July 6, 2009
Once again, Salamalekum!
I feel like I've gone through the many stages of getting used to this culture, and now I'm at the point where I'm no longer in culture shock, no longer in awe of everything happening around me, no longer picking out all the bad things in the culture. It's the point where I really feel like this is becoming my third home. It's strange running into people you know on the street and getting invited to homes for the massive family lunch. I feel like I have so many things to do and people to see in my free time that I'm getting exhausted from all the running around. Not to mention work is becoming much more busy now that the summer school has started, which the volunteers are in charge of instead of the teachers, meaning we spend a lot of time trying to come up with plans for each day.
The climate is definitely changing. As nice as June was, July is the complete opposite. It's very humid, very hot, and the air is thick with flies and mosquitoes. Might I also add that the air is full of the stench of hot sewage. That along with the smell of rotting garbage, horses, goats, mangoes, fresh seafood and fried food makes for a very interesting smell that is distinctive of St-Louis.
The other day was the last day of official school classes, and all of the teachers had traditional outfits made for the party on the last day--me included. They wanted me to wear it walking home after the part, and as the dress was a gift, I agreed to. I got varying reactions: clapping, "c'est absolument belle" (that is absolutely beautiful), "tu es tres Senegalese" (you are truly Senegalese), laughter, points....but all in all it was pretty funny and I think they all appreciated that I was trying out the culture in one of the most obvious was. A Toubab walking down the street in traditional African clothing is probably the most attention-drawing event that could happen here. That being said, I've also been buying loads of fabric and taking it to a local tailor to have some nice sarongs, skirts, and dresses made. I almost feel bad at how cheap it is.
I've run into several animals, varying from many iguanas, some nasty spiders, mice, monkeys, and, as of last night, a stray cat that managed to get into our room during the night. That managed a pretty awful scare since both my roommate and I thought someone was breaking into our room. Once we found out it was a stray cat that had wandered into the house sometime during the day (the houses are always open with lots of courtyards and roof terraces), we were amused....until it became so scared that it started peeing all over our stuff. Not so funny at the time, but just the craziest experience now.
The food is starting to get repetitive and more repulsive, but I think that's mainly due to the large quantities of oil used in each meal. It's hard to eat when the food you're eating is all deep fried and then placed in, essentially, a bowl of oil. Then, our host mum keeps telling us "Tu n'as pas mange" (you didn't eat), and then putting more food in front of us. They quite literally told us that we have to get fat before we leave, which is the norm here for women and is actually encouraged. The shrimp here must be cooked so tiny that they look like worms in some strange brown onion sauce. The reason? Because the shrimp is taken from one of the parts of the river where there happens to be the most leakage of the sewage. How pleasant, right? At the same time, there's things like bissap (the hibiscus drink), which I am beginning to crave every day. It's so strange and I wish people at home could try it. Took several days to get used to such a foreign flavor. You don't think about trying some food that you've literally never tasted anything like it before.
Since I'm now no longer counting up to halfway and am now counting down the days, it seems like I have no time. I already have plans for every weekend. This weekend I will spend all of Friday at a beach on the peninsula, Saturday fixing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (peanut butter will be handmade as they don't have that here) and a nice big American breakfast of eggs, potatoes, toast and orange juice for the host family to try as a way to kind of celebrate the 4th of July. Sunday is the big day, where a few volunteers and I will be heading to Touba to see the largest mosque in Africa. The girls have to have every part of the body covered except for the face, which will be interesting with the heat. I can't wait for the experience and I'll be sure to tell all about it--including how it feels for the first time to be completely ignored by people (women can't be acknowledged at all at this mosque).
Well, that's it for now. I'll send some more pictures when I get a bit more time. I hope everyone has a great 4th of July! Celebrate and appreciate everything for me!