23 November, 2011

Fear and Trembling Under the Mosquito Net

It has been two weeks at my village, which is 8K from a road clear of bush. Without my directions the Peace Corps driver who brought me and my bags to here would not have found it. He headed in the wrong direction twice based on directions given to him by people in villages along the way. It has been an interesting two weeks. I am starting to learn the details of my host family, like their many names and how in the world they are all connected. Families work a little bit differently here. I’ve also been learning my way around the area. This included a hilarious relearning of how to ride a bike, in pure sand. I only fell in one bush full of sharp, dry stickers. Luckily my closest neighbor was with me and was nice enough to remove the twenty or so embedded in my back. There were about four women from the village laughing hysterically . I’ve since gotten the hang of which gear is best for biking through soft sand.

But, before all this excitement was my first Tabaski. It is the Senegalese version of the important Muslim holiday which celebrates the story of Abraham and Ishmael (Isaac). The story goes; Abraham is willing to kill his own son to show God he would do anything or him. At the last moment, as Abraham is about to plunge a knife into his first born son, God sends the angel Gabriel to grab his hand and stop him. A ram enters the scene and is sacrificed in Ishmael’s stead. To represent this, each family in Senegal slaughters one sheep (or many more then that) on Tabaski.

The story has special meaning to me because of its usage by Soren Kierkegaard in ‘Fear and Trembling’ to elucidate his idea of the ‘leap of faith’. Abraham is a ‘Knight of Faith’ because he does not care that the act of killing his own son would be frowned upon by society, he follows what he believes because is a free moral agent. Although in this context it is God he is ‘blindly’ following, the concept of this ‘leap’ into the realm of un-relegated moral action has lent greatly to the tenant of existentialism which holds that one does not need God or law to make them take responsibility for their own actions, they just should. Which, I tend to agree with in a Pragmatic sense.

My first Tabaski was about as nauseating and disorienting as my last paragraph was for most readers, albeit much more exciting. The best part so far has been the chunks of dried sheep insides that are still popping up in my lunch bowl (two weeks later). I avoid them pretty easily and have yet to be sick, so it’s no problem. After Tabaski, the training group left the luxurious training center in the posh and happening city of Thies and began moving into our new (some very rural) homes.

Without superior language skills, the hardest part about my first couple of weeks in my village has been figuring out how to spend my time. Being and American, who is used to having a schedule, it has been difficult to the point of anxiety inducing not to have a particular place to be each day at a certain time. My work and my learning schedule for language had to be optimized and created by me. There is an overwhelming fear that I may not be progressing or being productive. There is no measure of progression for community integration, which is currently my job, that is comparable to what we are used to in America like grades or time cards. This made me restless, and my second morning in village I began feverishly building a compost pile, which over the next two weeks became two compost piles, a double-dug bed, two no-dig/sheet mulched beds for comparison, and a zai-hole demonstration plot. I also created wild plans for the use of these and the rest of my garden space. I think I did this because gardening is something I know I can do and it is the only thing I immediately had some level of control over here (plus it’s fun).

After a week or so I began to settle down and realize that I have time to plan my work (and garden) carefully. The worry of failing to insight positive change here over the next two year is a valid concern but I cannot allow myself to become obsessed with it during this time of adjustment. I work here but I also live here and I need to take the time to become used to that. Hiding in my hut, with the door closed, writing a blog post definitely isn’t the way to do that so I’m going to head out there and talk to my new family in awful, broken, Wolof. Until next time!