Village Life


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!

Yes, those are two bite marks in honeycomb fresh from the hive.

Delicious. Jealous?

As it is now hot season and my fear of dehydration has me consuming 6 liters of water a day, I’ve noticed the water level in my cannery running low much quicker than usual. Duh, I know, but wouldn’t be so duh if I wasn’t making up for the gulping by pulling an extra bucket for my water filter.  Ahh, there it is – my filter! I decided to investigate why it was going so slow.

Below is a photo of the ceramic candles that sit inside the filter.  The water must pass through them to get to bottom “Drink me!” section.  The candle on the right is one I wiped down with a rag.  The candle on the left is how both looked when I first took them out of the filter.

You can scratch that layer of gook right off with your fingernail EWW!

 

Gross sauce.  I mean, I’m still going to drink unfiltered water when traveling around, but this is pretty decent motivation to keep filtering it in site.

Life in village these past few months has revolved around the peanut harvest.  Peanuts have been the buzz of village conversation: How many peanuts have you harvested? Did we get them all from the fields? Have the been brought in from the fields before the goats and cows got to them?  Does Nacho still eat peanuts from the shell? How much is one kilo of peanuts selling in Diaobe (the biggest outdoor market in west Africa that is about 50k from my road town) these days?

One of my favorite parts of the peanut harvest is the part that takes place right outside of my hut door.  Everyone keeps their peanuts in tall, bamboo, cylinder-like structures that sit right outside of their huts (my brothers’ is outside my hut door).  Here the peanuts will stay until they are captured by rogue squirrels or until people have decided they are ready to roast, eat, shell, or sell them.

The process of getting the peanuts into these holders is amusing to me because the bags they use to transport the peanuts from the fields to the huts are huge, awkward, and heavy, and the holding structures are of course then very tall.  Everyone has their own methods of putting the peanuts in their place, but my favorite  (illustrated below) was how my three brothers decided to tackle the job amidst much yelling, fighting, and laughing.

First, drive the donkey cart so that the donkey’s nose enters Amanda’s hut door.

Then, topple the five or six huge bags of peanuts from the charette onto the ground.

Attempt to lift the bag high enough to pour the peanuts into the bamboo holding container. Literally using your head helps.

Hop up to check on how the process is going.

Bag number two! Make the smallest guy jump in the bamboo container to assist in the peanut-dumping process.

POUR POUR POUR!

Shake the bag furiously to make sure that every last groundnut makes it out.

Bounce out of the peanut holidng bin just in time for lunch.

My feet on a typical day during the dry season. Dust, or a really good tan? We shall never know until it's bucket-bath time.

 

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