how I am going to ration all of these items or what I am going to eat first, obviously Teddy Grahams were opened immediately, but what next? To make this day even better they also emailed me a code for an iTunes gift card, GREAT GIFT. I didn’t realize how much the gift card was for until I redeemed it and, again, I am not sure how I am going to ration my music purchases or what I am going to buy. Maybe a few workout tracks, some good ol’ classics, maybe something local? Time will tell.
Considering how, well negative, my last post was and to the couple of people who actually read it and expressed concern about how I was doing, I hope this post answers that. I had a great week, besides the milk situation, and now have plenty of things, between the music credit and package, to remind me of home for those hard times. A little shout out to mom and dad, you know who you are, you are the best. A strong support network back home is key to having a successful experience abroad and you guys score an A+. If your lucky when you come to visit I will cook you some noodles and Velveeta accompanied with kool-aid. Yum.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I’m Annoyed

I am writing this entry about a week before its posting date, since I just posted today I usually like to wait a week or so between posts. A topic came to mind today that I wanted to touch on. I’m annoyed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The story of the Kankurang and Donald Duck

It’s getting to the end of summer vacation here in Senegal; meaning back to both school and work, for those lucky enough to have summers off. With summer comes many things but it will be interesting to see the regular routine of a Senegalese family when there is something to be done in the morning.
The Kankurang is something that only exists in a couple of cultures here in Senegal, mine being one of them. I am not sure how to describe him other than as a man dressed up in a outfit resembling cloth covered in something that resembles dreadlocks while carrying a machete. Now this sounds dangerous and scary, and it is. Kids find it entertaining, a game of sorts, to test just how brave they are in seeing how close they will get to the Kankurang before running. He parades around with a band of, which I assume are his friends, who chant and play drums. The singing is exactly how you know that there is a Kankurang around and kids start to worry, while showing excitement simultaneously, similar to suspecting Freddy Krueger being near. I was warned of this creature before I actually laid eyes on him which is fortunate for me because without any previous knowledge of him I may have been tempted to go up to him to see why he was dressed all funny, which would have been a been faux-pas and I am sure quite entertaining for onlookers. While walking to the bar for a drink and some dinner last night with Wilma and Whitney we ran into a Kankurang, who must have been post work, walking down the street. I thought he would have been harmless at this point seeing he was without his gang but the girls, being the vet volunteers that they are, told me that they put tree bark in their masks that gives off fumes similar to those of a hallucinogenic. Combing drugs, machetes, and kids can be a dangerous combination so I was quickly warned to stay clear from their paths and sort of law low when they are around. Well noted. (More precise information on the history of the Kankurang can be found by clicking here.
The bar for dinner was another experience in and of itself. Before entering the bar we were greeted by our friend Ablai, or Lai he told me he goes by. He and his wife, who is from Spain so a fellow Toubob (usually westerner but also white person), own a restaurant and boutique in town that sells “American” goods (off brand cereals, cheese, milk). Lai said he would normally offer us to dinner at his restaurant but the head chef, his wife, is in her native land on vacation for a month so services are paused until she returns. This is mildly disappointing because, being the great European that his wife is and understanding nutrition, she serves each of her meals with a salad. Salad does not exist here, at all, and is a great change of pace from rice and sauce. Upon entering the bar and buying us ladies a round of Trent Trois beer he told me that he was leaving in the morning to go to Dakar for the remainder of the week to stock up on more Toubob type food for his boutique. After explaining to him the importance of getting what is known as Cheetos and Mountain Dew, a request of Wilma’s I cant stand the stuff, he said he would not let us down! He then began to explain to me that his shop is not for him, he grew up here his whole life and is used to the eating habits of Western Africans, but it is in fact for us; to make serving his country seem a little more closer to home. To ensure that we profited from his trip to Dakar we told him where all the great Toubob stores were that had tiki-tiki, real, American food. Throughout the remainder of the evening Lai bought us another round of beers and dinner consisting of mystery meat on baguette for Wilma and Whitney and spaghetti on baguette for me. I am already missing the salad at Lai’s restaurant, or anything not consisting of carbohydrates.
