Tabaski

Tabaski, also known as, “Eid al-Adha is an Islamic festival to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim to follow Allah’s command to sacrifice his son Ishmael.” I pulled that from Wikipedia haha. It’s the most concise way to describe what Tabaski is. In Senegal, families save money all year in order to purchase a ram (like Ibrahim) to celebrate the holiday. The morning of, the men go to the mosquee, and when they return they slaughter a sheep (if they can afford one). If they can’t afford one, they will slaughter a goat if possible. Typically each married man will purchase and slaughter a sheep, so in my family, we had 2 sheep. My uncle and my host dad both bought one.

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As you can imagine, we ate SO MUCH MEAT. For both lunch and dinner we ate grilled ribs, fries, onion sauce, and bread. It was super delicious, but I felt like I was on the verge of a heart attack for the next week…

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My family had different stations for cooking, and as you can imagine all the grilling made it really smoky in the house, though we were actually in the outdoor portion of the house. This holiday required all hands on deck. Regardless of age, everyone participated in slaughtering, cooking, and cleaning. I would say Tabaski is like the “Christmas” of Senegal. It’s by far the biggest holiday. New clothes are a must, and in expensive fabric only!

Just like with Korite, we celebrated with our new years greetings, drinks, and visiting my family all over Saint-Louis.

Until next time,
Tiffany

Gëm Sa Bopp

2 weeks ago I had the pleasure of working with PCVs in the regions of Saint-Louis, Louga, and Linguere on a project called Gëm Sa Bopp. It’s a girls empowerment camp that PCVs put on. We invite girls from our sites to come learn about future careers, the environment, menstrual health, and hygiene. In Wolof it means “Believe in Yourself.” The camp is a unique opportunity for young girls to have fun and be themselves. They get to leave their household chores behind in exchange for a week of sports, singing, making new friends, and new experiences.

As much as I want to explain everyday in detail, it would probably end up boring you, so I’ll just do highlights.

The first day we learned local camp songs. To be honest, a lot of them are in old Wolof, or in a context I don’t fully understand. But I learned them or actually- learned to make noises or words like what I thought the songs were. There’s a couple of songs I want to talk about. The first is a greetings song, in English, it means “we greet you, we greet you, in peace in peace, we greet you, we greet you.” The girls sang it before each session to welcome their guest speaker. Another song we learned is in French, but can be sang in any language. It goes like this: “Do you know my name?” “No.” “Do you know my name?” “No.” “My name is _________. Do you know my name.” “Yes, we know your name. We know your name. Your name is _________.” The last song I want to share is one that always makes me sad and happy. “Camp was great, camp was great, when I go home I’ll miss _(someone’s name)_. Camp was great.” My girls sang this song and cried as they said goodbye, I miss them.

For career day my girls drew a Life Map on how to become a doctor. It’s a map that marks all the important and essential elements of becoming a doctor, like graduating high school, going to University, and graduating medical school.

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Human rights day was combined with a travel activity. One of our PC staff members came and led a discussion on how to identify domestic violence, and how to find ways to be more than a bystander. One of my favorite sessions was called “Kaay Tukki” which means “come travel.” We had 6 stations where us PCVs shared an element of another country. For example, I did Taiwan, so I taught the girls how to use chopsticks, and we talked about my family background. They also asked me to teach them some Chinese, which was pretty fun! (Yay Peace Corps Second Goal!)

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For environment day, the coolest part, was going to the beach. We did a beach clean-up talk and then went swimming. Most of the girls have never been to the beach or even seen the ocean before, so some were nervous about dipping their feet in and others went for it, and others grabbed hold of whatever PCV was near them in fear and excitement. My site mate told me she had 3 girls attached to her at some point:one on her back, and two on either side of her. Unfortunately my phone died prior to this, so I don’t have any pictures of this besides our group photo.

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The next day, the girls learned all about menstrual health. Periods are a major barrier to girls education because there aren’t many tools to deal with it in a school setting, so some girls miss school as a consequence. First we had an STDs talk, then we talked about the cycle of periods, which led to period bracelets. Personally, I would love to make one of these. It’s conspicuous, and helps the girls keep track on where in their cycle they are. Then we had a session on how to make reusuable pads from local materials. It’s super easy, and they work!

