Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I obtained guests.

A couple weeks ago my neighbor Katie had a birthday and since she'd been traveling a lot recently decided to have a party out in village instead of slogging in to the Regional House. It rained quite a bit during her ride over to my place, so she wound up do a fair big of slogging anyway, but she made it safe and sound. 

Ramadan was in full swing so we had a discreet little mac & cheese lunch in my hut, and then PCVs Jackie and Jubal came in to celebrate with fancy hors d'œuvres (Laughing Cow "cheese" and salami gifted to us from a friend), hot chocolate, and cake. 

Katie blew out the candles on her Nutella-frosted loaf-cake (imported specially from Kédougou), opened her presents (cards, seed packets, candy, and her supply refills from the med office) and we watched a few episodes of Summer Heights High on my netbook. 

My host family likes it when I have visitors, especially Jubal because he's funny, plays music, and bring seeds, and kept popping in to say hello, exclaim that I'd obtained some guests ("Adama! A hebbi hohbé!") and ask good-naturedly which of us were fasting for Ramadan. (Jubal actually is fasting, but he's still drinking water during the day.) I like having visitors, too; all in all it was a lovely little evening.


Bowls, like buckets, are a big things around here. We eat all our meals out of bowls, food is kept warm in lidded bowls, gifts and purchases of corn or soap or oil are delivered and carried in bowls. When women get married they're given bowls with lids and enamel pots in different sizes, and many women proudly display the fancier ones year-round, stacked up on shelves or tables in their sleeping huts.

Bowls are great, but everyone has pretty much the exact same ones, which can lead to confusion, especially during big events when lots of people are cooking and eating and carrying all sorts of things around in nearly identical stainless steel bowls. To keep track of things, most women like to paint their names and initials onto their bowls, usually with nail polish or whatever's on hand. Since I've been working with the other PCVs in my area on our little World Maps project my host family knew I had a bunch of little pots of paint on hand and my host aunt Hassanatou Bâ asked if I had any extra that I could use to paint her name on her bowls before she went back to Guinea for two months to visit her parents.
Hassanatou, posing for the camera. 
Hassanatou lives on our compound but I'm still not sure how exactly she's related to my host family, so I just think of her as my aunt. In any case, she is a very sweet woman; she thinks it's funny when I get things wrong, is happy to repeat herself two or three or nine times when I don't understand, and makes delicious sugary little fried dough beignets on market days. When I came back from my vacation I gave her a three-pair set of the earrings that my American family had sent with my for the women in my host family; she particularly loved the dangle-y one shaped like little golden leaves and she wears them every single day. Obviously, I was more than happy to paint her name on a few bowls.
Once I got started my host moms Saliou Dian and Mariama Souaré poked their heads into my hut to see how it was going. They liked what they saw, and asked if they could bring their bowls over, too. Pretty soon my hut was overflowing with bowls of all sizes, and with little host siblings eager to "help" with the painting. I let three of the older kids come in to do some painting and (aside from spilling paint on my floor and paint thinner on my floor mat) they were actually pretty helpful.

My hut, full of bowls. 
I made sure to use a different color for each woman's initials, for aesthetic purposes and because it makes it easy to tell them apart at a distance or in dim light. Since this bowl-name-painting-day I've been asked to do the same for the neighbors behind us and across the way, and am pretty sure that it will happen again soon. It's easy, it's fun, it hardly uses any paint, and it's nice to do something so immediately useful and delightful for people. 

Between the bowls and the map murals I'm pretty sure that there are a few people in my village who think I'm a Decorating Volunteer, sent over by the American Government to with a bucket of paint, a pack of brushes, and a mission to make things pretty.
Fancy paint for Saliou Dian, Mariama Souaré, and Hassanatou Bâ 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lunch in my Hut

A few weeks ago I was working over at the Health Center, things went long, and I came home late for lunch. This happens occasionally, and when it does whoever cooked lunch (my host moms take turns, work-sharing is one of the big perks of the polygamous lifestyle) saves me a bowl of rice with peanut sauce (nine out of ten times lunch is rice with peanut sauce) and I eat it in my hut.
I always eat with a spoon. Most people on my compound eat with their right hands, but my host father, a few of the older girls, a few of the older boys, and I all eat with spoons. They switch back and forth sometimes but I've been told that "Americans eat with spoons, and you're American. Also you don't know how." Which is true, I've tried in other villages; it's a terrible mess, the sauce is too hot on my fingers and it feels awkward. So, my lunch comes in a bowl, with a spoon for me. Inside is more than enough rice and a smaller bowl of sauce.


