The people in my village often offer me respect that I don’t deserve. I have achieved very little and sometimes find it hard to even survive in Senegal outside finishing daily chores. When I make mistakes, they are very good at making it look like I had meant to do those things. They are a very forgiving people. The one time it is impossible to stop from openly laughing at someone, however, is when he or she falls face first into a pile of donkey poop. I had this exact experience. After a great meeting with the women’s group in my village, I was heading home to relax and read a good book. I was walking away but turned around to wave goodbye and didn’t see the big hole in my path. I tripped into said hole and landed face first in a big pile of shit. Luckily, I didn’t literally eat shit. It did hurt rather badly but I got up and laughed like everything was fine. I shouted, “looks like I need a shower” at the group, left my dignity in the hole, and limped home.
I don’t have access to any news when I am in my village. The only time I hear things is through other volunteers or when I go to the city, sit in a cafe, and read about recent events online. I have missed a lot of major events while in village, only to return to a Facebook full of angry friends and a long list of sad articles. This was most overwhelming in the weeks following the presidential election. I would be sitting at site surrounded by my Muslim family and friends one minute—being cared for and worried about—only to get to the city and find that a huge amount of people from my own country showing hate and mistrust for my surrogate family. It is a hard thing to know nothing and then everything all at once. The United States is facing issues that hit very close to home in my current situation. The one comfort I get is from the articles I read and friends that I talk to about diligently fighting for education of American people. Keep marching, keep yelling, never settle, engage.
I am not a misunderstood genius or a child of a celebrity (unless you count best accountant in the Billings area as a celebrity). I am not a recovering drug addict and I don’t have a rare disease. I have not survived against all odds or lived to tell. But I have, on occasion, witnessed the extraordinary. In America, New Years Eve is my favorite holiday. My family goes up to a hot springs in the mountains and eats and drinks and laughs. I haven’t missed a New Years with my family for as long as I can remember. This past New Years, I was in Senegal and was not looking forward to spending New Years alone. My friend Sarah and I decided to travel to the region of Fatick and meet another volunteer, Alyssa for festivities. We swam in the mangroves, took a boat ride to a shell island, and spent the day on the dock. At night, a resort set off fireworks over the water. It was Senegalese in the most beautiful and ridiculous way. The sparks reflected in the water and then started to bounce off the water. Fireworks were shot in every direction. They went straight into the mangroves and skipped across the water like stones before exploding in the trees. We watch from the dock and danced with a Belgian family who bought us fancy champagne. Later we walked along the beach to find a dark place to swim in the fluorescent phytoplankton. It was like the fireworks that had landed in the water were still going off all around us. It was extraordinary.
My whole family here in Senegal loves to dance. They are all pretty good dancers too. I have decided that they each dance like a different decade. The baby was an aggressive headbanger from day one. My namesake, Fama, is definitely a more modern dancer. She puts her hands on the floor and twerks like she is trying to get a bug off her butt without using her hands. Seneba, the oldest girl, throws her feet and hands out around her like she is trying to (unsuccessfully) dance the Charleston. My brother is more of an early 2000’s dancer. He bops his head a little and shuffles his feet but doesn’t show any enthusiasm. My host mom knows almost all the moves to Beyonce’s single ladies. I’ve never seen my host dad dance but I imagine him doing the chicken dance and shaking it on the dance floor like any good dad.
I was sitting in a shop with friends waiting for them to finish ordering. While sitting on the bench a Senegalese man walked over to me and started talking to me. He asked all the usual questions. Do you have a husband? Are you a spy with the CIA? Finally we landed on a question I could answer without rolling my eyes. What are you doing in Senegal? I told him about working with farmers in the surrounding area and he said he was a farmer. Great I thought! A farmer who speaks English! What a great work partner. He started showing me photos of his farm and asking me all sorts of questions about natural pesticides. Then suddenly the photos were not of his farm anymore. At least not…that farm. This could have been an honest mistake that I would have overlooked if he had not stopped on the photo and asked me if I had ever seen a black penis before. I got up to leave but was pulled back down to see a few photos of some lady’s bunghole before pulling away and leaving the store. I chocked the whole thing up as a bad experience and hoped to never seen the man again. I moved on a sort of forgot about it. Two weeks later, I was biking to a farm near my house when I heard my name called out. I stopped to greet the man on the road that had called out to me. He seemed nice enough but I couldn’t remember him from my village. He wanted to show me his farm and I agreed to look at his plants. It was not until he opened the door to the pitch-black chicken coop and told me to come inside with him that I remembered who he was—dick pic guy! I grabbed my bike helmet, said I had to go, and booked it out of there. Now I see dick pic guy all the time. He’s my neighbor. Just my luck.