First Week in Senegal
FROM CURT (Amidou Ndiaye in Senegal)
I sit on our bed with a fan about 12 “from my face. It is actually a beautiful day, clear and sunny, 96 degrees F. We have been so busy that this is the first time we have fired up the l’ordinateur.
Senegal is naturally beautiful when you get out of town. There are fantastic birds here. While at our “demyst” (as in demystification – a 4 day visit to a site where a Peace Corps Volunteer is already working), we were lucky. We were in this great village of 540 inhabitants and on the beach. We saw flamingos, pelicans and other smaller, but just as beautiful, birds. On the way down, driving through a reserve, we saw monkeys.
The cabs and buses are the funkiest I have ever seen, especially out in the rural regions where enforcement of inspections (or any other driving laws for that matter) are completely non-existent. Heading back to the training camp at the end of our demyst, our cab driver pulled over, got out and had another passenger take his seat – the seat intended for the driver – usually referred to as the driver’s seat. The driver got into the same seat, held the door about 12” open with his left hand and drove with his right. It was very energy efficient however, since we then had 8 adults in the 4 passenger cab – 4 in the front and 4 in back. He stopped twice to throw water on the engine and into the, leaking, radiator.
No kidding – the delivery truck/mini van convert we had taken in the same stretch earlier was more crowded. I stood and was unable to place both of my feet on the floor at the same time. It got so bad that Nicole and I rode up on the roof and watched the big African sky. With that move we turned a low point into a high point of our stay here so far.
The people are great – poor for the most part and extremely friendly. They, especially the youth, are linguistical geniuses. As we walk by small groups of people sitting in the shade, we must go through a verbal exchange of 6 to 8 Arabic, Wolof and sometimes French, salutations. It is quite nice. And the people really seem to appreciate the Western visitors starting it off in Arabic or Wolof. They don’t seem to like Georges Bush much here and as with all other countries except the US, they are familiar and current with US politics.
Living conditions are very basic. 90% plus of the housing is pretty rough. Even in Theis, the second biggest city in the country and where our training takes place, I would estimate that far more than half of the homes do not have indoor plumbing. Pigs and goats roam the unpaved streets. Electricity goes out often and when it does, so does the water. They must pump the water. There appears to be pretty good food availability and health in Theis – not as much in the rural areas.
We are going to try to find a small city, such as the one we believe we will be sent to (Joal Fadiouth) that is interested in becoming the first town in Senegal with a solid waste program. Trash all over the place is a problem in all the poor countries I have been to. But Senegal may be the worst.
Our training is pretty good. It is quite comprehensive (language, culture, religion, our security and health, history, politics, environment and our program – eco-tourism and small business development) and intense. Combined with the heat, it is hard to do much more than rest after we finish our homework. We are in a group of 40 volunteers. We aren’t quite the oldest. There is another married couple in their 60s but most are in their 20s, some in their thirties. The trainers are almost all Senegalese and they are incredible. If I can’t learn French from them, I am giving up.
Nicole and I are both in good health. Our intestines are operating about the same as they do in the US of A – which happens to be opposite of each other. This is about the longest I have ever lasted in a poor country without problems, so I am quite pleased. Nicole took my blood pressure this morning and got a good, low reading – 110/80. All in all, we are very pleased to be here and learning a tremendous amount.
FROM NICOLE (Yassin Ndiaye in Senegal)
Okay, now the real story (wait; let me brush off the huge hairy nine legged “foaming at the mouth” insect off my right leg). It’s hot, hot and hot! Just wait a minute and it will still be hot. Lucky us, we arrived during the hottest time in Senegal. Besides hot it is humid. So humid you can’t tell if it is sweat running off your back or just the moisture in the air. Of course, A/C is not a luxury to which we are exposed. We did buy a fan but then again the electricity is off as much as it is on. Besides the intense heat we get to deal -- on a minute by minute basis -- with huge, ugly and un-namable insects that seem to like eating white flesh over the people of Senegal. Sometimes you think that the sweat running down your back is lots of little insects crawling all over you. The giant bats that swerve right in front of your face are a healthy aspect for raising your daily blood pressure. Besides all the trash that we must dance over when we walk anywhere, le á pied experience est plus mieux que the taxis that drive at unprecedented speeds over streets that make Class 4 Vermont roads seem like recently paved highways. If your are not gasping from the fumes from the exhaust (the cars here make my 1989 rusted Honda Accord appear like a brand new BMW) then you may be passing out from the sauna like environment inside the cab.
