Podor, monkeys, and Gila by bicycle

How do I describe Podor?  Its a beautiful town–an old French fort.  Old crumbling French colonial-era brick buildings line the slate blue water of the Senegal River.  Rumors exist of crocodiles that hide in the shade of trees but I believe there are only manatees that arrive with the rain.  The Senegalese have the saying that “the river is not friendly to strangers.”  Podor is unlike many other towns in Senegal in that it does not have a main road running through it to other places but is built on a grid system.  It is not a road town like Ngekhokh; Route National runs right to it and then spreads into many other roads.  Podor is a pedestrian town and most villagers go by foot, bike, or charet.  The central market area provides us with all the food, veggies, resources we need.  The town is divided into quartiers and we live in the Sinthiane quartier near the garage in a two-story building owned by the family that runs the weather station in Podor.  We actually live in a Wolof quartier which makes using our Pulaar a little difficult.  There are 4 primary schools, 1 college (middle school), 1 lycee (high school), 2 techinical schools, 1 dispanseer, 1 health post, gardens upon gardens that line the river.  Podor is actually on an island (Ile de Moreil) where to the north is the Senegal River and to the south a fork of the river.

We have adopted the Bassoum family as our own–a family that has hosted two other PCVs in the past.  There is the mother Huwa Ba who works with the Tostan women in a garden.  She has informed me that Podor has taken the Tostan pledge to end female genital circumcism.   Maimouna, her daughter, is married to a Spaniard called Babakar from the Basque area.  Her daughter Jibina is adorable and I call her ulundu (cat) because of her habit of running around on all four.  There is also Aidou, Bassine, Hawh, Abday, Aminata, Bizzou, and Ching-Ching (abdou).  Aido, Bassine, Maimouna, and Hawh are the kids of Huwa.  But the other kids are mostly cousins or children of cousins.

Our closest neighbors are Evan Spark-Depass in Sinchu Diambo and Jono Larson in Taredji.  One lovely day we biked down to Evan’s little 100-some fishermen village.  Beautiful ride south through dry savanna dotted with acacias, passing over the river and the women and children carrying benoirs and baskets of laundry and dishes to wash.  Flat road all the way past little mud villages that remind me of New Mexican adobe homes, two huge white and turquoise mosques, and scenery so beautiful that for the first time since install I was shouting into the wind I can’t believe I live here! At Evan’s site, we swam across the river to our island to look for monkeys.  None seen, but along the bike ride home we spotted a troop of monkeys (vervet I believe?) running from the trees towards the fields.  Never in my life could I imagine stopping alongside a road to watch monkeys run into the distance.

One day we went fishing with the father of the Beye family.  He is at least in his sixties but was diving into the water with his hooked stick to snag catfish hidden between the rocky walls of the old pier.  With this strange tool he caught 4 beautiful fish in 30 minutes.

We have met with the school director of Gila primary school.  Gila is the town between Sinchu Diambo and Podor where we cross the river.  They are in desperate need of better latrines.  We are going to take a look near the end of the month to see how it looks.  There are some easy grants we can apply for to get these small projects done.

One day Babakar wanted to eat fataya (these delicious oil-fried dumplings filled with a ground fish and dipped in onion pepper sauce).  So Maimouna and I tried to make some.  They turned out terrible.  Paul and I feared the worst—explosive tummy from eating raw fish.  Aleson Diallo (a somewhat crazy homeless man related to the family) wandered in.  We handed him 4 and he handed each of them back one after another after tasting them individually.  Babakar went to market to buy some made by another family.   In the end, only the sheep and goats would eat our fataya.  Their hunger is so great–I once witnessed a goat tear the paper packaging off a cement sack for food.  Hmmm.

Everyday.  We wake, exhausted and hot, to the call to prayer from the three immediate mosques in our quartier.  Our bed is a constant sweat stain.  I sweep the house almost everyday.  A paper left on the ground in the morning looks a hundred-days old by afternoon.  We have started gardening in our front yard—a pepineere of 200-sacks for now and a small garden.  But it should be interesting to see how it fares as I am gardening in almost pure sand with a little cow manure sprinkled on top.  We eat village bread for breakfast, marroy e liddi (rice and fish) for lunch at the Bassoums, and usually lacciri and milk for dinner.  My brain is a constant mess of French and Pulaar.  Our family speaks both fast, explaining everything in French which does not help me at all as I think my Pulaar is better than my French at this moment.  I swat at invisible flies, only to find it is my own sweat dripping down my legs.  And through it all, the dust heat confusion kids chanting, I think I will really come to love living here.

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3 responses to “Podor, monkeys, and Gila by bicycle

  • Jess T.

    Another lovely blog entry! Thanks for writing in such a descriptive and sensory evoking manner. It really helps me picture you guys in your new home… I really can’t imagine the heat, I can only try to imagine it. Summer here in the bay area has been unseasonably warm (which sounds counter-intuitive, but you know what I’m talking about). Today it’s about 73 degrees and breezy. Are you jealous?

    I miss you guys, of course. I will try to call again soon. Take care! Lots of love!

  • Jason Kong

    MADDY AND PAUL! seriously i enjoy reading these blogs and trying to put myself in your shoes. I really miss you guys and i’m glad you guys are enjoying the small things like riding bikes and watching monkeys. Expect a package soon too! i’m in vegas right now and will hopefully win at the craps table for you guys!

    Till you write another post!

  • Linnea

    Everybody, best wishes to Maddy and Paul on their first wedding anniversary on the 20th. What a remarkable first year!
    Love, Grandma and Jerry

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