Monday, June 13, 2011

The Comedy of Village Life

My days here tend to be very bizarre and hilarious.

I recently started a garden in my backyard and will soon be planting vegetables and an intensive moringa bed.  Before I can begin planting, I needed to dig the garden beds in my yard and amend the soil.  Ian and I had both been putting off doing our gardens and decided to help each other out with the digging and soil amendments.  So one day last week I biked to Missira Dantila (Ian’s village) to help him start his garden, and he biked to Nafadji another day to return the favor.  Before he came to Nafadji, I needed to prepare manure and gather ash to amend the soil, and of course my helpful nieces and nephews wanted in on the activity!

I walked around the village carrying a shovel as 4 little kids trailed behind me with a massive rice bag to collect cow poop.  When my villagers all saw me shoveling poop into a bag, they started laughing and trying to figure out what the crazy toubab was doing.  After I had a full bag, I emptied it out into my yard and found some good sticks to pound it with.  Saibo, my wonderful 12-year-old nephew, helped me pound the manure so that it was ready to go into my garden beds.  Once the manure was done, the next step was finding ash to add some carbon into the soil.  I once again walked around the village, as little kids followed with a big sack, asking various villagers if I could take some of the ash from their cooking areas.  Some people couldn’t understand why I’d need ash for a garden and were confused as to what I was doing, but others were very helpful and gave me their cooking ash.  Ian helped me pick neem leaves for my final soil amendment, and then we dug the beds.  I’m very excited to have my own vegetable garden!

While Ian was here to help with my garden, we got to talking with a man in my village who plays the Djembe (type of African drum).  Ian got excited and asked if he could see it.  Soon, he was drumming away as women and children flocked to the sounds of the drum and began a dance circle.  We danced, sang, and drummed until dinnertime, and the kids loved it.  The next day, we saw little kids drumming on drums they had created out of cans, attached to their bodies with string.  Some of the little drums were impressive!

Fily, my 16-year-old host sister, is a constant source of entertainment.  There’s not a whole lot to do in the village during the day, but she always finds ways to amuse herself.  Her most common pastime is to style the hair of friends and family.  People are constantly tressing and retressing their hair here into different braided hairdos.  When I moved to a bush village in rural Africa, I never would have imagined that vanity could exist here.  I actually caught Fily dying my 1-year-old niece’s hair black the other day since it was a lighter brown color.   Since I got here, she’s been trying to get me to let her tress my hair, and I finally caved a couple days ago!  I’ll post pictures once I can get a faster internet connection somewhere (probably at the regional house when I go in a week).  My village got a kick out of my new hairdo.

Bamoussa, my 35-year-old host sister, has a husband who lives in a mining village and visits occasionally.  When he visits, he usually brings us meat from an animal he’s hunted.  A few weeks ago, he killed a gazelle and I got to help prepare gazelle meatballs!  Last week, he brought gazelle meat again, and Fily decided that since we had so many leftover meatballs, she wanted to sell them around the village.  This apparently was her first entrepreneurial venture, and it was a success!  She made me walk around the village with her, selling meatballs door to door.  It was hilarious!

I discovered that girls all over the world like to play the same games.  My little host nieces, Adama (8), Asu (6), and Fanta Funee (4) are adorable and created little dolls out of sticks and fake hair.  They made little outfits for their dolls out of fabric that was lying around and made little beds for them out of rocks and sticks.  It’s been really cute to watch them play with their dolls.  Women here carry their babies on their backs, using fabric to hold the baby in place.  I found Adama, Asu, and Fanta Funee with large round fruit attached to their backs with fabric, pretending they had babies.  I could not stop laughing!

The rains are becoming more frequent, and we’ve had a couple huge storms recently.  Everything is coming to life with the rain, and grass is growing in areas I didn’t even know it was supposed to grow.  With all this life come lots of bugs. Some of them are beautiful, like the lime green praying mantis or the bright red beetle, but others are more common and irritating.  I’ve been forced to get very creative with my bug killing techniques, and my host family probably thinks I’m nuts.  Giant brown ants have nested outside both of the doors of my hut.   It’s gotten so bad that when I come back to my hut at night, there are so many swarming the door that they cover the keyhole.  I have to stick my hand into their clusters to open my door and then they get all over my arm and bite me, and I end up dancing around my room, screaming and flicking them off of me.  I bought an insect killing spray and bag of flour at the boutique.  I’ve been lining my door frames with flour since I don’t think ants like to cross over it.  My host family has never heard of this strategy and laughed as I floured my door.  Duct tape has also been essential to my defense against the ants.  In another battle, some weird maggot things were coming up out of my floor, but I finally solved that after 3 attempts with candle wax, water, and bleach.  Some bugs and spiders don’t bother me, but others are putting my bug killing skills to the test.  On stormy nights, I jump into my bed, tuck my mosquito net all around my foam mattress as a shield, put my earplugs in, and close my eyes.  It’s almost better not to know what comes in at night since the coast is clear in the morning!

I’m feeling more comfortable here and the days are passing faster.  I’ve had lots of activities the past week and have more this upcoming week.  Last week I helped do the labwork for an HIV testing in another mining village, and tomorrow I’ll be going with Sarr, my counterpart, to 3 villages to weigh and vaccinate babies.  We just got a new weighing contraption that looks like the kind of device you’d use to weigh meat, but the baby is in a harness.  This should make for some entertaining baby weighing tomorrow.  Usually I’m in charge of the weighing and Sarr does the vaccinations.

Yesterday I took the Niokolo into Saraya to do the radio show, and Leah, Martin, and I did a skit about malaria over the air. Since rainy season is upon us, it is crucial that people sleep under mosquito nets at night.  My legs are already covered in bites from being out at dusk.  Our skit also cleared up the misconception that malaria comes from sour milk.  I’m sure there are plenty of reasons to avoid drinking sour milk, but avoiding malaria shouldn’t be among them.  This morning I biked back to Nafadji by myself, and it was a beautiful ride.  I’m feeling really good about being here right now.  Finding the comedy in Nafadji life has kept me happy and entertained the past week.  I hope the laughs keep on coming!


  1. I check for your posts every day and it's always exciting to see a new one. This one is absolutely wonderful. I had a number of chuckles and laughs as I read it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for giving us a taste of village life. I really love all your great details and observations. . .and I'm smiling about selling gazelle meatballs door-to-door. (What does a gazelle meatball taste like?) Definitely post pictures of your new hairdo!
    love, Mom