Saturday, January 26, 2013

Family Visit, Last Gammou and the Future

Once again, I need to start off with a huge apology- it's been forever since my last blog post. So much has happened since then... my parents and friends Dug and Peggy came to visit, I celebrated my second Mbeuleukhe gammou (a crazy religious celebration in my village), and I'm actually starting to wrap up my time here. So let's do a little recap of what's been going on lately...

Patton Fam in Senegal-

This December I received my first (and last) visitors here! My parents and our family friends Dug and Peggy Levin came to spend Christmas in Senegal and visit my village.

Dug and Peggy arrived bright and early on the morning of the 23rd, and my parents arrived a few hours later, after a delay from JFK. I had two cabs waiting for us (and they ended up waiting about 4 hours because of the delay) to take us to a beach town about 40 minutes away from Dakar. My parents seemed delighted when the drivers helped each other push the cabs to get them started. Hey, Welcome to Africa! I shared the cab with my parents on the way to the beach, and they both commented on how hot, arid and dusty it was. My mom had a hard time breathing with all of the dust in the air.

The weather was pretty hot for December. I had been warning them ahead of time about how freezing it was here, but apparently my internal thermometer has adjusted to Senegal-settings. You try living in 100+ weather for months on end (without any A/C or anything fancy like that), and then cold season arrives and the nights dip down to the 60s (without any heat or anything fancy like that). You'd be freezing too.

We had a great Christmas in Toubab Dialaw. We met up with my best friend Jenn and her parents, who were also visiting. On Christmas Eve, the hotel had a performance of traditional African dancers. Then for Christmas Day lunch, we went to a restaurant on the beach and had a huge feast. They served us shrimp, chicken, amazing grilled fish, scallops, rice, onion sauce, grilled veggies, etc. It might not sound that exciting to those of you living in the Land of Plenty, but I assure you it was amazing.

Then we headed up to my village! After a six-hour drive from the beach, we arrived in Mbeuleukhe. It seems funny now, but I had actually been nervous that my little siblings would be shy around 4 strange adult toubabs. Oh how wrong I was. Everyone was so excited. The presents that my parents brought didn't hurt.

I was excited for the opportunity to get photos of both of my sets of parents. I know that they'll be photos I'll cherish once I'm gone. And we Pattons got the unique opportunity to get a photo of us in Mbeuleukhe with James, even though he was back in the US...

The Story of James the Horse- at one point last year, my host dad popped his head in my room and asked, "Mariama, what's your younger brother's name in America?" and I responded and then my dad left. Out of curiosity, the next day I asked my dad why he wanted to know James' name. He replied, like it was completely normal, "Oh I wanted to know his name because we have a new male horse;" so about a year ago the Diaw house acquired James the Horse. Everyone calls him James, except they pronounce it like "Jims"

There's James in between Mom and me :)

Dad, James and Me

So, though the real James wasn't with us, we were able to get photos of all of us with James the Horse. We all had a lovely time in my village, but after two nights (of very bad sleep for my Mom and Dad) in-village, we headed to Dakar.

The highlight of Dakar was our trip to Goree Island. Goree Island, just off the coast of Dakar, was used during the African Slave trade. My host uncle set us up with a guide who gave us a great tour... although the great tour was entirely in Wolof, so Fae the Translator worked some overtime that day. Everyone should go online and check out Goree Island. Very interesting.

The view from the ferry

Goree Island

The "door of no return"

Shackles from the slaves

Really cool sand art on Goree Island

The artist with the finished product

Sand art

Our last night was very exciting. Right as we were walking back from our last dinner together, the Pattons and Levins were involved in a mugging! I won't go into a lot of detail. Let's just say that everyone got all of their belongings back, and we were all fine afterward. Needless to say, we all sat and had a much needed glass of wine after that was all done.

I had an amazing time with my family and friends, and I'm so glad that they were able to visit. I was also glad that all of the plans I made (i.e. transportation, hotels, etc.) worked out and that I didn't have any language/translation issues. Thankfully they all came to visit near the end of my service, because it definitely would not have gone as smoothly this time last year. All in all, it was a great time together- and the next time I see my parents, I'll be home FOR GOOD!

Dad's highlight: watching an axle change on the road

Mbeuleukhe Gammou #2-

January 12, 2013 was a BIG day in Mbeuleukhe. It was my village's annual Gammou- a huge religious "learning," in which basically everyone from my village comes back from wherever they're currently living (like Dakar or even abroad) to reunite and celebrate. My wonderful friends Jenn, Mac, Sarah and Tegan all came and braved it with me.

The day of the gammou began with the women cooking (we toubabs were given the job of peeling the skin from about thirty chickens), then getting our fabulous outfits on, greeting people, and drinking lots of soda. The actual religious learning happens really, really late. Jenn and I tried to wait it out and we made it until about 2:30am, but then we had to call it a night. I have no idea when the learning did eventually begin, but I was passed out by then.  I do know that all of us toubabs looked great though.

Skinning chickens is awesome!

Love skinning chickens

Looking cool with our soda cans

Toubabs lookins FIERCE! 

Oh how beautiful we are

The Diaw girls

With Jenn.. love our hats

Hanging out late at night

Just a Couple Months Left-

On March 9th, Senegal and I will share our two-year anniversary together. Time felt like it had been dragging on for a bit during the fall, but now it's flying by! Even though it seems completely unreal, I'm actually starting to prepare my village for the next volunteer that will live there after me. I was the first volunteer in my village, and Senegalese people LOVE comparisons, so from now on any newcomers to Mbeuleukhe will have to live up to their first toubab, Mariama.

I have a Close of Service (COS) conference in February, and that's when I'll choose my actual end date. I want to stay long enough to host my replacement on their visit to Mbeuleulkhe, so chances are I'll be out of here by the end of April. There's a pretty good chance that a group of us might squeeze in one more trip before we head back to the US; but even if that happens, I should still be getting back by early May.

I can't believe it's almost time to go. I know that I'll miss my family here, and that there are a lot of things that I'll miss about Senegal, but I'm SO EXCITED to be coming home! I know I haven't mentioned it very much on this blog, but living here has been a really trying experience. It's been hard. I'm so ecstatic that I'm approaching my two-year mark and that I still have (most of) my wits about me. I might be a crying wreck when it comes time to leave my village, but I'm definitely going to have a huge smile on my face when I touch down in the US!

And some shout-outs...

Before I go, I have a few shout-outs I need to make...

To my beautiful Aunt and Godmother, Cath- Congratulations, I'm so happy for you, and I wish I could have been there. Love you!

To my silly, soccer star Goddaughter, Tess- Happy 13th birthday! I can't believe you're a teenager now! I can't wait to hang out once I'm back home. I'll make sure we spend plenty of quality time together :)

As always, thank you so much to everyone who has sent me any packages, letters, cards, e-mails, etc. You have no idea how much it means to get something in the mail here, or even online.

Love and miss you all!