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Crying, Punching and Hand Shakes

10 jan 2012

Ripening of a banana begins the second it comes off the tree; it will not ripen while still connected. After 2 weeks, from tree to store, the fruit is perfectly ripe, but any longer could mean a gross banana. This is why bananas are specially shipped in gas controlled rooms which limits the amount of ethylene inside of the room.  Ethylene is a gas that fruits give off in order to let the rest of the fruits know its time to ripen. In US grocery stores, they are stored in special banana rooms that control the temperature in turn slowing the ripening process.  

The original banana that was introduced to the US around 1880-1890 is called the Grow-michelle banana.  It was a tastier, bigger banana with a tougher shell making it far more easy to transport. Unfortunately, the Pananma disease extinguished those bananas and now we eat the Cavandishvariety. In the 1950’s it was introduced by dole banana. The Cavandish is a far inferior variety; the taste is bland and it is tough to ship. There are 1000 different kinds of banana, but none are suitable exports meaning that the end of the Cavandish will mean the end of bananas in the US.

11 jan 2012

The Hotel Hobe is one of three hotels in Kolda and, subtracting the open prostitution, the classiest. Prostitution is legal in Senegal. The only stipulation is that a prostitute must posses a government issued card allowing her business to continue. Though it is legal and in many ways helpful to the women’s financial situations I still cannot come to terms with seeing an old, fat, hairy, French man wearing camouflage, drooling on himself, drunk, with two or three beautiful Senegalese women hanging on him. Maybe it would be less gross if the French men were older, or more attractive, or not French because then the prostitution would seem more like mutual interest, but I guess that would just make it easier to turn a blind eye to inequality and the women would likely be paid less.

12 jan 2012

Happy Birthday Tori and Jamie

13 jan 2012

This is a tribute to KeurKumbaBalde, a bar in Kolda owned by a woman:

KumbaBalde a woman, hard

as fuck the two men who sit

at the bar the smell of urine mixed

beer they’ve spiked with


On a crossroads-

paved north

south, dirt east

west in the mechanic

quartier a pink

building meat kabobs so

particular at night women with pop-bellies

sit two men, rarely more, never less and

not often the same two favorite

concoctions only second to warm whiskey


A raspy-voiced one

must order in advance

greeting or waist time

does not pass in a place

that never closes.

A sheet covers the entrance two steps

down makes it nearly

impossible to see her lack

of refinement is supplemented

with edge of the TV

glowing under the cover

men sit, always men

in a Muslim country women

don’t own much.

Happy Birthday Emily

14 jan 2012

Crying is not something that is taken lightly here. As a child it is more than okay, in fact the second you start to shed a tear, you are given candies, being coddled, and/or have an accomplice in retaliation. As an adult, it is only okay to cry when someone dies and even then there are limits. I am a crier. I cry for everything; when someone gives me a thoughtful gift, squirts milk out of one’s eyes, won’t stop making kissing noises at me, if I try hard, but still can’t understand and, of course, if grandma dies. After the first few times I cried in front of my family I was given some harsh rules and I didn’t quite understand why my homestay parents where placing such radical restrictions on me.

  1. No more weddings or baptisms
  2. No one at the house can laugh
  3. No more watching movies, unless they are about war (no documentaries)

Then, it dawned on me; I had only seen one person cry once and that was at a funeral. So I asked Sona if she thought it was a big problem if I cry. She said, “Yes, I think you are so, so sad you cannot stand it. It makes me want to cry.” I laughed and told them crying is just how I process things and its NO BIG DEAL. Then I told her she should try it; she told me I should try not crying. She is and I am. Sometimes I’ll hear her in the room crying or at the end of a good movie I’ll catch a little tear and sometimes I feel like crying, but I’ll hold it back, though its especially hard if they are happy tears.

