Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Day to Day

I am sitting in my hut at 2:57 pm Tuesday afternoon May 22nd, 2007. My alarm clock thermometer tells me that it is 110F in my room (Not bad!!). The electricity is working (it goes out at least once a day for a few hours) so I am working on my interpretation of the Peace Corps’ 3rd mission (sharing my experience with fellow Americans). I have decided that sometimes there are just some things that I never mention in my blog entries because I mostly write about big events, or challenges, or trips, but there are so many little details that though I can never explain them all, I want to at least try and list the things that I have been mentally noting from day to day and want to share with all of you. Because it is in the details that sometimes the most memorable moments arise…

Here is my list…let’s call it:

The Day to Day…

*Really skinny, brutally treated, undernourished animals are everywhere, all the time. Horses, goats, cats, dogs, donkeys. It’s horrible. And it never gets any easier to see or to hear the cracks and pounding of the whips and sticks on their bony backs .

*TRASH! It is everywhere. Truly, it litters everything, even in small villages. I’ve almost become immune to it. Though most people burn the majority of their trash, the harder plastics, glass and other non-burnables inevitably end up being thrown in huge empty fields next to houses, and all over the roads. The wind picks it up so it gets everywhere. Another volunteer brought up a really good point though, in which she compared it to the trash consumption in the states. She brought up the fact that in the states, we produce WAY more trash but we hide it. So we are ignorant to how much waste we actually produce. What would our homes and towns (not to mention huge metropolises) look like if we did not pay to have our trash buried and exported to other poorer countries? Food for thought…Since I have been at site (1 week tomorrow) I have yet to even fill up a full plastic bag of burnables! It’s amazing how little waste you produce when you’re living simply.

*Being CONSTANTLY asked (no, bombarded really) by everyone and anyone for everything. This is not exclusive to strangers or children in town. My own family is constantly pestering me to give them cell phone credit, let them drink from my water bottle, give them candy, etc. Mostly it is in jest, but it does get tiresome and it has been one of my greatest challenges to keep laughing them off and come back with witty comments. Having spoken to my ancienne volunteer though, she had the same thing happen until one day she just blew up at them and then they laid off. So, I hope that it won’t come to that, and otherwise I do love them very much, but sometimes you want your home to be the one place where you won’t have to be pestered. My yaye (my host mom—literally meaning, grandmother in Wolof) is definitely my best advocate though. If she hears of them asking me for things, she yells at them and shakes her head and mumbles that her children are bad. My ancienne advized me to make her my closest ally. Some brilliant advice I am definitely going to take to heart.

In town though, when children ask me for things, I will just tell them it is impolite to always ask for things, or I will ask for the same thing in return:
Child: “Gimme a present”
Me: “NO! Give ME a present.”
It always stops them dead in their tracks, or they think it’s hilarious and we all win.

Though with adults it is a little bit trickier. When I come up with a witty comeback though, and I get a good laugh, it can make my day.

Example: Today I went to the market to buy a lighter for my gas container/ ‘stove’ and some mangoes. I was bargaining (horribly I might add) with the mango lady when 2 older gentlemen walked up to me and asked me my name. Then they asked if I would buy them mangoes…so I just smiled and laughed and said “no way, I’m a guest in your country, you should buy ME mangoes!” They loved it, bust out laughing, shook my hand, and went on their way. I count that as a successful cultural/language experience! One for the books…and it was all in Pulaar to boot!

*Lizards! They are everywhere. Totally harmless and don’t bother me at all, but I will often come home and have 5 of them in my douche. They live in the rafters in my hut and I can usually see their tails and toes hanging into my room at night. I like having them around though because I know they help protect me from bugs! But their thunderous scampering across my tin roof is another day to day nuance I have come to expect.

*Sand!!! I don’t know what all of you are picturing, but I know that when I envisioned my PC experience I had visions of greenery and tropical climates like the one I experienced in Ghana. Not so…think desert, because that’s where I live! There are some scattered cactus-like bushes that grow (somehow) in the open fields, and other than the scattered neem tree or two, everything is flat and brown and sand blows in the hot wind all the day long ( for you Davisites, think Davis, CA in August plus crazy winds!!)

*I have turned into a text messaging FOOL! My cell phone is a constant fixture, as is the beeping alert tone it makes when I have a message. Because I am a mostly urbanish volunteer I am supposed to help act as a coordinator for the rural volunteers and I have pledged never to turn my cell phone off in case of emergency. Or, so that when they all DO hang from that one tree in their village, at just the right angle, and have service for a brief moment, they can get ahold of a fellow PCV if need be.

