“Just maybe, the next care package can be delivered by hand.”

Initially a playful notion, who’s to say that Joanne (Jojo) Murdoch thought it a considerable possibility at the time she offered it. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the fluttery feminine that is my mother, she lovably lays it out thick, and often. Even in its slightly quixotic nature, I should have never put it past her to see this this one through. A follow-up call a mere few weeks later confirmed this resiliency; the Murdoch’s were coming to Senegal.

Fast forward a few months (and a few more vaccinations later) to October 11th. After minimal turbulence across the Atlantic, the pair landed safely into Léopold Sédar Senghor, Dakar’s International Airport. I had posted up at the arrivals gate a wee bit early (eager eh?), to nest the perfect locale for a surprise welcoming. Imagine then, what a hilarity it was to stand witness to their initial few steps upon the country’s soil: Instantaneous bombardment compliments of hawking taxi men, who subsequently hoisted their baggage ten steps ahead with the corrupted notion that these two toubabs (foreigners) would pay ten fold to the actual price of a cab in the city.

My GoPro and I got there just in the knick of time to scoop them away from said hawkers, however I am a bit technologically delayed and managed to record zilch of this entertaining fiasco. My mother’s first reaction upon my abrupt arrival might you ask?

“Nikki, what the hell did you do to your hair?”

It appears that braids trump a hug after an eight month physical hiatus between mother and child. Still, this was the defining moment which ascertained that the two afternoons spent on the receiving end of fervent, ardent mangling was entirely worth it.

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And with that, Tom, Joanne, Nicole, and Nicole’s creature-like braids took to their tour.

Tour (n.) – 1 a journey for pleasure in which several different places are visited.

In the effort to not bore away the scant readership of this intermittent blog, I shall narrow the narrative to the juicier bits:

Public Transportation (in order of debut)

Santé Allah! They did it! Fresh out of the starting gate, day 1, our clunky-funky taxi broke down right along the belt below the towering, majestic (and might I add, North Korean financed) Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine. Pretty scenic pit stop if you ask me. I mention this because moments later another taxi skids over to collect the driver’s disconcerted passengers, free of charge. How’s that for your daily dose of Senegalese teranga? (Wolof for “hospitality”, a chief element of the country’s culture and pride.)

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You can catch sharets (donkey or horse drawn carts) nearly anywhere in large towns and cities for a small fare, but there’s a bit of a bougie bush village perk when your host family has their own donkey to yomballi (take along) you and your loved ones safely home in times of fierce, relentless sun rays. See below that maneuverability is entirely possible atop sharets, including but not limited to, selfies.

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Additional photo reference of a sharet in proper action. The kids running alongside your ride come free of charge.

The art of hitchhiking is a practiced affair. Normally, one falls into a nice daydream or meditative state after positioning oneself in a conspicuous location to those blazing the road, as it very well could be an hour or two before a jalopy slows. On this particular morning, however, there was plenty of standby simulation: a elderly man and a young hothead were getting into a mighty colorful dispute across the way. So much so, that the young kid’s boiling attitude swung him back to his bush taxi to pull out his jaasi (farmer’s machete). Shit, that escalated quickly. Next, you see the true force of village peacemaking: six males, of all size and stature, working together to disarm the boy. Among them: my 72 year old host father. After a successful hogtying, tranquility resumed. That is, until this boy’s father came on down to rip him a new one.

Coinciding with the close of morning’s charge, a sept-palaas (station wagon with seven places, often a Peuigot) stopped to gather our gawking gang. As there was only two open seats left, two elderly men lapped up in the front. Naturally.

C' est décidé!, on part en vacances et on emméne la belle mère.

Not my photo, but accurately represents a casual ride around à la sept-palaas.

The sept-palaas is fine and dandy, perhaps a bit more luxurious, but it pales in comparison to the party that is a janginjaay. These suckers are commonly decked out with decoration aplenty. Baby shoes and talisman can be found hanging from the interior ceiling. The exterior, bedecked with eye-catching designs and tributes to the owner’s marabout or hometown. Furry seats, framed superimposed family photos, beheaded beanie babies. You name it, it’s probably out there, tucked within the innards of these repurposed shipping vans. It’s like walking into a mobile Spencer’s. All that’s missing are lava lamps and whoopee cushions. We caught one on the road home from Toubakouta, located in the Fatick region of Senegal, where the road is unpaved and the potholes are in no short supply. If you don’t toss your cookies from motion sickness, your a bonafide jambaar (Wolof for “warrior”).

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Alas, lest we forget the illustrious motoas in, a whippy little motorcycle. As volunteers, we are banned from taking a spin on these*. So I’ll choose my words wisely. Tom and Joanne so enjoyed their countryside jaunt riding passenger atop the sputtering exhaust! They told me all about it. They had a stacked arsenal of Wolof to get them from Point A to Point B. And that be all. Champions, I tell ya.

*In PC Senegal of yore, each volunteer was actually distributed their own moto for the entirety of their service, until the incidentals and cost of liability rose to the point of removal of this privilege. We still receive a mode of two-wheeled transport, just sans motor. The tried and true velocipede.