According to good Senegalese mealtime manners, I portion out some of the rice, so as not to "ruin" it by getting sauce all over it, fluff up the remaining rice, swirl the sauce around, and pour it, all with my right hand only. In Senegal, as in many parts of the world, the left hand is the toilet hand  and is therefore considered unclean. (People here use water instead of toilet paper, kind of like a do-it-yourself-bidet, but that's another post for another time.)

In any case, after I pour the sauce I eat the rice, eating from the part of the bowl that's directly in front of me and only mixing one bite at a time. I add rice and sauce if I finish my first portion and am still hungry. Pretty often I've already been fed at the Health Center, but my host moms are good cooks and it's nice of them to save me food, so I eat enough to be polite, even if I'm not very hungry.


After I'm done I put the sauce bowl in the bigger bowl and cover it with the lid and the nice sauce-free extra rice and bring it back to one of the two kitchen huts. Sometimes one of the older kids will eat the leftovers as an afternoon snack, and sometimes they'll feed it to one of the little kids as a pre-dinner snack.

And that's lunch in my hut.

Happy Ramadan everyone!

It's Ramadan again! I wrote about Ramadan last year and about the things that people eat during Ramadan, so I won't go over the basics again. Last year, as a show of solidarity and out of curiosity, I fasted for one day, and I may do that again at some point. My host family understands that I'm not Muslim and wouldn't want me to actually do the day-long food-and-water fast for the entire month, both because it's not my religion and because they are (rightly, I think) convinced that I would probably get really sick if I swore off drinking water and eating during the day for four weeks. So, that means that, once again, I'll be stuck at the little-kid bowl at lunch time, or be given a bowl of ñankatonk (steamed rice mixed with dried okra, ground peanuts, bullion and hot pepper) to eat alone in my hut.

Really what's been on my mind, other than the terrible muddy state of our road, is my left big toe. Last December I injured it while biking in flip-flops (I know, I know) and a piece of the right half of the nail. It was doing a marvelous job of growing back in, right up until about a week ago, when it started to feel like the top right corner of the nail was in a knife fight with the top right corner of my toe. The Peace Corps doctor asked me to send her photos (see below) and then basically told me to soak it in warm water, keep an eye out for infections, be stoic, and just let it finish growing out. If I don't mess with it, it will sort itself out and I won't need to go up to Dakar to have them fix it. That's our hope, anyway.

Internet is too slow for me to do fancy things like rotate images clockwise.
My 4th of July polish is hanging in there. 

In any case, it's sunny and clear now, so the road is drying out. Tomorrow morning I'm going to head over to the garage and see if there are any cars going back to village. Until then I'll be hanging out on the Regional House porch, soaking my foot and trying to catch up on e-mail.

Hey, look at this thing I made.

Rainy season has begun in earnest, and that means long, damp afternoons spent in my hut, making tea, listening to podcasts, writing letters, and, most recently, sewing things. I've mended some tattered t-shirts, stitched up my mosquito net, hemmed some pants, and made a replacement pouch for my Diva Cup. (Most female PCVs here use menstrual cups because tampons and pads are not readily available. And also because they're pretty great.) It's been a long time since I sewed anything by hand, but I fussed around and pinned things together this way and that way and it came together eventually.

It was a challenge to make the stitching even, but I did remember to how to sew it inside out, line everything up, and measure it correctly. (Thanks Mom!) I was/am particularly proud of myself for making a functional drawstring to close it. Proud enough to show it to pretty much everyone who was hanging out at the Regional House, whether or not they had any interest in either arts & crafts or Diva Cups.

I also showed it to my host family; they were impressed, assumed it was a coin purse, and I didn't correct them. They also thought it was novel, a woman knowing how to sew. In Senegal tailors are almost exclusively male, and sewing is definitely considered a male activity. Not that anyone was offended, just a little amused, and now sometimes when someone on the compound needs help mending clothes or something they send a little kid to fetch me so I can come help, since I'm "very competent with the sewing."

Monday, July 9, 2012

World Map Project

My neighbors in Salémata and I have been working on painting World Map Murals in each of our villages and last month it was Salémata's turn. After chatting with the Primary School Director and choosing a place to put the mural I spent an entire day setting things up and gridding the map outline. (Gridding is where you have an image drawn on a small grid and then you draw a big grid and copy the image over square by square.) I had a very handy grid plan printed out but it still took hours and hours to lay out all the lines and copy everything over.

The next day Jubal and Jackie came to help with the painting part, which was great. I took pictures every few minutes to show how the mural progressed from start to finish. Here's a link to the album; if you play it as a slideshow on the fastest setting it has a nice flipbook-ish feel to it, I'm really happy about that.

