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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Snappy Answers to Senegal Questions

I submitted a couple articles to the volunteer-only newsletter here at Peace Corps Senegal.  Now the newsletter has been published, so I'm going to share them here as well.  Enjoy.

Snappy answers to Senegal Questions

The first time a stranger begged you to take her baby, you were probably rendered speechless.  Soon, however, you perfected your stock answer, fine-tuning it to elicit the most laughs, tears, or nods of understanding (depending on the kind of volunteer you are.)  I asked a selection of Senegal PCVs for their go-to responses to the questions we all get asked.  Perhaps as you read you will A) get inspired to inject some variety into your repertoire or B) merely be amused.  Either way, I could either write this article or continue to daydream about ice cream cake while eating 4-day old Tabaski meat, so hopefully you get something out of it.  Cheers!

“You will marry me and take me to America.”

  • Steph: “Sure!  Then you’ll cook for me, clean for me, pound my corn…”
  • Morgan: “Why would I do that?”
  • Tim: “For some reason, guys normally ask me that, so I say ‘I am also a man’ and they get embarrassed.”
  • Taylor: “I say I already have a husband, then when they ask where he is, I say I lost him in Dakar when I got here, and he only speaks Wolof and I speak Pulaar, so I’m not sure when we’ll find each other again.”
  • Alicia: “No, I want a man who’s woken up and you have not woken up yet.”
  • Barb: “YES!  I am very happy!  I prayed to Allah for a husband and now he has given me you!  I am very happy!  We will have the wedding tomorrow! I am very happy!”
  • Jim: “No, you’re so beautiful, I’m ugly as shit, it’s not possible.”
  • Liz S: “If you give me 100 cows, I agree.”
  • Madelyn: “’OK, but you have to fit in my sack.  I will cut off your arms and legs so you fit, then you can buy new arms and legs in America, they are cheap there.’  Then I say ‘prosthetic’ in a French accent, sometimes they seem to know what I’m talking about.”

“Will you take my baby to America?”
  • Eric: “I don’t interact with babies or with people with babies. I actively avoid those people.”
  • Patrick: “I hold up a black plastic market bag and say ‘Yep, put it in here.’”
  • Madelyn: “I just say ‘yes.’  Then I pick up the kid and start to walk away while the kid kicks and cries.  If the kid’s not right next to me, I ask the mother to toss it to me.”
  • Tom: “Yes.  But Peace Corps will have to pay for the pass, so you’ll have to ask them first.”
  • Ben: “Your baby is too ugly for America.”
  • Morgan: “I don’t have a house, money, or job in the USA, and you’re a better mother than I would be.”
  • Tim:  “I’m going to raise it as a Christian, is that OK with you?”
  • Barb: “’I’m not going home for a long time, your baby will be too big by then, I can’t carry it, my bag is too small.  Make me a new, smaller baby, I will take the new baby with me.’”
  • Liz H: “I already have many tokaras!  The implication is that I have obligations with a lot of babies already.”

Why aren’t you married?
  • Laura: “Because in America, girls don’t get married at 15.  They go to school and have jobs.”
  • Tom: “’I have not found a wife yet.’  Which always leads to ‘but there are plenty of women!’ and I have to remind them that I want someone who has gone to university and is smart.”
  • Liz: “I’m not ready yet, I haven’t found a man with a good ‘ticket’ yet.”
  • Patrick: “Because women are crazy.”
  • Madelyn: “I’m scared of having a child – does it hurt?”
  • Alex N: “I just say I don’t have any business with a wife.”
  • Jim: “Because I’m still a child, I don’t want to sit in one place yet, I want to travel the world and be a kalibante.
  • Melissa: “Because I am a child.  I am only two years old.  I am just very tall.”
  • Kathleen: “I don’t want or need a husband, I like my money, I like my house.”

  • Jess C: “If I’m in Kolda, I ignore it, but in village I go into a feisty Mandinka lecture. ‘I don’t call you black person’!”
  • Patrick: “’CHILD!’  If it’s an adult, I still yell ‘child’, then explain that only children say ‘toubab’, they must be a child.”
  • Tom: “Usually if I see them staring I’ll greet them before they yell at me.”
  • Liz S: “I yell TOUBAB back at them, or tell them ‘that’s not pretty’.”
  • Barb: “If it’s a kid, I say nothing and just seethe internally.  If it’s an adult, I’ll say ‘my name is Kadiatou.’”
  • Eric: “If it’s a kid under eight, I smile and wave.  If it’s an adult, I ignore them.  If it’s a kid in the impressionable age in between, I will confront them.  I’m big enough that they’re pretty scared of me.”
  • Taylor: “I don’t say anything, I just chase them on my bike.”
  • Tim:  “’Black Ears’ – then I’ll ask an adult why the kid does that.”

Will you help me get a toubab wife?

