Heather in Senegal

Monday, July 24, 2006

I still have no cat in my life, but there are other animals, and kind of a cat.
Jenny raises bunnies to eat. A bit back she had four babies. Recently her hutch broke, so now the young'uns and a few full grown rabbits are free-range in her yard. It feels like Eden to be munching a mango while a handful of fluffy baby bunnies hop around and sniff at me, and I am watching a pair of adult rabbits take turns stealing mango skin from each other. Later on the day I visited Jenny there was a tiny tiny yellow little chick in my yard. No one would tell me why. I held it for a little while. It laid its head down on my palm and closed its eyes. Fluffy sweetheart. I was on my way to work, so I could not dwell long with the chick. I put it down with so much fear that it was resulting in chest pains. Would someone step on it accidentally or squash it intentionally? Later my Neenee told me who the chick belonged to, and I gather it will be well cared for until slaughter day.
Last night I noticed my bedroom smelled like a litterbox. I sniffed around and discovered the smell was coming from my bed. I tentatively lifted my mattress. It appears that one day, not so recently, I jumped onto my bed and took a mouse by terrible surprise. I was able to deal with the dead lizard, but squashed dead fuzzy animals are different. I told my host mom, and she, Omar, and another teenager came into my room. They were pretty nonchalant about the whole thing. When they looked at the mouse they told me not to worry: it's dead. They do not understand me. Live mice run around my room all the time. Aside from their snacking on my garden seeds, I have no gripes with the live mice. It is the dead ones, especially when swung at me, as Omar insisted on doing a couple times before taking it outside, that make me squeal. I was pretty surprised by the hysteria in my voice.
However, it was not the mouse making my room stink. Two nights ago I thought I heard a person walking on my roof. Just that day I had walked on my roof to fix the plastic up there, and as far as I knew the ladder had not been moved from the side of my hut, so it seemed plausible that someone had gone up there for a stroll. I mentioned this to my mom yesterday, and she laughed, promising me it was just a cat; she had heard a pair brawling on her roof the same night. It took me a while, but I finally put it together. The plastic does not completely cover my straw roof. I've gone to sleep in contorted positions to be clear of raindrops. A cat, who did not even give me the satisfaction of a moments petting and affection, indirectly urinated on my bed. And to think, my mother in the US complains about squirrels walking on her solid, perfectly waterproof roof.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

July 11, Tuesday
A pack of men in their early twenties were drumming and singing as they danced down the street, and one man was swinging and tossing a big wooden club, so I followed them. They were wearing green and black striped hooded tops and loose pants with the same pattern. Each one’s outfit was slightly different. Thicker stripes, jagged edges on the stripes, angular stripes, occasional polka-dots. Under the green and black they wore bright colorful patchwork clothing. Around their necks, wrists, and ankles were thick green and black ropes, and photos of their marabout, spiritual leader, hung from their necks and waistes. I have seen these men alone or in pairs before. They sing for a moment, sounding like a chassid belting a nigun, or a wolf trying to turn a howl into a melody, and then they ask for money. Judging by how their eyes gleam, I think they prefer if at first you refuse to donate. These men have none of the usualy shyness and humility of beggars. Rather, they look like street corner con-men taking delight in the banter and wit demanded by their profession. They will try to heckle, bully, and cajole you into donating. I suspect Damon Runyon would have adored them. Between their attractive outfits and the wily, firey gleams in their eyes, they are the most exciting sights on the street.
I have never previously given them money, but because I respected what the man was doing with the club and was enjoying the music, I gave the clubber some change. Once I made this donation, the drummers beckoned me to continue following them. We went down into a grassy field, and the parade ended under a tree beside some weaving machines. (It is a lovely site. The weavers sit in the field working the machines with their feet, tossing the spools of thread back and forth through the looms, watching cows graze.) Here the guys all sat down, and someone tipped a drum on its side so that I would not have to sit in the grass.