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For the last day we did handwashing and hair care. Then we did invisible friends and certificates. At the start of camp each girl gets an invisible friend,  PCVs included. All week we are supposed to make them gifts and send them anonymously. On the last day we stood in a circle and sang another song to discover who our invisible friends were. It was filled with hugs, crying, and laughter.

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The end of camp was so special. The girls all traded phone numbers (with us too!), and cried as they were forced to say goodbye to their camp friends (sound familiar? Just like in the USA). Since camp ended a couple of girls have already called to greet me. Hopefully I can visit some of my other girls throughout this next year. After camp, I had a whole new perspective on my service. It was overall an amazing experience that made me believe that Peace Corps is important, and we do important things. After camp, I was on a Peace Corps high where my language was great (because I was forced to stretch my vocabulary in a new setting), I felt like I was capable of anything, and it marked about a year into my service. Perfect timing. I can’t wait to see what next year’s camp is like!

P.S. check out our video of this year’s camp!

Sorry! I know I’m really behind in my blogging. I’ll be posting a lot (hopefully) in the next month so I stay on track.

Talk soon,
Tiffany

Senegal’s Version of a Washer

Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve rewritten my “gender roles” post 3 times and just don’t think it’s ready yet, so in the meantime enjoy this post about how to do laundry in Senegal.

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First, we start by separating laundry.

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Next we fill each bucket with water and line them up in order…

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We typically start by a water bucket where we dip the clothes before going to soap to prevent soap stains. If we’re washing whites we’ll add 2 extra buckets for bleach and washing.

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We use bar soap made from local peanut oil to wash clothes. Sometimes we’ll add powder detergent. We either scrub with wash boards, hands, or a brush. My forearms have become much stronger doing this.

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Lastly, we rinse with an all water bucket, and wring the clothes dry and hang them on the line.

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Sometimes when it’s windy, clothes blow off the line, so clips are super important. When clothes are dry, locals like to iron them because air drying can lead to lots of wrinkles, but being a PCV, clean clothes are all that I care about, and ironing is just too time consuming, so I go without it. For the most part, I’ve only seen electric irons at tailors in the city. Most families have one that looks like this.

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They use coal to heat the iron instead of electricity. Then clothes are folded and put away! That’s it, simple enough? Not really, doing laundry is an all day task. I will never take a Washer/Dryer for granted again. The other thing is clothes get stretched out much faster. There are no dryers to reshrink jeans or cotton shirts. No doubt. this lifestyle is not easy.

Tiffany

Beginnings of Rainy Season

Senegal is located just underneath the Sahara Desert, so we get a lot of influence of desert climate. For example I walk on sand every day of my life here, it’s a calf workout. When I dig garden beds, I don’t have a mixture of particles, I just have sand, sand, and more sand. Because of this, rainy season in Senegal is especially important. This country has been in drought since the 1980s and relies on rain as it’s main water source to water fields, refill wells, and replenish aquifers. Depending on where you are in Senegal, rainy season starts at different times.

In the South, regions under The Gambia, rains start in June. In regions like Kaolack, Kaffrine, and Thies, rains start in July. In regions like mine (Saint-Louis), Linguere, Louga, rains start a little bit later, late July to August. It also depends on the year. Some years, the rains come and end late (last year), or this year, they came when they were expected.

So how do you know if rainy season has in fact started or if it’s just one big rain? Good question. Rainy season, typically begins with a sandstorm or two. The sky will change colors to brown, winds will start to gain speed, and sand flies everywhere. The rains will then come on a regular basis, once a day, every two days, or every 3 days, but the rains are frequent. Plus with the change in humidity, different kinds of bugs come out of dormancy. I’ve seen a lot more spiders and cockroaches hanging out in my room, and a bunch of bugs I don’t recognize from back in the States.

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The rains change the landscape too. Places where I could only see trees and sand for miles, now have what looks like… grass? It looks so green and wonderful. Things just start growing! In my garden, weeds have begun sprouting everywhere. I spend time everyday weeding.

