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Sunday, May 25, 2014

First Impressions of Teyel

I’ve been with my new family for a little more than a week.   My new family is even bigger than the old one.  My new parents, Wally and Hawa, have nine surviving children (out of 13 born).  The oldest is in his 40s (I’m assuming – no one knows their ages here) and the youngest is around 20.  Most live in the village and visit frequently, and three live in the same compound as I do.

There’s a joke among PCVs that Pulaars treat names like they were a scarce resource.  During language immersion, I was named Hadja after my tokara (namesake).  Having a namesake reminded me of my family back in America.  I’m Barbara, after my dad’s grandma, and my little sister is Maureen, which is my mom’s middle name.  I thought it was a sweet gesture to recycle names.  Here in Teyel however, the naming-after is out of control.  I’m the fourth Kadjatu Sabaly in the compound right now.  I’m named after my counterpart’s wife, Kadjatu Sabaly, but his sister is Kadjatu Sabaly, too, and one of the neighbor’s kids who spends most of her time here is also named Kadjatu Sabaly.  I’ve only been here a week and I’ve met six Kadjatu Sabalys in the village.  My host brother estimated that there are about 20 Kadjatu Sabalys in total, along with dozens of Kadjatu Baldes, or Diaos, or Seydis, or whatever other last name.  It’s really confusing.  When someone yells “Kadjatu” I have no idea if they’re talking to me or not.  There are also neighbors named Kadi and Kadja that come by frequently, so I can’t go by those nicknames.  A few of the kids get around the confusion by just calling me “Sehel” (friend).

So, the name situation is a minor annoyance, but I’ve run into a major one: being asked for things constantly.  PCVs warned me that Pulaars could be opportunistic.  They said to American eyes, it can seem rude, but it’s just part of their culture and I’ll get used to it. I didn’t sense opportunism during language immersion at all. Here, however, in the scant eight days that I’ve been in the family, I’ve been asked, begged, and demanded to buy them clothes, medicine, tea, sugar, laundry soap, a water filter, juice mix, vegetables, a computer, a tractor, a horse, and a chair.  This is done not only by the kids, but also by the oldest people in the compound, who (I’ve been told) I have to show great respect towards.  It’s really frustrating because I feel like I’m always in the position of having to be the bad guy.  I have to say “no” to things that they shouldn’t have asked for in the first place.  These requests spoil otherwise great interactions.  Twenty minutes into a conversation about the weather, or fields, or heat, or rains, my mother (or brother, or aunt, or anyone) will suddenly say “give me….” or “buy me….”  Did they care about anything that was said before that point? Or were they just pretending to be interested so they could try to use me?  Or do they figure it’s a long shot that I would buy them something, but that it can’t hurt to try?  I don’t know.

I have tried to refuse these demands in a joking way (because that’s what PCVs say is most culturally appropriate), but it’s hard to do that without feeling like a scumbag. I do have more money than anyone else in the community, and they know about it.   I do have an entire suitcase full of medicine, and they know about that, too. I can’t give it out my medicine for legal reasons, but I don’t have the language to explain myself (and they wouldn’t care, anyway), so I feel like they think I’m a selfish hoarder. I want to make a good first impression on my new family, since they’re going to be my life for the next two years, but I hate feeling taken advantage of, and I worry that if I give them what they ask for, it 1) will make the next two years very difficult as they continue to test my boundaries, 2) will set an unfair precedent for the next volunteer to follow and 3) will build a unsustainable relationship of a patron giving them things they don’t have to work for.  Plus, 4), my living allowance here is small (I’m a volunteer…) so I can’t afford to buy much beyond essentials, anyway.  I don’t have the language to explain my rationale, though, so I worry I just look selfish.

I’m not going to pretend to understand the inner workings of this community yet, but I have already noticed more defined gender roles than I saw at CBT.  It’s nearing the end of the dry season, and my house is inundated with peanuts.  The women and female children shell the peanuts, then roast them in a rotating drum over a fire, then grind them to make peanut butter.  All of this is done by hand.  Meanwhile, the men sit under mango trees and talk about how hot it is, and the male children play tag and soccer.  Friday morning, when I went to visit the middle school in my town, the female students were sweeping the entire schoolyard with handheld brooms.  The boys were talking and wrestling.  It's strange to see.

Back to that peanut crop: there are peanuts everywhere.  For lunch, we have rice and peanuts.  For dinner, we have couscous with peanut sauce.  For breakfast, I usually make a peanut butter sandwich.  For snacks, we eat peanuts.  This is monotonous, but I don’t mind at all because peanut butter is one of my favorite things, and this fresh-roasted village stuff is the most delicious peanut butter I’ve ever had. 

I’m gonna leave it here, because this post is getting long, but I feel like I have more to say, so I'm sure I'll be writing more soon.  Talk to you all later!