The month I stopped sweating the small stuff

Friday, November 26, 2010

In the last couple weeks, it has cooled off considerably in my village. At night it gets down in the sixties, and I literally freeze. In the day time it still gets hot, but not like I am used to and on most days I don‘t even break a sweat(although as someone informed me it still gets up into the mid-90‘s everyday)….think New Mexico in late Spring…very arid. As someone who prefers a bit of humidity, the sudden change has wreaked some havoc on my body (super dry skin, cracking lips, a 3 week long cold), but on the good side, the mold in my hut has cleared out, and the mosquitos (most of them) are gone!!

Every new month continues to bring new challenges, and like the months past, I continue to question the motivation of my community, but now also my own motivation. One of my Senegalese “ colleagues” from Peace Corps came to my site to sit down and talk to the leaders about my plan for the community. It also served as a forum for them to express any grievances or amendments they might have to my proposed work plan.  It was helpful in the sense that my community heard from someone in a position of power at PC what exactly I was supposed too do, and would be doing. At the same time, I felt incredibly embarrassed that I had so little to actually show for the last 6 months I have been living here. As much as Peace Corps pushes the intangible experiences, they tend to look more upon physical changes in the community as indicators of your work…I have painted no murals and worked little with the school since my failed school garden; mainly because people did not express interest/motivation for those things. But, now I am feeling pressured to do those things, even if I do not think it is important or a need of the community.
In situations like this, I find myself bowing down to the beaurocracy, because if I do those projects that are looked upon favorably, I have a better chance of positive job recommendations, and a better chance of the administration looking on me as a better volunteer. So then, why am I here?  Because I want to help people, or because I want to help myself…I think any volunteer would tell you both. It still leaves an uneasy feeling in my stomach that I could be letting my community down, or the PC down, or myself down depending upon how I choose to live out this experience; which as of now has 16 months remaining in it.

I decided all of my time here is compromise, and that doesn’t just mean everyone else compromises so I get what I want. I did a mural at the health hut; there is proof that art is therapeutic, right? In this, I have discovered, nay confirmed, something I already new about myself: I am an organizer. I want to be the person at the top organizing, planning, and researching programs for other people to execute at a lower level…I lack a lot of the patience to do small scale projects. One day I will be a great boss, but in order to be at the top, you have to start somewhere, usually at the bottom. In this sense, Peace Corps is the first 2 years of my working career, where I can be on the bottom with an immense amount of freedom. I know where I want to be when I turn 30, and this experience is just the beginning of what I hope is a long career (having just celebrated my 24th birthday this is something I was thinking about). And at 24, I feel like I have so many choices; more choices than my family has in Senegal, more choices than my grandmother, and even my mother, had when they were my age.  I am not married (with no prospects here to the dismay of many Senegalese men), no kids (to the dismay of Senegalese women), and no heavy financial burdens (like a house or car payment)…I could literally do whatever it is I wanted, a powerful motivator for me to provide opportunities for others; even as small as helping a girl delay pregnancy a year so she can finish middle school by giving out condoms. So, while I might question the motivations of myself and my community, one thing is clear that I can do: be an example of a woman who has chosen this life over others, while creating small opportunities so that others might have a choice too.

In addition to all this woeful reflection, another Senegalese Holiday has broached upon us. Tabaski; in Arabic “Eid al Adha”عيد الأضحى‎ 
My sisters and I in our traditional whites
In tradition, the celebration is an "important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness ofAbraham (Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Isma'il) as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a ram to sacrifice instead.[1] The meat is divided into three parts to be distributed to others. The family retains one third of the share, another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors, and the other third is given to the poor & needy." However, as with many Koranic events, the Senegalese interpretation is simply 
about food and family. My Tabaski was really fun actually. We spent the day before in preperation mode, celaning the compound buying the supplies, etc. In an effort to really embrace the holiday, I wore clothes that matched the other 15 women in the compounds around us. Quite the site given the fabric was polka dotted. My measurements weren't taken before the holiday, ad so the clothes were huge, but I am getting them fixed. No one seemed to care.

I know I look ridiculous, don't hate
Skinning the sheep
The day itself was absolutely exhausting. We killed 3 sheep and 1 goat at around 10 am. There was a lot of tea drank, and we fried up huge meat parts and ate with mustard before our lunch even began. Then our neighbors came over and we ate lunch. Then everyone had sodas. Then we all showered and rested a bit before eating another snack. Right before night fell, we changed into other clothes, and started off visiting neighbors and sitting around with the family. Then we ate again...twice. 
Frying up the rib and shank portions with mustard
I ate so much sheep that day.  As is typical, we all stayed up late drinking tea. The next day a similar festivity  ensued, and the day following. The last day we ate the goat and drank yogurt drinks all day. So for 4 days, we celebrated. On the 5th day, things went more back to normal, but we still were eating the meat (which by this time had been sitting in heat without refrigeration for 5 days). My stomach was glad when it was over. The best and worse part about it all was the lack of work. I got to relax, but it was impossible to accomplish anything at all. 
See pics below!

My sister Rhamma and I

Our lunch...onion sauce ad sheep

Posing for my sister in my second clothing change

My sister Fatu and her cousin in their whites

Sophie and me

The goat head...which we also ate


Anna said...

Really nice posting. Glad to see you're doing well. Can't wait to see you at Christmas time! <3 Anna

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