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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ano hoora Suumaye?

This Saturday, the 28th, marks the first day of Ramadan, the most holy month of the Islamic calendar.  Ramadan is seen as a time for practicing Muslims (ie, everyone in my community) to deep-clean their lives.  From sunup to sundown for the next month, my neighbors in Teyel will not eat or drink water (or any other liquids), and they will also show restraint in all other aspects of their lives.  They will avoid speaking ill of others, listening to gossip or obscene words, or going to unholy places.  They will focus on being better people and strengthening their relationship with Allah.

About three times a day for the past few weeks, I gotten asked in Pulaar if I would be fasting during Ramadan..."Ano hoora Suumaye?"

I'm going to try it.

Fasting for Ramadan appeals to me in the same way joining the Peace Corps, bungee jumping, SCUBA diving, and running a half marathon appealed to me.  It's a new experience.  I wonder what it will feel like.  I think I could learn from it.  I don't know whether I'm capable of doing it or not, but this is the perfect opportunity to try.  I will probably never be immersed in a devout Islamic community during Ramadan again.  By the time next Ramadan rolls around, I will be busy working with projects in my community, but right now, I'm focusing on language and community integration.  What better way to integrate than to suffer along with everyone?

During Ramadan, families wake up between 4:30 and 5:30.  They drink as much water and eat as much food as they can before the sun rises.  They use the mornings to work hard before they get too hungry and thirsty, which in my community means they go into the peanut or cotton fields to plow, weed, and water without any tractors or chemical herbicides for assistance.   In the afternoons, they rest, nap, reflect on their spirituality, and spend time with their friends and families.  At dusk, families gather together to break the fast with dates and bread (traditionally) or whatever else is available.  They eat and drink late into the night.  Other PCVs have told me that their villages turn almost nocturnal during Ramadan, which makes complete sense to me.  I’d rather nap through the hottest part of the day than sit through it thinking of how thirsty I am.

I think Ramadan sounds like fun, albeit in a slightly masochistic way, and I think if I participate fully it might help me bond with my family and everyone else in my community.  Worst case scenario: we’ll all be hangry together.

Despite my best intentions, I might not be able to go a whole month without drinking water during daylight hours. I am a white-as-milk Minnesota farm girl who has been struggling hard in the 115-degree afternoons here. I might give up after a couple weeks, or maybe even after a couple days.  I know I’ll regret it if I don’t give it my best effort, though.

Talk to you all later!  I’ll keep you updated!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pulaar Lesson

I speak Pulaar 100% of the time in village.  In Teyel, people speak two main dialects: Pulafuta and Fulakunda.  They’re similar enough that I can understand both, but my comprehension is minimal at best (it has only been a few months, after all).  Sometimes it’s overwhelming being submerged by constant waves of speech that I can’t comprehend.  For the most part, though, I love it.  Pulaar is a fun language.  It’s beautiful to hear.  It’s light and lilting, with lots of soft consonants and “anni” sounds, and none of the harsh guttural “ach”s of a Germanic language (although “ach”s are fun too!)  It’s very different from English, which makes it fascinating to learn, etymologically.  Here are some of my favorite things about Pulaar so far:

Firstly and most importantly, greetings.  Pulaars love to state the obvious.  The first thing they say to you will probably be your first and last name.  You respond to this by either stating their name (if you know it) or by saying “nam”…yes, that’s my name.  Next, they’ll say “A fini?”(you woke up?) “A ├▒alli?”(you’re spending the afternoon?) “a hiri?” (you’re spending the evening?) or simply “a 2oo?”(you’re here?) or “a joodo?” (you’re sitting?).  If you’re actually doing something when they greet you, they’ll state it.  “A boppi girte?” (you’re shelling peanuts?) “A tuppi ndiyam?” (you’re getting water from the well?)  The response for any of these greetings is “jam tan,” which literally means “peace only.”  They’ll then say “tanna finani?”(evil did not awaken?)  “tanaa ├▒allani?” (evil is not spending the afternoon?) “tanaa hiranni?”(evil is not spending the evening?) or simply “tanaa alaa?” (no evil?) and you’’ll say “jam tan.” (peace only).  Either they’ll acknowledge that it’s all good with a slow “Yoooooo” or they’ll ask about your family, the heat, whether you slept well, if you've eaten lunch yet…the answer to everything is “jam tan” and a smile.  Peace only.

They use the words “waawi” and “waawaa” a lot.  Literally, that means “can” and “can’t,” but it’s used to a greater extent in Pulaar than in English.  I’ve been told that I waawi yimde and pulaar (I can sing and I can pulaar), but also that I waawi saba (I can skirt?  That they like my skirt?  That I wear a skirt well? Either way, I think it's good) and that I waawi gutee baawo (I can braided hairstyle).  Of course, there are also dozens of things I waawaa.  I waawaa lecciri (I can’t couscous), I waawaa amgol (I can’t dance) and I waawaa pulaar.  Sometimes I both waawi and wawaa pulaar in the same two-minute conversation.

