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learning & sharing Burkina Faso


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The malaria pill countdown: 46

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In picture: My first ever wedding crashing experience. The reception was beautiful.

1. For Easter weekend, the Catholics in Senegal bring ngalakh to every Muslim household. Ngalakh is a sweet porridge, millet based and then flavored with peanuts and the fruit of baobab trees. They don’t just bring a bowl of it – but a whole pail or two. I ate some at Yama’s house. At my house, however, my mother said that it wasn’t good for Toubabs, that it would make me sick. Maybe she just didn’t want me to fall in love and eat it all, because I might have. Anyway, it’s a nice picture of Christian love being spread to their Muslim neighbors.

2. The first day of my internship my boss told me I was to eat lunch every day with his family. I still can’t get over how wonderful it is going to his house every day, but then I think, well of course, this is Senegal. My boss’s wife is one of my favorite people I’ve met – so easy to talk too, but also lets me fully be me. That means if I’m not in the mood to talk we can just sit quietly and it’s not awkward. Silence is golden would be my first tattoo. My boss’s parents and grand-mother live there too. Four generations living under one roof, and that’s normal here. My boss also has three daughters, aged roughly two, seven, and twelve. The youngest, Khady, is just now starting to warm up to me. Last week Khady was playing outside and fell, cutting her lip and/or gums. At first when she started crying, Mom didn’t even glance away from her cooking. Then Khady screamed, the blood-curdling kind so of course Mom tended to her. But her “tending” was notable for me, including only: 1) a quick hug, where Khady’s mouth blood got all over Mom’s yellow skirt, 2) “Maasa, maasa”, Wolof for “sorry” when someone is feeling pain, while splashing cold water on Khady’s teary face 3) a 100 (18 cents) franc piece. And that was it. Khady’s sister took her by the hand to go spend her 100 francs. On the way out of the house Khady stopped crying, and came back with a bag of Senegalese style Cheetos, and 50 francs in change. She played with her swollen lip all day but made no mention of it. What a tough girl! That’s how they make them here. (Or maybe I’m just a baby, or maybe when I have kids I’ll realize that this is the way most moms respond in this situation.)

3. On Friday night, out of the blue, Yama asked me if I wanted to accompany him to a wedding reception. Um, yes! I went home to get ready, as best I could, although I realize now I should have done better to bring nice outfits (shoes) to wear. It turns out that the woman getting married was Yama’s ex girl-friend which amused me greatly, not sure why. In many ways the reception was similar to an American one. There was dancing, and cake, and lots of pictures, and mostly people just sat around. The guests were dressed to the nines (is that the expression?), and I really didn’t fit in – not that I ever fully could being a Toubab. The bride was stunning and the little girls and boys running around in formal wear killed me, of course. We took home party favors, takeout boxes with all sorts of interesting little foods in them I had never tried. And juice, juice of course.

4. As discussed previously on my blog, the organization I intern with, among other things, coordinates a child sponsorship program. A sponsor from the U.S., France, China, etc. will be partnered with a child to make sure he can get an education. I love being on this side of the situation, interacting with the kids and seeing what they have to go through in order to receive the money. Last week there was a five or so minute episode I will never forget. A boy, probably around the age of eleven or twelve, came in because he had received a sponsor. My co-worker handed him a 2 by 3 inch slip of paper with a name on it: Robert Martin. He asked my co-worker if it was a male or female, and my co-worker turned to me for an answer. “Man”, I said. The student smiled, staring at the name. He started repeating it to himself, with poor pronunciation, quietly, over and over. Eventually when the name had become familiar in his mouth, he started tracing with his finger the careful cursive letters of the name. Again, and again, slowly. I could sense the sheer joy he had inside him. Then he started his first letter. Cher Robert Martin

5. If you have a two lane road, you can comfortably drive three cars wide. But if you add just one more lane to make it three, you can drive five cars wide. Dakar taught me.

6. I’ve started taking my malaria pill every day at dinner because it’s the only meal I eat at home now, usually. Every time I open my pill container I am, for a second, relieved at how many little maroon pills are still in there. I still have that many days, I remind myself. That’s a lot. But then I remember that there’s enough in there to take them every day for a week after I return home. And then I remember that the doctor also sold me five extra. And then I remember that I originally started with two containers. And then I cry.

