Sunday, September 6, 2009

Let’s Go Blue

September 5, 2009

The first Michigan game doesn’t kick off for another hour, but I’ve been wearing my maize and blue all day… Africa style. I look pretty good right?

After the flurry of activity that was yesterday, today was much quieter. We only had class in the morning because all the language instructors returned to Thies this afternoon and will stay there tomorrow as well as we trainees remain in the village to fend for ourselves and to try and fill our time with meaningful activities. My first activity after class was a lunch of mohampsa, which is a delicacy/ hated lunch of many of my classmates (especially Tamar) that I had never had the pleasure of eating until today. It’s pretty much sour milk with millet balls. Delicious. Is the milk pasteurized? No. Does it contain half a kilo of sugar? Of course, this is Senegal. Needless to say, it was neither filling nor my favorite lunch. It was a change up from my usual lunch though, which is a fried fish with fries. I know that Alena was terrified of a full fish that she received as a dinner on her lovely European vacation this summer. Jackie had to decapitate it for her. Alena, I want you to come to Africa so please discontinue reading…
I eat a whole fried fish with my fingers. I have to debone it/ spit the bones out. It’s fried almost beyond recognition and salted to the umpteenth degree and I get some fried potatoes with it. Don’t worry, I’m taking vitamins.

Without the prospect of filling my afternoon hours with class, I went to the market with two of the boys in my class. Walking through the market means being constantly bombarded with smells (bad ones), people (screaming toubab), and side stepping horses, their shit, and miscellaneous pools of murky liquid. It’s a site to be sure. Also, it’s impossible for three toubabs to walk into a stall and not have a 15 minute conversation. Question of the moment: Are you fasting for Ramadan? To which we answer no and everyone freaks out and cannot understand why we aren’t fasting. Sometimes people will understand after we explain that we are Americans and Christians, but often times they just tell you to fast tomorrow and it will be ok. The boys did some shopping and I just talked to people, practicing my burgeoning Wolof skills. It’s actually pretty amazing the level of conversation I can carry on and as I practice the fluidity of my speech is getting a lot better. I was going to hang out at Byron’s/ Franklin’s (I used Franklin once and now my mom can’t remember his real name) house and watch the other boy, Brian, attempt to make fudge on a propane tank, but it looked like it was going to rain and weather dictates life here so I decided to go home. Obviously it didn’t rain.

At home faced with impending boredom and hours before I could claim I was tired and retreat to my room, I decided to help my mom pick rocks out of our rice. Interestingly enough Senegal is a big rice produced, but the Senegalese don’t eat their own rice they export all of it and import in everything they eat. It is possible to buy nice rice that doesn’t have stones, but it’s more expensive and my family is poor so we have to sift through our rice for stones. Luckily, this tedious task allowed me to ask my mom and prices of various foodstuffs in the market. I’ve been wondering since when I get to site I want to cook dinner for myself so I don’t have to eat ceebu jenn (incredibly over cooked fish and rice with, if I’m lucky, some sort of vegetable) every night. We were going through prices and I took it as an opportunity to talk about how Americans’ diets differ from the Senegales’. She found it absurd that potatoes are affordable/ cheaper than rice and the same goes for meat and sea food. I explained that Michigan is far from the ocean, but we get lots of rain so we have lots of fields which grow fruits and vegetables (including potatoes) and also allow cows to graze. This pretty much blew her mind. Then she wanted to know how much a kilo of rice or meat would cost in the US. I had a difficult time explaining the cost differences. How could she understand that I wouldn’t think twice about spending more than what they would in a month on drinks for my friends at Rick’s? Sometimes it just hits you that I’m in Africa. It’s impossible to explain how different the US is to my family here and it’s impossible to describe for you at home what Africa is like. Please come so I can show you.

So, the last time I was at the Cyber (what internet cafes are called here) I got some more questions to answer, which I will now since I have time/ I know my computer battery will make it back to Thies!

My Aunt Diane wanted to know about the Senegalese education system. This will have to be a many part answer since I’m still trying to figure it all out. Children are mandated to go to public school. How many years one is supposed to go to school ranges from 5-7, but some people don’t go at all. Boys can also go to religious Koranic schools, which seems to be a waste of time because then they never learn to read the non-Arabic alphabet/ learn no skills except praying. All the children in my family attend school. While in the US your age pretty much corresponds to a grade level that’s not so here and I have a brother and sister in the same year of high school. The system is also incredibly corrupt. It’s very difficult for a middle-class not to mention a poor child to pass the BAC (the French/ Senegalese SAT) which one has to pass to attend college. It’s not about the score like in the US. It’s pretty much pass/ fail. Also, you cannot attend university if you don’t pass the BAC before you turn 23. After 23 you’re screwed. No one in my family has attended college. My dad only went through middle school and I’m pretty sure my mom is illiterate and she does not speak French. More to come on education as I learn more about the system…

Ana wanted to know about the rampant goat population. And yes, they are rampant. Goats let out of their family’s compounds in the morning to ravage whatever grass exists in the area. They aren’t marked in any way and just go home at night to their sheds. They are literally everywhere as is their piss and poop. Lovely. The agriculture sector of the Peace Corps does not deal with animals. There are three types of volunteers training for agriculture with me. Urban volunteers who work with city dwellers to create small family gardens. They have an uphill battle since Senegalese people hate vegetables. They will eat a kilo of sugar per day, but ask they to eat a leaf of lettuce and you’re screwed. Then there are sustainable agriculture volunteers… and they sustain things? Yeah sorry, don’t really understand what they do. Check the PC website. And then agroforestry volunteers who plant trees. We are actually all supposed to learn to plant trees. Me planting trees? I can try. Will they live? Probably not. I want to asphalt my yard when I have a house. Too much maintenance.

I hope that was a valid attempt at starting to answer your questions. I still have a lot of questions about what goes on here as well. OMG it’s only 7pm. I’m probably going to die of boredom. Maybe I’ll go sort out some more rocks from rice in my Michigan outfit that no one here appreciates!

Tip back a nice couple of COLD ones for me and GO BLUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  1. I am a Senegalese living in the US who have the (mis?)fortune to be married to someone from Michigan. You can take a Michigander from Michigan, but no matter how hard you try you can never take Michigan out of them. I just think the color blue should be banned altogether.
    Enjoy your trip in Jolof!

  2. Are all you regular Wolverine readers going to allow Mr. Senegal to get away with that post????

  3. So of course when you told me to stop reading about your fish feast I was even more enticed. I decided that as long as you promise to bite all of the bones out of my fish I promise I will still come visit. :D

    While my life has not been nearly as culturally crazy as yours (and I tell my coworkers about my 'friend in Africa' all the time!) it has been extremely hectic - so kind of the opposite. I am currently in my hotel room in CT where I will be every week through November and I am still getting used to this working 40+ hours a week deal on top of that, but I PROMISE I will write a nice long email this weekend!

    Love and miss you lots!

  4. Thanks for the answer! I'll have to look it up but I assume the sustainability people mostly focus on alternative techniques to slash and burn farming (cause people still do that).
    I don't know about Michigan but Carolina won... I didn't watch because I was 3 floors underground in the library trying to figure out the average Molality of glucose in cellular solution and remebering why I hate bio chemistry.
    I have to ask... did the fudge work out?