During training, I am living in a small village outside of Mbour. My family’s home is an enclosed concrete compound with tin roofs. The outside walls are painted with Harry Potter-like maroon and yellow stripes. There is a sandy courtyard with two trees. The compound has one tap for water outside. In addition, the family also stores water in large clay jugs or plastic buckets, especially useful for when the tap runs dry. There is an assortment of chairs and low-sitting wooden stools scattered around the yard; their constant rearrangement throughout the day depends entirely on where the shade has migrated.

Evening-time usually finds people outside lounging on large patterned plastic mats, much like poor-man’s versions of the mats you can find in the Gaiam catalog under “indoor-outdoor living.” There are four bedrooms (I luxuriously have my own) and one living room. The kitchen is a semi-outdoor space and houses a gas tank as well as a smattering of bowls and large mortars-and-pestle. There is no refrigeration in my village, and electricity comes on and off depending on the whims of the powers that be. People are very comfortable in the dark and almost have cat-eye vision. They use flashlights, but not as crutches like we would do. It is amazing to me that babies and small children wander around in the dark, outside, even on the dirt road with seemingly no supervision. The truth is that some adult is always watching, even though it may not seem that way. Children in general here are much more coordinated than American kids, since there are no “baby spoons” or “baby foods.” My younger brother at one-and-a-half can walk around drinking warm kinkeliba (African tea) out of an adult-sized mug with impressive ease. The parents of the children at my compound, though incredibly affectionate and cuddly with their children, don’t baby their children in the sense of keeping them away from every danger imaginable, whether it be hot food, something sharp on the ground, or a five-year-old child swinging a toddler around. Parents seem to give their kids the benefit of the doubt here, and the kids seem to be much more self-reliant because of it.

The bathroom is a partially outdoor Turkish toilet, meaning it’s a hole in the ground with the bonus aesthetic of having a ceramic frame. In lieu of toilet paper, we use striped plastic tea-kettles (ubiquitous in the marketplaces) filled with water in order to wash ourselves. The shower is adjacent to the toilet area and is a private square with jagged mosaic tiles—this is where the bucket baths happen.

My room is small but has enough room to house a twin-sized bed with mosquito net, my water filter, a cardboard box that doubles as a nightstand/bookshelf, and my bike. I also bought a small one of those multicolored plastic mats, just to tie the room together. When I actually get installed at my real site in Kolda, I will probably be able to have drawers or some other means of storing belongings.

Ah, I am so happy. I am happy in a sense of struggling every day, yet as I go to sleep every night I am really satisfied that I’m here. I’m here! I eat the same rice and fish every day yet some days there are luscious mangoes, or spicy bean sandwiches! (Oh, and by the way, for those of you who have been to La Grand Dakar or A Bistro in Brooklyn, N.Y. – okay, that’s cute and all, I almost fell for it too, but Senegalese food is really just huge communal bowls of carbohydrates (rice and bread), some fish, and no vegetables. Not for the gluten-averse. And to top it all off, beans are looked down upon in this society, so even with all the rice heaped in front of you, there’s precious little opportunity for a Latin-American style rice and beans fest). These sound like criticisms, but they are just my little frustrations amid a flood of newness that I’m invigorated by. I am loving the Pulaar language. I am loving the bucket baths. Most of all— and I’ll try to be as cliché as possible—but I love the people and how amazingly warm they are. I know I am going to learn a lot from them.

13 thoughts on “Mbour

  1. Oh hurray! I’m so glad you’re back. And so appreciative of every opportunity to vacariously participate in your experience, through your posts.

    Carry on!

    (When you have a chance, could you write a little about Pulaar — what it’s like and how you’re learning it?)

    • Hi Jeannette! We learn Pulaar in a classroom setting every day for about 4 hours in the morning. I am in a group of 5 people learning the Fulakunnda dialect, taught by our teacher, Samba, who is Senegalese and speaks it as his native language (and has also studied it as a language). He is originally from Kolda, where all 5 people in my group will be placed (it is also the only region that speaks Fulakundda as a whole). We are then expected to go home to our families every day and practice it. It is pretty, especially as compared to Wolof which tends to sound choppy and more shout-y. Pulaar uses mostly soft vowel sounds (as in Spanish) and also Spanish-sounding “r’s.” There are a few letters that do not exist in English which we call “funny d,” “funny b,” and so on, but they are not so far out of our realm that we can’t attempt to pronounce them.

      While parts of me wish I was learning some Wolof to really get by throughout Senegal (esp. for when I visit Dakar), Pulaar is much more useful than Wolof throughout West Africa. Word on the street is that it originally was brought from Egypt, and that is why it is still spoken in Sudan. It is common in Guinea, Mali, & so on.

