Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The End of a Great Beginning

When I started writing this post it was a rainy Saturday late afternoon; I was pinned to my computer as it stormed outside. It is rainy season here and I have found the rain has engulfed me with a sense of security.

I sit in my foam mattress that rests on the floor listening to the rain hit my tin roof as if two small armies were having a civil war. In attempt to hear my iTunes I have it on full blast though it still sounds quiet.

Since arriving to Vélingara I have been meeting city officials, work partners, family members, friends of family members, neighbors, and about everyone in between who doesn’t somehow fit into an above category. I am trying to remember names but considering how horrible I am with remembering even American names to no surprise I am doing no better here in Senegal. There are, what seems to be, less than a dozen last names, which a majority of everyone falls under. Conveniently enough, you can refer to someone by their last name so I figure if anything I can just start throwing out names. It also helps that you can call people something simply by stating the obvious; any older woman you can refer to them as Nene (mom), older male Baba (dad) anyone above that generation who is female you can call mama (grandma) and so on.

Korité marks the end of the month of fasting, also known as Ramadan. Since I arrived only three days before the celebration I was unsure as to how the day was going to go, but it all ended well. After breakfast I went with Nene and my two nieces to the park in town where the “service” was held. I put service in quotes only because I am unsure of what to call it but I got a service-like vibe from everyone while there. There was prayer, preaching of some sort, and greetings to neighbors. The boys of the house were all front and center at the park while Nene and the girls were near the back. While attending a religious event at the Mosque, or at the park in this case, it is imperative that men are in the front while women are in the back. 

I am not sure as to why this is but I am guessing is has to do with some ancient “women are less equal” belief that has never changed. My work partner Amadou was nice enough to grab my camera for a bit to document what was going on up front. Since I was acting as a “tourist”, walking around taking photos and not praying, I am sure that it would have been fine if I had gone up front but it just seemed a little awkward. After service we went back to the house where Mari prepared a wonderful lunch! While dining an authentic Pulaar band came to our house to play music, while asking for donations in return. You can see the band from the videos that I posted; it was a lot of fun! The rest of the afternoon was spent with Amadou, my work partner. He wanted to walk with my around my quarter to meet some of the families that are using the trash service, as a way to meet our customers. This turned into us walking around for two hours talking with not only customers but I am pretty sure every member of his family. Though I don’t remember a single persons name it was nice seeing how excited Amadou was to introduce me to his family. Every house he told me “my family is now your family”, he is too nice. I finished off the night laying under the stars playing with the girls and talking to Abidina. What a great day.

I think it is safe to say that I attended my first Baptism ever.  Since I am no expert on Baptisms, or anything too religious for that matter, I will give my understanding of events here in Senegal and feel free to compare and contrast with American culture. A baptism in Senegal usually happens about a week after the birth and is not only a celebration but also acts as a naming ceremony. Now I am not sure if this is how it works in all of Africa but here in Senegal it is considered taboo to name a child in the first week or so after birth in fear of jinxing their health. At the ceremony the baby is sort of passed around, mostly amongst women while the new mom is dressed in her best- hair and makeup fully done. The other women of the family cook a huge meal for everyone, usually similar to normal daily meals but kicked up a notch, as Emerl would say, with some sort of meat like sheep, goat or cow. Before eating I spent time talking to my moms family and drinking real milk, straight from the tit! I hear this is a great way to get TB but I figure there are worse things that I can get while here and there is no sense in limiting myself and living in fear of things that may happen. After a few hours of people watching I started to get bored and started playing a game with Salimatou that quickly turned into what I believe was the largest tournament this village has ever seen. There were at least 20 kids gathered around as three raced to be the first to gets all of his/her rings over the poles in an imitation telephone. It was entertaining to say the least and I posted a video of it if you care to witness a true battle.

