Jam waali mon.
I apologize for not posting anything for very long time. I do not yet have internet access in my village and when I go into the nearest city, the power is often down all over town.
I “installed” in Sedo Abbaas in mid May. Several hundred people came to my family's compound to greet me and to dance. I felt very welcome, but it was also very overwhelming. I live with the village chief and two of his four wives. The younger of the two (the third wife) has five children (ranging in age from 6 – 22) who live in our household year round and some older children who live elsewhere. His second wife, who is now in her seventies, has several grown children who live in a neighboring village and often make extended visits to SA. The first wife, who is fairly old by Senegalese standards, lives in another neighborhood (in a house her sons—who live abroad—built for her) with her daughters in law, grandchildren, and other assorted relatives. The fourth wife lives in Dakar, and I don't know much about her household. Needless to say, people are constantly appearing in our family compound and presenting themselves as my sister, brother, or aunt.
Right now, I have a small room in an unused building in the compound. Down a semi-indoor hallway is an outdoor area with a concrete floor and drainage out the back of the house. This is where I shower, wash dishes, and wash my clothes (I've strung a clothes line up across this little courtyard). A public latrine on the outside of the compound's main house has technically been turned over to me for my private use, but it's evident that most visitors to the compound missed that memo. A one-room building with a private bathroom off the back is currently being constructed for my use, since my current bathroom situation does not meet the PC's standards, and the building I am currently sleeping in is falling apart. I look forward to decorating this new house with the morale of future volunteers in mind.
The women of SA, especially, are extremely welcoming. I have been going house to house with my counterparts, surveying the first wife in every family about water usage, health services, and nutrition. The men are annoyed that I've chosen to talk to the women, but they often don't know how many children they have or how much water their household uses in a day; the wives always do. Jumping right into this community assessment has been great for my language skills and good for my visibility. The results indicate that most families are pulling the bare minimum amount of water they need for washing, cooking, cleaning, and livestock, and that both the price and difficulty involved in obtaining water makes gardening impossible for almost every family in town. Community leaders have been very forward in asking for my help with water accessibility, and that's where I plan to start after my technical training. Once there is a reliable, affordable source of water, I know that the Women's Group plans to start a large community garden, and I am eager to help them with that as well.
The hardest part of village life for me, so far, has been cultural communication. I need alone time, especially in this setting, to stay functional. But seeking alone time just isn't done here. My desire to sleep alone in my room when the weather gets cool enough to sleep indoors is completely alien. No one sleeps alone. My friend explained that she finds the idea very frightening. Similarly, my frustration with having a shower and bathroom that do not lock (or close) is not understood. Most people in the village have never locked a door in their lives. And possessions, within some limits, are basically communal. My counterpart and I had a fight one evening because I explained to her that she can't take my things out of my house without asking me first.
Despite these challenges, I am grateful that my program placed me in smaller town. When I come into the nearest major city, strangers ask for money, children throw rocks, and men proposition me every time I step outside. I ignore all of this to the best of my ability, but the effort that requires is exhausting. And this is, overall, probably the most challenging thing about living here: I have no anonymity in a culture where pointing out differences between people is completely acceptable.