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#furbishedandfresh

Family Faux Pas

As a guest, a family member, anyone really, it’s customary to bring seriché to those you are visiting, returning to, or staying with in Senegal. Team Murdoch prepared accordingly, stuffing their luggage with knickknacks ranging from DIY wooden airplanes, to american snacks, even a solar lamp for the family compound. I warned that their miscellaneous selection was wonderful, but may perhaps be overwhelming to the recipients. In Senegal, kids and adults alike have an acute knack for repurposing: steel rods become toy “autos”, scraps of leftover fabric sewn into coin purses, and so on. Nonetheless, the exotic nature of these gallimaufries would dice things up. I mean, what’s more novelty than glow sticks!

We would soon eat those words.

Night fell, dinner was taking its sweet time (no surprise there), and I took it to be an appropriate time to start dishing out the luminescent tubes to the kids of the compound. Within seconds, the neighbor kids caught wind and flooded in. Despite it, my teenage and twenty-something sisters and cousins teemed in front – though it took a few sacrificial elbow shoves to earn such a cue. Wild chaos erupted. We had only distributed maybe 20 or so bracelets before my host dad stepped in and storm hatched the place down, informing me to keep my rents inside for the rest of the evening, and that they’d bring in dinner when it was ready. There were 100+ riotous neighbor kids outside for hours into the night. Whoops.

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Fortunately, before the debacle at dusk, we were able to fit in a village meeting/causerie for Global Hand Washing Day (Absolutely exploited Mom and Dad as a ploy to up the attendance count)

I can proudly report we were able to quietly abscond the following morning, under the wise direction of my wizened family members, without detection, and were able to make it to our next stopover scratch-free.

It was at this particular stopover, my training village of Ndomor, that mother unintentionally dipped into a mishap of scandalous affection. She had the nerve to french kiss my host great grandfather!

Ok, that was premature to lead with. In her defense, we had been greeting people all day! It’s a tiring affair! The distress of a touring socialite is taxing, ya know? I should stop being a horrible daughter now and clarify that she merely leaned in for the “peck and peck” two cheek greeting commonplace to many a French speaking country. All the trendy women were doing it. Why should it be any different for an elderly, conservative Islamic man? As he leaned back squeamishly tense, you could almost hear the collective inhale of all those witnessing nearby.

I include this not in condescension. In fact, after a quickly blurted, “pardon us”, the tense air had decamped completely, followed by a ripple of contagious giggles soon thereafter. The Senegalese, in general, are extremely lighthearted; and this family had seen me blunder far too many times in my first three months of training for these cross-cultural hiccups to faze them in the slightest. Great Granpappy even asked my mom for a photo on the way out. There you go. Water under the bridge.

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The one and only, Maam Sene

While this jabbing is done in jest, it’s important to note that the ‘rents were exceptional troopers. They maneuvered the loud, rambunctious, and erratic setting that often is Senegal. Defecated in pit toilets, ate with their hands (yeah, the juxtaposition to this sequence isn’t too swell, I should mention we all washed our hands often and extensively). They put up with my antics as I crammed a village meeting and a sanitation causerie into their stay, and slept two to a twin size slice-o-foam bed (skeeter net included) on a few particularly sweltering nights. Both even noted the bucket baths hinged on invigorating and refreshing. There was only a handful of diarrheal episodes, and mom didn’t start projectile vomiting until she got back home to Amerikk!

The plug is this: If Tom and Joanne Murdoch can do it, so can you. Bismillah, to anyone considering a trip out.

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Returning from a walk up to the Sacred Baobab atop Shell Island in Toubakouta, Senegal

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We all wish we looked that regal at age three and a half. (Yup, this feline is a toddler still.) Pretty sure the only fiery grin I boasted at that age (or long thereafter) was due to the occasional remnants of Flamin’ Hot CHEETOS® that so unavoidably took prolonged residence all up in my chops.

Sporadically speaking,

N.M.M

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Who Needs an Oral Historian When There’s YouTube, Man?

 “If you want to kill a proud man, supply his everyday need; in the long run you will make him a slave.” -Kocc Barma Fall
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A few posts preceding this one, it was mentioned that Kocc Barma Fall – noted Wolof philosopher of the 17th century – was a founding resident and pioneer of my modest (yet mighty) village here in Senegal, Ndiongue Fall. While we don’t boast too much in infrastructure, I did come to find that we do have quite the sizable canary yellow sepulcher dedicated to the man of the hour, about 200 meters north of the village, picturesquely concealed amongst a scattering of Umbrella Thorn Acacia trees. His name carries momentous significance in these parts – not a day goes by that I don’t find myself in the middle of a conversation that mentions sunu maam (our grandparent), wise ol’ Koccy. The man’s life is transcendental, it seems. Nearly five centuries have come to pass since his living days, and even still I was bestowed the name Kumba Kocc Fall upon arrival as a new resident with the utmost reverence and relevance. He’s the big cheese of this bush, and we’re all simply substandard to the infallible wisdom of his legacy.

