Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ladies Who Lunch

Now that Khady (my host-mom) has returned to work in France, I’m eating lunch with the neighbors down the road.  For what amounts to about a dollar a day, I have my very own  place at the bowl and a spoon reserved just for me.  Senegalese families are all about welcoming people into their homes and being hospitable, but they’re also keen on earning a few extra CFAs whenever they can, so this is a win-win situation for everyone.  The head of the household is Awa Gueye.  She’s the president of one of the womens’ groups that works with Baol Environnement, the ecovillage with which I am partnered.  She’s also a Director of a school and a really smart lady.  Living with her are some of her children, her mother, her sister, her sister’s children, plus a few other random people whose relations I‘ve yet to figure out.  On any given day, there are about 20 of us gathered around the bowls.

Lunch is divided into two bowls, one for the males and one for the females.  Eating with the ladies is a pleasurable experience.  First of all, my ancienne, who also ate with this family, was a vegetarian so they’re in the habit of loading the bowl with vegetables which works in my favor.  Secondly, in a very motherly fashion, they all break off pieces of fish and vegetables with their fingers and toss them in my direction.  I just love that.  It seems like such a caring gesture.  Eating with this family  is a nice break in the day for me.  I often go a little early to hang out with them.  It’s a good way to pick up new phrases in Wolof and to just feel like part of a family.

Adji-Fatou is Awa’s niece, she’s  11 years old and was the first to welcome me to the family.  She and my ancienne were close and she’s made it very clear to me that she wants to be my new best friend.  She speaks French well and has been quite helpful to me.  Her brother El-Hadji (both of these names are variations on the Arabic word for the great pilgrimage to Mecca that is expected of all good Muslims), spent the first 5 years of his life in a hospital, where he underwent 4 surgeries for his cleft lip and palate.  He and his mom, Maram (Awa’s younger sister), actually lived at the hospital all of those years while other family members cared for the other children.  Among those other children are the twins, Assan and Houseinou, who look to be about 12 or 13 and were both born with malformed limbs.  This is fairly common in Senegal but these two seem to be much better off than the folks I see crawling down the street with cardboard strapped to their knees because they can’t walk.  That’s a terrible sight to behold.  Mané is the oldest of Maram’s children.  She’s 21 years old and a newlywed.  She and her husband were married 4 months ago, but she’s still living with her family while she finishes school.  I’ve heard tell that Awa was seen chasing her down the street with a stick when she said she was going to go to Touba to live with her husband.  Awa takes education very seriously and apparently, she got her point across.  Awa’s son Papis, and his young wife, Tabara, also live in the compound.  They have a one year old son named Cheikh.  Tabara, in her role as youngest wife living with family is responsible for cooking all of the meals.  She works really hard and doesn’t seem all that happy to me.  But then again, I doubt I’d be too happy if I were toting around a teething toddler on my back and cooking for 20 of my husbands relatives everyday.  Awa’s mother is a sweet old lady.  She’s an ever-present feature on the mat on the porch where we eat, seemingly leaving it only to roll out another mat to pray upon 5 times a day.  She sells frozen juice bags to the neighborhood children and is clearly a respected member of the family.  She wears lots of bracelets, a big smile, and even sports a couple of toe rings.

Awa Gueye at a training session in Oct

Maram Gueye with El-Hadi, Adji-Fatou and two other kids

The boys playing with make-shift drums (that's Assan in the green shorts)

Ladies Who Lunch (yes I'm the only one who eats with a spoon at this bowl.)

Yesterday, Mané took me to the market to buy materials for crochet and needlepoint projects.  She and the other women in the family spend many hours a day making tablecloths and bedspreads to sell with their womens’ group.  I just love working with my hands and was so I was excited to start learning this new craft.  What an amazing bounding experience this would be.  For projects like this, women buy fabric by the kilo (not by the meter), so when we got back to the compound we started ripping my kilo of fabric into manageable pieces.  I suggested that I start with a napkin set, thinking a smaller project would be easier to handle.  Mané started me off crocheting a border then handed the piece over to me to continue.  Ok, let me just say that I’ve been knitting for about 6 years now, but the apparently the skills don’t transfer.  The materials and hand movements may look the same, but let me tell you, they are not.  I was all thumbs.  It took me 4 hours to work my way around the edges of one napkin and the end product looks like some a 2nd grader did it (no offense to any 2nd graders out there).  The whole experience was so frustrating.  I broke the first crochet needle because my tension was too tight and I kept dropping stitches.  The worst part was that I couldn’t properly express my frustration in a language these ladies understood.  I thought my facial expressions, gasps of exasperation, and inappropriate swearing, would get the point across, but they just kept asking, “are you tired?”  I’m glad to report that today’s needlepoint went a lot better.
My finished border.  Ugh.
Whew! This was a lot easier and a lot faster.

Other news from the domestic front involves my new kitchen set-up.  Those of you who know me well, know that I love to cook.  Well, for past 5 months, I haven’t really done much of that.  At first, it was kind of a treat to have someone else cooking all of my meals for me, but after a while, I started missing that creative outlet.  My weekend at the beach over Christmas really enlivened my desire to start cooking again, so when I got back to site, I started addressing the issues in the kitchen that were standing in my way.  My host dad had been asking if he could unplug the refrigerator to save electricity.  I hadn’t been using it and it is really old and inefficient, not to mention the fact that each time I opened it, there were roaches crawling around on the inside.  I told him to go ahead and turn it off, but asked if he’d help me buy a new one on his next trip to Dakar.  We spent an entire Saturday back and forth on the phone and as he looked for second-hand mini-fridges for me, discussing features and negotiating prices with the dealers.  I’m so glad he dealt with that part for me.  He also had to deal with getting the one I finally purchased back to Diourbel on the top of a taxi.  While he was gone, I took “my new best friend”, Adji-Fatou, with me to town to get a new propane tank for the 4-burner stove, bought a few needed pots, pans, and utensils, and reorganized the room a bit.  By Monday evening, I had a fully functioning kitchen.  Now, my morning walks to town to run errands include a trip to the market where I buy stuff to make for dinner.  It’s all starting to fall into place now and I’m feeling better about what I’m eating.

My new refrigerator and organized shelves.

The "Pierre Cardin" cook stove.

Before I sign off, I’d like to draw your attention to the new pages I’ve added to this blog.  At the top of the page, you’ll now see new tabs entitled “My Spare Time”, “My Project Work”, and a revised “My Wish List”.  Take a look at these new pages to see what else I’ve been up to.  Also, if you sent me a package in the last two months and haven’t heard from me that I received it yet, you are in good company.  Remember, this a developing country and even government-run organizations like the post office are not run very efficiently.  One package I’d been waiting on for a month finally arrived today, so I’m hoping that others will follow.  I’ll be sure to let you know.

À bientôt mes amis,

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