While there are small things that I will be doing to keep up with the waste management service the Peace Corps is adamant on Volunteers not working during their first three months of getting to site. This time is used to integrate and learn the language better. It makes sense if you think about it- I have all these ideas on how to grow our business and start to turn a profit but if I can’t verbally express myself I will 1) not be understood and 2) not taken seriously because my knowledge of how to speak the language is that of a child. For now I speak to Amadou in French about things that are crucial that I know now but he is slowly speaking to me more and more in Pulaar. I keep telling him I have only been here a week and that its ok to speak to me in French still but he insists on me learning Pulaar sooner than later. So besides not working these are a few of the things that fill up my day:
Going to the market with Mari to buy produce for lunch (always an adventure)
Eating A LOT
Watching my brother make tea (its truly a craft)
Practicing French by speaking to my brother and other community members
Post-lunch nap (mandatory)
Reading American books (my new favorite thing)
Convincing myself that I practice Pulaar enough (even though I know I should more)
Trying to figure out a workout routine (anything is better than nothing at this point)
Calling other volunteers whom I miss with our FREE VOLUNTEER TO VOLUNTEER CALLING 

So as you can see I have little time to do the things that I find entertaining or the least bit interesting (insert a tone of sarcasm here). Though with this being said I can’t wait until IST (In Service Training) in three months; that is the official marker for when us new Volunteers are welcomed into the working world. I believe it is a weeklong event at the Training Center in Thies. It is designed to help us further more with our projects; we will be able to ask specific questions concerning our particular projects. 

Well that is all for now folks. Stay tuned for more to come this week; I am sure I will have lots to report. Until then, if there is anything specific that you ever wonder about or think only in your head for fear that the question may be inappropriate, please do ask in the comments section. I will start to blog about things that interest my readers, not just me.

The Family Tree

I have spent the last 11 nights at my new residence and I am happy to report that I am happy to call the Barry house a home. My new family is truly amazing and I look forward to the next two years with them here in Vélingara.
I will try my best to explain the dynamics of the Barry/Jalo family but like most Senegalese families they are complex. Though you call someone your brother and he lives at your house he might be a boy from a neighboring village. You would never know this unless you dig a little and ask. (Description follows photo)

My grandmother, Mama or Fatoumata, is in her 90’s and as strong as an ox. She has more energy than me on most days and she is truly a joy to have around the house. I love watching her and she gets a kick out of talking to me in Pulaar, a fair exchange I would say. 

Safy (or Yayé meaning great aunt) is my late host father’s first wife and she also lives with us (my mom is his second wife). She is older, I would think mid to late seventies maybe, and has a hard time seeing. She has kids of her own that are grown and they have kids; they all come around the house often but that is a whole other family tree. She mostly keeps in her room and I try my best to speak with her when I see her and she just laughs. 

My mom Assiatou, also known as Nene which is mom in Pulaar, is a 54 year old woman who loves to dance, spend time with her family, and visit friends and family in and around town. I am named after this beautiful woman. She does not speak French and she uses that to her advantage to make me practice Pulaar.

My brother, Abidina, is a French teacher at a school here in town. Since my host father has passed away he is the man of the house.  He is 33 and has three children with his wife Mari. Its obvious that everything he works for is to better the lives of his children and family. 

Mari, Abidina’s wife and the foundation of the family. She is 24, its very common for the woman to be much younger than the man in Senegal. From what I can tell right now Mari stays at home with the kids but while they are in school she studies to finish what is the equivalent to our middle school. While at home she does literally all the chores; taking care of three kids, cooking, cleaning, and laundry (by hand of course). 

Ousmane, who is 11, is Abidina’s nephew. His mother died when he was really young and his dad lives in a nearby village so he lives with us, but he thinks that Nene is his mom. They said they will tell him when he is older that his mother passed and apparently its normal in Senegalese culture for him not to know about his birth mother until later. He helps out around the house a lot. He is at the right age right now he wants to help with more “grown up” things but is very sweet at heart. 

Adama, who is 7, is the cousin of Abidina.  He is also unaware that his birth mother died when he was young and also thinks that Nene is his mom; he will be told when he is older as well. He is a little bit more of a menace, though still very polite. He helps out around the house just as much as the other children but likes to play with kids around the neighborhood more.

