Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Unmentionables

Baby goat interrupting class....
Now I am not sure how I want to start this post off but I suppose I can just dive right in! I wanted to take a minute to talk about a few topics that one would normally avoid while blogging; personal hygiene. Now this is going to be interesting to say the least considering I have a fourteen year old leaning over my shoulder and reading everything that I am writing. I am assuming that he has no idea what I am writing, and if he does, well, he is in for a treat.
So there are certain tasks that a volunteer considers to be less important while in country than when they were in the United States, like shaving. Now I am sure there are those volunteers that keep up with this seemingly tedious task but that is definately not going to be the case for this chica!
Now I am sure you are asking yourself "why am I still reading this post", but when I decided to continue writing this blog while in Senegal I told myself that I would be honest!
This means that while you get to hear about all of the cool stuff that I do you also get to hear about all the not so cool stuff either! So here is goes, I cant remember the last time that I shaved. I am guessing it was the fourth of July since we were at the beach.  Not shaving regularly is something that, not to my surprise, something that I don't mind at all! Once less thing to worry about I say and if you can't beat em', join em'! So as of right now there will be none of this shaving nonsense, but I will be sure to keep you updated if things change so dont you fret. I also cant remember the last time that I was felt clean for more than a couple of hours or when I was not sweating during night while I slept. Also I seem to have a case of the nocturnal diarrhea. I am not really sure if this is a real thing, and I am sure my doctor of an Uncle, John, would say that it is completely false, but its true! I only have "episodes" before I go to bed, definitely during the night, and once I wake up. I am still working on the cause of this problem, diet I am assuming, with the medical staff but its a work in progress. I suppose these are things that are not that big of a deal but they are just things that I wanted to mention. 
On to better topics, as time is nearing the end of my CBT site things are becoming more real. It is going to be sad to say goodbye to my family here in Sangalkam. Even though there is still an obvious language barrier there are things that, as cliché as this is, dont need words in order to be understood. My family is truly great and have been nothing short of great towards me. I am also happy to report that during my stay here my Pular is actually improving! I had my second LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) today and it went MUCH better than the first time, well considering that I didn't cry halfway through it was an improvement in and of itself, but my language skills are actually getting better! And in my own defense, I only cried because I was frustrated that I was unable to physically communicate the words that I wanted to say, which Houssey was more than reassuring that my language was coming along just fine and that it just takes time. The LPI can has a way of making you feel incapable if you not proficient in the language (it is basically a test where the instructor asks a variety of questions that prompt conversation-like answers). I am able to greet people, ask and answer questions, talk about my work here in Sengal, and my life in the United States. This may sound minute but is a victory in my book. While I am on the topic of greetings, its very interesting how people greet each other here on a regular basis, its a long process to say the least. When you see someone on the street you usually say a short greeting consisting of "On Jaaraama", meaning Hello, with "Jam Tun" as the response, meaning Peace only, with a few other possible exchanges of phrases following. But with anyone that you have any communication with you would have a dialogue similar to the one below with the following statements (S) and responses (R):

S: On Jaaraama. Hello.
R: On Jaaraama. Hello.
S: Tanaa alaa ton? There is no evil there?
R: Jam Tun. Peace Only.
S: Golle den le? How is the work?
R: No Marsude. It goes.
S: A Nallii e jam? Did you spend the day in peace?
R: Jam Tun. Peace Only.
S: Beynguure nden le? How is the family?
R: Jam Tun. Peace Only.
S: Honno sukaabe maa wadi? How are the kids?
R: Hibe e jam. They are good.
S: Alxamdulilah. Praise be to god.
R: Alxamdulilah. Praise be to god.

This just shows how involved people are here with each other and how it is pretty much impossible to see someone on the street and not have a three minute conversation with them detailing how your family, work, and actions you have done that day are all in peace. Besides greetings, my family gets a kick out of my sentences because they make me sound like a three year old, like when I say I am going to the bathroom, or I am washing my cloths, but they understand which is key. Also, I think that my French is improving, which is so exciting! I cant wait for the day that I am able to understand what everyone is saying on tv!!
With host family!

