Monday, October 15, 2012

Close of Service (COS) Exit Interview question #2 - A story

2)      Peace Corps service is characterized by a lot of ups and downs. What was the most rewarding situation that you experienced to an extent that you felt good about your decision to come and serve here? A situation that made you think that the time that you are spending here is worthy. (You can share a the full story)
a.       I think the ups and downs are both rewarding experiences that one may not realize immediately. They are both ways to learn about yourself and your surroundings. My decision to come to Peace Corps wasn’t to make myself feel good it was to learn a different way of life and begin to understand the diversity in this world.

However, if I were to give one example of a situation that warmed my heart and put a smile on a lot of peoples’ faces was the day I taught my sister to write her name. The event was a small example of life’s challenges and not just in the fact of teaching her to write her name. The event had depth.

We had been playing with my camera and drawing pictures then, taking photos of them. She really likes her photo taken and so, I challenged her. I told her she had to write her name and where she was from before I took her photo again. She groaned but eventually agreed.

Teaching in Senegal is really just copying. Here I made my sister sound out each letter and syllable of her name. I gave her examples of other simple words with similar sounds. When she messed up I simply said, “I don’t think that letter makes that sound.” Not once with all her begging, crying, and moaning did my hand take the chalk from hers.

I don’t know how much time passed. It didn’t matter because we were there with one goal and everyone, including my now present father, silently pushed my sister on. Again, we sounded out the letters making it to her last name. She pronounced each syllable and wrote just a little quicker now until finally she got it….Fatoumata Kamara Togue.

Wow! I was thinking maybe she wouldn’t do it, maybe she would just give up but no. With enough encouragement and the write amount of reward she was willing to struggle. Why should I be shocked? She does it every day. She has a reward: Food, Life. She has a struggle: Daily chores, farming, washing. And so, she struggles sometimes enjoying it and sometimes not.

Then, finally something clicks…….Fatoumata Kamara Togue. Snap….I took her photo as she looked at the chalk board which her name was written. She smiled and took the camera to admire herself and her work. Then, I proposed she write her father’s name next. She reluctantly agreed again for a photo. This time her struggle was less. She remembered the sound of the letters and how to write her last name and the name of her village. Again, I took her photo. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The things that Sprint through your Head

The future has been a main topic of any conversation with any person. Everyone is curious. From the taxi drivers who only speak wolof (I speak Pulaar) all the way to both sets of my parents. It's fun and exhausting.

Of the things running through my head I have paper work to finish, cups to poop and pee in, rashes to have medicated, and a journey to plan (this one seems to be the most difficult as it literally can lead anywhere). However, there are always those little moments that catch you and put you in the place called HERE and at a time called NOW (a tribute to The Peaceful Warrior if you'd like captain gravity). I'd like to share one of these moments with you guys now because current PC volunteers found it amusing and I need to find out whether or not our humor here still cooperates with the humor there.

And so it goes....... Recently, during the month of Ramadan, I had two couch surfers from Spain contact me about their trip to Senegal and a possibility of coming to Kedougou. They were two girls on their summer vacation and wanting to travel cheaply before returning to school in September. I said why not (Ramadan is a difficult time here because nobody eats or drinks anything) and responded to their email.

Long story short, I was on a trip up north visiting a friend and broke my phone (3rd one in 2 years. Water is all I have to say). Miraculously, we found each other in the transit house in Tambacounda. It was movie like. They said, "We're leaving to Kedougou now," and I said, "Are you Spainsh?"  The rest is really history. We got on a bus and traveled South.

They first went to the common tourist spots (i.e. waterfall and animists) while I made it back to village to make sure it was okay to have guests for the big breaking of the fast, Korite. Of course, it wasn't a problem i was told with a very 'are you stupid?' look. Now the event really begins.

It rained the couple of days we had been apart and well, the river swells when it rains. Every year I have to take a paddle boat to cross the river for a few weeks and this years I had to get two Spainsh girls across the river with me. Sounds easy right?  Now, you need to imagine the contrast in cultures. Spain very comfortable with their bodies, sexual, playful etc.... not Ramadan. Ramadan is abstinence from all sinful things and fasting. Yup, it was a process but like a good volunteer and facilitator of cross cultural exchange I just let it go.

The car was prearranged since I had taken it to get into Kedougou and all I had to do was some grocery shopping and get the girls there by 4p.m. Easy I thought not realizing how hot it would be in the middle of the day and the fact that my perception of far is a lot different than Westerners now. But we managed and walked arriving to the boat crossing at just before 3p.m. Another sigh of relief as we crept by the stares of people who we shocked, surprised, and pleased with the two white grisl who just showed up in short shorts and tank tops (cultural reference: showing your knees is considered sexy in Senegal...during Ramadan a little offensive).

Fatigue had set in and I wanted them to understand the chaos that is crossing the river by boat so, we watched the first boat arrive.  Here is the fun part. Line are non existent and a lot of people are looking to cross with their baggage and sometime motorcycle. The boat. A 12ft aluminum venture boat powered by 4 men and their paddles.The boat is filled with what I will call SHIT (it consists of anything from a motorcyclem bicycles, buckets, chickens, goats and other items being sold or bought from the market) and of course people. The boat, when full, drops in the water probably 2 inches leaving maybe a half inch of space in between the top of the boat and water level. A bit terrifying for the girls.
More terrifying is getting on and off the boat. Imagine the lines, anxiety, and chaos that happens at shopping malls during Christmas. People in general just don't give a crap anything beside getting what they want... No one is happy. Now take away the store, replace the plastic bags with bicycles loaded with rice or chickens, solid floor becomes mud, river water, and thorns, and the goal is to get everything you want on the boat. Sounds fun?

