This past Tuesday I left the city and ventured out into the countryside of the Tamba region. As an urban volunteer most of my days are spent surrounded by concrete walls and beeping motos, so this change of scenery was a welcome change. Another volunteer, Taylor, and myself biked out to the village of our friend, Celine, to help with her mural project.
We set out around 7:45 in the morning while the air was still cool. Since it’s cold season we get at least a few hours that are below 80 degrees!
The scenery rapidly changed from streets clogged with people zooming around to the market and school to large swaths of trees and shrubs with the occasional truck passing us. And by passing us I mean whipping down the laterite road kicking up massive clouds of dust. My hands and feet had several new layers of dust by the time we arrived in village. Celine lives in a small village of about 300 people located north of the city of Tamba.
It was as we pedaled north that I realized how quiet it was around. And how not quiet it is in the city, which of course I didn’t realize until I left it. Gone was the background chorus of car horns, honking bazookas of children after school, and the call to prayer. Every site and location has its positives and negatives of course, but I really appreciated the almost-silent surroundings. It reminded me more of home, of the fields and countryside that I am used to.
The ride took us about an hour – and we arrived in time for breakfast! We biked into village, greeted her family and neighbors and then sat down to a warm bowl of rice porridge. This dish has many variations around the country, but basically it is rice cooked with milk and sugar with yogurt sometimes added.
This village is ethnically Bambara, meaning they all speak Bambara as their main language and many also speak Pulaar. However few people know much Wolof beyond some simple greetings. This was a new experience for me since Wolof is the majority language spoken in Senegal, so I have gotten used to being able to communicate with most people I meet. But for my friends who speak Bambara, Jaxanke, Mandinka, (and Pulaar to some extent) it is an everyday experience and challenge to be a minority language speaker.
Outside of village many of them either rely on French if they have it or on other volunteers to translate for them. And I am the one who can go the market, butik, or breakfast lady and not have to worry about being able to communicate. So I found this experience very valuable – this time I was on the other side. I smiled and nodded while Bambara and Pulaar flew around and waited for some kind person to help me understand the conversation and the jokes.
After the 4th member of our group, arrived we set out to start our painting. The plan was to put up some murals that the community had requested on the health hut in her village. We loaded up our buckets of paint and brushes and made our way over, followed by a herd of curious children.
Over the next few hours we set into making two murals, working in pairs. One was going to be a mother and child and the other a food pyramid of sorts. We mixed colors in bottles and cans found around the property and made palates out of cardboard. We drank attaya, talked back and forth in 4 languages, and laughed. It was a wonderful way to spend time with friends, see another side of Tamba, and feel a sense of productivity and creativity.
As I talked about in a previous post, the past few weeks have felt slow and quiet – sometimes too much so. And for the most part I have accepted it and recognized the need to appreciate the slower pace while it’s here. But regardless, having something to do besides sitting in my family’s compound and trying to learn more Wolof is always appreciated. This project had a very real and observable end result – we began with a blank wall and ended up with two beautiful, colorful murals.
As we painted, the crowd of children would ask us questions and try to guess what we were drawing. For the most part they were correct – which meant we weren’t terrible artists! “Is that a tomato? Eggplant? Oh that one’s a carrot!” It was fun to get the feedback as we worked.
That evening was spent walking to a one-family Pulaar village about 1 km away to say hi and give our greetings. We walked back to my friend’s village as the sun set, creating a colorful splendor draped across the sky. A sky which seems so much bigger after you remove the rooftops and mosques of the city!
We ate a dinner of cere (“chere” = couscous type grain) and a leaf sauce. The rest of the evening we wandered through the village with her counterpart greeting the different family compounds. We ended up sitting around a fire with one family and had 3 different drinks in the space of an hour and a half. First was attaya, as per usual here. Next they offered us an orange fruity drink made from a powdered mix found in any butik here. And finally, just in time to fall asleep, we drank little cups of warm, sweet milk. It was wonderfully creamy and so, so sweet with a little layer of milky foam on top.
The next morning we awoke with sun to get an early start to the road back to Tamba. As a reward we observed a gorgeous sunrise in the chill morning air. And it really was chilly – the coldest I’ve felt for many, many months!
Coming back to my site I felt a renewed desire to better know my community and language. And I realized that leaving the city, visiting other volunteers’ sites, and helping with their projects has many rewards – not least of which it opens up a new category of conversation. Collaboration makes work go faster, brings up new ideas, and is a great deal of fun! One of my goals over the next two years is to visit as many of my friends’ sites as possible and see the different ways we all live our lives here in Senegal. Because there are so many ways to live your Peace Corps service, each with so much to teach me.