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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  1. Wow jenae...the beginning of your adventure sounds awesome! Bucket showers remind me of indo. it is great to hear how you are doing and I look forward to reading more.

  2. I am so glad you have the time to post these! Your experience sounds amazing so far. I can't wait to read more over the next few months. I hope your training goes well and that you get the hang of communicating with your host family.