Heather in Senegal

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Last night, holding a copy of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row, freshly flown in from the USA, I got a craving for an idyll reading spot. Two hammock support poles are in the ground immediately outside our compound, but the man who dug the holes takes his hammock into his hut when it's not in use, and I've been lazy about commisioning one for myself.

So I had to walk three households away to Hawa's compound, where I have noticed that not only does she have a hammock in front for her husband, but also a smaller one towards the back of her yard. I chatted with her family for a few minutes and then explained my need. They smiled sympathetically at my seemingly quixotic plan, and reminded me that they don't have electricity. I whipped a candle out of my bag and they invited me to go swing.

The hammock is tied to two poles stuck in the ground directly under a mango tree. It is close to the toilet hut, a straw roofed round hut with a six foot diameter and a hole in the center of the floor. The shape of the hole is held by a sawed off ceramic canister. When not in use it is covered by a thick pot lid, so there is no smell. As bathrooms go, and especially in comparison to the usual small rectangular tin-roofed stinky oven, this one is pretty aesthetic.

I lit my candle, lay back, and began to read about the whores and gamblers, or saints and martyrs, of Monterey. The already dark night was exagerated by my candle's flame, so that all I could see was my hand, the book, a vague feet-like shadow, and the stars above. After a few minutes Hawa sent her daugher over with a wooden bench, which she placed next to me and, using hot wax as glue, turned into a giant candle holder.

The scene was so perfect that it felt decadent. Hammock, mango tree, stars, grasshopper and frog serenade, distant conversation in Pulaar, darkness, and Steinbeck.

Monday, November 05, 2007

For the past few weeks there have been daily soccer games at the stadium, with cheering that can be heard kilometers away. Teenaged boys representing their neighborhoods play to full houses. They are in the finals of their tournament now. When Nene told me that a friend of ours coaches a team that has been on a winning streak, I said we should go watch.
The stadium has one giant cement bleacher that can probably fit about 500 people. The game started at 16:00, and people started filling the bleacher at 14:00. By the time we arrived police with giant guns on their backs were guarding the entrances to the bleachers, blocking the path. A knee-high cement fence surrounds the sandy field, and except where weeds have grown to high, people were huddled five deep around the fence. Nene, Assu, who lives next door, and I found a spot by the fence where we could see one goalpost and a quarter of the field.
Vendors set up shop selling small piles of peanuts, bags of juice, and water. A couple men were hawking bags of dried mango slices. "Mangos! Hey, getchur mangos!"
I never feel so white as I do when traveling or at big events. I feel then as if I glow, more neon glow in the dark white than the tanning peach that I am. But being with friends made a world of difference. When I am by myself or with other Toubobs kids steal strokes of my arms and people call out saying what they think of me. Today I got virtually none of that. Aha, this is that integration and safety in community business they've been talking about.
There was no scoreboard, and definately no screen showing instant replays, but someone in the stands was narrating the game over a loudspeaker, and during half time and after key plays dance music would overtake the stadium. Everyone would bounce along.
Throughout the game one of the omnipresent goats of Kolda grazed behind the southern goalpost, completely unfazed by the noise and the occasional stray ball.
Our team won, 2-1. We left a bit before the end of the game because Nene was scared to be in the stadium when everyone was pouring towards and trying to squeeze through the front gate. We could hear the announcing as we walked away, as well as the final cheering marking the finish. Almost immediately afterwards the parade of motorcycles and bicycles (no one owns cars) came pouring out. Those going in our direction were from the winning neighborhood, and they raced home, often two to a bike, hands in the air waiving their shirts in victory, as if guaranteed immortality.

"Some people see the cup as half full, some see it half empty, and the Peace Corps Volunteer sees the cup and thinks, 'hey, I could take a bath with that.'"
I heard the joke a few days ago, and today, with only about a cup of water left in my bucket and humidity making the well looking oh so much further away than normal, I decided to test the veracity of the quip.
I dunked a semi-dirty shirt into my bucket and then wrapped it around my bar of soap. Vigorously scrubbing with this gave me a good lather. I wrung out the shirt, put a bit more water on it and rewrung to get rid of the soap suds, and then dipped it a few more times to wipe the soap off my body. I wound up satisfactorily clean and with a shirt that should be good for another day or two. I'd take a running water shower in a second, but it's nice to know how much I can do with just a puddle's worth of water.