Tuesday, March 23, 2010

my life as of late

Ok folks, a quick recap here to catch up to where I am now – Week 1 was a crazy whirlwind of meeting everyone, settling in, learning all about what was going to happen before it happened, and realizing that we’re actually in Africa, training to be PCV’s.

Now, at the end of week 2, I’ve survived 6 nights at my new homestay, gotten a start on learning Pulaar, and discovered the relative pattern for what the next 8 weeks will be like. It feels good to have a better grasp of what the next few months will be all about!

Training so far has been crazy—constant overload of information, but with the knowledge that after this is over, the real thing will start and it will be such a relief! I’ve begun to realize that life as a PCT and as a PCV are very different things.

My homestay family is great, my neene’s (mom) name is Fatimata, and I have an older sister named Awa-ja (she’s much older than me) and an older brother named Muntaga-ja (he’s 28). There is another sister in that generation that I’ve never met, but her two younger girls live with us- Fama-lam and Asu-tu (10 and 8…don’t remember which is which). Then Awa-ja, my older sister has two girls, Fama-lam (16) and Kudo (8). All the younger girls seem like younger sisters to me, but since they consider me to be on the same level as Muntaga-ja and Awa-ja, they are technically my nieces (and my neene is their grandmother). I’m not sure where any of the husbands are, the only man of the house is my brother, so really the head of the house is Fatimata since she’s the grandma!
It took me about all week to get all of this information straight, as we were thrown in basically only knowing how to say “hello, how are you” in Pulaar…now I can describe my entire family here and back home, how old they are, where they work, and where they live in perfect Pulaar (as well as a lot of other things too!)

It is a relatively small family, and I like it that way! We have a lot of neighbor children hanging out during the day in our compound but it never gets too overwhelming and I hardly ever have to ward off much unwanted attention when I’m at home. My brother and oldest niece are both great at helping me when I’m studying, and even though I don’t directly study with my neene, she’s always listening. All the girls go to school (although I’ve never actually seen them go…?!), and my brother studies the Koran as well as teaches the Koran in the afternoons.

In my village, there are two Pulaar du Nord language groups (mine and one other) with a total of 8 PCT’s. Fortunately I live about a block from Maddy and Paul, the married couple, and only another few blocks from our LCF’s (Learning & Cultural Facilitator…teacher) compound. The other group is on the other side of the village so we hardly see them.

Each morning I get up around 7:30am, take a bucket bath (which isn’t actually so bad…just more time consuming for me), have breakfast which is always just bread (stale baguette) and coffee (with about 6 sugar cubes in it…they love their sugar here), and then sit awkwardly for about 30 minutes not knowing what to do before class. Then I walk over and meet Maddy (Koumba-ba) and we walk over to Zeina’s for class at 9am. We have about 4 straight hours of intense language study (with some short breaks…when the goats in the yard cause trouble or the donkey makes the most obnoxious noise I’ve ever heard in my life…), and we all go home for the afternoons for lunch/nap/whatever. Lunch is always the best meal of the day- we always have ceebugen (“che-bu-gen”) which is rice, veggies and fish, with a spicy-ish sauce. It’s DELICIOUS! I just never want to see where the fish comes from otherwise I probably could never eat it (we walk through a fish market in Thies to get to the market in town and it’s the most foul thing I’ve ever smelled…ever).

After lunch I either sit under the tree in the yard with my brother and drink Atai (tea) while I study or go into my room for a while. The afternoons are usually the most awkward time at home for me because there’s no real pattern I’ve figured out as to what people are doing each day…some days I would come home and I would sit with my brother and study, but other days I’d walk in and there would be nobody around so I’d just go into my room and feel awkward. The day before yesterday I excused myself from lunch and went to sit under the tree in the yard, and proceeded to fall off the chair that was precariously perched on the cement step next to the house and fall completely over backwards! It was probably, in any other circumstance, one of the most humiliating things ever, but in this context the most hilarious experience at my homestay so far…I laughed pretty hard but my family was just concerned if I was hurt or not (I was fine).