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The rains, as exciting and much needed as they are, bring many problems too. It’s crazy humid when it doesn’t rain. It’s not necessarily hot (some days are, September definitely will be in Saint-Louis), but just expect to be sweaty all the time, and never dry. I don’t think my hair has fully dried in a couple weeks now. In greetings everyone will ask and say, “how is the rain? It makes the day hot.” Yes it does.

Flooding also ensues. In America, when we hear “puddle” we think these clear pools of water that children wear rain boots and jump in, but in Senegal puddles mean something else. They start to form all over town where the pavement or sand is uneven. They collect all excrement from horse carts, litter, and dirty laundry water, etc. Sometimes these puddles are green, most of the time they are brown, but they are never clear. When I was in market last week I was picking my vegetables off a display and I knocked a carrot and a pepper over and they fell right into green puddle. The seller told me it was no problem, she picked them up out of puddle, put them into her own bucket of dirty water and back on her display. It was at that moment that I vowed to always bleach my vegetables I buy in country, especially during rainy season.

When it rains in my house, it floods too. The water comes off the roof and the second floor and runs through a cement pipe so it catches on the first floor. My family places a bucket there to catch the rain. Rain water can be used to water gardening spaces, do laundry, etc.

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If I were you, I would have more questions like, what happens to clean laundry that needs to be hung up to dry and it rains all day for 4 days in a row? In the north that is less of problem because we get more breaks in our rainy days, but in the middle and south of the country this can cause problems. Laundry just gets hung up and left outside until one day it’s dry enough for clothes to dry. Real quick: in case you didn’t know, laundry is done by hand with a bar of soap and some detergent. Locals use up to 4 buckets to do laundry for the rinsing process, and for whites. It’s very important to separate laundry because local fabrics bleed for a couple of washes. I’ll do a full post teaching you how to do laundry like a local soon! After being washed, the laundry is hung outside to dry on a line with clips.

Another downfall is that electricity goes out every time we have a big rain. It results in my sisters doing a lot of dancing and singing to kill time. I mean they do that anyway, but they do this a lot more when electricity goes out (check my instagram for a video).

I’m not a contractor, but the plaster or something in my wall of my room is not waterproof, so when it rains, my room gets these big wet stains on the walls. Huts and houses weren’t made to withstand a large amount of rain in Saint-Louis. That should tell you a lot about the wealth of Senegal, laws about buildings, and how long the drought has been going on.

But my problems aside, rainy season is such a big change from the heat and dryness of November-July, it’s a great chance to experience something totally new. It makes me think about how different America truly is. I’ve been in country long enough now that I’m starting to lose track of similarities and differences because my culture shock is gone. I grew up in a city that is known for being very rainy, and I had all the right gear to defend myself against rain and wind such as rain boots, rain jacket, a car, a bus pass, etc. As I’m sitting here rereading my list of gear I realize all those things are expensive. A one time purchase of a rain coat $50.00 doesn’t seem like much, but in Senegal, that’s a lot of money. People can’t afford to forward pay that much money for a coat, when the easier solution is to stay inside like everyone else. If a rain coat is difficult, what about a car? Even if a family had enough money to purchase a car, the flooding in the streets make it difficult to not inundate the vehicle while driving. Those puddles cause many problems. Here, when it rains, no one moves, no one does anything because the rain is intimidating. Work here isn’t equipped to handle working in the rain, mostly because when it rains, it pours. There isn’t a medium level like in Seattle (don’t believe those TV shows that show a downpour and thunder in Seattle, it’s mostly just a little drizzle). Just one more item on my “differences” list between America, Seattle specifically, and Senegal.

Until next time,

Tiffany

Ramadan

Ramadan is a Muslim holiday season based on the lunar calendar. With a few exceptions most people fast while the sun is up and eat after the sun sets. Fasting prohibits drinking water. It lasts approximately 30 days starting anytime from May/June. This year we started on June 7th. This is the first time in my life I have observed Ramadan so I just want to tell you about my experience.

In Wolof, Ramadan is called “koor.” So if I wanted to ask how Ramadan is going, I’d ask “Naka koor gi?” Naka meaning how, and gi being the article. In the past month, all my conversations have floated around fasting, the season of fasting, work, exhaustion, and giving alms. No doubt it’s been a hard month. My family has been resting all day every day. The women in my house bring mats outside to where they sell stuff to rest on. I’ve walked into my garden and seen all my work partners resting in the shade. Resting and taking naps is an all day occurrence. But what do I expect? Food is difficult to live without. From my understanding in the religion, Ramadan is about learning discipline, kindness, and sharing when we have more than enough.

