Senegal 4 - May 10, 2003
Hello once again,
So, here's another group email, right on the heels of the last one. Just got back from my site visit up North, and there are so many things to tell, so here goes...
First of all, i have to say that the last few days were incredible, my village is awesome, my family is great, and the region is beautiful! And best of all, my new Senegalese name rocks! I am named after my recently-deceased grandfather, who had been the regional prefect under the French governers, and a regional official after independence. My family has been the village chiefs for the last 23 generations, ever since the first villagers emmigrated accross the river from Mauritania 300 years ago. No one in my direct family is the chief, though, just to make that clear.
And without further ado, my new name: Atoumane Kane. My first name is pronouced Ottoman, just like the empire; Kane is pronounced without the final "e", as in Genghis ___ or The Wrath of ____. Not bad for a measely Peace Corps Volunteer, no? Unfortunately they didn't have the empire set up for me yet, but I guess I'll have to work on that myself. I do have a senegalese wife already, however. Well, only in name. My family is pretty small: grandma, two brothers, 35 and 37, brother's wife (here in Africa, the brother's wife is also called your wife, although this is just a name thing, unless your brother dies, in which case she does actually become your wife), her 8-month old daughter (again, technically my daughter - she's even got my eyes!), and the two slave girls. Well, technically, one of the girls is a cousin, and the other is the daughter of the former maid of my grandfather, and so they are considered part of the family. Here in Senegal, young girls are expected to cook all the food and clean up all the time anyway, so basically they are servants, i suppose. I'm curious to find out more about this setup when i move back there.
My compound is on the easternmost edge of the village, along the road from Podor to St. Louis. This is great, becuase we've got lots of land, lots of space, and lots of silence! Not normal village life, with all the roosters and other animals and kids running around. There's not too much traffic along the road, but it does mean that it's easy to get anywhere i need to go, like St. Louis or Dakar. If i look north, south, or east, all i see is desert scrub brush and trees; and only a couple of houses to the west in my line of site. To the north about 1k is a small tributary of the Senegal River and my family's fields. Younger brother is a farmer/mason, my older brother works at a nice resort hotel on the beach at St Louis (read - discounts - visit me!) and only comes back every other weekend, apparantly. My hut wasn't finished yet, but my brother who's building it had decided that it should be 5m x 5m instead of the 4m x 4m that Peace Corps said, and i've got a nice backyard space mapped out with my own open-air douche area (concrete slab with hole), shaded by two big neem trees, and my brother's going to help me plant some mango trees in the yard itself. They've got electricity in the main house, so i'll probably get myself hooked up as well, and i'll get a cell phone in a few weeks from a former PCV. There are even refrigerated cokes and fantas in the village stores for 40 cents. So, i guess the Peace Corps has switched a little from it's former roughing it image! At least in my case. Eating great food, great warm people, a sense of tranquility and safety, and sleeping outside under the stars every night. Not bad at all.
The area in the North is beautiful! Many more trees than i expected, some areas of forested sand dunes east of me, some irrigated rice fields and sugarcane fields throughout the region, areas of marshland around St Louis and the delta of the Senegal River. Very many beautiful bird species everywhere - i'll have to learn the names - and lots of animals, including camels, wandering around in the forest. It's great being on the edge of Mauritania (10 k to the north) - the edge where Arab and Black Africa meet.
My village is awesome, and very well organized. There've been a few NGO's in the past that have done some projects, with varying degrees of success, and more importantly there's a village-betterment committee that undertakes various construction projects in the village, such as schools and a health clinic, with community labor and funding from villagers who live abroad in France or Italy. Everyone that i met was very friendly, and my fellow teachers seem really excited to work with me.
Alright, i think that's plenty for now. I hope this letter finds everyone well and safe and eager to come visit me in Africa!
Take care of yourselves, and keep the letters coming! the closest email will be 2 hours away, so letters will be best!