A Hut of My Own

Now that I’m living in village I have a lot more time to write and stuff to process, but a lot less access to internet, so y’all might not get real time updates here but I’m going to start dating my posts for when they were written to provide a timeline of events and mental states.

Other good info to share is my address in Kolda:

B.P. 278, Kolda, Senegal, West Africa

Letters and packages always welcome, especially if they include hand-written love, starbucks via, yummy teas, dried fruit, nuts, easy meals like mac-n-cheese or Pasta sides, and surprise snacks (cough*cheez-its, m&m’s).

My village father/the chief, Idrissa Dandio and me outside my hut in Fode Bayo, Kolda.

11 November 2011

Driving down to Kolda Whitney kept warning me that the road got worse, but she probably pointed out a patch of wild basil for each pothole we hit.  We passed the largest banana plantation in Senegal.  The idea of what we were doing was nerve wracking, but with each step closer to Fodé Bayo my nerves were appeased by the increasing amount of green.  My first stop on the way down from Thies (aside from being pulled apart from dear friends in Tamba) was a two-night stay at “La Paillotte Hotel” in Velingara.  The first night Mike and Pam, the Velingara UAg1 and SED2 volunteers, respectively, took us out to dinner and the next day four other PCVs showed up to help us shop for the essentials—gas stove, trunk, buckets, machete, oatmeal, and rope were a few of these.  There was a nice celebration at Mike’s house that night with dancing music but nobody dancing.  Sitting and chatting was just what we needed after days of celebrating prior with  swearing-in, Tabaski, and goodbyes.

The day of install I thought I’d be sitting in a car as Ben and Jessica were taking to their sites, but after loading all my stuff in the car it was decided my site is significantly further from Velingara than others and I would go later. #logistics.  Nevertheless, I got to skip the nausea, do last minute shopping for seriche3, eat a delicious salad made by PCVs who have been around long enough to know that in Senegal you can ask to use anyone’s kitchen (or toilet) and commandeered the hotel kitchen for the task.  Eventually Pop, the PC safety and security guy for the Southern regions (Tamba, Kedegou, Kolda), returned and we loaded up the bikes for various other volunteers and the two of us headed out.  The mood was business as usual, but a local radio station had its Mandinka program on and things were feeling right.  We picked up Dave, and EE4 volunteer in Dabo, then proceeded into the bush.  Pop jokingly asked if it looked familiar and it definitely did not, but things did keep getting greener and I liked that.  When I rolled down the window so Pop could ask for directions, I could smell the basil.  There are lots of mangos and even palms on the way.  The great thing, though, is that you know your in Fodé Bayo when you see the big tree, a bantango in Mandinka, which is the stuff of Swiss family Robinson.

My hut from the bike. Note the purple bike and the chicken coop. I'm living the life.

My counterparts, Seyni and Fanta, who I’d met during the counterpart workshop in Thies, were easy to find as they called “Koumba” from the crowd that was growing around the PC truck.  My baggage was unloaded in a pile and then suddenly in my hut before I’d ever entered it.  The old women were dancing and singing, one was wearing a fake, stringy, red beard.  The chief, my father, a small, curved old man with a shining white boubou, red hat and crossed eyes, greeted me and repeated my new name four times “I too Fatemata Damba.”  I was a bit surprised by this because I knew his last name and my ancienne’s was Dandio, but my namesake is an elder in another compound, so I guess I’m taking her full name.  I later found from the French-, Pulaar-, Mandinka-, and a little English-speaking teachers who live in Kolda but come to FB during the week for school that Damba is the same name as Dandio, apparently there are masculine and feminine versions of some, not all, Mandinka last names.  Pop, Dave and I scarfed down a few bites of toobanyo futoo and nono, corn powder and sour milk in my hut and greeted the elders outside in a matter of five minutes.  Dave and I scrambled to exchange phone numbers and then I was left.  I brought my gifts to the elders and another bowl of food appeared, chicken, rice and palm oil, which I fake-ate.  Seyni and Fanta then rushed me to my room where instantly my bed was made and mosquito net hung.  Then I had a moment, one moment, to myself to bathe and change, and suddenly two more meals were upon me.  Seyni and I ate a bowl his wife had prepared and one Fanta brought over.

This has been my norm now to have 2-3 bowls per meal.  I can’t imagine it’ll last and have asked to do my own breakfast starting tomorrow.  Leaving my hut the first day was hard but greeting everyone in the village was easy—only five compounds and very welcoming faces. After that I took the first day pretty easy, drinking attaya with the boys/men, fetching water with Fanta Dandio, my 14 year-old sister (or niece?), and a little awkward talk with the women in the cooking area.  I feel like its going to be difficult breaking into the women’s groove of things, but as the Mandinka’s say domonding domonding, little by little.

Nacho inside our hut--let's be honest, he's lived there longer than I have.


P.S.- My new dog, Nacho is sitting right by my side as I write this.  We’ve become fast friends and I’ll write more on him later.





1, 2 & 4 are all other programs in PCSengeal

1.  UAg— Urban Agriculture

2.  SED— Small Enterprise Development

3.  Seriché— gift you bring when you’ve been gone from home or go to visit someone.  In Mandinka it’s silafondo, which translates literally to “road thread.”

4.  EE— Environmental Education


2 thoughts on “A Hut of My Own

  1. Oh Mary. Your digs at Fode Bayo look charming, complete with dog! I am still taken aback by what you’ve taken on, what you’ve accomplished so far, (the speech was most impressive, loved you in native dress!) and glad to see that you have continued support of PC staff to look in and check on you. Yep, I’d like to be in a green environment rather than a dessicated hopeless piece of earth, and that’s gotta be a better place to “talk and make” agriculture. It doesnt sound like you’ve had any digestive issues with water/food other than the vegetarian issue-do EAT, kiddo, and look forward to hearing that you have quickly grown comfortable and “simpatica” with your new village family, domonding domonding. God bless you and your work, Mary Fatemata!

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