Archive for October, 2009


Claire: get…me…out of here

October 31, 2009

is the phrase i have been repressing for the past two and a half days.

It’s not that my village is bad or anything…just…DIFFERENT. every single thing about it is different.

Here I live not in a house but in a communal dwelling encircled by concrete with about five concrete buildings inside and two grass tents for cooking. Needless to say i live with a big big family. There are kids running everywhere in a big gang playing; adults sit under a big tree and talk, nap, nurse babies, etc; boys are pretty much nowhere to be found during the day. I honestly dont see any of them until around 9 pm when its time for dinner: girls my age and moms do most of the work, such as cooking, cleaning, taking care of the animals, etc. There are chickens and goats running around my compound as well. I made friends with one baby goat. I pet him and he nuzzles up to me, which everyone thinks is quite hilarious and stupid of me.

I sleep on two foam pads on a concrete floor. I didnt know it until too late but I basically kicked my sister out of her room; she sleeps in the living room now. I tried to get her to switch back but she refuses. She’s about my age but still has four years left before she graduates and goes on to university; she is constantly running around making dinner, helping a blind man who lives in our compound, doing laundry; getting water, etc. I feel totally inadequate and lazy all the time. Oh, and she’s gorgeous, by the way.

It’s not all completely rustic. There are lots of things I have here that I didnt have in Dakar; the best news of all is that I HAVE AN ACTUAL FACTUAL SHOWER! This is something I definitely did not have in Dakar. Also, ALHAMDILILAH, i have a flushing toilet WITH a toilet seat, which is new. For the past two nights weve brought a table and tv out on the concrete patio to watch after dinner; I’ve seen more tv here in the past two days than in two months in Dakar. Also we drink ataya (this really amazing tea) like its nobodies business. So its definitely not all bad.

No its not bad at all. The highlight so far has been yesterday when I followed my sister and all the other girls from the village to the well. They tied ropes to old gasoline jugs and dipped the jugs down down down the well to the water, hauled them back up, dumped the water in a big, plastic, rainbow colored buckets, filled them to the brim and carried them home on their heads. She gave me a smaller, toubab sized bucket to carry on my head and I walked back home in the line of girls with buckets of water. I was pretty elated: lets face it i had been practicing for this moment ever since I saw the jungle book and idolized the girl at the end with the bucket on her head singing my own home and luring mowgli away from the jungle.

I also like the weather here, at night theres a cool breeze that makes it the perfect weather to just sit outside and chat. It reminds me of summer nights in colorado and reminds me of something my fav african studies teacher told me: if you like colorado weather youll like western africa. Well I think she meant interior western africa. Any way its pretty gorgeous weather here, made more beautiful by the absence of city smog and garbage smell in the air.

It is just completely and totally different and therefore really hard to get used to; i have no idea if my family likes me or hates me or is simply putting up with me. Mostly i suspect the third.

The men are also even more forward, which I didnt think was possible. I have so far gotten three marriage proposals and even more requests to take them back to america with me.

When I walk the sand path home after work children come RUNNING out of their houses yelling TOUBAB and pointing and laughing at me.

Actually people laugh at me a lot, if I try to speak wolof or sererre, if I try to cook or clean, etc. All I want to do is be included; it feels so much better when I’m actually doing something or helping someone. When I was dropped off I was told by my prof to assimilate completely and I’m trying, but I feel like most of the time I just get laughed at or am so inadequate its sad.

It also sucks being in an area where there is almost NO french spoken, many people in my compund dont even speak french. I’m either wondering if they’re talking about me or absolutely certain they are. And all in a language I dont understand but am expected to.

I knew this wasnt going to be easy, but I found myself wondering why I thought it would be anything but extremely hard, maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Not painful or traumatizing, just HARD. I dont fit it not because anyone is inadequate but just because i just really do not fit in. I am and they are just plain different.

But I’m going to keep my chin up and keep thinking about it as an exercise in self confidence, will power and self assuredness. And also in accepting and experiencing completely different cultures. I go through about twelve emotional roller coasters every day, from I LIKE IT HERE! to GET ME OUT OF HERE! and back, but I keep reminding myself that five weeks will actually go pretty fast so I should soak in the experience while i can. I tell you what, tho, it definitely puts two and a half years in the peace corps into perspective.