15 jan 2012

I punched a Wolof man today, twice. I fully intended it to hurt too, though it probably didn’t hurt as bad as I wanted it to. The last and only other time I hit anyone was in 6th grade when a boy told all the kids on my street we kissed. It wasn’t true; needless to say, I’m out of practice. If only I had a giant stick I would have hit him with that, it likely would have hurt worse.

I was sitting on a restaurant bench waiting for change when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I naturally turned and looked up. That is when the man grabbed under my chin and held it at the perfect angle to look directly in his face. He proceeded to pucker his lips and make kissing noises. It took me a second, because of the shock, but I quickly realized I had never seen this man. I jerked my head away and said, ‘you do not know me, why are you touching me? Stop, touching me.’ He, without a word, started to grab my sides and continued those disgusting kissing noises. This time I yelled, ‘stop, are you crazy? Did your mom not teach you well? Stop touching me.’ The restaurant lady was in complete shock. I quickly glanced at her and she was staring, mouth open and all. Then the man grabbed my waist, I turned, and swung with my right fist. It hit him directly in the side of the head. He tried to hit me, but my left fist was already in motion and I nicked his chin before he could even raise his hand. At that point the sandwich lady was out of her shock and initiatively knew what would happen next. Retaliation. She jumped in between us just in time. My adrenaline was crashing and there is no way I could actually take on a buff Senegalese man. So I ran home, crying though intact.

16 jan 2012

Someone has stolen my bar body soap 3 times now. Santex is cheap and easy to come by. My bar of soap sits next to even more fancy soaps in fancy bottles that are impossible to find here, but no one dares go near those. Once I tried to hide the soap under a cup, thinking out of sight out of mind. That didn’t work.  I tried taking it into my room, but then I wouldn’t remember it until I was naked and soaking wet. Recently I have tried a new technique. I stand on the cement floor of my restroom and put the bar on top of the wall, just so it is out of eye range. If one wants to steal soap they wouldn’t be looking up for it.

I really do not understand what one does with three bars of soap in a 2 week time span. There is really no way to consume that much. I imagine there is some sort of black market for used soap where a man comes up to unsuspecting folk and whips out used soap for 100 CFA. The soap usually costs 250, but if its used I sure wouldn’t pay more for it. It actually really the perfect scheme because who would suspect that you are going around to peoples bathrooms stealing their soap? More likely the customers think, ‘who this cat must really need the money if all he has left isused soap to sell.’ 

17 jan 2012

There is a handshake here where you shake hands, hit fists and then raise your pointer and middle fingers into a peace sign. The peace sign is transformed to scissors and the handshake is completed by finger scissoring your partner.  It is as uncomfortable as calling the bean sandwich lady by her name, Maggot.

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1 jan 2012

As a new years resolution I will try something new for this blog because obviously what I am doing isn’t working. In order to take some of the pressure of having a polished piece ready to post I am instead going to simply write a thought each day-ish and try to post at the end of two or three weeks. Happy New YEAR!

2 jan 2012

Here when your number gets drawn in a raffle you buy the item at a cheaper rate. The raffle is set up with multiple items and when your number gets drawn you must hope for the item you wanted because if you don’t want it, you still pay for it.  It is socially binding agreement. People get really excited, they dance, sing, and form big crowds, but nothing is free.

3 jan 2012

There is a young girl named Kijatou who works as my mother’s apprentice. Together they make and sell frozen juice bags. Kijatou seems much older than she is and it wasn’t until today I found out why. Her father has left her and her mother to fend for themselves and Kijatou’s meager salary is not enough to support her, her mother and siblings. When a father leaves or doesn’t provide financial support in this country the family starves no matter how resourceful the mother is unless she has support from her parents. Kijatou asked to borrow my phone today to call her dad and tell him they are hungry. She couldn’t get ahold of him.

6 jan 2012

I think the closest I’ve been to taking actual flight have been the moments on my bike perched in perfect posture, letting my hands dangle at my side, as the wind strokes my face and my bangs fly up. There are times when I recklessly close my eyes gliding down a hill. I realize this is dangerous, not only to myself, but I cannot help wanting the release. There aren’t many instances where one can have such freedom without detriment.

