Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ko Binta Ba mi innettee!

My name is Binta Ba. This is a phrase I saw a lot, considering it is one of the few things that I am actually sure that I say correctly. My first real week with my temporary host family was an experience, to say the least. I can't be sure of the impression I made on them as an American, or even what exactly my host mom said to me half of the time, but I can say this, it was full of a bunch of firsts.

The "Ba" Family

My host mom- obviously this is her initial
instinct when she is helping me carry by bags!
I live with a very large family, which is about the exact opposite with what I grew up with. My host mom, Neeneeyou, is a 65 year old mother of six and grandmother of five. Four of the six children have a spouse and kids whom all live in my compound with us. The other two children do not have any children and only one is married but this does not mean they come in small numbers; friends, cousins, neighbors, ect are always around. I would have thought that having that many people in one housing area would be a little much but it was not nearly as bad as I was expecting. You learn that children are your best friends when you are thrown into a culture that you are not used to. As much as they laugh at you, think that everything you do is strange, and yell "Toubob" at you in the street, at the end of the day they are the ones that want to sit and play games with you, try to speak French to you, or even something as simple as showing you around his city. I have two younger boys in my family, I am guessing they are about six and nine, who are the best! The older ones name is Billa Ba, and I am only sure of this because his mom yells at him, and for him, constantly. The first day I got done with school I actually managed to get lost on my way home, which is not even a quarter of a mile from my house, and the younger boy actually saw me wondering the streets. He laughed a little, I am sure because he was thinking to himself why is this white girl wondering down random streets in my town, but then grabbed my hand and walked me home! We have been bff's ever since, obviously. Toubob, the term that I mentioned earlier, is a Senegelese term for foreigner or westerner (including Europeans). Kids have a great time yelling Toubob at you in the streets as you walk by them, but it can also mean a term of endearment, so I just tell myself they are using this name because of the latter of the two. Other than the obvious language barrier, life is good with the Ba family.

Bathing out of a bucket

If you would have told me that I was going to be bathing out of a bucket for the next two years I would have wondered how I was going to get by. And to be completely honest, its not too bad! The shower stall that we all use to shower in is kept pretty clean and even has a door with a lock on it. So once you get over your self image issues and not having running water on your body its not that bad. I am not sure which of you readers have ever taken one of these baths but all you do is fill the bucket about half full, you can sit on the toilet looking stool if you like, and then just get yourself initially wet and then the rest is pretty self explanatory. The only trick is to make sure you have enough water at the end to fully rinse yourself, otherwise I could just about imagine how awkward it would be having to get dressed with soap in your hair still to go and fetch more water!

Going to the bathroom in a hole

This is something that I am STILL trying to get used to. Its not the actual action of going to the bathroom in something that doesn't flush, its the fact of cleaning yourself with a bucket of water after you are done. Other volunteers have said that using your skirt to dry off the water is perfectly acceptable, it just takes some time to be ok with it within your own standards. One thing is good though, standards are going down really fast! This makes it a lot easier to do standard daily activities when you are not really worried about shaving, putting on makeup or anything else that a westerner would consider as a normal task.

Communal eating

This is just a generic picture off the internet but it
gives you an idea of how it works!
Everyone eats out the the same large metal bowl! The first day I was exposed to this I shared a bowl with the one other vegetarian trainee and we had spoons and so it was not that bad. I was actually wondering why people made such a big deal about the different styles of eating, and then I moved in with my host family and I understood why! So the bowl is usually filled with white rice, maybe a couple vegetables, some sort of sauce, and a pile of meat in the center. Now within this bowl everyone has there own little area that they are allowed to eat out of, which is the spot directly in front of where you are sitting. Now depending on how many people are at your bowl depends on how large the spot is in front of you. Since I live with a large family we usually have two bowls going at the same time, or we eat in shifts. With this being said, there are still upwards to around 10-12 people at my bowl at any given time, which is a lot of people. The bowls are about the size of a really large punch bowl and so there are kids sitting up front, parents reaching around them grabbing at the bowl and then me, sitting in awe amazed by what is going on.... well that is until my mom yells at me "nam!", which means eat! I am still all about using a spoon while I eat but only kids really use them, the adults go at it with their hands and around the bowl, anything goes! Licking your forearm as sauce is dripping down them is socially acceptable, rice falling off your spoon is fine, and if you don't grab your protein out of the center of the bowl don't worry, one of the women will lick her fingers off to clean them, break off some protein and put it in your little corner of the bowl. Now I know this all sounds very strange from what we are used to in the states but I am already used to it, it does not really bother me anymore. One thing that I did learn quick was to stay away from the little kids at the bowl! They have no sense of "you are in my area of the bowl" or "please dont wipe your nose and then play with the vegetables".