Naturally, I wanted to pry a bit more into this tidbit of intrigue. Is this tomb open? How hair-raising is it after nightfall? Are there mysterious texts scribbled about within the enclosure, Wolof or Arabic notations of his mind’s rambles? In the practice of self-restraint, I withheld the brimming impulse to tack on my GoPro and carry out a greenhorn attempt at a self-led Blair Witch Project like production. I did, however, set out one afternoon to survey the edifice, only to learn upon return that I had committed a cultural faux pas in not bringing the man some nomz. Excusez-moi? Despite the fact that his organic composition 6 feet under is completely subsumed into the surrounding soil (and has been for, oh I don’t know, 500 years), the Senegalese have done it again: no one goes hungry in this country if they can help it, even the dead. Any time there is a ceremony in the village: baptism, wedding, funeral, religious gathering – it’s customary to delivery our great (great, great..) gramps a hearty bowl of what’s cooking. I decided later to opt for a more feasible, interrogative approach to acquiring some insight on Kocc. Probably would have made his dish too sauf kaane (spicy) anyways..

On a few of the stagnantly brutal afternoons where inertia swoops in, taking a firm, resolved grip upon the village’s populace, I find my time oft spent sprawled upon a woven basin, in the company of our village historians: my host father and our chef de village, village chief. (Cue fortuitous opportunity to pick their grizzled heads on the historical happenings and bygone leaders of the land.) Unremarkably, expectation and reality rarely spill into synonymous streams when intentions are carried into action, and the history lesson didn’t quite pan out as hoped. I chalk this up to equal parts language nascence (You don’t exactly receive complex, thoughtful answers when posing questions like, “Kocc Barma, when was his Birthday?”), as well as the seemingly effortless way in which many a countryman brushes off matters at hand for a later date, in exchange for a good loll in the present. Benin yoon, waay (another time, friend), is used in correspondence as frequently as ceeb (rice) shows up in the lunch bowl. Aka errday. This population of gorgeously deep-toned, glossy skinned men and women also boast an incredible mastery in the art of sidelining – indirect communication is tactfully tucked into greetings, courtship, business, and so forth. A notable example, especially as a Community Health Extension Agent, is the taboo that surrounds speaking aloud about a woman’s pregnancy. She could be bursting at the seems, ready to pop out a ripe one, and yet not a soul will make mention of it in a public setting, making it quite difficult to have a one-on-one conversation about her “action plan” for pre and post natal care should complications arise, what to be supplementing in her diet for adequate nutrition, and suchlike.*
*Examples such as this, shed a shaft of light on how the development of health in Senegal is often compromised by longstanding cultural roots, making it difficult to collect accurate data on health indicators, or even spark particular discussion points on touchier matters such as family planning. This cements just how crucial intentional relationship building in the community setting is in order to understand what’s really going down, as well as appropriately discuss/educate based on the striking needs of the area.

Back to the case in point, I didn’t get a detailed lowdown from pops and his right hand man – though I did come away from those sit downs with a few cups of exceptional attaya, infused with fresh mint and lemongrass – so by no means would I consider the endeavor to be a flop. And so enters Plan C. To keep up solidarity with my fellow Generation Y’s, I resorted to what we do best: I googled the guy. A work meeting had conveniently brought me into Thiés – aka the land of internet and fresh fruit, alhumdulillah. With a bit of incredulity, I toyed around with a few different search engine entries, not expecting to unearth too much, let alone in a language that could comfortably be read at leisure. The results offered the following collection: A French university student’s subjective roast of Kocc Barma’s ideologies, in the form of a measly term paper, a synopsis for a 1992 Senegalese independent film titled Guelwaar whose lead quotes Barma on the reg, a handful of folklike illustrations of the man (he was known to keep his ‘fro under control by sectioning it into four pom-pom tufts), and finally, a YouTube video titled “Histoire de Kocc Barma Fall”. I’m no erudite, but something told me the latter would be my best bet.
After ten minutes of impatiently idling for the bandwidth to catch enough muscle to load the video, what came to follow cast off any lingering agitation and replaced it with full-blown amusement. The figure showcased on the clip playing back at me, a 11:24 segment for a local culture web series with 24,000+ views, was none other than my dear old host dad, Ndongo Fall. Needless to say, tickled is an understatement. My Senegalese father is a YouTube star. He has exceeded the hits that I would ever even hope to fathom to have on this blog by a tenfold, and kicks it on the reg without running water or electricity. I still find myself in constant fits of laughter just appreciating the power of such irony.

