Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Party and a Funeral

The most prevalent holiday of the year; sheep are sacrificed, the finest cloths are worn, and the day is passed by eating and lying around, the usual I suppose. When asked what this holiday represented, what exactly was being celebrated, I was faced with responses of “it’s the holiday of Tabaski”. I had figured out that much on my own but was left with googling the actual meaning of the holiday.
With a quick search on my favorite website, which just so happens to also be my future employer, a girl can dream can’t she, I found out that Tabaski is “the celebration of willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a sheep to sacrifice instead.”
The festivities began the night before the actual holiday when I went with Mari, her sister-in-law and a handful of kids to the market to buy some last minute items for the big party; shoes, vegetables, perfume and holiday attire to list a few. Upon arriving at the market I was thoroughly surprised just by how much the market quickly turned from women casually strolling to buy supplies to buy lunch to a every man for himself free for all, apparently all of Velingara. Roaming the dirt roads were the usual last minute shoppers, vendors with various marked up goods, women manning food tables to feed all the vultures, and kids looking to most likely start trouble. I kept a pretty low profile and shuffled from merchant to trader behind Mari and co. hoping to get as little toubob, loosely translated as westener or white person, remarks as possible. The highlight of my evening, besides the obvious of carrying children or shopping bags, was eating my bean and pea sandwich. They are amazing and after seeing it in writing and how unappealing it sounds you are just going to have to take my word for it.  They are bomb. We returned home just after ten just in time for my overdue bedtime.
Nene grilling the liver... yum
I awoke the next morning excited for the day. My first Tabiski, so many unknowns and firsts were going to happen today, this is what drives me. I just think about some of the not so glamorous jobs that I had in the states to get me to where I am today, living abroad, experiencing new cultures first hand and here it was. I quickly shuffled to the same park where the Korité service was held, my family apparently either forgot me or thought that I wasn’t coming. Being the only white person at the park, and showing up after service started, my family was easily able to spot me and grab me before I started wondering aimlessly for too long. I took a couple of pictures of friends and neighbors and realized just how comforting it was sitting next all these familiar faces; it felt like home almost. Amadou, the work partner, quickly sent over someone to steal my camera so that he could take pictures of all the action up front where women were not allowed to sit. Come to find out later the “action” was slitting the neck of a sheep; I could have probably done without documenting that. Service, I use this word loosely to describe prayer and preaching on behalf of a couple of the religious leaders in the community, was quick and painless and we were off before I knew it. Our walk back was rerouted to the long way home stopping at houses of family members and close friends to say hi, wish them a happy holiday, and about any other small talk that you could imagine.
After arriving home I went over to Amadou’s house to grab my camera and was just in time for him to slaughter two of his sheep (representing the sheep that God gave to Abraham in place of his son). I knew this was the holiday for sacrificing sheep, similar to Thanksgiving and turkeys, but come on. I miss the good old days in America where my mom would go to the grocery store, pick out a big frozen already dead turkey and bring it home to cook all while someone else did the dirty work of cleaning and preparing it for cooking. I quickly ran past him and the other “men” of the house to his wives so I didn’t have to watch the slaughter first hand. But don’t worry I did not have a chance to take my camera back form him yet so someone documented the whole thing. I sat a little with the ladies, asked them how their holiday was, told them that I was going to cook today which they found hysterical and made other small talk. I was going to return home shortly after retrieving my camera but of course they would not let me leave without eating something or looking at my outfit, which was the same one they gave me for Korité.
I returned home just in time to take off my smothering hot outfit and watch Nene, mom, grill the liver of our long lost pet. All of his other parts were sitting in a bucket waiting to be either grilled or thrown in a stew of sorts. I say “all” of his other parts literally because there were organs mixed with legs mixed with other mystery chunks. I gave the liver a try, in part to be nice and to say that I have tried sheep liver, and it was just as gross as I though it would be. Partially grainy in texture, kind of chewy, not really sure but I quickly passed up seconds once they were offered to me.
I spent the remainder of the late morning cutting onions. I signed up for this job for two reasons; it would give me something to do for a good hour or so since there were probably thirty or so and I finally have mastered cutting an onion in my hand without a cutting board and I wanted to show off my skills. Our holiday meal was good, served as a stew accompanied with bread. The whole time while eating it I stayed clear from the meat in part of because I still wasn’t sold on meat and also if I were going to eat meat I wanted to be sure of what I was eating and with this meal it would be an unknown.