The Pula Futa Language

My LCF Houssay and my site mate Anthony in language class.

My new best friend! Anthony and I are two of three people
learning Pula Futa and live in the same town.

Random Pictures

I debated on even writing about this. I am not a language person, and I am the first to say that! I think it takes me a lot longer to pickup on new languages and it is more than stressful. Hussay, my LCF (Language and Culture Facilitator), tells me that I have only been learning Pula Futa for about a week and to not stress, it will come with time. I know she is right but its hard not to be hard on yourself when all you want to do is be able to pickup the language so you can communicate with your host family. I must say though, it is nice being able to speak to those few members of my family that speak French when I have no idea whats going on in Pula Futa. I hope that my French continues to get better at the same time, I would have never thought that I would want to use my French when I just want to turn my brain off!

You can't keep the bottle if you buy a soda at a
"boutique" so they put it in a nice bag for you :)

Senegal is NEVER going to run out of mangos.

Some of the neighbor boys dancing in the street!
Having tea in front of the house.

My mom's daughter in law doing laundry while her daughter sleeps.

My moms grandson eating a mango
while creeping on me!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Nous Sommes Ici

Well we did it, we are finally in Senegal!! The road to get here was a long one, but well worth it. We took a very roundabout way of getting here, NY- Belgium - Burkina Fasa - Senegal, and don't forget all the layovers in between (about 28 hours total). Once we got to Senegal we stayed a night in Dakar, since it was so late, and made the truck to Thies.

The first couple of days here at the training site were intense, in a good way. We took many sessions to educate us in topics such as safety, cultural training, language, diversity, and functions of the Peace Corps. All of these topics are of course ongoing and we are just now getting into our language training that we will be able to use once we get to our permanent sites in August. Speaking of language, today I learned that I will be on of the two volunteers in my stage that will be learning Pulaar and I will be concentrating on the dialect that is spoken in the southern part of Senegal. It was very interesting learning all of the different types of languages that we will be all learning, in addition to French, of course. If you were able to test out of French with at least an intermediate level then you are able to start taking your second language right away, otherwise you must take six weeks of French and then continue on to the second language. I was lucky enough to test out of French and start with Pulaar right away. I would normally want to work more on my French, because I hope to become fluent while I am here, but I need all the help I can get and if that means getting six more weeks of Pulaar in, then I will take it!

Tomorrow we are going into town again to do a bunch of banking which will be an adventure in and of itself I am sure! I feel like a five year old every time we go into town because we can't speak the language and we are hurdled down the streets careful not to get lost or offend anyone. It will be nice a few weeks from now when we will be able to speak at least enough to buy something!

We are off to our CBT (community based training) sites on Tuesday to live with host families during the remainder of our training. Here we will all get to practice the languages that we started today and dive into the culture. These families play an important role because they will be the first Senegalese people that we will have spent any amount of time with that help us integrate into their culture.

Well I am off for now, take care readers and we will chat soon!

Most of my stage after dinner in Jamaica, NY

Food was a great idea from our welcoming committee
of Volunteers at the airport
Hair cuts are ALWAYS a good idea!

Some of the Peace Corps-Senegal staff welcoming
us to the training site

Some Volunteers lounging in "The Foyer"

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Well this is it, the flight to New York. It is extremely strange being on this flight considering I have been planning this trip for about a year now. My stay in Hawaii was fantastic! I am so lucky to be blessed with the friends and the family that I have, I don’t know what I would do without them. My days were filled with going to the beach, getting extremely way too sunburned, sipping mango margaritas, hiking, kayaking, entertaining the girls and just hanging out at my favorite house on the canal in Kailua.

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