Thursday, May 19, 2011

the past few months

I’m gonna make this one simple.
April: Mid service medical check-up in Dakar, and a week of fun. Did a lot of eating (French Cultural Center cheeseburgers…La Piazza gourmet pizza…Nice Cream ice cream, etc), a little exploring, and a lot of relaxing. A great week, minus my friends phone getting stolen on a boat ride over to Ngor Island for a day trip (see pics on FB).
May: Trekked down to Kolda for the greatly anticipated Cinco de Drinko party with some buds (Heather and Camille). Enjoyed the abundance of mangos from the area (where mango season starts way earlier than the North), along with some roasted pig, guacamole, beans/rice, and home made tortillas. And let’s not forget fresh baked bagels in the morning. We spent the following days in a movie watching marathon on the living room floor, putting the projector to good use as a big screen. Some quality time was spent with friends we don’t often get to hang out with!
Our travel back to the North turned out to be quite a fiasco, as are most of my travel experiences here. The 2nd leg of the trip, day 2 from Tamba to Ourossougi, took us 28 hours instead of the usual 10. After switching cars for the 3rd time, our driver finally decided he’d gone far enough for the night and stopped about 50 kilometers from our destination to spend the night. We were about to sleep in the car when the aprenti (guy that collects money for tickets) invited us to sleep at his house along with the one other passenger that got stranded with us. The next morning we hopped onto our 4th car and finally made it back to the apartment in Ourossougi…where I passed out for several more hours under the fan. At least I’ve added one more crazy experience to my endless list of travel disasters (including but not limited to: being puked on, sat on, felt up, squished by sweaty armpits, smacked in the face by a giant pink elephant balloon, and asked to marry countless times).
This Week: Helped with installing the new kids to their villages with Tidiane, our regional coordinator. Installing involves visiting all the necessary government services to introduce the new volunteers, such as the police, education inspectors office, and local government facilities. Then we bring all of their belongings to their houses, where usually a large group (or the entire village) is waiting to welcome them to their new homes. The first install happened around lunch time, so we lingered to have lunch and relax some. Others were basically us unloading the volunteers’ belongings, greeting the family, and then driving away as the newbie watches the truck fade into the distance with wide nervous eyes. One site, a village that has never had a volunteer before, had what looked like the entire population inside her compound and spilling into the street just to welcome her and get a glimpse of the new Toubab (white person) that’s going to live there for the next two years. It was quite a grand arrival, with lots of dancing and shaking of sweaty hands. It was literally a mob of people and children that mostly pushed us around for a few minutes, until the volunteers belongings were unloaded and then Tidiane anthed I quickly drove away, leaving the poor girl in the middle of about 200 riled up villagers. She took it all in stride, and I was confident when we left she could handle the attention and everything on her own.

The whole 3 days made me think back on my install, exactly one year ago. Our Country Director Chris Hederick installed my region, along with another APCD and our PCVL (peace corps volunteer leader) Casey. This year, it was only Tidiane and me. My arrival was much anticipated, and the school director (my work counterpart) had all the children lined up in a welcome line and singing a song to welcome me to the village. We had a short meeting at the school with about 50 villagers where I was introduced, and we were served cold sodas (very fancy). The install crew stayed at my house for lunch and a rest, so I fortunately wasn’t just unloaded and left within 10 minutes. The whole day was overwhelming and exhausting, when everyone finally left all I wanted to do was sleep. The kids we just helped install in the past few days all seemed to take the transition in stride, and I’m sure will do great in their villages.

Other than Dakar, Kolda, and installs, I’ve been relatively productive and able to finish my maternity room grant, a girls leadership camp grant, a latrine grant, and almost finish the scholarship process at the middle school. I’ve hardly had time to hang out in the village and be excruciatingly bored, like I usually am.
My family continues to be pretty chill, although the verbal abuse the subject the children to on a daily basis is a little bit stressful (even though I know it’s not as harsh as I think it is based on the cultural context, it’s still not nice at all!). My host mother sometimes says to the kids (literally translated), “fuck you, shut up, you’re stupid,” among other things. The crazy part is she’s the nicest lady ever! People are just really mean to the kids, I mean…they’re just kids after all, right? They don’t need any respect...! Fortunately there is no severe beating that happens in my house, but sometimes they do get smacked around. Last week my precious baby Fati got slammed to the ground by a huge goat that decided she was just the right height to head butt. Now if she ever does something they don’t want her to, they say, watch out, the ram is going to come hit you again!! Look out! He’s coming! The threat is enough to keep her from doing whatever or going anywhere. The threat they use for the 3 year old is that my counterpart, the school director, will come over to our house if he’s bad and hit him. The worst thing about that threat, although never true, is that this teacher will be the child’s first teacher in school in a few years….and he will hit them in class if they act out. Oh how I’m sure he’s looking forward to going to school now!

So tomorrow back to a long stretch in village until the next big adventure—the Fourth of July. I tried to go today, but the ticket guy at the garage refused to sell me a ticket to the car that was leaving immediately, insisting I sit in the completely empty car and wait for it to fill up. The ready car wasn’t going all the way to my destination, but I could easily switch cars where they stopped and get to my town much faster than waiting for the other car to fill with passengers. I got so completely furious at them that I stormed out of the garage and walked all the way back to the house, fully committed to never ever go back to the garage here again (this is the last of a long string of similar incidents). They also prevent any drivers passing through to pick up people on the road, because then the garage would lose its profit (they charge more for tickets than if you just get in a car on the road). So that leaves me with one solution to getting back to village: have Tidiane drive me a little ways out of town and drop me on the road to wait for a car, where the garage guys can’t prevent me from catching a passing car or refuse to sell me a ticket. Is that not absolutely insane that I cannot buy a ticket to wherever I want or catch public transportation at my free will without submitting to money eating a-holes that legally have no power over my actions? What they do is blatantly wrong, and they know it, as do many other Senegalese, but nothing gets done about it. There are no police to keep them in check, so they get away with treating people like shit. (And don’t even get me started on how the force passengers to seriously uncomfortable spots, and sometimes even dangerous situations- too many people in a car, and too much baggage piled high on top, in cars 20+ years old, driving like maniacs towards their next penny).

Ok, rant over. I am praying that tomorrow I will have better luck on the edge of town, and will be able to get a car back to my road town! Back to my home sweet home to spend some quality time with my fam and relax for a few days. See new pics on facebook of all the stuff I just mentioned!