They are of the Byfoll (rhymes with hi-doll) sect of Islam. They come from Dakar, and not one of them speaks Pulaar. They all know French, but my French has greatly deteriorated since I started learning Pulaar, so until Abdoulaye introduced himself, my conversations were primarily of gestures and facial expressions. Abdoulaye spent three years living in NYC. He told me the Byfoll believe in forgetting about material things. Instead, they believe people should celebrate life and all the gifts from Allah. He has an infectious smile and a trustworthy, kind face. He gave me two mangos. He told me the Byfolls believe in being kind and honest, taking care of people, and sharing generously. He described the village they set up on the outskirts of Kolda, where it is all peace and love. Excluding the passing reference to self-flagelation, had he and the others been wearing tye-dye instead of the green and black I would have been sure I was at a rainbow gathering. Certainly the smell of what they were smoking would have been appreciated at a rainbow gathering. Abdoulaye told me that their religion prohibits premarital sex, and that they say me not as a female but as a person. It was amazing. This has been the only time since I got to Africa that I have spent time with males without even jokingly being propositioned. Abdoulaye was very positive about me being in Africa. He was excited for me, and all the things that I will see and learn. And he kept telling me that I was lucky to be in Senegal because in Senegal people do not eat people. Through Abdoulaye translating, the club swinger offered to teach me to play the club and to give me a small one of my own.
Naturally, by the time I got home my mother already knew I had been hanging out with the Byfolls. Her face was twisted into a look of horror as she told me I must not talk to the Byfolls because they murder people and they use drugs. As she gestured and ranted about the perils of these happy, musical, and very floppy and high fellows, it was very hard to not laugh. Some friends of mine in the compound agreed that these guys would rob me and then dice me up if given a moment’s chance. They mocked the Byfolls, saying they do not shower and are nothing but a dirty bunch of musicians, not realizing how nice that description would sound to me. Regardless of what I think of their warning, I want to retain my good standing in this community, so I will not pursue a friendship with any Byfolls.
Not so luckily, it turns out that the pack of them is staying in a compound across the street, and all night I have been hearing them singing and drumming. I ache to join them. In California I had friends in a band of Gamilan players. Unique excentric nut jobs, all of them. I have no doubt that mothers have warned their children against my friends. I miss my friends. It sounds as if the Gamilan troup is having a party across the street.

July 6 Thursday
Today my host mom and I went to Jenabu’s house, where many people from our neighborhood were gathered to celebrate the wedding of Issatou and a man whose name is unknown to everyone I asked. The couple is a little younger than I am. I have seen them a few times being affectionate with each other, so I think this is a chosen, not arranged, marriage. My mother and I went to the part of the yard where elderly women were sitting, and we greeted all of them. Some of these little old ladies giggled at talking to a toubob in Pulaar. When they asked questions beyond my vocabulary, my mother would tell me what to say. After we had completed the greetings, my mom took me to the compound next door, where the girls I am friendly with were cooking. It was a mob scene, with many, many young women pushing their way to the tubs where juice was being made or to the various charcoal stoves holding huge pots of dinner. I could fit easily into one of these pots. Soon I was elbow deep in a tub of bissap leaves and water, squeezing red juice out of the leaves. A thick whitish very sweet drink, made I think from baobab fruit, was also being prepared, and girls often tilted my chin up so they could ladle it into me. Delicous. I helped pound onions with the big mortor and pestle, but after spraying people with onion bits too many times, I was guided back to the juice. And of course, with so many people packed so close, there was a good deal of dancing.
At some cue we all dashed from the cooking area back to the first compound where chairs were set in a circle. The bride was sitting in the circle, and people were dancing for her. She was stunning. Her hair was braided and twisted, and a challah-like bun was placed on her head. Her scalp was painted silver. Her face make-up, particularly that around her eyes, had her looking a fairy-tale witch. And her dress was shimmery and intricate. I was urged to dance and was happy to oblige I frolicked and flopped about like a court jester Every time I wanted to sit down another girl would come to dance with me and urge me to play with her. Men came nowhere near the bride’s circle. They watched the dancing from a distance and refused to participate.
At some other cue everyone suddenly got up to go home. My neighbor took me under her wing and led me back to my house. She told me to bath, and then she came over to choose clothing for me. They have a gentle way here of making me feel slightly like an invalid. Freshened up, we went walking to another house. At this house chairs were set in rows, and we sat and waited for the bride and groom to arrive. The yard was packed. There were probably two hundred chairs, and most of the people who were sitting had someone on their lap, myself included. Behind the chairs there was a mob of people standing. I had not known to bring a gift, so some friends of mine said I could go in on theirs, and they let me be photographed with them and their shiny big bucket full of household items.
