Friday, March 23, 2012

Vacation Leave

I'm currently on vacation and will be back in Senegal in April. In the meantime I'm enjoying all the fresh veggies, fancy cheese, and wonderful coffee that America has to offer. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

This Old Hut

It's hut renovation and construction season here in Salémata, and people are building huts all over the place. These new huts are near the Health Center and the roof thatch is already all stacked up and ready to go.

Mariama, one of my host mothers, is having a new hut built. It's square instead of round, which I think is fancy.
Hut in Progress
It's also time to start mending or replacing roof thatch, before it gets ungodly hot or too close to the rainy season. People go out and gather tall grass, bundle it up, let it dry out in the sun, and then tear off the old roof and re-thatch the whole thing. My host family says that my roof (which I'm pretty sure is mostly made of spiders at this point) is due for some repairs, possibly a replacement, which will be interesting. (This photo is of one of our neighbor's huts, I'm not actually sure who usually sleeps in it.)

Partially Un-Thatched
There's a nice hut getting torn down and rebuilt pretty close to my compound. They're about halfway done right now and I really like how it's basically a cross section. Every time I walk by I think "Anatomy of a Hut."

Some people choose to get a little more creative with their renovations:
The Pink Hut of Salemata
(I think the guys who do the painting for the castle got to use some of the leftover paint.)

Special Occasions

There haven't been many big holidays lately, but in January there was the Grand Magal, when many members of the Mouride brotherhood make a pilgrimage to the conservative religious city of Touba to commemorate the exile of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, who was persecuted for his piety. Magal isn't really a big thing down in the south of Senegal, where there aren't many Mourides and people tend to be less conservative, but I still heard people talking about it from time to time. (For example, I wear pants pretty much every day in Kédougou, but up in Touba women are not allowed to wear pants in public.)

The last holiday that we celebrated in Salémata was Gamou, the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad. It's Mawlid in Arabic, I think Gamou is from Wolof, but that's what everyone seemed to be calling it in French and Pulaar, too. 

I've heard that some people make a pilgrimage to Tivaouane for Gamou, but in Salémata they rented a big tent and we just had a big get-together around the mosque. People came out of the woodwork (and over from Guinea) to hang out in the mango grove and cook rice with meat in giant, cauldron-like marmite pots. This was just before the first round of elections, while there were still a lot of very angry protests happening in Dakar and some of the other big cities, and my host father explained that everyone would be praying for peace, which I thought was good. 

Some members of my extended host family came down from Dakar, for Gamou and to get away from the election strife, and Mariama Kesso got a chance to show off how chubby and adorable her daughter Fatou has gotten. Everyone wanted a photo with Fatou, and she got tired of being posed with after a bit, but it was still cute.

The Red Cross Youth Group did a lot of cooking and carrying huge bowls of rice and meat around to different groups of people; Daouda "Petit" Ba came late and got a bowl all to himself; Sadat Souaré (my host father, in white with the red scarf) walked around, greeting everyone and explaining things to me.

The Youth of Salemata
 The younger kids spent most of the day playing around, the same way they usually do when they don't have school. My little host brother Mankaba (on the right) and his friends had some sort of imaginary kitchen going on. I think.

Me and the Host Fam

Yellow Fever (Vaccinations)

Over the last few months there have been some cases of yellow fever around the region of Kédougou, so the Ministry of Health got a vaccination campaign together. Along with enough vaccine for pretty much everyone in the region, they sent out banners and hats and t-shirts and posters that proclaimed "One Injection = 10 Years of Protection." I had to get a yellow fever vaccination at my staging in Washington D.C. in order to be allowed into Senegal, so I was all set. Every person who got vaccinated got a little card, very similar to the one I have now, as proof of vaccination in case they need to cross a border that requires proof of vaccination. My role during most of the campaign was to provide comic relief (A toubab who speaks Pulaar! Hilarious!) and also to fill out hundreds and hundreds of these little cards.

Neighborhood Vaccination Station

Vaccination station in a
village without a health structure.

Sedenbou: A ramshackle mining village with no wells. 

Maybe my favorite part was on the last day that I went out en brousse and we went to a tiny little Pulaar village called Medina Jam Weli. It's just a few compounds, the road out to it really isn't a road at all -- It's just a tiny little village wayyyyyy out in the bush. We pulled up, and the health workers (many of whom have been sent out from the cities and do not speak Pulaar or live in huts) were wondering who on earth lives out here, and I realized that I recognized the moto leaning up against the mango tree. One of my host brothers was randomly visiting the village, dropping some stuff off for my host father. Everyone in the car thought it was really funny when I exclaimed "Omigod! That's my brother!" and went off to greet everyone in the village. It turns out that Kade, my youngest host mother (my host father's third wife) is from Medina Jam Weli, so I got to meet her parents and siblings (I took a lot of pictures, which she was super pleased about when I got back and showed her) and they sat me down and made me eat some steamed rice with peanut sauce, which was great because I was really hungry.

Adama (me) and Ibrahima (my host brother)
People were really receptive to being vaccinated, and to getting their kids vaccinated. Many community members helped out with spreading the word about the vaccinations and with running the logistics of the campaign. There were still many problems (communications, transport, gas, and so on) but it was a really encouraging to see a big group of people working so hard to help their communities avoid a really nasty illness.

Vaccinations under a mango tree

Miscellaneous Things

Kola nuts, or goro in Pulaar, are something you give to someone here when you want to show that you respect them or to mark a special occasion, like a baptism. In my village pretty much all the elderly people are big fans of kola (and the caffeine that they contain) and many have the battered orange teeth to prove it. Once you break the nut open the white nutmeat rapidly oxidizes (I think that's what it's doing, anyway) and turns brownish orange. They're way too bitter for my taste (and I like to drink strong black coffee) and I don't like the weird alum-like thing that they do to your mouth. Also, being American, I have a the usual aversion to things that mess up my teeth.

Kola Nuts

Bissap is the best thing that you can possible hope for  when you're sitting in a hot car on a long trip. When you're on a long trip and your car goes through a village or police checkpoint people frequently run up to the door to shove thing through the window to try to get you to buy something. (This happens to everyone, not just people who are obviously foreigners.) A lot of the time it's cold, greasy fried dough, or warm bananas, or sachets of peanuts, but sometimes it frozen juice packets, and that's wonderful.
Frozen Bissap Juice

It's heating up in my village, which means that mango season isn't far off. In the meantime the papayas are starting to get ripe. My host brother cut down the first ripe one on the tree behind my hut, and we sliced it up and ate it. It was pretty good, but it turns out that I'm not nearly as big a fan of papayas as I am of mangoes. Mangoes are perfect, and papayas (to me at least) are kind of just like bland cantaloupes. It's fresh fruit, though, so I wouldn't turn it down.

My First Papaya

My Papaya Tree
Papaya Close-Up