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Senegal: b-tch, b-tch, b-tch.......


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July 26


It rained like the devil last night. Lashings of rain, thunder and lightning. Then it settled down to a soaking that lasted another 4 hours. Badly needed.


After a brief thunderstorm in the evening I bicycled to the village to get on the internet. I smiled to hear a thunder of toads calling. They have suddenly appeared, as if from nowhere, and I am pleased to see them. Amphibians worldwide are supposedly in some sort of transition. They are barometers of the health of the ecosystem, partly I assume, because their reliance on both aqua and terra leaves them doubly vulnerable to changes in either or both.


Anyhow, on the way home a short time later – there was no electricity in the village and therefore no internet – I decided to follow my ears to where the strongest chorus of toad opera was coming. My headlamp revealed a huge puddle in the dirt road, and a dozen toads of the masculine persuasion, throat pouches delicately inflated, facing outward with hind parts in the puddle, were serenading potential paramours who were hopping distractedly around the edge. Three of them were having a menage a trois but I quickly lost track of who was whom. I assume the toads knew. I had stumbled on an amphibian swingers club in full swing.


The survival of the eggs and tadpoles depends on the continuation of the rains. I assume if that puddle dries up all that serenading and wooing will come to naught.


Which makes me think of the old “Froggy Went a-Courting” song, where he is in love with Miss Mousy. Of course, the cat comes uninvited to the wedding feast and all goes awry. My favorite version of the song, learned from Pete Seeger, finishes with:


So, this is the end of him and her,

Ding, dang, dong, oh the wedding bells.

There won't be no tadpoles covered in fur!

Ding, dang, dong, oh the wedding bells.


The whole preposterous, wonderful song was actually political, satirizing the king of France (Froggy) wooing a 17th Century English princess to further an alliance.


It has been a lot of hard work on the house. Sosa and I have been moving damaged concrete blocks, busting them to gravel with a sledge, and filling in holes in the driveway. Pick-and-shoveling cubic yards of fine, wet clay into a wheelbarrow and leveling land. Making new vegetable garden beds in which I've planted Swiss Chard and over a hundred tomato plants. The chili peppers aren't quite big enough to transplant yet. I'll soon start the aubergines, basil, and oregano. Pumpkins, watermelon, cucumbers and corn will wait until the end of the rains. I'll be curious to see how American sweet corn does here. I was less than successful with it the one time I tried before.


We are still waiting for delivery of one door and all of the window frames and shutters. It has been a 3-month wait and it's getting tedious. Work on the kitchen cabinetry is moving along. All of the interior of the house and most of the exterior is painted and tiled. Today, the plumber installed the shower hardware and the bathroom sink. Moussa Camara, the painter, is actually a very fine artist in batique, lino printing, and painting. He has to eat, so he also paints houses and does a meticulous job. Unless you want hard, primary colors you have to mix your own here. They sell 5-gallon pails of white paint and colorizer. Moussa knows how to mix colors and it is fascinating watching him work. To get the right shade of blue for the bathroom he added a bit of red to the blue and white; something I'd never suspect. It turned out perfect, matching exactly a pale blue in the tiles. (To see some of his graphic work go to www.kafountinelinoprinting.org or the Kafountine Lino Printing Workshop Facebook page).


Aug. 9


Three windows finally arrived and I helped the mason install them yesterday. I pray the next three will arrive in a week or less. We also built the back steps to the house with a cement-block planter box next to them.


A month ago, Malang and I poured a cement pad for an outdoor kitchen in front of Sosa's room. Yesterday, Pap Dibba showed up at 5 PM (he had said he'd come at 2) and we proceeded to roof the place. A burly man with close-cropped hair going to white, he is a pleasure to work with, precise, professional and always smiling. Moussa Camara and I assisted him in building the roof structure and when it was time to nail down the corrugate Pap motioned me up on the roof frame with him. “Me?” I asked. He nodded and beckoned. The split palm logs used for the roof look flimsy to me but Pap knows what he is doing and I got up there despite my hesitations. He showed me what to do, perched up there on the palm rafters and pretty soon I was getting the hang of it, pounding 'em out up on the roof. It has been 43 years since I've done that and it felt good. Nothing like working with a master workman to get an education! We finished around 7 and he headed off on his bicycle, still grinning.


