Whhy!

Peanut sprout breaking ground in our garden.
My room rearranged. The mattress hurt my back and this arrangement avoids flooding in my sleeping area during rain storms.

I asked my Mom what she was going to cook for dinner and hell broke loose.  In a great way.  Something about that small bit of effective communication while weeding–that is pulling grass out of the sand in the yard #beachhousedream–together incited some cross-cultural hilarity.  I asked if I could keep the grass for compost, surely a bizarre concept for people who pull grass out of sand so that they’re yard is completely bare, and then made more confusing by my attempt to explain its purpose in Mandinka.  Note: This is in a city where farming is far removed from daily life (much unlike the village I will be serving in and more like…mmm, Baltimore).  Anyway, Mariama (my Mom, nbaamaa), released one of her uncontrollable squeals of “Koumba, whhy!”  She is not actually asking “why?” I’ve determined.  This seems to be a cry of exasperation.  It can sound harsh when she’s scolding a child, but when she says it at the end of a particularly confusing exchange or one in which I was actually able to express myself and she just cannot believe the things I have to say, it is endearing and just so fitting.  “Koumba, whhy…are you trying to go outside when it’s raining?  do you let the little boys cover your notebook in doodles?  does the time change inside the U.S.?”  And I just don’t know quite yet how to explain it all, so days like the following go by and all we can do is laugh.

Dan and Andy composting with my little brothers.

After the compost was resolved, I asked what the word for kitchen is for the 15th time. #vocaboverload.  Then, naturally, Mariama asked how to say kitchen in English.  “Kitsen, Chitsen, Kit-shin.”  She just couldn’t say it.  Alhamdulillah!  She understands.  Our languages sound entirely different.  Our noises are not the same.  I’m not the crazy one.   I’ve also found she cannot say the words Jeanette, Virginia, and go.   Maybe I’ll try to work a “Mariama, whhy!” into our next English lesson.

As the two of us settled down to prepare dinner, not that this is a settling event.  It’s a lot of gosh darn work.  Most meals we have koucha, which is the Mandinka word for bissap.  The leaves, which themselves are refreshing, sharp but not bitter, are made into a sauce, which retains a bit of the flavor but mostly is an incredible foam.  I’m on my was to be able to whip steamed leaves (and sometime okra) into a mound of froth that can carry interest around a bowl of rice, but my forearms are not yet up to par.  I suppose I was talking a break from baking myself in the kitchen and when I found the two teenage boys who are staying with us during their summer vacation doing push-ups in terrible form.  I decided to set them straight.  This was funny for many reasons: 1) Anything Koumba does is funny.  2) I’m a woman.  3) I was better than the boys.  and best of all, 4) Mariama joined in!  No one asked her too, she just jumped in, as if trying to fulfill the afternoon’s comedy requirement.  She was doing more of a press-up into upward-facing dog and thought I was trying to contort her arm when I showed her the correct position.

After this I was coerced into a dancing competition, wherein my little sister would strut or whiff her hands in the Yousa (a scandalous dance where you seem mime smelling your armpits and nether regions).  An sufficient amount of embarrassment later, I refused to do the splits with a no-questions-asked a banta (it is finished or dead).  Throughout this I was also actively avoiding the plague that hit many of my fellow female trainees, the white girl braids.  Hadi, the single 20 year-old woman in my family, does hair for women to contribute a supplementary income to the house.  Most times she is occupied with a friend, neighbor, or family member, but her hands were free this evening and she kept petting my hair in a loving, yet intimidating manner.

Binta roasting peanuts, the sale of which provides a small amount secondary income.  Ibu and Maa in the background.

Gosh, I hope this humor translates.  Every day has moments of concentrated hilarity, but there are also moments of intellectual conversation either with Aziz as we eat breakfast together in the morning or other adult members of my family as we sit outside after dinner as the day cools into night.  There are moments of frustration when children intentionally harass us with by screaming “Toubab” (which means foreigner and is often used out of ignorance but sometime used to irk us) or unintentionally by being unhelpful or flat out destructive in our training garden (where we learn the absurdities of growing vegies in sand).  There are moments of calm when we sit around and drink attaya after lunch or gaze at the stars when the kids are falling asleep on the basang (mat).  There are moments of relief when I sneak into my room for an hour’s nap or time with my ipod.  There are moments of warmth (mind you, the sun’s heat is constant) when my siblings and I trade English lessons for Mandinka lessons or teach each other high-fives and hand-claps.  There is class which is frustrating and fun and necessary and has given me three close friends, who appreciate sarcasm and absurdity nearly as much as I do.

Mid-language class Attaya tutorial.

Papa, Mamady, Kawsu and Karamo, my little men, who took care of our garden when we were in Thies.

This is life in training.  There is also the life we have here at the center, which as I expressed previously is hectic and can be overwhelming.  I have found it enjoyable and therapeutic too, as we all come back with similarly silly, absurd, and frustrating stories.  Much has happened outside of my training village life and I will try to get to this soon, but today we are going on a quick beach vacation so I must close here.  I am trying to post more pictures too but its taking too long, so sorry!  Fo naato, I promise.

Heera (peace),

MaryCad.

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4 thoughts on “Whhy!

  1. Dear cousin, you were in my dream last night! You were making traditional African food on a big skillet for Harrison and me, possibly at the River House, and telling us all about your time overseas. So glad that things are going well in real life, too, and that you are able to have such fun spontaneous moments! I hope that as time goes on it becomes more silly and less frustrating. I stopped by camp today and it sends its love to Senegal.
    With all of mine,
    Katherine

  2. Koumba Faty, Yes, yes Your humor translates, and your occasional frustration rings true as well -reminding me of long ago, when I spent four days in my Grandfather’s Italian village, surrounded by aunts and uncles who didnt speak English. There was lots of sign language, and looonnnggg pregnant pauses where all we could do was smile or giggle at each other . . and I too would steel away in the hot afternoons to nap off the exertions of trying to communicate with these odd people. Oh what utter bliss to have my cousin Oscar, the teacher, arrive for an hour to translate for us-someone for me to speak English to! I’m so glad you have your colleagues to turn to so you can truly relax and blow off steam-but I hate to think what kind of hootch would be provided for you in your little village–something made of beetle dung no doubt! Perhaps you don’t drink! Despite the gulf in language with my relatives- – – the many times when I was never sure if I had insulted, done something outrageous in thier eyes, etc., we bonded and now I wish I had kept up with them-that nags me that afterwards I was back out of thier lives as enitirely as if I’d never entered it. Don’t let that happen. They are part of you now, and you them. Mary, God bless your work, and be healthy anld happy! Jo Catron

    • Jo, Great to hear of similar frustrations and appreciations outside the Peace Corps bubble. Yesterday I left my training home-stay family and will only return for one day more to celebrate Tabaski with them before I install at my permanent site. I am already missing them and while I look forward to meeting my new family I know the connection won’t be quite the same as the one that developed from our initial inability to communicate verbally. It’s so nice to hear voices from home! Hope all is well with you and yours!

  3. Nice to see pictures. I’m glad you could post them. It was great talking to you today.
    xxxooo,
    your American Mom

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