Tuesday, October 20, 2009

And So It Begins…

October 19, 2009

My two year service as a Peace Corps volunteer. Last night, I did not sleep. It was probably the first time I haven’t slept due to anxiety in Senegal instead of heat, I’m usually so exhausted I just collapse at the end of the day. Leaving the center aka cocoon of safety, my friends, and especially Tamar seemed like a completely daunting task that was due many tears. One of my goals during PC is to not cry as much as I usually do in the States, so far it’s been a total fail, but today I really impressed myself and held it together.

This morning, Emily and I, my urban agriculture counterpart packed all of our stuff up into a PC LandRover and met all the important political people we needed to introduce ourselves to and then we dropped Emily off, and finally it was my turn. Leaving Emily was hard because she was obviously a little frazzled and I was really nervous for myself. When we arrived at my house we discovered that my room wasn’t ready (my older sister was still living in it) and that my mom was gone because she was at a baptism for her baby. Wtf? Yes, that’s right her baby. I’m still very confused on this more later…

So my first few hours were spent helping my sisters clean and trying to remember the names of the constant flow of people moving through the house. I finally forced my brother to sit down with me and create a family tree. While this was helpful, it really didn’t explain everything because according to him everyone is family aka brothers and sisters in Senegal and he wasn’t making distinction between blood relatives like we would in the states. Here’s the run down:

Ousmane (Dad): I was forwarned by the volunteer before me that he’s a man of few words and a little intimidating so I was nervous to meet him when he got home from work. He works in Dakar and commutes there every day in his truck. Therefore, I’m hoping to never take public transportation to Dakar and hitch a ride with dear old dad, but I digress. When he came home from work he barely acknowledged me and went to take a shower. I had dinner with him and the eldest son and he did try and converse with me which was nice. He was pleased I speak French and potentially even slightly impressed with my terrible Wolof. I’m not planning on much interaction with him, but I think our relationship will be fine.

Astou (Mother): So apparently she just had a baby seven days ago because it’s baptism was today. When I met her briefly several weeks ago I couldn’t tell she was pregnant, but pregnancy is very taboo here in Senegal and women are extremely adept at hiding their baby bumps. Pregnancy is never directly discussed and people may talk around pregnancy by telling a woman she’s eating too much and getting fat. If someone told that to an American pregnant woman they would get a beating. Anyway, she’s definitely lactating because I saw her breastfeeding her three year old grandson although I haven’t seen or heard this mysterious baby yet. I’m very confused. But, my mom is AWESOME. She’s super nice and really talkative and is very encouraging, which isn’t very Senegalese. I gave her some cookies my mom sent me from the States and she was so happy and I just really like her.

Cheikh (Brother): He’s the oldest and lives in Spain. I don’t know anything about him.

Zaibata (Brother): He’s an electrician and also owns a cyber café. He’s really nice and nailed my mosquito net up for me. I like him a lot, but he seems to be the quietest sibling so I haven’t spoken with him too much.

Mamy (Sister): This is the girl I kicked out of her room, but she’s really nice and doesn’t seem upset. She plays basketball at an academy here in Thies and her biceps are as big as my thighs. She’s an Amazon. She also likes to hold my hand as she leads me around and told me I spoke good French so she’s awesome in my book. I think they boys are going back to University in Dakar soon, but Mamy will be staying at the house.

Bocar aka Petit (Brother): This is the brother I’ve spoken with the most. He had a friend from University over this afternoon who is an English major and speaks great English. Petit also speaks good English which is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because he can explain things to me and since he’s getting a degree in American history and culture he’s interested in me and wants my help and it’s a curse because I have to be careful what I say on the phone and I don’t want to fall back on English; I want to fall back on French. It’s also a curse because I was trying to take a nap this afternoon and he woke up to ask me to translate words from French to English for his friend’s English test. He’s cool though and he wants to go clubbing. I can only imagine what that would be like.

Ahmed (Brother): Kind of confused about who this is.