In the afternoons, we (my language class—Maddy, Kim and Evan) go over to the school where we are planting our garden and our Pepenier (tree garden) to work on it. It took us 3 full days to finish preparing the plots while it took the other group one afternoon. But they had their manure collected for them by the school children…while we had to make 2 separate trips to the poo field where we walked around in the hot sun collecting cow pies amongst other trash and animal parts. The second day we made it into a race to see which team of 2 could collect the most poo in 10 minutes so that it wasn’t so…grueling. My team lost. Sorry Evan! But it was much more enjoyable as a race! We then carried the three full rice sacks of manure (on our heads, no less) over to the school and had the children stomp on it to break it into usable fertilizer to be mixed with the rock solid dust of the soil that will be our garden. There were probably over a hundred kids watching us the second day/wanting to help, and it was ridiculously overwhelming. We got some help but mostly they just got in the way while we were trying to dig and mix manure etc in the heat of the day. All of us were a little cranky by the end of that day—exhausted (physically and mentally), dehydrated, and covered in manure and sweat. It shouldn’t be so difficult at our actual sites, as we will have more organized groups of kids (hopefully) to help, and wont’ be doing it during the hottest part of the day.

One of the last afternoons there we got together with the other group to just catch up, drink cold pops, talk in English…it was much needed de-stress time. After a week of intense language immersion and classes, and hearing at least a dozen children yell “Toubab” (white person!) each time we leave our compounds, we were all ready for a release. But before long we were surrounded by about 30 curious children asking us for things, talking to us etc, beginning to be a little distracting to our get together. So on the count of three, all 8 of us jumped up from our seats and ran after the kids shouting and waving our arms…they scattered faster than a flock of seagulls on the beach, even dropping their belongings and bolting. It was one of those great ‘laugh till you keel over crying’ moments…it was hilarious!! Granted, we did all feel a little bit bad afterwards because we made some of the younger kids cry (they were really startled!), but most of them laughed at it and all the parents/people watching laughed at us too, so it was ok. Who knows what the entire town now things of the crazy Toubab’s that scare little children…!! Haha.

Coming back to the center was thrilling- the level of energy was intense from the moment we stepped onto the bus with the other language groups! It was noisier than Senegalese life in that van the entire ride back to Thies…everyone talking about their families and experiences from the past week. Once we got back I spent the evening catching up with everyone I hadn’t talked to all week and then took a nice long shower and put on clean clothes….oh the simple pleasures I already love!!

Today was a long day of tech training and tomorrow we have our first “test”…we just have to know the goals and objectives of the PROSPERE project (the Preventative Health and Environmental Ed program for PC Senegal) and the basics of PACA (Participatory Analysis of Community Activity). Went with a few friends to the market this evening and bought my first dress here—it’s like a huge long bag with neck and arm holds…I love it. Super airy and light…and it’s tie-dye, so it’s awesome. We also went into what is referred to as the Toubab market, because it’s like a US grocery store almost…they have everything we could ever want! But it’s pretty expensive, so only used when necessary. I bought a few snacks to bring back to my homestay for the evenings of hunger! (For dinner we usually only have either milk and millet porridge or some other small dish like beans).

Tomorrow we have more tech sessions, and we get to learn how to build mud stoves! I’m psyched for that. It’s so nice to have even a few days of tech sessions and a break from language craziness. At least I now know how to better prepare for returning to my homestay, what to bring…what to say…etc. It will be a few more weeks before we come back to the center though so I will likely not have internet until we return for more training here. It can only get better from here…every day at homestay I get more comfortable being here and knowing that one day I will be fluent in Pulaar and joke/laugh about the awkward beginning stages of PST/CBT (community based training).

More when I get the chance.

