Tuesday, November 2, 2010

First Official Few Weeks


I’m officially a Peace Corps Volunteer now and have moved into my home in the village of Madjaly!  My new host family is awesome, very respectful of my privacy and my strange American habits such as reading books for fun, going on runs, listening to strange music, and brushing my teeth (and with toothpaste nonetheless)!  They are helpful with learning more about Senegal and village life, teaching me how to eat with my hands, pull water, and carry things on my head!  They eat well (meaning I am happy since I’m sure all of you are well aware that if I eat well, I am happy and if not…)  All the women in my compound cook delicious dinners and I quickly went from wanting to only eat lunch with my family, to wanting to eat lunch and every other dinner with them, to wanting to eat only breakfast by myself!  I realized that cooking for yourself in the dark is, well, lonely, and if your moms cook well, there is little motivation to eat alone.  When I miss American food I will simply cook a meal for them and then we can all share it together.  It’s hard going from eating with about 10 people around one bowl to eating all by yourself; I enjoy sharing the family time, even if that includes germs!
Right now I am not doing too much in my village except listening, learn about my village, and practicing language.  It’s a really good thing my family is so patient with my language because not only do I still have a lot of vocabulary and grammar to learn, I also have not been able to hear well since I moved in!  It’s hard enough communicating in a new language, but then my left ear got blocked and I stopped being able to hear out of it, lol!  I was in touch with the med office here and they had me try ear drops, decongestants, but nothing was working.  They said it was probably either that something had crawled into my ear and couldn’t get out or I had an ear infection.  Unfortunately it went on long enough that I had to leave my site and travel into Dakar for them to check it out.  So I’m here in the med hut now and on my way to being better.  After the doctor cleaned enough wax out of my ear that he could see my eardrum he determined that I did have a little infection, so they put me on some antibiotics and I should have full use of both ears soon!  All the better to hear you with!
I’m looking forward to returning to my site tomorrow, I felt bad leaving so soon after just arriving, but life in the med hut is actually pretty nice and I cannot complain!  There is air conditioning, a refrigerator, the biggest grocery store I’ve seen in Senegal, and a shower!  I’m clean, comfortable, and well fed, what more could anyone ask for?

Exciting News!

I PASSED MY LANGUAGE TEST!!!
I was never very good at languages, so I was concerned, but I ended up doing fine!  This means that on Friday I get to swear in at the Embassy in Dakar.  I am very excited to become an official Peace Corps Volunteer instead of just a trainee.  Then on the 20th I get to move into my new hut!  I’m excited to finally have a home.  It’s interesting that my hut in Senegal is going to be more permanent than any home I’ve been in for the past four years.  I’m so used to moving back and forth between VA and MA and now I’ll be staying in a village of 500 for the next two years!  It is also the first home I will ever own!