7 jan 2012

Happy Birthday Mark-a-Bark

8 jan 2012

There are so many different types of relationships that seem as though they can’t possibly work, or be “healthy”, but I often wonder what “healthy” actually is. What does a healthy relationship look like? And where is the line that if crossed certain behaviors are deemed unhealthy? Can we actually call a relationship unhealthy if it is making others happy, even if it is making others miserable yet somehow happy?

Obviously, there are outlier, people that beat the shit out of each other and people with kids who are expected to live a certain way in order to provide stability. I’m not thinking about those people.

I am thinking about the people who fight because that’s what turns them on, who can’t imagine a day without the passion generated between them in heated debate, those that marry, divorce, marry, and divorce just to remarry again, those that are“monogamish” and their marriages stay happy because they can fuck others. There are perfectly happy relationships between married people who do not live in the same house or even the same state. Successful polygamous relationships, relationships where women ask their husbands to get a second wife so their work will be alleviated. I just read a story about two happily married couples that are also dating each other.

I haven’t really formed an answer or even a proper question, but its certainly something to think about.

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Marriage in Three Parts and Some Notes

Part 1- Mariama

It is wedding day for Yama, a girl who lives across the way from me. She has been talking about it for months now with excitement, but in the last few weeks when the talk has become reality her attitude has changed.

Yama and Amadou have been in courting for the past two years. He saw her from a distance when he was on vacation in Kolda and decided she is the one he wants to marry. Its really no surprise he fell in love quickly as Yama has a charismatic personality. She is always smiling, joking and dancing about. She is beautiful, curvy, and doesn’t know any other man’s touch.

Not long ago Yama and I were talking about wedding night. I asked her if she is afraid. She said, “I am so afraid. He is a big guy.” She gave me a suggestive smile and then continued, “I am so afraid, but I also really want it.” Her best friend and my younger sister chimed in, “That’s all she talks about.”

Yama has known for a long time that she is to marry Amadou, but it has always been a matter of money holding them back. He lives in Dakar and her in Kolda. He works as a office assistant and sends her money for food and clothes on top of saving to pay her parents the bridal fee. For the past two years there relationship has been talk. They talk on the phone, he visits on rare occasions; there are a lot of I love you’s, I miss you’s and even some more saucy texting. We weeks ago all the talking turned into something more concrete and today they are getting married.

She has been crying every night, lost a lot of weight from lack of appetite and though the air is mostly joyous there is an overarching sadness that prevails. I’ve been trying to figure out why this is, as this exact moment is the one she’s done nothing, but talk about since I got here.

It wasn’t until I talked to her mom that I really started to understand. Yama is moving to Dakar, a 14-24 hour car ride from her brothers, mother, sister, nieces and nephews. She is leaving all of her best friends, her hang out spots, her school; her community. She is stepping into his house with his family and she has the pressure of trying to be accepted through it all. I think what is scaring her most is that she is leaving her innocence and stepping into a world of adult triumphs and complications. She is going to have sex for the first time and all the assumptions that go with that are daunting. After that first night with Amadou she takes off her vail and becomes his woman. Everyone knows what happened the night before and people even ask if he broke her hymen. Kids will inevitably follow and potentially a second wife, a third or maybe a fourth. It is overwhelming even for an onlooker.

Maybe this is all normal; the nerves, the excitement, the overall sense of joy with an overarching sadness. I don’t know as I have never been married, but I imagine its something close though the layout may be different.


Part 2- Campus

Campus is a 40 year old, skinny, male, Senegalese chain-smoker, who is extremely well educated. He reads anything he can get his hands on and has recently started swearing by “How to Love What You Have”.