The remainder of the day was devoted to digesting all of the food that was consumed, a requirement for any good holiday, and parading wives and children around town to visit family members and friends. I stayed home with Nene. This holiday also marked a very hard time for me, the day my grandfather passed. My dad’s dad had been battling cancer, and just about anything else one can get while sick it seemed, for a while now and he reached a point where he was either unable or unwilling to fight anymore. As hard as it is to admit I don’t blame him, towards the end he was not the grandpa that I remember and he was not living a life that he used to once enjoy. I miss him already and wish I was there with my family to rejoice the good life that he had, even though it was too short; there were still things that I wanted to do in this life and that I both wanted and needed him around for. I miss him and Janice coming to my parent’s house in Wisconsin for dinners and a round of either cards or dominos, which he always won somehow. I miss going to his house and listening to him talk about the birds, he knew everything about them and the wildlife around his house. I miss the passion that he had in his hobbies, be it his train set, gardening, wood work, quilting or any other random project that Janice had him working on that he pretended not to enjoy, meanwhile we all knew better. I miss his love for baking and how great his pies tasted. I miss how caring he was be it helping my dad build a mansion for all my pet mice in Hawaii or all the times on the phone he would tell me that he felt great even though I heard otherwise. I miss him. The day started out a holiday and ended as a day of remembrance. We lost a great man yesterday and I will forever miss him. Being away from family I am realizing just how lucky I am and how little time we have here. I am not sure where people go after they die but I am sure that we need to appreciate everyone in our lives.
I retired to my room early that night, not really feeling like celebrating at the hotel where a live band and unlimited sodas were awaiting me. I ended the night falling asleep under my mosquito to a few good episodes of Sex and the City, which reminded me just got great good girlfriends are, and Community, which provided a good laugh.
Alexx is coming to visit me tomorrow for a few days before we go to celebrate Halloween at a Peace Corps party in a neighboring town. Her arrival is coming just in time because I could really use a good friend around right now and she comes with promises of long cries and bottomless drinks, if I want. A stiff drink sounds good right about now. Cheers.

PS I promised my girls Erica Schumacher and Sarah Gunderson a shout out. Thanks for both reading my blogs and being there for me. Love you guys.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Arranged Marriage

I am not sure if this is weird but I sort of feel like I have entered into an arranged marriage. Now I have never been married so I am not going to claim to be an expert but I think that the relationship that I have naturally formed with someone would be what I would expect an arranged marriage to be like; my counterpart, Amadou. 
Amadou and I
Sure we are work partners, that’s obvious, but he is sort of my key to the city. He is like the cool kid at school and I am the new student who just wants to be liked and fit in. Now I guess I consider our relationship this way because as lazy as I want to be sometimes I feel almost forced to go to his house and sit in the awkward silence of no common first language in attempt to “integrate”. I know its important to be a part of the community that I want to someday help, and I get that, but I thought it would come with time. And Amadou, being truly Senegalese, questions if I am mad at him or miss my family back in America if a few days go by without contact on my part. And have you ever been forced to be friends with someone? It’s a lot of work. I have to admit though as time passes of me being in Vélingara it is becoming less and less of a chore to go over to his house, create small talk and show interest in his family. I kind of like the guy now. I would guess he is in his forty’s, two wives and I am not sure how many children but if I were to throw a number out there I would say five, all of whom look EXACTLY like him. While we are becoming more comfortable and familiar with each other I feel more like an old married couple than a young wife of an arranged marriage. I am beginning to have fun on our trips; when we go to the bank where I pull the “I’m a white volunteer here to save the city and I don’t want to wait in line to withdraw money” card. Just the other morning during my morning jaunt, I would call it a run but I would be a disgrace to those who actually call themselves runners, I found him walking down the road because his motorcycle broke down. I recognized his outfit from a mile away and when I was about to pass him I instead decided to start running circles around him as he continued to walk. He was mildly amused to say the least. I think he was more surprised in the fact that when I say I went running and return home all sweaty I actually did go running, and there I was caught in the act and he saw it with his own two eyes. To circle back to my original point though we started off almost being forced to have a relationship I thoroughly get a kick out of him now and am excited for the work we have ahead of us. He is a go-getter, which is a rarity in this country, and I couldn’t have gotten stuck with a better work partner.