There are two words for “the” in French (la and le) and three in german (der, die, das).  Pulaar has twenty three words for “the”, and those words also mean “that” or “those.”  For example, “the boat” is “laana kaa” – “that boat” is “kaa laana.”  You can’t ask “whose is that” or “what is that” without knowing which article to use.  It’s confusing, but fun, like a puzzle.

The word for “very” is “buy.”  To say something is pretty, you say it’s weydi, and to say it’s very pretty, it’s weydi buy.  The word for a person is neddo.  To say someone is nice or pleasant to be around, you say they’re “neddo buy”…literally, they’re very much a person.


Pulaar is verb-heavy.  There’s a verb for everything.  There are separate verbs for to wash your face, to wash your feet, to wash yourself, to wash your clothes, and to wash your dishes, instead of just using one verb that means “wash.”  If you don’t have a verb that means exactly what you want, you make it using infixes.  An infix is like a prefix or a suffix, but it goes in the middle of a verb.  For example, the infix “inkin” means “to pretend to.”  “mi faami” means “I understand,” and “mi faaminkini” means “I pretend to understand.”  This can make for some pretty precise verbs, such as “mi loontinkini”, meaning “I pretend to carry on my head.”  The reliance on verbs is the hardest thing about pulaar so far.  If someone uses a specific verb that I don’t know, I have no idea what they want.  I can’t figure the verb out through context using the other words in the sentence because often there are no other words in the sentence.

The word “mbeewa” means goat, and sounds like the sound a goat makes.  “Mbaalu” is sheep, and sounds like a sheep. “Liyyu” means hiccup, and sounds like a hiccup. The word “mala” doesn't sound like anything, but it means both “luck” and “butterfly”, which is adorable.

I think that’s enough Pulaar for one day, haha.  As always, thanks for reading!  There are only three weeks left to donate to the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship fund, so get on that if you’re interested.  The donation page is here and any amount helps. No donation is too small!  

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Little things I've been up to....

I haven’t written in a while because A) not too much has been going on that felt worthwhile to document and B) the internet went down last time I made a trek to a town with electricity (right in the middle of an attempted skype call with my grandma - rude.)  But, I want to get in the habit of writing even when nothing big happens, or else I might far so far behind that the task of catching up will become daunting…and I don’t want that.  So:

Little things that have happened in the past week:

