Monday, December 20, 2010

Left Handed Shake

Never ever, ever use your left hand to greet someone, hand someone something, or eat with. The left hand is dirty as it's used as a toilet instrument and is associated with bad spirits and bad karma. That is, never use your left hand unless you're going on a trip. Today was the day I picked to say all of my goodbyes. All of my close friends and work partners know that I'm going home for the holidays. I was a little unsure of telling people about my trip to the infamous and often dreamed about America, but am so happy that I did tell people. Instead of requesting extravagant gifts and talking about how much better life is in the US or how much better life is here in Senegal, all of my friends and my Senegalese family seems genuinely happy and excited for me... and that's already making it easier to think about coming back. Everyone is counting the minutes with me and is excited for me to see my family, friends, and boyfriend. It's making me even more excited (if that's physically possible and if I could use the word excited more times).

First Stop: Post Office
I love getting packages, but half the fun of getting the package is my friends at the post office. They are very interesting people and bored at their jobs so incredibly patient with me and we have really good discussions about culture and Senegalese society that I would be nervous to breach with other people. Last week I had told them that I would swing by Monday morning to say goodbye. When I walked in they had a furno (very hard to explain, but a metal, Y-shaped, three-dimensional structure that holds a fire), putting aside the fact that they had a lit fire inside a government building, they were roasting peanuts so I could take them to my family in America. Add a pound of peanuts to the luggage total... we're going to keep adding.

Second Stop: Madame Ly
I had only seen Madame Ly once and rather briefly since the Expo so I knew that I was in for a long visit. She launched right in on stroking my ego about how great the Expo was. She's already been back to Dakar to buy more beads and string for her jewelry because she almost sold out. I can't tell you how ridiculous that statement is, ask Katherine. Madame Ly's inventory is insane and she brings it everywhere with her. In Dakar she bought really nice beads and has already started some new designs, which to my eye, look much, much better and higher quality. Woops... add another five necklaces to my baggage. Then add another one that's a gift for my mom. Speaking of gifts for my mom I have a TON of those because everyone is telling me I get my kindness from my mom so they want to give her gifts. They tell me I get my intelligence from my dad, but they don't want to give my dad any gifts! Don't feel too badly dad, no one wanted to give me gifts either... only mom.

Once Samba, Mme Ly's husband/ Dioss' dad, hears my voice aka broken Wolof he emerges from the house and has to tell me how amazing the Expo is and what a cash influx means to his family. It was really humbling. Then he went on a tangent about how we should think about building a Senegalese cultural center for artists. He also wanted to give my mom a present so I have a fairly large canvas that I need to roll up and put in my suitcase. Add that on.

Then Madame Ly gave me another reason to be happy about coming back to Senegal. She said that the leather worker from Mboro called her earlier in the day to have her thank me for the Expo. She said that he couldn't believe how much he sold, the people he met, contacts made, and ideas he got from the Expo. He's angry at himself that he didn't listen to his PCV and bring more things... even though he sold 1,000 USD in goods. He also extended any and all help to Mme. Ly in regards to her role as president of the artisan association. Madame Ly said he refused to call her anything other than Madame President! It's really exciting (there's that word again) that the artisans are interested in the association and showing so much initiative on their own!

Finally, after several attempts to leave Madame Ly's house I convinced them that I absolutely had to go because I still needed to visit Dioss. At this point they told me that they wanted to perform a gri-gri for me. Usually a gri-gri is a prayer, written in Arabic, sewn in a leather pouch, and worn as a piece of jewelry to protect against evil spirits and to help travelers. Apparently, a gri-gri can also be a simple prayer accompanied with writing on the ground. After shaking Samba's and Madame Ly's left hands, you shake with your left hand because it's an improper farewell which means that you must return to do the whole thing over again properly, I stepped with my right foot over this prayer and out the door. Now I'm blessed and will have safe travels. Here's to hoping!

Third Stop: Dioss and the Boy Posse
Dioss is also thrilled about the Expo. I hung out with him all morning at the mayor's office because a French NGO who sent some students here (for only twenty days) were showing a video of what they did and Dioss was a star interviewee. While the ceremony was unbelievably boring apart from the video, I did get to talk to Dioss a lot about the Expo and how we're going to really step everything up to the next level once I get back. While I thought that the mayor's office was going to be our goodbye, but he asked if I would come by his house this afternoon to pick up some presents.

OMG more presents, save me! When I arrive Dioss is having a member of the boy posse clean his tennis shoes while he's wearing them. Patron. He also has already made me up a nice little packet of what I think are cards, but I'm unsure, and they are a thank you to my Aunt's class for all of the art supplies. So nice. And without telling me, which is very unlike Dioss, he has already set up more ateliers in January with the art supplies. He wants to do classes for the local neighborhood kids at his house! I think it's going to be pretty cool! I thought the package was it and thought it was a very, very nice gesture, but there was more to come.

Gifts are a very big deal in Senegal and not accepting a gift or even demurring a little bit, which would be acceptable and almost required in the US, is rude here. Dioss told me to chose two, read it TWO, glass paintings for my mom. What!?!?!? Not only is this a huge gift, but he wants me to lug a glass painting across the Atlantic. Fortunately, I convinced him that my bags weigh more than I do, which is undoubtedly true, and he relented and allowed me to pick one painting... still on glass. It's incredibly humbling and meaningful to have all of my friends give me gifts for my family. They obviously like me and want to greet my family for them. It's a good feeling. That being said... I now have a glass painting, a 5 lbs pack of what I think are cards, a handful of necklaces, a rolled up canvas painting, and a pound of peanuts. I'm so screwed.

Now that I'm feeling great about myself, I have to do the hardest goodbye which will be my family. Ahmed really truly believes that he's going to America and he really wants to use his snow boots aka his Teva sandals. I'll just bring him a really good present back from the States!!!

Ps. If you're asking yourself: "But, Alyssa why do you have to bring everything home right now?" there's a two part answer:

1. my mom created a very detailed and involved gift list for me
and more importantly,
2. everyone who just gave me a gift has requested a picture of their gift with my family. How can I refuse?


  1. Just to add one more "excited." We are getting very excited to see you! Safe travels and we'll perform our own gri-gri for you in Rockford.

  2. Alyssa,

    It really shows what type of impact you are having on your extended African family. Carry cash and hire someone to help you at the airport. It will be a good investment. Safe travels and see you soon.


  3. Hey wouldn't it be even MORE awesome if you lugged those gifts all the way to Chicago and we took pictures with the Sears/Wills tower or Lake Michigan and those gifts..!!
    Safe travels dear- we are ready to be the 'west of Michigan' contingent travel plan .

  4. Well, you certainly have been spending time with very wise people.
    Seriously, I will pass along Jo's cell. She and Rick are our Chicago inclimate weather plan!

  5. Ahh Alyssa, this is a precious post. You are so loved!

    I'll throw this out that the ladies of 711 are so excited to see you. Safe travels lady and I'll see in less than a week (with champagne in hand)! AHHHH