Mafe and Machetes

Hello again!
The best week I’ve had so far in Senegal was during my volunteer visit, when I went to see Tambacunda.  This is a good sign since I will be living in this environment for the next two years!  I did not stay at my site in Madjaly since it is a new site and there are no current volunteers there.  I stayed in a village of about 100 with a sustainable agriculture volunteer who was sworn in last year. We were able to visit my future site and it made me really excited about moving there!
Highlights of my new village:
A new hut that was not finished when I saw it but what I did see of it was absolutely beautiful!  It was painted on the outside and on the inside there were designs carved into the concrete.  Who knew that a village hut would be so fancy!  My hut also has a front door on the side of the hut so that it’s a little quieter and I’m not disturbed by the children in the compound. My father wanted it that way so that I could get a good nights sleep and work hard during the day! There is a window in the front so I can still get a cross breeze since I also have a backdoor into my backyard.  I will have a place where I can garden there, where goats currently graze, so hopefully their manure will make the soil fertile.  I will also have a hole outside where I can use the bathroom and take showers over.  I’m looking forward to taking outdoor showers every day!
My father/counterpart seems really amazing and like a really hard worker!  We were able to eat lunch with my new family when I visited them and I was very excited because it was one of the best meals I had eaten in Senegal.  My two new moms made mafe, which is a rice dish with a peanut sauce.  Sometimes it can be a little runny and oily, but this one was thick and filling!  I’m very excited that my new family cooks well!
Biking!  We biked every day during village visit and it was so nice to stretch my legs, and see some of the countryside as the same time.  I am very excited to bike on a regular basis out at site.  My favorite bike ride was when we biked to the other trainee’s site.  We biked on a bush road instead of a main road and it was awesome!  You’re biking through grasslands, baobab and other bush trees in scattered throughout.  Passing farmers in their fields and long horned cattle grazing.  It was just very quintessentially “Africa” and it was hard for me to believe that I was really there biking through it.
After the volunteer visit week I had another 10 days of language training in Mbour.  I was feeling a lot more comfortable in my routine there, so I was able to enjoy my time more.  All the trainees in Mbour got together one night and cooked an American meal (chili) for one of our families.  It was fun to show them how we flavor our food and it was interesting to try and get them to understand that rice was not the main part of the meal.  It was also a good culture lesson because after we bought all the food for dinner and then cooked it, they complained that there wasn’t enough food and told us we had to buy more.  It looked like plenty and we were shocked and a little offended that we had done all this for them and only gotten complaints in response.  We told them no, we were not going to buy more food and then we kind of turned it into a joke and everyone just laughed.  In the end there were enough leftovers for them to eat as breakfast, and we realized it was just a cultural thing where in Senegal it’s no big deal to ask for more, so you always do.  In the States you only ask for more if you’re in a lot of need and then feel ashamed about it.  No such negative connotations here.
I had another cultural lesson because my younger brother had been circumcised while I was at volunteer visit.  It’s a Mandinka tradition for boys to all be circumcised in the same house and then recover together.  Every night they are in recovery there is a Kon Koran that walks around town scaring evil spirits away and goes to the houses of the circumcised boys some nights .  Well, in order to scare the spirits, it has to be pretty scary, so a few nights last week I was woken up by a man dressed all in grasses, head to foot so no skin was showing, clanging machetes together, followed by a mob of young men with sticks, all chanting.  If they catch you they’ll hit you with the blunt end of the machetes, not to hurt you but enough to scare you away.  They come around about 3 or 4 in the morning, and some nights they banged on my door.  I knew what was going on but I was still pretty scared and glad that I had locked my door that night.  It was a pretty cool sight, like a faceless sasquatch with blades, but when it’s 4 a.m. it takes a bit to remind yourself that you really are safe.  I think my brother will be returning to our house on October 10th.
The past few days I’ve been in Thies at counterpart workshop.  It was a time for Peace Corps to make sure that all our counterparts and work partners really know why we’re here and for us volunteers to get to know them bit.  I enjoyed hanging out with my new father and my Senegalese government work partner.  Although at times it was a bit awkward since I still have a long way to go on my language, it made me feel more comfortable about my move to Tambacounda.  Both counterparts are very patient and seem like hard workers.  I was happy to have the time with them.
All the trainees had Sunday off, so we rented a beach house and spent Saturday night and Sunday there.  It was so nice to relax, cook for ourselves and SWIM!!  It was the cleanest beach I had been to in Senegal and beautiful with some cliffs and a small nature reserve we could walk through.  And tomorrow we get to go to Dakar and tour the city some!  I hear they have great ice cream, so I am really looking forward to it.  It has been a great couple of weeks and I am looking forward to the next few.  I hope you are all doing well, and thanks again for all your support!

