Monday, March 7, 2011

The Stoermer Family Invades Senegal - Kaymor

After several days of gradually breaking my family in to Senegal, we took the plunge and left for Kaymor for 3 nights and 2.5 days. Before leaving Kaolack, I picked up a few “essentials” for their stay in Kaymor: water (I drink the water straight from the tap and the well, but they weren’t about to do that so we got just enough water to last them until I could get water and filter it in my Peace Corps-provided filter), apples and bananas (I do this myself a lot now: stock up on fruit before heading back to the village; I try to make my dried fruit stash stretch for as long as possible), and another sleeping pad (I have one for my bed inside my hut, and had another for my bed outside behind my hut, but I lent that one to the girls that live with my family to go to school in Kaymor, and I thought it would be kind of mean to have to take that back from them for my family’s visit and then again in a few weeks when I knew it would begin to be too hot to sleep inside my hut, so I bought a new one; at about $15, it didn’t break the bank). And then we were off!

I’ve become accustomed to the bumpy, dusty ride down to Kaymor, but my parents weren’t overly excited about it. We arrived in Kaymor just before 1pm, and the kids quickly attacked us, so excited to greet my family. Once we unloaded all of our stuff (we sure had a lot because of all the gifts we had brought for my host family and friends), I swept out my hut because it had gotten really really dusty in the several days I had been gone because of the frequent dust storms we have now. I gave my family a quick tour of my hut and backyard – “quick” being an overstatement since there’s not much to my “home.” Luckily we’re used to camping and living in other similarly rustic situations with tight quarters so we all survived just fine. The hardest part for my family was probably the heat – not only is it starting to get above 100 degrees F every day, but there also is obviously no source of respite from the heat, such as air conditioning, and things were especially harder for my family because they came from Minnesota and Colorado, where the average temperature for the past few months is often 80 degrees cooler, if not more. It was often still almost 90 degrees F inside my hut when we were getting ready for bed, which made sleeping hard for my parents, who slept on my bed inside (Kristina and I slept on my bed outside). All the night noises also made sleeping difficult for all of them – the donkey’s hee-hawing, the dogs barking, the people listening to their radios late into the night, and the 6am call to prayer…I’ve gotten (more or less) used to all these sounds, but they definitely kept my family awake and/or woke them up periodically throughout the night.

Another thing they had to get used to my “bathroom” and general lack of plumbing. To make matters worse, too, the power had been cut to the water tower in Kaymor because the bill hadn’t been paid, so I had to go to the well and pull water for my family. My dad came with me one morning and tried pulling water with me – all the Senegalese women at the well made fun of him, but I saw it as a great gender teaching moment: men in America do all the things women do – cook, clean, take care of the children, and (if the situation ever arose) pull water from the well.

Here is a tour of my hut that Kristina filmed:


Before my family arrived in Senegal, I had planned out with my host mom everything that we were going to eat because I wanted my family to be able to get a taste of as many different kinds of Senegalese dishes as possible. For lunch our first day in Kaymor, I told her we would just eat whatever the rest of my host family was eating. It was my host mom’s turn to cook for the family our first 2 days in Kaymor, which worked out well for my family because my host mom can cook the best among the women in my host family who cook (i.e., my host mom and 3 aunts). For lunch that first day she cooked us “chou jen,” which is a rice and fish dish with an onion and tomato sauce. When I have more than one guest in Kaymor (especially more than one female guest), I ask whoever is cooking that day to put our lunch in a separate bowl which we eat from in my hut so there aren’t so many people around the women’s bowl. I did this when my family was here for that reason (and to keep the number of dirty hands reaching in the bowl to a minimum). In typical Senegalese fashion, our lunch bowl was enormous – way more than the four of us could ever eat – because we (or rather, my parents and sister) were guests of the family, so my host family served us way more food than we could possibly eat, to make sure that we would eat a lot and be really full.

After lunch, we went out and sat under the tree in front of my host parents’ rooms like I often do in the afternoon to chat and drink tea with my family. During that time my host mom caught one of my host dad’s chickens to cook for dinner. My host mom thought it would be funny to make my mom hold it, but she was really disappointed when my mom was clearly not fazed by it at all – when my mom was a child, her grandma used to raise and butcher chickens, so my mom was familiar with all that. My host family was surprised by that – that my mom’s grandma butchered chickens, because here (in Muslim culture) only men can do the actual killing of animals, so my host dad took the chicken and killed it. Dinner that night was delicious: chicken, lettuce, and potato wedges all covered in an oily onion sauce, with bread on the side.

