The Cheeseburger at the End of the Tunnel

Erik Oline - Senegal


March 15, 2018

Bacon, it’s going to have bacon, lots of bacon. And iceberg lettuce, with honey Dijon mustard and a phat pickle on the side. As I write this I have exactly three weeks left in my host family. Every night when I enter the date into my journal I shudder when I write ‘March’. The past six months have flown by so fast it feels more like six days. As much as I want to say how I wish I wasn’t going home, or how I want to stay longer with my Senegalese family, the reality is I am ready to get home. I know a month from now I’ll be ready to go back to Senegal, because immediately after leaving my host family I’ll already be missing them and everything else about Senegal. All in all though, my heart is telling me I am ready to return to my Oregon home. I’ve been thinking about the first time I’ll get to go fishing—since the last time I went fishing. I’m ready to wet my line in the clear, Pacific Northwest waters, pitch my hammock in the tall pines, feel the tug of an angry trout, listen to the crackling of a campfire, drive the open roads with the mountains on my left and the rivers on my right. I’m ready to embrace what I left behind so (not) long ago. Oh, and my friends and family, them to, I’ll be glad to see them as well.

                As the visions of trout dance in my head, I am still living in Senegal. I am not home yet, and I won’t be home for another month. So how do I avoid thinking about the first time I’ll get to go fishing when it takes up about 50% of my thought process? It’s not that I’m not enjoying my time in Senegal anymore. If anything I’m currently having the best time; my language skills are they best they’ve ever been, my connections with my friends and host family are equal to my friends and family back in my Oregon home. Every day remains exciting and new living here in Keur Birima. Throughout my stay in Senegal I have always focused on making the most out of each day, creating opportunities out of thin air to enhance every moment of my time in Senegal. With three weeks left, this focus has become even more extreme and amplified trying to fit everything I want to do.  

                The first thing anyone must understand about an average Senegalese day is the massive amount of free time that occurs. At first it was strange adjusting to having up to six hours every day with no plan, no work, or anything really. (Most of this time is in the afternoon when it’s too hot to do basically anything.) Living in a village composed of five homes and 50 people, this free time is pretty much void of any recreational activities. So, the question remains: how to I stay busy enough to keep from pulling my hair out thinking about steelhead fishing? As a self-considered veteran of Senegal at this point I consider myself to be knowledgeable in how to deal with this issue. I have been working on a theory that I have been refining over the past six months, that has now concluded. I hereby present to the public:

ERIK OLINE’S GUIDE TO UNARMED COMBAT AGAINST A SENEGALESE AFTERNOON

                *Disclaimer*: The following guide should only be tried by trained professionals, do not attempt anything above your skill level. The following list of ways to combat a Senegalese afternoon should not be taken lightly, Senegalese afternoons can run from anywhere from an hour to 2-3 days, proceed with caution. This guide is meant to be used to continue thriving and focusing on the time at hand in Senegal, rather than focusing on future adventuring plans that are currently unavailable due to the fact they’re all in the Pacific Northwest.

1) ATAAYA: Without a doubt making ataaya is the easiest way to eat away at an endless afternoon. This Senegalese tea consists of three rounds of brewing Chinese green tea leaves with way too much sugar. There is a traditional way to pour ataaya between two glasses creating bubbles that taste amazing. One ataaya session can last up to 2-5 hours depending on number of people present. Using this technique to combat a Senegalese afternoon is a double win as well, on top of drinking delicious ataaya, there is the ever present ‘waxtaan” (discussion) that goes along with ataaya. I would make an argument that about half of my Wolof abilities have come from these ataaya ‘waxtaans’.

2) ‘GETTING BIG’: Working out in Senegal is extremely popular. In the city of Thies there are numerous public and private gyms that many young people ‘get big’ inside. Keur Birima is lacking a gym, so my brothers and I made one. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. The bench press we made is from cinderblocks my host brother Talla and I carried up to the top of a hill. The bar for the bench looks like a small railroad iron, probably 60 lbs. The bar can also be used for free weight stuff, squats, lunges, rows, ect. Our lat-pull down bar we made from an old pulley used on a retired well, connected to a jug filled with concrete by a thick rope. It’s a bit rusty, but it is a fun way to spend an hour or two messing around while actually doing something good for my body.

3) SPONTANEOUS HIKES:  Okay, they’re not really hikes, they’re more just afternoon walks exploring the infinite number of roads crisscrossing the countryside. These random walks vary in time and length depending on how lost I get. Only on one occasion have I gotten so lost I returned after dark; after that incident my host dad questions my intelligence. Most of these afternoon strolls end in a similar fashion; finding some random village even more secluded than Keur Birima and saying hi to all the people who are just dumbfounded that there is a random white guy who speaks Wolof walking through town. If a village is found on one of my walks, I’m usually invited inside for an ataaya-waxtaan combo deal, and who can say no to ataaya?