When the couple arrived everyone stood to honor them and to see them. I lifted the little girl who was on my lap up onto my shoulders, and was so pleased to have had the arm strength to do this. I shall ever be a fan of pulling water from wells. The wedding couple was flanked by three sets of girls and women in coordinated outfits. They went to a table that was set on a stage and posed for pictures with many people. The table was carefully made up with plastic flowers and bottles of coca-cola and orange fanta. They danced stiffly with their arms around each other for about thirty seconds as the dj played Whitney Houston’s “And I Will Always Love You,” which I think is about a breakup. The dancing reminded me of a wedding I attended in Massechusetts where the bride and groom beamed as they danced slowly through their chosen song. What seemed to me an imitation of a familiar ritual made me so homesick for friends and culture that make sense to me. After the dancing came more posing for photos. We were served popcorn and fried dough, and later we were given sandwiches. A friend opened mine and plucked out the meat. The whole event was videotaped. I have been trying to find out if there has been or will be a wedding ceremony, maybe something in a mosque, but I have not been able to get a clear answer. The community support for the couple and the planning and coordinating that went into the event sung of a great love for the couple and excitement for their life together. Tomorrow the celebrations will continue in the courtyard of the groom’s house, and I hear there will be live drumming for the dancing.

July 3 About garden work:
Every morning, unless it has rained the night before or looks very much like it will rain before noon, the garden must be watered. Seck usually does this himself. The watering takes a long long time because the water pressure is low, there is only one hose, and this hose is accident prone. It is yellow, and in many places it looks like a peeled banana with the skin hanging off, revealing the black tube underneath. The hose is in many pieces, some of which have a slightly wider diameter than others so the pieces may be plugged in to one another. Chunks of hose lay all over the garden so that one can choose to lengthen the hose in one corner of the garden, and then by reconnecting segments one can reach another corner without ever having had to move the hose very far. If Seck bends the hose slightly, or if in using his thumb to direct the stream of water he puts his thumb too deep into the hose, creating too much pressure, or if the hose just feels like it, a joint will come apart, and Sek will be left staring helplessly at his dry hose, calling to me to find the culprit. As soon as I plug the hose back together, it comes apart at another joint. When I run over to this other joint, one of the scraps of fabric tied to the hose to cover a hole comes loose and a geyser shoots into the air. I try to lay the hose so that joints are either in a garden bed or up hill from some flowers so that escaping water goes to good use.
While Seck is watering I might have him fill the watering can for me so that I can gently give the carrots a drink. I might take cuttings from flowers to plant elsewhere in the garden. If a pepinaire sack has more than one sprout coming up, I will find sacks in which there is no plant or there is a dead plant, and I will give each sprout its own sack. I have transplanted lettuce sprouts into table beds, put young eggplant plants into new beds, crumbled cowpatties, dug beds, mixed dirt with crumbled cow paties, laid plastic in the ground and secured it with rocks to create improved beds, planted seeds, carted dirt, peanut shells, and cowpatties around the garden in the wheelbarrow, applied insecticides, discovered I do not have the will to crush centipeeds, heard Seck bash a snake to death, and, of course, spent lots and lots of time weeding. Come the end of the rainy season we will not have to weed so much, but with the frequent downpoors, every spot of dirt between beds is quick to sprout greenery, and if we do not keep the weeds to a minumum, we will soon have more snakes.
In addition to the usual gardeny work, I have also had the pleasure of chasing goats out of the garden and trying to strengthen our fence against their attacks. I spent one afternoon searching for thorny branches and weaving them into a barrior which I wedged into the fence so that any goat wanting to hop from the cement step and over the fence will get a belly full of gashes. I felt like pond scum when I caught myself admiring my handiwork. I hope the goats will look before they try to leap back into the garden.
As Jenny did before me, I am supposed to manage the finances of the garden. When I arrived the garden had 1,400 cfa and owed roughly 25,000 cfa. The money is owed not to a person, but to an account. Six months ago money was donated to allow someone from Kolda to go to Dakar bring back gardening supplies. If all was fair and honest, the gardeners in Kolda would have paid for these supplies as they used them, putting just enough money in the account to send someone back up to Dakar to buy more tools, seeds, and such. The supplies were kept in a storage room to which Seck and the others had easy access. The storage room is now nearly empty, and the account is as well. Had Jenny not kept close track of his takings there would be no knowing how much we owe. She thinks none of the Senegalese people involved ever saw this as much more than a way to get some things for free, so there will probably be no one coming to the garden to complain about the lack of payment. Still, the debt indicates that the garden is not sustainable as is. When the supplies are gone, if there is no further donation, the garden will be in trouble. This June the garden made 5025 cfa through vegetable and flower sales, 1255 cfa of which goes to the garden. The rest belongs to Seck and his family.I recently collected seeds from basil plants. This was my first time gathering seeds. It adds a sense of eternity to gardening. One of my chief delights each morning is visiting my watermelons. When I tried growing watermelons in Palo Alto I had many flowers and nary a fruit. Now I have three healthy little watermelons that swell more and more each night. I used to have five, but a few days ago I discovered worms eating two of them. Seck’s daughter, Nafi, looked up, concerned, when, upon reaching my watermelon patch, instead of giving my usually gasp of delight I let out an agonized moan. One aspect of the garden that makes no sense to me is the fish heads. Everywhere there are fish heads. I guess some cats drag fish bodies into the garden by night, eat the choicer parts, and scatter the fish heads so they can watch and laugh as I fall over trying to avoid stepping on them. Or perhaps it is one of Seck’s enemies trying to perform a fish-head based black-magic.A few times a week I go to the men sitting outside the agriculture office, shake their hands, and chat with them a bit.
