Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blueprint of a Typical 'Maria Freak Out'

I’ve never been the type of person who could hide their emotions.  Sometimes my face betrays what I think before I even realize that I’ve come to a conclusion.  I’ve come to accept this and steer clear of things like poker.  I’m a little worried about how my village perceives my expressive reactions to things.  I’m pretty positive they enjoy seeing a big smile and they definitely get a kick out of me being sassy and skeptical.  It’s when I am having a bad day that I think I throw them off guard.  What exactly do you do with a frantic foreigner who is trying to explain to you in a strained and cracking voice and broken
 Jaxanke what is wrong?  Whatever happens it is a scene, and even if I don’t complete any sustainable projects while here, I can rest easy knowing that I  successfully brought some entertainment to this rural community, otherwise lacking in sitcoms, for two years.  Here is a brief sketch of a typical ‘Maria Freak Out’.

Scene opens with Maria being asked for money in some form or another.  She happily gives a little,  content with some explanation such as they probably need it more than I do.
Cut in and out to many scenes of the same thing, Maria slowly becoming less and less generous, both with her handouts and her responses.  Her thoughts volley something like this:

“It’s nothing personal, just a cultural norm.  If they don’t feel guilty asking I shouldn’t feel guilty saying no.  But why haven’t they said thank you?  Really, just a cultural difference.  But I have a culture too.  No really, you read books about how this would be the case.  But can’t we come to a happy medium between my culture and their culture?  Just let it go.  I gave up so much already.  Try to just breath deeply.  There’s only so much cultural integration I can handle.  Think about all you have and be thankful for that.  Had.  Have!  You get to go back to America, they don’t.  If they were in my position they probably wouldn’t keep accepting to be treated like a human vending machine.  Maria, it’s their culture to share what they have, you just have a lot. Then why don’t they share more of their tea with me?  Oh grow up, that’s so petty.  But it still hurts.  Only if you let it.  I didn’t let it the first many times they asked.  Be stronger.  I’m only human with my own limitations and faults.  Try to understand theirs…”