This brings me to Salimatou, the oldest of Mari and Abidina. She is 7 years old. She is like any other child in the states and loves to play around the neighborhood, learn, and help her mom.

Diénabou is the middle child and is 4 years old. She is starting school this year for the first time and is very excited. She is a typical sweet young girl who loves to dance and wants to do everything her older sister does. 

Abdulaye, or Ablaye for short, is the youngest of Abidina and Mari’s children, he is about 15 months old. He is a riot! He walks around the house all day saying Nene (mom) and Baba (dad). You can tell he is just realizing the power he has with knowing how to use his voice, he talks all day. Also worth mentioning, he is always into something!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ce n'est plus un PCT

No longer a Peace Corps Trainee -

Half of dinner table
Well, there is no other way of putting it, I am officially a volunteer, and if feels great!
I am not going to touch too much on this because I have already talked about it but Dakar was great and we sure did show the town whose boss!
Before all of that though few of us managed to go to Le Village de Tortu (Village of Turtles) before leaving our CBT sites for good. It was, well it was ok, but it was nice to get out of the house a little bit.
It was basically a small park that housed all sorts of different sized turtles, all of which could be seen in under an hour.

Second Half - you can almost see everyone
Swear In ceremony was around 10:30 am on Friday, August 10th, 2012 at the American Ambassador's house in Dakar. It was followed by a lunch for us new volunteers and a few other volunteers from previous stages at the Peace Corps Senegal Country Director's house. The morning went by pretty quick but we were all excited to change out of our complets (business suits) considering how hot and uncomfortable they are! From here Alexx, Trevon and myself toured around Darak for a bit before returning to our hotel room to attempt to nap; by nap I mean watch tv, surf the web and talk about how we should be napping. We had a couple drinks in our hotel room before meeting up with everyone for dinner, which was great, and returning to our rooms to get our pre-party started! The night was FILLED with dancing, Alexx and I represented well I must say! We were out until entirely way too late, I think we finally got in around 4:30am, and we payed for it the next day let me tell you!
Smushed and dripping!

Alexx, Trevon and I returned to Thies Saturday afternoon after attempting to eat pancakes and an omelette, which we did not prove to be successful in. The sept place (car that has 7 seats, or sept in French) that we took from Dakar to Thies was so unbearably hot there was nothing to do but laugh!! We were literally watching beads of sweat drip off of us as we are in the far back of a car in the middle of an African afternoon. Besides the almost unbearable heat the drive went by pretty quick, only about two hours.

Our last night in Thies was pretty relaxed. Alexx and I still were not feeling 100%, well I would say 20% would be a closer estimate, so we stayed under the radar pretty much all night. Dinner was spent with Julia also, eating delicious pizza and salad and then it was off to bed.

The two sept place's was Tambacounda bound by 7:30am this morning, and of course it was raining. Our car managed to hit a dog on our way and it was sent flying at least 20 feet; Jenn was following in the car behind us and bet that the dog had lost a leg in the accident. Though I feel bad for the animals in Senegal I am pretty sure dogs and goats think they are invincible considering they are always in the way of traffic. Other than that little mishap it only took about six hours from Thies and we were welcomed into the Tambacounda (Tamba) regional house with burgers, salad and mashed potatoes. One of the best meals I have had here by far!! The remainder of the day was spent relaxing, playing cards, and listening to music. Right now I am in a love-hate relationship with this Tamba regional house. My allergies are as worse as they have ever been! I am not sure what exactly its from but I could guess some combination of the cats, puppy, dust, and dirt. We are here in Tamba until Thursday or Friday and then I will get installed into Velingara, FINALLY! It is so close but I feel like this week is going to drag. I just want to be in my own room, unpacked, and getting over the awkward first month of living with strangers.

Almost there!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hello Madam Secretary!