At some point between our first beer and dinner a strange, yet familiar, voice begins to walk into the bar. Who could it be? Donald Duck, or a older Senegalese man impersonating what he believes to be as the American character. I am immediately impressed and excited to have something “American” near by, but Whitney is immediately wierded out by this seemingly creepy old man who talks in a high pitched voice. Wilma and I just laugh. Whitney tried reasoning with me that this was no Donald Duck, but by the end second beer her and Donald Duck were best friends. A talented Donald Duck, one who is versed in many languages and whom doesn’t break character. Lai offered us a ride home in his car; we are all really impressed with his car that would me moderate by American standards, and more than happy to take him up on his offer. It was the end of a great night with the girls. Intentions on being just dinner and a beer ended up being free drinks, dinner, entertainment, and a ride home. I am beginning to love the spontaneous way of life here. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Day To Blog About

I woke up this morning with a sense of excitement for the day to come. I was to test out my new peanut butter that I found in the market and I was going to finally get a chance to speak to my parents on Skype (considering the last time was nearly two weeks ago with a rock concert playing in the background).
After buying peanut butter in the market yesterday, and speaking with Diane on how to make it like real American peanut butter, I was thrilled to test it out on toast this morning. Now when I say I bought peanut butter in the market I literally mean the butter from peanuts, nothing else added, organic one would say. I found a few ladies that sit with their bowls of the spread and plastic bags in the market selling this luxury item and I have to admit I am more than willing to be a regular customer. While adding equal amounts of sugar and salt to this organic butter, fine American peanut butter emerges; it goes great with toast, just as I remembered. At the corner boutique along with bread this morning I bought a small baggie of yogurt, also the homemade brand, to go in my Quaker Oats; a breakfast for kings.
After breakfast I strolled over to the Balde residence (my work partner) to say hi. It had been a number of days since I have talked with him even though I figured he would be out working in the fields; I remember him saying how much he appreciates me going to his house to get to know his family better. After greeting everyone I was invited to sit in Amadou’s sister’s room, trying my best to make small talk in a language I barely speak. She then excused herself to go shower and I lay idle, by myself, in her room watching the fan spin on the ceiling. Upon her return I decided to use having to go to the market to buy food to help make lunch as my way out. I will make a mental note to prepare topics of conversation for my next visit.
After feeling like I had a very accomplished morning I returned home to help my mother prepare lunch. Mari has been out of town for the last week or so at a wedding so her daily chores have been passed onto the only other capable female in the house, Nene. I try and help her cook but she insists that I sit and watch. Occasionally she gives me the task of pounding pepper and onions in a traditional wooden pistol and mortar; she at least thinks I am capable of this. We make small talk while she is cooking, consisting of me asking seemingly useless questions that I only pose to her because I am excited in being able to pull a sentence together in Pulaar. She just laughs. I am starting to think that she has lost confidence that I can speak any language at all considering all she ever hears me speak is intermediate French and Pula Futa of a two year old, someday I will prove to her that I am not a complete idiot.  Though Abidina is back now he had been gone for three days or so in the village visiting friends and family. It was actually nice having him gone because it forced me to speak in Pulaar, and to Nene specifically. Now that we can communicate with each other, though its still on a very basic level, I have found her to be very funny. With Mari gone she gets to make comments now such as “Nene defay buy.” Nene cooks a lot. “Nene wuppi.” Nene washed cloths. She appears to get a kick out of doing things that I am sure Mari would not hesitate to give up a little more often.