For dinner our second night in Kaymor, we ate a millet dish, called “ngelax”, which I really like but which I rarely eat because it is expensive (compared to other millet dishes) to cook for a large number of people (which is how my host family cooks). It is millet mixed into a sauce of baobob fruit juice, peanut butter, and sugar, with raisins as garnish. Pretty sweet – and very tasty! For dinner our last night in Kaymor, we ate a very standard millet dish: “ceere mboom”. “Ceere” is the Wolof word for the cooked millet we eat, and “mboom” is the word for any leaf sauce served over millet. It can be a leaf sauce made from cabbage or baobob leaves, but it typically (at least in my host family) made from leaves from the moringa tree. These leaves are incredibly nutritious; we in Peace Corps Senegal promote moringa leaf consumption and intensive moringa bed planting because eating the tree’s leaves is so effective at combating under-nutrition and malnutrition in children (and adults). The first photo below is a picture of a woman stripping moringa leaves off their twigs. My host mom ate dinner with us that night and got to watch my family force themselves to eat it. I had forgotten to tell my host mom to not add any of the nasty dried and salted fish to the leaf sauce, so it had a pretty gross taste to it (much grosser than it normally is anyway – I typically really like our ceere mboom). Luckily my family was still full from the big lunch they had eaten. I was still not feeling well, so I barely ate a couple bites. I’m glad that my family got a taste of the kinds of potentially gross foods I eat because now they’ll hopefully have more sympathy for me on the rare occasions when I complain about the food. J

Visiting people:

When we were in Kaymor, I obviously wanted my family to meet all the different people I am friends with and work with as well as show them my work.

On numerous occasions women gave my mom their child, telling her to take the child back to America with her, which is their way of saying they like and trust my mom (since most of them wouldn’t actually want my mom to take their child, though I don’t doubt that some of them would be happy to see their child be taken to America).

I got a lot of pictures printed off of people in Kaymor and gave them away as gifts, which everyone loved! Here are the kids in my family looking at some of the pictures.

Some kids are scared of white people – especially when they see 4 white people.

Here is one of my dad’s chicken coops; my family was very curious about every aspect of life here, which I totally understand (I was the same way when I first got here).

Here Kristina and I are with my host mom in my host uncle’s boutique:

I brought my family to my Master Farmer’s field and showed them his vegetable and tree nursery and all the different intercropping/companion planting schemes we have, such as cabbage with onions and carrots, tomatoes with lettuce, and okra with cucumber. I was really disappointed that none of the mangoes were ripe yet… A few weeks later and we would have been swimming in mangoes.

We also visited the daily vegetable market.

Our second day in Kaymor was a Tuesday, which is the day for the weekly market in Kaymor, so I gave my family a tour of that.

We also stopped at the elementary school, where my parents examined the kids’ books. The teachers also gave us a tour of the school garden I helped them start.

We crossed the “bridge of death” numerous times when we were out and about.

We also stopped at the “peñc mi” to see the seed storage building I helped raise money for.

My dad is a mechanical engineer so we stopped a few times to investigate various machinery, such as a peanut butter machine and millet milling machine – the passerby’s were always curious why these white people were so curious about this very common machinery.

Near the entrance to Kaymor lots of people had sold bags of peanuts and left them for when one of the big trucks would come to pick them up, which it did on the Tuesday we were in Kaymor. The stacked bags of peanuts are under baobob trees and surrounded by peanut shells.

We obviously had to go visit the marabou’s house. He was unfortunately in Dakar during that time, but we met his first wife (pictured below with one of her kids). We spent time with Tomsir and Gallo, two of the marabou’s talibe who speak English pretty well (Gallo speaks English because he grew up in the Gambia and Tomsir speaks English because I tutor him in it). Tomsir bought a chicken and lettuce breakfast for us and then read a short speech that he had written for my family about his life and how much I’m helping him with learning English and teaching him about the world. It was so cute!!

We also went out the talibe’s garden – it sure has come such a long way in the year since I have started working with them!

While we were out there, one of the marabou’s sons started dancing – what a cutey pie!

Hospitality is a huge part of Senegalese culture: a host is expected to not hold back when providing for a guest, never asking for anything in return. However, this host-guest relationship is, in reality, a 2-way street: guests are expected to bring gifts for the host. Bringing gifts is important in other situations, too, such as when a family member travels, he/she is expected to bring back gifts for the family. I learned this quickly after coming to Senegal. Now I bring a gift back for my host family pretty much any time I travel for more than just a day; usually I bring fruit back because I like to give them something healthy and nutritious – and something that we rarely get in Kaymor (except during mango season). I realized a long time ago that when my family from America would come to Kaymor we would have to bring a bunch of gifts for my host family and friends, so I have been gathering clothes and toys from numerous sources over the past year in preparation. I also told my family about it, giving them suggestions of things to get to bring here, such as cotton t-shirts and other clothes, toys such as tennis balls and toy cars, sunglasses, belts, fingernail polish, pens and crayons, etc. My parents, Kristina, and one of my aunts took my list of suggestions and got everything on it! Needless to say, we had an enormous pile of gifts to give out. Luckily my host mom helped me decided who would get what (I did not want to have that responsibility): our first night in Kaymor I literally dumped all the gifts on the floor in her room and sorted through it all with her, discussing who should get what, and then she would send one of my host brothers or sisters to bring the gift to the person right then or the following day (since by the end of this all it was getting pretty late).

Here’s my host brother Moussa with Kristina and my mom – I had just written his name on the ball and he was so proud!

Here’s a girl who was dancing at the party we hosted with her new baby doll:

On our last day in Kaymor we hosted a huge party for the village: we had a big lunch of rice with beef and tons of veggies, then we had frozen bissap and baobob juice, and then live music and dancing.

