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!