The meal for breaking fast in Wolof is called “ndogou.” It happens right as the sun is setting. Breaking fast is pretty similar across the city and Wolof people. We eat dates to start, and then have coffee/café touba and bread. Sometimes our bread has beans, pounded fish, butter, etc. Then we have bissap juice. The dates are typically imported from Tunisia. Café touba and bissap juice are both local to Senegal. Café touba is made from a root of a local plant. It has an herbal taste but has caffeine. Bissap juice is made from bissap flowers. The flowers are put in with boiling water to make the juice. Bissap and hibiscus is the same thing, though local bissap juice is made with hints of ginger or mint.

After we break fast, my family does a family prayer. It’s led by the head of house, so my uncle and the other members of my family follow him in prayer. It seems that it’s vital that children engage in prayer during the season. Children don’t usually pray 5 times a day like the adults, but they are highly encouraged to show respect for Ramadan by praying.

About an hour later we eat dinner. Though dinner is just what we used to eat for lunch. In my case, that means we eat a lot of chebujin. This is the time to drink water and fuel up to prepare for the next day.

My family will sleep pretty late, around 11:30pm or 12:00am. At 5 am they get up to eat what’s known as “xudd.” It’s the meal before the day begins. My family typically has millet or thiakary.

There are exceptions to fasting. These include pregnant women, breast feeding mothers, the sick, and children (anywhere under the age of 13 and… me!). Earlier I gave the topics of conversation, and as you can imagine, it’s been a struggle explaining why I am not fasting considering I’m in a 90% Muslim country. On top of that, people tend to be less patient because they get hangrier as the month continues. As a Christian in my service I choose to not fast for 2 reasons. One, I find that it’s disrespectful on both ends celebrating a holiday related to a god or belief I don’t believe in. It would be like a Christian celebrating Hanukkah even though they have no history with the culture or religion. Two, as an agriculture volunteer I still need to eat to be effective in what I do. This country is approximately 10% Catholic, so they understand that not everyone fasts, but they don’t really understand that. Does that make sense? No, not really. Let me explain. Every time, without fail, that I asked someone “Naka koor gi?” I get asked in response “are you fasting?” and when I reply no, I typically get reprimanded for not. “Why are you not fasting, you’ve been here for 9 months, you are Senegalese, you should be fasting.” This makes me think, hmmm…but fasting has nothing to do with being Senegalese, it’s a religious observance. I believe there are 2 main reasons for this.  In areas of the country where it’s heavily Muslim, i.e. the northern part of the country (where I am), there are very few Catholics, so people encounter much fewer people who do not fast. Because of this low exposure, locals have a hard time understanding that there are people in Senegal don’t fast. Second, I don’t think locals often second guess each other by asking “are you fasting.” I have never heard two locals share a conversation that goes the way mine went. I think they mostly just assume each other are fasting, and obviously since I am not a local, people don’t assume this about me. For those reasons, I think it’s rarer to encounter the idea that there are people who don’t fast. It’s exhausting to keep having this conversation, so many volunteers have just said that they are fasting to avoid dealing with this frustration, however I think it’s a unique opportunity to share my background. I tell them I am a Christian, that’s why I am not fasting, and sometimes it ends well with understanding, sometimes it ends “that’s not a reason; even so, you should be fasting,” but however it ends it’s always interesting to try having that conversation.

Things in the culture have changed too to honor this month. For example, more people travel earlier in the day because they have more energy, and since there’s no lunch hour anymore people do whatever they choose to do during those hours whether it’s going to the market, resting, or traveling. As you can imagine, if you weren’t allowed to eat and I ate in front of you, you would be a little bit uncomfortable. It’s just rude to eat in public. This is true whether you are on public transportation or in your own home. When I eat lunch with the kids and my nursing aunt, we eat indoors in a dark room where no one can see us.