Campus is strange in this society for a few reasons, but the biggest is that he is still single. In 2009 his parents asked him to get married, he agreed and so his mother started the search. They found a lovely 20 year old lady from a stable and well taken care of family. When Campus had started his courtship all was going well, until he tried to have a deeper conversation about their love. He asked her why she loved him and she said, “because we love each other.” He pushed the question harder, “but why?” Ultimately, she had no answer. Campus was pretty devastated and vowed to himself that from here forward he would look for a more educated wife closer to his own age. He will begin his search again in October.


Part 3- Boubacar

Bouba believes he made a colossal mistake with his first wife. He says if he could take anything back it would be marrying her. It is pretty clear from the way they interact that they are, at the very least, going through a really rough time in their marriage. They are short with each other and speak only when it is to give each other orders. “Mouna, get the spoon.” “Bouba, give me money to buy lunch food.” “Pull me water to take a shower, Mouna.” “Bouba, the kids need new notebooks.” The sleep in the same room every three days, Mouna and Bouba’s second wife alternate, but Bouba sleeps on the floor for Mouna’s days, which I think she prefers anyway.

Bouba thinks Mouna is dumb and to be fair she kind of is, but what she lacks in brains possesses in congeniality. Mouna thinks Bouba is unfair and just the same, there is truth in that as well. It is clear he loves his second wife way more and is more willing to help her in financial endeavors.


All of this makes me wonder many things. I feel like for us there are these two, sometimes conflicting sides. Parts of us (our society) want a mad passionate love at first sight, I knew you were the one from the day I met you and the other part wants stability, a chance to take a while to get to know our partner (advisably years), even to be able to live together before marriage. Here its based on a quasi version of “love at first sight”. A man sees a woman, he tells her he loves her, he asks if he can come visit, then he asks her father and mother if he can marry her. They ask him about money and then ask their daughter if she wants to marry him and if all goes well, they are married by the beginning of the next month.

When I ask women about how they met their husbands they giggle girlishly and say, “He saw me and loved me, then asked me to marry him.” The time ranges from first spotting to marriage anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 years, though I’ve only meet one person that waited as long as 2 years.

So many people here know that making this decision is one that lasts their whole lives, yet they make it so lightly, so quickly. Divorce is not easy in this country, though it is possible. I find myself judging some couples, especially when the topic comes up, which is shockingly often. I can’t quite fathom how they can really love each other, I wonder the percentage that has experienced deep love, so good its scary, and then I take a step back and wonder if that kind of love is even healthy anyway.  Maybe they have something right? Maybe even if it starts as lust or is solely based on beauty it can grow to love. And maybe in that growth it is more stable, more sustainable, more interesting even as you take all of that beginning time getting to know the other being married already. One would have to see their partner differently because all of the things that could potentially be deal-breakers have to become manageable.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I find myself being hypocritical, as happens often, and I can’t really judge what others do when it comes to love and marriage because as aspects of relationships become more clear the grand idea becomes less so. I know I cannot possibly be more vague here, but as they say, “the more I know the more questions I have,” and I guess I’ll never know, until I do.

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On Passing Time

Time’s reality in Senegal moves at a sedated speed.  Time is seat on a Dakar bound bus. It is sat upon, uncomfortable, smells bad and has a serious case of claustrophobia for a two day trip that should take less than one.

It’s hard to believe its almost been a year since the day the plane landed in Senegal. My perceptions of things are so different today than they were 11 months ago. I remember the feeling upon arrival to my homestay house. Massaly, my boss, and I arrived and no one was home besides one of the girls, who ran to find someone to welcome me. On the small tour they gave Massaly and me, we noticed they were still cleaning out my room, the bathroom hole was still being dug, and they did not seem ready for me at all.

Finally my dad arrived and we gathered outside in a circle on tattered chairs. Massaly spoke in wolof, a language I don’t understand; though at that time I didn’t really understand Pulaar, so it wouldn’t have mattered either way. All the kids stood there staring at me, with frightened and confused looks. I sat, probably with the same frightened and confused look, doing my best to listen and not to cry at the somewhat uneventful welcoming. Egotistically as if I deserved this,  I pictured drums, people, food and an overwhelming parade of excitement.