Ahmed (Grandson): He’s three and I think he’s Cheikh’s son. I believe his mom is Khady who also lives in the house. He’s really cute and he’s teaching me French songs he’s learning at school.

Jeenaba and Jeenaba: Yes, and my name is Jeenaba so there are three of us in the house. The other Jeenabas are like maids in the house, but according to Petit who was the one helping me with the family tree they are family. Petit says everyone in the house is family, but not everyone is related and the two Jeenabas have to do all the house work and the cooking. They are clearly not equals, but they are both really fun and nice and want to teach me how to cook Senegalese food which will be fun.

That’s a rundown of the family for now. I’m sure half of this is wrong and I will learn a lot more in the coming days. I want to go back to the differences between my home stay and this house. List form may be easiest.

1. EVERYTHING IS TILED!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The main house has ceramic tiles and they are all level and none of them are broken. It’s pretty amazing. Our entire courtyard and my bungalow are also completely tiled in mosaics. It’s really nice and much cleaner and I’m hoping it will be cooler too. I’m sure I’m be spending some nights on the cool floor during the hot summer months.
2. We have furniture. In the vil we either sat on woven plastic mats outside or foam mats inside. We had one chair and the only other furniture were some beds and a couple of dressers. My house here has chairs, couches, and tables! Tonight at dinner I sat in a chair at a table and used a fork and a knife! I didn’t even though people did that here. My family in the vil didn’t have forks.
3. DINNER = AMAZING. Tonight I had lamb, potatoes, and onions and it was delicious. The lamb was actually meat not just fat that made me want to gag. I didn’t know food like this existed. It’s better than the food at the center. For lunch we had egg sandwiches. To put this in perspective, at the market one egg is 100CFA and a loaf of bread is 150CFA. In the vil when we had eggs my sister would make 4-5 eggs for 7 people. Today for lunch, me and four other women probably ate 12-15 eggs. This was earth shattering for me. I can’t even begin to describe how good it tasted especially since Jeenaba used salt and pepper!
4. Eggs. This gets me to something I do not like. We have animals and I hate animals. Gross. We have chickens which means we have eggs all the time which is amazing. We also have sheep which means I have a headache and I want to kill all the sheep and I’ve been here for 12 hours. Boo. I guess I’ll get used to it and fresh meat and eggs are probably worth it. We also have pigeons, which I don’t understand. I hate birds. They’re dirty
5. I still have bucket bath and a squat toilet, but they are tiled, clean, and really nice.
6. I have a double bed.
7. I have a dresser. Putting my clothes in a dresser today was a kin to a religious experience. I thought I was going to cry from joy. It was great.
8. We have satellite TV although we’ve only watched local channels.

I think those are the most important highlights. It was a good day and the current PCVs were right; today was much easier than my first day in the vil. Obviously, this house is much nicer, but my language skills and cultural understanding are also much greater. I know that this isn’t going to be easy, but right now this is an ideal situation and one I can definitely live with for two years. This is also a ridiculously long blog post so I will put you all out of your misery and call it a night.

Wish me luck falling asleep. I have the damn sheep 10 feet away from me!


  1. WOW! You've fallen into the lap of luxury! Good for you. I thought you were going to be living alone in an apartment and having to fend for yourself entirely. I'm happy for you. Enjoy the sheep. You may get used to their bleeting, but I doubt it. (I bet the pigeons are for eating)

  2. Does your address change now that you are no longer a PCT?

  3. Yes, honey, pigeon is the other white meat!

  4. In good Chicago fashion, please chase the pigeons.

    In Lansing, MI news...a peregrine falcon took down a pigeon on the building across from ours. The entire office watched the hawk kill the pigeon. It's state budget time and the hawk/pigeon fight is basically how the budget talks are going.

  5. Wow Alyssa, the pictures and video are awesome. We are all very proud of you. Ben is very interested in the drums, are they bowls or gourds? They sound great. We can't wait to read about what comes next.