Mbaalen e jam (spend the night in peace!) and Haa booya (see you soon)

Monday, March 22, 2010


Only have a few minutes to write, just letting everyone know that I'm still alive and I survived the first week at my homestay! I know a pretty decent amount of Pulaar already and I'm glad to be back at the center for a few days of tech training so my brain can have a break from constant confusion...
I can hardly think of what to write as a brief description of the last week except that I'll write more later....best awkward moment so far: falling off my chair in front of my homestay family and being the only one to laugh at myself :) making a fool of yourself is embraced readily by any PCT...i'm already used to it.
missing being in contact with everyone but once things begin to settle into a routine i'll have more time to write/respond to all!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I'm. in. Africa....!!!!

1. I am in Thies (pronounced "CHESS"), Senegal....wow. (It's only just beginning to sink in).
2. I was going to prewrite, but I don't have time, so enjoy what you get :)
3. I think I'll write this whole blog as a list, because it's easier and keep me from rambling too much.
4. Ok, so we're 4 days in (fittingly mentioned under #4 here), and it feels like it's been a month...but at the same time we have only really left the training compound once (last night), so it's like we're in a little bubble.
5. Last night we had drinks on the rooftop of the "bar", and were fittingly nicknamed "super stage" by the current PCV'S (Peace Corps Volunteers) because our training group is actually one of the coolest in a long time. It's true- we have the greatest training group ever...super enthusiastic, exciting, creative (there's never a dull moment....ever), and we ALL get along great.
6. I can now say (and answer) in Wolof: Are you in peace? How are you? How is your family? What's your name? Where are you from? Where do you live now? What are you doing in Senegal? ....and more :) Tomorrow we find out if we will continue to learn Wolof or begin learning one of the other local languages, and also our training cite locations.
7. It's really hot here. But actually bearable...only for a few hours in the afternoon does it get super hot and sweaty (embrace the leg sweat...mmm). The morning's and evenings are SO NICE. Love it at this point...ask me again in a few months.
8. The food is so far amazing (besides breakfast really, it's just bread...not very nutritious). Rice, veggies and some kind of meat with sauce for lunch, and then some sort of relatively "American" type of food for dinner (we had spaghetti one night?!). I think they're weaning us off our usual taste... I know there is much more out there to discover at this point.
9. There are about a dozen small hilarious things that have happened so far that made me think "I should write that in my blog" and have now forgotten or moved on to the next thing...but I do have to say that I love sleeping under a mosquito net (it hasn't become a pain yet), it adds to the surreal feeling of being here! (It still sorta feels like we're all at summer camp...)
10. I feel incredibly lucky to be in Senegal as an Environmental Ed volunteer, and am completely loving tech training of learning how to set up a seedbed/start a garden and all the awesome things that come along with it.

Last but not least...tomorrow we find out which language we will learn and where our CBT (community based training) site will be!! I'm very excited to find out who I will be training with for the next 9 weeks, and what language I can start practicing (besides french).
Alrighty, that's all. I'm hot and it's time to shower (still enjoying running water at the center...won't have it starting Monday when we go to CBT sites). We are a smelly group of trainees that know practically nothing after being here for 4 days even though it feels like we are MILES ahead of where we were just a few days ago....can't wait for homestay to start! (slightly terrified at the same time...good terrified though :)

peace and love!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

T-minus 3 days

Well, this is it! One more weekend and I'm off to training. I found out today that another PCV currently in Senegal was in my piano studio at Interlochen Arts Academy in 2003...what a small world! He'll even be at my training at some point, so we'll get to reconnect (7 years later, 1/2 way around the world!)
Today was also a good day because 1. I finished my taxes, 2. I went snowshoeing with friends behind building 50 at the old state hospital, and 3. I got my Solio solar charger in the mail and was able to play with it a little (luckily it was a sunny day here). It works! Solar power is awesome.
Tonights goal is to finish fitting everything into my luggage so that the rest of the weekend can be spend with my mom, who is getting here tomorrow from Phoenix to enjoy the last few days with me and see me off bright and early Monday morning.
Also had a short chat with my Country Director this morning about arrival and any last minute questions before staging/training. I'm almost ready!