4) RUNNING: Running should not be attempted before 6 pm. All jokes aside that would be fairly dangerous in terms of dehydration and heat exhaustion. Going on an afternoon/evening jog however is very nice way to complete an afternoon; a little time to zone out to some music and remind myself that the last time I was in good physical condition was roughly a year ago.

5) FATAAYA: Not to be confused with ‘ataaya’, fataaya is a Senegalese snack similar to momos. Fataaya is basically fried dough with some onions and good stuff inside. My host aunt Fatou makes fataaya a few times a week, and it’s fun to help her out making the fataaya from scratch. *Warning* Fataaya must be consumed POST run, not prior run, disastrous results may occur if done vis-versa.

6) ‘HUNTING’: Hunting keur Birima style is not the most eloquent of sports. Actually, it’s not even a sport. It consists of my host brothers Mame Mor, Talla, and I wandering around the mango farm armed with a few good rocks and throwing shovels. We’re trying to find mongoosen, or those Saharan Monitor lizards, just for the sake of making dinner interesting. To this date, every ‘hunting’ expedition has been fruitless.

7) SMALL CHILDREN: I absolutely adore all the kids in my compound. Whenever there is any deadly free-time, it can always be used messing around with the kids of my compound. We do everything from hide-and seek to napping together. Spending time with my little host nieces and nephews can be somewhat exhausting to the point of exasperation. As fun as kids are, sometimes they can be annoying as all (GLOBAL CITIZEN YEAR CENSORED MATERIAL).

8) SMASHING THINGS: Smashing things is always a constructive way to spend a portion of your afternoon. The things commonly being smashed are: peanuts, millets, and my dignity when my 58-year-old host mom can smash peanuts and millet 10x faster than me. Smashed peanuts and millet are made into Senegalese couscous or cere in Wolof (pronounced Cherre). We have cere for dinner almost every night, and right now 17 people live in my compound, so lots of smashing needs to happen daily.

9) CALF-RIDING: Personally, I do not partake in the act of calf-riding, but I do admit as an accomplice. In our cow herd we have three new little calf that are perfect for calf-riding. Funny story about the three new calves; they were all born within two days, and they look almost identical with their reddish-brown hair. For several days I did not know we had more than one calf, because I never saw more than one at a time. When it was milking time one day I finally saw all three together, that gave me a bit of a start. Anyway, calf-riding is pretty straight forward: use my height to plop some kid up on a calf and see how long they can hang on. This is always made so much more entertaining when we put three kids on top of three different calves at the same time and see who can last the longest.

10) ADMIT DEFEAT: Some days you just have to admit that the endless afternoon has got the best of you. Nothing going on with the host fam, got yelled at only yesterday for calf-riding (3 day wait minimum), all the things are smashed, Talla and Mame Mor are away. Whatever the reason sometimes defeat is imminent. When this happens, my mind creeps slowly across Senegal, out past Dakar, over the Atlantic Ocean, over the east coast and the Appalachian range, across the great plains, up and over the Rockies, towards Oregon. Where it goes right past my house to the banks of the Rogue river—the first place I’ll go fishing approximately 30 minutes after I get home. When my mind is no longer in Senegal and is doped up on the image of ripping trout lips; there is only one thing to do to alleviate the pain. I slowly walk towards my room, hanging my head knowing that this afternoon has bested me. I slowly push back the curtain, I get down on all fours and reach under my bed where I know my next fix is waiting. I pull out a cardboard tube containing my person stash of dope. I walk out to the farm trying to avoid any eye contact with any family members. When I reach a secluded spot out in the mango trees, I remove the cover from one end of the tube and slide out my next hit. It takes me a minute or two to set everything up. When it’s all good-to-go I begin my session. I’ll stand out in the farm for hours ignoring the hot sun bleaching my hair, the sweat stinging my eyes as it rolls down my forehead, completely zoning out to everything going on around me. There’s just something so therapeutic about casting a fly rod. It doesn’t matter that I’m not casting for a fish, or on water even; I just enjoy dry casting for hours on end. No fly attached, no tippet, no results, I’m just trying to keep in good form. I’ve been able to whittle away an entire Senegalese afternoon just by taking my fly rod out to the farm and just casting the afternoon away

                I hope that this short list will help anybody if they find themselves fighting against a Senegalese afternoon unarmed. Keep in mind that this list is not comprehensive, there are so many more ways to combat an afternoon than I have mentioned here, but these 10 strategies have saved me personally from the daily onslaught of Senegalese afternoons in Keur Birima. I hope in my remaining few weeks in Senegal I will be able to refine my techniques to a perfection, as well as finding other successful ways to continue making the most of my time here in Keur Birima. Because honestly, I need to; my days are numbered here in Senegal. As happy as that makes me feel that I’ll be able to see my home again with all my friends and family, on top of the massive amount of outdoor adventuring I’ll be doing, it makes me equally sad that my time here in Senegal is dwindling. Because just as soon as I’ll be reunited with the land and people I love, I’ll be leaving the same thing behind.

Erik Oline