  • I got my first real Senegal illness.  I don’t want to get too graphic, so I’ll just suffice it to say that I couldn’t leave my hole in the ground for longer than a half hour for about for 2 days.  Since this is Senegal, I of course had a steady stream of visitors coming in to sit with me in my room during this time, even though all I wanted was to be on my own because I felt disgusting.  Apparently you learn to love never being alone…
  • There’s a USAID hut-spraying program making its rounds throughout southern Senegal, treating residencies with insecticide, since rainy season will start any day now and with the rains will come malaria-carrying mosquitoes.  The sprayers told me I needed to move all of my stuff outside and take everything off of the walls so they could spray, then leave everything outside for the entire day after the spraying.  I then told them I chose to opt out of the spraying, because my walls have a ton of stuff on them (see previous blog post here) and I didn't want to take it all down.  Plus, the sun was already waaaaay too hot, and I have more possessions than anyone in my village. It would have taken me at least an hour of sweaty work to get it all outside, where all my stuff would be ogled all day and everyone would have demanded that I give things to them.  Additionally, since I’m a Peace Corps volunteer, I’m on a mandatory anti-malarial medication, and I sleep under an insecticide-treated mosquito net every night, so my risk of getting malaria is very minimal.  The sprayers weren't too concerned, but by that evening EVERYONE in my village knew that I hadn't had my hut sprayed and was teasing me about it, which I think hurt my reputation as a health worker here.  I should have just sucked it up and moved my stuff outside.  Hopefully everyone will forget soon.
  •  My oldest “brother,” Bubacar, has a daughter, Suffee, who looks like she can’t be more than 14.  She is unmarried, and she was very pregnant when I met her last week.  Two days ago she had her baby.  Babies here don’t officially get a name until their dennebou (naming ceremony) when they’re a week or so old, but my host mother and niece both confided in me that the little one will be my tokara (namesake…AKA another Kadiatou Sabaly).  I am honored, of course, but I wish there was a way to give me this honor without sidling this kid with a name that dozens of people in the community have already.  Nothing is certain until the naming ceremony, but if she is going to be my tokara, I’m sure I’ll have regular updates about the cute lil bastard in coming weeks, months, and years.  I went to Suffee’s hut the morning after the birth to give her a gift (soap, baby powder, laundry detergent, and a few packages of cookies, because the poor girl had to give birth without any anesthetic, so I figured she needed some chocolate) and I found that in my community it’s the mother’s job to greet and entertain a steady stream of visitors literally hours after she just gave birth.  Suffee was serving tea and allowing the whole neighborhood to hold and ogle the new baby, when I’m sure all she wanted to do was sleep.  Poor kid.
  • I have a whole other blog post about the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship, so please look there for information about it or if you want to donate money (please donate money!).  I have been working with a PCV in a neighboring village to visit the girls’ homes and interview them about why education is important to them. We want to make sure the girls chosen are actually dedicated to continuing their education and aren't just looking for a handout.
  • I somehow became president and founder of an English club in my town’s middle school.  School in Senegal is big on rote memorization, so the kids are great at grammar (they're better at "passive voice" than I am...), but not so great at reading comprehension or speaking.  We meet every Monday and Saturday.  They bring their school notebooks, which are full of perfectly copied paragraphs from their English class at school.  Unfortunately they actually understand very little of it.  Usually I write one of the paragraphs on the board and we go over what it means in a mixture of English, Pulaar, and pantomiming.  Usually I learn as much as they do, especially on the day where the paragraph was a story about a mother whose son had a cocaine problem and the son refused to seek treatment until his dealer died of an overdose.  It's fun to pantomime dying of a cocaine overdose in front of a room of 14 year old boys.
  • In the afternoons I usually wander around the neighborhood greeting people, drinking tea and eating mangoes and practicing new Pulaar words.  Being a second volunteer in an area with many other volunteers is harder than I thought it would be.  It’s no longer novel or exciting to have a foreigner in town – they’ve been there, done that.  They’re not delighted that I can speak a little bit of their language, because the foreigner that was here two months ago was fluent, as are all the others in nearby villages.  Most interactions end with a disappointed head shake and a “A waawaa Pulaar!” (you  can’t pulaar!), which I laughingly agree with….but it still hurts when that’s all I hear, day after day, no matter how hard I’m trying.  On the other hand, it’s motivating me to study a lot, so that’s something.
I’m gonna leave it here.  Hope everyone’s doing well!

~Kadiatou (apparently I've been spelling my name wrong for the last month, whoops.  It's still pronounced "Kadjatu.")

Michelle Sylvester Scholarship 2014-2015

In much of the developing world, there are few incentives to stay in school, but many reasons to drop out.  This is especially true for young women.  I have found during my (admittedly short) time here in southern Senegal that my village is no exception. As girls get older, their responsibilities at home increase.  Here, girls as young as 10 take turns doing the family’s laundry and cooking the dinners.  They are also responsible for child care, cleaning, and helping in their family’s fields.  Even if they do find the time to attend school, education is not free in Senegal, and the $10/year fee is too much for many families to afford, particularly if they have several children.  If the students’ families do make financial sacrifices so their girls can attend, there is tremendous peer pressure amongst the girls themselves to drop out and start families of their own.  Most girls here have their first child around 16. 

I’m a huge believer in girls’ education.  Literacy can open doors in a young woman’s life.  The written word can expose a young woman to a wealth of knowledge beyond what she could experience firsthand.  The ability to read a book and learn from it, to be transported to another world by words on a page, is something we in the western world take for granted. Pulaar is not a widely spoken language, so if girls do not attend school to learn French, they cannot expand their horizons beyond West Africa.  There are few novels written in Pulaar, and fewer still textbooks or technical websites to allow the girls to learn about science, technology, engineering, or math.  Even if a girl does drop out of school to become a mother at a young age, as is the cultural norm here, the more education she obtains before that happens, the better.  A child’s first and most important teacher is their mother.  The education of young women therefore has untold implications for the betterment of future generations, in addition to the obvious increase in quality of life that an education can bring to the girl herself. 

The Michele Sylvester Scholarship is a Senegal-wide annual Peace Corps project established in 1993 and named for a Peace Corps Volunteer who did a lot of work with girls’ education.  Its purpose is to help close the education gender gap.  We as volunteers are supposed to choose three girls from 6eme, 5eme, and 4eme (the equivalent of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade in the states) that show academic promise but who struggle financially, then to raise money to pay their school fees for the 2014/2015 school year.  In addition to helping the girls financially, we offer the MSS scholars mentoring and encouragement as they continue their studies, and we organize events for them throughout the school year.  Being chosen as a MSS scholar is an honor, and younger girls look up to MSS scholarship recipients as role models.