Thank goodness, the end of Ramadan finally came on July 6th. We celebrated by having a party called “korite.” Korite is a day of eating, basically. I walked downstairs to greet my family around 10:00am to see them preparing ngalax- one of my favorite foods. The only other time I’ve eaten it was on Easter with a Cathloic family. Ngalax is millet with coconut, raisins mixed with peanut butter, chocolate, sugar, and baobab juice. All topped with diced banana and pineapple. Yup! Doesn’t it already sound delicious! Plus, it’s served COLD! We filled pitcher after pitcher, while my sisters delivered it to our neighbors and friends. We made so much we had to mix it in a bucket… When my “help” was becoming more of a nuisance my family sent me out of the kitchen with my own bowl. Yum. This is definitely my favorite Senegalese dish to date. For lunch, we had 2 lunches. We had chicken with noodles, and chebujin right after. SO FULL. My brother went back to his daily attaya making post- lunch and my sisters brought out cold soft drinks. The last time my family gave me a can of Rani-a local juice softdrink- was when I installed, so 8 months ago on my first day here. So Korite is a big deal. At 6:00pm we hopped in my uncle’s car, and we drove to see all of our family in Saint-Louis. We went to 5 houses. When we got to each house, we were given more drinks, and as we left my grandpa would lead the family in a blessing, and prayer in forgiveness. When we got back we ate more chicken, and finished the night with more Ranis and attaya. What a day!

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Korite, like Tabaski (another post to come in September/October) is the time when locals ask forgiveness from others, and give it away. We visited the all of my grandpa’s children in Ndar. Though we didn’t stay long, at every house we visited, my family always greeted each other by asking for forgiveness. Similar to other greetings we’ve learned, these have Arabic and Wolof mixed. The first 2 exchanges are asking for forgiveness. The 5th line is Arabic for “may god forgive us.”

“Dewenati”
“Fekkel dewin”
“Baal ma ak”
“Baal naa la”
“Yalla nanu yalla boule bal”
“Amin”

Let me end with this. My first observance of Ramadan has been very eye opening, especially since I’m in a West African Muslim country. I know Islam is not practiced like it is in the Middle East, but I still learned a lot about the Wolof culture and how they observe Ramadan. It really does take a lot of discipline to fast and still be kind and generous. If it weren’t for being in Senegal for my Peace Corps service, I probably would have never formed my views and opinions about Ramadan. It’s been a very eye opening month. If you wish to ask about my views and opinions contact me privately.

Until next time!
Tiffany

Coming up…

  • Gender Roles
  • Rainy Season
  • Tabaski
  • Gem Sa Bopp
  • My One Year Mark

Chinese-American in Senegal

A couple months I talked about viewing my PC service through a lens of positivity. It’s been working really well for me. It has helped me laugh through uncomfortable moments, cherish awkward misunderstandings, and overall love what I do and where I am. Though, I noticed I become disheartened by conversations and comments regarding race. Here, I am going to be as honest as possible meanwhile sharing my experiences surrounding this topic through understanding the local culture.

We, as Americans understand the difficulty of comments/conversations/jokes regarding race. It’s always been a sensitive topic because America is a melting pot. America is filled with people from all over the world, and although we have our struggles, we understand at the end of the day, we are all human. We are all interconnected by our humanity and compassion. The word “racist” only exists in parts of the world that have the luxury of experiencing different cultures. The western world is educated, they understand the world is made up of people with all different backgrounds, and most importantly they respect each others’ sensitivity to the topic of race. They have the money and education to travel and see the variety of culture, meanwhile those that have been oppressed during the era of imperialism, struggle to see what we see.

Senegal’s history with the western world has been limited and mostly negative. The French have occupied their country for so long and have created such a reputation that the locals have succumbed to name calling, aka “toubab”. Anything French is called toubab. And now it’s become a more generic term meaning anyone foreign or anything surrounding the French language or culture. Most of Africa has been ravaged for resources and much of it has had aid thrown at it that does very little to improve the living conditions. This is evident in children especially. Since a young age, children think foreigners have money, and many foreigners just give things away. This concept is so embedded that I’ll walk anywhere and any child will come up to me and say “toubab mymaa sant franc” meaning, “foreigner give me 100 cfa.” This asking comes in all shapes and sizes. I’ve been in a local boutique before where a child has said to me

“I want a banana, Rokhaya”
“You have money in your hand, are you going to buy one?”
“No, you’re going to buy me one.”

