Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Home Stay!

The hour bus ride to Mbour was one of the most anxiety stricken adventures I have ever endured. What will it be like living with an African family? How will I communicate when I only understand two questions? What will the food be like? How will I manage with no toilet paper? What if they don’t like me? And the questions went on. I staggered off the bus water filter in one hand, first aid kit in the other, my beautiful positive poster under my arm, duffle bag attached somehow and my backpack full of material to learn and study. People
swarmed around me like I was exiting a space ship. I waited patiently as my three counterparts were introduced to their families. Then finally they called my name and a man stepped forward. My father? My uncle? My brother? I was not sure! I said goodbye to my friends and followed him through the sandy streets to the family compound and my new place of residence for the months to come. It was not a quiet walk by any means for groups of children followed us singing songs about the Tobab in their village. (Tobab =white person) 

I arrived at the compound to find several men, a few children, and one woman.  They greeted me and I responded with my two sentences of Pular.  A little French was spoken and they showed me to my room.  The room was spacious with a bed in the corner and a table placed under the flickering florescent light that illuminated the soccer pictures that were taped to the walls.  I was actually doing this! I was actually moving in with a Senegalese family.  My heard was swarming with assumptions, ideas and questions when I was led to a chair told to sit and presented with a bowl of rice, fish and veggies. A different man sat across from me and shared the meal. There was no talking, but only silence.  An awkward silence that presents itself in new situations where communicate skills are limited.  It was in this silence that we all were smiling and trying to pretend that it was just an ordinary meal.  However, looking deeper I could tell they were just as excited and nervous as I was.

The awkwardness would continue throughout the week, as we would communicate through hand gestures, sounds, and facial expressions. The fried fish and rice also continued and my ability to eat it everyday, twice a day slowly diminished.  In fact, after visiting the fish market and seeing the way the fish is handled, It is very unlikely I will consume it ever again.  (a story in itself)  Protein deprived I searched desperately for an alternative.  It did not take me long to discover gods greatest gift to PC’s…the one and only bean sandwich!  And yes it is only beans and bread, but it is the most delicious tasting thing ever!  I have not been able to express to my family that I don’t eat meat and prefer beans so I politely eat my half loaf of bread and sweet milk in the morning and then run to the bean corner before language training.  I then sneak oranges and peanuts to fill me up so I only have to eat a little rice. I say sneak because if you have an orange and someone else sees it you are expected to share it with everyone. 

I still have not figured out who is who in my family. I know I have two dads.  (we call our dad’s brother dad also)  one mom and a lot of bothers. I think there are 7 of them but many more come in and out.  Everyone is welcome in a Senegalese home and everyone is considered family.  My Senegalese name is Kumba Balde and slowly the children in the village are learning to chant Kumba instead of Tobab.  It doesn’t really matter either way because every time I was down the streets people run up to touch me or shake my hand.  One thing I really enjoy about this culture is the strong community. Everyone looks out for everyone else and if someone needs help there are arms everywhere to lend a hand. There is no sense of yours, or mine but rather ours. It is an amazing concept and one I think we all can learn more about.  There are always new faces joining us for a meal or tea and every night dozens of neighborhood children gather in our kitchen/living room to watch the cheesy Brazilian soap Opera. 

There are a few things besides the food that have been difficult to adjust to. It is the cold season right now but temperatures still go into the 100’s. It makes sleeping a difficult process, however it allows for amazing bucket showers. I thought I would miss American showers, but I have to say bucket showers are my new favorite things.  I am also enjoying the absence of toilet paper, which I thought would be a lot more difficult. It turns out that it’s pretty darn sanitary!

Another interesting aspect of my village is the mosque.   They not only pray 5 times a day over the loud speaker but it starts at 530 am and is right behind my compound.   It also seems like there is dancing and singing all night long. I have yet to figure out what it is exactly, but it is loud!  It doesn’t bother me too much, but is something I am trying to adjust to.

