I have to break this post up into three parts because so much has happened since the last time I posted. Also, the human brain is better able to understand if information is partitioned into sections; and I don’t want anyone to miss out on any important details because the post looks too intimidating and long to fully read and not skim. So we will go about this with three partitioned sections—Vacation, Life in Village and The Hard Part.
After the last couple of posts, I’m sure it was clear how badly I needed a vacation. And it was right as I was reaching my breaking point that my trip toBamako,MaliandDakar,Senegalhad finally arrived. I had been planning a five day trip inBamako, five days inDakarand then a weekend Jazz Festival on theislandofSt. Louis….a small island off the coast ofSenegal. This was one of the best vacations I have had sincePuerto Rico. The only bad thing was all of the traveling and carrying my own heavy bag. We had a comfortable 12 hour bus ride all the way intoBamako. The first like 4 hours at the border were full of getting on and off of the bus to have our passports checked and then to buy our Malian Visas. As we are buying our visas, the men take our passports and stamp them and then hand us a small piece of paper that they say is our receipt…ok..sounds normal. Anyway, we continue toMaliand have an amazing time. Some of the highlights:Bamakois beautiful more developed then Ouaga. So we went a little crazy being in a more developed place then the one we had been stuck in for about a year….foreshadow forDakar. I took a day to myself and wound up at the Cultural Palace of Bamako. The cultural palace was this beautiful outdoor cultural center, with festivals, live music and art. There, I met a group of Malian police officers who invited me to drink tea with them and eat. We sat and chatted for hours eating authentic Malian food and drinking tea. After leaving them I met some struggling artists that worked on the art exhibit there. Again, we drank tea and they let me paint a Batik that one of the artists had in his sketch book. It was definitely one of the best days I have ever had. I know that this may seem a little shocking, and I hope my grandmother never reads this, because you can’t do things like this inAmerica. You can’t expect strangers to randomly offer you food and free art and tea without thinking that they are trying to poison or kidnap you…especially if you are a woman and alone. ButBamakois notAmericaand I had the best time with all of those strangers. On toDakar…or wait…not just yet. We were to fly roundtrip fromBamakotoDakarand so we went to the airport. As they are checking our passports and visas, they tell me that I don’t have a visa. I’m like what the hell are you talking about, yes I do, I bought it at the border. You just saw the stamp in my passport. The man is like, “No its the slip of paper that they gave you..that is the visa.” Do you know where that little scrap of paper was? Right, neither did I. Needless to say I started cursing everyone out because they knew that I had to have bought the visas if they “stamped my passport with the receipt”…what kind of sense does that make? I still had to go and buy another visa which pissed me off. NowDakar. Off the bat, the weather was amazing. I was greeted at the airport buy one of my friends from Howard, who had been working inDakar. It was such a nice feeling to see someone from home. That same night she took us to a party with a collective mix of Black people from around the world. It reminded me of a Howard house party…oh the memories :) All in all,Dakarwas beautiful and way more developed thanBamako. What I loved about it was how developed it was but not in a globalized way. We didn’t pass any McDonalds or Starbucks but they had fast food chains. We even went into a real grocery store that was connected to a mall. I had a serious culture shock. I forgot that so many foods existed and could be bought in one place! Anyway, I lovedDakar, but we had to go and see whatSt. Louisand the Jazz festival were about. We wound up doing only one night of the Jazz Festival because we found out that we could go to the local night clubs and hear those same bands play live and all we had to do was buy drinks…so of course that’s what we did. Now, I can tell you a good story aboutSt. Louis, or a very disturbing one….I will tell them both but with brevity. Our last night inSt. Louiswe crashed a huge boat party. It was the best. There was an amazing live jazz band fromMaliplaying all night, dancing, free food and drinks on a huge ship. That was the best night of the whole trip. And now the disturbing story. We were looking for a good beach to go to on this small island and could not find a single one. Do you know why? Because all of the beaches were lined with not only trash and dead animals (I saw a dead shark, pelican, and sea turtle among the many dead fish) but with kids defecating in the water! We walked, and walked for miles alongside kids playing and defecating in the Ocean. Horrible, I know. But I will say that the Beaches in Dakar were amazing. There were so many beautiful islands with clean and beautiful beaches, but thank god the St. Louis beach-thing was at the end of the trip because I can’t go back into beach water.
All in all, it was an amazing vacation and I didn’t think I would want to go back to village afterwards. But I actually had feelings of the exact opposite sentiments. I was even more motivated to get back and start projects.
