Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Playing Catch Up

I have spent the last month or so at site and it, thank god, did not seem that long. Lately I have been getting out of site every two or three weeks because of an event or work function taking place and I am pretty sure my family thinks one of two things: 1) I am the typical American that has a lot of money and just travels all the time – not true except for the love to travel all the time or 2) they believe me when I tell them that I am leaving for work and they think I work all the time. Either way having some time apart keeps me sane, like most families I enjoy them more when I get breaks from them, and they don’t have a foreigner on their hands so we both win.
Trevon and I told Alexx back in September that we would help her with a week long fieldtrip at her site for the kids in Dakar that attend an international school; they are made up of kids who parents could be military (very few) or working for an organization be it governmental or not.  So we are in Palmarin this week staying at a lodge entertaining a group of 14-16 year olds. My tiny contribution in helping Alexx plan small events to keep the kids busy during idle times was to come up with a star gazing activity. I figured we could search for some constellations in the sky, point out some planets, and just take in how beautiful the sky is when you are out of the city. Of course this took some major research on my part since I don’t think I have actually studied the stars since the 8th grade. It was a good review and I found out some very interesting facts! Did you know stars that have a bluish hue are hotter in surface temperature than those that give off a reddish hue; opposite than you would think? Also a shooting star is the visible path of a meteoroid entering the earths atmosphere and burning up resulting in the light; not a star at all! The best part of volunteering to help with the trip is that our lodging is on the beach and the school is paying for that and our meals. Sounds like a mini vacation to me. I will be sure to report more at the end of the week once they leave.
So I think by now you all know about my project with Waste Management, cleaning up Senegal one village at a time. I have been trying to get Amadou more involved in the books side of things with our organization so he can keep and analyze our records from a business point of view. I finally have him recording each deposit and withdraw transaction at the bank and also purchases we make (repairing our cart, buying donkey food, ect.) for the business. Before I left we actually totaled up the amount of money we should be earning each month if all of the households pay and, no surprise there, we are making less than it costs of the salary of our only employee. Well that is obviously not the business strategy that we were going for so we are going to have to refigure some things and gain new clients. This will be my main focus when I get back to site. We also want to start buying plastics from the community and selling it back to a company in Dakar that reuses it to make all sorts of plastic items from chairs to buckets, just another way for our organization to earn some money. I have a meeting with the plastics company in about a week or so, so hopefully that goes well and we can start the buying of the plastics.
A smaller side project that I have been in works with is a letter exchange program with a school in Minnesota with some students in a nearby village; the teacher, Mr. Ba, is starting an English club and wants my help to expand the program. The teacher that I am working with in the states has more than 200 hundred students so we are working on narrowing down the pool to less than 50 because there are nowhere near that many students here with enough English skills to communicate with a pen pal. Also, randomly, there is a teacher in England that contacted me looking for French speaking students to correspond with some students in her French club. I hope it all works out because it will be a pretty cool way for the students to interact with kids their own age and learn about a new culture.
Of course my day is filled with awkward moments but one of the more recent events that comes to mind is talking money with my host brother. I recently overheard him talking to potential renters about the price it would be to rent a room in the house and I was both amazed and appalled that he was charging me twice as much (I was also very excited that I knew what he was talking about since it was a mix in French and Pular). One minute I hear that I am like a part of the family and they would have no problem if I didn’t contribute anything to live there but then the next I am being charged like some foreigner that doesn’t know any better. So after much consideration, about five seconds, I decided to confront him about the money situation. It took me a couple of days to come up with enough nerve to ask him, and careful talks with Alexx ensuring me that I could do this, but once I did finally talk to him I felt a huge sense of relief.  My work partner came over, we had a meeting with him, my brother, and my mom and we sorted things out. He basically said that he doesn’t want me to feel like the family is taking advantage of me and that I could pay nothing and it would affect nothing (still trying to figure out why I pay rent then, urgh?). My new years resolution is to speak my mind more because I feel like things either happen to me or I witness things where after I look back on it I wish I would have said something, especially since it will give me a peaceful mind if I would just speak up. So I am working on it and I feel like I am doing a pretty good job thus far; 11 months left in order to ACTUALLY keep a resolution that I made.
Take care everyone, thanks for reading again its great to know that there are a few people that are following along with my adventures.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Wedding Tale