And, thankfully, I have on occasion led visitors through the garden, showing off the improved beds, hammocks, water tables, and other interesting features.
I am posting this on line on Thursday, and today Seck and I spent a long time squatting by one of the carrot beds. A few weeks ago I seeded a second the bed for a second time, but still very few carrots have sprouted. Seck thinks this might be because of a slightly hard layer of dirt and mold that is developing like a green skin on top of the plot. Using small twigs we made incisions and painstakingly peeled back the skin.

July 2 Sunday
Today I officially joined the Bantingel women’s group. To celebrate the occasion, my mother lent me a Senegalese outfit. The walk from our house to the home of the woman hosting the meeting felt like two blocks of going down a runway. People came out of their houses to see me model the clothing, and they cheered for me. The kids recently taught me Wolof words that I think basically translate to, “cool!” so I asked everyone if I looked cool. Each time I said it I won big belly laughs and the assurance that I looked cool. (I just spent a while trying to post photos with this entry, to no avail. If you know any tricks for making blogger.com cooperate, please tell me.)
This is the form of the meetings: We go to the home of the woman who won the lottery the prior Sunday. She has chairs or benches set up in a circle for us. There are about 25-35 women at each meeting. Her children make tea for us. Tea here is a highly sugared delicious hot drink, served in a tiny cup with a lot of foam. You are supposed to slurp it, leaving the foam, and quickly return the cup so the next person can be served. Women put money on a tray, and each contribution is recorded in a notebook. Women talk and joke with one another, and if there is music, I am urged to dance. (I really wish I had taken belly dancing lessons before coming here.) When the money collection is finished, a slip of paper is drawn from a handful of paper. The woman whose name is chosen will host the gathering and receive the pot next week. And until every other woman has had a turn at winning, her name will be excluded from the pot. Then the hostess’ children bring out a bucket of water for hand washing and three or four bowls of rice with red oil and a green mixture that looks like guacamole. We eat. At home I use a spoon, as does most of my family. The first time I came to the women’s meeting I was offered a spoon, but seeing it would be the only spoon at the bowl, I refused. At first I was awful at eating with my hand. I could not force the food into a ball. Rice would squeeze out between my fingers. The green substance would squish down my arm. I would get food all over my face and pants. Today women at other bowls took a special interest in the fact that I was finally successfully eating with my hand. As they supportingly laughed at the sight of their toubob, I raised my oily, red, rice speckled fist in triumph, unintentionally imitating the black power fist. After we eat, two buckets of water are brought to us for a two-step hand washing. We are then served small plastic bags of bissap juice. Everyone bites a corner of their bag to suck out the juice, then drops the bag on the ground. Immediately after the juice the meeting is over and the yard suddenly empties.
In order to join the group now, eight weeks into the current lottery session, I had to give the women a large sum of money to make up for the weeks I had missed. We were warned many times during training that people would see us as cash machines. We were told to never lend money that we were not willing to lose. We were told that even close friends would try to get money from us. But I like these women and think that they will not cheat me. And further, I think that if they tried to, my host mother would not allow it.
I have given my host money to buy me two outfits. She suggested I do this, saying that she would be able to get far better prices than could I. This is absolutely true, but I told her I wanted to pick the fabrics. She laughed, told me that from my clothing and my decorations she knows what colors I like, and proceeded to tell me precisely what I like. It is a simple thing, and it arguably would have been difficult for her not to notice my three tye-dyed door curtains and bright clothing, but still I was touched that she had observed my taste. She recently showed me the fabric she chose. It is awfully nice, but it is only enough for one outfit. It is a thin material, so it needed more fabric to go underneath. I gave her more money, and ultimately the one outfit has wound up costing me more than twice what she said I would have to pay for two. I have bought a little fabric on my own. I have no doubt she paid less than I would have paid, but I am positive that I am paying dearly for the privilege of not being cheated by a fabric vendor.