Two Weeks in Mbour

Hello Everyone!
I know I haven’t updated in a while, I’ve been in Mbour for over two weeks without internet access, but a lot has happened!
The first two weeks I was in Mbour involved a lot of language training and gardening.  I got sick twice in the two weeks, but luckily it was only for 24 hours each time, so it could have been a lot worse!  I also found out that I have a little mouse problem in my room.  The first time I was in Mbour, I thought it was just a really big cockroach problem since I saw a lot of them and was getting pretty good at killing them, but  I came to  realize it was both a cockroach and a mouse problem.  I found out the day I was recovering from being sick.  As I was napping, I was woken up by what I thought was another cockroach running around under my bed.  I went to kill it and as I was doing that I noticed that it was actually a mouse in-between my mattress and my bed frame!  I went and got my mom and she killed it with a broom.  Two nights later I was sleeping and was woken up by what felt like something on my legs.  Sure enough, a mouse was running around on me in my bed.  Unfortunately the mosquito net seemed to trap the scared mouse, so it just kept running around inside my bed.  I had to grab it and throw it out!  I had a difficult time sleeping afterwards.  I now tuck my mosquito net under my mattress every night and I think it has kept all the unwanted visitors away thus far.  I also hang up all my stuff so at least I know they won’t nest in my clothes.
Other exciting news, yesterday was the end of Ramadan, the Korite celebration.  It consists of people dressing in their nicest, usually new clothes, and eating a lot of food!  I had a complet made, although there was a bit of a mix up and my fabric and my friend’s fabric were switched.  We’re going to try and have the outfits refitted to their correct owners but that will have to wait for another day.  In the morning my father’s brothers all came over and we had a big breakfast of mano and noonoo: rolled millet balls and yogurt.  It was delicious!  Then all the men got ready to kill the ram we had bought.  I decided not to watch, but I saw them skinning the ram afterwards and was actually pretty ok with the whole thing so I think I might watch next celebration.  Then they divided up the meat and people returned to their respective homes.  I helped to cook the meat for lunch, which we also killed a chicken for.  I watched them pluck the chicken, which actually did not seem as hard as I expected, mostly just pouring hot water over the feathers and pulling.  Lunch consisted of two dishes: a spaghetti with carrots, onions, raisins, spices, and the cooked ram (my family seemed to end up with most of the innards and very little of what we would normally eat in the States) as well as a macaroni dish with potatoes, onions, garlic, and the chicken.  I think it was the first day here when I didn’t eat ANY rice!  I have to say that I was pretty proud of myself for just eating and not worrying too much about what it was!  After lunch I bought a watermelon and we all shared that along with some soda.  Delicious food!  Women did not finish getting ready in their new clothes until the end of the day, which made me expect the celebration to continue into the night, but it really didn’t.  We kind of just ate leftovers for dinner and then went to bed.  It was nice though, my family didn’t wake up at 4:30 a.m. to eat breakfast, and therefore I did not wake up then either (the lack of clocks here means that when you want everyone awake you have to bang on their doors and yell).  Overall it was a good day and I’m glad I got to spend it with my family.  I took some photos, which they were really excited about and I’ll try to post them somewhere soon.
My other big news is that I found out where my site placement is!  It was a pretty funny way to find out, they blindfolded all of us and then took us to the basketball court at the training center, which has a giant map of Senegal painted on it.  They led us to our respective sites with our blindfolds on and wouldn’t let us take them off until everyone was in place.  Then we got packets with a few details about our sites.  I will be going to a village called Missirah in the Tamba region in the southeast.  It only has about 500 people living there and the market is only once a week in another village, conclusion: definitely rural.  I’m very excited!  It is a new site, although a volunteer who was placed in a nearby village has been working with a farmer from my village, and recommended that a volunteer be placed there to work more with him.  So even though to some of the village I will be something completely new, some will be used to a  volunteer being around.  It also sounds like this farmer is very motivated, which should help make the whole experience more positive!  I’m very excited about my placement.  I get to visit a volunteer close to my site tomorrow and stay with her for the next few days.  It will be nice to see what the area’s climate is like and what kind of environmental issues I will be dealing with.  I hear that it’s hotter, but also has a little more topography than other parts of Senegal.  It also looks like I’ll be near a few nature reserves, so I’ll have to explore those!  Hopefully when I return from my site visit I’ll be able to give more specifics on the area.  As of right now I’m just excited about the adventure of the relatively unknown!
And again I miss you all!

