I texted my Senegalese friend about my trip to Kedougou prior to my departure. What I didn’t realize, but his response made it very apparent, is that I and the rest of my American study abroad group have probably seen more of Senegal than many Senegalese. Many People here do not use their extra money (if they have any) to plan vacations to tropical locations on days off. They instead, relax and recharge at home and then give their extra money directly to other family members in need, to their children’s increasingly expensive education, or to begging Talibés and families on the street. These thoughts followed me on my adventure to the village of Kedougou…
Our 12 hour ride across Senegal from Dakar to Kedougou felt exactly like it sounds-long, long, long and long. The increasingly beautiful scenery with every passing km made up for it slightly, however the rusted out 7-space Peugeot car with patches in the seats and floor, did not. My only self-defense was to pass out every time we got back in the car from a rest stop-at some points during the trip asking Jake, the only male in the car besides the driver to punch me in the face to knock me out. I guess he didn’t feel like he could hurt a girl.
The trip was made worse by my incredible stupidity of not bringing enough water, drinking it all by the first 2 hours and not telling anyone that as I sat roasting in the front seat with the sun hitting me directly on my face and soaked into my black spandex leggings, I was seeing visions of frozen yogurt and hallucinating that is was raining outside my window. By the time we stopped in Tambacounda for some lunch, I stumbled out of the car, fell down sideways and picked myself up with enough strength and walked in a daze to a boutique where I bought water and juice in broken French and a Zombie-like accent. Having scared the rest of my travelers with my health, I began feeling much better but swore I would never endure the barbeque cooker of a front seat again. While an 8 year old and 12 year old boy worked on the engine of our car, we found ourselves 4 huge plates of Ceebujen and Yassa Poulet for under a dollar each. I refused to eat enjoying the refreshing way my orange juice flowed down my throat. By the time the two little boys were done fixing our car and we had been scared half to death as the boutique owners practiced mugging each other holding a sharp machete to their belly’s, we were ready to jump in and continue our journey through small transit villages towns where skinny horses and donkeys pulled carts 3 times their weight, bags of peanuts were shoved in our faces through the windows, and the risk of herds of cattle blocking the road awaited us.
After 12 hours, we entered the gates of the Peace Corps Kedougou regional house and were welcomed by C.J. and Tatiana-two of our volunteer hosts. The regional house was mistakenly called a “house”:it was various huts connected together-all very open air and spacious and after that hellish ride, it felt like paradise. Three year old People, OK, US, Time, and Health magazines scattered the wooden table tops that sat beside occupied hammocks. The volunteers, enjoying time off from their village duties greeted us enthusiastically and put up with our heat-stroked personalities and indecisiveness. After enjoying the carrot cake and chocolate cookies made especially for our arrival (volunteers, I’ve come to find, are all fantastic cooks), I passed out beneath a mosquito net on a giant foam mattress in my sweat soaked clothes.
The next day, we set out in our group to the village of “Segou” in a rickety neuf(9) place (the same size as a sept(7)-place, just squeezing 2 more people in it) that was stained red from the dust rolling in through the windows from the red roads. From the village of Segou, armed with 25CFA mangos (that is .05cents in US) and Biskrem cookies, we hiked up a trail for about two hours, surrounded by a terrain straight out of your imaginings of Africa. Tall grass bordered our path, and with little vegetation besides low palms, there was no shade to hide from the heat of the day-needless to say, I endured heatstroke #2.
Finally we made it to the Segou waterfall where I celebrated our arrival with a giant mango (2nd of the day) which I mutilated and tossed the seed to the chimps hanging in the trees around our campsite. For the rest of the day, we enjoyed swimming in the waterfall’s many pools, a Biskrem cookie and mango lunch, and the conversations with a wise departing Peace Corps Volunteer, his French mother, and Lilly, a Spanish women who spends a living hiking through Africa, camping out, and studying chimpanzees for the Jane Goodall foundation (HOW COOL?!?)
