Friday, July 8, 2011

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This morning I was frantically trying to clean my room, shower, and get to the center in time for a session Katherine and I were doing on the Best Game when my mom pulled me aside. I was literally telling Jeenaba that I wouldn’t be home for lunch or dinner when my mom told me that I needed to tell Awa, the head of Peace Corps home stays, that she wanted to talk to her. I thought this was an odd request since I’ve been able to handle everything else on my own for the past two years so I asked her about it. My mom said it had something to do with money. I assumed the issue stemmed from me only paying her half of the usual amount for July. I paid full rent and then halved the food, water, and electricity amounts since I’m actually only at site for 8 days in July. We’ve been through this several times and she’s not happy about it, but I don’t feel the need to give more than I already give. I pay an absolutely ridiculous amount of money (practically the entire bill) for water and electricity – utilities we never have.

As I pressed for further information on what my mom was unhappy about the problem became even murkier. I really have no idea what she wanted other than more money from me. At first I thought the problem was the prorated July rent, then it seemed like she was accusing me of not paying anything for June when I have a receipt with her signature on it in my room for the month of June, and finally she just insulted me by saying that I didn’t understand the problem and needed someone to explain it to me in English. I understand that this is a very Senegalese way of dealing with a problem – avoidance – but it has been an absolutely heartbreaking day.

Completely unsure of what happened at home, what the problem was, and feeling terrible about the entire situation I collapsed in Awa’s office at the center and told my story. It’s heartbreaking because I’m being reminded just 8 days before I leave for good that I really am a tenant, a paycheck. All of the nice things I’ve done with my family, all of the time we’ve spent together, and all of the money I have already given them isn’t enough. They want more. At the very least this is how my host mom feels or how she chooses to express it. I hope that Jeenaba, Khady, Ahmed, and baby Abdou feel differently. I hope that I have made a positive impact on their lives that isn’t purely financial. I always knew that money wasn’t far from the surface and was the most important part of our relationship, but I wish that I hadn’t been reminded of that fact at the very end – it just leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. It’s sad.

What makes all of this that much harder is the effect it will have on my family who I have lived with and loved for two years. While I will be replaced by a volunteer in Thiès who will continue working with my work partners such as Mme. Ly and Dioss, the volunteer will not live with my family. The money situation has become too much and the utilities too poor to put anyone there.

Today was supposed to be an incredibly exciting day. Today was site reveal. When all of the trainees finally find out where they’ll be living for the next two years of their lives. I was excited to welcome all of the new Thiès region trainees into the family and ready to tell Nancy, my replacement, about her wonderful host family. I have truly loved living with the Gaye family. They have, for the most part, been absolutely wonderful. I’ve definitely had my frustrations and even money issues before, but this blatant extortion plan is just too much. Awa was kind enough to go to my house and try to solve the problem. Apparently, my mom doesn’t think I paid her for July even though I have a receipt. Supposedly it was all a big misunderstanding and that’s what I’m going to attempt to pretend actually happened so I can enjoy my last week at site. Everything should be smoothed over when I bring all of the receipts to Peace Corps on Monday.

This episode is in stark contrast to another interaction I had today. Jackie, Katherine, and I went out for lunch today and swung by Mme. Ly’s stand because Jackie had part of an order she still needed to pick up. It was the last time that Jackie and especially Katherine since she worked with all of the artisans was going to see Mme. Ly. I seriously love this woman. Madame Ly is a saint and such a good friend. She was distraught that Katherine is leaving and I think we all teared up. Mme. Ly wished us all loving husbands, a bunch of kids, and full lives while smothering us with kisses and forcing us to pick presents of her jewelry. I’ve given Mme. Ly nothing except for my time and friendship (alright, alright I’ve also bought a boat load of jewelry!) and she is much more effusive than my family. In my already heightened emotional state it’s too much to have my family saying how much they’ll miss me and how we’re all going to cry next week and then demand more money or insinuate that I haven’t paid them enough.

Today should still be an exciting day though! Nancy is going to be my replacement in Thiès. She is an older PCV who already completed a service in Kenya in the early 2000s. She has an amazing retail background and worked with artisans in Kenya. Nancy is going to be able to do amazing things for Mme. Ly, Dioss, and the artisan network at large! I can’t wait to introduce her to everyone. My night should improve since I organized a huge chicken dibi outing! Most of the trainees and most of the PCVs from my stage are in town and we’re going to celebrate a little and get to know our replacements!


  1. Alyssa,

    You are now learning why people are such a pain in the ass. Forget about the extortion, that is how they have worked in the past, you have made a difference in their lives and vice versa. Put it behind you and enjoy your remaining time.


  2. I teared up reading this post because I know how hard you have worked over the past 2 years with your family. It must have felt like a slap across the face to be blindsided by such a mercenary demand in your very last days. But I agree completely with dad. I do not believe this was about you. I think your mom is looking out for the well-being of her family and she panicked a little as you are readying to leave....and with you the monthly rent payment. I have seen with my own eyes how much that family thinks of you and how terrific they have been. Mom is simply the holder of the purse and she takes it very seriously (I'm reminded how she also refuses to trust anyone else to collect water during drought.)Produce your receipts. Put it behind you. Forget it happened. Embrace these final days with joy and gratitude! And keep this in the back of your mind.....your biological family is absolutely counting the minutes until you get home....your grandmas, aunts, uncles, cousins, Dad, CJ and I are going a little crazy with homecoming plans!


  3. You Mom Mom is right. It isn't about you, it's about the impending lack of rent for reasons that are clear to you but probably look unfair and arbitrary (what do you mean our cinderblock condo by the goat yard isn't up to PCV housing standards!!) to the family.

    It's easy to say 'put it behind you', but you might consider that this is more of a PC issue with the fsmily (eg decision to not replace you) than anything that you have done. Get out of the middle and let Awa deal with your Mom.

  4. Alyssa, I think you have been more than generous to their family and she is going to miss you and your money. Thats life. But what agreat experience you have had! Love Ma