My host dad has three wives. If you have ten minutes, he’ll explain to you why this is better than one. They can share the responsibilities of making meals and doing laundry, they each have best friends in the other two, and if one needs to go away for a few days to visit her parents, he will never go hungry because there are two more to cook for the family. As offensive as this explanation may sound to a lot of people, my host dad says this all with a big smile and a lot of winks. He calls me his American daughter and says I can ask him for anything. And, with the exception of one of them, his wives are large, commanding women who definitely won’t let anyone push them around. Most days, they walk around our family compound in nothing but their skirts and teach me the words for cooking, laundry, showering, and bad egg in Pulaar.
My first week at the home stay site went amazingly well. There were definitely moments when the language learning, the new culture, the fact that I stick out like a sore thumb, and still more language learning overwhelmed me. Some of that may have been egged on by dehydration. Here, you should never go anywhere without a water bottle in your hand.
A typical day at my home stay site means waking up at 7 am (I found out my first day waking up any earlier is inappropriate as everyone in the family has morning prayers between 6 and 6:30), having my morning bucket shower, and helping one of my host moms carry her sandwich making materials to her corner stand. Once there, I get a “café touba” from the corner boutique (amazing cardamom and cloves spiced coffee with sugar) and my breakfast baguette with beans and onions on it (sounds gross but after a few days here you won’t question any food you’re handed). Now it’s about 8 am and I walk back home to have more coffee with my host sisters. Life in Senegal starts slowly and even at 8 am the streets are quiet. I have Pulaar class with my LCF (language class facilitator) and two other trainees at 8:30 am. They are all staying with other host families in my neighborhood and we live within five minutes walking distance of each other. We have class until 12:30 pm and I walk home again to eat lunch with my family. This is my mid day break time so I try to relax on the mats under our big mango tree in the yard or do all the laundry I’ve been hiding in the corner of my room. We usually eat lunch (rice and fish) around 3. The Senegalese eat with everyone sitting on the ground around one massive bowl; a few people have spoons but most just eat with their hands. I leave for class again from 4 to 6:30 and am home again by 7, just as it turns dark. We cook dinner outside, usually with flashlights because the power’s gone out again. I really don’t mind; we get such a great view of the stars. After dinner, at 8:30, we sit around and have “attiya” or tea, and talk. Friends drop by and sometimes beggars, and they are always given leftovers. The Senegalese can stay up talking until midnight but I usually go to bed by 10.
Sometimes, my days are amended with gardening and composting work in place of class. In those situations, I break the 7 am wake up rule and my group and I meet at our school garden work site. The earlier the better, the sun is unbelievably hot here and dangerous to work in for too long. Part of our PST (pre-service training) is to complete agriculture work in techniques we will be extending as volunteers. We had to double dig and amend (with manure, charcoal, and wood ash for soil fertility) three 1×3 meter gardens beds, one 1×1 meter vegetable nursery, and one 1×1 meter moringa intensive bed. Double digging is a labor intensive technique but makes the soil softer, allowing for better water distribution and less compaction, and lets you add organic matter to the soil to make it more nutritious for the plants. This, theoretically, will lead to healthy plants with better root systems, greater yield, and less pest and disease problems because of the intensive management of the smaller beds.
Enough for now! We have been back in Thies for the past three days for some health training and leave again today for our home stay sites. We will be there until October 21st (when we come back to Thies to find out our permanent site placements!) and will be experiencing Tabaski with our families on the 16th. The next post may have to be even longer…