Thirteenth Report


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 once did.

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.
     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.

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.
     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 questions.

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.

Fourteenth Report

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