Monday, April 26, 2010
Sometimes, you gotta dance! These boys are gettin' down at Dana's going away party in Ngaraf:
The trainees from each region had to make a presentation on the ecology of their region. The four of us from Louga/Linguere had the best one, and I thought I'd share it. (Take it with a grain of salt... though we are maintaining that we live in the most hard-core region, the true "wild wild West" of Senegal.)
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Personally, my water situation in my future home, Ngaraf, is nothing to complain about. One of the communal village "robinets" - faucets - is located right outside my family's compound. In my work as an environmental education volunteer, however, I foresee much of my time revolving around the perpetual struggle to keep this life-force close at hand, for my neighbors and my plants and who knows what else.
I returned last week from a 5-day visit to Ngaraf, my real, permanent village -- though we won't permanently install ourselves until the middle of May, the Demystification Week gave all of us trainees the opportunity to see the places where we will live. I spent the week with Dana, the volunteer I will be replacing and an intimidatingly-wise and competent young women. Absurdly, my very first nights in the village were Dana's last, and during my stay, we shared - both literally and figuratively - the space that she has occupied for the last two years and I will occupy for the next two. It was a truly intense time for both of us, sitting at opposite ends of the Peace Corps Circle of Life.
As the reality of my foreseeable future set in (and I mean that far less omoinously than it sounds), I picked Dana's brain about the details of her work and life in the village. She's done a great deal to help create and oversee a community garden operated by the women, and this is a project that I'm both thrilled and terrified to take on. (On that note, by the way, if anyone knows of any awesome gardening resources - especially those that pertain to warm weather - please alert me to their existence and/or send them my way!) I guess if I can make trees and vegetables grow successfully in that climate, I will feel like I can do anything! Until that happens, though, I must admit that I'm quite nervous about my prospects.
So, some of the exciting things about my site:
- Camels: Driving in, we saw a few of these beasts speckling the horizon. During my stay, I came across a few others on my morning runs, and on the way out, our SUV was halted in the road by whole pack of 'em -- domesticated ones! (domesticated, as in they belong to a group of nomadic Pulaar people).
- The people of Ngaraf: During my stay, it seemed that all 300 people of the village felt genuine grief about Dana's departure. Even so, I felt them welcoming me in all different ways -- trying to get to know me, laughing with me, teaching me, putting up with my bad Wolof. They are truly good people, and I can't believe my luck at getting to live with them for the next two years. Also, I must say that, while it may have been difficult to witness their distress at the loss of my predecessor, the affection and connection they felt with her is a testament to their kindness and ability to welcome an outsider. Such a beautiful thing!
- My counterpart: every PC volunteer is hooked up with at least one village counterpart -- a competent and well-connected village resident to help you integrate, learn your way around, implement projects, etc. One of mine, Marem, is exceptional -- one of those people that I could immediately recognize as being intuitive, wise, caring, and strong.
- My douche (my bathroom!): It's mine and only mine, and it's attached to my room, so I can walk there in my underpants when it's a bazillion degrees out! And it's open air, allowing bad odors to escape and letting the stars shine in on my evening buckets baths. The best cement pit latrine in Senegal, hands down.
- The Missionaries: Linguere region volunteers reap extensive benefits from an ever-friendly and generous Lutheran missionary family living in Linguere proper (2o km from my village). When they got wind that all the region's new PCVs would be in the area for demystification, they invited us over and treated us to wonders untold: microwave popcorn, chips and homemade salsa (I KID YOU NOT), delicious gin and tonics in frosted classes (again, I kid you not). We hear tell of homemade ice cream (a BIG DEAL when there is no other ice cream within at least 100 km of Linguere), feasts on major holidays, cold drinks in the hot season, hot showers in the cold season, and all other varieties of semi-debaucherous delights.
All the pictures below are from Ngaraf and the Linguere region (my permanent site). Coming soon: some more recent pictures from this last week of training.
(Camp Warren folks: Sarah's from Eveleth!!)
Monday, April 12, 2010
(Photos by Kolda volunteer Amanda Wybolt.)
Tomorrow, we're all heading out to visit a volunteer in or near our site! Since I'm replacing another volunteer, I will be visiting my actual site - yes!! PC Senegal's official nomenclature for this process is "demyst-ing" - or "demystifying" - which is tells you something about the purport of what we are doing tomorrow.
The reality has slowly set in that I will truly be moving to the desert for the next two years. I believe that there's a lot to love about the desert: dunes and camels and baobabs, all totally beautiful in their own way. Other elements of my future home are harder to love, like the rumor of 130 degree heat in the hot season and the news that I have to dress even more conservatively than I had anticipated. Maybe I'll come to love those parts, too, though. Either way, I'm not getting my panties (or my ankle-length skirts, for that matter) in a bunch until after I "de-myst." What an exciting time!
