12 March 2014

attempting to write about everyday life

our african fabric dresses!

writing about the big things is easy. trips and events come with photos, stories, something major to say. daily life is harder. it's the little things that most challenge and reward us during such a different experience, their significance magnified in the weight of the present moment, and the little things that are the easiest to forget once the era of our lives is a not-so-distant memory.

cheikh amadou bamba's likeness is everywhere, including on the wall around the lycée.
i'm trying to remember the moments, document them on this blog or my journal or my iphone camera or something else so i have some record that this trip wasn't all big plans interspersed with boring work; it was (is) trips to the tailor and browsing the market and meeting friends for mango juice and dancing to rihanna. sweating in the smelly gym and walking by the same judgmental horses every day and going to the bakery for brioche and pigging out on peanuts and spreading a huge map across the floor of our room as we plan our next adventure. and escaping by skyping friends back home or by overpaying a cab driver to take us to the beach.

it's got its extreme highs and its extreme lows. but it's an amazing experience, and i know that.

while i'm kind of excited to leave, i also need to remember the little things and appreciate all the great parts about the mundane part of being here, which i'll miss even though i'm sort of bored with them now, worn down by the challenges and sick of the loneliness. i don't want it all to seem like a blur of beige and yellow, the tones that dominate this dusty place, all grayish sand and pale yellow concrete.

my friend says his host family's house looks like the bluths' homes in iraq on "arrested development."

while our host family is nice and we've never felt unwelcome, living in their home is still a struggle. besides the language issue and the unpleasant permeating odors of sheep urine and dead fish, the cultural barriers are powerful. the 17-year-old daughter doesn't attend school; she cooks and cleans all day like a servant. i've hardly ever seen her leave the house (and if so, it's only for quick errands) and she's quiet, impossible to engage in conversation. we've also heard them loudly beating the younger daughter, who must be around seven, to the point where the screaming and sobbing are almost unbearable. then there's the issue of the food. i found a fishbone in my lunch last week, confirming my suspicion that while there is no fish head in the middle of our lunches like there is in theirs, the rice and sauce are all cooked with fish and chicken at least. it's frustrating because while i know the culture doesn't understand vegetarianism, it's also something that we've made clear to projects and to our host family. by now it's too late, and i'm just going to avoid eating at home. when we do have lunch, we end up just pushing it around on our plates to appear that it's been eaten.

sand gets pushed around in our neighborhood; unclear why.
instead we run downtown to eat crêpe choco clementine and write postcards and study the lonely planet west africa.

i've definitely gotten closer with some of the other volunteers in the last couple weeks, and many new people have come, so i'm sad to be leaving before i really get to know them. even though we haven't had too much time together, i've got open invitations to visit belfast, london, frankfurt, paris, southern california - and of course extended that same invitation to others.

ben's last day. :(

saying goodbye to anja.

tamar and i do laugh, though, because some people, who tend to be on their first trips to developing countries, post lengthy social media updates overdramatically portraying the hardships they've faced. i call them War Correspondents, and i met a few of them in argentina, too. actual facebook quotes: "here it is: the REAL Africa," "devastating underdevelopment," "Senegal: raw and unedited," "almost caught in a cloud of tear gas while standing in line for a slice of pizza." it all seems like a very contrived way to sound worldly and experienced and impress your friends back home. i don't like the messages they're sending, either: honestly, who's "devastated" in senegal? and there is no such thing as the "real africa," dammit.

continuing our snarky streak, tamar and i have also spent a lot of time bonding over the ridiculousness of social media posts of friends in college, particularly sorority recruitment posts. so tamar and i started our own sorority, "bachma phi," a useful phrase that literally means "it's ok here" in wolof. we have a hand sign and everything.

it's an "hlm," after our st. louis neighborhood.

one pick-me-up last week was the news that a package had arrived, all the way from the first grade sunday school class i taught this winter. senegal made me pay to receive a package. that was dumb, but it was worth it. getting mail is awesome.

speaking of mail, i sent off a bunch of postcards a couple weeks ago (and will send tons more this week) and a lot of them finally arrived in my friends' college mailboxes this week. their reactions have been a lot of fun. amazing what even a small gesture can do for someone's day!

we've pretty much got our daily routine down by now: work, where i aim to do something productive every day, like interviewing new potential beneficiaries, making flyers, or working on a new questionnaire. in the last week or so, i got to visit several daaras, the quranic schools that are unique to senegal and whose older students/inhabitants we seek to help with the microfinance project. daaras are banned in other parts of west africa, so many boys are sent from villages far away and go five or more years without contact with their families. while the institutions are an important part of religion and community here, they also force children to beg for food and money and there are reports of rampant abuse and exploitation, as well as dismal living conditions.

children writing in arabic.

the marabout, who's in charge of the boys.

kids play on a pile of trash.

this daara smelled like the ape house at the zoo. it was disgusting.

a day always involves at least one run to the nearby boulangerie for a delicious fresh-baked brioche. (there's some good bread here, but i gotta agree with tamar and elliot: "i'm excited for a vegetable," when i get back to america and europe.)

at the beginning of our stay here we had nothing to do during our four-hour lunch break and usually ended up napping or reading (not a bad option, i have to say). but now it seems like the days are packed and there's never enough time to do everything we want to: try out new "fast food" places, shop for ourselves, buy dozens of gifts for everyone we know, explore new parts of the island.

ali found a puppy!
evenings usually involve socializing with the projects volunteers or ice cream with some of our close friends in the neighborhood. we also did a workshop on making traditional bags, which we're going to finish tonight.

making patchwork bags with my friend yu rim.

i only have two and a half days left and am definitely reaching that point of feeling reflective and sad, like i'm on my way out and i know i'll never have seen everything, done all there is to do in saint louis, no matter how small the place. i want to have put in a lot at work and to have forged lasting friendships. i really did my best, but it's never enough.

for the moment, i'm glad i'm here.


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