Month: December 2012

Wolof Proverbs

A few proverbs to illustrate some facets of the culture here.


Slowly, slowly to catch a monkey in the forest.
 ndank ndank mooy jaap golo ci ñaay.
The first proverb I learned and the one I most often utilize, this guy is kind of our equivalent “Slow and steady wins the race,” substituting our tortoise and hare for a monkey and trapper. I throw this down on a daily basis whether being praised or harassed for my Wolof skills. It’s easier than explaining the plateaus and challenges involving language acquisition. (Side note, I’ve only seen one monkey so far which I’m quite fine with. I was driving by and saw him walking along the dirt road. My time in Costa Rica taught me monkeys are exciting and exotic the first time you see them, and quickly become terrifying shortly after).

I won’t buy a serpent in the hole. duma jend jay ci pax.
Everyone tries to rip everyone off here, and it’s only worse (I hate to say) if you have pale skin. So you never pay for anything until after you have it, and then try to pay with exact change if possible. It’s a lesson everybody has to learn the hard way once, and then you will always remember. You can also use this in jest when telling people you’ll sell your age if they’ll do a certain dance move, which I frequently do.

People are medicine for people. ñit ni lay garabam.
A beautiful (and difficult for us Americans who value privacy and solitude) aspect of Senegalese culture is the importance placed on community, relationships and simply being together. Sitting, shooting the shit and joking with each other are their cure-alls.

A stick that has a long time in the water does not change into a crocodile. bant lu mu yagg yagg ci ndox du sopëliku jesig.
No matter how much I integrate, become fluent in Wolof, tie babies on my back and learn to cook Senegalese dishes, I’ll still be an American. I’ll still be me. And more surprisingly, I’ve found I identify as a Southerner first, and an American second. Who would have thought?

Debt does not have a younger sibling. bor du am rakk.
People ask each to loan them money all the time here, and in the culture it’s not acceptable to ask your friend to pay you back, no matter how big the loan is. So you never loan anyone an amount of money that you can’t bear to part with, even if it’s your sister. But I suppose you can use this for the second time someone asks you for money. I’m really wary of being viewed as another walking NGO-handout by my community, so I never loan anyone money and have never actually said this to anyone.

You are asking a frog about his tail. dangay laaj mbot u genam.
Basically to use when you’re asking a nonsensical question, like something a crazy person would ask. I don’t really ever use this one, but a friend of my family’s taught it to me and I thought it was a little funny, so I included it.

A Day in the Life – Morning Edition

Every morning I wake up to the mosque chanting the call(s) to prayer before sunrise, and lay in bed until my alarm goes off at 7. My emotions during this dark time range from rage to romantically feeling like “I’m in Africa!”. (I imagine exercise will worm its way in at this time, once I figure out how. The one time I ran, a piece of glass went through my Vibram, and my calves hurt for 2 days. Deep sand is deep.) Opening my east facing windows, I spy a lovely sunrise and settle down to drink a cup of Nescafe and powdered milk while working a crossword puzzle that I never finish. Settling down means sitting on my stool that I asked some carpenters to craft last week; I cannot go on enough about how life changing it is to have something to sit on. Those first mornings were rough. It’s worthwhile noting the mosquitos are raging at this hour. Once I’ve given up on the puzzle, I get ready for the day, pack a backpack and fill up my water filter. I bike to the government agriculture office a little before 9 and stop on the way for breakfast from my favorite lady. There I join some people eating in silence on benches arranged in a horseshoe around the chef, Psiu Nabu Diop. The benches are surrounded by hanging sheets, giving an illusion of privacy. My bean sandwich costs 150 CFA, 30 US cents. I work at the office here until 1 when we break for lunch until 4. That’s three hours of lunch break, in case you missed it. Senegal shuts down for lunch, especially during the hot season. I bike home and relax until lunch and sweep.

To be continued, I’m tired.

I’M INSTALLED, HELP!

I am finally in my home sweet home Kebemer, which started out about as sweet as three week old Tabaski ram. I’ve only been here a little while, though, so I’m trying to keep an open mind. Instead of going on a rant about my new family, the city, and the men of this country, I’ll entertain everyone with a bathroom tally. In six days there have been:

cockroaches slaughtered in the bathroom – 22

escaped cockroaches now MIA – 2

cockroach carcasses discovered the next morning – 6
(ensued the heated debate among my friends and I about what was happening to all the slain)

Cockroaches killed fighting over the carcass of their own kind  – 6                                                      (settled the debate)

Cockroach arch nemesis – 1

*** some may be represented in multiple counts

Sworn In, Now What?

Well, I just spend an hour writing a lovely, witty blog update just to have the power cut out and lose it. As we like to say, “High highs, Low lows.” Peace Corps is an emotional roller coaster. I’ll summarize what I had already written:

I took an oath regarding upholding the constitution, and I’m now an official Peace Corps volunteer! Here’s a video where you can see my teacher, confidant and second mother Ouly and a bunch of my friends–all of whom kept me sane these past 2 months. One noteworthy discrepancy, however, is the atmosphere of our cocktail hour. While we seem to be leisurely enjoying pleasantries and the sunshine, it was in fact more along the lines of a bacon-in-the-middle match with hors d’oeuvres in place of a football. Fingerfood-deprived Peace Corps volunteers can’t be expected to behave themselves around cheesy mashed potato balls.

It’s bittersweet finishing training and moving to Kebemer. I developed a unique bond with my host family, the Peace Corps training staff, and my fellow volunteers. Being so vulnerable when I arrived here and being taken care of so well by everyone has left me overwhelmed with gratitude and very sad to say goodbye. It’s hard to articulate how terrifying it is to be unable to meet your basic needs on your own, and how life changing it is to be surrounded by people who you know care deeply about you. Almost like speed-growing up; I don’t know if I’ll ever experience another time in my life like this, or ever make relationships under similar circumstances again. Tears were shed during the swearing in.

But I’m excited to unpack my bags, cook for myself, and start my work. It’s both exciting and also really scary to have a completely open ended schedule in my future. Come Wednesday, it’s all up to me what I do with my time!