Heather in Senegal

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

April 14, 2006
Today after lunch we were brought to the basketball court on which is painted a map of Senegal. Regina, one of the Serer teachers was sitting in a hammock. In Senegal there are many ethnic groups. Some are considered relatives, and some are considered rivals. The Serer and the Pulaar like to make fun of each other. Regina often calls me her slave, and whenever she sees me doing manual work like building a garden table, she comments on it being appropriate work for me. She also occasionally meows at me, as if to insult me by calling me a cat. Little does she know. So, seeing her comfy and relaxed, I sat on top of her. Shortly thereafter we were told to close our eyes, and from the hammock Regina and I could hear volunteers making ooh and ahh sounds as teachers spun them around and guided them onto the map, and soon we joined in with mmms and oyyys of our own, which eventually became ar-ar-arooos, howls to an unseen moon. Eventually Awa, the manager of the homestays, came and got me. She is going through menopause, and her husband is older than she, but we joke that I am after her husband and that she wants to beat me for enticing him towards infidelity. When she took me onto the map she told me she was sending me far far away from her husband, and she deposited me, as I expected, on top of Kolda, where Nick was already standing.
No other volunteers from our stage are near us, I’m sorry to say. I have some friends who I’ll be able to reach for weekend visits if I’m willing to spend a while on a bus, but all the people in biking distance I will have to meet after I get to Kolda. Well, I have a phone and will at least be able to talk to my friends. So far it seems Jessica is going to the smallest town. It has less than 200 people, and most of them will be related to her.
Massali, the manager of the urban ag program, told me a bit about my place in Kolda. It sounds dreamy. I will live in a family compound, but I will have my own hut. It is a huge round hut with straw on the roof. It has a bedroom, living-room, and bathroom. And electricity! My living-room is bigger than many volunteers’ only room. It has a backyard area where I can garden, and where I hope I can string a hammock. Will, a volunteer who is now on his third year, said it’s among the best volunteer houses he has ever seen. It’s in a beautiful neighborhood, lush and dense with trees, many of which are mango and banana trees. My family is wealthy and educated. I’ll have a bunch of sisters who are in high school and college. I will not have running water, but the well is in the family compound, and I frankly (easy from a distance, of course) like the idea of drawing water from a well every morning. In the midst of my electricity, cell-phone, and cyber cafes, it’ll be nice to have that reminder of where I am. I do not know how an indoor toilet works where there is no running water, but I guess I shall learn.
This week we received our bikes! They are brand new trek mountain bikes. Such a pleasure. Most of my riding thus far has been in a single file line with at least three other toubobs, all who were also on new bikes and wearing sparkly helmuts. It feels like a parade, or like the spectacle of a mama duck crossing the street followed by ducklings. When I fell behind after slipping in sand, pedestrians began called, “Faster, faster!” as I tried to catch up.
Toubob: this is a word that basically means “different,” but can be taken as “honky” or as something more offensive. Kids call out “toubob!” every time they see me. Sometimes I reply in French or Pular that I’m not white. I say I’m black and ask where the white person is. Today I responded by saying “Asalam allekum,” which is the basic greeting. They toubobbed me again, so I repeated myself in a tone of voice that said, “Come now, I know your manners are better than that.” I like that some tones of voices seem universal. They laughed and returned the greeting in a tone that sounded a tad apologetic. If the kids are close to my home I usually introduce myself. I have also tried singing toubobtoubobtoubobtoubob back to the kids and doing a jig. Today a volunteer in her second year told us that regardless of how affective our work is, for the next two years we will be like a cartoon show on TV for our villagers.


At 3:33 PM, Blogger Uncle Bob said...

Wow, wow, wow. You have some interesting things to share.

Did your friend have any helpful thoughts about dealing with the "so hot you want to die" temperatures? What does that mean in Fahrenheit terms?

Your old fart uncle agrees that you should not be so quick to enter the homes of people you don't know well. Have you been given any guidance on what sweet, naive Jewish girls from New Rochelle should be looking out for?

I'm going to print your blogs out and read some of them to my mother tonight. Her initial question might be: "Are they Jewish?" in reference to your contacts. If she has any useful advice to impart, I will pass it on to you.

Things are going well for us here as we've picked up several interesting new clients, including the Hyatt where my Mother lived, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. I hope our frail bodies and minds will be up to the task.

You will be interested to know that Debra's Fulbright mentor was one of our seder guests and came with a five pound -- FIVE POUNDS -- box of chocolate covered halvah. I'll bet you anything that my breakfasts over the next several weeks will beat the hell out of yours.

To my -- and your mother's -- shock and disgust, Aunt Sue had the temerity to offer some of the halvah to attendees at our book club meeting while I was out of the room. I may be generous about some things, but a man's chocolate covered halvah is sacred and inviolate. Do you have any ideas for a suitable punishment that I can bestow upon your aunt?

You'll also be interested in knowing that I got the book club to tackle "Sweet Thursday" for our next meeting. I look forward to producing a list of discussion questions.

Keep the blogs coming.

Love from Aunt Sue and me,

Uncle Bob

At 4:09 PM, Blogger sid and roberta said...

We really enjoy reading your blog. It is amazing to see the lifestyle over there and how well you are able to adapt. We could never be that successful. We are quite proud of our niece and her accomplishments.
We will be flying to New York next month to celebrate Sally's Bat Mitzvah and spend a lot of time visiting Grandma Midge. We expect to see a lot of your mother and Jim and hope to get more updates on your activities.
All is well here. Stephanie is now in Grad school and has a summer internship with a very good accounting firm. Michelle is finishing her junior year of college and is involved in many fun activities.
I am in the process of retiring from work so I can concentrate on playing golf, tennis, and softball. Aunt Roberta tells everyone I am reliving my teenage camp days.
We expect a phone call from Uncle Bob and Aunt Sue in a few minutes as they will be calling from Grandma Midge's room so we can talk to her.
Keep up the good work with the blog.
Aunt Roberta and Uncle Sid

At 11:18 PM, Blogger Bex07 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 11:27 PM, Blogger Bex07 said...

Oh, no, it lets me delete and repost! I could be here all night!!

Hi, Miss Heather!!!!!!!! (toubobtoubobtoubob, LOL!!!!)

I was so so glad to get your letter! It was the best treat I've had in months! I love hearing about your colorful adventures, both internal and external.

I will send you a proper response soon - it's the end of the semester, I'm moving soon, looking for a summer job/internship, and fighting allergies, so I've been even more frenetically busy than usual. But I'm looking forward to writing to you. Although your handwriting was difficult to decipher, I prefer it to Times New Roman; thanks for asking.

I am glad to hear that although things can be difficult, you are thoroughly enjoying yourself. That makes me happy!

Many hugs, and I will send you a word-filled envelope very soon!!!


At 5:04 AM, Blogger Heather said...

Heat: Generally, people say that when it is so hot that for teeth-sweating weather one should simply not move. Even in the most stunning heath, if you stay still enough you can occasionally feel a breeze, and thanks to the body's appreciation of relativity, these slight, mild breezes can inspire goosebumps. I do not have a thermometer, so I don't know how this converts to Fahrenheit. Maybe a good item to include in a care package?
Cousins: Stephanie is in grad school and Sally had her bat mitzvah? Jeepers but I must be getting old. Congradulations to both. Is Michelle in any activities that have photos on line? I tired to find pictures on google but had no luck.


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