Sunday, 8 April 2012

Guesthouse Living

I actually don’t have much to say about Senegal yet, because this week I’ve mostly been at work or at home sleeping off a cold. So all I have to talk about is the guesthouse. It would be fair to say that this post is largely to reassure people (parents...) that I'm still alive.

All around the world, Oxfam has houses that are used by staff visiting the country. It’s much cheaper than hotels, as well as being nicer for the longer-term guesthouse residents, like me. Recently there was a bit of controversy around the one in Kenya, which has a pool. Ours isn’t that nice, but it’s still pretty cushy, with a big living area and wifi that has now decided it wants to work again, and a hammock that appeared from nowhere over the course of this week. Amusingly, it doesn't have a sharp knife or anything to cook in the oven with - but it does have three different ways to make coffee - four if you count the nescafe - which does rather say something about the general inmates.

At the moment, though, it’s pretty full, and most of the people here will be here a fairly long time – Team Mali still have no idea when they’ll be allowed back, Olivia and Gregoire are looking for a place but don’t know how long it’ll take, I’m here 11 months, and Elise, from Advocacy, is here 2 and a half months. There’s also Joaquim, a WASH guy from Liberia who’s here for a week for induction, but he mostly eats out. Anyway, all of us here for a while want to buy food and settle in. It makes it a bit tricky to manage the kitchen, and harder to keep track of which identical bottle of milk is whose, not to mention being difficult to fit all our milk in the fridge at all. All in all, it feels a lot like living in Cite in Geneva or Blakeley in Tufts, but, thankfully, with adults who don’t steal. One of Team Mali and I have taken to calling it the Big Brother house and commenting on what everyone’s doing in a bad Geordie accent: “it’s 8:15 in the Big Brother house, and everyone’s finally had their coffee” Unfortunately none of us ever do anything interesting enough for it to be amusing.

So, on my second night, we had a house meeting to figure out how to work things. We went through the kitchen and identified things that didn’t belong to anyone and were therefore communal (a jar of marmite! Some green lentils! Nescafe! Win!), divvied up the shelf space, and set up a kitty to buy the essentials: our morning bread, milk, butter, fruit, avocados and beer.

Since then, it’s all been pretty sweet. Everyone gets along reasonably well and respects everyone else’s space. Olivia and Gregoire have a one year old who looks cute and makes cute kid noises but who I have no responsibility for looking after. I don’t have to worry about going out for bread every day so if I oversleep I still get breakfast, and there’s always fruit. The yoga is no longer accompanied by pan pipes. The TV doesn’t work so can’t cause arguments. They all smoke like chimneys, but do it outside, so no complaints. It’s phenomenal for my French – I’ve realised my ‘domestic’ vocabulary is basically non-existent, because I’ve never needed to say ‘vegetable peeler’ or ‘knife sharpener’ in French before. And the fact that I'm talking to actual French people in French not about work means I'm learning some slang for just about the first time ever.

In other news, as my cold seems to have finally abated and I’ve finally had enough sleep to feel human again, tomorrow I’ll likely go out and hopefully do something interesting.

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