I’m at a cyber cafe in a town kind of close by but it was kind of an ordeal to get here. I felt like my family was both amazed and annoyed that i wanted to come here, they feel like they need to accompany me everywhere, despite my protests. So, my posts will be much less frequent, but I will try to hoof it here at least once every weekend…


Eben: I am here

October 30, 2009

In Wolof, the first question asked when meeting or running into someone is “Nanga def?” which essentially translates to “How are you doing?”  The proper response is “Maangi fi,” or “I am here.”  This seems particularly appropriate given that I am, in fact, now here at my internship site, Ngaye Mekhe. After exchanging parting gifts with my family on Tuesday night — I gave them T-shirts, they gave me doughnuts and chocolate spread — I woke up the next morning at 5:30 to begin the next phase of my time here.  I hauled the entirety of my current belongings to school for our 7 am departure at 7:30 am. (This was still more on time than expected.)  After driving in our bus northeast for a few hours and dropping off Jasper and Lisa, we arrived in Mekhe around midday. Waly threw my bags at me off the top of the bus and left me at my family’s doorstep with a wave and a smile.  (Once again I find myself lying. We actually went to my internship site first to meet my supervisor and chat for a half hour or so about my work, and then I went to see where my friend Trina was staying before being left at my new house after a lengthy introduction from Waly.)

The family has been great. Unlike Trina’s new family and much of the rest of the town, they all speak very good French to complement their Wolof and Pulaar, another local language.  The father, Pa Diop, works for a local microfinance organization (different from mine), and the mother, Ma Sow, just opened a small boutique selling printed fabrics and assorted household items.  Pa Diop has a pretty sober demeanor and gives off a general vibe of seriousness, but after a couple days I would no longer describe him exclusively as such.  He’s very interested in my opinions on American and international politics and loves giving advice to his kids.  In news from the Irrelevant Details Bureau, he’s pretty short.  Ma Sow is not.  She’s unbelievably nice (to be fair, I believe it, but she’s nice nonetheless), and so she calls me “my son” and reminds me from time to time how happy she is that I’m here.  I now have a new Senegalese name, Yoro, which she chose for me within 20 minutes of my arrival.  (It’s a Peul name, since she comes from the Toucouleur ethnic group, which is part of the Peul tribe.)

Then the kids, of which there are nine as of my last count.  Some are children of Pa Diop and Ma Sow, while others are nieces and nephews here for unexplained reasons.  I repeatedly forgot all their names the first day, prompting me finally to pass around a notebook and make them write their names down after many jokes at my expense about my memory.  Save for the 5-year old, Adama, they all speak good French and love talking.  But although Adama is the only one I can’t really communicate with, he’s the one who likes having me there the most.  He ran in the door on the first day when he saw me sitting in front of the TV, and he tends to break into dance in front of me whenever any music is on.  I think he’ll be great for my nascent Wolof abilities, as he often tries to speak to me in Wolof and there are tons of natural translators around the house.  There’s a 19-year old, Demba, who is soft-spoken but quite smart and easy to talk to, and the one I talk to most is 10-year old Cheikh Tidiane, who has endless stories about the past Americans who have stayed with the family.

The house is roughly what I expected, with a few minor differences.  Like most houses here, it’s quite open-air, but most of the house is covered instead of being open to the sky.  The main area is defined by relatively dilapidated concrete flooring and walls, and it includes, of course, a TV set.  I have my own nicely-sized room directly off the main area, and otherwise inside on the first floor there is a boys’ room, a girls’ room, parents’ bedroom, and an unused living room.  (It all sounds bigger than it actually is.)  Then outside is a kitchen, a toilet hole, and a shower.  Finally, the roof is used as a petting zoo for the pet rabbits and pigeons.  The pigeons stay up there, but the rabbits love wandering around the house, often going into my room to hide under the bed.  The kids bring their mattresses up to sleep on the roof with the animals now that the rainy season is done.

I may have made the house sound somewhat simple, but the family is far from poor village folk or anything like that.  There are two computers in the house, one in the parents’ bedroom for Pa Diop to use the internet and the other in the boys’ bedroom for them to play computer games.  We get more TV channels than at my house in Dakar, since there is cable at this house.  And like the Mendy family, everyone speaks French, the parents are well-educated, and the kids aspire to go to college.

