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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