After lunch I waited around for the carpenter to come and put the finishing touches on my desk, until I remembered that I was in Senegal and I could be waiting for days. I decided to get a head start on going to the hotel so I could get some work done before my Skype date with the parentals. Upon arriving to the hotel I was pleasantly greeted with the, seemingly permanently aggravated, employee who informed me that she shut off the Wi-Fi until tomorrow. Now I was aware that, for some strange reason, my family shuts off their cell phones and disconnects TV’s and fans in a big thunderstorm but was completely unaware that, even though it had stopped raining, she would unplug the Wi-Fi. Are the Senegalese afraid of getting electrocuted if around a power source during a storm? Was there something that I was missing? The next time it doesn’t storm I will have to Google this. While biting my tongue in explaining that is was no longer raining and its ok to use electricity during a storm, for the fear that she knew something that I didn’t, I pleasantly said my goodbyes and said I would come back tomorrow. On my walk home I remembered my brother saying that whenever I wanted I could go to the school he worked at to use the computers in their computer lab. I rushed home in hopes that he would find this idea to be as exciting as I.  Upon arriving home the carpenter was there to finish my desk, I would propose the idea once he was finished. The desk turned out pretty good- back to business. After finding out that I was not able to speak to my parents Abidina was more that happy to show me to his school that had working computers and Internet.
Of course it was sprinkling our whole walk to the school. Having a “computer lab” at a school is ahead of the times here but I don’t know why I thought that I would be able to just plug a cord into my computer and it would work. It simply could not be that easy. Getting this cable/phone credit connection to work on the Mac would involve setting up the router and cable in the network settings on my computer, something that I was not emotionally and technically equipped to do. Abidina let me use the phone, at least it was good for something if not dialing onto the internet, to quick call home to tell mom that I would be on at a later time. The familiarity of her voice made me overjoyed. We will postpone our talk until tomorrow.
By this time it is almost seven and still sprinkling on our walk home. We decided to stop at the house of a fellow teacher that lives near the school on our way back, I soon learned that the stop was mostly at cause of him having unlimited internet and Abidina wanted to check his Facebook. While poking around pictures of an old Volunteer with the Peace Corps that he once worked with, with soccer playing on the TV in the background, we realized that is was now way past dark and we should get going, be it in the rain or not. I had packed my umbrella earlier in case of this weather and Abidina borrowed his friends and we started to make our walk back home.
It’s not a long walk, but it quickly turned longer than normal in the rain and black streets. Our journey was mixed with assisting each other in the seemingly easy task of walking and following closely behind on those thin slippery trails on the road. Cars and mopeds splash by us and I started to wonder why we even needed the umbrellas. “It was almost too perfect of a walk home to be real life, this is not how Americans live”, I remember thinking to myself. Even though Senegal proved to let me down again with inconsistent Internet our walk home was too memorable. Me teaching Abidina the song “Singing in the Rain”, him making up his own words in French to the same rhythm consisting of lyrics loosely translating to “we have to walk careful because African roads are no good when it rains.” Me laughing at his lyrics, him mocking my truly American, loud laugh; it was like watching a movie of someone’s dream adventure. I am in Senegal I thought. This is how one should enjoy the simplicities of life, the true beauties.
After finally arriving home Nene greeted us with dinner, rice porridge stuff; it’s sweet, I would think similar to rice pudding though I have never tried it. Abidina reminded me that it’s great for digestion and constipation. I am beginning to wonder why he thinks I have a constipation problem.  I just sit and nod and make a point to remember to someday inform him that my life in that department is normal and functioning.
I head to my room at a descent hour to make more toast with the peanut butter spread. I retire in my desk to watch The Little Mermaid, which seemed like a seemingly perfect end to my day, until I am reminded of the leak in my roof right onto my lap. I must remember to get that fixed. It’s off to watch the movie in bed without any protest. After the movie I drift off into sleep listening to the rain and on my tin roof. I sleep in hopes to speak to my parents tomorrow, catch up on some emails and upload some more photos. I will also make a mental note to call Grandpa and Janice, it has been entirely too long since I have heard their voices and I am beginning to wonder how I am going to go two years without seeing them. Lets hope it doesn’t rain.


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