October 7, 2009
Today’s events of note:
1. I still feel like I have been marooned in Death Valley. I have not stopped sweating since I left Thies.
2. I came back from my morning class and found my sisters slaving away over a hot fire. They told me we were have mafe for lunch which is a delicious rice, peanut, paste concoction and I was elated and said that I would get us some cold drinks. Unfortunately, I learned that mafe can be any type of sauce over rice and we did not have peanut variety for lunch. I was severely disappointed, but I still went and got us some Sprite. I told my sisters that it was a treat for us girls since it was so hot and we were cooking. They were definitely excited about getting some pop, but when I returned they had already set out enough glasses for everyone in the family and they poured the pop from the bottles in the glasses. My oldest sister only had a sip from the bottle because after doling it out for everyone else there wasn’t enough for her and she’s the one who does the vast majority of the house work. This was a powerful reminder for me that Senegal is a very communal society and that I need to be careful with my American idea and sense of individuality and ownership, but at the same time isn’t it sad that my sisters couldn’t have this one treat for themselves? They work so hard and then shared (through sense of duty or ignorance of personal property I don’t know) the littlest present I got for them. That would never happen back home, but pop isn’t a luxury item in the US either.
3. My afternoon class consisted of my class going to the chief of the quarter’s house to practice our Wolof. It was also an eye opening experience. This man is the head of his neighborhood and is looked to for advice and dispute resolution, but isn’t educated. I know that there are many politicians in the US who aren’t the brightest crayon in the box and who are not well traveled or very knowledgeable at all, but I was shocked by our discussion. He has only been to three cities in Senegal, has never been outside the country and doesn’t want to, and was shocked when we told him people don’t speak Wolof in the US. Would we, as Americans, be able to speak Wolof if it was widespread in the US? We were there for almost two hours and the vast majority of the time our discussion revolved around marriage! What else? The family wanted to know if we were married, why none of us are married, when we are going to marry a Senegalese person to take them back to the States, and how I expected to have many children if I don’t get started right now. Well, well. These types of situations usually end badly because I don’t have the language skills to thoroughly explain that I don’t need a husband to be successful, average families in the US don’t have a million children running around, and that at 22 I am not some old maid who is too completely undesirable to find a husband. The questions in and of themselves aren’t what’s frustrating. The frustrating part is the lack of give and take. I’m here sitting on mats, drinking tea, and speaking in Wolof, but a lot of people here are completely unwilling to accept that social mores are different in the US. Many people tell me that since I’m in Senegal now I should do as the Senegalese do aka immediately get married and take my new husband back to the states. I am interested in Senegalese cultural and I’m learning a lot, I just wish that there was a little more give and take, a little more interest in my culture and what I’m about.
4. After thoroughly rehashing this discussion with Tamar on our walk home, we made our way to her uncle the tailors house to see about our swearing in outfits. Yesterday we didn’t understand him and unfortunately today we did! He told us that in 2003 he received the Golden Scissor award which is a very prestigious award in Senegal for tailors who also design clothes. He told us this because Tamar and I had horrified looks on our faces as we pictured what we will be looking like when we swear in as official Peace Corps volunteers in front of the American Ambassador as well as everyone watching Senegalese TV that night. We wanted traditional Senegalese complets with traditional embroidery. Amadou, the tailor, told us he is a visionary and wants to make us what will be hot in 2010 not 2009. Sheer terror can only describe how I’m feeling. While we wanted embroidery, he took our HUGE rhinestones to bedeck our traditional Senegalese clothes. And since he’s Tamar’s family we couldn’t flee in horror and find another terror so we’re pretty much stuck with whatever creation comes out of his atelier. He did make my skirt and dress which were awesome, but huge rhinestones are making me a little uneasy. The only possible upside is that the TV lights will reflect off of my rhinestone encrusted outfit and obscure my face from view…
Yeah, it was an interesting day to say the least. There is a slight breeze about so I’m going to move my bed directly in front of the window to try and cash in on any reprieve from the heat.
Staying Sweaty in Senegal,
Messy, but Warm
8 months ago