Hello, faithful readers. I’m writing to you from a magical place called Toubabadou. (In Gambia, white people are toubabs, and anywhere they live that isn’t Africa is Toubabadou. Asians live in Chinese-olia. This is literally their complete approach to world geography.) Toubabs Colleen and Adam enjoyed this terminology, and Adam discovered that the popular Abba song “Waterloo” is much more enjoyable to sing when that word is replaced with “Toubabadou.”
You know you’ve been in Africa too long when the laundromat is an overwhelming and confusing experience. In my defense, all the instructions here are in French and you don’t just stick your coins in the machine, it’s one of those complicated systems where you put your money in this other machine and then there’s a keypad where you put the number of the machine you want to use. OK, that didn’t sound so complicated. But how was I to know you had to load the machine with your clothes and soap before you paid or else it would lock and fill with water and then you paid 4 euro for an empty washer to wash itself? There was one other lady here and I’m really impressed at her restraint because she didn’t laugh out loud at me.
France has been really great; I’m leaving tomorrow. I was definitely sad when my travelmates and soulmates Rizz and Binkle left this morning, but I do feel like it’s time to go back. To a country where the dollar is stronger. ZING! Currency humor. The food’s been amazing – did you know I like cheese? I really do. – and it’s been really nice to be anonymous. To not be harassed and greeted by every single person I encounter on the street. But Africa does have one advantage, and that is fewer stairs. Seriously, I forgot that in Europe, even when you aren’t paying to climb some church tower or some monument, you’re climbing four flights of stairs to your apartment, or 50 stairs out of the metro station, or whatever.
We did a lot of museums and food and went to Versailles, and we walked a lot, and I bought a new watch and new shoes (thanks, Dad!), but is it sad if I said my favorite moments were hanging out in the apartment we rented, watching the youtube clips I’ve fallen behind on over the past year? This was super important because within the first two hours of our reunion I realized there were half a dozen inside jokes between C&A that I didn’t understand, but two minutes of watching a crossdressing balloon thief get arrested on COPS put me back in the loop.
I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written, so I should probably tell you some Africa stories, even though I don’t know if I can remember any good ones. My English club finally put on its program a few weeks before I left. I’ll put some pictures up on Facebook. First we did the blind man play, where my favorite student Musa plays this blind panhandler who tricks people into letting him “try on” various accessories, like a belt, glasses, etc., and then steals them, and when the police come, they always assume he’s the victim because he’s blind. He gets his comeuppance in the end, though. Also we’d discussed a super shocking twist where it turns out he’s not really blind but now I can’t remember if that made it into the actual performance. Then we had our debate: Which children are “more valuable,” boys or girls? I thought it would be more interesting if we made the boys argue that girls are more valuable, and vice versa, but … no one really went for that. The boys won, of course, because boys are more valuable. Just kidding. Actually because all the teachers were male, and, yeah, we have some work to do on gender equality. They did have a scoring rubric that they adhered to, and I will say that the girls were a little too stuck on their “All criminals are men” argument, but really, no matter who won it was going to be bogus. It was kind of amazing at the end, though. The teachers who were supposed to be judges were like jumping up and shouting arguments that they felt students had overlooked. It got pretty animated and clearly demonstrated that the teachers felt THAT ONE SEX WAS MORE VALUABLE.
After that, we had another play. In this one, there are two brothers, one is good at school, one’s a slacker. The good one goes to America, comes back, gives his parents and teacher tons of money. Because when you go to America, you come back to Gambia with fistfuls of cash to hand out, obviously. He doesn’t give any to his slacker brother. BURN.
I am really proud of myself for figuring out this washing machine. I went ahead and brought ALL of my undies to France, more than I could possibly wear while here, just cuz I figured my underwear deserved a vacation too. And none of them have been in a washing machine for 10 months. But I’m starting to feel a little anxiety about the dryer situation. Hold on, I’m going to creepily watch someone who’s moving her clothes right now to see what the process is.
Success. Much less room for error there. Dude, this place is fun. I thought once you had a washer and dryer in your apartment you could never go back to being without, but I think I could. It’s possible.
The last two weeks or so before vacation were really hard. There was no school, it was like spring break, and I was just painfully bored and completely mentally checked out. My body was in Ndemban, my mind was in Toubabadou. But the most fun day was when I took my host brothers to the beach. I’d run into another volunteer who was taking her whole compound, kids and adults, to the beach, and she invited me and my fam. I brought Pa, the oldest; Omar, who’s in fourth grade; and Dadi, my favorite kid who’s like 5. It isn’t far, but the transportation costs are relatively high so they don’t get to go that often. Dadi I’m pretty sure had never been. That was probably the most fun we’ve ever had together. They were all really well behaved too, so it wasn’t like my hands were full. Omar swam like a fish, but Pa didn’t bring beach clothes and Dadi was scared of the water, though I did get him to get his feet wet at the end. I forgot how dressed up people get to travel here. Even though we were going to the beach, they were all wearing closed toe shoes, shirts with buttons. They were adorable. I definitely want to go back with them, or maybe take them to Kombo to get pizza and ice cream. I know they’d like that.
OK, that’s all for now. Two minutes left on the dryer. Back to real life tomorrow. Anybody have any book recommendations? I really like the last two I read in village, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Let The Great World Spin. Highly recommended if any of you are looking for something to pick up.
Write me! Send me stuff! This woman on our Champagne tour gave me a bag of beef jerky and protein bars when she heard I was in the Peace Corps. Isn’t that crazy? I’m totally kicking myself for not giving her my address. Because if that’s the shit she gives away in the middle of her vacation, just think of the care packages she’d put together.