Twelfth Report


Shannon has called many times in the three months since the 11th Report in March, and the good news is that her health has been fine.  The rest has been a series of ups and downs.  
     When she is in Ndioum at the Regional Peace Corps Center she usually sounds upbeat and happy.  There she is with other PCVs (all Americans, of course), the language is English, the food is familiar, they have electricity, running water including a toilet that flushes, and an actual refrigerator.  In Ndioum life is good.  
     Back in Seno Palel village life presents some real challenges.  This is indeed a difficult time of adjustment.  

. . . what a coincidence. . . just as I was typing that last sentence the phone rang, and it was Shannon requesting that we cancel her credit card because her wallet had been stolen. 
     She was on a crowded bus with her backpack stowed safely under her seat, and when she arrived at her destination her wallet and sunglasses were gone.   When I commented that if it was a crowded bus, then the thief obviously had many witnesses watching and allowing him to do the deed, and Shannon wasn't surprised about that.  On another frequently traveled bus trip the driver told her the fare was 450 francs when she knew it was 350 francs, and others on the bus chimed in and agreed that it was 450 francs. . . just for her, apparently.
     In addition to sunglasses, various cards, and contact information, she also lost $80(US), over a month's salary, an unusually large amount to be carrying.  While she will get reimbursed for that amount by the Peace Corps when she files a police report, she was sad to have rewarded the thief so well and inspire even more theft. 

I'd better tell something positive next.  
     One of the best incidents we've heard from Shannon so far was her story about saving a little one-year-old boy's life by doing the Heimlich maneuver on him.  When she saw him choking she turned him over and rapped on his back as she'd been trained, and the food flew out.  As she was doing it the people around her laughed to see her beating a choking child.  But afterwards, when they realized what had just happened, Shannon taught them all to do the Heimlich.  So now a little fellow named Abu is alive today because of Shannon.  

That's the only hero story so far.  

Most of the phone calls from Shannon include some comment on how she is progressing with Pulaar.  Occasionally she is pleased with how it is coming, but usually she is complaining about how difficult it is and how slowly she is learning.  Success in her role in the village depends on being able to communicate, so it is terribly important.  She can now answer direct questions and convey basic information, but she can't really carry on a conversation.  She is looking forward to being able to say whatever she wants to, not just what she needs to.  

To back up a bit, in late March when Shannon returned to the village after being gone so long with her sickness, she called from Sinthiou-Bamambe and was almost elated.  It was going far better than she had anticipated, her Pulaar was improving, a package had arrived, and life was good.  She concluded that she must have just needed a vacation.

When she called just five days later it was a different story.  She was calling from Ndioum, usually a happy place full of American things, but she had just endured an eight-hour bus ride.  It was exceedingly crowded, smelly, and dusty; the excrement from the chickens and goats on the roof regularly filtered down onto the passengers, and it was unbearably hot, easily 110 degrees.  Just an ordinary ride on public transportation.   
     She was h
omesick, a rare feeling for Shannon, something she doesn't feel when she is in her village, Seno Palel, because it is so different from home Mars.  But the very worst part of living in Senegal, she said, is forever being screamed at.  They scream "toubab" (white person) at her incessantly, both children and adults (mostly little boys), even in her village.  She hates that word intensely. 
     Shannon says she will never again complain about celebrities' rudeness to their fans.   

In Ndioum with her fellow PCVs she was discouraged to learn how well the others were doing with Pulaar, and most had even started their work.  She was realizing the price of being away from the village so long with her illness, and it was frustrating to be so far behind.  