Thursday, April 8, 2010
I still don't know a ton about my site. The village has about 300 residents, mostly Wolof-speaking, and all Muslim. I'll be replacing an environmental education volunteer who has been working on a number of gardening projects and, like me, likes to run and bike. My house is rumored to be fairly posh by rural standards -- a cement structure, not a hut, which makes me feel like the third little piggy who builds a brick house and makes fun of the first and second little piggies because they built their houses out of straw and sticks, respectively.
There are three other kids from my training group also being placed in the area surrounding Linguere. Ann Marie, Justin, and Kim are all great -- they have positive energy, good senses of humor, and thick skin, alhumdahlilaay!!
A cute little story: There's a big map of Senegal painted on a cement area here at the training center. The Peace Corps folks unveiled our site placements to the trainees by blindfolding all of us and then leading us to our spots on the map. We stood there, calling out names and grasping blindly to figure out who our nearest neighbors were until they told us to remove our blindfolds and indulge in the "moment of truth." It was very fun, though nerve-wracking and quite intense! One of the spectators took some great photos of this process, which I'll post when I get a chance.
Next week, we travel to our install sites for a five-day visit. We'll stay with the volunteer we'll be replacing (if there is one), meet our new home stay families, and basically see where and how we'll be living for the next two years! The shroud of uncertainty under which I've existed for the last three years is finally being fully removed. I'm extraordinarily excited to see my home and meet my neighbors, and I'm doing my best to reserve judgment and expectations until then.
All the best to you!
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Another encouraging auspice is the frequency with which the word for peace, "jamm," appears in Wolof phrases:
* How is your family? In Peace only.
*The morning is peaceful.
And I'm sure you're wondering . . . How IS the Wolof coming along, anyway, Numbe? Well, it's coming. It walks. :-)
The language learning curve has been steep due to the confluence of several fortuitous factors, including my stellar language trainer, my personal desperation to understand what the heck people are saying, and - most of all - my immersion in a Wolof-speaking environment. With each and every exhausting day in the village, I come leaps and bounds in my ability to speak and understand the language. I also feel that I'm making progress in other, less-tangible areas, like a higher tolerance for being the constant focus of attention and a broader understanding of the emotional patterns of my host family.
As practice for the kinds of things that we will do after we install, the Peace Corps trainers have been giving us a lot of technical work to complete. During our last village stay, we planted our garden and our tree nursery, and now have a whole adorable patch of black-eyed pea plants sprouting up; we built two mud stoves; we created a map of the village; we sat in on a primary school class; and we traveled to a local health post to observe a morning of infant vaccinations. The vaccination day was a bit intense -- in the midday heat, hundreds of women were lined up with their babies, with at least half of them nursing at any given moment. Upon reaching the front of the line, they would hold their squirmy little ones as a bleary-eyed nurse jams a large needle into each plump, smooth little thigh. Maybe it has something to do with the administering of shots - I'm really not sure - but many of these women seemed weary, or even sullen.
I think these people really are good people, and sometimes they make me so happy. Yet this is just my family for the duration of training. Imagine how attached I will get after I am installed in my final village and live with the same family for two years!
For all my gushing, I still find myself feeling a significant amount of frustration on a regular basis. The nature of my life produces weak spots in my optimism, and every now and then it becomes just a bit too much. In bad moments, I scowl at an agressive kid, or stomp past a group of old women without greeting them, or retreat to my room until I feel I can once again face the heat and the swarms of people. Suffice it to say that I am constantly working on making these moments fewer and farther between.
The hardest part, for me, might be the cession of all control over the food that I eat. It is certainly a bizarre thing, at the age of 25, to all of sudden find yourself void of agency over what you will eat next -- not only not to have a choice, but not to know when your next meal will come, or what it will be. I'm getting better about it every day, and slowly coming to a place where I can relinquish control without forfeiting my sanity.
That all said, it's nice to be back at the center for a few days -- choosing my food, catching up with friends, taking alone time, and checking in with all of you folks!
The big buzz around the center these days revolves around our Site Placements, which we will know on Wednesday! The rumor mill is churning with talk of the relative merits of various potential sites, such as a Pulaar-language village where you get to swim with manatees, or the Serere-speaking site that sits among abundant mangroves, or the Fulakunda village populated by dwarfs! For my part, I'm confidant that wherever I end up, I will make the best of it and come to love it as one loves the place they call home.
Congratulations on reaching the end of this ramble-fest of a blog post. I've added several pictures below, but for those of you feeling exceptionally photo-gluttonous, you can click on the Picasa photo album to the right, where I've posted many, many more.
(to get the most out of this phrase, you must know that "Thiaw" is pronouced "Chow;" Thiaw is the French spelling.)