Of course, the first thing out of my mouth when I got back to site was an animated blabbering on about how I saw dad on “The Net” (you would have thought he just had a cameo on the History Channel by the way I was excitedly flailing about the yard). True to bossman form, he let out a refined chuckle of acknowledgement, keeping any excess of grand regard at bay. Modest man, man. Ramadan was in full swing that evening, and I had hiked home just in time for ndogo, the meal that breaks the fast, which is customarily tandarma (dates) followed by a portion of bread with a spicy onion/spaghetti sauce slathered on, though the meals vary according to region as well as socio-economic standing within Senegal.** After the call to prayer, my father came back over, (I believe slightly impressed at my inextinguishable stubbornness) and we talked about his filmed interview a bit more in depth. In his words, Kocc was a sergeant at arms for his followers of thought. He promoted the arts, education, and the power of philosophy in combination with one another to best reach his people. Patient and tireless, he is described as “an old man with the spirit of a frolicking child”, who could work fervently with the might of a field worker, and still have the energy for teachings in the evening. He would travel, but always stayed loyal to his village and his roots. He goes on to explain how Kocc instructed the women to be as strong as men, and the men as strong as the women. I could visibly see the gleam of pride in my dad’s eyes as he spoke of his ancestor. Now, I’m sure we should stay mindful of the power of sensationalization in storytelling, but this guy sounds pretty grade A for the time being. I’d certainly yendoo (to spend the day with someone) with the dude.
**The religious makeup of Senegal is composed of 90% Muslim, 7% Christian, and 3% Animist. The country is known for its longstanding tolerance and peaceful coexistence amongst its multifaceted cultural and religious composition. During Ramadan, the customary month of fasting for Muslims, the entire country transforms. Whether you are fasting or not, of the faith or otherwise, there is an exceptionally unique solidarity observed while “in the month”.
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Sisters take to roasting coffee beans on open fire on a Ramadan evening in late June, 2015.

Soon after, the moon’s luminous crescent casts a hair of visibility in the yard, and papa fidgets with the radio until the news materializes, a bit muffled. Trying my darndest to follow along with the Frolof (French infused Wolof), I almost didn’t catch my father asking me, “How’s your president doing, John F. Kennedy?” I’m gonna let that one slide; the man’s clearly too sought after in his own local municipal to bother keeping up with contemporaries elsewhere.

And without further adieu, I give you the stylings of Ndongo Fall:
(Also a great chance to get an ear for Wolof)
Oh, you say you didn’t really catch what was said in the video
and would actually be interested in knowing a bit of Kocc Barma’s philosophy?
The four tufts of hair on his head represented these four aphorisms:

Love women, but never lend your confidence to them
The king cannot be kin
The adopted child is never a true son
It is good to have an old man in a village
(Not sure if he was the first man to blurt out that women should not be trusted, but we’ll give him some slack considering there wasn’t too much globalized thought exchange in the 17th century. It should be noted that his maxims are in no way a reflection of my own opinions. Much of his intended preachings are a bit too old-fangled for my taste.)
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In this graffiti depiction of Kocc, he is illustrated wearing Gris-Gris around the neck. Gris-Gris a protective token made of leather, red flannel, or chamois is more commonly seen worn by young children to ward off evil.

