Saturday, November 6, 2010

Settling in

Flower outside my window
Now that my agenda is not packed full of daily training courses and Peace Corps-sponsored activities, it’s all starting to feel a bit real.  The days seem longer and hotter and without other Toubabs around, I have to admit, it’s downright lonely at times.  My compound welcomes many neighbors and eco-village members throughout the day and we usually serve 8-10 people lunch, so it’s not that there aren’t people around; I’m just still struggling to communicate with them.  I spend a few hours a week at my tutor’s house conversing in French, but most people around me prefer to speak Wolof.  I know several PCVs who drew the line in the sand at the beginning of their service and refused to learn two languages while they were here, choosing to only communicate with people who would speak French to them.  This seems very tempting, but also pretty isolating, so it’s become clear that I need to commit to learning them both. Two other PCVs who live within a 2 hours drive will be joining me and a Peace Corps language teacher for a Wolof training session next week. Hopefully, that will strengthen my foundation and help me understand the people around me a bit more.

My pen pals at Peabody
That being said, I received my first letter from my French pen pal class in Charlottesville.  I’m participating the World Wise Schools Correspondence Match Program with my friend Maryline and her 6th - 8th  grade French classes at The Peabody School for Intellectually Advanced Children.  Thirteen kids wrote me a short description of themselves and each asked a question about the Senegalese people and their culture to which I’ll respond in my next letter back to them.  We’ve scheduled a Skype call later in the month so Khady and I can talk with them on-line.

Since I’ve not begun any kind of structured, regularly-scheduled work yet, my days are filled with rather mundane things, like reading, cleaning my room, and drinking tea with the neighbors.  I did two weeks worth of laundry this week and got a big ol' blister on my thumb from wringing my clothes out--that was fun.  I also tried to electrocute myself.  I bought this water heater coil thing that plugs into the wall and heats up a cup of water.  I stuck it in my stainless steel French press coffee maker and then, like an idiot, after about 2 minutes stuck my finger in the water to see if it was hot.  I was thrown up against the wall with a powerful jolt and water (yes, it was hot) spilled everywhere. I thought to myself, "well that was just stupid", water--in metal container--with a submerged electrical device, duh! Of course I got shocked.  Not to be defeated, I got up, brushed and dried myself off, and tried again, this time using a durable plastic coffee cup.  When the water started to rumble, I stuck my finger in it again (yes, I really did) and BAM, against the wall I went a second time.  So clearly, I'm thinking, it wasn't the metal vessel that caused the problem, and a few more brain cells died.  I'm beginning to wonder what anyone here is actually going to learn from me.

Thankfully, now that November is here, there’s s finally a touch of coolness in the morning air (that lasts for about an hour or two), so I’ve started doing a 20-min yoga pod cast routine every morning.  That’s been really good for me, as I haven’t had much exercise since I arrived in Senegal and it helps clear my mind and ground me.  The day quickly warms up after that; it’s been well-over 100 degrees everyday since I arrived in Diourbel.  Several times a week, I take a mid-morning walk to the Post Office to see if anyone loves me (hint hint) and along the way, I usually treat myself to a hard-boiled egg that the bean sandwich lady at the train station sells.  After that, I wander aimless through the market trying very hard to embrace my new surroundings but am quickly turned off by all of the vendors who push their wares on me.  The market is not really a place for window-shopping.  You've got to know what you want, where to get it, and get in and out of there fast.

À la Gare (at the train station)
À la Poste (at the Post Office)

My host mother went to visit her sister in Saint Louis this week, so I got to experiment a bit with cooking.  I found some no-boil lasagna noodles in a Toubab store in Kaolak last week when I traveled there for a meeting and decided to try making lasagna in our solar oven.  This was no easy task and it ended up costing me about $20 in ingredients (which is a fortune here).  I have to say, it turned out pretty tasty.  I’d made an entire pan of it and only Ibou and I were around for dinner that night, so now I’m dealing with the leftovers, which is a little tricky because even though we have a refrigerator, the electricity goes out for hours on a daily basis.  The next night I made Salad Niçoise, which also cost a pretty penny, but was equally impressive.  Trying to eat like an American here is not cheap, nor is it easy.  Cooking in Senegal is like cooking while car camping.  You’ve got pots and pans at your disposal, but have to cook everything over a one-burner propane tank in the sandy courtyard, with limited prep station room (I used plastic chairs as my counter tops), and running water but no sink.  People are so in the habit of eating a shared communal platter and welcoming anyone who shows up at their door to eat with them that I was caught off-guard the second night I cooked when two work-mates of my Ibou’s appeared after I’d already plated up two lovely salads.  The invitation I extended for them to join us seemed a little insincere, which I guess it was.  Why hadn’t they shown up the night before when I had a pan full of lasagna?  I couldn't even pull that out for the fridge to heat it up them because our only oven is the solar oven and it was already past dark.. 

My prep station
Assembling the lasagna in the sand

The result of leaning over the saucepan
Falou helping me with the oven
The finished product.

My salad Niçoise

On Halloween, my Ancienne (the PCV whose site I took over) was here helping us with the Solar Oven Marketing workshop, so she and I went to the market in search of pumpkins or squash to carve.  Unfortunately, the squash that is served in Thiéboudienne this time of year is usually sold in individual pre-cut chunks and we couldn’t find a whole one, so we opted for a couple of watermelons and carved those instead.  We explained the concept of Halloween to the workshop participants and they all encouraged us to eat a lot that day, since holidays here are often centered around feasting.

Eco-villagers admiring the Jack-O-Melon

Khady convincing her niece not to be scared

Everyone here is gearing up for the next big holiday, Tabaski, known across the Muslim world as Eid al-Adha (“Festival of Sacrafice”).  According to my Cross Cultural Journal, “Tabaski commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ishmael in obedience to God.  At the last minute, God provided a ram to be sacrificed instead, in reward for Ibrahim’s commitment.  In commemoration of this event, Muslims around the world celebrate by slaughtering a ram (or goat, cow, etc. depending on the family’s wealth), dividing it into shares, and celebrating with family and friends.  Tabaski occurs approximately two months and ten days after Korite, the end of Ramaden.”

So, in anticipation of this big day, Khady bought two rams last week.  They’re tied up in our kitchen area (because someone thought that was hygienic!) just on the other side of my patio wall.  As one would expect of any animal-loving American, I’ve grown quite fond of them.  They’re tied with short ropes to poles that they keep wrapping themselves around, so I listen for their cries of “Hey, I just wrapped myself around the pole again” and go to their aid.  Aside from their short ropes, they’re treated well by the family.  They’re fed twice a day and are given regular baths.  Last night, I had vegetable scraps from my salad-making and tossed these into their feed tray (the wheelbarrow) thinking I was doing them a favor.  I think one of the rams got a piece of potato skin stuck in its throat as it coughed and make choking noises periodically throughout the night.  It would be just like me to unintentionally kill the Tabaski ram with a touch of kindness.  Thankfully, today, he seems a lot better.
This is our kitchen area.  Note the propane cook stove (red).

My new friends

My tutor's kid with his kid.


  1. That lasagna looks DELICIOUS! It's great to see what you are up to, April. Senegal looks amazing.
    Greetings from the other side!
    :) Alexis

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