Kor Tanante

A lot has happened within the last few days and I feel like I’ve been here for much more than two weeks.  I spent the last few days living with my training host family: Maria Kunda , the house of Maria.  I find it really ironic that my new Senegalese last name is my first name in America.  My new first name is Ami, so Ami Maria.
My family lives in the city of Mbour, Senegal in Jiameguene I.  It is a larger city by the ocean, although we live closer to the outskirts of the city and I have not been to the beach.  I am learning Jaxanke (pronounced Ja-han-kay), which is only spoken in about 4% of Senegal.  It is awesome to be learning such a unique language, however since not even very many Senegalese speak it the Peace Corps could not find a host family near the training center in Thies that speaks it.  Instead I am living with a family that speaks Mandinka, which is commonly spoken in the Gambia and in some places in Senegal.  Luckily Mandinka is very similar to Jaxanke so it will work out just fine even though it may be a little bit more difficult in the beginning of our language training.  The best part of learning Jaxanke is that it’s spoken in the Southeastern part of Senegal, which is also supposed to be the most beautiful part!
My days there have gone basically like this:
I eat breakfast around 8 before my language class.  It’s Ramadan so most of the family is fasting except the children and anyone who is pregnant (my new host sister is pregnant so it’s nice to be able to share meals with her).  Therefore the rest of my family has already woken up around 4:30 to eat breakfast before the sunrise, and then goes back to sleep until after I have left for class.  I come back for lunch, which we eat around 2ish, and then head out to the school where we are practicing our gardening.  We are lucky and have relatively decent soil there since we are gardening where they used to dump the trash, including food scraps which decompose and help the soil.  There are also some nice shade trees in the garden which are harder to come by in the city.  I go home around 5:30 to break the fast with my family.  This is probably my favorite part of the day and is when people finally begin moving around.  Before the sun sets most people sit in chairs chasing the shade.  It’s lots of family and friend time, and a little easier since you’re also not supposed to drink water during fasting.  To break the fast we have bread and butter with some coffee, which I like to think of as my Senegalese form of ice cream since it’s actually a 1:1 ratio of sugar to coffee.  Then we help to prepare dinner and wait until 9:30 or 10 to eat.  Eating is out of a large communal bowl, which everyone sits around.  Usually we use our hands to eat, but only the right hand, and most meals are based on fish and rice with some type of sauce.  They are usually really flavorful, although as a recently converted vegetarian, it is hard for me to get used to whole fish in the dish, and picking bones out of my mouth.  After dinner we will go out and sit on the street, greeting people who pass by (greetings are very important in Senegal and can last a long time), and enjoying the cooler night air.  My family members will stay awake until the early hours of the morning, around 1 or 2, but I’m lucky if I make it until 11.
There has been a lot of adjusting, but I am having a great time and am learning so much.  I really enjoy my technical training and although the language is hard it is an important part of the Peace Corps.  We cannot really understand what our community will need unless we can really listen and understand them.
I am going back to Mbour for the next two weeks, so you probably won’t hear from me during that time, but hopefully I will have a lot to report when I return.  If anyone would like to send some mail you can send it to the training center here in Thies and I can pick it up when I return.  My address is:
 BP 299/Corps de la Paix/Thies, Senegal
I hope everyone is doing well!  I miss you all but I am doing well!

Arrival

Hello Everyone!
I just wanted to write and let you all know that I am here and safe and having a great time.  The Peace Corps treats everyone so well and even though there is a lot going on and I don’t really know what’s next, I’m not worried at all.  They have been preparing me well and do not throw people into situations they cannot handle!
We just had cultural training and survival Wolof today, which both made me even more excited to move in with my host family in a bit.  On Sunday we get to explore Theis, so far we’ve just be in the Peace Corps compound.  I’m glad for the time to adjust to everything but am so excited to finally get out and really begin to experience the culture here.
Since my days have mostly consisted of training classes, there is not too much to report yet but I wanted to say hi and thank everyone for all their support!  I miss everyone at home but am incredibly excited to be here!

Welcome

So I’m going to Senegal for the Peace Corps, where I’m not sure what my communication situation will be like.  Instead of making empty promises of emails to everyone or snail mail that may or may not make it back to the US, I’m starting a blog.  This is my first time blogging, as most of you know I’m not that techno savvy, but I should be able to figure it out.  I hope you enjoy reading the posts!