Humored and hungry,
N.M.M

Nit, Nitay Garabam

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I’m sitting here, amused upon the discovery that May holds the moniker of National Bike Month in the U.S, as it was the very month in which we noobs of PC Senegal received our “trusty steed” of a penny-farthing as well. In a country where pubic transport generally comes with a complimentary helping of constricted airspace, sweaty bodies, and mangled rucksacks – it’s, quite literally, a breath of fresh air to have the means of a cycle to traverse about with. That is not to say, by any stretch, that I don’t harbor an unusual penchant for the sizable, bedecked vehicles that allow us to get us from point A to point B over here. They are, in my opinion, a curious delight to gallivant within (should one have a surplus of hours to spare and an inextinguishable amount of patience). Even so, as dawn broke on a humid, but otherwise mild, May morning here in Louga, I had an itch to reign in the day and rove out on two wheels, rather than four. The plan was to flex more than a few kilometers on the new guy, as previous treks had remained relatively brief in distance. Ashyra, a fellow stagemate and friend, was settling into Tivaouane, a larger town along the Route National, some ways South. Upon invitation to drop in for the day, the conversation went a bit like this:
Me: “Any chance you have internet to look up the km count between Dahkar Ngonge* and your place?”
Ashyra: “Nope. No connect over here.”
Me: “Cool. I’ll just wing it.”
Ashyra: “You sure?”
Me: “Yep. Catch ya tomorrow!”
This is probably a fitting time to plug in the fact that I misspoke on my previous post, in noting that I was about 20-30km away from my nearest American neighbor. That was, indeed, what we ball-parked it to be after a brief gander at a road map. As I was about to discover, that was a rather lowballed estimation. But hey, there’s something to be said for figuring it out the hard way right?
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Wayfaring towards the road town around half past six that morning, I was kept company by a cloud of oppressively constant flies. (When I tried to recreate the theatrics of my flailing attempts to rid them off of me to my host father days later, he merely chuckled and reassured me of their innocuous nature. Thanks, Pops.) Fortunately, they appear to limit their molestation to those caught wandering through the bush, for as I approached the outer compounds of the road town, the pests decamped as quickly as they had materialized. A trivial matter, in any case. Within the neighboring village, Dahkar Ngonge, I have had the fortune of chancing upon fast friendship with an overly embracing, ridiculously hospitable family (the Ndgene’s). Introduced to me by the French teacher that also resides in my host family’s compound during the school year, it didn’t take long to notice just how extremely open and accommodating this clan was. On any given afternoon, you can find Sallu – the head of house and also the village tailor – resting easy ‘neath the Neem tree out front, swapping attaaya for camaraderie with his brothers, neighbors, and happenstance strangers. Really, I should have picked up on their unfading teranga the minute they swung open their peanut pantry and offered it up as a makeshift garage for my bike. Nevertheless, I am habitually seized with appreciation each time I visit. Grandma Ndgene, up in her years though anything but doddery, was up and at it early that morn, and able to assist in unlocking the stowage for a timely departure.
Checked my watch, 7:15. Finally off. Propelling forward along the Route National, the level gradient allowed for easy acceleration. The morning hour rang still, impressible, and quite wondrous. I probably would have peddled for miles in reverie if I wasn’t snapped back by the sight of an elderly man in the buff, washing himself with incredible nonchalance, no more than 5m off the road. Unsure of what to make of many things, let alone stark naked strangers, I bid him an “Asalaamallekum!” and continued forth. Needless to say, that was not the only peculiarity seen that day, but it riotously kicked things off in good fashion.
It may have been the natural charge that accompanies fresh endeavors, or my innate inclination towards constant movement, but that morning was an overall blast. You couldn’t pass through a single village without affable shouts of greeting and invitations to come hang for ndekki (breakfast). On second thought, I probably received as many, if not more, demands of “Hey! Friend! Give me your bike!”; to which all of I recounted by speeding off, quipping back that they would have to catch me first. This worked fantastically, until a biking gang of five rascals or so, assorted in age and stature, took the challenge to heart and peddled after me for nearly 7 kilometers. Their resilient willpower was duly noted. About an hour into the ride, I took pause in a modest little town to knock back some H2O. It was here that conversation struck up with the distinctively jovial, Baba Ngene. It was Baba who finally disclosed the true length to my desired destination. “Oh! Tivaouane! Not far. 28km here to there.” Hmph. I bid Baba adieu, all the while humbly chuckling at the fact that I would be biking no less than 85km in the span of that day, whether I liked it or not.
I’ll spare the remaining details of the ride out, as it mainly consisted of yours truly zig zagging about, jamming to whatever morsels of music that had been pre-downloaded on my Spotify before jumping over seas. (Related note: should anyone feel like dropping a USB chocked up with tunes in the mail, I would eternally be indebted and grateful). The time climbed it’s way to 9:45. A cornucopia of roadside mango stands came into view, a tip off that the morning leg had been completed. Meeting up with Ashyra and Jessica in the “big city” (Jess is another volunteer who recently logged her 2nd year in country), we primarily spent the day evading the unforgiving brutality of midday heat, opting to discuss work zone matters and upcoming projects in the sanctuary of shade with a steady cross breeze.
As the bell tolled 4:30pm, I knew it best to take leave despite the atrocious heat, considering the imperative nature of arriving home before nightfall to village – where the moon serves as the predominant “lightbulb”. Cue two and a half hours of a methodical return trip back. Of course, that takes place only after my cycle and I had the chance to conspicuously become ‘one with the earth’ in the attempts to avoid a reversing minibus. To put it ever so delicately, I ate shit. This wipeout spurred quite the ripple of excitement and concern amongst onlookers. While I had not a scratch to show for it, my two-wheeled steed looked like it had lost a tangled battle with the neighboring sewage drain. Without reserve or hesitation, workers at the garage across the street took to action. A handful of screws refastened and a few knocks later, I could hardly even offer my thanks before they had finished. Time and time again, I have come to witness the unwavering benevolence of the Senegalese. It’s never forced, prodded, nor goaded. It’s this innate goodwill that I, as a foreigner, can’t shake just how often it has been shared with me these past months.
As the sliver of the waxing moon began to show face that evening, a mellowed, fatigued gait methodically ushered my drifting mind the final steps home. A single proverb consumed my train of thought: “Nit, nitay garabam” – People are people’s medicine. If our personal actions here as Volunteers can measure up in the slightest, to the selflessness we have been shown, we will be the better for it.
Nursing my bruised behind,
N.M.M
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Sunu Njëkk Taggu

