Dude, Where's Paul?
Welcome to Africa! Please feel free to keep in touch with me through this site. I'll be posting pictures and stories of my time in Africa. Drop in every once in a while and leave a message. See you in 2008. All comments on this site are solely the opinions of Paul Powers. They do not express the opinions of the United States, the Republic of Senegal, the Peace Corps or any governmental affiliation.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Monday, September 19, 2011
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Saturday, August 18, 2007
The Dancing Tree
Near my village there’s a tree. This tree is THE tree for my villagers and surrounding villages. This tree not only has umph….it has a really old and traditional myth associated with its existence. The locals all believe the tree belongs to a cranky genie. In American culture, one is expected to rub a shiny lamp to bring about a magical genie to grant you your 3 wishes. In Senegalese culture, one is expected to be outside of your house during the hours of 1pm-3pm and a little peek-a-boo at 7pm-8pm to bring about our supernatural friends. Ah, but of course genies here in Africa are naturally soul-eaters. During those hours, we don’t leave our family compound in fear of losing our souls. Even though all of it is a load of BS aimed at keeping the children at bay, the adults still avoid going out during those times as well. It’s all about tradition, and a huge ass hollowed out tree that our neighbor Babacar the Soul-Eating Genie resides. (I have pictures)
The name of this specific tree is "Bak o mβechan", which means "The Dancing Tree." It is said that the dancing genie will only come out if you dance for him. In addition, he will only show up if he approves of your dancing. It sounds as if he might be a little too picky about his entertainment. Many people from around the area come to dance for the tree, but most go home unsatisfied, unable to erect the sleeping spirit. My village has only one lady who has been able to awaken the genie. There were many people that witnessed this bizarre and eccentric phenomenon. She promises me that she danced her little heart out then dropped to her knees and waited for a response. Suddenly the genie came out of nowhere and ‘laughed at her’. Naturally genies cannot be seen, only heard. Everyone there that day heard the laughs as well. I admit this only once, but I too danced for Babacar the Soul-Eating Genie and now part time dance critic. Even though nothing happened when I tried to impress a tree with my killer tree genie dance moves, doesn’t mean the spirit won’t come out and play for the next goofy white kid who isn’t a TRUE BELIEVER.
I’ve noticed that people in my village are addicted to over-the-counter medicine. It really doesn’t matter if they’re sick or not. They need it. It also doesn’t matter what kind of medicine they ask for. They’ll take anything, especially if it’s free. Most people use the sore back excuse until I tell them I don’t have anything for that. Then they ask what I do have and suddenly they have stomach issues. Truthfully I think they love the taste of my Peptobismol. It’s the closest thing to candy that they’re going to get. Thank God I don’t have any of that delicious candy coated Advil.
What’s that? Sore fingers? Here, have a nice and tasty cough drop- It’s cherry……
It took me a long time to learn the word for alcohol. Since this is a Muslim society nobody uses the term. I on the other hand love the word and wish I had more of it from time to time. The word for alcohol is the same for every language here in Senegal, but was created by the Sereers. They call it sangara. I thought the origin of this word was interesting enough to write about and share with all of you. During the French colonization here in West Africa many things were exported from Europe to meet the living standards of Frenchmen living abroad. Alcohol existed for many years before the colonization of Senegal, but nobody here had ever experienced the goods. A wealthy merchant by the name Jean was the sole source for importing sangara to rich industrialists and opportunity seekers alike. During that time the Sereer people held the power over all the other ethnic groups, even the current leadership- the Wolofs. The Sereer King dealt a lot with the French, especially with imports and exports (later it became the export of slaves to Europe and the Americas).
The wealthy merchant, Jean, decided to reach out past his normal clients and introduced his products to the Senegalese locals, predominately the non-Muslims. From then on, every time the African people on the coast saw Jean’s ship and flag, they would yell out "Jean a gar a," which means "Jean is coming". Though at that time, even now, the Senegalese had trouble pronouncing the letter J, and it sounded more along the lines of a hard S sound. The speed at which they spoke was fast so the words all came together as one, san-a-gar-a……into sangara.
(Historical facts shown may or may not be true. My village likes to boast)
In April someone stole my African mother’s cow. This sucks since it was my family’s only one. It really sucks because now the rains have come and we’ve been planting our crops. Instead of using a nice sturdy cow to help in our endeavors, we’re stuck with a half-blind albino horse and a donkey who’d rather try taking the skin off your shins than even thinking about working for the man.
