MORNING BEGAN WITH A ROOSTER crowing far across town at dawns first rays. Other cockerel began crowing nearer and nearer until one took up the cry outside my window. It was useless to sleep any longer; to the local fowl, one day was as another, Saturday included. Church bells atop a distant hill pealed a brief matin. Seconds later, loudspeakers at the nearby mosque began broadcasting with Ahamdeli.
Two young girls washing dishes outside discussed whether or not the devil existed. A debate ensued in which both sides expressed themselves eloquently. With the absence of Saturday morning cartoons, children here listened to the conversation around them and developed philosophical insights at a young age. Soon I was sitting on the back steps of my neighbors earthen home. They sat around the wood fire and gave me language lessons as they cooked. Mariama was teaching me Yalunka, and Lahma gave me instructions in the local dialect of Fullah. Everyone laughed at my pronunciation, and we all had a great time.
The West African bush town bustled with morning activities. Vendors on the way to the marketplace passed by laden with fruits, vegetables, freshly baked bread, and palm oil in recycled Fanta and Vimto bottle. Among the various fruits were popos, mangos, oranges, pineapples, grapefruits and limes. Hearty foods, such as groundnuts, potato leaves, cabbage, sowa sowa and cassava leaves, all which garnish the main foodstuff, rice chop, were bound for market.
In the dry season, water came from the backyard well. All drinking water was filtered, and bucket baths were the norm. During the rainy season, my water supply was a 4 by 4 square, aluminum tank in which the rainwater collected via a gutter strategically placed on the tin roof.
November, the end of the rainy season, was the month of Ramadan. The rice had been harvested and food was plenty. I witnessed the slaughter of two rams and a bull at a Ramadan feast given by a chief. Musicians lined the veranda and women taught their daughters to dance by the beat of a samba. At night, the deafening echo of a half dozed flintlocks being fired resounded throughout the town as the hunters rejoiced, silhouetted by a bonfire.
These events took place over a decade ago, yet they are as clear to me as though it were last week. Through the Peace Corps, John F. Kennedy provided a means for those who wanted to serve their country. He asked, and we responded with a commitment to an ideal. The experience of living in another culture is brief for the Volunteer, but the impact remains a lifetime.