Friday, September 3, 2010

Culture Shock

It’s here. Culture shock arrived two days ago in its most tangible form: physiological shock. My body decided to reject fish. Great. As a vegetarian in Africa, fish is my guaranteed protein source and my culturally-appropriate culinary choice. I can request fish from any Gambian woman and she won’t blink an eye or question my choices. But, as a vegetarian that otherwise considers fish and seafood to be mostly off-limits (they’re animals too!), it was only a matter of time before my body said enough. Twelve and a half nearly fishless years to two daily meals of fish is not a small change. When a gift of fish arrived on my doorstep for breakfast on Wednesday, my body finally had enough. One whiff and I was queasy. Lunch was no different and, luckily, our cook responded to our request for beans and I got a mostly fishless dinner. Yesterday was also fishless and today I’m fasting for Ramadan. I head back down to the coast tomorrow and am going to gorge on avocados, mangoes, and vegetable peanut curries.

Yes, I’m fasting. So far, so good. As I write this, it’s been eight hours since breakfast (at 5:15) and I only cheated with a few sips of water when I woke up. I’m definitely hungry, thirsty, headachy, and a tad cranky, but a single day of fasting is nothing compared to the thirty or so days of fast that most Muslims practice. Leanne decided, for various reasons, to fast while in the villages. The African pace is particularly slow during Ramadan, and she has found that fasting helps her to match their rhythm. I’m not nearly so dedicated, and am still easing my body into the African heat, food, and water. I’m definitely not ready to daily deprive myself of food and water during daylight hours, but I am keep to try it out for a single day. Everyone here is thrilled that I’m fasting and seem to appreciate the token efforts of the newest toubab. Tea, dates, and bread in five and a half hours!

All's well in Njawara. We’ve been getting lots of heavy rain the past few days, which is a very good thing. The plants really need it and I appreciate the cooler temperatures that accompany the clouds. The region hasn’t been getting much rain and August and September are supposed to be the wettest months. I’ve been hearing lots of people talk about climate change. While weather and climate are confused here as elsewhere, there is no doubt in the minds of these people that weather patterns are changing. Weather is becoming unpredictable, with less rain and more extreme weather events. The rain has also become pocketed – it can be pouring at NATC, but dry at the Njawara school, less than a kilometer away.

I am eager to get to Kaolack and build my nest, settle into my job, and establish my role. I have felt transitory since June, and I am eager to put down some roots, even if I know that they will only grow for a few months. I expect to still spend a lot of time travelling while I’m here, but Kaolack will be my home base and I am eager to make it that way. And, I am so looking forward to moving forward with the project. I have some things to work on while in Njawara, but after two weeks of travelling, language lessons, and thumb twiddling in Africa, I really need to establish my purpose. The pace here is very different from what I am used to – lots of sitting and talking and sitting and not talking. The heat and low energy levels due to Ramadan mean that the afternoons and early evenings are especially slow. I am sure that my time in Africa will be a grand for revealing how patient I truly am – and I suspect that I don’t have nearly as much patience as I like to think that I do…

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