July 1 Saturday
This evening France beat Brazil, 1-0, in the quarter finals of the World Cup. The boys who live in my compound, and most of the others who had come to watch the game, are avid fans of Brazil. Many people in Senegal, including Seck, my man at the garden, say that truly Brazil is their team. People here had so much faith in Brazil that I assumed they could not lose. Usually, by the last five minutes of a game, if the score is not tied, the boys are discussing the game in the past tense. Tonight, up until the very last seconds of the game, the boys in my compound were leaning forwards, clenching their fists, and staring pleadingly at the television.
Their expressions turned to misery and disbelief when the French players began hugging one another on the field. My mom and a few boys joined voices we could hear in other compounds, whooping in joy at the victory. Had there been a respectful silence after the game I think the boys would have been able to handle the loss with dignity, but the loud celebrations and the taunts from the France supporters, were too much for boys who had been fiercely pulling for the team ever since the World Cup began. Omar stormed into the house to be alone, and in the process he ripped the TV’s cord out of the wall. My mom snapped into fury. She chased after him. Through the window’s bars I saw her swing at him (he ducked, and I don’t think she really meant for the punch to land) as she yelled at him, calling him a fool and saying that his father had not bought the TV. (I was so pleased to be able to understand!) After she left Omar, muttering in anger and disgust, I went to the window and tried to reach out to him by softly making the wierd chirping hiccoughing sounds he likes to make at me, but he gave no answer. When he came out shortly afterwards his eyes were swollen from crying. He sat off from the group and cradled his head in his hands for a little while. I wonder what was hurt most at that point - losing the game, acting foolishly, or being publicly chastised for it.
In the twenty minutes that followed at least three pairs of boys come to blows. After my mom broke up a fight (she is tough!) and saw that one boy had blood dribbling out of his nose, she shooed the remainder out of the compound and spoke to them in front of our wall. Again, I was thrilled to understand what she said to them, but the content of her speech, and the fact that the fighting and blood did not upset her nearly as much as did the violence against her television, surprised me. She told the boys, all of whom remained quiet and attentive throughout her speach, that they should be supporting France, not Brazil. She said nothing about punching friends over a game played on another continent. She argued that because Brazil had beaten and eliminated Ghana, and Ghana had represented all of Africa, they should root against Brazil, and because France had colonized Senegal, they should cheer for France. She did not focus on the fact that the group of boys all speak French, but just that their land was colonized by France. This is a common argument in support of France. As my language improves I hope to better understand the local sentiment on France. I wonder if tonight’s events in my compound are indicative of riots taking place around the world.

June 30 Friday
An hour before dusk on Thursday I set off on my bike with one empty plastic bag, an idea that I’d seen cows grazing in a nearby field, and a mental image of a beautiful, well fertilized garden to call my own. I pedaled to the field and lay my bike in the grass. Instantly, as usual when I am anywhere near my house, some girls called my name and asked what I was doing. At first they seemed to think I was mispronouncing the word, but when I did a charade of how cow-patties are made and explained why I wanted to find some, they volunteered to help. The girls were better than I at sighting the cow-patties, but I had to do the picking-up. Thankfully, I am told that fresh cow droppings are too powerful to mix directly in dirt in any large dose, so I was able to avoid the soft, hot, fly-covered cakes and only take the hardened pieces.
While we four were bent over the field, Malik, a friend of my family’s, joined us and helped in the hunt. We were not finding a lot, so Malik suggested we relocate to another field that he knew was frequented by cows. As we walked to the field, the conversation went from the usual topics of the sun being hot and hair-braiding hurting to the use of drugs in Senegal. It is very minimal, I am told, because Islam forbids it and because most people think drugs are very mysterious and evil. Even marijuana is discussed in a hushed, horrified tone of voice. From drugs we went to Islam, to Judaism, to the religious populations in the USA, to New Orleans, to Katrina, to Weston volunteering there, to Malik telling me he would pray for Allah to bless Weston, to the way the US government in handling the aftermath of Katrina. Such a pleasure to stray from my normal conversations. My Pulaar vocabulary is growing.