I could go into detail about our toilet and bathing experiences but I will spare all TMI. However it is suffice to say that our upper legs muscles are getting quite strong thanks to the “hole in the ground” latrines we daily use and moving around while squatting to avoid being bitten by spiders/mosquitoes. I have even perfected the art of bucket bathing. But bathing really isn’t that important because as soon as you are finished the sweat pours out of your pores.
Sleep – well the Muslims in our neighborhood pray (it’s Ramadan) until 2:00 am and commence again at 5:30 am over loud speakers that reverberate throughout the houses. I am beginning to pray in Arabic in my sleep. I am not sure when the Senegalese actually sleep.
Training is six days a week from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm and they work us hard. I am learning Wolof in French. Half the time I am making nonsensical sentences that has our host family on the floor in stitches. Curt is in a special ed. French Class and his French causes even more laughter.
All in all, I have to say that I am having a great time, learning a tremendous amount and feel more alive than I have in awhile -- as everything is so new and different and we are constantly “expanding our horizons and paradigms.”
Our Host Family is wonderful – especially since they think that I am too thin. In Senegal the heavier a woman is the better. I fit right in with the Senegalese beauties.
Family is really important in Senegal. They think Americans are so cruel -- "for kicking their kids out of the house at 18 years of age." They are Muslim and it has been so interesting living with them during Ramadan which started 10 days ago and lasts for another 20 days. They fast from sunrise to sundown -- no water or food from basically 6:30 am until 7:00 pm. And it is incredibly hot in Senegal and they don't have air conditioning. The mother, called Aminta, is 48 years old and quite a character. We get along really well. She calls me her little sister and has given me the name Yassin Ndiaye. Curt is called Amidou Ndiaye. She has six children. The oldest son lives in Italy, the oldest daughter lives in Morroco with her husband. She has a daughter Colle who is 28 years old and owns a coiffure, the next is Mame Daro, she is 20 years old and is a senior in high school and is really, really bright. She speaks French, English, Wolof and Spanish. Her next oldest is a boy Vieux who is 16 years old and is very funny and then there is Farma she is 14 years old. Aminta's first husband died 10 years ago. She is remarried but the second wife. We don't see her husband that often as he is often at the home of the first wife. Many of the men in Senegal have 2, 3 or 4 wives. The man is, at least at the surface, the one with the power. The women work incredibly hard and the men "barely at all." They are amazed when Curt (Amidou) trys to help with the housework. The son sometimes lifts a finger but basically his sisters do everything --- cook, clean, all the housework. There is tremendous respect for the parents in Senegalese culture. The kids (mostly the girls) do most of the work around the house while the parents seem to order them around.
Besides the giant bats, hairy spiders and other incredibly large insects and the incredible poverty and very tough living conditions, the intense heat and the constant stares because of our whiteness and being called "twobob" where ever we go, we are really glad to be here experiencing and living in such a completely different culture and learning so much about ourselves and our own culture. I really love our host family and almost every night have long conversations (in French) with them about so many interesting topics. Recently we taught them how to play "Guess the Leader" and when it was my turn to start they all began laughing and figured out right away it was me because as they said " a black person would never do what I did." We are having much fun with our family. They have an incredible sense of humor and are always laughing at everything. We are learning a lot from them.
Well that's all for now. Our second edition will be out soon.
Amidou and Yassin