More so than the Mendy family, though, the Diops very much engage in the “typical” Senegalese manner of interpersonal interaction.  Every family member who enters the house shakes everyone’s hand upon arrival, so Pa Diop shakes his sons’ and daughters’ hands multiple times daily, which is pretty foreign to me.  A few minutes of every conversation are taken up by greetings, which usually consist of the same question asked multiple times by both parties, with full knowledge of the answer to come.  In French or Wolof:

“How’s it going?”
“It’s going, it’s going.  How’s it going for you?”
“It’s going well.  So how’s it going?”
“It’s going well, it’s going well.  How’s the heat?”
“Oh, it’s going a little, but it’s hot.”
“Yes, it’s always hot here.  And your day?”
“It’s going, it’s going.  Yours?”
“It’s going well.”

And so on, until perhaps you start talking about whatever it is that you wanted to talk about, or the conversation might be over after this exchange.  You are not, under any circumstances, allowed to answer these questions by indicating that something is not going. Read the rest of this entry ?


Robert: Holy. Daoist. Mountain.

October 29, 2009

picture-27I’ve caught a couple minutes’ respite here after a two-week homestay that was coupled with the final weeks of my language classes in Kunming and the beginnings of my preparations to conduct a project of my own here in Yunnan.

I really enjoyed the homestay– I think they enjoyed me too, despite my inability to understand Shanghaihua. They really sweet people who moved to Kunming in the 80s, I believe as part of the same danwei. Dad later became a Japanese translator and Mom a nurse. They have a son attending Shanghai University now who’s almost my age, so I felt like they were prepared for and receptive to the mindset of a 20-something college student. I had to miss more meals together than I would’ve liked due to my workload at school, but we did manage to have some great times together– particularly at a wedding I didn’t realize was an actual 650-person reception until I walked in the door (wearing a Twins cap, not smelling particularly great) and saw the bride and groom, who’d gotten married this weekend but was having the ceremony mid-week, as many couples employing the western wedding tradition usually do. In China, apparently they’ll do it on a Monday night. Lesson learned, karaoke sung. Dad can really belt ‘em out.

Now we’re on the road for two weeks as a group, moving up towards Dali, Lijiang, and Zhongdian/Shangri-la. Had an incredible day on one of China’s 12 holy Daoist mountains, Weibaoshan, hiking to the top by myself in a nice seven-hour jaunt. Got to Dali yesterday, declined the multitude of offers to buy weed that every white person surely gets (it’s not just the beard!), and decided that there was nothing I could do about the old town being a tourist trap full of laowai marveling at the orient and vacationing Han shoving cameras in front of everything while they toss their empty Honghe packs into the street. I got a little surly yesterday taking all this in, but a decent slice of pizza, a bottle of Sol, and a two-hour nap put me back on top.

I’m about to go up in to the middle of nowhere for a few days. We hike in to a town called Shaxi, where I’ll stay with another family for four days. I’m sure I’ll have more to share when I get back!


Claire: Last day in Dakar

October 28, 2009

So today is my final day in Dakar.  I ran some errands, did what was left of my laundry and went to the school. Can’t tell you much about my errands, except that i bought some really cool PRESENTS there. I leave tomorrow for the village of Tattaguine and recently found out that there is no internet there, not even a cyber cafe. The closest one is about a 15 min bus ride away, so i will try to hoof it there at least once every weekend to post.

Needless to say, I am pretty nervous. Well, make that extremely nervous. My mom keeps telling me, though, that if I don’t like it or if my Tattaguine family is mean she will march straight there and give them a piece of her mind. I’m going to miss my family so so much. It’s comforting to feel like i already have a family in the country; I feel nothing like the fear I had before I met my first family when I just arrived here. I’m still scared, however, that they wont speak much French and that we won’t be able to build a relationship because I don’t speak much Wolof at all. I’m also scared because there almost certainly will be no shower and no toilet—just a hole in the ground.

I’ll also miss being able to get on the internet and keep up with the rest of the world at least once a day. I’ll definitely miss keeping up with glee, 30 rock and the office.

Most of all I’ll miss having all my friends around. Everythings about half as scary when you go through it with another person; every traumatizing experience becomes laughable with a friend. I’m going to have to buy A LOT of credits.

The bright side is that the village should be a breath of fresh air, literally. Dakar has lots of cosmopolitan things to offer, but it’s full to the brim of smog and dust and garbage—literally big piles of garbage everywhere. its…lets see how to put this…not the BEST smelling place I’ve ever been.