I now have two guys named Vieux working on the house: the mason and the cabinet-maker who is building the kitchen counter and cabinets. The kitchen is showing progress with tile going up on the walls. I bought a new gas cooker in The Gambia. The old one works but looks so rusty and rotten that I just couldn't see it in the new house. There will be no refrigerator. It simply takes too much electricity. It will remain to be seen how much electricity the inverter draws. I am hoping things will balance out when we're using it fully.


The next project, once the house is generally finished is to build a smaller version of the water tower with a black plastic tank on top and three walls, open to the sun. The top and south wall will be plexiglass, if I can find any. That will be our hot water source. Passive solar. The house is already plumbed for it into the bathroom and kitchen. Three windows remain to be installed and we can move in, even if everything isn't finished. I can't wait.


Aug. 10


The old Jews of my childhood would never tell their age. They believed that the Angel of Death might overhear and think, “That's enough!” and take them.


On Saturday, I worked 11 hours at the house, mixing cement and sand with a shovel, wheelbarrowing, digging, filling, assisting the mason, digging fertilizer into three garden beds, and finally, up on the roof with Pap. I felt great. My friend, John Hochberg, emailed that last we'd been in contact I'd had some health problems. I replied that I've never been healthier. Fit as a fiddle. Pounds chest. Never better. Hale fellow, well met, etc.etc. Pride cometh, etc.


Yup, next morning I was hit by Saddam Hussein's Mother of all Head Colds. This one came with fever, chills, general prostration, chilblains, bog spavins, mange, ear mites, the cold robbies, flood warnings, and a dead battery. Never brag about your health. The Angel of Aspirin may be listening.




Tonight/today I was angry. Just angry. The only time I was at peace was at the new house. It was raining hard and I just sat and looked at the big tree and other big trees further away and smelled the cool rain and looked at the deep green of the dripping leaves.


But I was angry at Sosa, my guard, for plowing up the whole f------ compound for his corn. I'd given him permission to plant a garden and he took that as a blank check to tear the entire place up. He is like the broom in the Disney cartoon of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. You turn him loose on anything and he doesn't stop.


I'd showed him a stump I wanted dug out and showed him where I wanted to rebury it to make a support for a bird bath. I came the next morning and he'd dug it up....but he'd also dug up another stump I didn't want dug up. I hadn't said anything to him about the other stump. I keep telling him, “Don't think! Ask!” His ability to think is pretty truncated. (pun intended)


He's such a nice boy; pleasant, smiling, willing. A hard worker. He just isn't very bright. And the fact that I don't speak Crio and he doesn't speak French or English doesn't help things.


It's the sense of having to work so hard to maintain any sort of control here. Am I living a pipe-dream to imagine it? Chaos. Unpredictability. Like the drivers here – jungle rules! Like nobody queuing at the local store, they just butt right ahead regardless of who is there before them. Maybe that's reality and my European sense of order is aberrant. It's certainly the reality here.


I thought the cat was mine and suddenly I find out it is Mariama's cat. I rescued it, named it, doctored it, fed it. Now, suddenly, it's Mariama's cat. OK. She's a kid. She loves the damn cat. What am I going to do, break the kid's heart? But she takes it home with her and lets in the house. That's not allowed here. So, now the cat comes in the house here when I had it trained to stay out. Can't blame the cat!


Today, Awa prepared bullits that were so salty they were inedible. I told her, no more Jimbo. No more Maggi. Small salt. Period. She left in a huff and hasn't spoken to me since. Then, she took my bicycle this evening without asking me. And had someone else repair a flat on her bicycle who installed a tube with a different kind of valve so we can't pump it up. So, her bike is unrideable and she takes mine.


F------ chaos! Each thing in itself seems petty but my whole day goes like this. Day after day.


Am I a fool to think anything will change? Probably.


