Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Back to the Homestay

I used to be afraid of shots, but not anymore! We all have to get tons of immunizations, so I don't even flinch walking into the little clinic, getting some shots, and going back again a couple of days later.

We don't officially become volunteers until May 14th, assuming we each learn the language and pass some tests before then. Until then, we alternate between being in the training center as a big group, and breaking off into smaller language groups and living with a family in villages. I am living in a tiny village (ie, one store that sells coke, and a lot of sand and cement buildings) with two other girls. My family is really nice, but I cant communicate with them well yet : ) I take bucket baths, garden every morning, take naps, use a squat toilet, come home by dark every night, and hang out with the little kids. It's not exactly exciting, but it's a nice routine.

The training center, however, is like paradise. Real showers, internet, access to good food, tons of people...its wonderful! Yesterday we spent the afternoon learning to make mud stoves, which is messy and a lot of fun. Today we're heading out to our villages for 12 days, which will be kind of a stretch, but good for language practice. I'm also armed with a ton of books just in case. My family likes to dress me up and parade me around. They braided my hair, but I took it out a few days later because it was so itchy. We have tea every day, which is a huge deal here. It's a tiny teapot with 15-20 sugar cubes!! No wonder diabetes is a huge issue here : P We also garden a lot, and huge crowds of kids swarm around to watch us. Being white and doing anything at all is mesmerizing apparently.

One last thing, I bought a djembe from an artisanal market! I am going to start learning this week, and am really excited.

Anyways! That's all for now. I'm trying to upload pictures, so we'll see about that. Happy Easter everyone! I'll be back in touch in a couple of weeks.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Week One

I’m posting this retroactively-it’s about a week old. I’ll put up real updates soon! But, in the meantime, I am out in a village as of Wednesday with no access to anything but my cell phone, so you should call or text me! I don’t have any phone numbers at all since my phone doesn’t turn on, and I forgot to write them down. Here is my number:

Dial +221771169967
Or if that doesn’t work 011221771169967

Here is the hut where we have most of our classes. It’s called the Disco Hut. After working at the Discovery (disco) Center in Colorado, I can’t help but think of it as the discovery hut : )

Each new group of volunteers here is called a stage, and each one develops their own reputation. Last night we all went out to a speakeasy where we sat on the roof. Some of the current volunteers christened our group by launching a firework over the rooftops of thies while shouting “SUPER STAGE!!!!” To understand the significance of this, it’s important to know that past stages have been known as the lame stage, the prude/ugly/drunk stage, etc. So….it’s exciting. However, tonight they informed us that we’re “kind of like summer camp which is a little frightening and a little awesome.” It’s true. We are almost entirely girls (37) and many of the 14 total guys are gay. Practically everyone has worked as a camp counselor before, and we all talk nonstop, play games, and maintain an exhausting but fun level of energy.

Today a few of us were standing next to a group of Senegalese staff, commiserating over our language inabilities, while trying to pick up any scraps of understanding from their conversation. After giving up totally, we ad libbed using their hand gestures as our sole guide. Here is how the conversation was interpreted:

“I lost my Car off the road”
“Your tire was flat? You had to change it?”
“Yes, while my car was in a ditch.”
“There was a goat?”
“Yes. It was dead. I hit it”
“Why would you hit the goat, it was dead. You did not need to.”
“It was weak, why would I not?
“I am going to bake a cake tonight”

We may never know what actually happened. Im guessing they were standing around making fun of us since they all speak English fluently.

Today we found out which languages we will be learning, since there are 5 (I think) different languages spoken in Senegal. About 80% speak Wolof, and the educated language is French. I was assigned Seereer, which has one of the smallest regions. There are only three of us, so it’s pretty limited where my site will be. It’s exciting because the two possible choices sound pretty incredible! We don’t find out about sites for a couple of months still. Speaking Seereer means that I’ll probably be in a wetland or mangrove area. Im hoping near the coast, but we’ll see. There are a lot of volunteers around Kaolack, with an awesome regional hose, so I don’t feel like I’ll be far from community. Anyways, speaking French again feels like reuniting with an old friend. Since the three of us learning Seereer all speak French, it’s what our classes are taught in. We learn on a chalkboard in a little cement hut : )

We also got bikes yesterday, and they are BRAND NEW. I am going to bike all over the place. Unless I live in a pit of sand, which is possible.

OK, new pictures are up! Check them out. There is a lot to say, but im not remembering anything right now. We played mafia until 1am or so last night, and were all gossiping about possible languages we could be assigned after someone discovered a “top secret” list. We’re like little kids. A bunch of us also just did laundry for the first time by hand, and im pretty sure my clothes have dried into a cake of soap. Oh well.

More to come on this, but I think my time at the Bug Zoo and love for all arthropods in general is going to be a HUGE part of my service here. My mind is already racing with ideas involving bees and praying mantids and….stuff : )

One last thing….there is another girl named Sarah here. She is also from Michigan. She also has a compass rose tattoo. She also brought Apples to Apples. She is also doing environmental education with Peace Corps here in Senegal.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Manure Pants

I'll keep this short since my battery is running low and I have yet to navigate buying an adapter. The flight to Senegal was great, with lots of movies, free champagne, and talking with everyone. I didn't manage to sleep, though, so the first day here was pretty rough. We had language tests, met the staff, and had an amazing nap period followed by lunch. Meals are served in huge communal bowls and we sit on mats on the floor to eat them. The training center here in Thies is pretty much SenegAmerica. They're easing us in and its fantastic.

The weather has been gorgeous and I haven't had any sunburns yet, we've all been lying around playing games, playing volleyball, singing and dancing, and walking around in total awe of this place. There are birds, lizards, frogs, bats, beetles, etc. everywhere. It reminds me of the Big Island a little bit. Until we left the training center, that is : ) we followed current volunteers out to a restaurant, and on the way I saw many dead fish, a dead dog, and a squashed egret on the side of the road. One good reason not to wear flip flops! Besides that, though, everything is insanely exciting. I can't wait to learn the language and be able to navigate my way through this world. Everyone seems so happy and lively, and all sit around talking with one another.

Anyways, logisitically, this morning we got up at 6:30 for a yoga session, had breakfast, followed by a speech from the Country Director and an intro to our homestays (on Monday we move into a community with some other volunteers to learn the language for two months). After that we went straight to lunch, and then to a tree planting talk, followed by digging seed beds to plant tomorrow, and then we had about one second to wash hands and put on non-manure-covered clothes to go into town. Then it was dinner time, now I am writing my blog, and a bunch of people are going out and I may or may not have the energy. we'll see.

So! Pictures will come soon. I have NOO idea how often I will be on here in the near future. Send me emails or letters or anything and it would be amazing. I love and miss you all and am so excited for this whole experience!

PS-No toilet paper for two years, I just learned this. I guess I never thought about it before leaving the states : )

Monday, March 8, 2010

Staging in Washington DC

I woke up at 4am this morning to get my stuff ready for the flight to DC. We all took a shuttle with the ridiculous amount of baggage to the hotel, rushed out for some food, and had a day of training. We talked about the Peace Corps and what we all expect. There are 42 of us going in all and Im REALLY EXCITED. Everyone is instantly close, and after months of saying feels so good to say hello to a huge group of new people who I will be going through this adventure with.

So, Peace Corps gave us more money than we could ever need which means I am going on a sushi binge along with the other addicts in the group. Again. Tomorrow we get all shot up with immunizations, and then it's off to Senegal at 5:40pm. We arrive at 6:55am.

Goodbye the US! See you in two years.