Step 1: Join the Peace Corps
Step 2: Be the only “toubob” in your small Senegalese village
Step 3: Enjoy a wide range of activities
I’ve broken this “How to” down into three simple steps, and now I’ll describe how I’ve successfully managed accomplished it – how I’ve managed to be every combination of every age and both genders all at once:
I draw and play with kids. I have crayons in my hut that the kids love scribbling on scrap paper with (there isn’t an abundance of paper around, so I grab as much scrap paper from our regional house in Kaolack that I can find and give it to the kids to draw on). The kids love it when I draw them a car or house, but I still can’t successfully draw a bike…maybe by the time my service is over I will have accomplished that task. :) Once the paper is full of scribbles (or even when it isn’t) I turn the paper into an airplane – and then my hut becomes the craziest airport in the world. I also play around with the kids outside – chasing them, throwing them up in the air, dancing with them, playing hand-clapping games, etc.
I play soccer with teenage boys and young men. In the middle of January the middle/high school in Kaymor started its soccer league: each grade has a team – and the teachers also have a team – and almost every evening (never Wednesdays and Sundays) two different teams will play each other. The teachers “recruited” me to be on their team (not because I’m good – almost all the teachers are better than me – but because I’m their age and they thought it would be more fair for me to play on their team than on another team), so I played with them in their first game (and haven’t been in Kaymor for the other games). We played well but could never quite get the ball into the net, so we ended in a tie of zero to zero. On the days when there aren’t games the boys (and teachers if they want) still go out to the field and just play for fun. I enjoy these days more than game days because we all get to play and because there is often a lot of laughter while we play – I remember one day in particular we spent more time laughing (usually for no apparent reason) than we did playing soccer. I always go home from playing soccer feeling tired but refreshed at the same time.
I braid hair, get dressed up, and talk “girl talk” with teenage girls. Braiding hair is a big cultural activity here, so I’ve gotten my hair braided four times now. Getting dressed up – wearing new clothes, putting make-up on (some girls spend more time putting on make-up here than I did in the States, though I guess that isn’t saying much since I rarely wore make-up in America…), choosing the right earrings or bracelet to wear, etc. – is just as exciting for girls here in Senegal as it is for girls in America, and with the spread of American culture, the girls don’t really look that much different from girls in America either. “Girl talk” in Senegal really isn’t that different either – and it certainly is helping me broaden my Wolof vocabulary! I also am trying to get the girls to do things that typically boys only do here – like go running and play soccer. The girls do these things in their PE class (which they only have once a week), but usually that’s the only time they do it. My friend Yassa will often jog out to the soccer field with me and run around the field for a little bit while I play soccer with the boys (she doesn’t like playing soccer). Sometimes we do pull-ups on the soccer net (the net itself is only put up during the school soccer games – see picture I posted in the previous blog post), but neither of us can do that many…yet anyway! :)
I talk about marriage, children, and life with young and older women. These topics are incredibly common – and I can relate to them because of their similarities in American culture, but at the same time they are also things I can also use them as an avenue to teach Senegalese women about American culture because of their differences. I talk with women about these topics while I’m helping them cook, at baptisms, when we’re doing laundry, when we’re eating or making tea, etc.
I work in the garden or field with women and men. As I’ve mentioned before, I am now helping out women with their women’s group’s garden as well as the talibe’s garden in Kaymor (talibe are boys and young men that work for a marabou, which is a Muslim religious leader), and I work out in the fields (and will do so a lot more once the rainy season starts in a few months). These activities also provide plenty of time to talk not only about agriculture and gardening, but also about the environment here, culture, food, religion, education, and the list is endless.
I talk about the past and how things have changed with old men and women. This is something I am only beginning to be able to do (because my language skills have not been good enough until now), and I am excited to see how much I can learn about Senegalese history and culture from older men and women in the village.