Journal Entries

5 May, 2011

6:59am, sitting in Dabo.  Definitely the earliest I’ve ever seen this town.

My last ride out was not ferocious, more a slow rotation that began before dawn.  Maneuvering down the bush path, my mind drifted between fuzzy scenes dense with the feelings of leaving my family of two years that morning and my favorite memories from the FB.  Hollywood tells us that before you die your life flashes before your eyes. Well, I most certainly am not dying, and even though it was just a week over two years of my life, my time in Fodé Bayo was in ways a life of its own. A life that as of this morning I will never be able to return to in the same way.  (Sorry for the clichés and the drama, communicating how this all went down is a bit beyond my english skills at the time.)

Many of the ethnic groups in Senegal have a tradition of bidding farewell via a left-handed shake. Seasoned readers of this blog will remember from my cultural integration training way back when, that to give something, receive something, or gesture with your left hand is considered very rude in Senegal. The idea of the left-handed shake then, is that when you leave someone who you are not sure if or when you will see again, you bid them farewell by shaking with the wrong hand. Shaking hands with the left is awkward and uncomfortable. It goes against years of social training. As hands clasp and move in up and down in their familiar gesture, the urge to squirm away and correct it is overwhelming. This, is exactly what the left hand shake is intended to do – it’s a manifestation of the feelings people are experiencing as they give someone the love of an uncertain farewell.


18 July, 2011

Above is my attempt to sort through my emotions while I sat in my road town the morning I left Fodé Bayo.  In line with village tradition, I woke to leave before the first call to prayer at 5am. Whenever people leave village, they leave before anyone in the village wakes up so that a new day can began without having to say goodbye. Instead, everyone wakes up and you are gone and life is supposed to continue as if it was always this way, without the dramas of in-person farewells.

In Mandinka, when you know you are going to be sad, you say that you will be sick. There is a word for sadness, and there is a word for missing someone or something, but when the sadness is the type that will be overwhelming, it becomes not just saddness but a bed-ridden sickness as well.

My last night in village, we cooked a whole sack of rice and had a drum circle until two in the morning. While everyone knew this was for my goodbye, no one mentioned it. We all just ate and danced and said goodnight as normal. It was my counterpart who stopped me before I went into my hut and said that he would be sick all day the next day, because I would not be there. I didn’t know how to respond.

That morning when I wheeled my bike out of my hut at 4:45, I was supposed to just leave. I sat on the floor of my hut with Nacho, giving him a last few scratches behind his ears (Nacho was thrilled at this 4am wake up – more hours in the day to pay right? That definitely could be the only explanation for waking up this early). As he zoomed off into the bush and I started to leave the compound, I couldn’t keep up the tradition of leaving the village before dawn on my own. So, I woke up my counterpart, who woke up my brother Malan, who woke up my two favorite moms, Diara and Aminta. Together, they wheeled my bike and walked me to the edge of the village. It was clear when we got to this point that no one was sure what to do, considering I was as usual breaking all normal protocol for the situation. My counterpart started to cry, then my brother, and as I turned to my moms, Aminta just walked away.

We exchanged blessings, and promises of seeing each other soon. I awkwardly climbed on my bike and slowly wobbled down the path (no moon, very difficult at 5am with 50lbs of junk on your bike). The ride and car into Kolda was uneventful, which is good since my head was in a cloud.

And just like that, my two years in the village were over.


Note: Reading these journal entries outside of the mindset in which they were written, I’m realizing that they seem a bit dramatic. But trying to be true to form with trying to keep this blog as an honest representation of my time in the FB, because they are a clear description of how I felt and what was happening my last month, I’ll post them even though I’m slightly embarrassed. Right. Anyway.

22 March, 2011

Today was the first day that discussing my leaving village with my mom became a comment that weighed more than just a logistical talk.  Apparently, “five weeks” is a span of time that is graspable, whereas “three months” was still a “I’m going to be mad at you if you leave!” amount of time. It was Diara, my favorite mom, who took a sharp inhale and gave me that look when we talked about “five weeks” today.

We spent a long movie moment staring at each other before I broke it. “Don’t you say it!” I said forcing out a laugh, and walked away. Normally this is where she’d throw in a “WAI yoooooo Ñamoo!” but I heard nothing I as made my way towards my hut.

