Heather in Senegal

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I am now back in Kolda after three weeks of training in Thies. The best thing about the training was seeing my friends again. We traded stories of our successes, stresses, our homes, families, hopes, concerns, and so much more. It was overwhelming to finally be surrounded by English speakers who understand what I am going through and have insights and advice to make it easier, and tales of their own beside which I realize I am doing just fine. The three weeks were far too packed for me to describe, so I will just give some highlights.
The rainy season started proper during training. The urban aggies and the environmental ed volunteers did a lot of training together outside, practicing how to make improved beds and how to garden in various containers, including buckets, rice sacks, sliced plastic boxes, and whatever else we could find. On one rainy daye day Clare knocked me into a wrestling match, and once thoroughly covered in mud, we chased down our friends until about fifteen of us were slinging mud at one another. Living in Africa is indeed dangerous. The mud and sand pressed into my ear resulted in a week long painful ear infection that made everything sound like it was coming to me through water. All better now.
The hands on gardening experience during training was priceless. Container planting, grafting, dealing with seeds for trees, testing seeds, making pesticides, etc. It replaced knowledge of theory with actual understanding, and now I feel much better equipped to work in the garden here and teach others.
Language class was tough. Nick opted to switch into the French class, leaving me alone with Samba. We covered a lot of material, and I have a full notebook now to study. He introduced some fascinating new grammar structures. The way syllables can be added to verbs to change their intent is like a mathematical equation. I can't do the logic fast enough to hear it in conversation now, but I am beginning to be able to use the in-fixes.
Weekends were heaven. After the first week of training about twenty of us rented a house on the beach and spent two days swimming and lounging. I loved being in the ocean in a rain storm.
The second weekend I stayed in Thies for my little sister's birthday party. My host mom bought a fancy cake for the party, and lots of popcorn and sweet bread. We set the coffee table outside with a table cloth, fake flowers, and Fanta bottles, with a padded chair behind it like a throne. Many kids from the neighborhood came, and we danced and danced. Most presents were candies. I gave her a game of memory, which we played a lot later in the week. Getting back with my Thies family felt like coming home. These people were very kind to me, and it was a pleasure to be able to speak with them in so much more depth than when I had last seen them. Also, they have hosted many volunteers, and they were understanding about my spending most nights out with friends.
At the end of training some volunteers threw a big party on the beach. I love how much the ocean has been part of my life here. Most people dressed as if going to a fancy party in the Hamptons. The tailors here make it possible for people to draw clothing and have it materialize the next day.
It is hard to know what to say about the past few weeks. It was a thrill to be around friends, and so many, and with so little time before we all had to pack up and go back to our corners of Senegal, it felt like a frenetic rush to get as much color and life as we could out of the limited time. I had long rambling talks with a lot of the folks, lots of playing together, generally feel closer to the lot of them now, and suspect it will be a full year before I see some of them again. Peace Corps is about isolating you from the folks you love, thus forcing you to love the folks you're with.
Traveling back home was an adventure. I rode with other volunteers most of the way, but eventually I was alone, and there I found complications. The driver of the sept-place (a station wagon with seven seats for passengers, common transit vehicle) told me he could take me to one town, and from there I could catch a car to Kolda. He neglected to say that I would have to wait over night for said car. Luckily, two women and a man in the car with me saw my dilemma and invited me to come home with them. I had been talking with one of the women, and had rather hoped for and slightly expected the invitation. I love the hospitality in this country. The family lives on the outskirts of town. Their land borders on fields, and the area has no electricity, making it a beautiful and peaceful place to spend the night. The moon was full. I sat out with their family as we ate dinner, which was, much to my relief, vegetarian. The family was surprised to see the random toubob in their midst, and it was fun to see the confusion on everyone's face when neighbors visited in the morning. The family spoke Pulaar, so we were able to chat. Mostly I fell back on miming, and I was able to make them laugh a lot. They gave me the bed to sleep on, and I expected to share it. Instead, the family slept on a mat on the floor. In the morning I helped the daughter light the fire to boil water for coffee, bathed in the open roofed out house (such a pleasure!), helped clean the bedroom a bit, and after breakfast was walked back to the garage, where the man of the family secured the front seat of a bus for me.
Back in Kolda now, I am excited and nervous about starting work proper. The first thing I want to do is attack the spider mite problem in the garden. The little bugs have launched a full attack on the garden's tomatoes and eggplants. There are chemicals that can fix this, but I want to focus on solutions that will be easily accessible to the average gardener, so I will be using garlic, red pepper, tobacco, and the likes to, inshallah, banish the mites. I read in one garden manual that basil can be used to combat spider mites. This would be a blessing, for basil grows here like a weed, but every where else I have looked, sources say basil attracks spider mites. If you have any advice on spider mites, please send.
Back in Kolda
Today I got an email from Peace Corps saying that if I do not send in the medical part of my application soon, the rest will expire, and I will have to start applying from scratch.


At 6:30 PM, Blogger Mom said...

Dearest Heather,

Mud wrestling, sleeping with strangers, Pulaar, outhouses, spider mites.--When I was pregnant with you, such things were not in my dreams for you. I prayed that you would have a happy life filled with wonderful adventures. Isn't it funny what can give us pleasure.

Keep yourself SHH!

All my love,

Mom (:-)

At 10:00 PM, Blogger Ellia said...

Yay, welcome back to the ether! Better send in that medical application, girl, or they'll come and take you away. And then what will I do for vicarious adventure reading?
Life in New York is full and busy and good. I will be sending you a proper letter soon, I promise. In the meantime please continue regaling us with your tales of derring-do.
Much love,

At 4:40 PM, Blogger Bex07 said...

"Peace Corps is about isolating you from the folks you love, thus forcing you to love the folks you're with."

What a powerful statement, Heather! That piece struck me more than the others, although I was gladdened to hear of your adventures, and glad you got over your ear infection :) I had a similar reaction after mud wrestling at Burning Man one year...

It seems the isolation is honing your spirit...:0)


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