Sixth Report


Sunday, October 31st -- Halloween

Shannon called earlier than usual because she had to get back and get ready for the Halloween party.   She is going as a fifties housewife with a flannel nighty and curlers in her hair.   Flannel?!  In that heat?  She said it cools down considerably in the night, but it's still difficult to reconcile that with the 130 degree heat that awaits her in Matam.  She was excited about the pizza that they would be having at the party that night. 

There has been a current Peace Corps Volunteer at the training center for several days that works just a few miles from where Shannon will be.  Her given name is Cira, already a Pular name, so she didn't need another one.  (How did a family from Chicago come to name their daughter Cira?)   Shannon will be getting her Pular name soon.  Cira likes her assignment very much, and she and Shannon get along very well.   It was reassuring to hear that there will be someone nearby that Shannon can relate to. 

The package that I sent has arrived in Senegal, but Shannon doesn't have it yet because it didn't pass customs.  It's just a pair of old shoes.  The initial plan was to go to the post office along with one of the Senegalese trainers who would help her with the appropriate bribery techniques.  The latest plan is to go alone and hope that her naivete and innocence win them over.  I'm waiting for the next call to see if she has the box yet, and I'm wondering how to increase the likelihood of my Christmas package getting to her. 
     Since Shannon can't read this, I can say here that I'm sending her a needlepoint Xmas stocking with her name on it -- not the one that has hung from the mantel for the last 23 Christmases, of course -- we couldn't possibly part with that.  So far all I have to put in it is a Titanic audio cassette.   That seems like an odd thing to send to Senegal, but what isn't?  I'm going to look for a small thermometer too, playing on the Minnesotan preoccupation with weather.   Maybe weather isn't such a good thing to dwell on, but it's difficult not to.   She has requested some Kraft macaroni and cheese and also Rice Krispies because she found some marshmallows in a store.  What a Christmas this will be be!  I hope she'll be with some of the other Americans for Christmas day, 1999.  Hopefully she will be home for three weeks for Christmas 2000, and home for good for Christmas 2001.

Some of my initial worries have been put to rest, and some new ones have cropped up.  She won't be abducted by political dissidents because Senegal is one of the most politically stable countries in Africa.  She won't be lonely because she will be close enough to Americans, and the Senegalese are extremely friendly and appreciative of Peace Corps.  But that heat!  There's a reason those Africans have all that skin pigment and the northern Europeans don't!  Will she be able to keep enough sunscreen on hand? 


November 5, 1999

Shannon called to wish me a Happy Birthday.  I opened her gift while we were on the phone, a painting of a mother and child done by the host father of one of the other trainees, and it is being framed as I write. 

It was a cloudy day when she called, and although she is still happy to be there doing what she is doing, the novelty is wearing off.  She has been writing letters regularly, but not quite the one per day that she started out doing.  She is tired all the time.  All the learning she is doing takes much mental energy, and she's had no opportunity for physical exercise.

She had visited an Internet cafe and checked her e-mail, but she didn't have time to answer any of her messages.  She also checked the website (this one) and noticed that I had the BP (post office box) number incorrect in the address on the home page.   Oh, no!  I'm afraid that I might be the cause of her not getting some mail!   I had BP 229, and it is really BP 299.  (I've changed it now.)  Soon she will give me Cira's address in Matam, then any mail that might miss her in Theis can be sent to her via Cira.  At the cafe she didn't have time to read any of the reports so the surprise of her exciting Christmas gifts won't be ruined.

Shannon had a big adventure recently when she went to a dance club where one of her host brothers was playing.  She realized later that she had used bad judgement when she walked in ahead of the rest of her group of friends, all Senegalese men and women, because a man ran up to her and tried to kiss her.  On the mouth, I asked her?   She wasn't sure because she was able to dodge him, but she was quite taken aback by the whole incident.  She ran back and grabbed her friend's hand and told him she would be sticking by him the rest of the evening.

...I just sent off the first box for Shannon's Christmas.  By opulent American standards it's pretty pathetic.  Stationary, a paperback book, a small 2000 calendar, and dried foods.  I'm just hoping that the insignificant value might increase the likelihood of Shannon getting it.

In a couple of weeks Shannon will be spending her week in Matam, the location of her future assignment, and she's very nervous about how she will get along with her level of French.  Sometimes she's feeling cocky about her ability to actually hold conversations, but then just recently she overheard someone speaking and couldn't tell if they were speaking French or Wolof.  Because both those languages are so prevalent in Senegal, they sometimes get blurred.  Something like Spanglish, I imagine. 
     Cira told her that after four months in Matam she could pick out phrases in Pular, and after six months she could hold around 8 repeated conversations.   That's about where Shannon is with her French right now.  She can answer questions and discuss such things as the weather, malaria, diarrhea, cultural differences, and her progress in French.  (Except for the weather, those aren't the usual topics of repeated conversations that we have here.)
     After her week in Matam she'll start instruction in Pular.  

In Matam she'll be spending two nights with Cira, two nights in her own mud hut (her future home for the next two years), and two nights at the regional house.   That's where she'll be for Thanksgiving with all the other PCVs from Matam and Podor.  It so happens that they are all vegetarians too.  Shannon surmises that the Senegalese in the northern region must think that no Americans eat meat.  If they only knew all the ways that Peace Corp volunteers are untypical Americans! 

During the course of our conversation I suggested to Shannon that I send her some plastic picture frames, but she declined.  I asked why,  and she said she didn't know how she would hang them on the walls of her mud hut.

Seventh Report