Heather in Senegal

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

April 9
Joy! I am typing in my bedroom where my computer is plugged into the adapter from the US which is plugged into the extension chord I bought last night, which is plugged into the hole in the wall into which my adapter does not fit. Last night I also bought a cell phone, so you can call me at 221-415-5731. 221 is the country code. I think that simply dialing those ten numbers should get you through to my phone. Nick, aka Usmaan, helped me navigate down-town Thies to buy the electronics. Nick is the other Fulakunnda student. We spend half of every school day asking each other where we are from, how many friends our mothers have, how old our brothers are, what we ate for dinner last night, etcetera. Fulakunnda is only spoken in a relatively small section of the country, so I think Nick and I will see a lot of each other over the next two years. So you will probably hear a lot of him. An interesting fact I learned about him last night is that he always carries toilet paper; Nick will try to complete Peace Corps without ever using the wet hand method.
Last week Samba, my language teacher, taught me how to count in Fulakunnda. I practiced around the house by pointing to objects and gleefully announcing how many there were. Sometimes I would stop a family member in the hallway and triumphantly count to ten or even higher. The family is patient with me. They understand that every word, let alone clump of words spoken together, is a landmark occasion for me, but by the time I was able to make my numerical speeches counting by five, even the young kids’ faces had faded from indulgent smiles to looks of concern. Maybe they feared their American would be permanently stuck in this numeric reverie. Sesame Street in Fulakunnda would be heaven.
Today I had my first language exam. It was an oral test broken into three sections. I had to describe myself, then my family, and then speak in the past tense. Nick and I took turns doing each section, and when he was being tested I curled up in a hammock. For most of the exam I felt like a crummy student, and was irked by my slow slow slow speech. (Last week the head of the agriculture department predicted that based on my speed when I speak English, my speed in Fulakunda will be a sore point for me for the next two years.) During the last section, however, I had an epiphany. Instead of scouring my head for vocabulary to would describe what I did yesterday, I realized I should instead issue a cattle call for all vocabulary words. Then, from the verbs and nouns that presented themselves, I constructed a picture of things I did not in fact do yesterday, but could have done. When this new technique of conversing occurred to me it was like someone had dropped a neutralizing (water cleansing) tablet into water darkened by an iodine (water cleansing) tablet, obliterating the murkiness. This evening I tried the vocab technique again and this resulted in the longest conversation I’ve yet had with the grandmother. We spoke of dancing, I joked about her being 27, maybe 35 (once again showing-off my numeric prowess), and we did a whole lot of greeting each other.
Recently I almost made my first friend outside the auspices of Peace Corps. I met Haddi one day when, after I got off the bus by my house, she waved to me from her roof top. She wanted to know who I was and why I was there. She came to the ground to meet me, and after I told her I am an agriculture volunteer, she brought me inside her family’s house to show me pictures of the farm where she has worked. We spoke for more than a half hour about gardening, Peace Corps, religion, and music. She told me she plays drums, and she then performed a bit. We made tentative plans to play together. After I told her that PC gives us a few classes in Islam, she invited me to a ceremony that took place last night. I left really delighted by how much I had been able to say and understand, and eager to see her again. When I got home and told my mother why I was a bit later than usual, she looked concerned. She said that girls can be used as booby traps, and that I should never enter a stranger’s house. The next night she went with me to meet Haddi, and I stood beside my mother, who is a couple inches shorter than me, and couldn’t stop grinning as she sized up Haddi while they talked about Haddi, me, Peace Corps, and my poor Fulakunnda. They spoke Wolof, but I got the gist. After we left, the mother told me that Haddi is a very nice girl, but because she does not speak Fulakunnda I should not spend much time with her; she couldn’t approve of more than the occasional ten minutes after school. And she also told me that I should put the violinning on hold, saying I’ll have plenty of time for it in the village. I’ve only played in the house twice. Peace Corps warned that one challenge in the home-stay experience would be the loss of independence. Well, Haddi was only visiting Thies, anyway. And even if I can’t keep her as a friend, I remain delighted at this test of my French.


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