October in Threes

Alisa Nelson - Senegal


November 3, 2014

Describing my last month in segments of three.

3 THINGS I DO EVERDAY

Drink Coffee. I hate coffee. More accurately, I hated it. I drink it every morning at breakfast, and while my favorite part is still the powdered milk that clumps at the bottom, I’m getting used to it.

Measure the Wind Speed and Temperature. Someone (I’m not sure who) gave my host dad a handheld windometer and asked him to measure the wind speed and temperature four times a day for four weeks and record the results. For some reason, the instructions were in English and he handed the project over to me. So everyday, I measure the wind speed and the temperature at my house. I am almost done with the four weeks, and hope to have some “conclusions” of the experiment soon.

Look at the Stars. Every night, I lay on our mat outside and look at the stars. I live in a small town with not a lot of light pollution, and it’s absolutely beautiful. I never get tired of it.

3 WOLOF WORDS

Sourna. This is the first Wolof word I learned, and still one of the most useful. It means “I’m full.”

Masa. I understand, I empathize. It’s not sorry, but it’s stronger than that. It describes feeling pain with someone. It’s not only a useful word to have, but one that I enjoy a lot.

Antu. This is actually a suffix, not a word, but I really like it. It means to do something without really doing it, or “playing the game” of doing something, but not fully doing it. For example, if you say you are not hungry, but keep taking bits of food off of the plate next to you, you are lekkantu, or just trying to eat without really eating. It is a subtlety we don’t have a good way of expressing in English, but I think is both interesting and useful.

3 FOODS

Cere. Pronounced “chereh”, it is worth mentioning because I don’t like it. I’m not usually a picky eater, but this Senegalese couscous really doesn’t taste good.

Crème. Buye is a juice made from the fruit of Baobab trees – it is thick and creamy and sweet. People put it into little bags and freeze it, calling it crème. It is delicious and perfect on hot afternoons. **Note: Although crème is often made with Buye, it can also be frozen Bissap juice, or a mix of Buye and Bissap.**

Corn. There is a lot of yellow corn here right now. People cook it, out of the husk, over a fire. It’s a little crunchy, but I like it.

3 QUESTIONS I GET ASKED A LOT (BY PEOPLE NOT IN SENEGAL)

Are you enjoying yourself? [Variants may include: Are you enjoying your time there? Are you having a good time?]

Let me put it this way: I am very glad I came. There have definitely been struggles and worries, but they are outweighed by the good times and how much I am learning. I love living on the coast and Mbodiene is a really beautiful town. My family is kind to me and I know this year will be really good for me.

How does Senegal compare to Ghana? [Variants may include: Is Senegal like Ghana? Is it hotter where you are now or in Accra?]

I am planning to write a blog post about this soon, so I won’t be answering this yet. I will hopefully get it up sometime soon for everyone to read!

What about Ebola? [Variants may include: Are you affected by Ebola? Will you get Ebola?]

There is no Ebola in Senegal. The government is doing a great job with the public health education campaign, but other than that it has not affected daily life at all.

3 THINGS I’VE LEARNED

Celebrate the small wins. Every win is a win, so celebrate even the little ones! This has been helping me keep a positive attitude and stay excited for the rest of the year. Examples to follow.

Don’t project your feelings. Okay, I guess I really learned this at Pre-Departure Training in August. But this month I have been learning how to apply this advice to my stay here. Just because one day is bad, doesn’t mean everyday will be bad. Every day is a new day and remembering that things get easier the more you have learned has been key in this first month.

I really like small town life. I had begun to think that I liked the city. But being in a town of 3000 people, I have realized how much I like being away from the craziness of big cities and living closer to nature.

3 SMALL WINS

Bringing a bucket to my host mom. This might not sound like a big deal, but it was pretty exciting. Before, when my mom had asked me for things, it was almost always something I could see or that she could point to. This time, the bucket was a ways away in the shower. She told me (in Wolof) where to go and what to bring and I understood. Knowing that two weeks earlier I would have had little to no idea what she was saying, I was very happy when I brought her what she wanted. Since this small win, there have been many similar “wins” as I’m learning more Wolof vocabulary.