Training is going well. I am learning a lot and it is overwhelming at times.  We are working with the local school building a garden and observing how the hospital works. I also learned how to make mud stoves, which is awesome.  I am very excited to find out the exact location I will be in for my permanent site. Our program is one of the best in the Peace Corps and the goals we have for the next two years are extremely inspiring. Our work focuses on working with communities to meet their needs.  It is cool because we are not implementing what we think will work but rather help them with the goals they set for themselves. I could go on forever, but I think this blog is long enough! Goodbye until next time!

P/S please dont give me crap for  spelling/grammar errors it is 3 am and i don't have time to edit!

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Learning New Lessons
I am in shock at how much I have fit into the last week of my life. It has been filled with an extreme amount of emotions that continue to challenge me. The training center is an awesome place and the staff is an incredible group of people. They are filled with so much love and are excited to better their country. There constant support is so important as training is quite overwhelming. I leave in about 20 minutes for Mhour. We are the lucky group because it is significantly cooler and on the beach! YA!
This is where i will be for 9 weeks living with a family and learning the language Fulakunda. It is a dialect of Pular which is found throughout West Africa. Here is some information about the history of the Fulakunda and a link to survival phrases.

I pretty much know how to say I am good "Jam Tam" and that is about it. I am a little nervous about meeting my family but we have a good support group and will be meeting for language classes everyday.
Everything else is going well, Im learning how to squat in a hole and slowly weaning myself off toilet paper. Not super excited about this but when living in the bush you got to do what you got to do. I will be doing health and should find out the exact location soon. I will be headed to the region of Kolda. I have met a couple volunteers from this region and they are awesome. There is also a lot of rainfall so I am looking forward to having a kick ass garden. Downfall is that there are loads of mosquitos and it gets really hot and humid. Here is a link if you want to read more.

I will be writing in a week or so to share all my exciting adventures of living with a Senegalese family.
Love and miss you all

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Birds, Trash, and Peanut butter

I am officially in Senegal at the training center in Thies (pronounced like Chess). I am sitting on my pretty comfortable bed with a mosquito net (yes it’s mid-day and yes I am still a hyprochondriac) listening to the birds sing and appreciating the flowers that surround my African style dorm room.  It all seems like a dream for I am very much in a state of exhaustion and am slipping between two worlds of reality. 
The last few days have been a whirlwind and an emotional rollercoaster. My last night in the states, spent in DC, was quite fun. I treated myself to a gorgeous meal and enjoyed the fellow companionship of my fellow volunteers. It was also a very emotional night as I finally realized that I would be cutting my blackberry umbilical cord.  Saying a final goodbye was quite difficult as it symbolized not only a new beginning but also an end to a very amazing chapter in my life.  I still have some anxieties about the unknown, like getting sick or bitten by a black mama, but as the days go on they seem to slowly dissipate.
Now here I am in a mosquito net reflecting on my first day in Senegal. (By the way we are 8 hours ahead) The flight was good and I spent most of my time improving my chess and poker skills.  I have to say this poker thing seems to work for me.  I also enjoyed some amazing conversations with my fellow volunteers. If I know anything for sure, it is that we have a wonderful group of 42 people. I am really looking forward to building awesome relationships.
The two hour bus ride to the training sight was fascinating. New smells, sounds, and sights captivated me as I tried to embrace my new home for the next two years.  I can’t express how cool the birds are. They are the most beautiful things I have ever seen and they are (no kidding) EVERYWHERE!   I also got to  see the most beautiful trees. They look like Fern Gully trees.  It’s actual name is the Baobab tree and they are massive. It was nice watching the sun rise behind such an incredible plant.  If you want to read more about them, check out this site. It is very interesting! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adansonia
I was also shocked at all the trash. And you think it’s bad in the States! It seems like the landscape is a mass waste site.  There are plastic bags everywhere and piles of them exist for miles and miles.  I don’t want to portray Senegal as covered in trash, but it was an interesting thing to observe,
So when we finally got to the site (2 hours later; and the roads were actually pretty awesome) we were greeted by our Senegalese staff. They were dancing and singing! It was really cool.  Then they told us we get to eat!  I was so excited and even more thrilled when they mentioned peanut butter.  Well my friends, I have to say the peanut butter is nothing like the states. I can’t explain what it tastes like, but lets just say I’ll probably be asking you to send me some J