And other stories from my Senegalese childhood.
It’s been a while since I posted because last time I was back in internet world was a stressful chuck of time. Peace Corps keeps us busy when we’re back in their reach, but time at site has been wonderful and I will give you at least two, maybe three, installments about training village life. Oh, and when I say village I mean neighborhood in a big city, some people are in actual villages, so I don’t want to give the wrong impression. My room, however is the below cement box. This picture was taken after my room flooded the first night. I’ve rearranged a fair bit now and we’ve worked out a pretty good system for stopping the water.
This is how it is:
I figured out that the best way to describe my first week with my homestay family is that it’s like I’m the main character in a children’s book. If the author of Pat the Bunny had dared step into the sub-sahara, she may have written “Koumba sweeps,” but she didn’t so I might.
The best way to introduce Kouba is the way she came to me. My LCF (language and cultural facilitator aka teacher), who is also living in my compound, was making sure the three other trainees in my group, Dan, Jaynel and Andy, arrived safely to their new homes, and I’m sitting amidst women and children I don’t know and don’t even know how to properly meet. This is right before dinner time so I can’t expect my mother, Mariama, to help me with introductions. People are talking all around me. I get a few of their names but have no idea who they are. Then one woman says something to Mariama. Mariama responds blah blah Koumba blah. I am not aware this pertains to me in any way. Everyone carries on with their convo, whose subject I can guess is koumba, but that could be a verb or adjective for all I know. Maybe we’re having Koumba for dinner. Eventually the woman next to me nudges me and says Koumba, Koumba Faty. This is my new name? My mom nods confirmation. A child is born.
Turns out my family is lovely. Immediate family only includes Mariama and her sons, Karamo and Maa. Her husband is a marabout and lives in Portugal. #globalization. All these other people rent rooms in our compound. There are three sisters, Ami, Hadi and Binta Seydi. Ami and Binta are married with 5 and 1 kids, respectively. I include all these children as my siblings or nieces and nephews, at least. They are sweet as can be and snuggle me (especially Mouhammed who is four and adorable and I’ve already arranged with his mom that he’ll come to the U.S. with me. Oh, 3-month old Fatemata too, she’s going in my bag. All I have to say is “Fatemata saco kono” and everyone cracks up laughing. #babystealingjokes). These kids are also invaluable study buddies. Sometimes I draw pictures and they tell me the word in Mandinka (my Mom and aunts are often better help with this than their childred, but everyone is there) and on days when I just can’t absorb any new info and need to review, we have a system. Mouhammed holds my blank notecards, Ceni (11-yr old girl) hold the ones I’ve written on and it’s often a fight for the flashlight. Where were these guys when I was in college? Late night in the Ath would have been much more bearable. At this moment, Ibu (Ibrahima) is serving as sole torch bearer. My silently writing in English isn’t nearly as entertaining as getting to repeatedly correct my Mandinka pronuciations.
All in all, the first week was great. My family is patient, helpful and kind. My brothers Karamo and Maa have started washing their hands before meals. #achievement. Food is yummy. We have a lot of fish, usually fresh because we’re near the ocean, with koucha sauce, made of bissap and okra and very delicious. Oh and lots and lots of rice. Breakfast is the standard fair here, baguette and cafe touba (awesome roasted, spiced coffee). The weird thing is I sometimes get peppered mayo on my bread, which is a little intense at 8AM.
Oh, and the best thing my family does to teach me is tell me everything I’m doing. “Ah, Koumba. I fitaroo.” “Koumba, i domota?” “Koumba, i taala Camarakunda?” “Koumba i naata.” Yes, I am sweeping. Yes, I did eat. Yes, I am going to the Camara house. Yes, I came back. This is partially tradition. You come home and they recognize that you made it back in one piece. And then the other part is that I forget what I’m doing, that is I forget the words for what I am doing. Not to mention I don’t know how to do most things correctly here. Sweeping sand is an art unlike sweeping hardwood floors. And whipping leaves into a foamy sauce takes incredible strength. I’m an infant, but I don’t mind because for the most part everyone is nice about it. Maybe in the next few weeks I’ll advance from Pat the Bunny to Romona the Brave. We shall see.
Next post coming soon: second week in CBT and site announcements!
Fo sila doo! (Until the next path. Or see you when I see you.)