  • Tim:  “American girls will only break your heart.”
  • Kadi: “If no one wants to marry you here a toubab definitely won’t want you.”
  • Taylor: “I can’t give you a wife – in America, you choose who you’ll marry.”
  • Jim:  “Senegalese women are so beautiful, why don’t you want one? Are you racist?”
  • Alicia: “No, that’s too much work.  She won’t want to marry you if she’s never seen you, and I don’t have the time.”
  • Laurie: “I tell them to go to America, there are a lot of toubabs there.  Then they’re like, that’s why I want a toubab, idiot.”
  • Steph: “You won’t find one who likes you, and she won’t agree to have a co-wife.”
  • Brian: “Sure, my sister’s not married.  If you go to America and give my dad a bunch of cola nuts I’m sure he’ll accept.”
  • Kathleen: “’Bon chance!’  Then I laugh at them.  I mostly laugh at people.”

Do you want a black husband/wife?
  • Barb: “I don’t care if he’s black, white, blue, red, or yellow, but I want someone whose English is very clean and who respects my culture.”
  • Liz S. “I like all people, skin doesn’t matter.”
  • Kadi: “A man is a man, if he has a penis and he functions.”
  • Steph: “No, my mom said I can’t.”
  • Tim: “I used to say, ‘Yes, bring me one’ but then once they actually did, so now I say I’m waiting until I get to the USA.”
  • Taylor: “If I’m with younger women, I say ‘yes, I hear a black man never tires.’  If I don’t have that audience, I say, ‘only if he can cook a really good maafe haako.’”
  • Eric: “I’ve got no go-to for this one, it’s always awkward.”

Your last name is not good.

  • Jess C: “We don’t really do the joking cousins thing here, but if they really know Mandinka, I’ll say that Mane and Sane are very good, they’re the ruling class.”
  • Tom: “What’s your last name? Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
  • Eric: “I need to hear their last name to see where they’re coming from.  But if I don’t know, I just tell them the Diops are the best and they’re jealous.  If I find out I’m talking to an Ndieye, I will attack them verbally.”
  • Morgan: “Well what’s your last name?  Are you a Kande?  You must leave, you will steal all my things.  Where is ______? You stole it!”
  • Kadi: “It’s not even my real last name!”
  • Ben: “Slowly slowly we are trying to make it good.  Where can I get all the rice?”
  • Jim: “Fuck you, Baldes are the kings of the Fuladu, that’s the truth.”
  • Melissa: “’You eat beans.  Your name is not good.  I can’t talk to you.’  Then I theatrically walk away.”
  • Liz S: “Barrys are slaves to no one but Allah.”

Give me ___________!:
  • Alicia: “Is that how you greet?”
  • Patrick: “If it’s a kid, I’ll say ‘offer me your parents’ or ‘where’s your money,’ then when they say they don’t have money the despair in their eyes makes me chuckle.”
  • Jim: “’You didn’t greet me and now you’re asking me for stuff? Were you born in the forest?’  Or, if they did greet me first, I say, ‘I’ll give it to you when the donkey grows horns.’”
  • Madelyn: “’Yes, let’s trade, I’ll give you my bike if you give me your horse.’  Once a man said he wanted my shirt and I pretended to start taking it off, he got real uncomfortable and told me to wait til I do laundry.”
  • Eric: “Let me buy you one that’s better, a new one, and I’ll give it to you later.”
  • Kadi: “Give me money, you don’t give out your stuff without money.  Things don’t come free in this life.”
  • Melissa: “It’s not mine! I’m a toubab! I don’t live here, I borrowed it, I don’t have a house.”
  • Ben: “’I will sell it to you.’  Then I make up an exorbitant price.”

Thanks to the contributors:

Steph, AgFo 2013 – Kolda, Pulaar
Morgan, Health 2014 – Kolda, Pulaar
Tim, CED 2013 – Thies, Wolof
Taylor, U-Ag 2014 – Ourossogui, Pulaar
Alicia, CED 2014 – Kolda, Pulaar
Jim, U-Ag 2013 – Kolda, Pulaar
Eric, CED 2014 – Dakar, Wolof
Patrick, CED 2014 – Fatick, Wolof
Madelyn, CED 2014 – Louga, Wolof
Tom, AgFo 2013 – Kolda, Pulaar
Ben, U-Ag 2014 – Dakar, Wolof
Liz H, Health 2014, Matam, Pulaar
Laura, Health 2014 – Tamba, Mandinka
Jessica, Health 2014 – Kolda, Mandinka
Kadidiatou, Health 2014 – Kedougou, Jaxanke
Liz S, CED 2014 – Kolda, Pulaar
Alex, CED 2014 – Ourossogui, Pulaar
Laurie, Health 2014, Kedougou, Pulaar
Brian, SusAg 2015, Tamba, Jaxonke
Kathleen, Susag 2014, Tamba, Wolof

Math Time with Liz and Barb

I submitted a couple articles to the volunteer-only newsletter here at Peace Corps Senegal.  Now the newsletter has been published, so I'm going to share them here as well.  Enjoy.