I attended my very first Senegalese wedding this week and I must say it was one of the more interesting events that I have attended thus far. Amadou, my work partner, was very passionate that I come to his house and spend the entire day with his family to witness all of the different events that go along with a wedding; similar to in the states we have the ceremony, reception, opening of gifts, ect. And what wedding would you say that I was attending? Not Amadous, he already has two wives, it was his brother Ouseman to his second wife.
I arrived to their house on Sunday late morning sometime. The number of people at their house was more than usual as expected; there are at least four different families that live in his compound in which I can only piece together Amadous family and his brothers family, everyone else is somehow related but I have not figured exactly how yet. Everyone was either relaxing making tea, the men, cooking, the women, or watching tv and playing, the kids. I usually do a mix of the three things depending on who I want to sit and watch considering after the first five minutes my language skills are unbelievably more elementary than the first five.
Amadou and I went over to the brides house to see her all dressed up upon returning from the salon. Apparently day one of the events the bride has a majority of the festivities at her house before the men from the grooms side go to fetch her to bring her to the grooms house. She was very beautiful, in Senegalese standards, but was a little overdone in America standards. Nonetheless I admired how dressed up she was. She shed a few tears once she saw her family because her mom passed away when she was young and she wanted her to be here for her wedding day, understandable though that was explained to me later while originally I thought she was crying because she was marring a man twice her age. Oops.
We arrived back to Amadous house where the rest of the day was filled with eating and some more sitting, which is expected at this point for any Senegalese gathering. Wilma and Jordan arrived just in time to say hi, make an appearance, and be the perfect excuse for me to leave to go grab a beer. While I thought this was the end of the festivities for the day I was informed otherwise and promised to return after “grabbing dinner”, our code for beers, with the girls.
I got back and the dance was starting to get hip happenin’ and it was a great show to say the least. I definitely did not take part in the dancing only because their dancing is much, much, much different than what I am used to or know how to do. I have been known to bust a move in my day but I already draw enough attention to myself as it is by only being visible the last thing I wanted was to be even more in the spotlight, if that is even possible. I got some great video and was stopped from going home multiple times as Amadou promised that the bride was coming soon and I had to wait.
A couple of house later at least a dozen motorcycles came screeching down the street, by this time it was nearly 11pm. I ran into the middle of the road behind the wedding photographer to get a better shot but was quickly pushed to the side because Amadou was scared for my life. I didn’t actually think they were driving that fast considering they were a half of a mile away but as they drew closer I saw why Amadou was so concerned. Half of them were gaining so much speed it looked like they were going at max speed while others were doing doughnuts or something equally dangerous yet stunning.
The bride showed up in a small red car behind the cyclists and I was in awe. I was warned that she would be covered but they said in white so I pictured more of a translucent veil than a sheet like a ghost. Her head was down almost resembling someone in regret or sorrow. The car did a few circles as people jumped on it screaming in joy for her arrival.
An “Alham”, or a transportation van that is usually near the point of breaking down that carries about double in which it was intended for, arrived shortly after with her belongings and gifts from her family to the family of the groom. To make my life even more awkward, as she was led from the car to the house Amadou insisted that I take a picture with her as she is walking in with her closest family members. Not only is this girl in the middle of the biggest day of her life but she gets to share it with some white girl that she has never seen before, talk about new best friends (I cant wait to get a copy of the video to see just how much of a part of this strangers wedding I was, and its forever documented).
After ushering her in the house, everyone followed, the dancing continued, and her gifts were offered to the grooms mom. As far as I know she spent most of the rest of the night in someones room sitting on a bed with her friends and family, still fully covered, as people ate and danced in her honor. By this time it was almost midnight and I just had to go to sleep after being there for more than 12 hours. I vowed to return in the morning for more wedding rituals.
The elders were supposedly gathering around 10am to discuss family matters with the new member of the family and true to Senegalese fashion this did not happen until after lunch; you would think I would be used to this by now between here and Portagee time in Hawaii (love you Bird).
For the meeting with the elders it was a little more similar to wedding events that I am used to but still with a twist. The bride sat on a mat in the middle of the room on the floor still covered while others took a seat wherever there was room. I still can’t get used to the sight of the bride covered and I am sure I was staring more than one should but it’s just so strange that this is her normal for the next two days. As far as what was translated to me the elders, both men and women, spoke words of confidence and well wishes to the new bride as well as explaining the gifts that were brought from her family to her new husbands; items such as brooms to enable her to clean, cookware to feed her family, and you can just about imagine all of the other presents. Typical. One thing that surprised me with the whole more than one wife thing is equality of the wives. Men are only allowed to marry another women if they love her equally as the first, not more or less. This means if the husband buys his first wife a new outfit he must do the same for the second, if he gives money for food he must do the same for them both. Strange that there is equality amongst how the wives are treated but not how men and women are treated. Hmmm.
After the meeting I went home to shower and change, and any time I use this term it is very loose in the sense of showering and is referred to taking a bath with a bucket and cup. I took part in getting an outfit made of the same material as the women in Amadous compound but once I arrived I soon learned that it was the fabric of the event, dozens of women had the same material as I.
There was a band consisting of six or so different drummers, one of which was a man with fake dreds and Jordan and I were really nervous that they were going to fall out of his head but thank god they did not I could not even imagine how incredibly awkward that situation would have been. Women danced in a large circle while throwing cloths on each other, still not sure what that represents, while dozens sat around to watch the show. Since this was going on more than 24 hours of a party it ended fairly early, which I was not upset about.
This whole time the bride sat in a room, covered by a cloth, while others celebrated in her honor. Out of all of the brides that I have known back home I could not picture a one that would be ok with sitting on the sidelines as everyone else danced and had a good time. Though our cultures are very different, and I think I would prefer to be on the side of the American bride, I was more than grateful to be able to witness the events of the wedding. I will forever remember it and be grateful for how much work goes into planning one.