*Dolce and Gabbana brand stuff! It’s everywhere! And it always makes me laugh because back home there was some sucker who paid top dollar for that EXACT same shirt (granted when it was in season like 10 years ago). And now, some old Pulaar man in the Fuuta in Senegal is rocking one simply because it was sitting on the top of the pile at the weekly market! And he will certainly get more use out of it for the 50 cents he paid, then whoever had it first. Or maybe it’s actually never been worn before and it was just exported to Senegal as a surplus product. Who knows? But it’s such a great nuance that endlessly entertains me. I think the best shirt I’ve seen so far was on a young man in a village outside of Thies. It was beige, with brown cuff sleeves, and in purple, gold and silver sequined lettering from top to bottom it read:


Amazing! I wrote it down because it was just too wonderful to forget. Even now I’m giggling out loud thinking about it.

*Everything I own or have in my room is “ina yoodi” (‘it’s beautiful’) to everyone that comes into my room. This includes everything from my GLAD tupperware containers, ‘crappy’ plastic bowls I bought at market, my Nalgene bottle, scotch tape, books, bottles of lotion, a filthy backpack, earrings, clean notebooks, the trunks that hold my clothes. Not to mention my computer and camera and bike (aka. things you might expect to get commented on). My sister Mariata recently commented that “white people have the best stuff.” I didn’t even touch that one. But those kinds of comparisons are made all the time. Both my family in Thies and here often start off with sentences like “We Africans….” Or “White people…(insert categorical stereotype).” Sometimes I choose to engage them in a discussion about that particular observation and engage PC’s 2nd mission, but usually they are uninterested and I let it go. But once in awhile they surprise me and really want to know about what I always say “American is REALLY like.”

*Butt sweat (affectionately termed ‘swamp ass’ by fellow PCVs). I know that this isn’t the nicest image. But it is a constant fixture in my life. And as a ‘guest’ I am usually offered the plastic lawn chairs in lieu of a mat on the floor or a stick bed bench. This is awful because inevitably when you sit there for more than 5 minutes, when you stand up it looks as if you’ve peed yourself. And it has definitely earned me comments from my family. They just don’t sweat as much as we do. They do sweat some, but usually along the brow or in the armpit region. I haven’t decided yet whether this is due to their superiour acclimitazation, or to lifelong intensive dehydration. (Probably some combination of both).

*Latin American soap operas. The characters from ‘Barbarita’ (a Venezuelan soap that plays mon-fri) are practically national heroes. And the greatest part is that it’s dubbed over in French. It is totally attrocious and unwatchable. But you’re damned if you try to interrupt people while they’re tuned in. They will in no way be rude, but you’ll be lucky to get a word out of them. I take advantage of this block of time from 7:30-8pm to scurry to my room and ‘bucket bath’ or write for a precious 30 minutes of solitude. On the weekends, ‘Maria del Barrio’ takes it’s place. (In case you were wondering, it is not any better.)

*The absolute blissful joy that comes early in the morning and again at the end of the day when I can shower and cool off, and feel chilly for those fabulous few minutes. (And when I say chilly, I really mean it. I’m actually cold! Granted it’s probably anywhere from 85-90 degrees at that point). In the mornings after my bucket bath, I tune into the BBC on my radio, and sit and eat my cool instant oatmeal (LOVE IT! Thanks mom!), and Nescafe (Yes, I still take it black. Gross I know.). I plan out my day, and enjoy the few moments of solitude and ‘normal’ time. I didn’t realize how much I missed knowing what was going on in the world until I tuned back in.

*Dizzy spells. Sort of like a head rush, usually when sitting down. These are very mild and only happen every few days, but it is a side effect of the Mefaquin (anti-malarial) that we are all required to take. It is a constant reminder of the threat of malaria and the importance of protecting myself from it. Now in the dry season the threat up North is almost non-existent (I have yet to see a mosquito in the Fuuta) but it is one of the biggest health concerns during and after the rainy season.

I think that for now, those are all the details that I have mentally filed away to share with you all. Thanks for tuning in for that marathon account of my life.

I was recently on the phone with a friend and she asked “So, what exactly is your work?” I realized that I haven’t talked much about that at all yet, so I promise that a ‘work’ update is in the near future. But to summarize, for right now, just learning how to live, and make all the necessary greetings (of which I’d say there are about 40 people I have to meet with still), and studying/practicing Pulaar, all take up my whole day.

Do I feel like I have a lot of down/idle time? Not at all. Before I left, people kept telling me how much I would be reading during my two years in the Peace Corps. I have yet to read a single page in a book since I’ve been in-country! I have the opposite problem of feeling like there is SO much I want to accomplish and not enough time in which to do it. Everyone’s experience is different, but I cannot imagine feeling like there is nothing to do. I feel a sense of urgency and satisfaction because I have lists and lists of tasks, projects, contacts, causeries, presentations, meetings, and the like, that I want to accomplish in the first three months alone! I think that this might just be my nature and even sitting here rereading this entry, I realize why I have earned the title among the other PCVs as “the girl who has already done everything eventhough she is only 23!”

‘Inchallah’ that fire doesn’t ‘burnout’ before I can accomplish everything I want to…

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Catilin Why you got such a Scwety Bum Bum?