Heather in Senegal

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

January 20
My mother, uncle, aunt, and cousin recently left from their visit here. It was wonderful having them here. I loved seeing them again, talking face to face for hours, and having them get a taste of where I live.
We started the vacation in Dakar. We spent a long time on Goree Island, where we hired a tour guide to lead us through the slave house and tell us about the island's history. We saw the small rooms where Africans were packed in tight for months until boats were ready to carry them away. This part of the island was devastating, but the rest was of another tenor. The island has beautiful old architecture, flowers everywhere, and a backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. Necklaces, paintings, carvings, clothing, and more are being sold everywhere. An old, half fallen-down stonebuilding holds a big collection of sculptures made offound items. There are a lot of restaurants thatspecialize in seafood, and there are many chubby catsliving off diners' droppings.
We left Dakar early in the morning January 4th.We drove for about eleven hours, longer than the flightfrom NY to Senegal, until we reached Tamba. The nextmorning we went to Park Niokolo Koba and went onsafari. We saw antelopes, partridges, a large lizard,wild boars, crocodiles, either a rock or ahippopotamus, deer, and beautiful woodlands. Our guidetold us he grew up in the park but that everyone wholived in villages within the proposed park boundarieswas kicked out when the land was declared a nationalpark. My cousin stunned me on the safari by, usingonly gestures and facial expressions, learning aboutthe guide's family, his life in the park, and hisplans for the future. It made me feel like with myPulaar, no matter how limited it is, I have no excusefor not having great conversations with folks here.
On January 6 we drove to Kolda. We stopped on the roadat a school for the disabled. No one was there, butthe gate was unlocked, so we explored the compound. Itwas the nicest looking school I've seen yet. Theschool gets money from an international non-profitorganization, and the interesting architecture,landscaping, cleanliness, black lined with whitestoned walkways for those with limited sight, all spoke to the care and attention put into this school.
When we arrived in Kolda we stopped briefly at myhouse. My Senegalese family gave us a huge and affectionate welcome, and I gave my American family a tour of my hut and the compound. Seeing my huge hut and meeting the kind people I live with made them feelmuch more comfortable about me being in Senegal.
On January 7th we had the most busy day of the trip.We began with breakfast at my favorite bean lady'stent, and then we took cabs to the garden Jenny and I are starting. This garden is on her father's land, onthe main road, and very close to Jenny's house. It is fenced, and the last thing planted there was beans.This makes it idyllic for a demo garden; the land is good and the location makes it easy for people in Jenny's neighborhood to visit. Jenny's parents have told her siblings that watering it will be their responsibility and that they must help with garden construction. We have set up beds demonstrating avariety of garden techniques, and for most of these,we did only a bit of the work ourselves before the kids volunteered to take over. The most satisfying moment came when Jenny and I were setting up a garden hammock, ran into some trouble, and while we werestill pondering how to fix it, saw some kids step inand solve the problem. In Peace Corps you are doingthe best work when a local is doing the work. Such a pleasure.After touring the garden, we went to Jenny's house somy family could see another example of volunteer housing and to meet her family and her bunnies. Ever since her rabbit hutch broke her rabbits have been free range. I'm not keen on the slaughter and eat part of the process, but I love hanging out at Jenny'splace with a rabbit in my lap.
From Jenny's we went to the market. Like ducks with ducklings, Jenny led the pack and I brought up the rear. We showed them a fabric store, the vegetable tables, the spices area,fish tables, the maze of boutiques, and the meat and fetish section. Sometimes I feel strong and capable as I make my way through the market, enjoying the bright colors and vitality of the place, and I imagine it is a bit like surfing. Other times it is crowded, aggressive, hot, overwhelming, and I hate it. I wanted my family to spend enough time in the market to taste both views.
From the market we went to my house, where my host mom was putting the finishing touches on our giant bowl ofyassa poulet (an onion and chicken dish served overrice). She served us in one giant bowl and had another for herself and the rest of the family. I was pleased to see that, for the most part, my family adapted well to eating with their hands. After lunch we hung out in the compound for a few hours. It was lovely. Card games, coin tricks, a kid brought a ball for playing catch, lounging with the family and neighbors. After a few hours we all got dressed in Senegalese outfits andwent to the weekly meeting of my women's group where we danced. After the women's meeting, we went to the regional house. We met Jenny and Nick, and my family got tochat with them while eating fresh watermelon and the okra and onion dish that I make about four times aweek. We stayed until exhausted, and then went home to sleep.
We went to Seck's garden the next morning. This is the demo site that Peace Corps set up. I gave my family the tour, showing them the various techniques being demonstrated. I was upset to see how many of my plots were looking terrible, and how the nebedie trees thatI brought to the garden were lying in a a pile like junk, looking unwatered and dead. Seck's plots looked very nice. I had asked him to take care of my beds before I went on vacation, but I guess he decided not to. Seck was extremely flattering and kind when hespoke to my family about me. Soon after this my uncle, aunt, and cousin left to drive back to Dakar.
The rest of the trip was a lotmore calm. My mom and I spent a few more days in Kolda. We walked around a lot, visited friends ofmine, cooked a Senegalese dish, and basically spenttime talking and laughing together. We traveled upslowly, spending a night in Tamba and another inKaolack. In those towns we simply lounged, seeing virtually nothing outside the hotels. Back up in Dakar we saw an arts market where we got heckled every timea merchant saw our eyes look in the general direction of his or her wares. My mom was great about having fun with this, and she joked and bargained with some men until we had bracelets and a batik for good prices. We spent our final day strolling about Dakar. The sun was hot, so we sat in the shade on the steps of theChamber of Commerce and stayed there for a few hours.Women with baskets of jewelry and dolls, and men witht-shirts, perfume, and shoes, tried to persuade us to buy their goods. In the evening I took my mom to the airport. Saying goodbye was devastating, and only a little less difficult than it had been when I left NY.
In all, it was a wonderful visit. I know somevolunteers discourage their families from coming toSenegal because there is not so much to see here, and because, as my family would agree, it does not offer the most relaxing of vacations, but I would highly recommend having family visit. I love that my familynow knows what my neighborhood looks like, can understand the roosters they hear on the phone, got to see me speak Pulaar, and got an appreciation of what my life is like here.


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