Sadly, here in Teyel, we were not able to choose three girls from 4eme because there are only two girls left in the grade.  The rest have dropped out, eliminating their possibilities to attend university and securing their futures as housewives or fruit vendors.  We instead chose four girls from 6eme so there are still nine girls total.

Instructions on how to donate are on the bottom of this post.  Girls in the developing world need all the support they can get to keep them attending their classes.  One hundred percent of your donation will go to pay these nine girls’ school fees.  Twenty US dollars a year may not seem like a lot of money, but it is hard for these girls’ families to come up with it.  Consider that a kilogram of rice is about fifty cents, and that the inability of some families to pay that is a major cause of food insecurity here.

The nine girls we selected are below, along with a little information about each one.

6eme – (equivalent of 6th grade)

Kadiatou Gnama Diallo is an only child.  She was born in Kolda mem, the capital city of the Kolda province, but now lives in Teyel.  She’s 13 years old.  Her father’s a teacher and her mom is a housewife.  When she gets older, she wants to help schools by increasing materials available to the children. 

Adama Balde is one of 10 children.  Her father is a farmer, and her mom is a housewife.  She’s 13 years old.  She wants to be a doctor to earn money to help her parents.  If she could change one thing about the role of women in Senegal, it would be that she wants women to have less work to do.  French is her favorite subject in school, but she says she likes studying everything else, too.  She says she studies for at least 3 hours every night.

Mariama Sabaly is one of six children.  Her father is a farmer and her mother is a housewife.  She’s 15 years old.  She says that she has lots of work to do at home, and can’t attend school until she completes all her chores, so sometimes she has trouble attending classes.  She has had to re-take a couple grades.  She wants to help women in Senegal raise money by financing activities for them. 

Housseye Mballo is a twin, and one of 7 children.  Her father is a farmer and her mom is a housewife.  She’s 13 years old.  She wants to be a professor when she graduates, and if she could change one thing about school in Senegal she would convince all women of the importance of sending their kids to school.  Her twin dropped out of school last year, and 2 of her older siblings have dropped out already as well. Her signature on the scholarship forms was a dollar sign ($). 

5eme - equivalent of 7th grade

Djenabou Balde is the 14-year old daughter of a farmer and a housewife.  She commutes to school every day from Dinguira, a village about 4 kilometers away, by foot or on a bicycle.  She says she’s attending school because she wants to get a good job so she can send home money to support her younger siblings.  She says that girls in Senegal need to realize that education is their only option if they want to have a bright future.

Aminatou (Ami) Sabaly is one of 8 kids.  Her father’s a farmer and her mom’s a housewife.  She comes to Teyel for school, and during school vacations she lives in Velingara, a neighboring city.  She wants to be a teacher at a primary school after she graduates, and when she’s older she wants to help women in Senegal by organizing women’s groups in the community.  She says that women love to work and they are very motivated.  She’s 16 years old.  She insisted on having her picture taken outside.

Mariama Dioulde Diao is the 14 year old daughter of a farmer and a housewife.  She commutes to school every day from Trao, a village a few kilometers away.  If she could change one thing about the role of women in Senegal, she would urge young women to wait before getting married and having children.  She says it can be dangerous for the health of a 12-year old to give birth.  She wants to become the minister of education of Senegal.  "Miijo Mawngo," she admitted with a shy smile.  Big ideas.


4eme = equivalent of 8th grade

Aissatou Balde is 16 years old.  Her father’s a farmer and her mom’s a housewife.  She’s one of ten kids.  She commutes to school every day from Dinguira, a village several kilometers away, by foot or on a bicycle.  She wants to be a French teacher when she graduates.  If she could change one thing about education in Senegal, it would be that she wants girls to have more confidence in themselves and their abilities.  She wants all girls to insist on attending school instead of dropping out once they get husbands.

Aminata Balde is our oldest girl at 17 years old.  She is one of 22 children living in her compound (her father has three wives.)  Her father’s a farmer and her mom’s a housewife.  She lives in Biaro, a neighboring community about a half-mile away, and walks to Teyel for school.  She wants to be a doctor when she graduates.  If she could change one thing about education in Senegal, she would change peoples’ attitudes about women.  She says that women act subordinate and need to get more motivation to attend school to better themselves.


If you choose to make a donation of any amount, there is an easy-to-use online portal here.  Put the amount of your donation in the little box on the right-hand side.  After you hit "submit," it will take you to the donation page. 
In the “comments” section of the donation page, please write “This donation is to support MSS scholarships in PCV Barbara Michel’s village of Teyel - Kolda”.
Note: If you do not make this designation in the comments section, the money will not be designated for my school – it will be added to the country—wide pool. 


Anything helps, no matter how small.  Thanks!