Heather in Senegal
My friend Heather is a new Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal! She just arrived in April, and you can read all about her fascinating experiences there at her blog.
Peace Corps has all new volunteers do a demystification visit during their first week in the country. It is a wonderful idea. I went to Kaffrin with another girl from my stage (group of volunteers who started at the same time), and we stayed with Anne, an urban agriculture volunteer. I expect my work will be similar to hers. On the first day she took us to the market for bean sandwiches and grocery shopping. This was a shocking experience. The market is a hot, crowded, loud, fish-smelling series of stands where people sell vegetables, fish, fabric, sandals, and other things. The stands are generally just tables on which the salable items are displayed in piles. Because I would not push people or force my way forward, I kept getting separated from the others. We went to the market every morning, and gradually I got used to the sites. An elderly man who sells vegetables likes to joke with Anne about her being his wife. When he saw Anne with two new females he broke into praises to Allah for giving him three wives, and he hollered threats at all nearby men lest they look at his wives.
Toubob: this is a word that basically means “different,” but can be taken as “honky” or as something more offensive. Kids call out “toubob!” every time they see me. Sometimes I reply in French or Pular that I’m not white. I say I’m black and ask where the white person is. Today I responded by saying “Asalam allekum,” which is the basic greeting. They toubobbed me again, so I repeated myself in a tone of voice that said, “Come now, I know your manners are better than that.” I like that some tones of voices seem universal. They laughed and returned the greeting in a tone that sounded a tad apologetic. If the kids are close to my home I usually introduce myself. I have also tried singing toubobtoubobtoubobtoubob back to the kids and doing a jig. Today a volunteer in her second year told us that regardless of how affective our work is, for the next two years we will be like a cartoon show on TV for our villagers.
I am sure I mispronounce many words, but my family has taken delight in correcting me on two in particular. At the end of every meal, completely regardless of how much I have eaten, as soon as I put down my spoon or otherwise indicate that I am done everyone at the bowl yells "eat!" It is as if I am a conductor giving a cue to a well trained choir. I have been responding, "mi haddi." That is what it sounded like everyone else was saying when they are full. No, they have been saying "mi harri," and I have been concluding each meal by announcing that I am circumcised. My second colorful error has been saying, "I soiled my pants," when I intended to say, "I need."