Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My New Pet Chicken

It seems like just yesterday that I was on a flight from Minneapolis to Honolulu writing a blog entry on my computer as I listened to a mix of airline provided music and the hustle and bustle of surrounding passengers. I was on my way to visit friends and family before heading off to Senegal to serve as a volunteer in the Peace Corps.  This year has proved to be quite different than what I had been expecting, though honestly I had no idea what I signed myself up for. I am left now, freezing on a plane with Ethiopian Airlines, flying to Bangkok, Thailand to take a break from my underdeveloped life, scratch this itch to travel, and catch up with, an oldie but goodie, friend.
The last few weeks at site had been sort of crazy as I prepared for vacation. Days were filled with tying up loose ends of projects to be as independent as possible
Nene (my mother) and I doing laundry before my
big trip to Thailand!!!
while I am gone and my nights entailed things such as either helping house stranded volunteers who could not make it back to site because of the seemingly never ending rain that the rainy season has brought or watching and attempting to name constellations and planets on the roof of Rachel and Kim’s (my new site mates- we have four Americans roaming around Velingara these days!) house concluding that we don’t know nearly enough about our solar system and reverted to an iPhone app to pinpoint stars of interest.
My last day at site before my trip to Dakar was spent in the usual pre-trip manner of cleaning, laundry and dishes and those not so usual, debating about the difference between China and Japan with my host brother and a visit to a village where my business training session was being duplicated. Speaking of that, my thank you present for holding the training was a chicken, alive and well which is how I plan on keeping him though my family looks at him as their next meal. I asked the village what his name was and they said Gertogal, which means chicken in Pulaar and when
Gorko and I on our bike ride home 
I explained that I knew how to say chicken in local language and wanted to know what they call him they told me Gorko, which means man. Wasn’t quite sure how to respond to his name but I went with it and biked home the 3k to my house with his legs tied together to my handlebars. My mother and grandmother, who is in her 90’s I would like to remind you, were speechless when they saw me ride up to the house, muddy of course because it is rainy season, with a chicken tied to my bike. They just laughed while I told my grandmother “si o falla namude okarah makko mbotugol” (if he is hungry give him lunch (I could’t think of the general term for food and lunch got my point across) and “si a lappi makko, mi lappi ma” (if you hit him, I will hit you). She used her hand to cover her mouth in her usual way while laughing and my mom continued on preparing the break fast meal of coffee and bread.
I told myself that I would finish the grant for my chicken feed project before I left for Thailand but with predictably unpredictable events things got a little delayed and I am left trying to email grant questions to my counterpart, Cissé, in hopes that he can make it to an internet café to check his email and respond. A prime example of things not going as expected and causing delay in the project timeline came this last week when my counterpart traveled from Tambacounda to my town of Velingara (about two hours by public transportation not counting waiting times to fill up a car) to see some machinery that will grind and mix ingredients into feed. Cissé called the owner of the machine the night prior in hopes to have the trip go as smoothly as possible, which just proved that no matter what you do you can never truly be prepared. We met the man in town and went out to the abandoned house where the machinery rests to find out that the man did not have the key and in fact it was locked inside the building. There were two problems that I had with these statements, one being how is a key locked inside of a building where you would need the key to lock in the first place and two, why didn’t you mention this minor detail last night when Cissé called you? Not only did he waste my time but he also wasted Cissé’s time and money, paying for a trip out of his own pocket only to look at one of the two machines from 15 feet away through a metal fence. Now at this point I have been in Africa long enough that even though I find myself frustrated or feeling awkward in certain situations it is in fact because I am American and nine out of ten times the Africans that I am usually in the situation with don’t even seemed concerned or phased (I say Africans instead of Senegalese because these characteristics stretch further than the borders of Senegal). This being said I was just approached the situation as ‘oh you don’t have a key, ok, we will come back later’ thinking that is what Cissé was thinking when in fact he is a little more western that I had originally given him credit for. As we walked away from the situation Cissé literally said to me “ugh, Africans”, though being an African himself, while later explaining to the guy that he had called him prior for a reason and next time he comes he wants the key in his hand when he confirms a date. Peace Corps volunteers love those characteristics in a counterpart. We are used to working and interacting with people on a professional level in a certain way in The United States, which is very different than how most things are done here in Africa. If we land upon a counterpart that respects meeting times and does their fare share of project tasks we are beaming and, if they do most of the project work like Cissé has been doing, we are enthusiastic and that much more excited about the project. Hopefully the airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia has Wi-Fi so I can hold up my end of the bargain to get the grant sent out as soon as possible. And I say hopefully they have internet because, as a small side story, last night while staying at Trevon’s house I told him that I was going to try and get some work done before my flight on the internet because I assumed the airport had internet and he started laughing so hard saying that he would be surprised if the airport had internet at all and that I forgot where we live. He had a very valid point but since a handful of people in the security line felt like cutting because their business was apparently more important than anyone else’s it took forever to get to the “gate” and I didn’t have much spare time. An interesting observation on that is that the most unsurprising part of that situation was nobody seemed annoyed at the fact that people were cutting in line! I know I sound like I am five but cutting in line! Seriously? Are we in middle school? Between that and the fact that there is no sense of personal space I was more than happy to get on the plane with my seat and its predetermined area of space with my book and headphones.
This leaves me to where I am now; on a 23-hour adventure to Bangkok, to a completely different world from where I live, where I am from and the area in between where I find myself now, surrounded by people who either really don’t get international airline/airport etiquette or have never been on the plane before and it is just about anyone’s guess as to which one, but life is good.



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