2 April, 2011

The typical after dinner routine consists of me, mom #1, mom #1’s baby, and my sister laying around on one of the family shade structures. This is one of the things I know I’ll miss most about village: laying in the middle of my women, letting my mind drift between their gossip and relaxing in evening breezes with flashlight moons. Consistently, it is one of my happiest times in village.  And it’ll never be a part of my life again after the beginning of May.

13 April, 2011

I love all of the new volunteers currently demisting in Kolda. Difficult to think about how I’ll be in Dakar and the Kolda family bonding will continue and I won’t be a part of it.

I’ve never considered my existence in Senegal not as part of the Kolda family.

And while yes, I’ll always be a part f Kolda, I will not be down here for the love and bonding, and they’ll all come to AllVol or WAIST and I just won’t know about the it that binds them together.  It makes me sad (for lack of remembering how to speak English well). It makes me not want to extend. I’m having trouble picturing “Amanda happy” in an office job for the first time in my life. Sitting still is not my thing.

Anyway, today brought a really special moment for me in village. On our second day of demiss with Cibyl in the village, for the first time during my life as a PCV, I was able to be in village with another volunteer and be sit in a crowd of people speaking ½ Mandinka ½ English and didn’t have to worry about translating. Really nice to have someone to share my village/Mandinka culture with without side explanations. Warm fuzzies, I know le sigh.


27 April, 2011

Without having counted, if I had to guess, I’d say I ate eleven mangoes today.  Successfully avoided all allergic reactions as well.

I did absolutely nothing today. Well, not entirely true. I speed-biked to Dabo and back to buy more candles since my headlamp is nowhere to be found in my hut. How fitting that the last week or so in my hut I have neither my headlamp nor my phone – two of my most coveted items in vil. Understatement; I more or less had these items surgically attached the past two years. Funny to not have them now in my final week when I wanted things to be uneventful and “perfect.”

It seems that last days are never perfect. Boxes are packed, days are full of awkward interactions where everyone knows that everyone is thinking about your leaving but everyone refuses to bring it up – life is hardly recognizable to the routine it had before the last few days in a place that has become home. Those quintessential last days seem to sneak up on us and float by before we have the right mind to bask in them. They come right before the comforting familiarities of routine are interrupted by the beginning of the moving out process. Last days of life in the IL house were spent meandering from room to hollow room, sitting on the back porch and eating take-out. Last days in Eleven were such a whirlwind of parties, long dinners, and early coffeed goodbyes, that driving out I realized that none of my last evenings included my favorite moments: each of the three roomies on a couch, DVR murmuring in the background as we munched on whatever random snack someone found and laughed at our lives and the world’s woes.

Transition to the next life chapter, better to take it and keep going.

On harvesting

Last year’s preferred method of harvesting mangoes was all about acrobatics.  Starting under the lowest lying branches, jump up, grab hold, lock your ankles around a particularly sturdy off-shoot, then snake up the limb. Here, your view of the over-lying trove should be good enough to strategically plan your next move. Once a course of action is set, monkey your way up to a good branch-jostling position, so you can adequately rattle the choicest fruits onto the expectant crowds below.

Making it rain mangoes! Though if you’re on the collecting side, it’s smart to keep track of where the branch-shakers are. From a good vertical distance, even the meeker-sized mangoes can have a substantial impact with your head.

This year’s collection tactic though, is focused around a solid chunk of bamboo. Don’t bother with the already decaying bits lying about – it’s worth the extra effort to venture into the nearby bush and hack five or six choice throwing pieces of bamboo. Trust, the more dense (less rotted) your bamboo piece is, the more confident and satisfying its WOOSH will be as it flings towards it’s golden prize.

Juicy plunder

Last night, my brother told me we’d “cut [Mandinka for “harvest”] tomorrow eleven–o’clock, we are going to the mango tree,” (when not collecting mangoes, Malan and I work on his English. Getting there, eh?). 11am the next day, I approached the tree where Malan was cutting mangoes via the chunck-of-flying-bamboo method with expert flair. Breaking through the lines of cows circling the tree in search of rogue mangoes, I was distracted by a bundle of green-golden orbs at the bottom of the tree. Though I shouldn’t have been (village kids have been collecting mangoes this way since they could walk), I was surprised at how well the flying-mass-of-bamboo worked at mangoe harvesting. As if to prove the point, a whooshed piece of bamboo trickled down from the top of the tree, grazed my shoulder and startled me a few steps backwards into a nice pile of cow poop (no fun in flip-flops). “Woa-ho, sorr-ey!” shouts Malan amidst fits of giggles from the crowd of little kids who’d come to watch the spectacle. Hilarious.

