Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mafe and Machetes

Hello again!
The best week I’ve had so far in Senegal was during my volunteer visit, when I went to see Tambacunda.  This is a good sign since I will be living in this environment for the next two years!  I did not stay at my site in Madjaly since it is a new site and there are no current volunteers there.  I stayed in a village of about 100 with a sustainable agriculture volunteer who was sworn in last year. We were able to visit my future site and it made me really excited about moving there!
Highlights of my new village:
A new hut that was not finished when I saw it but what I did see of it was absolutely beautiful!  It was painted on the outside and on the inside there were designs carved into the concrete.  Who knew that a village hut would be so fancy!  My hut also has a front door on the side of the hut so that it’s a little quieter and I’m not disturbed by the children in the compound. My father wanted it that way so that I could get a good nights sleep and work hard during the day! There is a window in the front so I can still get a cross breeze since I also have a backdoor into my backyard.  I will have a place where I can garden there, where goats currently graze, so hopefully their manure will make the soil fertile.  I will also have a hole outside where I can use the bathroom and take showers over.  I’m looking forward to taking outdoor showers every day!
My father/counterpart seems really amazing and like a really hard worker!  We were able to eat lunch with my new family when I visited them and I was very excited because it was one of the best meals I had eaten in Senegal.  My two new moms made mafe, which is a rice dish with a peanut sauce.  Sometimes it can be a little runny and oily, but this one was thick and filling!  I’m very excited that my new family cooks well!
Biking!  We biked every day during village visit and it was so nice to stretch my legs, and see some of the countryside as the same time.  I am very excited to bike on a regular basis out at site.  My favorite bike ride was when we biked to the other trainee’s site.  We biked on a bush road instead of a main road and it was awesome!  You’re biking through grasslands, baobab and other bush trees in scattered throughout.  Passing farmers in their fields and long horned cattle grazing.  It was just very quintessentially “Africa” and it was hard for me to believe that I was really there biking through it.
After the volunteer visit week I had another 10 days of language training in Mbour.  I was feeling a lot more comfortable in my routine there, so I was able to enjoy my time more.  All the trainees in Mbour got together one night and cooked an American meal (chili) for one of our families.  It was fun to show them how we flavor our food and it was interesting to try and get them to understand that rice was not the main part of the meal.  It was also a good culture lesson because after we bought all the food for dinner and then cooked it, they complained that there wasn’t enough food and told us we had to buy more.  It looked like plenty and we were shocked and a little offended that we had done all this for them and only gotten complaints in response.  We told them no, we were not going to buy more food and then we kind of turned it into a joke and everyone just laughed.  In the end there were enough leftovers for them to eat as breakfast, and we realized it was just a cultural thing where in Senegal it’s no big deal to ask for more, so you always do.  In the States you only ask for more if you’re in a lot of need and then feel ashamed about it.  No such negative connotations here.
I had another cultural lesson because my younger brother had been circumcised while I was at volunteer visit.  It’s a Mandinka tradition for boys to all be circumcised in the same house and then recover together.  Every night they are in recovery there is a Kon Koran that walks around town scaring evil spirits away and goes to the houses of the circumcised boys some nights .  Well, in order to scare the spirits, it has to be pretty scary, so a few nights last week I was woken up by a man dressed all in grasses, head to foot so no skin was showing, clanging machetes together, followed by a mob of young men with sticks, all chanting.  If they catch you they’ll hit you with the blunt end of the machetes, not to hurt you but enough to scare you away.  They come around about 3 or 4 in the morning, and some nights they banged on my door.  I knew what was going on but I was still pretty scared and glad that I had locked my door that night.  It was a pretty cool sight, like a faceless sasquatch with blades, but when it’s 4 a.m. it takes a bit to remind yourself that you really are safe.  I think my brother will be returning to our house on October 10th.
The past few days I’ve been in Thies at counterpart workshop.  It was a time for Peace Corps to make sure that all our counterparts and work partners really know why we’re here and for us volunteers to get to know them bit.  I enjoyed hanging out with my new father and my Senegalese government work partner.  Although at times it was a bit awkward since I still have a long way to go on my language, it made me feel more comfortable about my move to Tambacounda.  Both counterparts are very patient and seem like hard workers.  I was happy to have the time with them.
All the trainees had Sunday off, so we rented a beach house and spent Saturday night and Sunday there.  It was so nice to relax, cook for ourselves and SWIM!!  It was the cleanest beach I had been to in Senegal and beautiful with some cliffs and a small nature reserve we could walk through.  And tomorrow we get to go to Dakar and tour the city some!  I hear they have great ice cream, so I am really looking forward to it.  It has been a great couple of weeks and I am looking forward to the next few.  I hope you are all doing well, and thanks again for all your support!

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