"The body is the harp of the soul. It is yours to bring forth from it sweet music or confused sounds" Kahlil Gibran

Friday, January 14, 2011

I'll trade you my wolf spider and raise you a geko!

I got to say goodbye to the little America that Peace Corps orientation had become, and hello to the most profound experience of my life.  In one day I went from not knowing what language I would be learning or where I would be going, to sitting in a small yard covered in sand with chickens and goats.
We have lost one Peace Corps trainee to medical separation.  She was sent home for medical reasons with no warning.  It was a shock for she seemed fine.  There of course was no explanation for privacy reasons.  One can speculate, but I won’t.  One of my favorite fellow volunteer s has been also kept overnight at the med ward with another volunteer for having the flu.  I shared a room with him and now worry that I may be next, but so far so good.
Back to profound experience, late yesterday I found out I’m learning Wolof.  Me and a handful of others were among just a few not to learn the more widespread language of Mandinka.  The idea of the exotic language thrills me, and I hear  in is actually quite useful, as most of the big city speaks wolof as well as the markets, public transportation, and the country of Senegal.  Before I knew it, the next day I was shipped out and was sitting with a small family who aside from the children who knew a few basic phrases of English knew only Wolof.  After basic greetings and introductions (Salaam alekum, Amelekum Salaam , Nanga Def?  Jamma Rek.  Neconga tudda.  Xander la tudda.) I ran out of ammunition and we sat for a long time, I was just pointing at things getting the words for basics, goat = beh, chicken = ghana, water = nou (for this one you make a choking sound at the end).  It was incredible though, and by far the most authentic cultural experience one could ever have.
Hadi our language cultural facilitator told the family everything about me before leaving.  My host mom, Kumbajuuf told me through Hadi that I was now part of the family after I did my best to thank her in the local language and in English through Hadi.  Before leaving Kumbajeef gave Hadi a few worried looks and urgent sounding phrases to which Hadi nodded and looked at me solemnly and said, they did their best to try and kill it but couldn’t… you have a geko in you ceiling I of course not knowing that this was serious said “no problem, I like gekos, their cute.” 
After dinner, I hung my mosquito net, filtered my water and added a few drops of bleach (the water came from a well 10 minutes walk away), I used the pit latrine (literally a hole in the ground where you squat), and climbed in my bed.  Just as I was getting to sleep WEE WEE WEE WEE WEE WEE… the nocturnal geko started screaming… staring our game of Whack O’ Geko that we played all night… I would get up and slam on the ceiling and the geko would go scrambling around in the insulated rafters, I would then try to sleep before he began heckling me again. 
 Enough with humor, I need to get back to the profound and life altering J
I have very little time for this post, so I will sum it up in a poem I wrote this morning.
Tin rusting slowly
Chickens peck the sand
A goat stumbles slowly through the yard
I sit and eat with a beautiful family the dinner of
Ground peanuts and mashed rice
Served in one bowl
We all eat the seasons harvest
The children smile
I am at peace
Yesterday morning I had no idea what I would learn.  I am now living with the last remnants of our tribal roots.  Today I have two more immunizations one in each arm to make about 10 total.  Tonight I have a date with a geko.


  1. By candlelight? How romantic, sir!
    Good luck with your Geko.

  2. Let me know if you come across any Sabar dancing! It's a Senegalese style that involves a lot of jumping and is really amazing to watch. Malang Diatta teaches it in Boulder.

  3. Whack the Geko sounds like an exciting game lol I hope it lets you sleep!! Stay well and be safe!!!

    - Heather

  4. So exicted that you have a pet Xander! I'm sure there will be a lot of bonding opportunities with your geko. Have a great time learning Wolof - sounds awesome!