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Published: September 23rd 2006
Goats and Clouds
Goats heading away from an approaching storm and the curtains of rain. Pictures of horses, donkeys, sheep, dogs, mosquitoes and what they can all do to a person's ankles . .to follow
Life with the goats
I’ve been in Foundiougne for 5 full days, 3 of them with no electricity, which is ironic since I’m here to teach a group of youngsters how to build, market and sell small solar panels for powering radios, charging mobile phones and charging small LED lamps. Funny, but the first thing people worried about when the power went off was how they would charge their phones if the power cut lasted longer the 1 day “advertised” by Senelec one day before pulling out the fuse. I told Jean-Pierre to take note - big market there for the group once we get started.
A big advantage of total power cuts is the night sky. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, not even in the mountains of Italy or California. As Ramadan approaches and the moon hides itself away in the shadow of the earth, the Milky Way (La Voie Lactée) runs from horizon to horizon like a ribbon of steam. After failing for half an hour to spot familiar constellations because of the sheer number of stars, I suddenly realise that I can see my shirt, my feet, my hands, the trees, the bushes. . .I look around for some source of light but there’s nothing - my first experience of seeing by starlight. The light show is completed (and my brief starvision destroyed) by the approaching thunderstorms and the flickering yellow and blue clouds. Foundiougne is dead
It’s low tourist season and peak mosquito season which isn’t a good combination. Everyone around me slips in and out of Wolof (the main spoken language in Senegal) in the middle of a conversation. I knew that my French was a little rusty but had been starting to worry that I had forgotten everything. The range of spoken French is enormous. I asked the WAAME comptable (accountant) if he could speak to me in French rather than Wolof - “I AM speaking French”, he replied, in English, before handing me my ration of toilet paper. At the other extreme - wise tortoise faced old men who are more than happy to chat with me in smooth colonial French about their days in prison.
When the team at the Centre De Resources get together to discuss the project, they inevitably fall back into Wolof. It’s perfectly understandable but then these are the only people I have to communicate with regularly and explain my training programme to.
There are times when I feel very alone and almost mute. I have to appeal for the conversation to return to French which I find humiliating (why should
they have to speak the language of a colonial ruler), frustrating (I wish I could speak some Wolof) and isolating (Er...I don’t). I‘m making an effort but don’t anticipate being able to understand any kind of animated conversation. If you can imagine the sound of two very old, grumpy and snappy Yorkshire Terriers fighting over a Bonio when one gets its precious little bow put out of place - that’s how Wolof sounds to my inexperienced ear when a conversation really gets going.
I generally have a good ear for languages and accents but I’m really struggling with this one. My vocabulary to date (heavily inspired by the town, the weather and my immediate surroundings) extends as far as this:
- Hello, how are you?
- I’m fine thank you
- It is very hot today
- Don’t you just hate bloody mosquitoes! (wish I did know this one)
- How are your family?
- I like your hat / hair / dress
- Oh, You have a lovely goat / donkey / horse
- I don’t understand much Wolof
Not going to get me far in the street markets of Dakar is it !
(After three days with no fan, reduced water pressure, towels that refuse to dry and clothes that seem to constantly damp, I’m trying to get someone to teach me “It’s really not me that stinks of week-old sweat, it’s the drains“)
Speaking of Dakar, I’m thinking of hitting the big city this weekend before starting the solar training on Tuesday (probably posting this blog from there). I’ve seen enough goats, sheep, horses, donkeys, cattle and dogs at very close range in the last 5 days to last me a lifetime. I want to see the sea and breathe some drier air before shutting myself in a training room.
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