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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Day in the Life

I was invited to enter a "blogging challenge" a while ago.  The challenge involved being emailed a prompt twice a week, then answering it and using the #bloggingabroad hashtag to keep everything nicely compiled on the blogging abroad website.

Since entering, I have submitted exactly zero blogs.  I meant to, really, but...it didn't happen.  I can't say that I've been busy, but I can say I've been distracted by other things.  I'm tempted to use "no electricity" as an excuse, but people have written with no electricity for literally thousands of years.

The third bloggingabroad prompt, neglected and abandoned in my gmail like an orphaned bunny, asked me to describe a typical day here in my Senegalese village.  I already did this, but a lot's changed since then.  Now that I'm actually doing "work" there are more variations within each day, but still, it's all the same.  Every day, I do nothing.  Every day, I am busy.

Here's one random day last week.  I've made no attempts at brevity and included lots of little stories, so it's a long one.  Sorry or You're Welcome, depending on what a long post means to you.

7:15:  Woke up confused and full of adrenaline from a particularly intense mefloquine dream.  I'd thought I'd get up around 6:30 and I'd wanted to leave by seven, because I had a long way to bike and it's easier to do that before the sun gets hot.  However, there are no real time obligations here, and it's still cold season so it wasn't all that hot anyway. I changed into some jeans that I'd brought with me to Senegal.  Last year at this time, they fell off unless I had a rope tied through the belt loops.  This year, I can't even zip them up. I decided to wear a forgiving muumuu and leggings instead.

7:45:  Biked out of my family's compound heading for Kounkane, 15 km away.  I'd had the mechanic pump up my tires yesterday, so I didn't expect any problems.  My bike has some issues, but I love it anyway, like the faithful jalopy in the Grapes of Wrath.  There are no brakes, but who needs them when Chaco soles are so thick?  There are no gears, but who needs them when the terrain is so flat?  The back tire only stays inflated for about 2 weeks at a time due to a slowly leaking valve, but I always have time to take it to a mechanic.  My bike is a cobbled Frankenstein of junkyard parts like most bikes here, and the valve and rim are not a match.  When the tube is fully inflated the valve retreats into the rim.  The first time I brought my bike with its flat tire in, the mechanic started inflating the tube and watched the valve disappear into the rim, dislodging his pump.  Confused, he let all the air out again.  The valve came back out. He inflated it again, and again it disappeared.  Eventually, he had a friend hold the valve in place with a needle-nose pliers as he pumped.  I went home impressed with his ingenuity.  Two weeks later, I returned with another flat tire, and he proceeded to do the whole process all over again.  The third time I brought the bike in, I helpfully suggested he use the pliers to hold the valve out, but he ignored me until he made the discovery on his own.  Women don't know mechanics.  Every time thereafter I just brought a book to occupy me as I waited it out.  It still always takes about a half-hour for him to finally give up on normal pumping and get a friend to hold the valve with the pliers.

8:00 - Stopped for a minute on my ride to Kounkane to watch beautiful thick flocks of tiny redbeaked birds, undulating in gorgeous ebbs and flows like an aerial school of fish all around me.  I intensely loved Senegal for a minute.  My bird book later told me the birds were Red-billed quelea, which is the most populous bird in the world after the domestic chicken and wrecks havoc on grain fields throughout Africa.  Whateva, they're pretty.

8:30: Wheeled my bike into Corin's host family's compound and hung out for a few minutes before walking to the breakfast stand together.  Like an 80-year-old Minnesotan farmer, my mornings usually start with carbs and gossip.  My breakfast sandwich wrapper informed me that they made a movie about Amy Winehouse last year.  You know you've been in Peace Corps too long when the old British newspapers that sandwiches come wrapped in are a legitimate source of information.  The Evening Standard also informed me about the birth of Princess Charlotte and the death of Mickey Rooney.

9:00: Called Demba, my counterpart for the big latrine project I decided to do, to let him know that I'd be checking out the latrine recipients in Saare Nianthio and Saare Keita today.  I'm utilizing a voucher system for this latrine project - recipients cannot receive their cement and rebar until they A) dig the hole B) pay 2,500 CFA C) construct a tippy-tap next to their latrine site D) attend a handwashing training in their village led by their village sanitation committee (who I trained on disease prevention and latrine maintenance last week) and E) have a cover for their latrine hole ready.  Demba had told me that everyone had already done all the tasks on their vouchers, but I wanted to check it with my own eyes.  Demba said bismillah and invited me to lunch after I finished.

