Well, this has been a long time coming. I apologize for not writing lately, I decide to apply to Colorado College just for “fun”, so I have been channeling all my writing energy into several essays for the application. But now that is said and done, so I can return to my peevish ranting of a blog, that for some inexplicable reason people enjoy reading. I really do enjoy writing these blog posts, so you can expect more uploads in the future. It has been over a month since my last upload, needless to say, a lot has happened, here are some highlights.
I’ve been working a lot with my brother Ndongo, he has a college degree in Rural Development and he is not afraid to use it. He is starting a small school in Keur Birima based on teaching the practice of sustainable ecological agriculture. To do this Ndongo needed a classroom, we didn’t happen to have any spare classrooms laying around, so we built one. I’ve never built a school for teaching sustainable ecological agriculture before, so again it was one of those reoccurring “learning experiences” that I keep having in Senegal. For example, there was the day that we unloaded the concrete from the delivery truck. Let’s do some math. There was a total of 65 bags of concrete, each weighed 50 kilograms. I unloaded exactly half of the bags, carrying them 15 yards from the truck to the area we were stacking them. Knowing that 1kg = 2.205lbs, I can deduce that I carried 3,638.25lbs of concrete a total of 495 yards. We used this concrete to build the cinderblocks, that would alter make up the classroom, all was done by hand. As physically demanding as the labor is, I enjoy it. Everyone working has a great mentality, my brothers are cracking jokes and laughing all the time with the masons. It is also a great way to learn and practice Wolof. Senegalese people are so excited to see that I’m speaking Wolof, or at least attempting to. The actual building of the classroom was mostly done by masons, but of course, they found a job for me—bucket runner. If each bucket of concrete mix weighed 45lbs, and the mixer was 20 yards away from the mason, and I could make one trip per minute, and I worked for six hours a day, how much and how far did I carry the concrete. A lot and far. That project is finished somewhat thankfully, were now using it to store all the millet we chopped from last episode, until Ndongo actually launches the school.
Another great few days occurred during the seemingly endless peanut harvest. The process for harvesting peanuts is pretty straight forward—run a horse-drawn plow through the field, then pile all the upturned peanut plants. After the peanuts are all in piles you take a rake and “just beat the devil out of ittm” (Ross, Bob) in order to make hay for the horses during the dry season when all the grass disappears. It takes several days to plow the several acres of peanuts that we grow. These days were all extremely fun. It was just me and four of my host brothers, Mame-Mor 22, Babacoa 10, Ibou 8, and Talla 18 out in the fields almost all day long just having good time. I remember one instance Talla just started screeching for no reason, instead of getting the same confused look on my face, Mama-Mor matched Talla’s scream by ten-fold. Thus ensued a screaming contest that lasted for several minutes, in the end I think we all lost. During the harvest we would get up earlier so that we could work longer before the heat became unbearable; we would usually start work around 7 am, work until about noon. Once it got too hot to work we would grab a few peanut plants and just light them on fire right there—a way to make delicious quick roasted peanuts. After eating peanuts for at least an hour we would a tactical relocation to the watermelon patch and pick and eat as many watermelons as we pleased. The only reason we would stop is because someone would come bring us back to the compound for lunch.
Since we’re on the subject, let’s talk about food. Ceeb u Jen—rice of fish. It’s delicious, and it’s basically all anybody eats in Senegal. This will conclude our discussion of Senegalese cuisine.
One really unique night was “Tom Xarit”. In Wolof that means “drum friend”, but it’s also the name of the celebration of the Islamic New Year in Senegal. The one mosque in Keur Birima takes up 16.6% of all buildings in the village, so I knew this night was going to be fun. Ndongo had organized a village wrestling tournament and had invited several neighboring villages to attend; close to 300 people showed up. Wrestling in Senegal is a bit different than the wrestling I’m used to; punching is allowed, the wrestling mat is nonexistent—replaced by sand, and to win both of your opponent’s shoulders have to touch the ground for any amount of time. The wrestling matches were more based off of age rather than weight, so first up were the younger kids. Watching these matches was really exciting, everybody has super high energy and goes crazy whenever anyone gets beaten. I was having a blast watching these matches, then suddenly, I was thrown out of my chair, disrobed and re-robed in a loincloth—I was up next. I have always been athletic, but I had never competitively wrestled, which was problematic because I not only represented myself, but all Americans at that moment. Before starting any wrestling match it is customary to bust out some cheesy dance move to make the crowd laugh. I nailed the cotton-eye-joe move, where you kick out your legs and pump your arms in spastic repetition. All 300 people went hysterical with laughter. Now, if all 300-people slapped their knee three times per minute for two minutes, how nervous was Erik? With the loud bang of a jimbe the match was off. We circled several times, then locked up, we tussled, I broke his hold on me only to have him grab me again. Sometime during the match his elbow caught my nose and the blood began to flow; the match continued without hesitation. We locked up for several minutes, just trying to muster up enough strength to topple my opponent. Finally, I was able to grab his leg and upturn him in one swift motion; it almost looked like I knew what I was doing. With the thud of his shoulders on the sand I had won. I staggered backwards looking more like an extra from a Quinton Terrintino (SPELLING) movie than a wrestler, only to be swept off my feet by a small army of children and carried off the to the victor’s chair. I have absolutely no regret for trying out Senegalese wrestling, but I think once was enough for me.
School in Senegal recently started, I’ve been looking forward to this because I am teaching English at the local high school a mile down the road in another village. I’m teaching pretty much all levels of English in several different classes that range in English comprehension. The first day I was working with students I taught the ABC song in one class, then sentence structure in the next. School has only been in session for two weeks, so I’ve just barely started, but so far it has been a very humbling experience; the school where I teach is in shambles, there is one faucet on school grounds, class sizes average around 80 or 90 students in a room that is usually about the same temperature. Even with these facilitative drawbacks, there is never a frown in the room, every student is eager and ready to learn. On my first day of leading an entire class I found myself more nervous than expected. I remember walking into my classroom and looking at the 87 (yup, I counted) students, crammed three-to-a-desk, every student had a pen and a smile. I took a deep breath, walked to the front of the room and put way to much energy running and jumping around the classroom engraving object pronouns into my students brains. The two-hour class went without a hitch.
With the two-month-mark in behind me, I can see how acclimated I’ve become to Senegal. Days over 100 degrees are no longer a major annoyance, Ceeb u Jen is now my favorite food, and my Wolof is improving in leaps and bounds every day. Even with everything positive about my stay in Senegal, I got to sleep mentally exhausted every night, just the fact that I need to think hard about each word that I speak leaves me drained. It is not easy living in a family that does not speak the same language as me, it has been a demanding experience. Adding to the fact that I’m very isolated, I don’t have other fellows from Global Citizen Year that I can see on a daily basis. I could never had imagined what I would find in Senegal before arriving here, but I did know that it would not be the easiest eight months of my life. I did not take a gap year because I knew it would be easy, I’m in Senegal to stretch myself beyond where I’ve been before. Problems are not problems, they are opportunities to learn and grow from. I seek out difficulty and challenges just to push and stress myself more than I already am. When I arrive back in America I will not look back on the times that were easy in Senegal, I will look at where I struggled and fought; because these are the moments that will define my gap year. I will look back on those moments as proof that person who left for his Global Citizen Year, was not the same one who came home.