Early morning Wednesday July 11, 2007, Fatou Sengor noticed that she saw one of her cows at the weekly market being sold. She could have sworn that that cow looked exactly like hers. Then she saw the man doing the selling. He looked exactly like creepy Babacar, because…it was creepy Babacar (Everyone in Senegal is basically named Babacar). Creepy Babacar is both creepy and a Pular. My village’s ethnicity is Sereer. Sereers and Pulars consider themselves ‘cousins’ and often times make fun of each other. This has gone on for hundreds of years. Pulars are nomadic people associated mainly with being cow herders, or thieves, depending on who you ask. Pulars are notorious for their ability to take things that don’t belong to them. That’s exactly what creepy Babacar did to little Fatou Sengor’s cow. In the middle of the night before market day, he took the cow and hid in the bush. He then tried to sell it off early in the morning before anyone noticed that the cow was missing. Smart thinking for a dirty Pular. Equally smart for a creepy person.
(NOTE: If this at all offends any of my Pular and/or creepy fans reading my blog, let the record show that I in no way intended to offend you. –Management)
Creepy Babacar was shipped off to do a 2 year stretch in a Senegalese prison. Not the one that forgot to lock-up one night, letting all of the convicted felons go free (true story). I’m talking about the maximum security that holds the real criminals, where the sugar smugglers go. If you thought the US prison system is flawed….welcome to Africa. I bet that son-of-a-bitch Pular stole my mother’s cow too.
This story actually consists of two stories in one. First, Mamadou and I went out in the bush at sunset one day to find some mysterious magical tree. Before we left for our adventure we stopped to talk to a few friends and their horse. The horse refused to talk. We were deep into conversation about how freakin’ hot it reached that day, when suddenly something jumped out at us----It was "Crazy Omar". Crazy Omar is my villages’ local celebrity. They call him Omar dof, which literally means ‘crazy Omar’. Omar is a little slower than the rest of the kids in class, other than of course Crazy Ousman and Crazy-kid-with-no-name. They’re all about the same, but Crazy Omar is a bit feistier. Well, (Politically Correct) Omar jumped out at us---with a large, sharp log. It was too big to be considered a stick. He ran straight at us swinging the club back and forth trying to smash whatever he could make contact with in that moments notice. Luckily we were fast enough to get away. My sympathies go out to the horse though. (PC) Omar beat the animal without mercy. Im sure it felt like total shit the next day. Id put my money on it. They got Omar to stop petting the horse, and somehow managed to take away the skull crusher. We then laughed it off and went on with our conversation about how freakin’ hot Africa is these days.
We parted from our friends and continued our journey to find the mysterious tree. We only walked 10 steps when something else jumped out at us---nope, its just "Crazy Omar" again with a not-as-big-of-stick-than-the-last. He apparently has extremely poor aim if he was coming for us. Instead he started whacking AT the cow. The big cow. The big cow with big steers and even bigger balls cow. Once again we got Omar away from the now pissed off future T-bone. After saving the poor kids much deserved life, Mamadou and I went searching for out mystery tree. We walked and talked; more walking than talking since I was a little anxious to figure what in the hell was going on. We walked through the dried fields of sand where crops had just been recently planted along the rows. We passed a small grove of mango and cashew trees. We walked along a few hundred feet of deserted salt flats until BAMM!!! There is was- "The Tree". We finally made it to a tree; just an ordinary tree I thought. It didn’t look so special. It didn’t make me feel different, happy, sad or magically delicious. I expected a magical tree to be much more….magical, or at least big. But Mamadou felt a strange attachment so I went a long for the ride. He dug. I sat. After a while he made it to a root of the magic tree. Not exactly what I expected. He used one of his many African handheld chaotic things he calls a tool and chopped off a foot long piece of root. Not much of a magical tree now that it can’t grow, or maybe that’s all part of the magic. Hmmm? On the way home he finally explained to me why we went on such an Easter egg hunt. Evidently in Sereer folklore, you give the root of this tree to your eldest son or daughter. If (s)he loses such root, then neither you nor your wife will be able to have anymore children. If they keep a hold of it, than baby making machines they shall be. Take a guess at which outcome he’s hoping for? He hates that fucking root!
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Well, Chester Copperpot turned into quite the kitty pirate. Instead of stealing gold and diamonds, he stole a different kind of 'booty', the one belonging to all the little girly kittens in town. I guess the whole one-eye, bad ass look is in these days. Little kin of Chester Copperpot were popping up all over the village. Which brings me back to the beginning of my story, "A few weeks ago, a family of cats took refuge in my backyard."