Math Time with Liz and Barb

We know what you’re thinking. “I need to study for an intimidating standardized test, but how can I be motivated when nothing in that realm relates to my life as a Peace Corps Senegal volunteer?”  Never fear!  We’re here to combine real-life Senegal with GRE style math.  Our logo is a trash kitten (see above) because when life gives you trash kittens the best course of action is complete repression of that via copious math.  Grab a pencil, ignore those braying donkeys, and enjoy! 

**answers on the bottom of the page****

1. Mara has one more than half as many staph infections as Kendra, and Mara has 1/3 as many staph infections as Steve.  If Kendra has four infections, how much staph do they have all together?

2.  Your local sandwich lady offers cafĂ© touba and kenkiliba, tapalapa and machine bread, beans, peas, and onion sauce.  Each sandwich can come with mayonnaise if desired.  How many different sandwich and drink combos are there?

3.  There are enough cold gazelles in the Ourossogui cooler for each of the 12 PCVs at the regional house to have two, but two PCVs are busy writing grants and two are really into Game of Thrones and don’t want to be distracted.  How many gazelles can each of the remaining volunteers drink?

4.  An alhum charged you 350 CFA to get to your regional capital and it should have been 300.  The apranti on your 7place charged 600 for baggage and it should have been 500.  The tailor charged 2400 for a shirt and it should have been 2000.  Whose “toubab tax” is the most reasonable?

5.  Your host family spends half your 20mil diponse on new tabaski complets for the kids, then one-fourth the remaining amount on cola nuts and attaya, then half of what’s let on a new chicken.  How much money is left over for food?

6.  A new volunteer read Outliers and decided to “Malcolm Gladwell” her sex life.  Since the arts of seduction and conquest are not VRF reportable, she devotes only three hours a day to this activity.  At this rate, how many Peace Corps services will it take her to accumulate the 10,000 hours needed to be an expert lovemaker?  Assume each service is 27 months long and she has 24 months left in her first service.

7.  If your work partner helps you build a tippy tap, it takes an hour and a half.  If you build one by yourself, it takes two hours.  Assuming both of you work at a constant rate, what percent of the job does your work partner do?

8.   You’re COSing and looking back on travel times from your service.  From your road town, it took 45 minutes to get to the closest town with internet, which you did once a week.  It took 2 hours to reach your regional capital, which you did three times every two months.  Four times a year, you went to Dakar, which took 12 hours.  You went to Kedougou twice, which took 16 hours each time.  It took the same amount of time on the road to return to site after your trips. How many days were spent on Senegal’s roads during your 24 months as a sworn-in volunteer?  Assume the listed travel is the only time you were out of site.


1. Sixteen.  Kendra has 4, Mara has 3, Steve has 9.  Steve must be in Kedougou.

2. 24 combinations

3.  Each of the eight remaining volunteers can have three gazelles.  Or they could not be dicks and save the drinks for their friends.

4.  The added price on the alhum is the lowest, at 17%.

5.  3750 CFA.  (20,000/2 = 10,000; 10,000 – 2500 = 7500; 7500 – 3750 = 3750).

6.  She will need to complete 4 Peace Corps services, plus a little extra.  Taking 365 days a year divided by 12 months, you get an average of 30.416 days per month.  30.416 days x 3 hours every day equals 91.25 hours a month.  10,000 hours divided by 91.25 hours a month = 109.6 months.  Subtract the 24 months in her first service, and 85.6 months remain.  Divide that by 27 and get 3.16. After her initial service she will need 3.16 more.  But since our intrepid wannabe Casanova is not a quitter, maybe she’ll finish that 5th service as well.  Godspeed.

7. 25%.  If you can build a complete tippy tap by yourself in two hours, you must be able to build ½ a tippy tap in half that time (one hour), which means that in an hour and a half you could finish ¾ of a tippy tap.  Your work partner must have done the remaining ¼ of the work if you finished the whole thing in an hour and a half.

8.  You spent 23.16 days, or 23 days and four hours, on the road.  Daaaaaaaaaaamn!  For the nearest internet town, 45 minutes is ¾ of an hour, times 104 weeks for 2 years of service x 2 for the return trip = 156 hours.  For the regional capital, 4 hours round trip x 1.5 trips per month x 24 months = 144 hours.  For Dakar, 12 hours x 8 trips in 2 years x 2 for the return trip =192 hours.  For Kedougou, 16 x 2 x 2 for the return trip = 64 hours, for a total of 556 hours.  Divide that by 24 hours to get 23.16 days.