Wednesday, June 9, 2010

first month at site!

Well it’s been about 3 weeks since my last access to internet, and it feels like a lifetime ago but at the same time, the weeks have flown by. Since we swore in as volunteers in Dakar, all of us living in the North headed to our regional house for a few days before we were installed into our villages. My install day was amazing—we arrived in the afternoon at the school, and were welcomed by all of the elementary school children holding hand drawn welcome signs and singing in unison a song welcoming me (“Fati Awe”—my Senegalese name). It was the coolest moment ever—to have all these kids so excited for my arrival and for everyone to be so welcoming. Following that was a meeting with important community members and then an amazing lunch at my house.

Week one at site was…hot. And by the end of my second day, I had already gotten some stomach bug and felt like death for the next 4 days. It was also the hottest week we’ve had since I got here, so being sick on top of that was miserable. Once I started feeling better though I was able to start getting out of my house more and meeting people and getting to know my family better. They took great care of me while I was sick, got me ice every day (which has to be brought in from Pete, which is 7 kilometers away), and didn’t hassle me too much about not eating anything for 3 days. I’m feeling much better now.

I can’t really think of what else I did for the first two weeks at site... probably because I really didn’t do much of anything! I’m definitely getting the hang of sitting. Lots and lots of sitting happens. I also did a lot of reading, listening to music, napping, some studying, and trying (sort of) to improve my Pulaar. I usually go to the school or the dispenser (health post) every evening to visit with either the teachers or my counterparts. I really enjoy hanging out at the school at night because two of the teachers speak English really well (but they don’t speak Pulaar) and always provide really interesting conversation. There is also one teacher that speaks Pulaar very well so between all of them, I can usually get whatever I want to know translated. So far the teachers at the school are my best friends (probably because I can actually communicate with them!) and have been very helpful with anything I want to do.

This past week has been very productive, I started my pepenier at the school with a group of students to help. We made 400 sacs so far (you have to mix the soil and manure together, and then fill the bags…not easy in the heat!) and I have to do another 100 before IST in July. I also had a meeting with the college age students (like high school or a little younger) to form a club to do radio skits since I’m inheriting a radio show from the volunteer before me. This way I can have the students learning about health and environmental issues, teaching the public on the radio, and I get to avoid having to speak horrible Pulaar on the air :). A few days ago I also was able to teach my ICP (like a nurse sort of, at the health post) and her nanny how to make nutritional porridge for babies 6 months to 5 years old and about the different food groups and nutritional value of foods important for growing children. Now that they know how to make it and know about the food groups, they can help me do a “causerie” with the women in the village where we teach them how to make the porridge and about nutrition (but this way I don’t have to speak a whole lot either and the ICP will do most of the talking/explaining/answering questions).

I stayed in my village for about two weeks before I went to visit my closest neighbors in Medina and Aram. It was fun to get out figure out the transportation to see friends, but I definitely know now that it’s not just a day trip. I went for the day and forgot my phone in my friends room, so I went back the next day and spent the night. The cheret (horse pulling a wood platform with two weels…) out of my village takes 45 minutes, then I have to get a car or alhum or bus to the cross road that leads to Medina, and then take another cheret from there (30 min or so) to Medina. If I want to go even further and visit my other friend in Aram, I have to take ANOTHER cheret that takes about 45 minutes to get to her village. It’s not simple…and you have to take into account the hot times of the day, lunch times, etc. when it might be more difficult or impossible to get a car or cheret. Visiting my friend in Aram was really nice though, she has the river about 300 yards from her house. We had about 30 kids follow us down to the river and watch us swim for a half hour…we swam to the other side for some peace (it’s a decent size river, it was a good swim). Makes me wish I had the river in my village!

So. Anyways, I came yesterday to the regional house in Ndioum to do some research, check email, buy some gardening supplies, and watch movies. It’s been very hard to focus on what I came here to do and actually do anything other than lay around and watch movies/mess around on the internet... :) But it is a much needed break that will keep me from going insane from just sitting. All. Day. Long. A little bit of the familiar comforts like running water, ice, cooking my own food, and having a connection to the rest of the world (internet) has been so nice!

I love my village and am definitely getting more comfortable being there and meeting the people. I have a lot of work to do before we go back to Thies for In Service Training (IST) in July, but plenty of time to get it all done. I plan to make a map of my village, get my actual garden going (not just the pepenier), do at least one radio skit with the student club, and do the baseline survey that we are required to do in order to asses our village. Next week we have a 3 day language seminar in Podor that our language teacher is coming up North for…I’m excited to get to travel again and also to see some friends that I haven’t seen in a while. A little bit after that is the 4th of July when everyone goes down south for the yearly 4th of July party! And another short time after that we head back to Thies for IST. It’s nice to have the time broken up so nicely in and out of the village, I love always being on the go!

Well that’s all for now, I’ll try to update again next week when I’m back for lang class if I have the time. Next time I’ll try to write more about my observations and not just what I’ve been doing…there’s so much to write about it’s hard to remember all the “blog worthy moments” but I’ll take some time to write them down for next time!

PS. if you want to see pictures, i've posted three albums on facebook so check them out at the following links: (you don't have to have facebook to see just the pictures!)