In pulaar, my language, jam tan is what you say in response to almost every greeting that is spit at you. It means peace only, and many of the languages spoken in Senegal answer with peace only when asked about their day, their work, their home, their family, etc. For instance, hows your family? jam tan be ngoni. or peace only they are. How's your work? Peace only.
I tell you this for two reasons: its interesting to see how a culture has turned out when for centuries they've been talking like hippies to each other. My friends joke about it and have created our own Hippie Speak made up of different phrases from different languages. Hey man, whatever, jam tan. Hey jam tan man! (someone happens to pass a joint to you (just as an example of what a stereotypical hippie would do, we don't smoke pot or do any drugs here), or a hamburger or whatever: jam tan.) Noko bok man, noko bok. Noko bok is your welcome in Wolof but it literally means Everything is everyone's (I think, someone told me that). Its like what's mine is yours. Wonna hay hunnde. Which is the your welcome in Pulaar and means it's nothing. Said in a voice inflicted with a hippie twinge these become very funny.
The second reason I tell you is because I found myself saying Jam Tan quite a bit over the past weekend. I couldn't help it, all 45 of us got a day at the beach, so we all pitched in and rented a house and had a big sleep over. It was very fun, a real trip. As soon as it kicked off I ended up in the water forgetting exactly what water is or how to swim, but at the same time I was a master of water. I don't know how to explain it, but whatever man, jam tan. I kept saying it out loud, Jaaaammm Taaaannnn, I was just so happy to be pushed around by ocean waves. The night was amazing, lots of people drank a lot, I partook slightly and ended up sitting on some rocks having profound conversations with anyone that would care to join me for about... 6-8 hours? We talked about the stars, constellations, sailing around the world, life goals, taco bell, arab americans (my friend knew this arab american family that would threaten people that accused them of 9-11; they would threaten to drive their jaguar into your house, haha), etc.
This week is the last week in my village, and some interesting things have happened. This is just an example of what happens here in Peace Corps Senegal: I arrived home for my last week to find one of my host mothers with a cloth wrapped around her head. She said that she couldnt sleep well for four days because her ear hurts and her head hurts. I asked to see it and she showed it to me; she or someone had stuffed a cloth inside her ear and the cloth was soaked with some black ink or something. This freaked me out, and I told her she has to go to the hospital. She gave me the standard answer to that which is "I don't have the money". The health care she would need to receive would cost 2-6 dollars, and her husband works so she has the money its just not a high priority for the family and perhaps they don't see the importance of this specific ailment (it sounds to me like an ear infection).
So getting to the point of the story, for the first time in my training village I gave someone money: I put 2 dollars in her hand and said, you HAVE to go to the doctor today. I know this may not have been the best way to help, but I believe it was the right thing to do; I have the means to help, she may or may not but she won't go if she isn't motivated/doesn't have the cash. And I would have just spend that money on a beer or a hamburger or cookies or a soda or whatever I don't need.
Afterwards I took a nap and when I woke up I felt like my family was treating me differently; they were deliberately saying things to me that I wouldn't understand and they weren't that happy to see me. I might have just been imagining this but giving money is a very delicate thing in Senegal as it can be in America. So here's the actual reason I'm telling you this story: Yesterday during my daily greetings of households I met a guy that speaks a million languages. His name is Amadou Ba and he was so excited to meet me yesterday morning that when I came back to speak to him and his family in the evening he had writted a poem for me in english and Pulaar.
Money is not Everything, by Amadu Bah
With money you can buy a house, but not a home.
With money you can buy a clock, but not time.
With money you can buy a bed, but not sleep.
With money you can buy a book, but not knowlege.
With money you can buy a doctor, but not good health.
With money you can buy a position, but not respect.
With money you can buy blood, but not life.
With money you can buy sex, but not love.
I don't know if he wrote this or just translated it, but it was exactly what I needed. I wanted to ask my family if I made a mistake, and say I was sorry but I didn't think I made a mistake in giving money, but instead I just read this poem, the Pulaar version, to my family. Their reactions were all different, but i think this poem came into my life at the right time, I needed this and the universe answered, so im happy.
So our Swearing in ceremony is on Friday, May 13th (spooky), and we all have to have traditional garbs made. I'm waiting for my tailor to finish mine, and I want to let everyone know that I'm taking full advantage of my situation. I'm having a cape made. I'll show you pictures when its done, which should be in a few days, but its a linen, khaki colored cape that wraps around my body, like a cloak from Great Britian in the 1800s, but without a hood. Think Laurence of Arabia. Taking full advantage. I can't wait to walk into households and be like: A Saalam Waleekum, with my hands hidden in my cloak they wont know what im carrying, or if im carrying anything. I could have a gun, I could have a machete, I could have some flowers or a mango, they wont know. Okay until next time! I'll have pictures next time.
Just saw the cloak, my tailor did not quite understand what I wanted. He has made, so far, a vest with no arm holes. I don't myself or my translators made it crystal clear. I'm trying to have him turn it into what I wanted, I mean I've paid him 30 dollars for this job it better come out the way I want it.