While on the topic of men in this country I am learning to appreciate being born in the US. As a woman in the global community it has become more real just how unfair life is for many women. You see articles on the news or hear jokes about how men are more superior but being raised by a very strong woman I never really saw just how insignificant my gender gets treated. I was always taught that my twin brother (shout out Eddy Spaghetti) and I could be whatever we wanted to be when we grew up and it didn’t matter that I was a girl or he a boy. I grew up seeing one side of the story, the one where women and men are equal; mom and dad taking turns working, cooking meals, going to school/taking classes, showing up to sporting events. But now, after living in Senegal for a very short period of time, I am seeing the other side. The side that I hope won’t last forever and my children will never see. My host brother’s wife for example; born from a father working in politics on a national level and marrying a teacher but never had the chance to finish middle school. I hold out for hope for other women but if someone who was dealt those cards can’t get minimum education in this country, who can? Instead, after my brothers wife meet a potential husband, her teacher may I add, she was expected to drop out of school and start a family. Being a year older than she is right now I could not imagine my life raising three young children while doing all the housework. No way. Again how lucky I am to be born in a country with women’s rights and parents who expected more of me than to be a housewife.
To wrap up my random thoughts I can see why so many projects focus on working with women’s groups here in Senegal. They need all the encouragement and tools for success they can get. While my stint as a bank teller woo’ing, budget keeping wife will be short lived I will forever be grateful for just how important and appreciated women are back in the mother country. Girl power.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Projects and Podcasts

Random picture of my new roommate
So I know it has been a bit since I have posted last, and it’s due to a mélange of things. I have not had a lot of “what should I do now” time at site, I have been traveling around country for both work and pleasure. Also, I have not found anything that I felt that happened that sparked a “you should write about that” inside of me. Now as pathetic as this post is sounding up until now I urge you to keep reading because somewhere along the line something always happens and it ends up a tad bit more interesting than I initially imagined.
I was in Dakar a couple of weeks ago to both celebrate with my training class, or stage, the end of our first five weeks at site and meet with the International School of Dakar. Alexx, one of my closest friends in my stage, just so happens to be a Eco-Tourism volunteer resulting in her being forced to live on a beach and people wanting to visit her and her site for both educational and leisure activities. Rough life. The school’s ninth grade science class has spent a week in January at her site, Palmarin, the last two years as an educational get away from the city. Alexx is in charge with planning their trip, including but not limited to meals, lodging, activities and transportation. Trevon and I will be assisting with the project this year and since we live too far away to be a real part of the planning, and Alexx can handle it on her own, we will serve as chaperones for the field trip. We are pretty excited and lucky that one of our best friends lives in a beautiful touristy area. Great pictures to follow.
Work at site has been going really well lately that I almost have an urge to want to expand too fast too soon. I am glad I realize that now versus later after potentially ruining the project. In short, our donkey cart needed some welding done on it since it’s getting a lot of wear. Problem fixed but my counterpart Amadou, being the go- getter that he is, wants to start searching for something bigger and more durable; this actually comes at a great time since we just expanded into the next neighborhood and now have more houses than before. It would only make sense to have a larger more stable mode of transporting the waste. Since jumping from small donkey cart to dump truck is a little unrealistic we are settling for a large donkey cart and another donkey. Now the only trick is to going to be finding funding to buy this new and improved cart and extra donkey. This is where international NGO’s with local offices come in handy. Once I get back from IST (In Service Training) Amadou and I are going to search for an organization where we would qualify for funding and I will attempt to woo them with my grant writing skills. Who would have thought taking a class in college called Grant Writing would come in handy?
My new obsession: podcasts. What are these you may ask? They are usually FREE audio episodes on iTunes of your favorite shows, be it on tv or radio. Some of the ones that I can’t stop downloading are The Current (Minneapolis radio station) Song of the Day, which is great because you get a free song each day of an artist they are showcasing. Ian and Margery on myTalk 107.1 and Lori and Julia on myTalk 107.1 who are talk show hosts of the morning show and the afternoon show for all your celebrity and gossip news. TEDTalks, which is a nonprofit dedicated to sharing conferences and lectures with an educational theme. And probably my new favorite Stuff You Should Know, which has shows that describe just about anything from How the Electoral College Works to How Beer Works. Now right now my obsession is more on the side of downloading these podcasts more than listening to them, but I am working on that. I like to listen to them while in some sort of public transportation since I entirely way too ADD to sit in a chair and listen to audio without doing something. I will keep you posted once I have actually figured out the Electoral College but until then I will leave you on a note from a podcast that I have listened to recently; Pizza was actually invented in Naples, Italy, it was originally a street food bought only by peasants because it was cheap, and NY’s Thin Crust Pizza has won repeatedly in blind experiments competing with Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. Ciao.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Story About The 5-Week Challenge Party

The best part about being here to date is looking back at the days that I have and thinking that I live in some sort of a dream world. Sure I may seem scared at times (drug sniffing machete holding Koncurants walking around), lonely at times (seeing on facebook that my little world in Minneapolis did not stop when I left and people did actually still go on with their lives) and even a little darn right skeptical of the unknown referred to as my future (Am I actually making a difference? What the heck am I going to do when I am done? You mean people don’t get to just travel around for the rest of their lives all expenses paid?) but its all these moments put together that makes up the adventure.