I woke up one morning with something furry cuddled up next to me. My first reaction was to freak out because it caught me off guard. I picked it up and flung it out of my bed, but it didnt leave my room. It proved to be good company throughout the day, so I let it stay a while. I dont know if i regret this or not, but I broke the cardinal rule- "Dont feed the animals." Now, it refuses to leave.
That night it jumped in my bed while i was reading and I let it stick around, as if I had a choice. I now have a black and white friend that wants nothing but a little TLC (tender love and care).
I have this long standing joke with my family here. I tell everyone that with as many kittens Chester Copperpot has had, theres no doubt in my mind that he has contracted some sort of kitty STD. You cant be too safe these days!!! This gave me a perfect name for the kitten, and if you wondered about the title of this story....now you know. I named her "Kuli", translated into English from Wolof means, 'syphillis'. I thought 'kuli' was a very nice sounding name, even given the terrible meaning associated with it; which surely I too have probably contracted over the years. Luckily for the kitten though, she'll never fully comprehend the meaning of her name. Unless of course she grows up and meets another Chester Copperpot
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The other day I got a knock on my door. It was my sister Neema. She wanted to borrow my drum, which is no big deal just as long as it doesn't come back like everything else I loan out....in pieces. All of the ladies gathered that night and had a little drum and dance party. They've had these before but never at night and I wanted to watch. I didn't really have a choice anyway since it was held 20 feet from my hut.
The ladies were having a blast dancing together. Then they broke off into a dance off. One by one they took center stage, did a dance, said a few lines and then the next lady would come take her place. It took me a minute or two to figure out what was going on. One lady would go out to dance alone. While she was dancing she'd say something mean about another lady (in a joking way) and then the woman being made fun of would take her place and pick on someone new. One lady made fun of the size of another woman's ass by saying the reason her butt was so big is because she refuses to do her work (very mild insult). She, with big ass, then got up and said the reason her ass was so big was because her friend's husband gave it a good workout (paraphrased) in bed. Then she got up and danced and said it was okay that her husband was cheating on her. She pointed to my aunt and said that there's a reason why her new baby looked like my aunt's husband Abib. That made me laugh so hard that I was almost in tears. I know Abib very well and I knew that it was only a joke. But it just happens that my aunt loves to pick on me. She was out there alone dancing her heart out. Our eyes met; mine still half in tears. She pointed at me and asked what I was laughing at. I had no response, only more laughing. She said that I shouldnt be laughing at her because when my real dad finally comes to visit, she was going to be my new mom. She was going to take my dad into her room and make little half-black-half-white babies that would move in with me when i got home to America. Of course everyone there was laughing beyond all belief. It was my turn to dance, but I refused. Instead I put on my sad face and said that I was mad and walked towards my room. Suddenly the drumming stopped and everyone yelled out that they were sorry. "O waasanaam Malick, o waasanaam!!!" They seriously felt sorry for what they said to me. I cant believe after living here this long, they still havent learned that its going to take a hell of a lot more than that to offend me.
I was out to get someone back, but I didnt know what to say right then and there. So i shut the door to my hut and stood there thinking of a come back. The drumsstarted rolling again and they continued on with their stupid little game. Two or three minutes passed by and I finally came up with something.
I took my clothes off. I stood there in my man-panties peeking through my door. The moment came and I pushed open the door and ran the 20 towards the action. I already caught their attention being half naked in the center of 200 perverted African women. They imediately began laughing. I chose to give my neighbor Marie a little shit for all the days she's busted my balls. Shes a very funny lady with a constant smile and a dramatic personality. I stood there dancing in my underwear and I yelled out to everyone that it was okay that they all loved my dad back home, but it'd never happen because my mom would come fight them all. Then I said to Marie that she shouldnt be laughing either. I said the reason i was in my underwear was because I was just in my room with her two daughters and I refuse to pay for their terrible service. Marie fell down laughing so hard that she hit her head on a chair next to her. People for miles could hear the laughs that night. Later after the fun was at a hault, I walked over to Marie, this time fuilly clothed, and told her that I didnt think her daughters were prostitutes and that i dont want to sleep with them, nor will I ever. She threw a stick at me in response and broke out in another laughing fit. All she could muster up to say is that I knew how to speak Seerer.
The following morning I bought Marie's two daughters a bag of candy to share. I felt guilty for calling a 10 and a 12 year old a couple of hookers. But they didnt seem to be upset, especially now that they had candy.
Every morning since that night, ladies have come up to me clapping their hands trying to get me to start dancing. But even though Im retired now, i think Ive earned a newfound respect from the ladies of Bambougar Malick Ndiaye.
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