To: The Newlyweds

Good luck and may you have a thousand kids and an even longer happy life.

From: That one white girl at your wedding.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Women: strong, independent, inspiring

I have been living with the Barry family going on five months now and I can honestly say I have found my routine. I have figured out everyones personalities and have come to find everyone sort of predictable. My brother will forever annoy me, as brothers should I suppose, with his misinterpretation of the word privacy. His mother with her grandmother-like charisma and attitude towards life now as she gets to sit back and enjoy it more. His oldest daughter with her jokester type ways, always hiding behind corners trying to scare me, or race me down the street in which I never let her win. I am finally finding myself missing members of my family when I am away from site for a while which is something that volunteers say comes with time. My first couple of months here I would have never thought that I would find myself content with being at my house, away from other volunteers, and just living amongst my family. But I am. Just the other night I found myself teaching my little brothers, who are around twelve years old, about the stars and planets.
Random picture: My sister was so excited that
 I finally let her braid my hair! 
Side story; my uneducated mother pointed at Jupiter and told me it was not the same as the others. I am not sure if she was steering in the direction of the moon and comparing it to the other stars or if she recognized Jupiter as being different because of its glow but either way I was impressed. When I asked her how to she knew it was different she just pointed to her brain and said, “I know” with a little smirk on her face. It is entirely possible that I totally misunderstood her because we had this conversation in Pular but I don’t believe so. I love this woman. She is by far my favorite person in the house, with Mari (my brother’s wife) in close second. You know how grandmothers have that glow about them? She has this. She plays with her grandchildren all day. She walks around town visiting her friends. She cooks maybe once a week and when she does she looks about as proud of her accomplishment as I would have looked if I had said that I had made dinner.
The other day while Mari was preparing lunch we had one of our first significant conversations; usually she speaks to me in Pular to make me practice so our conversations don’t go much past where are you going or what are you cooking? I can’t recall how we got onto the topic but I somehow squeezed in questions concerning various topics such as how women react to men having multiple wives, women doing all of the housework, why they want so many children, the possibility of an education, and work outside of the home. Her answers mostly caused me a sense of sympathy for Senegalese women, and women in general that live in a society where they are repressed because of their gender. I know I have talked about this before but everyday I am forced to watch this smart, funny, intelligent woman sit home to cook, clean, and wait on her husband and children. I am not saying she is any less of a person for doing this but it’s the fact that she didn’t really have a choice in the matter that makes me sad for her. Sure they say they were not forced to get married at 15 years old and quit school to start having children. Sure one person may have not forced them but society certainly does. I guess I just wish that she finished school, maybe even went on to graduate from college, and from there if she wanted to start a family and stay at home then so be it; I think it’s great that there are children out there who are actually raised by either one or both of their parents. I just want more for her.
On the topic of marriage and multiple wives it seems women are split on the issue, some are for while others are against the idea. I have a feeling that a major reason why women are for the idea of having sister wives is that there are more hands around to help with all the chores. I would have to agree with them on that, who wouldn’t want someone doing laundry while you cook? Less work for you!
Though she never finished middle school Mari ensures me that she is going to go back to school and finish. This is something that we even hear a lot in the states but the truth of the matter is that it’s so much harder when you have the responsibilities of a family to finish school. I am not sure if she was just telling me that she would go back some day to humor me or because she actually wants to. But again, wanting to go back and being able to go back to graduate are two different things.
On a slightly different topic but still following the theme of gender inequality, I was talking with another volunteer in my stage, Lisa, just the other day about men and how entitled they feel in this society. A woman will raise her son and someday he will have more power in the house than her, the same woman who raised him and taught him all he knows about life and living. Just because he has a penis he is considered smarter, more worthy of an education, and more capable of running a household than a woman. Times are changing here and more and more women are finishing highschool, going on to higher education and landing great jobs but just like anything else there are still those people who are behind the curve and think women belong at home. It is really hard to sit back and watch as women are treated like second-class citizens but I think that’s why I get along with the women in this country more than I do men. I know I sound like a broken record right now but just bare with me. The Peace Corps also recognizes that in order to have a successful country all members of society need to be contributing members, men and women, which is why we work so much with womens groups. We help them become entrepreneurs and give them the training they need to be successful because once they are profitable the country can begin to be profitable. Women power! (Man oh man I should have been a Women Studies major. How interesting that would have been to learn about gender development over the years, but I can just hear it now, what kind of a job can you get with that besides teaching Women Studies?)
Thank you again fellow readers for reading on as I rant about how unfair life is. I am sure you all already know that and don’t need to read my blog for it to be reassured. Who knows maybe my work here will inspire me to work in civil rights or gender development?


A French Connection Copyright © 2011 -- Template created by O Pregador -- Powered by Blogger