Everyone think back to when you moved into college. If you had anything like the experience I had then you know it was hard and more than that– awkward and uncomfortable. At the same time it was exciting and you might have been thrilled with the anticipation of new friends and a new environment and new freedom that you hadnt known before. Well let me tell you, moving into my African village gave me flashbacks, but on a whole new level. I am the first volunteer in my village which means I am also the first white person some of them have seen especially the children. It felt like college when Pap, my regional supervisor, loaded all of my things into the back of a Peace Corps pick up and helped me unload it into my brand spankin new mud hut! Better than a dorm room, at least until the novelty wears off. I’m not sure if this is for better or worse but a very important elder died the morning I came to village, so he kind of stole my thunder and my party, and my cow for that matter. Apparently they were going to kill said animal for the install feast, but used it for the funeral instead. Understandable. It wasn’t as overwhelming as it might have been, but I still thought about running screaming after the Peace Corps truck as I watched it disappear in red dust down the bush path.
I am the chief’s guest which means I live in the biggest compound in the village. There are 30 people including me that live here. I am trying to get to know them all, but with the possibility of 4 wives and who knows how many children, family trees are extremely confusing. My village is everything a girl dreaming of living in the African bush could ever wish for. My compound has multiple giant mango trees and other compounds are tucked among the myriad of trees that the South is known for. A bush path winds through the village and takes me out to the peoples fields of crops. I have to walk about 100 meters to draw water from the well. My arms are going to be strong after 2 years.
Now go back to those anxious feelings of the first day of college and add the fact that you don’t speak the language and that they expect you to know it better than you do. Also no one speaks your language. In a way, its a bit mortifying and they aren’t really giving any leeway on the fact that I just found out that their language existed 2 months ago. Therefore, they think I’m a little stupid since I can converse with them in the vocabularly of a toddler.
Today was my second day and like most things, it made the first day seem like just a bad dream and gave me the silver lining on my new life, which I am so excited to begin. I started the day off right by almost lighting my face on fire with my new butane burner. Turns out I was letting the gas leak out from the whole can and not just the tiny burner. When I got the flames under control and made sure I had not caught my thatch roof on fire, I thought about how happy I was that my host family didn’t see me. Next, I tried to paint my mud hut. For anyone trying to paint a mud hut in the near future–paint soaks into mud walls. Not to be deterred because I am a stubborn girl, I managed to convey to Ibrahima, technically my brother–more like a father figure, that I needed cement for my walls so that I could properly paint them. May I say that I owe so much to Ibrahima at this point. He has done everything to make me comfortable and has stuck up for me when people call me toubaco. More about him later. His wife, my tocara (namesake), is the sweetest woman and is thrilled with any small Pulaar phrase I manage to spit out. They have 5 children–4 boys and a baby girl. The oldest boy is 15 and I adore all of them. They are so polite and eager to help me with my Pulaar.
After lunch, Ibrahima told me to get my bike because we were going to get me cement and bigger paintbrush. I haven’t been on a bike in awhile, but luckily this time my athletic ability or stubborn refusal to be weak saved me from looking like a fool. We biked about 30 km round trip on an African bush path for most of the way and the highway for some. I never considered myself a bike rider before this, but as Ibrahima and I bumped over redstone and sandy paths, passed Baobabs and children whistling to cattle on our way, I know that I could learn to love this. The pure natural beauty of African countryside is breathtaking, much like the feeling I have when I’m out on my horse on the ranch, but the landscape is completely different. I was grinning most of the time and even though my legs had started to burn, I wanted to whoop or laugh, but since I’ve only just met Ibrahima I decided against it. When we got to Manda, my road town, we went to Ibrahima’s friend’s bitik. All of his friends were asking him who this new white girl was that he had with them. Often they even more amazed that I could speak Pulaar. The good thing about living in the country is that people will get used to me after awhile where as if I lived in the city I would continue to be stared at where ever I go.
Sorry this blog is so late, but I have finally had the chance to sit down at a beautiful cafe in the city of Kolda and type this to you over my Thanksgiving vacation. It is a nice break after a couple of weeks in village and a happy reunion with my friends. All of us have had unique experiences and we are settling slowly into our new lives here as Peace Corps volunteers. Its crazy, but I know I will be happy in Sithian Samba Foula for 2 years drawing water and reading by candlelight and headlamp light because in the end, it truly is magical. When I need the break I hop in a sept class drive 3 hours and am here by the poolside with some of my newest best friends. So all of you at home who are worried about me, put your fears to rest. I am so so happy, although it will be strange to be away from my family and country for Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving everybody!