Cold Showers (Or Life in Africa)

Christopher LaBorde - Senegal

January 28, 2013

Note: This blog was written in many pieces at different times, and my attitude changes just like the weather, quickly and drastically, but I hope that this gives you a better idea of what I was going through at the beginning of my journey on this side of the Atlantic.

I tried to write a book once. It was the summer after my sophomore year of high-school, and in it I was going to record all of my sojourns and adventures, all of my thoughts and feelings of the summer. It was to be called The Summer of Cold Showers (It was a hot one that year). Weeell it didn’t work out too well. This blog is probably the closest I’ll ever get to writing it. That’s all right. Sometimes you just have to let things go…

C. September 20th, 2012; The Capital City of Dakar, Senegal

This isn’t what I expected. I pictured fields of green, vast savannahs and golden grass, with Kilamanjaro rising in the distance, and those trees that look so ready to shelter you from the rain during a storm dotting the landscape. I was not expecting concrete and buildings, herds of goats roaming the city street, concrete and tile buildings juxtaposed with corrugated tin shacks. I was not expecting there to be so many people like me and my friends here. I don’t know what I was expecting. But I guess things are never the way we imagine they will be. We can really have no idea what lies in wait around the next bend, what challenges, what terrors what joys the next adventure will bring. We can only keep trekkin, learn from our mistakes, and relish in our victories, and learn from our past, so we can secure our future.

The city is smothering me. Literally and figuratively I guess, with cars belching out black and blue-white smoke, walking next to the street makes me fear for my life. I hold my breath, and try to get away from the blanket of fumes. The air is thick, it’s like breathing carbon-monoxide flavored jello. It is stifling, with concrete facades stretching to the horizon. There is no nature here. If you are looking for beauty and tranquility, Dakar is not your sack of peanuts. It is an overload on the senses, a test of your will and adaptability, a test of your perseverance, your fortitude. It is a constant psychological battle, with a constant barrage of doubts and worries assaulting my psyche. “I’m not accepted here,” “I’m on my own in a foreign land,” “Was that culturally appropriate?” and “What do I do next?” were and are some big ones. Perhaps life here isn’t so different here from everywhere else. I’ve still got many of the same concerns, many of the same problems, for the most part. x1000. I wanted this trip to inspire me, to invigorate me, and in a way it is, but it is also trying. Enervating. It’s pushing me to my limits. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s the experience I’m here for, and for better or for worse, it’s happening. I can feel myself changing. It’s pulling on the strings of my being, it’s playing my heart chords, and every day, I sing a little bit differently.

This is not what I expected. I expected to have a clear-cut idea of what I was doing here, I expected to have a direction. Perhaps once I settle down it’ll be clearer…

(FF a week or two)

October 9th, 2012; Ibel Village, Senegal

I am now in my village. It is the village of Ibel, a community of roughly 2000 people, stretching about a mile, and nestled at the base of a foothill in a lush, far from vast valley. The village itself consists of smaller hut compounds that each house a family, and border a main path which snakes around one end of the foothill. Think of the village as a snake, rather than a box or a circle. At the time of writing this part (right now), i’ve been in my village for exactly 1 week, or 7 days, or 176 hours, and it has gone by so quickly. When I put it into hours, it doesnt seem nearly as long. Time is already flying, and I know that this Global Citizen Half-Year is going to end sooner than I think. So I’ve got to make the most of it. I think my first step will be exploring this valued valley of mine. There will be no short supply of things to keep me busy and having fun (false). I start my work soon (false), I’ll be assisting at the eco-tourism lodge (false), and later, after the big sheep-roasting festival of Tabaski, I’ll be teaching English at the Ibel collége (middle-school), a 3-room facility just off the main road near the center of town (true). That’s where I need to go to charge my electronics. They’ve got a small panéle solaire and I can pay 100 FCFA, the equivalent of about 20 cents, to charge my phone or computer. Small enterprise FTW. It’s the only electricity in the village. I’ve got my harmonica, my hacky-sack, about 10 good books, a little pocket journal, a keen mind, a heart full of adventure, and now, a ~3 week-old puppy, Kikkide Bibbe. He was a present from my host mom, and my how he pees. It’s a good idea to potty train dogs in Africa, though, because the floors are concrete. You can just throw some dirt on it and sweep it away. Also, if I was ever going to flood the 2nd story of a 2-story house, Africa, also, would be the place to do it. I’m living and learning on this trip.

