Friday, January 28, 2011

New Year, New Adventures

I came to the realization yesterday that I am the only person in my work region that has yet to go to the Med Hut in Dakar for some sort of sickness. Not saying I haven’t been sick in the last year, but I’ve just never had to go to Med. My few cases of unpleasant stomach illnesses have generally gone away after a few days, with the exception of the first time I got sick at site and had fever hallucinations (back in May). And this time it probably will too, but the experience is still not pleasant. Without going into the gory details (since not all of ya’ll have the desensitized reaction to nasty details like PCVs do), I’ll say that I think I have amoebas, again. I’ve been nauseous, had crippling stomach cramps, and lost my appetite among other symptoms, and I think it might be time to call up Med. Same symptoms as I had around Thanksgiving, but I “got better” that time. Well, amoebas tend to go dormant at times, and then come back with a vengeance, so who knows, maybe I’ve had them this whole time. Stay posted.

Fortunately, for the month I spent back home in America I had no stomach issues at all. December was a great month. I arrived to the bitter cold of New York City and my mom waiting for me at the airport. We spent a whirlwind 5 days in the city, seeing multiple shows on Broadway (the best being Billy Elliot- most amazing show I’ve ever seen), eating great food, and exploring the city. Following that craziness, we road tripped to Michigan, spending a few days in Canton with my brother, and then the weekend up in Traverse City seeing everyone we knew in about 2 whole days. It was a great trip, although very exhausting and a lot to handle right upon arriving back to the states after so long. Unfortunately my mom’s cousin in MI passed away right before our return to MA, so we delayed our trip home for the memorial, but were still able to make it back to Nantucket late on Christmas eve. My two weeks at home were amazingly relaxing and wonderful. Christmas and New Years with my family was cheerful and warm, with lots of great home cooked food, crackling fires, and quality family time. All very much needed and appreciated (and often dreamed of now that I’m back here).

It was very difficult to leave the Island and make my way back towards NYC to fly back here, but the trip took some unexpected turns along the way, making it a great adventure! I spent one night with my adorable and great friend Autumn, in her cozy apartment in Mid-town, and the next day trekked out to Brooklyn to visit my long time friend Betsy and her mother (who was visiting from Australia!). While on my way to the airport from Brooklyn, I met a young guy on the subway who was also headed to the airport, so I asked where he was going. Mali. Say what?! I live in Senegal! (Look at a map, it’s close). Amazingly, he was traveling with some students to do some sort of research in Mali, and then going to travel through Senegal and visit a friend of theirs that’s a PCV in the North. It all quickly unraveled to reveal that one of the guys is good friends with my fellow PCV and neighbor, Vivienne, and was also a PCV in Morocco a few years ago. We all coincidentally were on the same flight to Casablanca, with an 18 hour layover during which Chris, the RPCV and Viv’s friend, included me in their group and played tour guide to us all throughout the city. His fluent Arabic and knowledge of the city/country was incredible, and so appreciated. We toured the beautiful and 3rd largest mosque in the world, ate authentic Moroccan food, and explored some awesome markets full of colorful rugs, spices, olives, artisan goods, etc. To top it off, I was informed by the group that Air Moroc provides a complimentary hotel and meal to travelers with long layovers, so we dropped our luggage there for the day while we explored. They flew out a few hours before me, so I took advantage of a free bed, shower, and meal after an exhausting 24 hours of travel, before I embarked on the remainder of my journey back to Dakar. They will be passing through our regional house in Ndioum next weekend, just in time to help celebrate my birthday! :)

My return to site went very well, my host family was very appreciative of all the America gifts and happy to have me back. The past few weeks have flown by, packed with lots of work and activities. We had the amazing Awa, a great woman that works for Peace Corps in Thies, come up North and make a tour of our schools to give talks to girls about early marriage, the importance of school, sexual harassment, and general girls empowerment. Her talk at my school went great, there were about 38 primary school girls (11-13 yrs old), all of whom were VERY excited to have Awa come talk to them. I’ll try to post videos of it on Facebook. These girls are a challenge for me to work with, but only because of their excess of energy, which is sometimes difficult to harness… they almost got out of hand, but Awa did a great job of handling it all by herself (my teachers were out of village). They even did a great spur of the moment theater skit about a girl endowed to get married but who speaks up to her father about wanting to stay in school. It was awesome.
The past week I spent in village was incredibly productive- the maternity room budget has finally been jumpstarted by a visit to the mason, I completed another mural at the Health Post, made some new friends, caught up with people I haven’t seen in forever, and started my Environmental Club back up at the school (officially called “Des Amis de la Nature” – Friends of Nature Club). I easily spent a week in village before bringing my teachers to Ndioum for the long anticipated CCBI training, which was this past Wednesday. It was a huge logistical challenge to bring together about 35 Senegalese teachers from 5 far apart villages, but thanks to Maddy and a group effort, it went well and my teachers at least seemed to appreciate it. The training was on how to integrate community issues into the classroom via Community Content Based Instruction. Us volunteers were trained on this during PST, so trying to listen to it again, in French (which most of us don’t speak), was challenging, but we were there to support our teachers.

So that’s the breakdown of my past few months, not a whole lot of commentary, but I hope it was interesting enough for those of you who actually keep up with this rambling blog of mine. It has turned out to be more of an online journal rather than the informational and analytical type of blog I was aiming for about my PC experience, but it’s what works for me.

Living here and speaking another language every day gives a strange angle to my days that challenges me regularly— we all have things that happen to us that normally we would casually mention to a friend or family member or a roommate, because we like sharing our experiences. Well here, those things happen all the time, but there’s nobody to tell. If I somehow do remember after the fact, as I’m talking to an America friend or someone back home, those things often seem too trivial or irrelevant to bring up again. The isolation can be crippling, and often puts a dent in my personality. I find myself speaking a lot less out loud, but the internal dialogue does continue…sometimes to the point of near insanity if I’ve been in village too long—that’s when you start making strange comments out loud (and sometimes in English) and actually giggling at things that nobody around you understands. That’s when you know you need to get out of village… It’s just a challenge that I’ve now pinpointed and appreciate as something that I’ve been able to deal with pretty well. I try very hard to translate my personality into Pulaar so Senegalese people can see some of it, but it often seems impossible and like they will never understand. But that’s ok, because I have my American friends to keep me sane, and to remind me who I really am and what I’m really doing here. At almost a year in, I’ve started to reflect more on the work I’m doing here and the process of development work in general. We’ve all learned staggering amounts about how it all works, some good, some bad, a lot frustrating, but also a good amount rewarding and perspective changing. Only time will tell how this entire experience will reflect on my overall existence, if it will grind me down to be cynical and eternally frustrated with development work and Senegalese people, or if I will rise up and make the best of it, somehow able to cling to the optimist we all are in the beginning, coming out a hugely changed person.

Ok well that was a bit intense, on a lighter note, only one week till my birthday, and less than 3 weeks till WAIST…the ultimate softball tournament of West Africa. Team North still needs a theme, so if there are any good suggestions out there, please let them be heard. I will attempt in the future to integrate pictures into this blog, but until then, refer to Facebook for your picture viewing pleasure. I did finally get a new camera. Hoorah!