Monday, June 6, 2011

Lessons Learned

In no particular order, here are a few of the things I have learned so far:

1. I've been told that the giant, scorpion-looking spider things (which are attracted to light and come skittering in around my feet when I turn on my headlamp at night) are harmless, but the caterpillar-ish centipede things (which I have not seen yet) have a nasty, poisonous bite.

2. My neighbor Sully was right about the Salémata Health Center having fantastic food. Last week (when I came to observe a 10:00am sanitation presentation that didn't wind up starting until 2:30pm) they invited me to have lunch with them and they served delicious rice and fish and vegetables.

3. You really can't buy vegetables in Salémata. Aside from a few sad little tomatoes and onions that sometimes show up at the weekly lumo market, you have to go 80 km (50 miles) to buy them at the market in Kédougou. Or plant a garden yourself.

4. Pulaar grammar and vocabulary is all sorts of fun. Jangugol means "to read," "to study," and "to learn." So no one really has any idea when I'm being a serious student and when I'm relaxing with a good book. Which and be both good and bad. Also, Pullo Fuuta has 24 classes of articles, meaning that there are 24 ways to say "the." It gets even better when you throw "these" and "that" and "this" into the mix...

5. I have come to think of 'cold' as a flavor. As Cady knows, it it currently my favorite flavor. Along with 'Snickers.' (I was not a huge fan of Snickers before, but I have recently realized that they are fantastic. And also almost entirely unavailable outside Dakar.)

4. My host brother was right about how much easier it is to fetch water by strapping the covered bucket on the back of my bike than it is to carry it on my head.

5. It was maybe not the best idea to read As I Lay Dying straight through in one ungodly hot afternoon. It put me in a strange mood and set me up for a series of extra-strange social interactions.

6. According to some people, my life here sounds just like Little House on the Prairie, except with a hut, and in the hills, and in Africa, and with texting. (I never actually read Little House on the Prairie, so I will have to take their word for it.)

7. Infinite Jest is long.1

8. I am really lucky to live in a village (almost more of a town, really) that has a bean sandwich lady. And extra-extra lucky that the beans are pretty tasty.

9. I can be needlessly difficult and contrarian at times. Particularly when I am hot and/or hungry. (This isn't so much something I have learned so much as been made more vividly aware of over the last few weeks...)

10. If everything goes well it takes three hours (squished in between a girl with two live chickens and a man holding a very small baby) in a van-type vehicle for me to get from Salémata to Kédougou. Yesterday everything went well, alhamdoulilaye.


1. In Senegalese culture it's really incredibly offensive to eat things in front of others without sharing (but serious nose-picking is ok) and people will not decline to eat half your Clif bar, bean sandwich, etc, if given the opportunity. If people have something they want to eat then they do it in their rooms or in some other non-public space, and so I frequently do the same, holing up in my hut to eat a secret apple or packet of Biskrem,a especially since lunch is often not until 2:00pm. Also, I don't yet feel comfortable openly using my laptop or iPod in village, so I only listen to music and podcasts at night and at naptime, and pretty much hide in my room whenever I have laptop-based work to do. Given all this daily pseudo-secrecy, combined with the fact that I have an assumed Senegalese name (Adama Hawa Souaré) and often pretend to be married or engaged, Infinite Jest is maybe not the worst book to be reading at this particular time in my life.

a. Biskrem is an extremely tasty chocolate-creme filled cookie, produced by Ülker (a Turkish brand owned by the Yıldız Holding group) and wildly popular in Senegal, West Africa. 
b. Apologies for all this footnote business to everyone except for the three of you who I am mostly sure will find it amusing.


  1. Great update. As I Lay Dying was an interesting choice, but a good story. Savor those vegetables whenever you get the chance.

  2. I love imagining you formatting footnotes secretly in your hut. xo.


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