This next week is going to busy! It will consist of the Counterpart Workshop, where each volunteer has both their supervisor and counterpart come to the training center for a two-day event on: general getting to know each other better exercises, American culture fair, information on how we will now fit into their community and work environment. Our week here in Thies will also consist of more of the usual medical sessions, aka immunization time (which the doctors know me by name now and are prepared with various questions to distract me as the stabbing takes place), safety and security sessions, language classes, and party (consisting of volunteers, Peace Corps Staff, and one member of each of our host families during CBT). Following this week of festivities we will have about three more days with our host family then we are off to the US Embassy in Dakar to swear in and then VELINGARA HERE I COME!! Time has flown by here and I can't wait to actually start my service and be a volunteer! 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Volunteer Visits

So I am sitting in the wonderfully airconditioned computer room here at the training center and I am trying to think of things that I wanted to mention in this post about my four days or so with Pamela, the volunteer that I am replacing (my ancienne in PC lingo). This brainstorming session is only resulting in me wanting to take the road trip back down south to Vélingara and start my project!

It is not that I don't like Sangalkam but its a small village and, for lack of a better phrase, I get bored. There is only so much studying one can do before you want to go out and do something and since my language skills are still pretty low there is only so much communicating I can do with family and neighbors before I revert to sitting and listening to conversation in a foreign language. We are going to be at our CBT (community based training) sites for seven nights this time around, the longest period thus far, and I am looking forward to returning back to site. I look at it as the sooner I get done with this week the sooner training will start to wind down and the sooner I can go to my permanent site.

My ancienne Pam!!
My time with Pam in Vélingara was great! I was able to learn the logistics of transportation to and from Vélingara, tour and get to know the streets and important places well enough to survive, and meet other volunteers in my region and even in the same town - yup I said it, there will be REAL AMERICANS in my town, which will come in real handy when I just need some time to turn by brain off and relax! Along with getting to know important places in my town, such as where the boulangerie (bakery) and hotel with WIFI was, I also was introduced to some of the key partners in town that I would be able to work with if I wanted to. Though there is already a PC volunteer working with this organization specifically, there is a large presence with the organization World Vision.

With my visit I was able to bombard Pam with questions regarding the project that she has started and I will see through with my service. There is a lot of work that has to be done with the project but to Pams credit a lot has been done for me. The project, in a nut shell, is a service to residents of Vélingara to have their trash and plastics picked up multiple times a week to be disposed of in a controlled area where sorting will eventually take place. From here it opens the doors to providing trash bins in public areas to reduce trash in populated areas. She has already outlined a project plan, funding, and started providing the service in one of the areas of town and its up to me to continue the project and expand it into a successful association. Right now the trash is being picked up by one person via donkey and cart with hopes in the future to be able to provide the service to the whole community with multiple drivers and perhaps a vehicle or two to dispose the trash.

With the project being more clear it is important that I focus on language the first couple of months that I am physically at site. Without French language skills, and eventually Pula Futa, I will not be able to work with community members to build the project. With that being said I am still working on finding a host family that I will live with during my service. I would have been more than welcome to stay at the residence that Pam is currently staying at but it just wasn't right for me. There have already been two previous volunteers at this site and so I feel I would loose the sparkle of a new American and be more of a drain on the family. It is always good to switch families every once in while to ensure that you are not imposing and they actually are excited to have a foreigner live amongst them for two more years. Along with wanting to not totally drain the hospitality out of this family there is also some tension within the family that I would prefer to not even get involved in. There are two different households that I would "belong" to with two different head of the households and already it was clear that each family thought of me as their American. I was named, and renamed, and talked to about who I should pay for each bill because the families don't and can't share money. There are just too many factors right now going into this new site that I would like to avoid, if possible, and now would be the time to change. So with that being said I should know in the next week or so if another family was found for me and who they would be. The PC staff is working with the my ancienne Pam, my supervisor, and work partner to look for a new family.

Well as for now I should be getting in the van to go back to my training site. This week I need to make sure to get an outfit made for our Swear In ceremony at the American Ambassador's house. I bought fabric here in Thies  and plan on having the wonderful boys that work at the family tailoring business make me something real fancy, so stay tuned for a picture with my new Senegalese outfit! Until next time, take care and PLEASE leave any and all comments. Its nice being able to read outside perspective on my little world.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Site Announcements!