I must say this week has been one of the most interesting that we have had thus far. It has been filled with both highs and lows, and everything in between.
We started out the week with a Counterpart Workshop in order to prepare both ourselves and our work partners for the work that lies ahead of us.
It is always a little awkward having someone that you barely know come  to the training center for training sessions when you hardly have one language in common. A relationship will come with time and I am at least glad that we had the opportunity to spend some time together before I get to site. Some of the sessions that our work partners attended included topics on safety and security for the volunteer, how to help the volunteer integrate into the community, and some habits and cultural differences to expect with living with an American. Though the sessions were focused on being more informative than entertaining one of the highlights of the Counterpart Workshop was a language session. During the session one of the trainees in my stage, who was a previous volunteer in Kazakhstan before the country got evacuated because of safety issues, taught a few of our supervisors some key phrases in Kazakh. The point of this session was to show our work partners how difficult it is to learn a language, specifically one that they have had no previous knowledge of. While learning Kazakh, which is considered a Turkic language, they will be faced with some of the difficulties that we face everyday and, in theory, be more aware of how we are feeling. I think they point came across well, it was HILARIOUS to say the least!

Apparently a day in the life of us trainees involves Hillary Clinton, obviously, as she administered our swear-in oath this past week. Being able to meet Hillary Clinton and have her read us the oath was a was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We were recognized not only throughout the Peace Corps community but also internationally in various news publications (Click here for article in CS Monitor publication and Click here for article in allAfrica publication). Meeting her made me realize and respect just how much the Clinton family as a whole does for our world community! They are a true inspiration and I would like to think that someday I will have the opportunity to work more closely with their efforts. Below is the oath that every Peace Corps Trainee says at their Swear-In Ceremony in order to become an official Peace Corps Volunteer.

I, (state your name) do solemnly swear

That I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic,

And that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same,
That I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,
And that I will well and faithfully discharge my duties in the Peace Corps,

So help me god.

Movie Night is something that, and I have absolutely no clue why, I have failed to mention and is a big part of my life as a trainee. Now I am sure that by now you are familiar with the fact that I am spending my time between two cities; Sangalkam, in which I work on language and culture with one other trainee, and Thies, in which I work with all the trainees in business training sessions. While I am in Thies a couple of trainees (Trevon and Alexx) and myself have started having movie nights after dinner; we simply hook my computer up to a projector in an air conditioned room (this is key) with hopes to feel like we are actually at a movie theater. Originally Alexx, Trevon, and myself invited our whole stage (training class) but since we are the only ones that ever really show up we like to consider it as something that is our little thing now. We have watched all sorts of movies from a documentary on American education called Waiting For Superman to the ultimate comedy Stepbrothers to the film Pulp Fiction in which I am still a little unsure exactly what had happened. It truly depends on our mood. This is also the time where we take advantage of eating junkfood, usually American if we can get our hands on it. Overall, one of my fondest memories I will have during PST (pre-service training).

Tonight we are having our Host Family Reception in which each of the trainees, one member of their host family, our language teachers and other Peace Corps staff get together for a few hours for dinner and a reception. None of us are really positive on who exactly is coming from our family, since the invitations were sent out after we were back in Thies, but I believe its my host mom. I am excited for tonight not only because of the good food that we are going to get to eat but also because my mom is quite the social butterfly so I won't have to keep her entertained throughout the evening! It will be fun to meet some other people from the Senegalese community in a relaxed atmosphere and to see the types of relationships that each of us trainees have formed with our families.

So its official, I received my first package!!! A big THANK YOU to my wonderful parents and Bird and Doug, or my parents host family as they like to call them as of lately, for everything!! This beautifully stickered-out box was filled with things such as a Hawaiian calendar (duh), keyboard cover, wipes, adapter/converter, memory card, and jump rope. I assumed that a package being sent from Hawaii would take some time to receive but I never would have thought six weeks!! Considering the length of time it takes to get a package it appears as though I will only be requesting luxury items instead of the necessities, in which I will be able to buy in Vélingara. So feel free to send anything my way, anything and everything is more than appreciated!!!

I just wanted to say thank you again to everyone that has taken the time to send emails or Skype with me online! I know that everyone is very busy with their own lives but it means a lot to be able to talk to everyone once in a while! I will always accept a Skype date request so feel free to send them my way.

Cheers and until next time!


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