Today I broke ground in my backyard and mixed crumbled cow-patties with water and sand. With the help of some of the children in my compound, I filled pepinaires with dirt and seeds. My host mom found an old wooden something that is now our pepinaire table. Aliu, a twelve year old boy, lit up when he saw the pictures on my flower seed packets. These packets were sent from the USA to a prior volunteer. They are old, and they were not prepared for our kind of weather, but Seck took these seeds to a friend of his who specializes in flowers, and his friend thought they would all work here. I let Aliu choose a packet, and he very carefully broke up some ground, planted, and watered. Then he pulled me over to show off his work.
So far we have marigold, lettuce, cucumber, and tomato seeds in the pepinaires. I plan to do direct seeding with carrots, watermelon, okra, and follere. (I don’t know the English word for follere.) I have visions of a wonderland of color and vegetables in my backyard accompanying a sea of flowers blooming all over the compound.

June 29
Today Jenny and I rode 25 km out of town and then back. Along the way we stopped at a tiny village where Khadjitou, who lived with me and I used to think was my sister, lives with her family during the summer. She was amazed to see us, and seemed really happy to have me there to show around. I told her that now that she is no longer there in the morning to be my mirror, I always go to work with sunscreen in streaks on my face and with my clothing inside-out and dirty. She told me she thinks of me when she eats mangos. A simple yet fond friendship.
This was my first time in a little village in the middle of nowhere, and I am infatuated. It has no electricity, running water, cars, and virtually no people. It has lots of sheep, goats, chickens, and cows. Imagine the sounds. The village consists of three clusterings of huts, with about five huts per cluster. Each cluster is about a half kilometer apart. The clusters are surrounded by fields beyond which are walls of trees. This makes visible a wide expanse of sky above and a wide expanse of green below. The village has one kitten, now named Babaganoosh. She was scared when I first held her, but she learned to trust me and was soon sitting in my lap of her own volition, purring. I hope I can teach the kids of the village to touch her gently and to stop picking her up by the tail or the head. The village smells green, fresh, and clean. The cooking hut, in which many vegetables hang drying, smells like years of sauteing onions. As we walked through the woods between hut clusters, the pack of children followed at a slight distance and called me by my name, rather than calling me, “toubob.” They giggled when I shook their hands. The adults gave me a sack full of mangos. The village is 12 kilometers from home. I plan to return frequently, preferably just to sit and soak it in.

June 24 Saturday
Today I went to my first Peace Corps Girls Club meeting. Each of the six volunteers in attendance brought a girl age eight through twelve. When I told Neenee, my host mom, that I needed a girl, she suggested I go to some neighbors whom I often visit and ask if I might borrow their daughter, Jenabu, for the day. Jenabu’s parents were happy to oblige. When I went to pick her up this morning she was dressed better than I, wearing jeans embroiedered with flowers, a red blouse, and high heels. She was carrying a freshly pressed handkerchief. Even in a clean and ironed skirt and button down shirt I feel like a shlub next to the women of Senegal.
Jenabu smiled at me as if I was Santa Claus. It feels terrific to get such a reception from a cute ten year old. We had a fifteen minute walk to the regional house, and she held my hand through most of it. When I admitted I was lost, she gallently led the way and never seemed to fault me for the detour.
Jenny was already at the house with her girl. They had set up crayons and paper, so the four of us drew our houses and families until the others arrived. I focused on the house part of my drawing because I really do not know who is in my family. When all the girls and volunteers were finally at the house, Whitney served hot milk and bread. I took Jenabu to the house’s swing and pushed her and twisted her up in it. Then we all played frisbee.
The featured part of the club’s meeting was a short discussion on malaria, what causes it, who is most vulnerable to it, and how to avoid it. Allison found a small puddle of standing water, and as if it had been planted there specifically to be Exhibit A, it was rife with young swimming mosquitos. This was my first time seeing the babies. Yuck. The girls were shy about volunteering to answer questions, but when I whispered answers to Jenabu and then elbowed her in the ribs she was good about raising her hand. After the educational segment, the group made a moisturizing lotion out of household goods, and then the girls flipped through the house’s National Geographic and People magazines, drew, played on the swing, and made friends with each other. Every ten minutes or so Jenabu would catch my eye and flash me a huge smile.
As people began to go home, Jenabu told me she wanted to bath. She seemed clean enough to me, but I guess she wanted to smell fresh when she got home. After she took a shower and everyone else left, we played a few games of checkers. On our walk back to her house, as usual, people hollered, “Toubob!” at me. This lovely little girl squeezed my hand and called back, “My name is Jenabu, not Toubob!”