Salemata World Map Montage 2012

Thanks to the wonderful people who send us care packages we had some decent paintbrushes, but prying the paint cans open took quite a bit of effort (no screwdrivers on hand, unfortunately) and the mixing of some of the colors was challenging. The blues and reds came out bright and vivid, but the oranges and purples came out a little flat and drab. (Sorry, Canada.)

The painting was definitely more fun than the gridding, both because it was colorful and also because I had good company all day long. We even had music (faintly) playing in the background, thanks to my ipod touch.


We also had an audience, which got to be somewhat annoying at times. I made a rule that only a few kids could come in at a time and they had to leave if they touched wet paint, were rude to each other, or made too much noise. For the most part the kids were endearingly enthusiastic and pretty respectful about the precarious jars of paint, smelly old wine bottles filled with paint thinner, and the grid papers and country name lists scattered about. The teachers and Director were very impressed (it was funny how surprised they were with how well it turned out) and pleased with the mural; they've already asked if we can come back and paint a map of Senegal in one of the other classrooms.

It was great to work on a team project, and also really nice to do something tangible, straightforward and finite. This month I'm planning on going back in to draw outlines around countries, double-check the border we made between Sudan and South Sudan, and write "La Carte du Monde" along the bottom with our fancy golden paint pen, and then it will really be finished.

(I'm just awkwardly pretending to have a chair here.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Blue Sky Day

On the afternoon of this summer's solstice I kept getting sidetracked by the striking blueness of the sky and how everything just looked so vivid all of a sudden. It took me a little while to realize that lately most days are hazy, making the sky gray, the light pale, and the shadows faint. Everything seems a little flatter without a distinct shadow.

Here are a couple views of the roadside on a normal early-rainy-season day. The laterite dirt looks a little extra red on the left because I used the Beach Scene Setting on my camera. 

My compound on the solstice. 

Also here are some butterflies
on a twig in my yard. 


Mango season is long over now, but there's been plenty of laare around for the past few weeks. Laare ("la-ray") is the Pular word for a super-sour fruit that grows on trees out in the bush. Most people like to mix it with sugar (which tastes kind of like SweetTarts candy), some mix in powdered milk (going for a CreamSicle-type thing I guess), some like to add salt (which tastes like something out of a tidepool) and little kids just eat it as is. 

I picked up a laare fruit at the weekly lumo market a couple weeks ago. It cost 25 CFA, or about 5 cents USD, and I bought a little 100 CFA sachet of sugar to go with it. 

I brought it back to my hut and cut it open. It isn't very hard to cut through; the skin is soft but the inside lining is a bit tough. At first it looks like it's a two-lobed fruit, but it's really just a bunch of pulp-covered seed packed in together.

 The part that you eat, the pulp, is slightly sweet and very tart. The longer you suck on a little seed-let (that's how I think of them, there may actually be a word for them) the more intensely our they become.

 The ridiculous sourness is why most people like to add sugar. I really don't get the salt thing, but to each their own.

 I ate some of the laare, spitting the seeds outside, and then gave the rest to few of my host brothers who were hanging out under the corossol tree near my host mom Mariama's hut. I think eating too much laare would give me a bit of a stomachache and also it's funny to watch the puckered, scrunched-up faces that the littler kids make while eating very sour things.

This reminds me of the monkey-brains
 in Indiana Jones.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Friendship and Bracelets

Awhile back Troll (one of my dear friends from Camp Unalayee) sent me a package filled with band-aids, antibiotic ointment, and other super handy things. She also sent a bag of embroidery thread and some very sharp little scissors, perfect for making friendship bracelets. After brushing up on my knot-tying skills (it's been a few years since I made any bracelets) I showed all the thread to a few of my host siblings and we got to work.

(I love all things reminiscent of Pantone color cards.)

Kindi, below left in the striped shirt and right in the red shirt, picked it up very quickly. That really wasn't a surprise, considering how good she is as braiding intricate patterns into her friends' hair, and the boys weren't far behind. They did a good job of showing each other how long to cut thread, explaining that more colors means longer pieces and more complexity, and making sure no one hogged all the bright reds, yellows, and greens, which were most people's favorites.

This pink, yellow and green bracelet on the left was my first attempt; it came out pretty well. The photo above right is me trying to get Fatou, my favorite chubby baby, to look at the camera while my three-year old host brother Mankaba took photos.

It was fun, and over the next few weeks everyone wound up with bracelets, even the little kids. It was nice to share something American that matches up so perfectly with Senegalese sensibilities - bracelets, bright colors, and friendship are all as popular here as they were at summer camp back in California.

Craft Time Under the Mango Tree