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Peace Corps Senegal Health Stage 2015-2017
To string together where this left off, our stage was nearing the D-Day that would reveal where our future sites in country would be. It’s a hilarious ordeal, as 60+ semi-adults are blindfolded, spun around, and led by a member of staff to their respective location on a rather sizable map of Senegal. As you stand there desirous as ever to take off the fold of fabric impeding your vision, you can hear muffled whispers and curious titters about. You try to identify the neighboring voices of your peers in close proximity, whether you are standing upon coastal ground, up in the desert, down south, etc. After many minutes of messing with our psyche, our restive nature was relieved with staff’s permission to tear off our ‘folds. My eyes sprang about to see many familiar faces wearing the same dopey grin of exhilarated confusion. Each set of hands now held a thick manilla envelop, containing the lowdown (population size, health stats, water/electricity access, etc) of our abodes-to-be. A few members of my stage have site mates, volunteers located in the next village over, merely a few km away. Others, are pioneering forth to land less frequently trodden, and are 40km or so from the closest volunteer. Myself? I’m somewhere in the middle. Though 30km or so from the next PCV, I’ll be rather close to a paved road, which enables me to avidly bike or hitchhike to the towns of topic. Ndiongue Fall is the site I’ll cozy up to these next two years; a rural village located in the Kebemer region of Louga. With a population of 615, abandoned health hut, dilapidated garden, and some majestic baobabs – it’s sure to be quite the attraction. As it’s name suggests, Ndiongue Fall is a village of Fall’s. My surname will be Fall, my neighbors will be Fall’s, the majority of children will be Fall’s (exception: the women who have married outside the village and taken their husband’s name). This is not problematic in the least, as I’ll probably never incur the lash of humility that comes coupled with forgetting one’s name in a greeting. Keeping it all in the family, eh? I later was informed from my future yaay (momma) that our village also serves as the birthplace of the Wolof philosopher, Kocc Barma Fall. I was hoping to read up on him a bit and share what was to be found on here, but alas, a complete scarcity of internet connectivity has hindered my prospect at present. I suppose I’ll have to track down a local gewal (griot) to orally convey Kocc’s story for us all at a later date. We won’t hold our breath.
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The Primary/Arabic School of Ndiongue Fall
The day has approached in which I’ll bid my CBT (Community Based Training) family adieu; our time as trainees nearing its elapse. A popular expression in Wolof to convey fondness is “Sama xol, dafa sedd”, translating literally to my heart, it’s cold. Though it be the precisely opposite remark that we of the English tongue would offer, should we be attempting to express the same sentiment, you’ll have to trust it’s well wishing. Point is, my heart was extremely cold this morning when my little brother El Hadj blundered into my room at 7am for the final wake up call. Who needs an alarm when you have a mischievously grinning rascal to startle you out of your slumber every day? My chilled heart really “froze over” when various members of the fam bam began to sneak miscellaneous mementos into my baggage before the afternoon’s departure: a hair clip, hand-dyed textile, one ridiculously varicolored bracelet. My faulty attempts to sneak them all back came to naught. My grams just shook her head, uttering a Senegalese blessing under her breath as she bid me off in gentle spirit. That commenced sunu njëkk taggu – our first formal farewell.
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Youngest brother, El Hadj Sene
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“Ba Benin Yone” – Until next time, Ndomor
Though I have not taken ample time to calendarize what we’ve all been up to these past months whilst trainees in village/at center, I rest upon the notion that it’s not all that important to depict the technicalities. Rather, upon reflection of this fold in time, my mind will spring to the hilarity of being “baby birded” at the family bowl (a practice where your mom, grandma, even your little sister, will toss various pieces of veggie, fish, meat towards you so you don’t have to reach your hand too far amid the ongoing scavenge for the best bits of the meal’s contents). It’ll drift to the various heat-laden afternoons where perfect strangers would call me over to sit and pass the minutes (occasionally hours) ‘neath a shady alcove, swapping English lessons for Wolof teachings, and vice versa – the occasional French thrown in when the language barrier proved to stubborn to dismantle. It will then bend back to the vibrant exhibition of ceremonious occasions witnessed, where vats upon vats of rice were cooked atop an open fire – the mortar for the medley of ingredients to follow. And just as we thought the food was an extravagant affair for these naming ceremonies, weddings, etc, the ensembles of the woman left us dazzled in awe (2, 3, 4 outfit changes throughout the day; each more impressive than the former). My memory will rustle up the minute verbal victories held in transit, whether haggling a pass price to hop in the back of an overcrowded Jaginjaye en route to the coast, or tactfully arguing why one does not need a husband at the age of 22 – though I once was offered a second-hand Blackberry in exchange for my hand, a considerable proposal no doubt. Above all, the hospitality displayed from the Senegalese will stand at the forefront of my cache. Their teranga as invaluable as it is immeasurable. I wan’t to write so very much more on the subject, and will with time, inshallah.
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Consider this an “IOU”. After swear in, after install, after the dust of this maelstrom has settled – I promise to trade the ambiguous run on sentences for actual anecdote and narrative. There is an abounding amount to pass along, and it would be a shame to let it slip to the wayside. After all, ham ham bu doy. You can never get your hands on enough knowledge.
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Mothers, fathers, and friends of Ndomor join us in Thiès for CBT reception
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Unquestionably,
N.M.M

Ndànk, Ndànk

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Albeit quite an impossible task to recount how the past weeks have taken shape, swayed about, and taken root within, something tells me I ought to be a bit less selfish, hoarding the exposure of this experience in Senegal to me and myself alone.

