Life is interesting. In many ways I’ve stepped back one hundred years to a life before modern appliances. We sweep the house and yard every day, wash all clothes by hand, buy fresh foods every day at the market (where we know all the sales people by name) and collect our drinking water with bottles on our heads. It’s like one of those tv reality shows where people try to live in an Edwardian house or some such, except this is for real.
At the same time I have access to all my music, photos, several hundred books and films on my lap top, which is nice.
Although I’m not working 9 till 5 in an office (actually I have been doing just that recently, designing a website for the village), I’m always busy and work a lot. Go one day without sweeping the house and nature takes over. As I’ve previously noted, each of our six banana tree needs 40 liters per day of water. If I miss a hole in the fence, a goat can come and munch on a tree that I’ve been watering twice a day for the past six months – that’s a good way to get me grumbling.
What is probably easier here though is bringing up a baby. Go to your average Senegalese families house and there can be up to twenty kids running around. Kids of 4 or 5 years old are already caring for and carrying babies on their backs. There’s none of the preciousness of the west. Kids wander around eating worms, playing with knives and chasing chickens. Of course, there’s a much higher rate of sickness and mortality, but I believe that by taking the laid back African approach, whilst keeping a keen eye on the wee fellow, giving him nutritious food and decent medical care we can have the best of both worlds. When I asked Khady about post natal depression she seemed confused, then said women don’t have time for that in Africa. The reality is that they’re always surrounded by people and life continues much the same. Everyone helps out and babies are not such a big deal here. The biggest advantage is also the hardest thing for a toubab to get his or her head around. The extended family. There’s always someone around to help but there can be a loss of privacy and the sense of individuality that us Westerners prize so highly.
That was a preamble to giving you some of my top tips. I’ve picked up a lot of useful ideas and tips from travelling and life over the years. Here are a few that spring to mind, that you may or may not find useful. Let’s start with Senegalese childcare:
So, you don’t want your baby to grow up looking like a lizard – easy peasy, just squirt some breast milk if a chameleon crosses your path.
Do you want your baby to learn to walk faster? Lick their feet.
Worried about your child having diarrhea? What ever you do, don’t burn its nappies.
Obviously you don’t want your child to grow up to be a thief. Simple, don’t cut their finger nails.
A top tip to stop hiccups – chew on a piece of thread from their clothes and stick it to their head.
If you want them to have an African bum, stick some beads around their waist. According to Khady: “Toubab jaifonday pas jolly”.
General Rules of life
This was a new one to me – if you want a long life, don’t direct your front door at the rising or setting sun.
Don’t leave your hairbrush or comb on your verandah – someone might take some hair and perform voodoo on you! Be warned.
This is very important: If you decide to sit on a fence with vertical railings, and you slide your feet between the railings, but your shoes are too big, so you turn them sideways to slide them through…try and remember you did that before you jump off. I learnt the hard way.
That age old question – how on earth do you avoid vampires in your bedroom? Turn all your mirrors to face the wall every night. I’m made to do this every evening.
How to tell if an airline is worth using again: my general rule of thumb is that if the pilot offers to let me “have a go” then they may not be adhering to Western health and safety standards.
Food rules: regular blog readers may think I have no rules when it comes to what I’ll put in my mouth. But I do have one – if it’s alive, it shouldn’t be any bigger than an oyster. And it shouldn’t be able to walk off my plate under its own steam. I did once break that rule with the legendary three squeals in China – baby rats that squeal as you grip them in your chop sticks, again when you dip them in soy sauce and finally when you crunch them. I was under pressure to be polite to my hosts, but I also squealed a bit on that one.
Don’t chuck an over ripe tomato at your buddies head when he’s in the process of being disciplined by the (standing out of view) manager. Sorry John. ©Tesco’s supermarket warehouse, Saturday job 1987.
Be careful browsing on ebay after a bottle of wine. Exhibit A: Hammond organ and leslie speakers bought from Lynyrd Skynrds keyboardist in 2008 – I do love the sound of a hammond organ but it required its own room.
Enjoy every sandwich – many people comment that people seem happier in developing countries, and my anecdotal experience confirms this. Well, if you have nothing and never had anything, you only have the present to think or worry about. I think modern life has stripped away the ability to be in the now. We’re too busy thinking about some imaginary rosy future that’ll never arrive or worrying about what has already happened. Why is it the safest countries in the world are the most heavily insured – all part of the system to keep you worried about the future and working hard instead of enjoying and appreciating the present moment. That world feels like an illusion to me and I’m happier with my simple, but good life.
I’m trying to be mindful of all of this with Gulliver. Kids are just happy with whatever they’re doing – playing with a stick, in a stream or climbing a tree – kind of where I’m heading. Meanwhile we bombard them with “how was your day”, what did you do, did you enjoy it, are you looking forward to this or that…beginning the conditioning that “now” is not so important. Every day I just try to enjoy every sandwich, every cup of coffee, watching the birds, playing with my baby….and I feel very happy.