LIFE IN VILLAGE
Before I list the projects I have been working on, I will tell a quick awkward story that happened to me in village. A Muslim friend of mine was getting married…and I knew this…she told me the day before just to make sure I didn’t forget. So I woke up the morning of the wedding, got dressed and went to her house for the party. Normal so far right? As I’m walking to the house I see all of the men outside in their traditional garbs and women bringing gifts for the bride. I, on the other hand, was walking in plain view towards all of these people with skinny jeans on and a vest with a tank top underneath and worst of all, empty handed….completely inappropriate. I should note that women in my village DO NOT wear pants and men DO NOT respect women who wear clothes traditionally made for men….a whole other issue that I don’t have time to address. However, I can wear pants on an everyday basis because they don’t look at me as an African woman. But not at a wedding; and everyone had already seen me. So I acted like I stopped by just to make sure that the wedding was that day and I planned on going home again to change and bring the “already-purchased” gift. No one said anything about what I was wearing, nor did I get any sideways glances (or none that I noticed or understood). Nevertheless, I was walking back to my house like “What is wrong with you?” So inappropriate on so many levels. Ok, now projects. I have been spending a lot of time giving health lessons at the local primary school and doing one on one nutrition consultations with women who want to improve their child’s nutrition and health. I’m am currently working on putting together a girls camp over the summer for about ten to fifteen girls ranging from ages thirteen to sixteen. The camp will be three days a week for a month following three themes: English, Art and Health. They take English in school and most of the students struggle with it because they have horrible professors who can’t even speak English with me. So I hope to teach them English using black politics and literature. I’m really excited about that part. Then, there is no real expression through art here. If its not singing at church, kids don’t play instruments or even color. As a big fan of the arts, I find it fitting that we have art lessons where the girls can express themselves in various artistic ways. SO…..If you all would like to send art supplies like color pencils and sketch pads or water color paints and you think it you could send it before the end of July, it would be greatly appreciated. Otherwise, we will be using natural paints and sketch pads lol. I also have a summer project working in my district capital at our CREN. A CREN is where the village clinics send extremely malnourished children for rehabilitation. The only problem is our CREN does not know how to rehabilitate these children, nor do they have sufficient resources. My nearest PCV neighbor and I are going to do a training with the staff for about ten days and help to restructure our district’s CREN. I know it sounds like a lot and like my days are packed full of activities but that is so not the case.
THE HARD PART
Being in village is usually boring as hell. Especially compared to my hectic life in the U.S. I know you are probably thinking, “But you have free time to read and play guitar and write poetry and do yoga, how could it be boring?” Yes, I do have the time to do all of those things but when its 110 degrees outside…who is doing any of that? I explained to someone recently who said they envied me for being able to read so many books that, its not the same as when you are in the U.S. reading a book on a couch with AC, and snack foods at your disposal. No, I’m reading these books under extreme conditions: sitting outside, (because its ten degrees hotter inside) swatting the millions of flies that keep touching me and sweating like a fugitive. So I’m sure you can imagine what its like if we are talking about playing my guitar or doing yoga. Not even possible. The moral of the story is that village is very boring when its hot. On rainy days, I actually do all of the above mentioned activities in one day! But when it doesn’t rain, which is usually the case, I spend a lot of time finding people to talk to but trying not to have to move too much because its too hot. Most of the people in my village don’t speak French and my Bissa is not proficient enough to just hold full conversations with people, which means, I spend a lot of time thinking about everything. Especially since I read so much, I am in a perpetual state of critical thinking or just reminiscing or thinking about the future. I even started raising chickens to keep myself somewhat busy…..we actually just ate one of them tonight at my neighbor’s house. Oh and STOP TELLING ME HOW LONG A YEAR IS BEFORE I COME HOME! Every time I speak to someone in the U.S. they ask me when I’m coming home and I tell them I have about a year left, I have to hear…“Damm! That’s a long time.” Or “You can’t even come and visit?” Yes, I know that a year is a long time but it doesn’t help if everyone keeps telling me that; and No, I can’t come home and visit because the plane ticket is like two thousand dollars roundtrip. Although I would love to see everyone, that ticket price is just a little bit out of my league. All of my vacations will be on this continent. I know it sounds tough but I have come to the conclusion that I am a mental masochist. I love putting myself in mentally stressful conditions just to see how I can overcome and reach the next level of enlightenment. SO STOP ASKING ME IF I’M COMING HOME SOON, OR WHEN I’M COMING HOME. Here is your eternal answer…. Unless there is some secret santa somewhere willing to front that plane ticket, you will not see me until August 2012.
Well that about sums it up then. To my family and friends, you have no idea how much you are missed and occupy my thoughts. Thanks so much for all of the packages and letters, they really do mean the world to me. Also, thanks to those of you who take the time to send me lengthy emails in response to any update I send you (I hate sending someone a long personal email and they reply with one line). Again, to my friends and family, its painful how much I miss you all. I’m sure I will be hearing from you all soon!
Peace and Blessings
Song: Gnarls Barkley- St. Elsewhere