Sunday, July 19, 2009

Senegal part 8 - 3 = 5

Hola! Guten Tag! Ciao Bella! Namaste! Perestroika! This is me stalling for time because I don’t know how to start this email! More “!!!”
Ahem, well, I suppose that can count as a lameass opening, so let’s just jump right into the midst of things…

On Wednesday, Ngoné reappeared out of thin air from Dakar. The actual trajectory from Dakar to Matam entailed about four buses, three donkeys, two coughing drivers, and a chicken in a coop/partridge in a pear tree (if you were keeping up with the tempo) spaced out over the course of 15-20 hours, but because I walked in to get breakfast not expecting to see her, to me, it appeared she materialized out of thin air. Needless to say, it was a rough night of nonexistent sleep for her, but after 3 cups of Nescafe and an entire can of condensed milk, she rallied enough strength to make it to the office to go to work.

Honestly, the thought of her journey and the bags under her eyes were sufficient to make me want to go to sleep, but we managed a fine morning of checking email, and exchanging chuckle-inducing stories interspersed with mild discussions about our project. Somehow after staying awake all morning and early afternoon (minus a few minutes during lunch when Ngoné fell asleep), we slammed our two shots of lunchtime tea (I kid you not, we’re served tea in glass thimbles that acutely resemble shot glasses), Ngoné was on fire. Let me explain…

Perhaps it’s the nose ring, perhaps it’s the helping hand around the kitchen, perhaps it’s the smile, but it is very clear that when Andrea leaves here uncommitted to any Senegalese man, many hearts à la Matam will be broken. Ngoné has picked up on this fact, and in her sleepless state, decided to teach Andrea a new word: Diongué. It is important to know one’s audience, and I know there is only one person copied to this email list who speaks Wolof fluently, so Jojo, this is your cue to start laughing. “What is Diongué?” the rest of you are probably asking. This is exactly the same question I asked myself, and by the graces of our internet connection, found the answer to be this, “Diongué: The Woman’s Art of Seduction.” Yes, my friends, somehow, with the very purposely loose-fitting clothes and sticky-ish rice, Andrea can be equivocated to having “seductress” powers in Ngoné’s mind. For many reasons, I found this absolutely hilarious, and spent the next few minutes doubled-over with laughter and tears coming out of my eyes…in fact, here comes another fit…

::10 minutes later:: Ok, back. That night, I had another “practice” with my girls soccer team/hodgepodge, and showed up promptly at 6 as agreed the previous Saturday. 40 minutes later, the other coach and the girls decided to make an appearance. Given my renewed tiredness, this didn’t bode well with me at first, but I held my tongue and we finished 1.5 hours later with limited success. After a confusing conversation of agreement disguised as disagreement, we agreed (I guess) to meet on Friday at 5, and after dodging hoards of 10-year-old boys demanding I give them my new soccer balls, I made it back to our room tired but moderately content, though much of the contentness stemmed from actually using my duffel bag as a duffel bag instead of as a clothes holder. The oddness of day cannot be properly captured in this email, but let’s just say we were all off, and I went to bed fairly positive someone laced the Matam air with some kind of “Make Me Crazy” solution.

The following morning, we got dropped off one street before our office, so I charged out of the car expecting this to be part of Ngoné’s new exercise routine, but we instead meandered into the office of the community radio station. After demonstrating that I know absolutely no Pulaar (the local language), the head of the radio station launched into an hour-long explanation of his various programming activities, including lamenting the one mid-wife Andrea and Latsouk specifically warned us was absolutely unhelpful. In the midst of my fly swatting, the head found out my name is not “Kuemr,” but “Mala,” to which he took great joy in explaining that if you take out the second “a” and add an “l and e”, you have his name. I tried to look interested, but instead made a slight notion that I had his name written down throughout the course of the interview, and my being American does not preclude the ability to spell. Fortunately, another man came in a few minutes later, the Regional Coordinating Assistant Director Head of Chief Bureau Administrator (or a title equally as long), and steered the conversation back to something of warrant, and actually interjected a few points that were quite useful to our research. Wanting to go out with a bang, Ngoné and I left and finally made it to the office.

That night at our regional director’s house, I asked Latsouk if his program director would be coming to Matam soon. Latsouk replied that he was supposed to come today, but no one has heard from him since yesterday. Right on cue, the program director rolled up in his truck, which in apparent decoration for Bastille Day (week?) was decked out with flashing red, white, and blue lights, and stumbled out of the car with nothing but the clothes on his person and a confused expression on his face. He is hilarious in his own rite, but one of the slowest moving people I have ever met. After a ten-minute journey through the front door, he walked up the stairs to meet us, and speaking at approximately 2 words per minute, told us that he just rode in the car for 12 hours. I must hand it to the man, because after a 12-hour journey, I would probably run straight for the nearest bed, but he joined us for dinner and lumbered off to sleep at a decent hour that night.