11:45: Finished checking out latrine sites.  All of the sites really did have all of the items on the checklist checked off, which was incredible.  Concerningly, no one had any money to give me; they said they'd given it directly to Demba.  Since I was only about 3k from Demba's village and the sun was pretty hot, I decided to take him up on his lunch offer.

12:15: Demba said he didn't have the latrine money, either; he gave it to the guy at the hardware store in Kounkane.  This was actually a really good sign.  If any extra money is laying around here, it's immediately spent or lent out to friends.  Everyone is expected to share what they have, so no one has anything.  Windfalls, when they arrive, are immediately sequestered into livestock or building materials.  You can split an extra 50,000 CFA between needy neighbors, but you can't split a goat.  Keeping money at the hardware store is better than keeping it at home, but I don't trust the hardware shop guy, either: he's got friends and family, too, and every mouth needs feeding.  I hope the money will still be there when we need it to buy materials.

12:45: Lunch was corn and baobab leaf sauce.  Demba insisted that everyone wash their hands before eating, and I could taste that he chemically treats his drinking water.  This guy is one in a million.  After lunch, there was tea, but I ducked out after the first two rounds because I wanted to get back to Kounkane. During lulls in the conversation, I read Devil in the White City, a fascinating true story about a serial killer at the World's Fair expedition in Chicago.  It gets five stars for this line alone: "Minneapolis at the time was small, somnolent, and full of Swedish and Norwegian farmers as charming as cornstalks."  Still true, friend.  Still true.

3:30: Drank another glass of tea at Corin's house and talked a lot.  Corin gave me some fabric a returned volunteer mailed her to give to his host family on the way back to my own site, since I'd be biking past his old village.  I fully intended to leave with enough sunlight to do this, but then it didn't happen.

6:00: Finally left Corin's house, racing against the sun the whole way, a strong wind in my face trying to blow me back to Kounkane.

7:15: Slowly biked into my family's compound, exhausted, as the kids shouted "Kadiatou Sabaly jaaaaay!" My host brother Tidiane walked up and shook my sweaty hand, then said, "Mbo tampi buy hannde."  I knew all the words, and knew that he was trying to say something was very tired today, but "mbo" can mean he, she, or it, so I wasn't sure what he was talking about.  He motioned at my bike and repeated it.  I looked at my back tire: a tennis-ball sized bubble of tube was sticking out through the broken treads.  The road between Kounkane and Teyel is so bad I hadn't felt anything amiss.  I solemnly responded that Allah loves me, so he made sure that I arrived in peace.  I said if I would have known my tire was like that, I would have been scared, so Allah did not inform me.  Tidiane agreed, equally solemnly.  My wonderful host nephew Alpha told me that it was windy enough to fly the kite today, and I was sorry I'd missed it - the last time I'd gone out kite flying with them they'd screamed the words to "Let it Go" from Frozen, a Sabaly family movie night classic.

7:30:  I wheeled my bike inside my hut, grabbed a bucket, and pulled some water from the well for a bucket bath, then read more Devil in the White City by my cell phone's flashlight until dinner.  As I was reading, I heard loud speaker music from across town - there was a soiree that night.  On soiree nights, they play music for a half-hour or so just after dark, then take a break until around 10:30.  I never go to soirees, but the music is loud enough that I can "enjoy" it from the comforts of my own hut.  This soiree music sounded better than most: more Rihanna, fewer whistles.

8:00: I was not hungry at all, but then dinner was lecciri jammbo, or millet couscous with peanut-and-leaf sauce, and somehow my bowl was empty before I knew it.  Maybe this is why last year's pants don't fit anymore.

8:30: Finished the movie we started yesterday, "Film Kevin e Banditji," Kevin and the Bandits, Home Alone.  Just like the Michels, the Sabalys like the second one more than the first.

9:15: Read more.

10??? - Fell asleep at some point.

So...was this a busy day?  Or a day where I did nothing?  What's the difference?  All I know is I'm going to miss it.

81 days left.