Samantha: the past two weeks

October 25, 2009

The weekend of October 9th I went to a small surf town north of where I live. My “cousin” Sara (she is an exchange student from Michigan and lives in Santiago with my host family’s aunt) and I stayed in a cabin on the ocean!! Friday was beautiful but Saturday was cloudy and cold so we came home to Viña where it was sunny and warm! On Sunday night we went to a Daddy Yankee concert! It was a lot of fun but we were surprised that a lot of families came with their little kids!

On Wednesday October 14th I received the first not passing test grade… of my life! Nico explained to me that I “Shouldn’t worry because you’re not in the red zone so that means you can still pass the class.” Haha GREAT! But these things too shall pass and in my defense I am learning a lot from this class and would have passed the test if it was in English because I knew the material!

The weekend of October 16th I went to an art museum. It was small but had a lot of really interesting paintings. Many were from the 1800s and there were only a small number of modern paintings. On Monday October 18th my friend from home’s sister was in Viña so I showed her around and we ended the day watching a beautiful sunset in Reñaca. 

During this past week my friend Jessica’s family from the US was visiting her here in Chile. It was awesome to see their reaction to how she lives here. They are from Wisconsin too and her dad has the same sense of humor that my dad has, and that almost no one in Chile has!

Yesterday I went to a National Park called La Campana. We hiked for more than 10K up a “hill” which in the States would be considered a mountain! Although I am very sore today it was worth it because the views were breathtaking and it was amazing to spend time in the peace and quiet of nature.

Eben: I heart activities

October 20, 2009

Ok fine I didnt take this one...forgot my camera that dayIn between playing online trivia games in class, organizing my next semester, and thinking about big issues like development (ooooh), I actually do try to do cool things with my time here. Here’s a brief slideshow of my recent activities:

And a bunch of other new pics are up at my site, going back to near the beginning of September. Starting from the top, I went last weekend with the members of the environment class, which I’m auditing, to the Ile de la Madeleine. We took a 20-minute motorboat ride into the ocean west of Dakar and arrived in the lagoon shown above, which looked something out of a deserted island movie set. We were ostensibly there to see some plant species or something, but the swimming in the lagoon was the fun part.

The next day, I took my first surfing lesson at a beach on the north side of Dakar. It was about as hard as you can imagine it would be to stand up and balance on a moving plank in water, but as you can (sort of) see from the picture above, I managed to stand and stay up three or four times over the course of the hour-long lesson. Going back for more this weekend.

Looks better than it ended up, Im sureThen on Tuesday, my friend Sean and I found a golf course on the northwest tip of the city and played a good round of 15 holes after class. (Why else come to Africa than to play golf?) The course was beautiful — right on the ocean, with multiple tee boxes and greens situated on jetties over the water. Wasn’t incredibly well-kept, as the greens played pretty slowly and the fairways were a little rough. But something is briefly right with the world when arms and hips and metal and torque combine to make a tiny ball fly a couple hundred yards, and we’re also not exactly the most discriminating golf connoisseurs about the course we’re playing, so we had a lot of fun.

They made us take caddies, so we made them take pictures

I’m looking forward to a busy last weekend in Dakar before heading out to my internship in Mekhe next weekend. Working on a post further describing my family now that I actually know some interesting stuff about them, and I have plenty of other observations to report, but I figure keeping things simple for once here is worthwhile. So I’ll leave it with that.


Arianna: OMG

October 19, 2009

Photo 126I AM SO SICK OF WORK, SO SICK OF WORK, SO SO SO SICK OF WORK! My brain feels like jelly and I have read over thiry-five “scholarly” (aka, dry-written) articles to work on this final paper and I might tumble over and collapse. After finishing the two essays last week, I feel like I should be able to celebrate and revert back to my doing-nothing-but-laying-on- the-beach routine. What the heck!

Jess and I went to the beach today (mental preparation for the agony of paper writing for the rest of the week) and I am one big freckle explosion once again. I also found a really cool orange sweatshirt (see photos above) that smells like a very delicious smelling man. It sat there all morning so before we left I snatched it….. Jess is currently gagging and is appalled that I haven’t washed it, but like I told her, I am going to wash it, it just smells soooo gooooood……

Well, I suppose I better try to get back to work…. ugh…. two more weeks, two more weeks, two more weeks….

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