I went to my room and started to unpack and told myself it can only get better. That night we all sat outside and watched an indian soap opera dubbed in french. I was silent. We did not know what to do with each other, but something genius came over me and I got a slightly mischievous idea.

Time’s reality in Senegal moves at turbo speed. Time is a little man sitting on saddle at the base of a vortex, reins in hand, swaying gracefully along with every rash movement the cyclone makes.

There were a lot of frogs out that night and I had heard that Pulaars were afraid of them.  Now, I am not exactly sure what drove me to do this because in hindsight it could have gone terribly wrong, but I picked up a frog and walked over to one of my younger brothers, Kareem. I grabbed his hand and stuck the frog right into his palm. He  flung the frog, which landed in the well, and jumped up onto the chair. Everyone stood in shock for about 10 seconds. It felt like a minute, as I held my breath and thoughts raced through my head, what if I just ruined our relationship? what if he is afraid of me now, what if the others are, what if he thinks I am mean? Just then everyone burst out laughing. That second, that malicious act, was my entrance into my family’s life.

Time’s reality in Senegal moves at a hazy speed. Time is a cheese cloth wrapped around freshly made feta. The feta is secure, warm and being purged of all its excess, but loses track of the days its been wrapped.

So much has changed. For starters, my bathroom is finished and I speak Pulaar. They tell me to do chores like sweep or pound okra. They trust me to take the kids into town by myself, to pick things up from the market, or to watch the boutique when my dad has to leave. Best of all, when I return from a trip, though there still aren’t any drums, there is always food, people, and an overwhelming parade of excitement. It has taken the changes in times reality; the seat on a Dakar bound bus, the man riding the vortex,
and the cheese cloth, to make us all feel at home. It’s hard to imagine what the next year has in store for us.

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The other morning I woke up to a scratching noise underneath my pillow. I popped out of bed right quick, grabbed a shoe and nervously lifted my pillow. In this same moment two rapid fire thoughts flashed through my head. 1. If this is a mouse I cannot squish it on my bed or maybe even at all  2. If this is a bug…

Time slowed as I hoisted the pillow case from the bed and out from underneath rested 3 huge cockroaches, two of which looked like they were getting it on underneath the warmth of my head. They scattered. I felt my heart race and time started back, moving quickly, trying to make up for the time it had lost. The shoe was in my left hand and left hands are simply not as coordinated as rights; I’m not sure what I was thinking putting the shoe there. I held my breath with each whack at the Cockroaches that were too fast and too graceful for my left hand. Then finally one, the biggest one fell to the floor. I had it cornered between the wall and the edge of the bed, shoe in hand, ready for assault, but then I took a breath and blinked.

In the short time of one blink the cockroach had, what seemed to me to be, a heart attack. He had turned over on his back, legs up and completely rigid; he was just lying there. Naturally, I poked him with the end of a pen and his legs started moving. I got a broom, swept the little bugger into a box, and disposed of him outside. Later I came back to find the cockroach gone. It took a tip from jesus and resurrected, all zombie like.

Now, there are mating zombie cockroaches in my room and the worst thing is that after a quick wiki search I found cockroaches have two major criteria for choosing a living space and they both describe my room 1. how dark it is and 2. how many others are there- the more the merrier is their philosophy.

For the past few days the fact that I am now living with what is probably hundreds of cockroaches has really gotten to me. I’ve had a hard time sleeping and any small noise in my room I attribute to those creepy creatures and immediately become schizophrenic turning over my whole room to find not one of those shifty little guys. This has spawned a much-needed change in philosophy, if only to protect my heart from overexertion. Cockroaches are living creatures. They are kind of smart- becoming a jesus-zombie in times of danger and choosing a great roommate, such as myself, with whom to live. So I think I just need to do what any other good roommate would do and set some boundaries; I’m thinking a clove of garlic under my pillow.

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Newest Project

Check out my latest project. We are gearing up to install 52 water pumps in 52 weeks.

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