Or even a grown woman
“Rokhaya buy a yogurt for me”
“I only have money for me”

It ends with her chasing me back to my house trying to wrangle money from my hand… Though it makes for a memorable story, tackling these issues in my PC service has proven to be perplexing and frustrating.

Then we have their perceptions of Americans. The Senegalese people love Americans. We’ve been in their country since about the beginning of PC. There are about 220 volunteers in this country; one of the largest programs in Africa. We speak local languages and have been working alongside locals for about 50 years. Now on the opposite end, their opinions of the Chinese are not as positive. In fact, many Chinese corporations have been buying large pieces of land all over Africa, and the Senegalese don’t appreciate that someone else is developing their land. As you can imagine, this makes being a Chinese-American difficult. I’ve always grown up representing 2 cultures, and it’s evident in my appearance and where I have spent my entire life. Because of the local negativity towards Chinese people, I feel almost ashamed to admit I’m Chinese. I’m much prouder of the fact that I’m an American, but truth is, that’s half of my identity. As a PCV I’m representing America 24/7. That’s one thing that has been pounded into our brains since we decided to join, so naturally I want to represent America, but I should represent all aspects of American culture, including the diversity within.

There’s the background. In my mind I understand all these limitations in Senegalese culture, but my heart does feel a twinge of discomfort when I talk about my race. I’m going to give 2 examples of conversations that I have had that give you a good idea of what I experience here.

Example 1:
“Why are you riding the bus? You are young. You can walk this distance easily”
“I am riding the bus because I don’t like being called toubab (‘foreigner’ in local language) or chinowa as I walk. Taking the bus is just easier.”
“Well if people don’t call you toubab, what should they call you?”
“They should address me like they address Senegalese women, madam or soxnasi (‘madam’ in local language) are fine.”

This conversation is one that happened to me recently, but I believe it represents something that all PCVs face. In situations like this I think, am I not a human? Can I not be called Madam because I’m not a human who is female? Am I so different that the only thing you can do is call me a name that means foreigner? What should people call me? What? Did you really just ask me that? How about my name or a respective term for a stranger in the streets? If I was in America, no one would ever cat-call me in streets by shouting CHINESE-AMERICAN, but here it happens over 20 times in a single day. Why can I not be treated equally as a local woman?

I won’t lie to you, it sucks not feeling like I’m being treated equally. I can’t say that America is perfect and being a minority in America means I get treated equally, but I would say in America, we hide a lot of our thoughts through social courtesy. For many of my peers this is the first time they have ever felt this way, but for me, I have felt this way in the past, and it’s heartbreaking feeling this way again.

Example 2:
“Are you Japanese?”
“No, I’m-”
“Oh, Korean”
“No, I’m-”
“Oh Chinese!”
“No, I’m American.”
“You can’t be American, you are joking. You are Chinese.”
“I was born in America. I speak English. I went to school in America.”
“No, you aren’t American”

I have conversations similar to this one quite often, but this specific conversation happened when I was with another volunteer, and she had to step in and confirm that I was indeed American, like her. My reactions included: if you are asking me question, why won’t you let me answer? (This is actually a regular occurrence when I talk to men, many times they don’t hear me until someone else sticks up for me. A post about gender issues is coming soon) Why is it so hard to believe? Why don’t you believe me when I say I am American? Is it because of the way I look? Is that the only thing that defines me?

Having conversations that challenge equality and half of my identity are hard to swallow. I deal with rudeness, disbelief, racism, and discrimination everyday, and it’s not easy. But, locals are not to blame for this misfortune, though they are the ones who implement it, the real culprit is an oppressed culture that has been struck by poverty and hardship. This is why we are here. We are here to impart knowledge in areas we are trained in, promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of locals, and vice versa.

So, now we’re at the end of this post and I want to end with my new goal. My new goal is to have more patience surrounding topics of race and do my best to keep sharing my background in hopes that someday someone will understand my 2 parted identity.