My time here as already made me loose a little of the A-type personality that I used to carry around, though I must say it was something that I sort of prided myself on; with every minute of my day planned my life feels more organized and accomplished, I like being fully immersed in something, be it with work or school. Though I think that’s its good that I chilled a little bit I still hope that I will be able to spring right back to my normal American self once I am back in the states after service, that is IF I end up in the states after service. After thinking about it why should I ever get a “real” job with a “real” salary? Maybe I will do the Peace Corps again? Just kidding Dad, that one was for you.
Last week I came back from my trip to our regional Capital of Kolda for our 5-week challenge party that our region threw for us, celebrating being at site as volunteers for five weeks. I was planning on going for a couple days, to make the three hour car ride each way worth it, which I should add is entirely on a pothole mess of a road, but after much consideration one night was plenty away from site.
I got to the garage just after 10am Saturday morning to find that I was the fifth person of seven to fill the car, meaning I had some time to kill. I decided to quick run to the bank, which is conveniently located next to the bakery making the bank that much more fun, and the driver of the car took my number in case for the first time in Senegalese history something happened in a timely matter and they would be ready to leave before I got back. Needless to say I went to the bank, bought croissants, returned to the garage, drank a cup of coffee and still had time to spare before we were actually ready to leave. My bladder, for anyone that knows anything about me, is pretty much nonexistent so I was sure to go to the bathroom just like mom and dad taught me before getting in the car; it always makes for a more enjoyable road trip when you are not constantly thinking about how bad you have to pee. A majority of my time spent on the way to Kolda was dedicated to listening to MyTalk 107.1 podcasts of their morning show with Ian and Margery and the afternoon show with Lori and Julia. Easily my favorite radio station in Minneapolis and it just so happens it is talk radio, entertaining to say the least, and available for free in iTunes. I like to listen to my iPod for two reasons; one being that public transportation is seemingly more terrifying outside the US and its better just to not know what’s going on and two being that I feel like I sort of know what’s going on back home by listening to talk shows and other media outlets. While trying not to pay attention to how fast we were driving considering we were in a high pedestrian traffic area I could not help but notice the dog in the middle of the road and our driver forgetting how to brake. We hit it. Bad. At first I was hopeful, well naive I guess, that he just ducked under the car and was fine but after looking back the dog was clearly badly injured and I am not sure he even survived. It broke my heart. Animals in general are not treated as a member of society in most of the world, especially Africa, and considering that list scavenges dogs are ranked near the bottom. We did not even stop. Diane texted me shortly before I arrived, doubting that I was still coming considering it was already past 3pm, but I assured her that I was in fact almost there and that my now murderer of a car driver had no sense of getting the customer to their final destination in a timely fashion; its typical for the driver, and even passengers, to have the car stop along the way to do personal errands. Upon arriving in Kolda I grabbed a cab and headed to the Maison Blanc (white house) also known as Maison Corps de la Paix.
The theme for the 5-week challenge party was Kolda Olympics. I am not sure exactly what this was going to mean but it involved a series of games where everyone was split into two competing teams, and while we are being honest they are all drinking games. Whitney and another volunteer went to the bar for a drink as I was arriving before going to the “liquor store” to get beer for our festivities. To jump ahead to the end of the story for a minute, we didn’t end up seeing them until much later that night after everyone was too drunk to play any Olympic games, the bar got the best of them. While waiting for them to return the rest of us responsible volunteers decided to start a well deserved Power Hour, if you don’t know what that is I am not sure that I want to be the one to break the news on just how irresponsible my generation is. Ok well it’s when you take a shot of beer on the minute, each minute, for an hour straight – this is what they say anyway I wouldn’t know. Alex conveniently had an app on his phone that made his playlist change songs every hour with a little chime of “SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS” each minute to know when you have to drink. As great as the app seemed to be after a while we started to wonder how long we had left so we got up to check the time on his phone. Well since we are still in the honesty circle we got up because we drank all the beer and were curious to see how far into the hour we made it before we were all forced to quit, 77 minutes. For those of you who can’t count yes that is more than an hour and as cool as this app seemed it subconsciously encouraged us to drink for longer than the intended hour since there is no warning to end the hour. Needless to say we were all really impressed with our skills considering the hour is usually hard enough to accomplish.  The end of a power hour and no more beer led to some dancing and some partaking in conversations entirely too serious for our state of minds. Typical. Hours later Whitney shows up without beer. This was probably the best thing that could have happened since we didn’t need to be drinking anymore anyway. So this is why I am still a little unsure about what exactly Kolda Olympics intended to be.
