Thursday, September 9, 2010

Les Toilettes et Le Mariage

Les Toilettes

In case you’ve all been waiting on the edge of your seat for the aforementioned toilet edition, here it is.  First, let’s get the obvious out of the way, going to the bathroom in a third world country is not much fun and yet it’s still a necessary part of everyday life.  There are three types of basic toilets in Senegal:  1) the English toilet which, rumor has it, looks much like an American toilet, but is “flushed” using a bucket of water no doubt carried from some far-away water-source (I have yet to see one of these myself, so I’m trusting Peace Corps lore about its existence); 2) the Turkish toilet, which is a porcelain shallow bowl with tread on either side for one’s feet laid flush with the ground and has an elevated plumbed tank used for flushing (this is what we have at our training center in Thiès); and 3) the Senegalese toilet which, depending on where you live has the same shallow porcelain bowl as the Turkish toilet, or a simpler poured concrete version, but without the plumbing.  Basically, the latter is an indoor outhouse without an elevated seat and is what I have in my house.  The floor is tiled and slants towards the hole to make cleaning the room easier.  There is always a bucket of water next to the toilet to use for “flushing” and most people carry a small plastic tea kettle into the room with them for “wiping”; this is where the left hand comes into play.   The tea kettle is filled with water and held with the right hand while splashing water on and cleaning yourself with the left.  We actually received Peace Corps sanctioned training on this process.  I’m still opting to sneak toilet paper into the room with me.  Please don’t judge me.  It’s one little familiar way of life I’m choosing to hold on to (when I can) and also proves useful in swatting the flies away while I’m in there.

The toilet, in all it's glory.

Peace Corps toilet training.

My Batesville Bathroom.
To put things in perspective, I've added a photo of the bathroom renovation I had done at my home in Batesville just weeks before I left.  Ahh!  What I'd give for a soak in my clawfoot tub.

 Les Douches

Showering in Senegal also proves to be a challenging experience.  Basically, we take bucket baths, and because of the heat, we do this several times a day.  The “douche” is strikingly similar to the toilet in appearance:  basic hole in the ground, surrounded by tile slanted towards the drain, and a bucket of water sitting next to it.  My douche also contains a very suspect looking but extremely useful plastic box upon which one can sit while scrubbing up and rinsing off.  One bucket of water is generally enough for cleansing, shampooing, and even brushing one’s teeth.  I often share my bathing experience with a giant palmetto bug or two.  They enjoy rubbing their antennae together and making clicking sounds at me and, on occasion, are curious enough about what goes down the drain to run over, get real close, and check it out.
The shower with it's suspect "seat"

Mon petit voyeur

Fatou and the Bride (on right)
Le Mariage

Okay, so I feel the need to counterbalance this discussion of basic hygiene with a little socio-cultural lesson.  Last week, my fellow trainees and I were invited to attend une fête du mariage (a wedding party ) dans le quartier (in our neighborhood ).  My fellow trainee, Kelsey ,and I got decked out in our new complets (traditional and colorful two-piece dresses) and were accompanied by our classmates, Chris and Phil who picked us up at Keley’s host-family’s house where lots of pictures were taken, frighteningly reminiscent of prom-night.  The bride is a friend of Kelsey’s host-sister and her family had been involved in party preparation for days leading up to the event.  The wedding itself took place at the mosque next to my house earlier in the day and neither the bride or groom where present.  Apparently, this is common in Muslim weddings.  The Marabou and male congregation are joined by the parents of the bride and the parents of the groom to seal the deal and pray for the new couple.  Afterwards, a party for the bride is held at the bride’s parents house with only their friends, family, and neighbors.  When we arrived, we were introduced by the family as “the American delegation”, which amused us all.  The groom was nowhere to be found (also common) and, in fact, is not even due to come pick up his new bride for another two weeks, once Ramadan has ended.  The bride’s fête was a quiet affair, no music or dancing (also because of Ramadan) and was centered around having pictures taken with the bride and everyone breaking fast together.  We ate dates and beignets (little donut holes), drank coffee and ginger juice, and shared platters of chicken and onions.  Large mats where spread out on the sandy soil for all of the attendees (with the exception of the American delegation) to pray together, which was an impressive site.  We’ve been invited back to the official reception (where the groom will finally make an appearance) on September 18th.  This is when the husband comes to claim his wife and pay “le dot” (his dowry).  According to our teacher Sakhir, it can sometimes take a year or more for a husband to gather the money/gifts needed to claim his wife and/or to make proper accommodations at his family’s home for her and, until that time, they live apart. It’s a very rare occasion that a husband doesn’t bring his wife home to live with his family and for their children not to be raised there.  Because of this, and because polygamy is legal and common here, Senegalese households can get extremely large, sometimes 30-40 people all living together in a family compound.   I’ll save the topic of polygamy for another blog entry.

The American Delegation

The womenfolk at the wedding party

List of Vaccines Received to Live in Senegal:
  • Polio
  • Mumps/Measles Rubella
  • Yellow Fever
  • Typhoid
  • Meningistis
  • Rabies x 3
  • Hepititis A x 2
  • Hepititis B x 2
  • Flu/Swine Flu
  • Daily Malaria prophylaxis

1 comment:

  1. April, you look stunning in your complet! Thank you for balancing the scatological with the reverent. You are on an immensely interesting cultural journey, and I appreciate how much of that you are willing to share. You are a true adventuress and a fine writer.