Learning French: formation, training course (All week co-workers were talking about the upcoming “formation” and I didn’t realize what it was until today when I participated.)

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First day of my internship – finally!

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In picture: Jibi, right before we both got drenched by a huge wave. We had gone to watch the sunset. It was my first Senegalese sunset. Thankfully Jibi is a gentleman so he let me wear his sweater while he froze in his tank.

C’est la vie, Yama often reminds me. That’s life. I’ve been remembering this as I face all sorts of interesting issues.

I finished with my first day on the job at my internship! It’s honestly such a long story, but I’m no longer working at the internship with the prisons that I had originally planned on and was accepted to. To put it simply, and really I don’t know all the information anyway, my boss is very busy and he decided that there isn’t that much I would be able to do besides a lot of reading. I’m thankful for him being honest about that up front so that my internship doesn’t consist of doing just the things I could do from an American library.

After I received the information that I wouldn’t be at that internship, Waly and I talked a lot and he found me another one. But, in my head and heart I had a small little struggle. You see, originally I was to move to a village for my internship. I would absolutely love to experience life in a Senegalese village and greatly improve my Wolof. I know I’m cut out to live that kind of life – I could handle it. However, when the prison internship was on the table I thought that it would be a really interesting experience for me, and perhaps relevant for my future. But that would require me to stay in Dakar. Anyway, I knew that it would be unlikely that I got the prison internship, so I decided that if God wanted me to stay in Dakar and do the prison internship, he would make it happen. If he wanted me to go live in the village and do something there, he could easily make it so that the prison internship wasn’t an option. I asked him to guide me.

But then the prison internship was made an option just long enough so that it was impossible to move to the village, but short enough that it wasn’t going to work out. Perhaps I’m not listening to God close enough and instead am choosing based on my own desires, and not his. Or, contrarily, maybe it was his idea that I don’t do the prison internship, but that I really should stay in Dakar.

Mostly I’m content with how things are now. I’ve always been the kind of person to build my network of relationships deep not wide, (if friends are coins, I prefer 4 quarters to 100 pennies). In that way, I’m excited to strengthen and deepen the relationships I already have in Dakar. So far my internship is great. My boss is phenomenal and the two co-workers I’ve gotten to know are also very patient and nice. Which everyone in Senegal is patient and nice, but they are beyond average. As far as improving my Wolof goes, I have decided that I will do some studying on my own. I love Wolof enough to actually do this, and my main motivation is so that at the dinner table I have new things to tell my mom. She gets a total kick out of any new Wolof phrase I can tell her.  And another thing I’ll miss out on by staying in Dakar, experiencing a new environment, is also tempered by the fact that I work in the part of Dakar called Yoff. Although Yoff is in no way comparable to village life, it is very different from the part of Dakar I live in – Mermoz. In that way, I am experiencing something very new while I pass each day there.

The organization I work with is the Association pour la Promotion Economique, Culturelle et Sociale de Yoff, or APECSY. It’s basically an NGO that strives to promote development while guarding the vibrant Senegalese culture. I’m excited to formulate a stronger opinion about how development and culture interact because it has been one of the most interesting things for me here. I’ve written about it in my journal countless times. For example, I often struggle with eliminating the idea that a lot of culture needs to be lost in order for “development” to arrive. Sometimes I notice things that are cultural and beautiful, but these things aren’t good for promoting development. A few weeks ago Waly told me something that I’ll always remember. Put simply, he said we westerners need to be careful to not “preserve culture for the outsider”. For example, I shouldn’t aim at preserving Senegalese culture because I think it’s a beautiful juxtaposition from American culture. Yes, I wish every westerner could come here and experience Senegal because in so many ways it contains exactly the good things American culture lacks. But it’s not fair for me to want to preserve a culture that isn’t benefitting the people who live in it. If they seek development, moving from a hut to a brick and metal house for example, who am I to say “no, but your hut is so pretty and interesting and I want to stay in it!”

