It seems to be a common question that comes up on phone conversations back home – what are you guys doing there? I think it is cultural; for us Westerners, what we do is very important. In Mandinka there is no direct translation for ‘how was your day?’ or ‘what did you do today’? I tried to ask Sibou, our host mom, that one day and it took us 5 minutes in mandenglish to explain the meaning of those two questions. Ha! Instead, mandinka’s ask ‘how is your morning, evening, afternoon, etc’. And the response is always – It is there. Perhaps this is because everyone knows what you do all day, and you see each other in the morning, afternoon, and evening so there is no need to ask what you did all day. Everyone already knows. When you leave your house neighbors ask you where are you going, how is your morning, how did you sleep, etc. There is no need to say what you did all day when you tell people what you are doing now, multiple times throughout the day. This is not considered rude to continuously ask questions; it is considered proper village etiquette. By asking questions, it shows that you care about the person. Our people will definitely tell us if we have forgotten to properly greet them!
Africa in general is a collectivist culture. People want to be with people, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and working are all done together. It is a nice most of the time, although we forgot that being by yourself is not a good thing. A while back I was cooking and cleaning inside, and Sibou asked Ben what was wrong with me because she had not seen me since the afternoon (it was 6 pm). I tried to explain that it doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong when I’ve been inside our house for a couple hours during the day.
So, I will try to answer the question of what are we doing daily. Like I said previously, we do different things everyday and our routine is loose and based around what others are doing each day as well. Everyday I go to the garden and water in the morning and evening. This is no easy task though. The garden is a 10 minute walk from the house, and to fetch water I must bring a bucket with a rope and draw water from a well to put in watering cans; or most usually buckets made out of older containers. Obviously being an American woman, I am not an experienced ‘well water drawer’. In fact, before coming to Africa, I had never even seen an open surface well. It is quite a work out – forget pilates, drawing water from a well really works those core muscles. I can’t say that I love it, but I’m gradually getting more skilled. On my first day of using the well I made our host grandma mad because I got muddy water on her shirt. Sorry Mama Muso.
I can usually count on spending an hour there minimum each time I go. If one of our host moms is out for the day I will assist the other one with watering her beds and will be there at least 2-3 hours. Our host moms have left the village for three reasons thus far: selling palm fruit, going to funerals, and to go to the doctor.
Ben, will come with me to the garden, go to help build the mosque, or go to a counterparts house to help him build his new house. There is about 2 months until the rainy season starts here so this is when people make repairs and build things in preparation for it. Yesterday, ben and another counterpart Ibrama started on our chicken coup! Ben is also employing our oldest host brother Lamin, who is 12, to help build the coup. And Ben has made a deal with Lamin that if he does a good job, Ben will take Lamin to Brikama and he can pick out some new shoes. This is a big deal for Lamin for several reasons: He has never been to Brikama (the big town that is a 1.5 - 3 hour gely ride away), he has never owned a new pair of shoes, and he has never picked out a pair of shoes to wear, they have always been given to him. Lamin asks Ben everyday when he will have the supplies to finish the chicken coup.
As seasons change and we become more accustomed to our village, our tasks and projects will change as well. Currently our task assigned by the Peace Corps is to integrate into our community, and so we are focusing on that rather than starting any big projects. We are meeting people, going to events, helping out with projects and gardening, and just figuring out how to live in a completely different culture and place.
View of my cucumbers and okra and the rest of the womens garden