The next phone call from Shannon was equally down.  Her Pulaar was horrible, malnourishment from eating only rice was making her moody, and the heat was unimaginable.  It was so hot that it's painful; the description she'd heard previously of the hot wind feeling like a hair dryer was accurate.  
     She was becoming culturally insensitive and rude (this is Shannon?), sometimes shortening her greetings to a few sentences rather than the expected five minute ritual.  And she was regressing to American directness rather than the appropriate Senegalese indirect communication.  When someone asks for money or her clothing or some other possession (which is not rude in Senegal), she just says no (VERY rude in Senegal) rather than answering that she will give it to them tomorrow.  
     One piece of rather twisted good news was that Shannon's friend Tunisha (a PCV living in a nearby village) had a Senegalese friend visiting from up north.  As the woman shadowed Tunisha for almost two weeks she was appalled to observe what the toubabs have to put up with.  Shannon was glad to see her plight appreciated!

Shannon called on Mother's Day (5-14-00) and was only able to talk a couple of minutes because there was a line behind her waiting for the phone.  She was calling from Sinthiou-Bamambe, as usual, where she goes to fetch her mail, check in at the Health Post, and use the telecenter to call us.   But it was Sunday, so the only reason for her being there was to call her mom, and I was humbled that she went through all that just for me.
     Her news that day was that her 7-year-old sister had just been promised in marriage, though she won't marry until she menstruates.  Shannon was clearly shaken by this.  
     During most conversations we usually ask questions to find out how things are going, but during this phase of Shannon's experience she was clearly emotionally fragile.  We didn't want to add to her stress by asking the wrong question, so we just let her tell what she wanted to.

Is this a sufficiently gruesome picture? 

The next call was on Shannon's 24th birthday (5-19-00) from a telecenter near Derek's house, a two hour bus ride from Seno Palel.  Cira had organized a party, and all four of the PCVs in the area were there:  Derek, Cira, Tunisha, and Shannon.  Since Derek is an urban volunteer he has electricity, running water, and a refrigerator.  The menu for the birthday feast was egg salad, pasta salad, cookies and Rice Krispy bars.  Shannon had made the bars herself, and although they were a little weird because of the fruity marshmallows, Cira was glad to have something to put the candles into. 
     Her good news was that she had cut herself badly the week before and it didn't get infected; she is essentially healthy except for rashes and fungi.  
     She sounded very happy that day.  

A week or so later she called and again sounded good.  She started out by saying, "You always want to hear stories.  Here's a good one."  She then proceeded to tell about the spider in her hut.
     One night she heard something crawling around the hut, so she turned on the flashlight and there was the biggest spider she had ever seen.  Far bigger than the tarantula in her room in Mexico.  Bigger than her fist.  When she told the Senegalese about it the next day they told her it was harmless.  When she told some PC people about it they said it was NOT harmless.  It is called a Scorpion Horse Spider because it carries scorpions on its back.  Later when she asked some different villagers about it they agreed that it was very bad.  The scorpions' sting is very painful and has been known to kill small children.  The next night she again heard movement in the hut and shined the flashlight in the direction of the sound.  There was another Scorpion Horse Spider -- but a much smaller one this time.  

Her mood was upbeat that day, and she was rather gleeful at being able to shock us with such a "good story."  Things may be picking up.  

Her Pulaar is getting better, and she is glad that her work is beginning.  The villagers have requested that she provide them with some malaria prevention information before the rainy season begins, so she will be researching some visual aids to bring to the village.  
     She is looking forward to the beginning of the rainy season (end of June) because it will bring a break to the intense heat.  The wind has already died down, though there are still gusts to 20 mph which is most difficult because the air is full of sand, so it is difficult to see or breathe.  

Another baby in the compound has been named Hawa, so now there are four Hawa Daffs:  this new baby, her first namesake (Fati Mata's baby), the 13-year-old Hawa, and Shannon.  Senegalese babies' names and gender are not announced until they are a week old, and Shannon gave this baby a dress for her baptism and naming ceremony.  Another typical baby gift is an old panja (like a sarong) which may be used for a baby blanket or sling or diaper.  

Not too long ago she walked home from Sinthiou-Bamambe rather than waiting for the bus because the children harass her so much.  When she got back to the village her family reprimanded her for walking home alone.  They said that people will see her white skin and think she is rich and rob her.  Her sister-in-law and good friend Fati Mata said, "You must be careful -- this isn't America!"

Thirteenth Report



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