Friday, October 26, 2007

Tea Conversations

Each evening I drink green tea with a couple of male neighbors who are unmarried in their 30's, men who worked in the cocoa and coffee fields of Cote D'Ivoire.

What do we talk about?

One asked, "Is it true that the US government pays you if you don't have a job?"

We discussed what is the minimum a family of 4 needs to live on if no emergencies arise? We calculated $120/month and that is still living pretty poorly.

Who makes the most money in the village? People who sell alcohol and gas. Women who sell fried fish and doughnuts to school kids make some money compared to other market women who sell dolo, the local millet beer, or who sell rice and sauce.

I rarely see men and women sitting talking to each other for long periods of time. How do husbands get to know their wives? I learned marriage is more of a functional union. Your same-sex friends are who you socialize with, get emotional support from, gossip with and have intellectual debates with.

And love?
The pains of the heart of rejected love yes, do keep those so inflicted tossing and turning throughout the night.

And dating?
When market day comes people see a variety of new faces, some they find interesting, having a passing conversation here and there. And if a serious interest is felt, the man will send a representative to the woman's family. Gotta makes sure there aren't any conflicts between the two families before pursuing marriage. Think Romeo and Juliet.

One asked if I had heard about the Californian fires. I only listen to the BBC when I feel lonely or a sleepless night seems long. It's been a weeks since I turned on the radio.

We discussed China. Is it the next super power? What will the US do? Will Taiwan be the spark of WW III?

Can we go to mars?

We argued about whether it is possible to lose bone mass and argued about why muscles get sore. We each have our own ideas based on info we have heard and read. Are my ideas more valid just coz I come from a developed country with internet? Or are both of our ideas false and are only true because we believe them to be?

The October Rhythm of Village Life

6 am
Get ready for work and bike to school
7 am
Teach 4 hours
11 am
Cook a huge pot of beans, eat guavas, and watermelon,
read, write, draw, lesson plan, wash dishes
16 h
Go for a run, meditate, and shower
17 h
Have tea with neighbors
Write, listen to music, and go to bed

Images that Remind me of Home

October 24

  • a toddler walking around in his father's flip flops, 4 sizes too big
  • a little girl picking out the onions and the green parts and the macaroni she's never seen before to eat only the familiar beans, a little pile of the unwanted beside her on the ground
  • the older sister making the younger laugh in glee playing horsey and airplane, the youngster upon the older's shins
  • the younger girl using her best defense biting down during a wrestling match against her 3 year old rival

Oh Boy!

They say the season has only begun.
They say it'll be so good, chilled just like out of a fridge.
They say 50 wagons full will come to market instead of the current 10.

They say watermelon is here till Christmas.

Maybe I should grow some.

My Daily Visitor

Brigitte is a girl of 15 who has been hired to bring me 2 bidons of water from the well daily.

She is smart, one of the top in her 8th grade class. She loves telling funny stories including all of the sound effects. She is a skinny youngster with a closely buzzed head who loves clothes and would rather buy a tailored made outfit than buy a compass for math, but she'll sacrifice her wants and buy medicine for her brother who has a growing infected sore on his leg.

She has all of the answers. I cut onions and garlic wrong. I dig worms out of sweet potatoes wrong. She takes my potatoes and does it for me. She is an excellent cook who knows how to do a lot of tasty dishes with so little. She loves to contradict me, but given a logical explanation she'll accept my reasoning.

She is a devout Catholic who loves to sing and dance and knows how to balance a cup of water on her head while shaking her hips to music.

I wonder what her future will bring:

a home in the village with a husband and children
a high school education
a college education
a paying job that is not farmer or market lady?

Night Visitors

Wap Wap
its curved threatening tail
spread upon the ground
tasty guts for the ants

It's actually quite entertaining watching the life that light attracts as long as it all stays on the other side of the net. I especially like watching the lizards line up for the insect buffet.

School is Funny

October 16

Last Monday my first day of class, the student's second week of school, I went not knowing what I was going to teach. The teachers' schedules hadn't been done yet. The principal worked hard over the weekend and that Monday I learned that I would be teaching 18 hours: 10 hours of math to two 8th grades (60 students per class), 5 hours of English to one of the 8th grades, and 3 hours of English to the 9th grade (90 students).

I threw all of my 8th graders into one classroom, 3 to 4 to a table and gave a review lesson on plotting points, flying by the seat of my pants.

There was very little teaching my first week of school for several reasons:

1) There were only two teachers for the whole school, both of us math and science teachers. Two teachers cannot keep a school with 6 classes and over 400 students running. We sent the students home early after teaching for a couple of hours.

2) The second day of class I could not erase my previous day's math review lesson because there were no erasers to be found in the village. I left that class went into the other 8th grade classroom which had a clean blackboard, gave a lesson, threw those students out, and brought in the other 8th graders for the same lesson.

3) On Friday, the students and I all came to school and were told to go home. It was a holiday, Ramadan.

4) On Monday, we all came to school and were told to go home. It was a holiday, the 20th anniversary of the president being in power.

Today I finally gave my first real lesson teaching 4 hours of symmetry to 8th graders.

Finally maybe school has started. Or maybe tomorrow I'll be sent home again. I am glad unlike some of the students I don't have to bike in 10 km to go to school.

October 10

You have a tasty sweet potato yellow curry that has been simmering for hours. It's too spicy to eat alone, but when you open your rice container bugs galore.

What do you do?

October 9

I've been away from the village for about 2 weeks. It has changed.

My garden is brown.
The rains have stopped to the dismay of the farmers of unharvested dying millet.
The flies have disappeared.
It's turned hot.
Watermelon has appeared.
School has started.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Last night in Dakar

Walking back to the hotel, I was full of raw fish and raw garlic. The Korean food was served with a red sauce, leaves of lettuce, and halved raw garlic cloves. I made wraps with the surprising ingredients that mixed well with each other. I was super happy with my last meal in Dakar, a $20 splurge well worth the taste of melting fish.

The 15 block walk to my 6th floor hotel room was surreal.

I walked down the middle of the street instead of the earlier weaving through the moving masses of car jams, carts, people, motorcycles, trucks. I walked unobstructed compared to the earlier feelings of being part of a video game hugging parked vehicles watching my feet and the protruding side mirrors of taxis as they beeped their way through narrow passageways.

It was a moment of silence.

The heavens were darkening with the setting sun. The sky was full of dark birds circling above. The air was full of prayers sung from loud speakers.

It was a moment of religious silence.
Everything seemed to be praying.

The narrow alley like streets below 2 story buildings were lined by non-moving huge trucks stacked high with bags of onions, by resting metal carts, lined by rows of men facing Mecca bowing in prayer, full of wooden benches of men breaking fast with coffee and sandwiches a feeling of a quiet rush to fill empty stomachs and wet dry throats.

I felt a sense of deep reverence, a sense of deep solidarity as a city prayed and broke fast.