The boat arriving meant either sneaking on, which I did with no baggage in the morning, or bullying your way in. I didn't have much o a chance with the Spainsh girls and their baggage. I had to plead with men as they litterally shoved people into the water and mud to get on and off the boat. It what ridiculous as they caught their last glimpse of the Western girls and tightened their grips on their baggage. The Spanish girls and I had no chance and the boat left with out us.

Soon, it came back and this time a plan by the Senegalese was hashed out. Only bikes and luggage would go on the next one. This way more people could go when the boat got back.  It was a good joke and not even April. This time we had to get on as my phone conversation with the car waiting for us was desperation. They wanted to leave I needed them to stay. The boat was again a scene out of Gladiator and I had one option: pull the useless white person card.

I called out to the people in charge, plead my case, and got them to wait for us. However, this just meant more Senegalese got their chance to pile on as we made our way down the bank of the river. Even getting on the boat that was only waiting for us people blocked our entrance on to the boat, refusing to move. I may or may not have shoved an old man out of the way. In the end, we got on then, we got stuck on a submerged fence. 10 minutes passed before we dislodged ourselves a safely made it across the river.

The girls now were wet, still in short shorts, not my wives (common question here) and a bit frantic. We were the last on and last off as the boat was so packed that 5 or 6 people had no where to sit. We ran up the river bank to where the car should be. Yes, the car left us. Quickly I called hoping, they hadn't gone to far. "Hello. Where are you? I am here. I need to take the car"
- "We left. How many are you?" - Car man
- "It's me and two others."
- "Who are you? Three isn't enough."
- "I'm Mamadou. Screw that. Get back here."
Call dies due to lack of reso forcing us to scramble back across the river on the boat we just got off. More stares, more questions. Back on the side we had just left from we find more people want to go across the river but no one can get a hold of the car. "No they aren't my wives. No, I won't offer you one. Here is the number for the car. Call me if they say they'll come back," I tell one younger man moving back to his village after spending some time in the Dakar area.

And so, the short shorts and tank tops and I went home. Then, at dark I receive a phone call....
- "Where the hell are you?" - car man
- "I'm in Kedougou. You left us, remember." - Me
- "We came back. Where are you? Come here quick. Lets go!"
- " Absolutely not. You said, 'wait till tomorrow. Three isn't enough.' So, we're staying here tonight until tomorrow."
- "You've wasted our gas. You owe us. We come back for you and now, you aren't going."
- "Whatever. Your fault, your gas. Have you forgotten hospitality?" - CLICK.

The next day after some raised voices we got on the car and to my village. The rest of the trip was a breeze and all you could do is laugh at the past events.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Future

My time back in village has been one of mixed feelings, rather very emotional. Maybe it’s the malaria medications (joking Pops) but it’s seems to me that I have been way more in my head these days. The reason….I’ve finally decided that I will leave Senegal after my contract is over. What does leaving entail? Holy stink, it’s worse than when I had to pack up and sell all of my stuff, get my wisdom teeth pulled, and move back to Hawaii all in 3 weeks. True story ask my mom. Yet, at the same time the feelings I feel are mainly liberating because I believe I will be a better person in any society. Therefore, I am not afraid like I was about coming to Africa but rather nervous I will get lost in all the different possibilities that the world has to offer. There is farming, volunteering, teaching English, going to grad school, just pain working and then where to live, how long to stay, where to visit, how does rent work again? Utilities? What the hell are honeycombs? So much to think about but for me it isn’t so much frightening as just a little overwhelming because I want to give each opportunity a chance when in reality I probably can’t and therefore, have to make a decision. Who knew deciding what you liked or what you wanted to do or even eat are truly difficult decisions. So, as I try to control my excitement, I’m like a kid on Christmas Eve and I am not even planning on leaving for another 2 or 3 months, I need to finish up some projects that are in the works and do some things I’ve been saying I am going to do for a long time. As many of you know the Reading Room is being built. In fact, it has walls, a roof, and some cement. Hopefully, this Sunday the inside walls will get some concrete and I will be able to begin painting and decorating in order to liberate my mind from the constant thoughts of the outside world. I’m crossing my fingers because Ramadan also started today (Saturday) meaning people won’t be working as much. Another post will have to come once the Reading Room is done but for now I need to share a heart-warming moment for me. I’ve taken to writing down words and thoughts that I like or mean something as of recent. They serve as little reminders to do “good,” breath, relax, and understand that there are things much larger than not sharing my oatmeal and powdered milk with whatever cute little filthy child steps through my door. It came from a younger man who has a one year old boy a beautiful wife and as of recently has become the bread winner for his entire family due to his father’s death. Anyway, we began speaking about the weather and farming over some traditional Senegalese tea. It was typical banter. Then, the conversation turned a little serious and he asked me, “When do you go home?” Honestly, I answered in a few months and he asked, “Why?” Shit. Why am I going home? I answered as best I could, “There are more possibilities for increasing my education there, my family is there, my culture is there, and I want to see the world so that I can better understand people, farming, and our ways of life.” Usually I get the “oh! America is soooo great. Take me with you,” response but Hamadi simply gave me a Pulaar proverb. He said, “Ada memini Aduna e ada findini Aduna.” I couldn’t agree more. His words mean, “You are made to touch the world and you awaken the world.” That moment pretty much brought my Peace Corps experience full circle. I came here to learn, live, and begin to understand a new way of life and then, I came to take those new thoughts mixed with my original thoughts and share them with the people I meet along the way. I’ve never told Hamadi this so I guess I must have done something right with the past two years I’ve spent with him.