And then she breaks.  It is invariably a small straw.  The chicken tore up her entire back yard, for the second time in a day, she was stood up by one more person, her one pair of intact pants gets a hole ripped in it, the children did not water the grafted mango she gave them.  Never anything big enough for her to talk about and have people understand why this broke her.
She’s not yet hysterical, it’s an internal break, but her family notices her slightly inappropriate comment, slight flex in the jaw muscle, and out of character frankness.  Example:
“If that chicken comes behind my room again I’m going to kill it and eat it.”
“That’s my chicken.”
“Well you should tell it not to come behind my room again.”
“Chickens don’t understand Jaxanke.”
“If God wills it, it will understand.”
“Ohhh Maria…”
And they know.  At this point they poke it.  Either that or everything they say seems like a poke, it’s hard for Maria to determine the difference at this point.
Maria tries desperately to cool things down.  Unfortunately, it’s Africa and the sun is hot.  She goes for a long run, hopefully expending all her energy until none is left to be angry with.  She writes the injustices she feels in her journal.  She eats a treat from America and doesn’t even mind who can hear the wrappers crinkling, exposing her splurge.  She fumes ‘I am a person whose emotions should be accounted for too!’ in her head.  She tries to do yoga, but has trouble clearing her mind.  She decides not to sit out with the family after dinner and goes into her hut early, although she has trouble sleeping.
Her family stands by, slightly amused.  If I ask her to cook will she blow?  What if I ask her why she’s not going to the garden?
Maria agitatedly picks at her acne without realizing it while going over in her head a speech in Jaxanke that will attempt to convey to someone why she is so upset.  Try to deal with her problems instead of letting them fester.  She takes a deep breath and heads out to confront whoever she feels she needs to explain herself to.  Once she gets there she might lose confidence and have to wait until tomorrow.  Or she might start right away, in either case her speech instantly crumples and out pour tears.
This is when the Senegalese just kind of look at her, both unbelieving and somewhat horrified.  The general rule they resort to is hands off.
Maria calls a Peace Corps friend to calm her down.  It’s probably  the morning and they’re not expecting something quite so heavy quite this early.  She cries until she laughs and everyone knows that then she’s fine.  She calls Massaly, one of her bosses, while she still has motivation and tries once again to explain to him how much she dislikes this Master Farmer program he told her to work on.  They decide to have yet another meeting to try and fix it yet another way.  She sighs, and knows that nothing will come of it but also that she’ll be ok for a while now and so will give it another shot for perseverance sake.  As she walks back to her family they are still a little wary, wouldn’t want to see those tears again, but realize she’s better.  They innocently suggest a menial task they know she can do and boost her confidence with compliments.  Maria, you make the best tea!  You know how to harvest rice!  She shamelessly revels in the praise.
Calmed with the knowledge that her family really does want her to be happy (or at least not crying) she once again can enjoy her time here.  She takes the afternoon off and does something just for herself, like paint her room, read a book, or clean her room (can’t forget those Hornbostel genes).  She is happy and laughs at how silly it was to take herself so seriously.  And it’s over until next time.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Considering how much I love food I’m shocked to realize that I have yet to write an entry dedicated to what I eat here!  The food is delicious, if not slightly carbohydrate heavy, and I think I’ll give you a little sampling (taster if you will) of a typical village day’s food.
We start off with one of two options.  Breakfast is either raw crushed peanuts boiled with white rice to a slightly thick porridge consistency.  If it is available salt or sugar is added.  The other, tastier, option is corn, millet, or sorgum flower which is rolled into balls, mono.  These are then boiled to the same thickish porridge.  Sugar is usually added, but for a fancier occasion you can mix in yogurt, peanut butter, bissap juice, or lime juice.  I especially love the millet flour mono because it has a slight tang to it, which complements the sour yogurt, bissap, or limes well.  Not to discredit the peanut butter because the peanut butter with sugar combination makes the breakfast thicker and creamier; almost like tapioca pudding for breakfast except filling.  So delicious!  Unfortunately I enjoy having control over one of my meals a day, so I do not eat breakfast with the family and instead make myself oatmeal.  Since it is the only meal I cook myself I have to expend all my culinary creativity on that one dish and consequently I think the oatmeal deserves an entry all to itself.
Lunch is the most versatile meal.  There are many options depending on what’s available and the cook’s preferences.  I’ll just go into three of the most common and popular dishes I eat here in village.  My family makes the best mafe in Senegal.  It may be premature to say that but theirs is so good that  I’m willing to bet I’m right.   I’ve eaten a lot of mafe in a lot of different places and I’ve never tasted better.  Mafe is a thick peanut butter sauce served on top of white rice.  Depending on what we have there will be goat chunks, fish, or sometimes the occasional squash square cooked in the sauce.  The peanut butter here is what you might find at a fancy hippy grocery store back in the states.  It’s sugar free, preservative free, salt free, just crushed up roasted peanuts.  Mix that with some water, a little salt, maybe oil, and you’ve got yourself an amazing lunch.  My friend once described mafe as peanuts’ final reincarnation.  The other huge dish here in Senegal is cheb.  It’s fundamentally fish and rice, but each house has their own specific way of getting there.  We first steam our rice,  while frying fish.  When the fish are crispy and put to the side  water and spices are added to the pot and then vegetables we have available; squash, potatoes, okra, carrots, cabbage, eggplant, hot pepper, depending on what’s in season are boiled.  Once they are soft enough to break apart with one hand the rice is added and boiled until cooked.  The spiced and oiled  rice is served with the vegetables  and fish on top in the middle.  Crispy fried rice from the bottom of the pot and a whipped sour bissap leaf sauce are served as garnishes on the side.  If you want to get really fancy you can make an onion sauce with mustard and vinegar and sprinkle that on top of the entire thing (although we’ve only done that once in village).  So delicious!  The other dish I often eat is steamed then boiled white rice mixed with crushed up raw peanuts, Parkia biglobosa seed, a magi cube, and some salt.  It sounds simple but tastes amazing.  Sometimes we’ll have the bissap leaf sauce or raw onion flavored with magi in the middle of the bowl.
Dinner is also one of two options, both served over a couscous.  The couscous is not like the kind we cook in America, it is made out of corn, millet, or sorgum flour and then steamed three times to reach a consistency somewhat reminiscent of sand (but don’t get me wrong, it’s very good).  The sauce is either a watery peanut butter sauce with fish, beans, or goat boiled in it.  There are usually a few chives, some salt, and a magi cube.  The other option is a thick leaf sauce boiled with crushed peanuts.  It’s flavored with salt and chives and oh so good!  I think I could eat that every night here and be happy!
So that’s pretty much the menu.  I’m learning how to cook with my moms so hopefully when I return I can make this food that I’m sure I will miss.