      If I’ve learned one thing about acquiring a non-romance language (and especially one that exists primarily as a spoken, not written language), it’s that you really have to let go of English and just accept what is being presented to you grammatically. There is not always an exact English translation, and it’s hard to tell where the article is, what the rule is, and so on. Sometimes a sentence doesn’t even make perfect sense in Pulaar, but that’s how people say it, so that’s what’s correct. In that sense, it’s more fun than learning French for example, because you’re not so worried about being “correct,” you just have to speak like a local.

  2. What a wonderful post! The description of the moving furniture in the yard to follow shade reminds me that in many languages furniture is called “movables.” In Spanish, for example, “muebles” and in Italian, “mobili.”

    Yes, children in other countries are freer than overly protected American children. I remember my own childhood in Guatemala. When I got my first bike I would go miles away from home on my own at the age of 8 or 9. By 12 I was riding the city buses alone.

    When I come to visit next year perhaps I will bring gifts of flashlights that use a crank to recharge the battery. What do you think?

    • Hi Maya! It’s been a long time since high school and now we’re in completely different countries. I found the link to your blogg on Facebook and was interested because my sister was in the Peace Corps in Marocco a while ago. I am also interested in your experience because I am now teaching Norwegian language to immigrants in Norway, many of whom come from Africa.

      Anyway, regarding what Alberto said about furniture being moved–in Norwegian it is called møbler, which is similar to muevos, etc. Also when you rearrange furniture it is called ommøblering.

  3. Hi Maya,
    I loved your very insightful report on the language instruction. I just googled the Pular language and found a Pular language manual that is used by the Peace Corps. I wonder if the same dialect that you are learning. I love it that the word “peace” or “jam” is used as a greeting. For example, “Jam waali?” was translated as “Did you spend the night in peace?” which I assume means “Did you sleep well?” Since I teach ESL to students from various countries in Africa (not Senegal) I will ask about Pular.
    Stay happy and eager….Jam!…Donna

  4. Thanks for elaborating on the language instruction. That answers another question I had, namely, what do you DO all day? But with 4 hours every morning in the classroom, that’s a big chunk of time.

    Another question, for when you have a chance: how long will you be in Mbour? When will you move to Kolda?

    • Typical day for me while in training village:

      8am Wake up, take bucket bath, eat bread for breakfast in my room, out of sight of my family because it’s Ramadan
      9am Start language class at local school with Peace Corps teacher
      12:30pm Finish class, go to local “bitik” (boutique) to have a Fanta with classmates
      2pm Eat Ramadan “lunch” at homestay which consists solely of rice
      2:30-7pm Kick it at home, talk to my family, learn Pulaar through immersion, try to secretly find a bean sandwich somewhere in neighborhood for some protein
      7:20 Break fast with family at sunset. Eat white bread, kinkeliba (African tea), and dates.
      7:45-10pm Kick it with family. Sit outside, sing songs, dance, make funny faces at my siblings. PC teacher or American friends may swing by.
      10pm Dinner
      10:30/11 Go to bed/have alone time before drifting off to sleep

      • Wait, I forgot that in that big open chunk in the afternoon, I also practice gardening at the school with the others in my language group. We are growing okra, lettuce, cowpeas, etc etc.

      • Hi Maya, Great talking to you tonight and also seeing the photos you posted on your blog spot. I really love to hear the detailed accounts of what you do during the day – brings you more vividly into my imagination (thanks Jeannette for asking this.) Saw some other photos of Kolda on the web – looks so lovely. Loved “conversing” on the phone tonight with the other PC volunteer’s grandma – I think I caught “hello” and “Salaamu Aleikum” and “Wa-Aleikum Salaam” (sp?)- (which I remembered from Morocco.) Talk soon. When I figure out what postage is from Senegal, will let you know. Love, Mom (Erin’s with dad in China right now, I’m in Australia and you’re there – all connected.)


        Wa-Aleikum Aassalaam

  5. Hi Maya:

    Your blog was sent to me by Kathy Louv with whom I had dinner last night. What an amazing experience you are having! I’m so glad you are writing about it, because the reflection will help you to think about the experience in a deeper way. We are living vicariously through your adventure. I can’t wait to here more about it.

  6. Hi Maya! It is really interesting to read your blog, having written one myself. It makes me want to continue writing again after having stopped for a while.

    How do you update your blog and what sort access do you have to the internet? –Rebecca

  7. Thank you for sharing
    I don’t want to be egoit by not saying so
    I spend a good time reading your blog even I don’t know you…It was really fan

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