Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Things We Don't Talk About

As most people around me know, I do not have a filter between the thoughts in my head and the words coming out of my mouth. This is a blessing and a curse. I am who I am and feel very comfortable in my skin and personality. That being said, there are things I do not talk about with everyone or if I do only with a select group of friends. Same is true of what we volunteers talk about versus what we blog about, tell our family and friends about or is known to the general public about our work and Senegal.

Thinking about this, this past week it made me realize that there are many things that we do not talk about as culture, group or human beings in general. They might not even be taboo, they more likely just make everyone uncomfortable.

I might write about these things, but I most likely I will wait until I understand them better and get more perspective.

  • Child rearing with physical punishment: I grew up getting spanked I don't have any negative thoughts against the way my mom choose to correct/punish my bad behavior. That is not to say it is a good or right way to rear your children. I have seen a sliding scale of punishment in Senegal for the bad behavior of children, I try not to judge it. But it is very hard. Simply getting up and leaving the situation shows your unapproval of it.  All in all, it make me wonder as Americans over the course of the last century how did we learn to rear children with praise rather than punishment. (I assume county and state extension agents have something to do with this)
  • Toubab: Toubab is a term for a westerner or anyone that is light-skinned. Senegalese will call other light skinned Senegalese Toubabs. Neither of these make it any easier to hear be called Toubab, sometimes it feels like 100's of times, in a day. Sometimes I think my Senegalese name is Bob (the only part of the word heard in the distance) not Arame. It's annoying and frankly I feel, rude. To me Toubab is the Senegalese equivalent of the n-word. Lets repeat, TO ME. Not all volunteers feel this way. It wears on me alot. Same as hearing children screaming my name repeatedly rather than greeting me and leave me on my way. This is a wonderful post I've just read on this idea.
  • Prostitution: The oldest profession they say. In a Muslim country where you can have up to 4 wives you would think there wouldn't be a need for prostitutes. But there still are. The first time I had heard about this was actually an article about European women visiting the beaches Senegal for a hardbody play boy. I have not seen this happen personally. But even my cultural teacher said in even the most modest places they exist here.
  • Nakedness: There are so many pictures I can not take here due to naked children or women breast feeding children or simply it being Senegal and very hot out, people will commonly walk around with a shirt on at all.  You become unfazed by it eventually. Thankfully they don't ask you to participate. I've actually heard about another volunteer in another West African country who did and her village asked her to put clothes on.
  • Binge eating/food/care packages: Since it's difficult to prepare oneself for how you will cope while being in another country, different language and culture than your own, food is the simplest (sometimes) and quickest way to eat your worries away. We don't talk about the amount or size of care packages we get (of mostly American food) to drown our sorrows, cares and frustrations in. We try not to judge and hope those who are more blessed will share there wealth with the rest of us. 
  •  Diseases/Illnesses: Be thankful I don't share pictures of mango worms, staph infection and other wounds I have seen since being here. Sadly, being a responsible adult and helping children and adults clean and care for wounds correctly or taking them to the closest health post (because they can not afford the the $3-5 to see a doctor). Also there is wolof medicine here as well that are tinctures, eating barks, having wooden/cloth/leather charms made to wear closest to the wound. Or as the kids do, rub dirt into it. I have no clue why or where this came from or if it simply a child's response to stop the bleeding.
  •  Here versus There: The most annoying thing to me is when Senegalese want to go to America for work because they thing there is more work there, people are never sick, and only beautiful people live there. Recently I found out that Senegalese think we all have cooks and maids (so I've gone on a rampage to explain this in almost every conversation I have) I have to explain time and time again that America doesn't have any money right now and to explain the idea of debt. Why do you think I'm here if there are all these jobs in America? Senegalese (and for that matter the rest of the world) thinks America is what they see in mass media. I've had to explain that if I was coming to Senegal what I would I see;  the hotels, encampments, the most beautiful places. Not their village with them in it. Just like you don't see my tiny little town where I grew up.
  • "Always think for them": This was said to me yesterday about Senegalese. I found myself nodding my head to this but in after thought this makes me very mad. Senegalese have there way of life, culture, language, social structure for a reason. Who are we as outsiders to say what is good, bad or indifferent about it. When you are trying to help, at what point are we hurting? Throwing money at people and a problem doesn't make it better, but only causes more issues for people who have to live and deal with it day in and day out. How do you motivate people to fix problems themselves rather than stepping in and doing it for them?
  • Dating/sex/marring young:I don't even know where to begin with all of this. I have a Senegalese guy friend (not boyfriend) that I talk to when I'm at my office, other Senegalese in village ask about him when they greet me which is normal in this culture. We are simply hanging out and because he understands English, he helps me with my Wolof and his English improves because we talk. This in America is normal, people talk, hang out and there is nothing implied-usually. Here because I'm a Toubab and he's Senegalese (Gambian actually) people think I'm his girlfriend (because of the amount in which we talk and people see us do this). I've had to correct many old ladies when they ask me how my husband/boyfriend is. It's also common for men to have up to 4 wives, and sometimes with large differences of age between them. I find this to be a bit gross (but who am I to judge). I have talked to a few younger Senegalese about there thoughts on dating and sex and am glad to know they understand about using protection and they're parents would kill them if they got pregnant. (Pretty similar in the U.S.)