The Peace Corps life is unlike anything I could have or would have imagined. I can’t say that my week long experience with them: saying good bye to departing volunteers, witnessing the internal high school-esque drama first hand between members, shopping the restless Kedougou markets, and staying in a Basari animist village in the middle of nowhere, has finalized my decision about my future as a Peace Corps Volunteer or not- I’m still completely torn. But I got a vision of the work they do and the differences in their backgrounds; better than a lot of people who a.) believe PCV are all granola crunching hippies, hanging out in huts and loving the life of no technology and no showers or b.) like some of the Senegalese who believe PCVs to be undercover CIA agents.
Because so much happened while in such a short period in such a beautiful, tranquil place I’ll give you the highlights:
– Hopping out of the sept-place in Kedougou and Tatiana (my host), noticing my green University of Arizona water bottle right away and bonding immediately with plenty to talk about because she was an undergrad there also! How random!
-Chimpanzees swinging above our heads from tree to tree as we sat in the waterfall pools drinking, laughing, and telling stories that only volunteers or Senegal study abroad students could appreciate.
-Looking for hair extensions for Tatiana’s village sister and the salon people thinking it was I who wanted to get them put in as they tried to sit me down in the chair. By the way, my hair is way past the middle of my back so no extensions needed. Hahaha
-Taking a random truck full of sacks of rice on a three hour meandering journey through the night to Santemanta and then hike two hours in the dark night to Etialo, the Basari village of Tatiana. If you’ve never hiked at night beneath the stars, you are truly missing out.
-Learning Pulaar and Basari greetings and vocabulary in the morning as we set out to see the village. “Camara!” (How are you?) “Ba!” (Good!) Imagine telletubbies greeting each other in a sing-song voice.
-Pumping water and pulling water from a well for children to enjoy playing in.
-Being surrounded by a hundred children during their school recess all wanting, and succeeding at shaking my hand.
-Seeing where boys battle their way into manhood during their initiation ceremony during the spring season (we missed it by two nights-Darn!)
-Watching as a woman knocks ripe, juicy mangos from the top of a tree to my feet and scooping up arms full to give us as gifts. I honestly ate three mangos a day. How much are mangos at your grocery store ‘cause mine were free!
-Meeting, walking and eating with the old chief of Etialo at his campement where he sacrificed a chicken for our dinner (a HUGE deal there in that small village! I felt very honored!)
-Watching a group of kids run around with glow sticks brought by my fellow student as the darkness engulfs us. The younger ones stuck them in their mouths. Hahaha
-Scaling a steep hill on our way home, and being a wimp, asking to stop to rest, control my breathing, and give myself a water break. As I sat chugging water, a Basari woman scaled the hill behind us with a TUB FULL OF MANGOS resting easily atop her head with no need of hands. I suck!
-Timone is without Pumbaa these days: I inhaled a “Warthog” sandwich before jumping into a hotel pool back in Kedougou to mainly use it as a giant warm bath-I got fairly clean but the pool water got pretty dirty.
It was one of my most memorable weeks here in Senegal. I was transported to a place I have never been and will never be again. Every day, I briefly transport myself back there to think that as I wrestle with bad wifi connections and frustrations rude taxi drivers, the Basari people live on rice, corn, and peanut sauce-barely able to provide protein to their diet unless willing to sacrifice a chicken for when a special guest comes. During my visit, my Peace Corps Volunteer, Tatiana told me about how she had a conversation with her mom the other day: Her mom complained about the rising gas prices in the East coast and Tatiana responded that she has to walk 4km from her village to get any water for herself because her well was dry. Though it took a while for her mom to understand and for the knowledge to sink in, she continued the conversation with the subject of her two Shitzu’s health. Sometimes its hard to understand things we don’t see or don’t hear about but it always helps to have someone there to experience and come back to try and explain. Hope I’m doing an efficient job at it and there’s always more to tell when I get back!