Fifteen minutes later, our previously humble collection of fruit had grown to an overflowing heap of juicy plunder.  As with any worthwhile endeavor, unexpected causalities did occur; one-heftily-thrown bamboo piece ricocheted off the tree with such force that as it crashed down to the ground, it used the rim of my bucket to break its fall, and thus took a bit of the bucket with it to the ground (“Ohh-ho, sorr-ey!”).  Another well-aimed throw won a particularly succulent looking mango, which fell half a foot to my right, dead center into the same pile of fresh cow dung I’d earlier stepped in. As satisfying as the mangoe’s SPLAT was as it made contact with the cow pile, everyone mourned such a prize fruit going to waste.


The worth of a mango munch

There is more to mangoe season than bamboo sticks and acrobatic tree climbing. Mangoe season mercifully coincides with starving season. As of six weeks ago, our breakfast became an infrequent guest. Three weeks ago, the portion in our dinner bowls began to shrink – tonight we hit the six handfuls of rice = dinner mark. So literally “starving” no, but the new portion size did not do much to calm the beast within when it was growling two hours before dinner was even served.

Thankfully, mangoes are surprisingly filling. When normally come lunchtime my stomach is gurgling its discontent, after a morning of seven mangoes, the arrival of the lunch bowl is a surprise. “Lunch? Really! Now? Why, I’m so full on mangoes that I’m not even hungry!” Mangoes also tend to be more appetizing than rice and slimy leaf-sauce goop (shocking!).

The filling capabilities of mangoes does surprise me. I’ve been known to down fruit of impressive proportions when out of village (i.e. where fruit is available) and I can assure you that never have bananas, mandarins, grapefruits or apples had even close to the same filing effect that three mid-sized mangoes have. With some mango research for the most recent PCV Senegal newsletter, I came upon one web site that claimed mangoes to have astonishing weight-loss abilities. “Makes sense,” I’d thought. “They are indeed filling, I guess the trick is that you’d be too full to eat much else.”

Apparently mangoes make for good pillows

Apparently mangoes make for good pillows

But then Google search “health benefits of mangoes” hit number four said that mangoes are helpful for those trying to gain weight.  “Maybe that’s the filling property?… the whatever in them that’s going straight to your ass?” I couldn’t figure this claim out, and decided it was rubbish. I’m pretty in touch with the growth and shrinkage of my ass as it has been in constant flux for two years (albeit more on the influx side), and if mangoes do in fact make you gain weight, I’m confident in saying that at this point I’d have surpassed the weight limit of my bicycle.

Anyway, today’s mango consumption total is thirteen, so I have some work to do in order to ensure that my poop stays green for the next 48 hours. (NOT one of the Google-found facts – that one’s straight to you from three seasons of mangoe delight!)

Happy hot season!

Journal Entry

Today, one year ago, I was installed into Fode Bayo in the dead-heat of early afternoon.  A few hours later, the chief of the village died, and three days after that, one of my host moms had a baby girl named Tida.  No such excitement thus far this year, (which I’m ok with).

Having been in Fode Bayo for one year, (and Senegal for 14 months), I’ve decided to make a few lists.

I have not done the following things for the past 12-14 months:

– eaten a burrito

– driven

– smoked a cigar

– drank real coffee

– even seen root beer

– worn high-heels

– used a hair-dryer

Before coming to Senegal/living in Fode Bayo, I didn’t know/had not:

– that a “moon-shadow’ was anything more than a song

– how to carve/eat mangos fresh off of a fall from the nearest tree

– what a baobab tree actually looked like, or that it had fruit

– experienced, not just witnessed, but actually been the direct subject of malicious racism

– that cashews grew from the bottom of fruits on trees – and that the fruits are actually really good

– been in a car (two cars to date) that while moving, had a wheel pop off, followed by everyone in the vehicle sighing like “oh again” and plop down on the side of the road for the driver to quickly bolt it back on

– eaten home-made mayo, unrefrigerated eggs, yogurt enough that it was normal (for my stomach as well)

– that 98% of the goods and services I would need in country I would have to bargain for (FRUSTRATING but a good skill to acquire)

– what millet was, what it tasted like, or that it was about the best damn thing ever if cooked with beans

– the little bissap popsicles sold by ladies on the street corners in grubby little bags would be such and integral part of my sanity here


Journal Entry

Last night marks the first night I wore more than underpants to bed.  Well, besides the two nights my fever caused me to think that I was cold in 107 degree nights, but still.