I'm sure there are more that I'm not thinking of, but the point is WHY don't we talk about these things? What as humans makes these things taboo when they happen and are apart of every day life just as much as babies are born and people die.  Are there any you can think of I forgot or reasons to why these topics are not easily discussed?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Creature Comforts and Cravings

Strangely this topic has been on my mind lately as 'tis the season for visitors from the land of plenty willing to bring us volunteers things we might like, want, or need to get through the worst/hottest/can't-take-being-called-a-toubob-one-more-time kinda day/week/month/year. Traveling anywhere, or for that sake not traveling anywhere, causes you to find comforts that you would not normally have or maybe allow yourself in your sanest version of yourself.

Here in Senegal is definitely true. I have been holding out and trying to find things here that I can find (sustainable) rather than having things sent from the states (also very expensive). Although, I have eaten more sugar, chocolate and downed cold cokes than I can think of in a very long while because you take advantage of them when you have them at  your access and they are available to you.

This is not my list of things to send me but just examples of the strangeness of creature comforts here:

  • My chair and ottoman I had made:This sounds very strange when I say it. But chairs here are either a plastic outdoor chair (usually broken to the point they double them up to make able to use) or a wooden bunt (bunt is the actual name for these little stools and the word for wood in wolof). The bunts are seriously so small sometimes, I think made for children only, but anyone will sit on them and are to keep you from simple sitting in the sand/dirt/ground. Which in that case, they serve there purpose. This being said, they are not something you want to sit on while you chat for an afternoon with a small group of people. Your butt starts to hurt.

Sadly I don't know what either of these birds are called, but they are beautiful
  • Quiet and listening to the birds: I'm lucky enough to live in a village without electricity (as I say while I'm writing a blog post in the office of the closest largest town, which happens to be a small resort town-the irony is not lost on me) meaning I can hear things like birds and see amazing amounts of stars at night. Beyond screaming children, goats being goats and donkeys being donkeys, simply being able to yourself think and not feel pushed by society to do nothing more than relax and keep cool. Because when it's hot, your brain does simply stop working. Relax, enjoy it and find some birds to watch. Senegal is said to have some of the most beautiful birds in the world.

(from left to right) 5 frame capture hive, view in to the frames and the hive I transferred the capture hive into
  • Bees (of course): I recently read Farm City by Novella Carpenter and was thankful when she mentioned bees  and I wasn't reading it for the sake of getting my dose of bee information and knowledge. I do truly love bees (just ask one of my former roommate about me crying from smelling some honeycomb she brought me a year I had not had the chance to work with them-it's pretty visceral) and having them near by and able to work with them is a pleasure.

Plate of food from Christmas feast day

  • Food: Of course triggering comfort and emotion the first thing would be food. There is plenty of food here now, even though there is a hunger season that I have yet to experience. But I do find myself going for a cold coke more often that I would in the states. Volunteers near me and I try to have 'feast days' where we get together for the sole sake of planning a big meal and cooking a lot of food-usually American. Not to say we don't appreciate chocolate, Oreos, nutella, or just beautiful ripe fruit (you get the idea)
Some of my favorite trees in Mboro, Keur Mama Lamine and Keur Malick Fady, respectively.

  • Books, magazines, english in general: Thankfully there are many, many books here. I also have a kindle and use my library from the states for free books. There are days when I'm frustrated that I allow myself to hole up in my hut and just read until I'm in a better mood. Sometimes this is longer than I would like it to be. So I have started making myself instead take a book and sit under one of the may shade trees in my village. On the best days, I can sit and read half a book in peace and calm with an occasional passer by greeting me (usually in mid afternoon, while people are still resting after lunch). Other days, I have 30 very curious children surrounding me, asking me questions, and staring at the toubob they have in there town. Which strangely, usually puts me in a better mood as it makes me remember I'm just like them and sure I can be an annoying SOB to these people as well. 

(from left to right) View from a dock in Toubacouta, glance through african silkwood trees to the mangrove delta, and the tide coming in on the mangroves.
  • The views here and exploring: When in doubt there are plenty of beautiful placed here with not many people around that are easy to find. Or if your lucky you are taken to as my case has been. I'm lucky enough to live about 10 mi/12km from the mangroves but also have a few people here that love taking me around to see new places as well as volunteers to visit and see there sites around the country. I'm lucky to live where I do in this country but also get to travel (fairly often)
  • Podcasts and music: I do have a tiny radio, but it works best as a speaker for podcasts and music for when I'm working in the garden, cleaning or doing laundry. Not having a newspaper to read or knowing what's going on the world (oh do I wish I could get the bbc on the tiny radio) is at times very, very strange to me. So I make sure to load up when I go into the office and feel like I know whats going on, even if it's a month old.
Rambo and me & my closest sitemate's dog, Blaze.
  • Dogs:I am lucky enough to have a family in my town that has a wonderful well behaved dog. (Animals are not treated well in this country and so many of them are scared of people) This same family after hearing me think out loud about wanting a dog of my own, happened to get a puppy. (I had taught there older dog to sit in about 20 minutes 1 day and explained that in America we train our dogs to help us work). Both dogs are one of my favorite things about me site, they are always happy to see me, I visit/see them daily and train them (and explain to the kids how to treat them and other animals every chance I get) My closest sitemate asked me if I was a dog lady while the 2 dogs came over and laid by me in a compound of 20 people. They simply knew who loved them the most. (Strangely after thinking about this for a while, I remember my mom telling me when I was little she had lost me on our farm, she found me sleeping with the dogs in the doghouse or under the porch a few times so this shouldn't surprise me being a reoccurring theme in my life)

“A good life is when you assume nothing, do more, need less, dream big, laugh a lot and realize how blessed you are” -unknown

I am very lucky at my site because I live in a very lush beautiful place with good people around me. I am very blessed.