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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

One year down, one to go...

I looked at my phone calendar the other day and was amazed that it’s almost March already.  I remember I left Minneapolis on March 3rd – that was the last important date I’ve had to remember – so I’m fast approaching my one-year in-country mark, although it definitely doesn’t feel like it.  Permasummer has messed with my head.  Winter hasn’t come yet, so it couldn’t possibly be September 2014 yet, let alone after Christmas.  To commemorate my Senegal anniversary, I decided to make a list of ways that I’ve changed since I’ve come here.  Some are big, some are small, most are unimportant, but all are true.

  • I can walk in a wrap skirt without tripping, and I can bike in it without flashing my ladybits at anybody. 
  •  I have helped with every step of the peanut-butter-making process, from planting the seeds to roasting the nuts to tying the plastic bags for sale at the boutique.
  •  I can litter nonchalantly without it breaking my heart at all anymore.  The ubiquitous piles of trash no longer bother me.  This is not a good change, and I hope it doesn’t carry over once I return home.  I used to loathe litterers.
  • I learned that milk is not only edible after it goes sour, it’s delicious, especially if you mix a bunch of sugar in it (kosam Y)
  • Before I came to Senegal I didn’t know what sound a donkey made.  Now I know all the sounds a donkey can make.  They’re all awful.
  • I’m able to hold a deep squat for hours.  No chair? No problem.
  •  If there is a chair, or even a hard bench, that’s also not a problem.  I can and do sit for long 10-15 hour stretches when travelling in a 7place or bus.  Sometimes I’m packed in so tightly I can’t adjust, so I just close my eyes and deal with it, wishing my flat Midwest butt provided more of a cushion.  I've also mastered the delicate art of drinking just enough water on these trips to avoid dehydration but not enough that I have to pee.
  • I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the world.  I used to be on top of celebrity gossip, but here I only follow village gossip.  I haven’t heard of any songs or movies since last spring.  I assume Ke$ha and Pit Bull’s “Timber” is at the top of the charts, right where I left it…right? 
  • I learned that babies can be picked up by one arm, thrown over a shoulder, and tied in place with a spare piece of cloth, all without waking the baby.  They’re not as fragile as I’d thought.
  • I have happily adapted to a just-after-sunset bedtime, and I actually become quite cranky if expected to function after 8:30 PM.
  • I have rethought “healthy” food for kids.  A year ago I probably would have said a salad full of broccoli and carrots and stuff. Now the healthiest foods I know are as caloric as possible, like a thick millet porridge full of oil, full-fat powdered milk, and peanut butter.  The more energy that can go into each bite, the better.
  • I vaguely remember that I used to like children.  I hate children here, possibly because they’re always grabbing at me and screaming my name.  Being a celebrity is not as fun as it sounds.  The babies are tolerable until they learn to talk.
  • My personal boundaries have collapsed.  To take just one example, when I first got here, it was weird to be greeted by someone calling in from outside when I was in my hut – then it was weird to have family members come in and lay down on my bed while I was sitting on it – then, the other day, someone yelled over my fence while I was pooping and asked if I was feeling OK.  Wasn’t weird at all.  Even if you're not interacting with the people around you here, there are always people around you.
  • When I first got here I thought the baboons in the woods were amazingly exotic and I got annoyed when I saw them and didn’t have my camera with me, since it was such a gorgeous photo opportunity.  Now when I see them I just get annoyed because I have to stop and wait for the troop to move on before I can continue on my way.
  • It’s hard for me to buy anything more expensive than $1 (500 CFA).  If there was a Dollar Store in village, everything in it would be too expensive for my community to afford.  My Peace Corps living allowance is generous, and I can buy everything I need without problem - but I still feel loads of toubab guilt when I do.
  • My personal hygiene has…adapted.  I only wash my hair 1-2 times a month now, but my feet are scrubbed a few times a day (especially during rainy season, to keep pesky staph infections at bay).  I don’t own a mirror here, and I never wear makeup, do anything with my hair, or put my contacts in.  I haven’t shaved my legs or armpits in almost a year.  My eyebrows look like fuzzy caterpillars.  Getting ready in the mornings is a lot easier than it was in America.  Every time I go to the regional house, however, I have a sad reunion with the wrinkly, tired, sun-spotted cavewoman in the mirror and vow to start putting in more of an effort. Then I never actually do.
  • I have accepted (though never embraced) permasweat.  When it’s too hot to move, you just don’t move.  I’m a lot lazier in general because of this.  “The sun is hot” is a perfectly good reason to stay right where you are.  No one expects anything of you from 1-4 PM.
  • If anyone DOES expect anything of you, they will probably expect you to be at least 3 hours late.
  • When I first got to site, I was terrified my hut might have spiders or other big bugs.  Now I know for a fact they're there, but it no longer bothers me.
  • Somehow I’ve lost about 20 pounds in country, if the scale at my health post is accurate.  I’ve been trying to figure out why this is, because I don’t think my diet here is particularly healthy (most of the food is so oily it drips, and there is very little protein) and I don’t formally exercise nearly as much as I did in the USA.  I think the reason is that instead of working out here, I’ve just been working.  If I have something to do in a village 20k away, I have to bike to that village.  If I want to wash a few shirts, I have to pull and haul buckets of water from the well.  It’s also notable to mention that if I'm sort of hungry and want a snack, I have to walk to the nearest boutique followed by curious children, who will then scream at me to buy them a snack, too, and tell me I’m greedy and selfish…which I usually decide is not worth it.
    • Addendum to the above bullet – skinny is ugly here.  My community regularly informs me that I was prettier when I first got to site, and when I come back from being out of site for a few days, they’ll tell me it looks like I’ve gained weight as a compliment.
There are probably dozens of other ways I’ve changed that I’m just not aware of yet.  I usually only go to electricity/internet a few times a month here, so I am more distant from American culture than I’ve ever been.  The only Americans I talk to on a regular basis are my Peace Corps friends, who are just as weird as me.  We pepper Pulaar into our conversations and talk about poop more than any humans should.  I don’t know yet whether Kadiatou, or at least parts of her, are here to stay, or whether Barbara will come back once I return to the states, but either way it's been a fun journey so far.  One year down, one to go!