Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Snapshots of Senegal Life

My daily ritual looks like this: wake up to the roosters crowing at 4 AM, followed by the muezzin’s call to prayer. Go back to sleep for a few precious hours. Wake up again to animal sounds and the scratch of my host sisters’ twig brooms sweeping up the dust outside in the family compound. The sun pours through the holes in my tin doors, heating my room slowly.

I turn on my little gas tank and light it, setting a teapot on top to heat water for tea. Trudging out into the sun (why is it so bright this early??), I greet each family member I see – “Pin-da? Tanaa finaani?” (Did you wake in peace? No evil?) – and then I pull water from the well. I carry my bucket to the open-air bathroom area in the back of my hut, enclosed by brick walls. (For those of you who don’t know, a bucket bath does not mean sitting in a bucket: it means using a water scoop to pour water from the bucket on your head, little by little. I’ve learned to shampoo with one hand and rinse with the other! Yes, I’m very proud of this skill.) After my bath, I get dressed and pop next door to the small boutique to buy eggs and a baguette of toppaloppa for breakfast. Eat, slather myself with sunscreen, grab my bag and bike, and I’m off.

Sheep in my family compound... getting an early morning wash.

That’s just the start of my day. The contents of each day vary greatly, from running all over town for meetings to organizing causeries (small group trainings), working on projects, greeting people, snatching wi-fi from whatever office I happen to end up in to quickly check emails, ignoring the endless repetition barraging my ears (men saying they want a toubab wife, kids teasing, etc.), scrubbing laundry by hand, shopping for food in the market, visiting daaras, or other random things.

Monday night this week was the Tamkharit celebration, a Muslim holiday celebrating the first month of their lunar calendar. It’s really like a version of Halloween: kids run around dressed up in strange clothes (sometimes boys dress as girls and vice versa), with white paint on their faces, chanting and dancing at each house for gifts. It’s supposed to be the one night when no one, no matter how rich or poor, should go hungry. As far as I know, it has nothing to do with the dead, so it’s not exactly in the tradition of All Hallow’s Eve or Day of the Dead. But some things are oddly similar: the masks, the kids walking around house to house at night, the “candy” buckets. It’s hilarious to see these kids running around with their little tins and sacs, forming circles and bursting into spontaneous stomping, twirling, and booty shaking. At each house, the adults will clap and urge them on. They reward the kids with scoops of rice, millet, peanuts, or candy at the end. My host dad, who has created a local radio station in the nearby village of Saré Yoba, actually used his phone to broadcast some of these kids live on the air. They yelled and chanted like crazy, having no idea what he was doing, while my host mom and I cracked up.

Days are hot, baking my skin even if I’m only outside for 10 minutes. Evenings and nights bring cool relief, and a starry sky to gaze up at while I sit with the family. Social time here means sitting together, chatting, tea, and sitting some more. The other night, as we sat in our plastic chairs in front of our house, listening to the radio, I craned my head back to look at the huge glowing moon overhead.

“The moon is nice, isn’t it?” said my host mother. “Can you see the moon and stars like this in America?” I was shocked – Mariama is not the most educated of ladies, but she’s smart and she lives in a (small) city. I was sure she’d know that the sky is basically the same no matter where you are in the world, give or take some smog and a few constellations. But apparently Americans talk too much about snow, because she said she thought the sky was always obscured by snow and clouds in America.

My host mother, Mariama Baldé.

Speaking of night, the one thing I think I miss above all else from home is a good night’s sleep. Why? Mice have claimed my hut as their own since I first moved in. Every night they gallivant around on the tarp above my head, squeaking like they’re possessed, partying or whatever it is they’re doing. It’s enough to wake the dead. They are joined by chirping crickets and the dogs/ sheep/ goats/ cows/ donkeys in the middle of my family compound that occasionally have panic attacks, baying at the moon or ramming into my corrugated steel front door. That’s when I wake up with a start, convinced my hut is falling down or some other catastrophe. Let’s just say sleep is a little hard to come by!

For a while, I had a ghost in my hut. I call him the Soap Ghost because he has a weird fetish for soap and creams. First, he decided to disappear an entire bottle of body lotion and a jar of Vaseline. Then I started keeping my soap in a case on my dresser, and I’d come home to find it open on the floor – every day. No matter how many times I put it back. My other soap, which I kept outside in a dish in my bathroom area, started moving around also. It was always somewhere random when I came home, never where I’d put it. Now, the logical answer is that mice/rats have stupidly decided they want to eat these items. After all, they did eat through the plastic lid of my Nutella jar to get to the chocolate. But tell me, how did they pick up and carry an entire bottle of lotion? Nah. It’s definitely a Soap Ghost. Probably the cleanest, most moisturized ghost you’ve ever not seen.

More tales to come!