Last night, amongst socks, pants, a t-shirt, and a blanket wrapped up over my head, I woke up shivering.  Curiosity was the only force that got me to move at 6:40 in the morning, for I was sure that when I looked at my thermometer it would read somewhere in the 50s or 40s.   Actual temperature: 64 degrees.

No way!  I know that 64 is still a 75 degree drop from the normal temperatures of the hot season, but still.  64 in Boston warrants flip-flops and tank tops.  Am I really losing my mind to say that all I want are my slippers?

Unable to fall back asleep, I scrunched up my mosquito net and rolled out of bed to find my one long-sleeved piece of clothing.  Shuffling around my trunk I found my baseball hat and smushed that onto my head, making a mental note to buy one of the little wool prayer caps the men wear next time I went into Kolda. Nightcap!  Walking to the well, I greeted my villagers, all of whom were wrapped up in blankets and shawls as they went about their morning chores.  I dropped my bucked down into the well as I did every morning, but abruptly stopped. What’s this – why is my face warm?  I blinked the sleepy haze from my eyes a few times ans saw a mist in front of me – steam, was rising up from 14 meters down in our well.  The ground water was warmer than the morning air.

I laughed a little as I resumed lowering my bucket, letting the warm steam wash over my face.  The scene was a bit comforting – at least the steam proved that it was in fact chilly out.

Journal Entry

God I was sick today.

It’s amazing what having a “cold” in a hot climate can do to you.  Never the less, one where there’s no CVS… on the continent, and you can’t really explain what you’re feeling anyway because you only speak gurgles of Mandinka compared to everyone else.  It’d come out like this: “My nose and throat and ears hurt me. And sometimes my body is hot,” instead of: “My nose and ears and throat feel like they’re ina triangle of slowly solidifying plaster.  My sinuses feel as if they were under the weight of lead marbles being stacked higher and higher, one by one, every five minutes.”

“No, thank you, I do not want any millet right now.  Nebedayo? … [Damn it that’s what I tell you to eat when you’re sick…] Ok, sure, throw that in with the jumbo.”

“Alla maa jaatakendya fisiyataa ye.” [Blessing that’s said when one’s sick.]

Yeah, yeah. “Aminii, aminii.” [Response to a blessing.]  Thank you. Now I am going to lay down some more.  [Add one more lead marble to the pile.]

“Id like to plunger my face” – how do you say that in Mandinka?

Journal Entry

I’ve had a thought lately, about the PC being selfish.  Not just selfish though, but arrogant as well.  Arrogant to think that America is so great, that we’ll send youngsters from our country with just a few weeks of training to a country like yours, because damn – even these youngsters can sit amongst your elders and fix your problems. Arrogance.

How must the villagers see this?  Here’s this unmarried American yougin that  – were she from your community, would be beyond shunned by now and by no means taken seriously if she came in trying to “change” things – but here, because this one’s white and American, she can actually do something and make a difference.  Here,  do what she says.  Mental.

I can see the rational behind the other idea of what we’re doing here and not making any huge development changes in our villages, so then “the best you can do is show these people how much you care and understand them, and leaving them with that is just as important.”  This continent has been plagued with captivity and oppression and mistreatment and using using using people.  Then they see me, showing them that I “like and understand them.”  But if that’s all I’m going to do here, then it’s time I pay them tuition for my “experience” or leave.  Arrogance.

The only thing I can see right now is to get this survey done because it is something they can’t and won’t do.  What I can give them is the time of someone who is not impoverished.   Someone who can then have the time to talk to every single person in the village and figure out their concerns and problems – because no one else can do it.  No one else will do it.  No matter how difficult this is, I need to do this survey to understand life here better.  And so then to understand what my role is to be here.  I must do this.  Or else it’s time to go home and stop taking up space here.

Next Page »