Peace Corps Writers
A Writer Writes
Read other short works about the Peace Corps experience What I Learned by Visiting Our Daughter’s Peace Corps Site . . .
And Other Tales of Motherhood

by Ruthmarie Mitsch

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Jane Mitsch at the PC/Senegal office

SHE WAS the difficult daughter. The one who stormed from the dinner table, slammed doors, reduced me to tears of frustration on a daily basis, proclaimed the most often how she could hardly wait to leave home. She did leave home — first for college, next for summer service projects in the States and in the Philippines. Then after college graduation, she left for a Peace Corps assignment in Senegal.
Seeing that same daughter earlier this year in her remote fishing village of Sokone, in the Sine-Saloum delta on the Atlantic coast of Africa, was an awesome experience. Literally. I had always thought that we, her parents, should be an inspiration to her and that she should want to follow in our footsteps. It turned out to be the other way around. When my husband and I and college-student daughter had the opportunity to visit Jane at her Peace Corps home for three weeks during Christmas break, that experience changed forever my relationship with this daughter. It was during that brief trip that she became my teacher, my role model.
Her house is a separate small building in a compound enclosed by a cement wall. There are two electric outlets in the house that work when there is electricity, but there is no landline for a telephone and no internet connection for her laptop that sits upon a handmade desk. There is a small stove and a tiny, nearly empty refrigerator. There is a toilet — a hole in the floor. There is a shower rigged nearby. There is no hot water — and no drop of water, whether dish water or shower water, goes to waste. There are no windows, just a door. There is a mattress on the floor, and there is a mosquito net, an absolute necessity. There are lots of books brought and sent from home, and some Senegalese drums next to the guitar she brought with her. There are many photos of friends and family taped on the walls. There is a world map that fills the entire wall above her desk. In this life, Jane is Astou Diop.
Astou Diop has shown me many things — in particular, how to be patient and flexible. Western time is not Sokone’s time. The flow of daily life is different, set by the chants of the muezzin, and on Sundays by the addition of bells from the Catholic Church two streets over. Things happen in slow motion in her new world; they happen inshallah (God willing). Much discussion must take place to set in motion any activity. Astou Diop has been frustrated that what she sees as simple plans are still not implemented after repeated rounds of talks, that so much time is given to the ritual of discussion but not to action. Priorities? A mayor, who promised equipment for an area clean-up but then sent it elsewhere, refused to be disturbed from his involvement in judging a local beauty contest. Astou Diop hopes, inshallah, that the mayor will reschedule delivery of the equipment before the stinking goat carcass and other garbage strewn in the street rot even more. The amount of time devoted to daily living tasks is similarly significant. In the homes, much time is given to meal preparation, as dishes are all made from scratch. Water must be boiled so that dishes can be washed by hand. Clothes are washed by hand and laid out to dry in the sun. The nightly ritual of tea is one that punctuates her schedule, a time that Astou Diop has come to love. After dinner, tea is prepared outdoors, on a brazier, by her host brother. The tea, served in very small glasses, is poured at least three times, increasing in strength and sweetness with each decoction. This “ceremony” is a social event, not about drinking tea so much as it is about sharing time, thought, laughter with family and friends under starry skies. Astou Diop has come to see that it is these rituals that bring families and neighbors together, and she has become more accepting of the meetings, understanding that each voice added to the pepper pot of discussion increases its flavor and that the patience required for daily activities leads to an appreciation of the work of life, and the life of work. She has learned patience.

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