The first day on the job was nice and totally relaxed, lacking the stress that the first day on the job might have for someone in the U.S. I had one task today, and I started and finished it. The NGO does a whole bunch of different things, and I already know that “a typical day at work” won’t exist (yay!). Today I organized a giant stack of papers. The stack contained forms and a photograph of hundreds of children who live in Yoff, between the ages of fresh and about 8 years old, but usually around 4 or 5. I was to create a file folder for each child. Basically this is the situation: each child has a sponsor in the U.S., Canada, France, or China. You’ve seen it – pay X amount of dollars daily or monthly to feed a child or send them to school. My family in the U.S. have done it, but now I’m on the other side. I am meeting those children! The NGO I work with facilitates the program. A few of the sponsored kids were in the office today doing what they need to in order to stay sponsored. They really earn the money that they receive. In their file they have a notebook. They are required to write letters to their sponsor on a regular basis, updating them on their life. If the sponsor writes letters too, that correspondence is kept in their file. Sadly, the Senegalese children would write several letters a year and usually there were no letters back, although notably Brian and Tim were good at writing back to their child. I also cleaned out file folders from kids who had become too old to receive money. One girl specifically had all the letters she had written from 2006 to 2012. She also had several pictures of herself in there, as to keep her sponsor updated on what she looked like. I’m really nervous that my boss is going to throw all those old stacks away. Honestly they aren’t something I should be allowed to browse through, but oh my goodness would it be so interesting.

Another thing in the file folder is a form with information about the children. It entertained me so much! The question that was in the specific position on the page that I could glance and read without appearing like I was reading the forms as I put them in their folders was a question about what they like to do during playtime. The child who was most enthused and adorable in his photo said that his favorite thing was to play with his mom. His family described him as curious. Another boy said that his favorite thing was to play with the sheep. Didn’t contain my grin when I read that one.

The best part of the day was lunch time! My boss told me that each day I am to walk to his house and eat with his family there. (Honestly, what? That is incredibly nice. I will be saving money, eating outstanding food, and have the company of wonderful older women and his three beautiful daughters.) We ate ceebujen, the national dish of Senegal and the most common lunch. It was hands down the best ceebujen I’ve ever eaten here, and I’ve eaten a lot of it. Yama asked me some questions and then explained that it’s because an older woman made it. At my house in Mermoz, our maid cooks it. She can’t be more than twenty or so years old so she hasn’t had years of practice like my boss’s wife. Before lunch, admittedly, I took a long nap on their couch. So did the youngest daughter who is about three. With a two hour lunch break what’s better than a nap and phenomenal ceebujen? I also loved talking to middle aged and older women. Usually it’s only men who want to talk to me.

After work I rode the TATA bus home. It was my first time ever riding one and I did it alone. It was so easy actually, but I had to keep my brain powered up for a while. Yoff is about a 45 minute bus ride from Mermoz. (One thing I still can’t fathom is the huge-ness of Dakar. Guys it’s seriously unbelievably expansive.) I am only familiar with perhaps 4% of Dakar, so traversing a large part of it and having to tell the bus driver when to stop was a little nerve racking. I didn’t know if it would be fifteen minutes or three hours, but I just waited until I saw something I recognized so I could walk the rest of the way home. Then, not progressively but randomly and suddenly, I saw something I recognized – Caesars, a restaurant about five minutes from my house. I stood up and made eye contact with the driver. He stopped and I walked just a couple minutes home where my neighbors and the men that often hang out at my house greeted me with smiles and handshakes. “Peace be you with”, I said, in Arabic, as is necessary. “And also with you.”

Anyway, all is well in my life. The past week I sat around doing a whole lot of nothing as classes were finished but there was trouble getting my internship on the ground running. I’m flexible and didn’t stress out about it. That’s the necessary attitude to have when you’re in “Africa”, but specifically here in Senegal. I think I’ve always harbored the qualities necessary to live a peaceful, stress-free life, but I’m really realizing and cultivating them now. Maybe all of the stressed Americans out there harbor the seeds necessary to live a life of “jamm rekk” but those qualities aren’t withdrawn in western culture. I’m excited to bring my new “do life slowly, be a peaceful presence for all” style back to the U.S. I think I can hold on to it for at least a little while.

Learning Wolof: Lekk naa ba fii, I ate until here. (You must also make a hand motion to show how far you ate until. I make it just under my chin. I’ve been saying this after dinner frequently for the past couple weeks and my mom laughs every time. Still she insists that I eat more but honestly mama I couldn’t if I tried.)