I think I speak in tune with my fellow PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) in noting that it sincerely feels as if our redeye arrival into Dakar – the blustery air of that dawn infused with a salty bite – was months, rather than merely weeks ago. That first morning of March, sixty-three of us bused over to Thiès, a city/town not more than a 40km distance away from the capitol. Slight fatigue from the air travel would not dilute our collectively brimming energy as the PC vehicles lurched onward, each rickety avenue one step closer our home base. Teeming with a curiously sensitive anticipation, I found myself ogling at the burdening amounts of scattered garbage in the land adjacent to the road as we drove along. Before long, I would discover that trash is routinely seen as just another accessory to the earth’s floor here, and waste receptacles a rather mythical concept to many. Veering back to the time at hand, we were met by a vivacious reception at the training center. A hearty collection of staff, administration, LCFs (language cultural facilitators), and PCVs gathered, taking time to debrief our racing minds, as well as allow a pause for ndekki (breakfast), which was comprised of bean sandwiches and Nescafé.

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The week ran its course with quite the stride, as our schedules were chockablock with sessions and seminars (medical, language, cultural, health, security, safety, etc) until the day’s elapse. Until our malaria antibiotics kicked in full swing, we were kept at watchful distance within the center. When at last, the green light to wander forth was lit, we were able to get a true scent of the city we had taken rest in. Nearly any street in Thiès, whether asphalt or packet ground, piques one’s curiosity to the fullest. Talibé run afoot begging for change and scraps with incredible nonchalance, the central roundabout is congested with motos, donkey drawn sharets, and disorderly pedestrians, and in the marché you can find everything from an electrical converter (for the equivalent of $1), to any pattern imaginable that may be haggled and brought to tailor for dress. The viciousness of speech here is another hilariously intriguing facet. Whether Wolof, Pulaar, Sereer, or French is the chosen tongue of speech, you can always count that it will be barked at you in a brash and powerful format. What would seem like an heated contestation, is actually an amicable discussion regarding a child’s upcoming baptism, or which type of fabric one should buy for their next complet. It makes for quite an entertaining exchange when attempting to use what little grasp of language we have thus far in the public sphere, that’s for certain. By the first week’s end, each of us had received our language focus for the next 26 months; Wolof for this gal.
I should mention that the act of greeting others in Senegal is not only requisite to the culture of interaction, it’s practically an exhaustive art form. “Hey, how’s it hangin?” just doesn’t fly here. To gloss it out, at any given passing, whether it be when returning home or simply walking to the market in the morning, you may find yourself in rapid fire game of 20 questions. It’s not out of character for someone, after extensively asking you how you are or if your mother/father/home/body are in peace, to state the conspicuous: “You are standing!” “You woke up today!” “You are eating!”. To add a layer upon the already sizable transaction of words, it seems that the Senegalese are experts at talking over one another while asking and responding to these inquiries. I patiently await the day when I too can bark out 10 questions/observations per second, while simultaneously balancing twenty lbs of market vegetables atop my head.
After a little over a week in country, we packed up for the first CBT stay. Peace Corps seems to be quite fond of acronyms, and the one I mention is simply an easier way to refer to “Community Based Training”. Myself and six other PCTs would be traveling to Ndomor – a small village about 30km away from Thiès (and only about 10km away from the shore, though we have yet to break away for a beach day) – to live with a host family and dive head first into language/community boot camp. It was a rather amusing sight, as our van pulled off the main road, into the ankle deep sand that swallows one’s hastened pace to a patient crawl, to see a troop of Senegalese mothers, clad in yéré Wolof (traditonal Wolof clothing), bouncing about as we dismantled our packs from the roof of the van. The village chief was among them, and assisted in directing us to which one of these vivacious women was our our kin. My host mother ran up to me, smothered me in a frenzied hug, and promptly added, “Mamé Mané nga tudd” (Mamé Mané is your name). Within minutes, I had a Senegalese identity, new mother, and was on my way to meet the other 30+ direct family members that live in our compound. Continually whelmed by the blazing sun, the waft of open fire charcoals heating afternoon áttaya, and each and every snotty, riotous, and dynamic child here – it’s safe to say I’ve grown particularly fond of the time passed in Ndomor. While the majority of our time at CBT has been comprised of language integration, we were able to facilitate a causerie on mosquito net care and repair just last week. Our Wolof is still infantile as ever, but to fall upon the words of a seasoned Wolof proverb, “ndànk ndànk moot japp golo ci ñaay” (slowly, slowly you will catch the monkey in the forrest). I too, must patiently wait this sucker out.
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A mural along the wall of our local Cassé de Sante
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The power point is universal
I’ve written about the transition quite idyllically, as it serves of little use to labor on about times of trifling instance or behavior. Be that as it may, there are personal misfortunes that befall, tempering one’s character and instinct, that are worth the ensuing embarrassment to depict. AKA: When your favorite pair of Ray Bans fall into the hole that serves as the family toilet, do you fish them out or live and let be? I discovered I really must love my wayfarers.
In the days to come, the lot of us will head off to FOT (field orientation training) to visit the community sites we’ll call home for the next two years. Eternally curious as to what’s in store, and hoping I can get my act together and update this more than once a month..
In lively health and spirit,
N.M.M
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The crew in Ndomor hosting our first causerie on mosquito net care and repair
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Momma and I breaking it down on the dance mat
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Our incredibly patient jangalekat (teacher) Ouly breaks from lesson to lend Noogaiye a tissue

Early Bird

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Stripping things down to an essence of simplicity, can either stir a fury of unsettlement within, or contrastively, serve as the mortar to a steadfast brick of contentment. Fortunately, today, I’m partial to the latter. As I wrapped up the odds and ends of pre-service packing in the wee hours of the morning (no surprise, I waited until the night before departure to actually get things together), there was this pleasant lunacy in the concept that come sunrise, I would be pack mule-ing my way through an airport equipped with the essentials I would need to get by for the next 2+ years.