Aug 14


I went to the house to bring food to the workers and again noticed that the structure for the kitchen counter looked narrow to me. I'd noted it before but, not knowing exactly how Vieux planned the design, had assumed he knew what he was doing.

He didn't. And my assumption was stupid, stupid, stupid! Never assume anything! Even when the workers are professionals that you trust.

The structure has involved both the carpenter and the mason. The mason has had to build a set of support pillars and completed the tiling of the walls and floor before the carpenter could continue with his work. Now, all that will have to be delayed again while the errors are corrected, the pillars enlarged and new tile cut and applied.

I can say in his favor that he didn't make excuses – one of the rare times that has happened!! He apologized, said he was sorry, that it was his mistake, and that he would make it right. I've got to give him that. For someone to take responsibility for his error is exceedingly rare here.

Still, it will set things back and create more work. We are getting so close to finishing the house enough so that Awa and I can move in that every setback is a blow.


One thing I can say about the workers here, they don't bridle at correcting their errors. It's just that they make so damned many of them!


I still don't have delivery of my last three window shutters and the last door. Malang and I went to the cabinet-makers shop and he was busy working on someone else's project. He was, he said, waiting for the guys with the table saw to cut the louvers and the guy wasn't working today and I asked him why wasn't he working on the last window that doesn't have louvers and he made more excuses. It has now been four months since I paid money for this project and I am about fed up with being jerked around and especially fed up with empty promises and outright lies.

The problem, Malang explained to me, is that “they already eat the money you pay them and they take job from other people who pay them now-now”. I'm sure he's right. This has been one grand [censored]-up right from the start. I am on the verge of going to the gendarmes to get them to help straighten this out.

Issa, the original mason, whom I fired, overestimated the number of blocks I'd need by at least 100%. Then Malang engaged the guys to mold the bricks and paid them double the going rate. (I “assumed” he know what he was doing.) Then half the bricks turned out unusable – wrong mixture.

Issa's corners in the house are all other than 90 degrees, making all the tiling askew and creating rooms that are subtle parallelograms, not rectangles. (My friend, David Beardsley, who has a home near Sifoe, in The Gambia, says nothing in his house is square, either!)

Sosa, God bless his little pointy head! Never knows when to quit and constantly creates more work for himself and me.

And Vieux, the mason, who is the most professional of all, wasted 5 days while I was in Badibu, because he didn't have the sense to go to the hardware and tell them we needed more cement.

Yes, I am sick and tired of it, I thought as I was eating my lunch and listening to the rain cascading down in torrents from a leaden sky, but it is not raining on me. How many people in Kafountine today have roofs that leak? How many sick kids are out there whose parents don't have money for medicine? How many Africans would wish to have my frustrations? I worry about the width of my kitchen counter while Malang worries about how to feed his family. My concerns are the concerns of privilege and that realization helps put things in perspective.

May I never have their concerns.

But I still feel frustrated and tired of it.

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Hi Doc,


As mentioned in a previous post, I've worked most of my life in the construction trades and I can identify with your frustration dealing with the issues you are describing in the building of, what sounds like, a delightful house soon to become a home. These trials will be past you soon and it won't be long before you're getting a good laugh out of retelling some of these stories over a glass of wine. But, I have to tell you, the part of Miriama confiscating your cat was absolutely hilarious. Kids just do that sort of thing. If you think you're going to be in control of your life just introduce a kid or two and they'll set you straight. Construction issues pale in their presence. Besides, as you already suspect, that cat is going to be cuddled, carried around relentlessly and simply out loved. I continue to enjoy reading your updates.

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It looks like the cat being kitnapped by Mariama may be a real blessing. Li'l Bit, having been abandoned early, may actually have some personality problems better pawned off on an unsuspecting child! (Bwa-ha-ha!)

He attacks/pounces on everything: feet, pant legs, trees, plants, the dog (at his own risk, of course). You can't pet the little sh-t without getting bitten. He seems to have only two speeds: full-speed and off.

Perhaps this is standard kitten behavior but he is decidedly NOT the mellow cat I'd prefer.

Mariama can have him! :rofl:

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