Heather in Senegal

Monday, May 22, 2006

May 16
Sunday morning at the crack of dawn all the volunteers who were staying at the center in Thies woke and started running around saying goodbyes and loading our things into the sept-places (taxis with seven seats). My favorite goodbye was with Justin, who, when I thought he was going to give me a high-five, swooped me up and ran around carrying me, hollering like a nut-case.
Nick took the front seat of the sept-place, leaving me the three seats in the second row, so it was a quite comfortable ride. I read, studied Pulaar, slept, talked with Nick, and stared out the window watching the lanscape grow lush. The ride was uneventful until Habib, our driver, pulled over at the Gambian border control. Peace Corps has made a big deal about Administrative Seperation swiftly following any unapproved entrance into another country, but it appeared Habib had not heard. Nick, not expecting to leave Senegal before we return to Thies in August, left his passport locked in Abu’s office. At first I pretended I did not have mine either, thinking that if it was urgent we not leave Senegal, better the news that we couldn’t enter the Gambia come to Habib from the soldiers than from me and Nick. While Habib tried to reason with (bribe) the border guards, and a ten year old boy tried to convince Nick to give him his bicycle or at least pay him for directions to a backroads way into the Gambia, I called Awa, the wonderfully supportive motherly lady whom I fell in love with at the PC center in Thies. Although I learned later that she had been worried, she spoke to me as if it was the expected route. She chatted with the driver and then advised that we give whatever money was asked for. So I found my passport, Habib folded a couple thousand CFA into it, and soon we were in Gambia waiting for the ferry. Over the course of five hours the sept-place moved to three different parking spots, each a bit closer to the ferry. Every boy with a cooler of soda cans, and every woman with a head loaded with colorful fabric, stopped by our windows and tried to reason or stare us into making a purchase. I read, wrote in my journal, listened to music, and ate fruit. In all, a fine roadstop.
We arrived at the regional house in Kolda about thirteen hours after we left Thies. Regional houses are houses that Peace Corps rents to host volunteers when away from their sites. There is one in each region. It’s a library, kitchen, medical supplies storage facility, meeting place, shower, and generally a place to go to be with other English speakers. Three of the local volunteers were there to welcome us. They gave us cold bissap juice and they cooked us pancakes. In a stark contrast to the morning, I felt very shy and quiet, as I had initially with my stage-mates. I slept outside, under a mosquito net under the house’s shade structure, feeling very happy.
Yesterday the volunteers took us to the market. We bought matresses, sheets, pillows, buckets, laundry soap, trunks, bleach, and other odds and ends. I bought a fan, which I’m already falling in love with. She is a bright green, and she looks lovely with the softer green of my walls.Kolda seems really nice. It’s cleaner, calmer, and greener than Thies and Kaffrine. The local volunteers say they love the area and the people. I’m so relieved. After the shopping trip Matt climbed a tree in the regional house’s yard. He held a long wooden spear and poked at mangos until many had fallen. Then we feasted.
Jenny, the urban ag volunteer who has been here for one year, and whose place I will be taking in the garden, told me about Sek. She says he is hard working, kind, a good language teacher, patient, understanding of cultural differences, and fun. Sometimes. Then there are the times like when he found a lock in the garden and blamed it, and the person who placed it there, for causing the garden’s meager yield. Or when he pulled up the whole lettuce crop because it was growing too slowly for him. Or when he moved Jenny’s okra from a garden plot to a table plot for absolutely no reason, unless his goal was to kill them, in which case he was successful. Or when he told Jenny that he had used magic to make the prior volunteer leave Senegal early. Or when he went to the garden in the middle of the night to do a ceremony to ward off evil. Or when he stopped speaking to Jenny for three weeks. She said that for a long time she thought she was crazy, but this passed when she realized he was. I hope I can get along with him, enjoy him, and do good work in the garden.Today finally was installation. Demba, a teacher from Thies, introduced me to city officials, the gendarms, and the police. Then he took me home. I am typing from my huge, beautiful, round, straw and bamboo roofed hut. My new name is Jenabo Ba. I pulled some water up from the well, ate lunch with my mom and some kids, maybe my sibblings, and am now supposed to be resting. I talked a bit with the family. Sometimes they gave me blank stares when I used basic words that I had spoken often in Thies. I hear I’m in the Pulafuta part of town, not the Fulakunda. I don’t know what my family speaks, and I am worried. The family seems kind. They expected me to be a wierd bewildered toubob, and it is comforting to be able to fit someone’s expectations.


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