That whole morning the women spent cooking lunch – and my mom even helped out, and she impressed them with her nimble vegetable cutting abilities. (I wasn’t feeling well so I opted out – and I’ve cut onions and carrots in my hands too much to know that I will inevitably end up with sliced fingers.)

Kristina juggled tennis balls for a while, entertaining all the kids: The chickens tried to get a pre-lunch snack, but we quickly shooed them away.

The daughter of a friend of mine really wanted her mom to give her a slice of the turnip!

We took several videos throughout the day; here is one that Kristina took when the women were cooking lunch:

Finally lunch was done – and it was time to dish it all up and then eat!
Lots of bowls left our compound on top of women’s heads, destined for another family in Kaymor. Our delicious platter had lots more meat and veggies than most bowls – apparently the people who foot the bill get a better portion than others. I was really disappointed I wasn’t feeling well and barely ate anything – this was the best Senegalese lunch I’d had in Kaymor, and probably would ever have again!

After a brief rest in the afternoon to let our food digest and let the hot sun go down a little bit, we showered and put on our nice Senegalese clothes (or rather, my mom, Kristina, and I all put on a different Senegalese “complet” of mine, and my dad borrowed a “boubou” from my host dad to wear). As usual, my host mom helped all three of us put on our head wraps (I still haven’t gotten the hang of that…)

They all looked so out of place in their Senegalese clothes! Kristina wanted to get a picture of the 2 of us with the Travel section from the Denver newspaper, because if you submit a photo like that, they sometimes print your picture! Keep your eyes open for this photo (or another one at the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar; see ‘Dakar’ blog post) in the Denver newspaper’s Travel section! Then we got a picture with my talibe friends:

This little boy was not quite sure what to think of my dad in his boubou.

After long contemplation, he approved: We had front row seats for the music and dancing.

Us three ladies:

My mom with my host mom: My dad with my host dad: Just Kristina and I: Kristina with my youngest host brother (in one of the t-shirts my family had brought as gifts):

Here are some videos from the party. The way a dancing party like this works is that the women singing will sing a song about a different person there and then that person is supposed to come up and dance and give money to the women singing. Since we hosted the party, the women sang about us a ton – so I would always have to tell my family who they were singing about and then push them up to dance (which meant I was up dancing all the time to encourage my family – and other people – to dance). Men typically don’t attend such dancing events, but since my dad was there, they sang about him and everyone got a huge kick out of him when he got up to dance. That was probably my favorite part of the day – showing off to them how American men can dance and that it is perfectly normal for a husband to dance with his wife and a father to dance with his daughter.

Dad dancing with Danielle

Dad dancing with Kristina

Dad dancing with Mom

Cooking lunch for party

Soukaye and other women dancing with Mom and Danielle

Tanta Sadju with baby teaching Kristina to dance

Soukaye and Danielle's songs

Singing and dancing for Mom


Singers and drummers

My family said they had quite the “experience” in Kaymor and I know they’re really glad they spent time there. What I found really interesting was hearing what the people in Kaymor had to say about my family. Here are some of the people of Kaymor’s comments:

- Danielle and Kristina look a lot alike except that Kristina is skinnier, has whiter and straighter teeth, and is more beautiful than Danielle (though, in typical Senegalese fashion, they said Kristina would be more beautiful if she were just a little bit fatter). (It’s a good thing I have a healthy level of self-confidence and love Kristina a lot, or, after hearing these comments so often, I might have just packed my bags and followed my family back to the States. J )

- Jean (my mom) looks very young and is very beautiful. They also couldn’t believe that my mom is 2 years older than my dad – no such thing as that ever happens here!

- Craig (my dad) is very handsome and very young (they were calling him a child he looked so young to them!) – apparently lots of women (who already have husbands) told my host mom that they would be more than happy to marry him; I didn’t tell him that – I don’t want him getting too full of himself. J

Up to this point, we had rented out a car to take us from place to place – the kind of car in the second photo below. But after 3 days in Kaymor I figured my family would be tough enough to take the only kind of transportation I take to and from Kaymor: an “alham”. So we got up early our last morning in Kaymor, finished packing our bags, and went out to stand on the side of the road by my house to wait for the car to go by, then we threw our bags on top and hopped in. We got rearranged a couple times throughout the 3 hour trip; Kristina ended up sitting in the front seat – something I had never done in my 1.5 years in Senegal, and here she was doing it on her first ride in that kind of car! People were more or less continuously hopping on and off, but we estimate it had an average of about 30 people crammed inside, sitting and standing. We also had 3 goats on top, and several chickens at our feet. I was glad that my family couldn’t understand Wolof at one point when a girl right behind me asked for a bag because she felt like she was going to vomit. I’m really glad they had that experience, and I think they were, too, but I know that they were glad we got out in Kaolack and took a taxi to Dakar rather than staying in the alham for the whole trip.

1 comment:

  1. So many people fit inside that alham!!

    My favorite picture was of the little boy who was not quite sure what to think of your dad in his boubou. haha!