Wish me luck!
Tiffany

“Small boy-ing”

Apologies for my break, I went on vacation with my family and had a lovely time in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa. Being away has made me realize some cultural aspects about Senegal that are more unique. One in particular stands out to me.

We’ve talked a little about how gender roles in Senegal are clearly defined, but what about roles within a family? During training we were encouraged to make observations of all aspects of our experience. I remember the roles I observed within the family were different than my Chinese-American roles back home. My youngest brother, Michele, would be asked to make frequent trips to the market, boutiques, and occasionally to someone’s house. All, to run errands for my host mom. Volunteers in Senegal have termed this act “small boy-ing.” In essence it’s the sending out of a someone, typically a young boy, to do something for you. It happens in all households in Senegal, across religion, tribal background, and location. Volunteers will even do this to each other.

Let’s start with a market run. On any given day my host mom could be preparing lunch, for example: chebujin- the national dish of Senegal which is rice and fish. If she had forgotten to buy a jaxatu she could send my brother to the market or a local vegetable stand to buy it. Jaxatu is local vegetable, known in English as bitter tomato. In my area of the country it’s known as xulinay, but they all mean the same thing. Even though they are bitter, they are highly nutritious, and show up in my lunch bowl every day.

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If we continue this scenario, this time, my host mom used the last of the salt, but she needs more. She will call my brother again, and send him to the closest boutique to purchase more. Boutiques in Senegal are everywhere. They are scattered to most street corners, and they carry about all the same things. All daily essentials such as oil, sugar, salt, eggs, milk, coffee, cookies, candy, soda, yogurt, and mustard. Most boutiques also have potatoes, onions, and ketchup. Along with these food items, they also sell non-food such as bleach, soap, washing powder, dish detergent, and sometimes even toothpaste.

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This is the front of a nicer boutique next to my regional house. The owner is Hadim, and he lives to the right of his boutique.

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This is the inside of his boutique in panorama.

In both cases, while Michele is at the market, my host mom can continue making lunch so we eat on time. It makes her life easier as she cooks, and her children stay happy because lunch is at a reasonable time.

Last scenario, I was on the receiving end of this just last week. If my host mom needed to send a message to a neighboring family she could send her son. But aren’t there cellphones in Senegal? Yes, there are, so why do families still choose to do this rather than what we think is the simpler option: calling? Although just about everyone has a cellphone in Senegal, it’s expensive to always have credit. All phones here run on prepaid credit. There’s no such thing as a phone plan with 500 minutes and free texting per month. The biggest reason that doesn’t exist here, is because income is not always consistent. If many of these families had to pay $40.00 every month for a plan, they could be cutting into their food budget for the month, especially if less money comes in that month. Income generation is not guaranteed in any family whether you are in an urban environment or rural. Prepaid credit becomes a scarce commodity and people are less willing to use it when they could send their son instead and have the same outcome.

Now you might wonder, how often do these things actually happen, literally everyday. I witness my 15 year old brother leaving the house 3 to 4 times a day to run errands. I witness my 23 year old brother doing the same, often in the same day! They each have their type of errands they run for the family. My younger brother usually makes boutique runs, while my other brother will gather materials for the animals in the house. Even the last one, when we talk about building credibility during training, we are encouraged to have a set schedule of times and places we will be, so if someone does need us, they can send a small boy to find us.

This aspect of Senegalese culture is so obscure to me. First of all, in the States, where I’m from, there are not shops, grocery stores, etc. in walking distance from my house. Even if there were, they were typically more expensive because I would be paying for convenience. If I did forget something at the store, I couldn’t send my 10 year old son to get it, because he can’t drive, so these kinds of scenarios are more rare in America. Our roads, cars, subway systems, make it easy and hard for us to run errands. We often make lists, and plan ahead because we have the income security to keep a kitchen well stocked. To buy things in bulk, the initial costs are often higher, but over time they are worth it. But like I said previously, income is not guaranteed in Senegal, so the result is “small boy-ing” and that means many many boutique runs.

On a different note, today is the first official day of Ramadan, let the fasting begin! I’ll be posting about this and few more things coming up from now until September. Enjoy!

Tiffany

Posts to come in the next couple of months, but not limited to:

  • Ramadan
  • Rainy Season
  • Gem Sa Bopp
  • My One Year Mark