This is it, this is what we have all been waiting for, site announcements! I must say, I did not imagine this day being as big of a deal as it actually is. I guess I didn’t really put much thought into it but I am pleasantly surprised how much effort goes into making the moment of this day special - your LCF leading you blindly across a basketball court, painted to include a map of Senegal.

Here you are to be dropped off hovering over the city where you will be spending the next two years in, awaiting for everyone to count to three, which they drag on for about what feels like 10 minutes. Once you take off the blindfold you instantly try to piece together where you are located in comparison to the capital and your closest friends in the stage. I would like to consider myself pretty down to earth and go with the flow, but this had me freaking out! I am not sure if it was the uncertainty of not knowing the project that my life will soon be devoted to or the reality that I am actually signing up to move to a city that I know nothing about and am unsure if, for a lack of a better phrase, if I will like it. When you are living in the states and you consider yourself a world traveler, like I once did, you like to think that you are ready to go wherever the next trip is willing to take you. Be it near or far, you were up for the challenge. But once that challenge presents itself to you, staring at you directly in the face, with realities such as drop hole toilets, pollution, malnutrition, and a lack of WI-FI (I know, the latter of these is not in comparison with the others but it is still a concern of mine) shit becomes real. I know this is the Africa that I signed up for, and please believe that I am not complaining because I understand just how big this actually is, and I am ready to test just how strong I actually am. Back to the point, I will be in a town known as Velingara which is in the Kolda region in the southern part of Senegal. More information to come after I have my visit this next week at my actual site.

We only have about 10 more days with our host families. As this time is ending it is almost bitter sweet. The first day that we were sent off to live with these strangers, many of us about in tears, we were told that in fact one day we will miss these families and become excited as time nears to return from the training center to be able to see them. As much as I like my family, and I really do, I can honestly say that I am not really excited to go back yet. I love having my English time with the 18 other people in my stage. Getting to know this diverse group that I am training with was easy. I must say we come from many different backgrounds from all over the US (including off mainland islands such as Hawaii, St. Croix in The Virgin Islands and Haiti) and this past month I have become so comfortable and familiar with most of them that I feel like I have known them my whole life. As time nears leaving the comforts of our training center I feel as though I should take advantage as much as possible of how easily accessible these fine folk actually are.

There are a few things that I made a note of while I was in Sangalkam this week that I wanted to be sure to mention. They are not worthy of a whole blog post but little things that I feel as though I forget to mention but is crucial in how I live my life these days.
·         The Senegalese lock every door! My host mom will not leave her room without her key and is sure to inform me when I “forget” to lock my room. It is not a matter of security I don’t think but if you loose something then it is viewed as shameful and looks bad on the family.
·         Soap is a luxury here, which is gross to say the least. Simple tasks such as food preparation or post toilet duties do not involve soap and its something that is REALLY hard to get used to and result in a lost of host families receiving soap, included with how-to lessons, as presents from volunteers.
·         Everything is either fried or washed in cooking oil. Period.
·         Meals are usually later starting with lunch around 3pm and dinner around 9:30 – unless you make it very clear that you are tired by 8pm resulting in having dinner at 9pm.
·         If it rains, the power will go out, most likely. This does not pose much of a threat unless you are in an area like I will be that has a six month rainy season. Hello headlamp.

Finally one last thing that I wanted to talk about, and the main reason why I am in Senegal, my project – drum roll please……… Waste Management! Now I know this sounds like a glorified garbage man type position but let me tell you this, it is pretty legit work! When we were all still fresh faces here on the grounds of the Training Center we were asked which niches we wanted to work in – Waste Management, Artisanal Goods, Ecco Tourism & Agri Business. My initial instinct was Artisanal Goods, being able to help women sell their fair trade items locally, nationally and potentially internationally sounded fun, but then reality set in. To be quite frank I am not the most creative person I know, its just not in my blood and so the thought of trying to be crafty on a professional level started to become mentally draining. After a quick session on each of the different niches Waste Management began to lure me in. I am not sure if have been a well-trained soldier in the sense of not littering or if it was merely the fact that littering in the US is simply not tolerable. I wanted to now make this my project to clean up Senegal and make it beautiful so that a) people actually want to vacation here and b) we can turn a profit on all this trash that is lying around. Creating or improving a waste management sector in a community not only creates jobs and removes waste but that trash can also be turned into merchandise to sell, in turn creating income for families. This is something that I knew I could be passionate about and hope that while I am here I am able to not only make a difference in the physical beauty of Senegal but change the though process of the people to understand the value of waste management.

