|June through August, 2000
Shannon has come a long way in the past several months. She has
definitely gotten over the hump of adjusting to being in Africa. Her
health is fine, the weather is better, she is getting used to the cultural
differences, and she can finally communicate in Pulaar. Those have all
been huge issues.
There are still challenges and adventures, but
the remaining 16 months in Africa dont seem as interminable as they
She has planted four trees: a mango, a lime, a
eucalyptus, and a nebadai. A village horse ate all the leaves off her mango
tree, and because it was the final straw at the end of a very difficult
day, when she saw her tree stripped of leaves, she cried. Thinking that her
sadness was totally because of the tree, her cousins husband traveled to
another town just to buy her another mango tree. She was very touched.
There are several names that we hear repeated in our
conversations with Shannon. One is Cira, her 12-year-old sister. Cira
speaks French, unlike many people in the village, so they have been able
to communicate from the beginning.
She planted all four of her trees from seeds, and
although the mango tree hadnt been doing all that well anyway, her
nebadai has been thriving. Now she is regarded as the "tree
lady" and the villagers approach her for advice on growing things and
request seeds from her. It would be particularly good if a crop of nebadai
could be established because it has very nutritious leaves.
Another one of her roles as a Rural Health Care
worker (her official job title) has been to teach the village how to make
an insect repellent with leaves of the neem tree, a common tree in
Senegal. Another part of her role has been to clean up the village
and get rid of places where standing water can breed mosquitoes. As a Peace
Corps worker Shannon takes malaria medicine regularly, but it isnt
available to the whole village.
One day Shannon was sitting
around with Cira and her (real) sister, 7-year-old Jainaba, who was recently promised in marriage. Jainaba is
just learning French, so she can understand somewhat but not
communicate at all. Cira was telling Shannon that Jainaba really has two
potential husbands vying for her, bringing the family milk and other
gifts, in something of a bidding war. Cira then added that they were both
very, very black (NOT a good thing), taunting her sister. All Jainaba
could do with her limited French was sputter and fume, but she clearly
wanted to dispute Cira's version of the story. Just a typical scenario
of a big sister teasing a little sister.
Shannon told us this story on Fathers Day:
Shannon's family called her "x" one day when
she gave them their change from a purchase she had made for them. When she asked for a translation
(from Pulaar to French, of course) they told her it meant
"responsible." But when she looked it up later in her
Pulaar-English dictionary it gave the definition as "raised well."
Was it just a coincidence that she told this on June 18th, Father's Day?
On June 21st the phone rang at 4:30 a.m. It was Shannon
calling to tell us the big news: the rainy season had started!
She was at PCV Tanisha's house for the night when it
started. It was like a wind storm at first, but then the rain came. Tanisha's
hut is constructed differently than Shannon's. It has a flat roof
supported by a beam and covered with cement. The support beam cracked
which caused the roof to sag and finally break open, and the rain poured
in as strong as a heavy shower. She said it
was "pretty grav, ...severe", using (then interpreting) her
Franglais. Poor Tanisha had a mid-shin deep puddle that was down to
a small puddle by morning.
Last year the rainy season lasted until
early November, but that was unseasonably late.
Back home in Seno Palel, her own village, she found her own hut
to be almost perfect.
Her mud walls and grass roof held up well except for a small place where a
little bit of mud melted off the top of the wall. She was VERY
pleased with her hut.
When she told her family about Tanisha's hut
flooding they were very proud that they had built her a
good one. Shannon's is a more traditional design than Tanisha's;
apparently there is
a good reason that they have been building their houses that way for
thousands of years.
The place came alive with the rains. The insects
were incredible and the toads
sounded like Canadian Geese. She saw more ants along the road on her way
back to Seno Palel than she has seen since she's been there. In about three days the
mosquitoes were expected to come, and along with that comes the increased
concern for malaria.
Shannon's parting words were, "It was all so incredible!
We're living in AFRICA!"
Shannon's call on the 4th of July was timed
perfectly. It was right after the parade and just before we all headed out for the
afternoon. The whole family listened to her
on the speaker phone,
The American community in Senegal had celebrated two
days ago on July 2nd. When the Americans get together they
speak a very strange pidgin of Pulaar and French and English.
As John wandered around the neighborhood with a
high-power portable phone Shannon heard, "How are you holding
up?" and "We miss you," and
"Can you smell my brat?"
She learned of one friend's new job as a pilot and
the engagement of another; she spoke to two pregnant friends and one very
new dad. Those were the things that her friends
in their 20s at home are doing.
Two people mentioned the spider story, so apparently
they are reading these Reports. One asked about the weather. While
it was much cooler since the rains came, before that it had been around 130
degrees. (Later, on
July 24th, she reported that she had recently seen 80 degrees, and it was almost always under 100 degrees.)
Sara asked Shannon if she liked the food any
better. She said yes, at least she doesn't dislike it any longer. The couscous is actually even enjoyable with certain
sauces on it, and even better than the rice. Shannon's favorite sauce is a deep fried
tomato sauce, something like a red oil with tomato flavoring.
One time Shannon commented to the women about how
long it takes to prepare the couscous, and they agreed, but they added,
"but it is SO good, isn't it!"
Our conversation ended abruptly when Shannon said
that the power had gone out and the generator kicked on, so she couldn't
hear us any longer. We all shouted our good-byes.
A few days later Shannon called from the Regional Peace Corps Center
in Ndioum where she was all alone in the house -- and loving it.
She has added a facet to her pidgin Pulaar, a
clicking noise that is used as an affirmation without interrupting, sort
of the way we might interject "um-hmm" into a conversation.
The Pulaar word for "thank you" is rarely used, and the word for
"please" is not used at all. Without these words
conversation seems somewhat rude, but it is definitely NOT. The part
of Senegalese conversation that covers the social niceties is the initial
greeting which goes on and on ...from an American point of view.
Shannon taught us some basic Pulaar so that we can extend polite
greetings when we go to Senegal:
"Nom Bah Dah" is "How are you doing?"
"Adda Sehlee" is "How is your health?"
"Jahm Tahn" is "Peace Only," used as an answer to many
I asked Shannon how to spell the words, but Pulaar is all phonetic
because it has only been a written language for a short time, so the above
spellings are my version of what I heard Shannon pronounce.
The latest health issue is that Shannon has lost much of
her hair. Around half of it. It's a good thing that she has an abundant
amount naturally. Whether the cause is diet or stress or her earlier
illness, I trust it will come back, but she isnt pleased about it.
Shannon sent a microcassette tape that she has been working on since
September when she first arrived. The last entry was in July, and there
was a clear progression from her excitement and enthusiasm at
the very beginning, to severe discouragement during the illness and
isolation before she could communicate, and finally delight when her extended
family sent their greetings to all of us on the tape, "to your
mother and father and brother and sister, and to your whole village!"
Things are so much better for Shannon. She is
enjoying it more every day. One big milestone was her first dream in
French, and just recently she came to the realization that after a period away from the
village she was glad to be back. Back home, apparently.