Friday brought a slew of interesting events, not being limited to being informed that I would be carted off to nothing cubed for sure on Sunday with a truckload of Senegalese UNFPA workers. We also enjoyed a second batch of sticky-ish rice, and I committed to cooking an Indian meal for the following day with the spices Ngoné brought back for me from Dakar. Enter yogurt chicken…

For those of you who know anything about Indian cooking, you probably know that one of the easiest ways to make a “curry” sauce is adding whatever spices to plain yogurt and mixing in any proteins, potatoes, vegetables you desire. Stick it in the oven, boil some rice, pitter around for an hour, and presto!, you have the perfect meal for a family, an awkward third date, your friend visiting from Germany, or whatever else. Apparently, the concept of cooking anything not sweet with a dairy product was highly bizarre and prompted grave fits of nervous laughter, so for one whole day, I had 4 (5?) Senegalese people questioning, doubting, pondering, visibly showing their fear for this concoction of a dish, which, not very affectionately, garnered the name “Yogurt Chicken.” Ngoné, in her constant silent quest for competition, told me to “shove it in their faces” and make the best damn dish possible.

Saturday proceeded with average hilarity: coordinating my coming to the kitchen to make my dish with the cook with whom I share no common languages was highly time-consuming, as were buying the ingredients (which entailed a special opening of our preferred store). Once in the store, we found out that the only type of yogurt was sweetened vanilla, which presented a problem for two reasons:

1. Ew
2. Our regional director is diabetic

But very much wanting to cook the best damn dish possible, or at that point, any dish possible, I went with the sweetened vanilla and prayed whatever the hell is in “Madras Curry Powder” would be potent enough to mask the taste. As for the regional director, he can’t be THAT diabetic, right?

I walked into the kitchen, which is really a room with a bunch of utensils and two propane gas tanks on the floor, and spent the next hour mimicking motions and sounds for “tasting,” “smelling,” “looking,” “chopping,” “scooping,” “cooking,” and “ow! I stabbed myself trying to do my fancy chopping thing with this tin knife!” Our cook knows what she’s doing though, and within in an hour, we managed to finish all the prep work and left everything to cook for the next few hours. We even found unsweetened yogurt in the fridge, so all turned out well and I returned back to our place to finish exercising; an hour and a half later, I sat in the car with Andrea and 4 (5?) Senegalese skeptics by my side.

Upon reentering the kitchen, I made the slightly alarming discovery that the cook forgot to cook (I know, awkward sentence) the regional director’s meal, but since the chicken had been pre-cooked and any French/French derived yogurt lasts longer than your diamond ring will, we turned up the gas tank to the “burn a house down in 60 seconds or your money back guaranteed” mode and got everything out toute de suite.

Latsouk had already tasted a potato piece from yogurt chicken dish, and knew it was safe/appealing to eat, so he dove in first, and an alarmed crowd of Senegalese followed suit and, TA DA! Enjoyed the meal! Or at least they ate enough and gave me enough compliments to make me feel like they enjoyed the meal. So long as no one gets sick, I’m happy to take in the praise, even if it’s even slightly false. We finished off with the rest of the sticky-ish rice, so between Indian food and Thai d-e-s-s-e-r-t, I was in Matam heaven.

Alas, I will be going into the field to finally chase nomads today, so wish me luck, but don’t even try asking me where we’re going, because save geographic coordinates, this places barely exists on a map. I find it entertaining that in exactly two weeks, I will be on a plane heading back to my apartment in lower Manhattan, so in the span of 15 days, I will have covered the very extremes of the earth in nearly any way definable. One of those moments that makes you stop and ask how your life (in a very good way) got to this point? Fortunately for you, my natural writing style manifests in more humorous ways, so you do not have to read about this musing; however, if you’d like to circumvent this very “study abroad” conversation altogether, I suggest you avoid my physical presence like the plague for at least the next few months. I’m feeling a big spout of deepness coming on.

Anyway, depending in which country you’re reading this from, good day or good night, and I will talk to you next week in inevitably hilarious renditions of chasing some of the most removed people on the planet.




Anonymous said...

Your writing skills are anything but maladroit.Great blog!

CafePhine said...

One time I made EasyMac with chocolate milk because that was the only thing I had.

It was bad.

In conclusion, not all dairy is the same.

The end.