Fast forward to this afternoon, and I’m fairly certain I could use a CAT scan to get things double-checked in this noggin of mine. To put it in so many words, I landed in D.C. today to join up with the rest of my PC/Senegal tribe for staging, only to piece together that I’ve touched down 24 hours too soon.  Early bird gets the worm right? Well, this bird prefers Thai food, but night crawlers are cool too I s’pose. You’d think that logically, a red flag would have shot up, as the ticketing associate informed me that my reservation was for the 27th, not the 26th. But no! My mind was positively set that it was merely a mistake on the agency’s end (not bothering to even cross-check my departure emails and staging times), and I cajoled my way onto that 8:35am flight – 15 minutes before departure, curiously free of charge. Notwithstanding, there’s quite a surplus of benefits to this hastened arrival into the District:

1) I’m now happily over caffeinated, nestled in the alcove of an aromatic (and overpriced) airport café

2) This wrinkle in time has left me to finally update this blog-a-log.

3) There’s a group of my cohorts that are flying in this afternoon from out West and Puerto Rico (aka I’m hoping I get to be the welcome wagon, party of one)

4) I just found a sushi joint.

Rather unrelated, there’s a picturesque layer of pillowy snowfall accumulating as I glance out to the grounds now, and there’s much to be at ease about, despite my logistical hiccup of the morn’. My friends and family are fantastic, and ridiculously supportive – the benevolence I have amassed from you guys these past months has me eternally indebted, and I can’t even begin to say ‘thank you’ to a suitable degree. Per request, I’m attaching my mailing address for the first three months of PST (pre-service training) below, as well as under the ‘About’ tab, for any of you snail mail enthusiasts who are just agog to see just how many weeks it takes to send and receive letters from West Africa:

Nicole Murdoch
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 299
Thiès, Senegal
West Africa

Foolishly,
N.M.M

Stepping Forth

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“You cannot step twice into the same river.” For years, I have remained fastened to this reminder. Despite the fact that Heraclitus was known to be quite a reclusive crank in his day, the resonating quality of his words never fail to stir my soul into a paradoxical frenzy. One that implores myself to feast upon each fleeting moment, while augmenting a fervor for all to which may be explored. Which is ironic, for the sake of the philosopher. How did this man remain so hermitic? In his thoughts, the world’s a changin’ – rapidly, viciously, zealously. Because that same river will absolutely never be stepped into (no, not even a toe dip) again, why wasn’t his immediate instinct to pull a “carpe diem” and seize each drop of life as it splashed upon that troubled existential noggin of his? For the sake of steering away from trivialities, I’ll save the rest of this arbitrary tangent for a sticky note, or more likely the back of a bar napkin/coaster. Point is, I was at a loss of what to “URL” this blog – being of a perpetually indecisive nature. It’s a set in stone decision, one that doesn’t change…at least as long as I remain a $0.00/yr account member. Cue the only reasonable way to combat these confines: reference the very man who believed that the only thing permanent is change itself (attaboy, Heraclitus). Because one must give credit where credit’s due, a special thanks goes out to the friend who so generously provided me with an assortment of viable suggestions, “norivertwice” opportunely nestled amongst them.

While change can be beautifully ambiguous, subtle, and undetectable; often too, it can knock you with an uppercut of enlivening proportions. This invigorating blow I speak of, came in the form of my invitation to serve as a Peace Corps Health Volunteer in Senegal, W. Africa back in July. Adrenalized with gratitude, the countdown began. Fast forward through the final months as a Gator, commencement, holiday merriment, and a cursed amount of medical immunizations/workups – and I’m still reeling. Days of the new year have been spent in preparation, recreation, and appreciation – for what is, and what’s to come. With one month and twenty some days remaining until Staging in D.C. with the rest of my PC lads and ladies, and 4 weeks of European wanderings wedged between, it’s probably an appropriate time as ever to “launch” this sucker. It’s impossible to anticipate the eventuality of these next steps, but I’m looking forward to illuminating the quirks, amusements, and inevitable struggles as they come into focus. Of course, I’ll be sure to reserve the next few posts for a proper rundown of all things Senegal.  As the Peace Corps has supplied us invitees with a substantial amount of reading and educational resources to supplement our preparation, I’m quick to forget that neither Senegal’s cultural norms nor economic composition are common table talk here in the US. So drop me a line should you find yourself tickled with a question or two! I’m nascent to the duties of blogging, but I’m told a “comment box” exists somewhere on here.

In the hopes that I may be able to acquire a healthy dose of insight, awareness, entertainment, and absurdity to share with you all until my return home,

N.M.M