It’s easy to go into defense mode here and just ride it passively, with minimal effort. That’s what I’ve been doing. But it seems that the weather isn’t the only thing that’s changing. Speaking of the weather, taking a bucket shower outside in the middle of a thunderstorm is about the funnest thing I’ve done since riding in the back of a pick-up truck in Dakar. I take showers, by pouring buckets of water on my head. Water that’s been drawn up from a well. I drink bleached water (sometimes), that has also been drawn up from a well. I wash my clothes in buckets—with water that’s been drawn up from a well. Here’s some Pocket Pulaar for you. Jogugol- To draw water up from a well. All of my meals are cooked over campfires, and out of 20 meals, 18 of them have been rice with some type of sauce or furnishing. But I eat well, and grow strong. I haven’t been taking my vitamins (sorry Mom). This is like 4 star camping, I feel like I was made for this.

It’s definitely tough being dropped into a completely new place with no friends, and limited communication ability, especially when I am so blatantly different from everyone else. I stick out like the black sheep, and that’s about how I feel too. I just realized, like I realized right now, that I’ve been so busy worrying about offending anyone, that I haven’t been myself. I’d blame it on the program pressing us so hard to adhere to social customs, but I really can’t blame it on anyone but myself. My friend Becky McClements said it quite accurately, “So much of our personality is lost in translation.” It is a very uncomfortable feeling not being able to express yourself exactly how you want to.

Coming to the village from Dakar was jus as big of a difference as coming to Dakar from Pasadena. In Dakar, I saw a dog chasing a cat. Now, the chicken’s chasing the cat. I’ve never had to bring the goats in from grazing. I’m still showering with a bucket, but now the water comes from a well, not a faucet. In Dakar, I looked at one of my friend’s 11th grade chemistry books. He’s learning the same things I was learning in 11th grade, if not harder. Here, I’ve got a dog. In Dakar, I had a little brother. Here there are ants the size of my thumbnail, turquoise parrots with bold, golden chests, and song birds of the deepest, most brilliant blue trailing royal purple tails like kings. In Dakar, there are bats the size of small children. In Dakar, I pooped in a toilet that flushed by pouring water in it—here my poop disappears into a empty void. There’s no electricity or plumbing in my village, it’s funny, I hardly even noticed the lack of electricity. The days are as long as the sun.

October 23rd2012; Ibel Village

I haven’t been doing too much lately.  Some Days are long, and filled with much sitting around. I can see the light fading by the second as the sun goes to sleep. The days are hot. Too hot to go anywhere, too hot to do anything. The moon is so beautiful here, and the sky is an ever-changing canvas, where clouds, moon, lightning, and stars jest in an eternal dance. I await the next storm with excitement. Today I slept in, sat under a tree for an hour, climbed it, helped cook, ate two meals, read 2 chapters of a book, rode my bike 4k to the next village and back, and wrote a little of my blog. Average day? More or Less. I think the storm is coming.

I wakeup anxious, every time my family speaks in Pulaar, I think they’re talking about me. But I’m only right half the time. But the day passes, and I’m still alive, tout est tranquille, and it’s just me who’s making it harder on myself. After every meal, I am round. “Mi Hari”, I say. I talk a little more, and lounge in the languid afternoon heat with my family. I always find some time to be alone. By nightfall, I am at ease, but still on my guard, somewhere deep, and sacred. Nightfall always brings a relief. Again I say “Mi Hari”. I drink some tea, look at the stars, marvel at the vastness of the universe, and the beauty of nature, I mix some milk for Kikkide, think of home, and finally, I Sleep In Peace.

Christopher LaBorde