Thanks again for visiting, until next time. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Time of Firsts

I am finally getting more comfortable in my surrounds that I am able to notice more cultural things and actual behaviors of the Senegalese, other than seemingly wondering around lost. This last week that I was in Sangalkamp, and about to head back to again here in a few minutes, I took "public transportation" for the first time, went with my host mom to find our goats in the "pasture", go on a unknown trip to bring my host brother lunch, and the list goes on and on.
Public transportation here is something that is not as glamorous as the US but it present and easily accessible none the less! I must say that I am pleasantly surprised how easy it is to find an "Alham" (a form of public transportation, a van, and PCV's refer to them as Alhams because the term "Alhamdulillah" is painted on the front of all of them, meaning Praise Be To God in Arabic) and only pay 100 CFA's (which is about 20 cents) and ride it to the neighboring town about 45 minutes away. All the public transportation is privately owned and they are basically vans that people use to drive people around in, where there is an obvious need in the community there is always someone willing to fill that need.
We have two goats at my house, which I must say I did not even know they existed the first week that I was there. They live in a tiny hut (5X5 I would think) in our backyard at night and I was explained that my host mom brings them to and from the field each day so they can roam around and eat. I was thinking this was a great idea, first off because its free and it gets them out of their closet sized house. One night while Anthony was over my mom gestured that she was going to go get the goats, and of course, I dragged Anthony along for the ride. I just had to see how this process worked! We took a little lid filled with rice and a rope and walked out of the house in search of our little friends. Once we arrived to the field, well a pile of sand and trash to be completely honest I was in shock! I am not sure what I was expecting but I think deep down inside, also feeling a little naive, I would stumble upon acres and acres of green lucious grass. Since Senegal western Senegal is an area of sand, sand and more sand I am not sure why I was expecting anything green but I did not imagine that these goats, or any animal for that matter, would be able to survive picking through the trash and scraps on a big sand pit. Needless to say, we did not find the goats that night and the other time that I went to go with my mom to fetch them we were unable to find them as well. There are many other goats roaming around so I am unable to be helpful in the task of pinpointing our goats out specifically, but one day I am just going to grab whichever two goats I can catch first and bring them home.
The trip to bring my host brother lunch sounds all dandy until you realize that I was unable to speak the language thus not knowing where my mom was talking about when asking me if I wanted to go, not knowing that we are chasing an Alham as it nears departure at the garage (a term used for like a bus station, or van/car station I guess here in Senegal) in order to catch it, not knowing that there is a sufficient reason for getting dropped off in the middle of nowhere to walk through the sand and through a garden to find my host brother resting in a small hut about 1/4 of a mile off the road in the complete middle of nowhere. This sure was an exciting way to spend the afternoon though I must say, my host brother, in his late 30's I would imagine, set up his hand made hammock made out of a vegetable sack and some sticks and let me swing in the shade as my mother tried to feed me more mangos, which I insisted that after the sixth one in the hut I was truly "hadi" (full). We took a tour of the garden where he worked where he should be all the types of peppers, onions, mangos, mint (which I ate a leaf and imagined myself sipping on a Mojito in the states), Basal (I think?), and various other foods.
As time approaches to load our packs into the Peace Corps vans (which are a luxury here in Senegal, they have working air conditioning and lack locals screaming and pounding on the side of the van to get off at every tiny town we pass) I am beginning to wonder what this next week will bring. I am going to attempt to explore my town and use my Pula Futa more. The language is coming along more and I am much more receptive than I was in previous weeks. I have accepted the fact that I will be here for two more years and language will come in time.
Thanks again for reading, take care everyone! I miss you all and can't wait until we chat again. Bisous.

A French Connection Copyright © 2011 -- Template created by O Pregador -- Powered by Blogger