As I was trying to go to bed mosquitoes were maliciously attacking me, which always puts a damper on your slumbers; second worst night of sleep to date in country, just behind the incident that I wrote about last week involving milk. The next morning Diane and I went to go get breakfast, the usual egg omelet baguette sandwich, and then wasted the rest of the afternoon on the internet doing who knows what. Diane was heading back to site after lunch and I thought that it would be wise considering the mess I was in the night before, and my lack of sleep, that I go back as well. Of course one car ride from Kolda to Velingara couldn’t be that difficult, right?
We got to the Kolda garage around 2:30pm, thinking that there would be no cars between 12:30pm and 2pm because of lunch. We are seat numbers two and three, that is both a good and a bad thing. Good because we don’t have to be squished in the back since these are seats belonging to the middle row but bad because we need to wait for the rest of the car to fill up and who knows how long we could sit there waiting for four more people to want to go to Velingara. Well about two hours is how long you wait for four people in a city of 80,000 to want to go to Velingara. Of course I get stuck in the middle seat which I am beginning to think Diane strategically places herself near the car where I have to get in first and somehow always end up squished between her and someone usually too big to fit in the spot next to me. Its ok I believe in karma and I will take my middle seat. Just before getting pushed off, apparently if a car doesn’t start the momentum of the car being pushed while turning the key is just what it takes to start, I notice that we are in the same car and have the same driver as my trip down to Kolda. As nice as it was seeing a familiar face I warned Diane and we started our trek home a little more hesitant than previously. Our seven seat car, not including the driver, was holding ten with kids being thrown on laps like used bags. One thing that I love about how friendly people are here with each other is demonstrated with how perfect strangers with offer to take kids off mothers laps who are either in a squished seat or are already hosting one kid on their lap.
Of course about an hour into the trip it started to rain, which means windows as much as you like them up when it rains go down a little bit in order to control the fog on the windshield. Yes there are defrost controls on all these cars but it is something that miraculously nobody knows about or uses; wiping the fog off with your hand/shirt is common practice while driving. The fog mixed with all of the cracks on the windshield made it about impossible to see. Our fearless driver carried on without caution and my iTunes got turned up a little louder. About the same spot at the dog incident, a clearly high traffic area that I thought we would learn a lesson from, we hit a goat. The goat was dragging a little kid and when the goat ran into the road the little kid let go of the rope and we collided with the goat, of course without breaking. I am not sure if our habit of not breaking is in fear of causing a larger accident or his reactions are not quick enough, I will bet the second. Killing a dog is one thing but I am guessing that the little boy wished that he got hit along with the goat right about now as his family is hearing from all over the village that their meal for the next holiday is now splattered across the road. Animals are expensive and if you do have them it is for one reason and one reason only, to feed someone. You will end up eating it yourself or you will sell it to someone else to eat but either way they are too expensive and valuable to be getting hit by cars. Diane thinks the driver is bad luck, I think its me considering this is the third animal that has lost a fight with a car that I have been in since I have been at site. We pulled over, the driver began venting to the man sitting next to me explaining how baffled he was that people and animals have no respect for cars or roads and think of themselves as invincible. I tend to agree with him just by noticing the amount of kids who play in the road and the amount of parents and onlookers who say nothing.
A little while later we drove through Kouncane where Diane got out to go home and we loaded up two more people to replace her little body; we are now at a grand total of 11 people in a car made for seven. Everyone expect for me and a man in the back seat has a kid sitting on their lap and since I am still stuck in the middle I have about two half children on my lap. As the rain continues my music plays in my ears and I try to get out of my mind the fact that I have been in a car that has killed more animals in the last 24 hours than I think I have in my whole life.
Three and a half hours later we finally reach Velingara. It is still raining out so I am forced to sit at the garage until the rain stops enough for me to run home. The streets are now rivers and what used to be dirt path sidewalks are now slippery banks. The door to my house was already securely shut with a rock, good ol’ African security, so I quickly moved it and slipped into my courtyard to my mom asking me what I was doing in the rain. Just the question I was asking myself. With a quick conversation with my broken Pulaar explaining all the massacres I witnessed during my trip I retreated to my room for an early night in to fall asleep to what made my trip home memorable, the rain.

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