Craig's Travels
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The Life of Aissatou and Dowda

I would like to introduce you to my family. They are my in-laws, but we won't hold that against them. This is Ronit's Senegalese family, from when she was in the Peace Corps, and they really took me in as one of their own and made me feel welcome, despite the fact we couldn't communicate at all. Her father, Kakuta, has been gone from the village since Ramadan. But he came back during our stay in the village. He is missing an eye. Then there is her brother, Hayrouna who is married to Hafsatou. They have two children. Ronit's sister, Jennaba, is married to the chief. She is the only one who has picked up on American sarcasm. While she isn't the best of cooks, she was tons of fun to hang out with. There are also countless cousins, aunts, uncles, and numerous children, all with similar names and adorable faces. And of course, I must introduce myself: Dowda Sow and my lovely wife, Aissatou Sow. I was given this name on my first day in the village, mainly because Ronit's villagers couldn't pronounce the name "Craig."

All of these people greeted us with such amazing warmth and hospitality. The little they have, they were willing to share with us openly. And we happily gave them gifts in return. This is how life works in the village, you give a little and you take a little, but at the end of the day, everyone helps each other out.

A typical day in the village begins long before sunrise, when a chorus of animals erupts in song. Sheep are baa-ing, roosters are crowing, goats are wailing, horses are whinnying, dogs are barking, and donkeys are hee-hawing. It is hard to say what this barnyard orchestra is trying to say, probably something like, 'Wohooo! I didn't get cut up for dinner last night!' Whatever point they are trying to convey, it is purely annoying to hear their unified voices at four in the morning.

We usually lounge about in bed, pretending to sleep, until the sun comes up. At this point, we rise and pull water from the well. This is a task I have a great respect for. If Americans had to pull every ounce of water we used from a 50-foot hole in the ground, you can bet your ass we wouldn't use the precious liquid to water our lawns, and this is saying nothing of golf courses.

After pulling water, we settle down to a bowl of rice porridge, sometimes salty, sometimes sweet, but usually with a generous portion of curdled milk. After breakfast, the kids head off to school and the adults take care of the daily tasks before the sun becomes unbearably hot. This might include gathering clay and cow dung to make a stove, patching the roof of a hut, or heading to town on a market day. Once finished with a task, most lounge about until lunch time.

Some of the adults go to school in the mornings; others go in the afternoons. My previous email was incorrect in regards to villagers not wanting to expand their minds, they in fact do (I was probably still reeling in bitterness from the 4-hour meal prep time). Ronit's village has completed their Tostan classes 2 years ago. This is a really amazing program that teaches women about human rights and health issues while they learn to read and write (for more information, visit http://www.tostan.org/). Since Ronit left, the village has added three more classes for the school and organized themselves to buy a pump for their garden. They really have made progress in the past couple of years. So in the afternoons, some of the adults go to school. Others spend the afternoon escaping from the heat by drinking scalding hot tea in the shade.

As the sun nears the horizon, the men usually play soccer on the dirt field, while the women prepare dinner. Once it is too dark to see, everyone returns to their huts for a bucket bath and to get changed for the evening. Dinner usually consists of rice or pounded corn and some sort of peanut sauce, or on a good night, meat. Last night I had the pleasure of preparing the chicken we ate. While not a mouth-watering process, it is definitely something every meat-eater should do at least once. I was surprised at how fast it turns from 'a chicken' to 'chicken' just by removing the feathers.

Taking a clucking live chicken and turning it into what we buy in the grocery store is just one small memory I will always cherish from my time in the village. The entire experience made me appreciate what we actually have in America. While American life is complex, our technology has made most tasks so simple that we rarely get a chance to really appreciate what it is we are actually accomplishing. Just going into the grocery store and buying a package of chicken, a task I regularly take for granted, is a truly incredible feat of technology and modernization. I know it took me a week in the village to really appreciate what prosperity I have been born into.


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