Sunday, June 17, 2007

(17 June 2007) June Blog & Photo Link

  So I'm adjusting to life in the village; it definitely has its ups and downs.  Recently, it's felt like my family and village might be trying to see what they can get out of me.  Not necessarily in an overt give-me-money kind of way, but enough to make me feel awkward.  This awkwardness is compounded by my very limited understanding of the language, leaving me confused as to whether or not they are actually trying to get things for me or if I'm just paranoid. 

            Currently my counterpart (Bassirou)'s bike is dead.  It didn't exactly look like it was in working condition when I first saw it, but both bike tires/wheels are really shot and the pedals won't stay on.  The other day my bike was outside of my hut, while I was sweeping inside.  At some point Bass came and borrowed my bike to ride to a neighboring village.  Not a huge problem, I just don't remember him ever asking to use it for that or telling him that it was ok. Then a few days later a woman came to speak with my mom (the chief's wife) and was clearly upset about something.  After she left I asked my mom and sister what the problem was and got multiple stories. At first they said that her husband had beat her, which I agreed was a problem, but then they said she was pregnant and needed a shot/vaccination but her husband was gone and she didn't have any money to get the medicine.  My mom said something else about a Toubab (which would mean Me) maybe having medicine and I think she then asked me if I did.  The trouble is, I don't really know if that's what she was actually saying.  If so, I'm a little peeved that they would ask me for medicine; however, it's entirely possible that she was just explaining the situation to me. Though my language is improving every day, I still have trouble hearing each word clearly and my vocabulary is limited.  I know the key is to be patient in the meantime, I just wish I could shake this weird feeling more easily.

            Last week my closest neighbor (Erin) came to visit. My brother took us around to a bunch of the Pulaar compounds to introduce her (she speaks Pulaar and lives in a Pulaar village) and she and I were able to spend some time chilling out and speaking English in my hut, a much needed venting session indeed.  Though my village jokes about my Wolof and every day people tell me I need to learn Pulaar (my village is around half Pulaar), they're generally very supportive of my language acquisition. Erin's village, on the other hand is not quite as encouraging.  Many a PCV has spoken about how the Pulaar will constantly criticize a new volunteer's language kills and then tell them that the need to speak Pulaar better.  Fortunately, all the Pulaars she met in my village seemed excited that she knew any Pulaar (as I know none).

            Beyond language, it was a relief to be able to share some of the same frustrations.  Her village mentioned starting a garden project to her, from which they want to sell the vegetables to get money.  She's trying to emphasize that yes a garden is a good idea, but they need to eat the vegetables themselves for nutrition, rather than sell all of them for money.  When they do have money, they spend it on goats/sheep, which they'll end us selling later on rather than eating. My village has mentioned the selling of vegetables from the future garden as well, so as we get closer to having an actual producing garden, I'll have to address that same issue.  Another thing we noticed is that they don't have money to buy vegetables or soap, but they always have tea and sugar.  We both recognize the cultural significance of the tea, but I'm still a bit baffled at their priorities.

            We've both been thinking about how it is that we can help our villages help themselves, but we're also both still unclear about what an increase in their standard of living would be or mean.  While not all of them possess the knowledge or how to improve their condition or the means to do so, more than a few of them do possess these abilities, but do nothing.  Everyone will tell you that behavior change is slow, but it's hard to even know where to start sometimes.  As discouraging as this sounds, we are both still motivated and sincerely want to be here and help the people we're around.  My opinions on development are certainly taking shape and who knows, maybe a career in development/aid work is in my future, but I'm trying to take it one day at a time.  Some days are better than others, but tomorrow is always a new day with the potential to be amazing or awful.  So far, so good.

            Well, thanks to crazy power outages I haven’t been able to finish typing up everything I wanted to in detail ,but here are some random snippets I wanted to include below:

The husband of my oldest sister, Pendal (age 16), came back to the village.  Apparently he works near Saint-Louis , but is retiring.  Oh yeah, and he’s also her grand-uncle (ie- he’s the brother of her grandmother).  Surprisingly to me, he seems like a nice guy.

Bowie finally attacked and killed one of the spiders that lives in my ‘toilet’ who like to come out at night while I’m on the phone.  Not only did she kill the spider, but she ate him as well.  I’m a very proud parent and excited that she too is learning to supplement her Senegalese diet by whatever means available.

I’m going to Vienna for Christmas and New Years.  There’s a girl here who’s dad is an ambassador in Austria and room and board are free.  I was planning to start traveling around Africa first, but this amazing opportunity presented itself and I couldn't say no.  Also, I might be adding on 2 weeks to travel to Krakow , Poland to see Auschwitz and some salt mines.

The night before I came to Tamba we had our first rain.  It was crazy.  I’ve never seen such massive swamps pop up overnight.  A few days before the winds started (apparently the precursor to the rains).  I was convinced my roof and doors would fly off.  Thankfully they didn’t, however one of my doors did blow open.  The winds and rains were accompanied by HUGE bouts of thunder and lightning.  Both Bowie and I were huddled under my mosquito net trying not to breathe in the dust that kept getting swirled around my room.  Yes, there are a few post-storm pictures.

As the rains began the night before I left, the morning I left I ended up biking through muddy swampland for 6km to get to Koutia Ba.  I have never seen so many frogs in my life.  No pictures of them yet, but I’ll try to get some on the return trip.

And most importantly, thank you to everyone who sends mail- going to the Post Office is a momentous event for all of us, letters get re-read and packages get shared.

I believe the latest photos should be available at:
Hopefully that works, if not someone send an e-mail and I’ll look at it next time I’m in Tamba.  Also, I think you should be able to bookmark it and check back for updates. I’ll only be able to upload as often as I can send out blogs, but who knows.  

Happy June!
AKA: Kodou (There’s a line thing over the first ‘o’)
Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps