No mbad-daa? Jam tam. Ada selli? Mowdum. No mbadu-daa e tampere? Mowdum. No mbadu-daa e nguleeki? Ina wuli. Ina wuli jaw. Tiggi tiggi.
We’ve been hearing that the Fuuta is so hot that during two months of the hot season, you do not leave your home due to the heat. It can get so hot in Northern Senegal that the Pulaar adjective jaw, meaning “really,” is only used to describe the heat (my Mama or grandmother here in Senegal also used wuli jaw to describe how hot the fire under the cooking pot was one evening). Paul and I have pieced together that we are going to placed along the Senegal River in northern Senegal in a town called Podor. Being the only couple in our stage, the Peace Corps staff wants to place us in a location where we have a larger number of resources, projects, and space. Most volunteers in our stage are going to placed out in the Senegal bush, whereas we are going to be in a more urban setting.
This past week we have been staying in a town southeast of Thies called Ngekhokh. We’ve been living with an amazing host family. Galle Binta, as we call it. Our neene (mother) is lovely Binta Ba. She sells beautiful printed fabrics at the local market in a small stand plated in corrugated metal sheets. Upon our arrival, Binta and kaaw (uncle) Omar told us that our Senegalese names are Samba Jallo and Kumba Ba. Paul has taken the last name (Jallo) of the men in the family, and I the women. In our compound lives several people. There are Binta’s three sons: Ibu, Amadou, and Ali. Ibu and Ali are both car mechanics. Amadou is a student studying all night long for the bac. Aunt Aminata (Ami) is the sister of Binta and works as a commercial assistant for a real estate agency. Mama is Binta and Ami’s mother. Uncle Omar lives next door and is a Muslim scientist. Fati and Aleson are a married couple living with us. Aleson’s mother is Mama’s sister. There is also Ami tokosel (petite Ami), the daughter of a cousin of Aunt Ami and Binta. Binta tokosel (petite Binta) is also a daughter of another cousin. There is also Seedi and Moussa, both of whom I still do not understand how they are related to the rest of the family. Uncle Ali, Aunt Ami’s favorite cousin is here for a couple days of the week. Aunt Ami always jokes that Uncle Ali is the cousin of Barrack Obama because he is tall, thin, and handsome.
Our days in Ngekhokh have been filled with studying Pulaar du Nord with our language instructors. My instructor is Zenaib and Paul’s is Sakhir. We study from about 8 until 1 under a mango tree in the backyard of Zenaib’s host family. There is a mamma goat and a baby goat (with piss all up their legs) who spend their mornings getting into the cooking hut and stealing sugar. The neighbor’s mbaaba (word for donkey but easily confused with baaba for father) hee-haws every hour on the dot. Two scrawny cats lounge in the shade of the brick wall. An amazing classroom.
Our family has been so patient. Everyday is a struggle to understand. I’ve been saying mi faamani ( I do not understand) over and over again. Holno wiyette “Pulaar is difficult” e Pulaar? Verbs change in spelling depending on where the noun is and if its plural. The language is nice in that every single letter is pronounced…but its length is determined by either the letter used or by how many there are in a row. For instance, there are special d‘s and b‘s who have a shorter sound than the normal d and b. And a word like duubi is pronounced with an emphasis on the u, drawing it out longer.
Kids are singing tubab over and over again. Bonjour tubab. 40 of them are upon us, carrying their boards of koranic lessons. The eight of us in town enjoying a Saturday coke (cold bottles of coke, sprite, and fanta have become one of the best things in the world). And on the count of three, we run screaming like baboons and waving our arms at them. Shrieking children and laughing parents. A single small triumph. It gets tiring to hear it over and over again. Mi wonaa tubab. Mbiyete mi ko Kumba.
We are back in Thies. A few days of mud-oven making and training in how the program here in Senegal works. Back in Ngekhokh Wednesday evening. We are sitting in the disco hut gazing at a bat–she looks like a fruit bat, but I haven’t a guide here for bats. She’s firmly established her space here, having just now turned herself right side up to take a pee downward onto us. Good night. Mbaalen e jam. Spend the night in peace.