Sunday, September 23, 2012

Falling Down huts

There are a lot of huts in various states of disrepair around. In other parts of the country you'll see mostly apartment buildings, or square brick-and-mortar huts, or round mud huts covered in a protective layer of cement. Most of the huts around me are mud, though, just mud, or maybe mud spackled with a village cement made of sand and cow dung. My little hut is just whitewashed mud, with a thin cement floor added on later in order to comply with basic Peace Corps housing requirements. It works, I enjoy it, I feel very at home in my little mud house. But the mud huts aren't permanent, and when they're no longer tenable they crumble in all sorts of interesting ways. 

This hut on the left isn't really falling apart all that much, but it has a lovely squash vine on it and I like it very much. Some of the huts, especially the bigger ones with ample surface area, have stunningly large squash vines. They remind me of frilly old-timey bathing caps or something. The one on the right has slid down quite a bit over the last few weeks, the roof just sinking lower and lower after each rainstorm.

This is my favorite falling-down hut. It was at its best last month, when the tufts of grass around the wall were still short and neon-bright and the inside space was filled with corn stalks. Now the grass on top is grown long and looks slightly dry as it starts to go to seed. The broken-down huts are ruins, but ruins from a very recent past. They're made of dirt, so watching them slowly tumble back down to the ground while the grass and trees rise up around them seems symmetrical. Back from whence they came and all that. A solid hut can last for many years, a decade or mere. It's interesting, living in a structure that isn't intended or expected to last for ages. 

All the over-lush grass spilling out of the ruins of the hut on the left reminds me of a river, crashing through floodgates, and the one on the right makes me think of a game of pick-up-sticks. They're interesting, the falling-down huts, they're quiet and weathered and caught in the midst of a drastic transition; they're a little like clouds or inkblots. They look like sandcastles, or haunted shacks, or Andy Goldsworthy installation pieces. They're neat. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Endless Trash

Waste disposal is a huge problem here; trash cans are often non-existent and littering is completely normal. Sewage, garbage, recyclables, food scraps - too often they wind up strewn about on the ground, waiting to be swept up and burned or washed away by rain or just left there forever.

Trash on a beach in St Louis

A typical debris-filled drainage ditch in Dakar
In the U.S. people produce a truly astounding amount of garbage on any given day, but for the most part it's quickly whisked off, to landfills or barges or processing centers or treatment plants, and we don't have to look at it. In Senegal everyone has to look at it. Pretty much all the time.

When I first arrived here the sheer volume of trash was one of the most striking things about the city-scape. When I travel around the country I still get hung up on how much garbage I see by the roadside, on the outskirts of towns, and just generally strewn around on the ground.

One of Dakar's many refuse-strewn lots
Batteries, old clothes, corn cobs, broken shoes, cardboard boxes, empty bottles, old notebooks, used-up pens, animal bones, mango peels, burnt-out light bulbs, candy wrappers, an ocean of plastic bags; anything you could use or grow or buy and then throw away is piled in the great swaths of refuse fanning out around the cities, towns and villages.

A village garbage pile in a field

Litter in a village creek bed

Rubble in a village ravine
People nonchalantly toss wrappers out car windows and drop soda cans right in the gutter without a second glance. For someone coming from a part of the world where littering is not only illegal but considered morally reprehensible, this is profoundly unsettling. It's awkward to watch. When there isn't a wastebasket handy (which is almost always) and no one to come by and empty a wastebasket anyway it's hard to argue with. It's a complicated problem and is difficult to change, but there are many people, PCVs and Senegalese, trying to do just that, with Sanitation Committees and public awareness campaigns and designated trash collection and burning areas.

Trash on a village path
At the end of the day all of this really, really makes a person appreciate the often unrecognized value of well-enforced anti-dumping laws, all that chiding about putting things in the proper bin, and access to an efficient garbage collection service.

The Home Stretch

During my Pre-Service Training (PST) time crawled by so slowly, each day seeming longer and more sweltering than the one before. Twenty-seven months seemed to stretch off into infinity, a boggling amount of time. Now, a year and a half later, my Close-of-Service (COS) conference is coming up on the horizon and it feels like the earth has sped up; the weeks are just flying by. It isn't really a surprise (pretty much everyone I talked to about Peace Corps mentioned this phenomenon) but it's still somehow slightly shocking, like when a good friend's baby is suddenly starting kindergarten.

It make sense that this happens; at first everything, even the most innocuous small-talk, was a struggle and daily life was both exhausting and filled with huge blocks of unoccupied hours. I'm busy now, with work projects and to-do lists and mundane chores and Peace Corps responsibilities and social calls and vacation ideas, and even though I have so many more things I want to do while I'm here it's starting to feel like COS-ing is just around the corner. It's not bad, it's mostly pleasant to be busy, it's just a little strange to be most of the way through a thing that once seemed like it was going to last such a long time. Now that I really feel at home here it's time to start thinking about going home there. Funny how that works.