Carrying a bowl on my head. It may seem crazy that I lived in West Africa for all of my senior year and never carried a bowl on my head. Either way, this month I carried some cere and corn down to road for it to be ground In a machine. My neighbors all laughed and some even took pictures – it was a pretty great experience.

A trip to Joal. In search of medicine for my “staph infections” (more on this later), I went to the city next to me. About 20,000 people, Joal is only a 10 or 15 minute drive away and has a lot of things Mbodiene doesn’t. My host family worries about me a lot and they don’t always like me to leave the house alone. But this time, I got to go by myself. I found the medicine I needed and got to buy two bananas, which are abundant in Joal, but apparently non-existent here in Mbodiene.

3 STRUGGLES

Language. There are so many of them. My French is decent enough to communicate most of the time. But some people don’t speak French and most basic conversation is in either Wolof or Sereer. When I don’t understand something, often someone will translate it into French for me. But if I don’t understand the French translation, or if there is no one to translate, then it is even more of a struggle. I’m taking classes, though, and my Wolof (along with French) is improving all the time.

Washing. There is a squeaking noise that everyone makes when they wash clothes. I can’t make it. It is definitely a point of shame for me.

A slow start. As of now, I still haven’t started any apprenticeship. I have, however, finally found a time to talk to a teacher at the school nearby and visited the farm I will be working on. I will be hopefully making a “schedule” sometime in the next few weeks and have some more structured time.

3 GOOD MEMORIES

Small town soccer and after parties. My town’s soccer/football team won the local championship. It was a super fun game to watch and there was a huge party afterwards – loud music, drums, and a lot of dancing.

Tabaski (Eid al-Adha). I went to Dakar with my host brother and sister and got to meet my host mom’s family. Tabaski is a Muslim holiday that remembers the time Abraham sacrificed his son (Ishmael) and God gave him a sheep in place of Ishmael. Two sheep were sacrificed in the house I was staying at and we ate at four or five different houses to celebrate.

Playing with my nine-year-old sister. This isn’t a one-time memory – it happens quite often, actually. She loves to run around and play crazy games, and when I play with her we have a lot of fun.

3 THINGS I’VE GAINED FROM HAVING BOTFLY LARVAE

[A quick story: Yes, I had botfly larvae living under my skin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botfly). It was pretty painful, but I was so relieved when I went to the hospital and got them taken out. I am now being more cautious about washing my clothes and have learned quite a bit from the experience!]

Status. I can now speak on authority on the subject of botfly larvae. I get to sound more “African” while I’m here and more exotic when I leave.

A lesson. Thinking it was a staph infection and not wanting to cause any problems, I waited almost an entire week to show the wounds to someone. My host mom knew right away what it was and took me to the hospital the next morning. If I had spoken up sooner, I would have saved myself from many sleepless nights and the larvae would have been smaller and easier to take out. My family wants to take care of me, and I need to communicate better with them

A closer relationship with my host mom. I am understanding what she says more and more (meaning still barely at all, but I’m progressing at least a little) and she pulled a grub out of my backside. My host dad also told me that people say after you have these larvae, good things will happen to you. After having eight of them cut and squeezed out of me, all I can say is that this really should be the best year ever.

3 THINGS I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT MONTH

Starting work on the farm. It’s an absolutely beautiful place and I am so excited to learn more about agriculture. The people who run the farm are also planting a lot of traditional fruit trees and I am hoping to learn about their nutritional and medicinal values, as well as historic uses. I am mostly excited to have some work to do and something to do outside the house.

Training Seminar 1 (TS1). At the end of November, all of the Global Citizen Year Senegal fellows will meet up for a “training seminar.” I’m not sure exactly what it will look like yet, but I am looking forward to seeing everyone again and having a weekend away.

Having been here for a longer time. This month, I have still been adjusting and meeting people. But now I have already been in Mbodiene for a whole month and will (hopefully) be able to be more of a regular community and family member. I am looking forward to seeing and doing more things around town, as well!

I hope you all had a wonderful month of October! Thank you for reading!

Alisa Nelson