This blog reflects my personal ideas and does not represent any position of the US government or the Peace Corps.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I can't do anything...apparently

Whew! Just finished a couple of weeks at our community based training sites, the longest stint we will spend at these homestays. I have two more weeks in this homestay and then I will be moving to my permanent site!! As of now, I BELIEVE I officially know all the names of the members in my family, approximately 20 in total (though I am still confused onto how some are related). In Senegalese culture, it is completely appropriate to show up unannounced at a friend or family members home and stay for as long as needed (something I may take advantage of in the states with my minimal Peace Corps salary). Thus, there are often multiple people living in my compound who are as distantly related as my grandmother’s sister’s cousin or simply named after someone in the family…
Aside from slowly but surely understanding the family, I am also beginning to understand the language (which I previously believed to be gibberish). Wolof is a tough language! As opposed to conjugating verbs, Wolof conjugates pronouns and the sentence structure is jumbled compared to English. If I wanted to say “I went to Dakar” for example, I would turn it into “to Dakar I went.” This makes for slow communication as I flip everything around before speaking, though on a positive note, allows for a natural filter. As communication gets easier I am also beginning to realize some of things my family says to me. Their favorite new phrase is “menoo dara,” which translates into “you can’t do anything.” This is usually in reference to my great hand washing laundry skills or my inability to cook food over a few flaming sticks.
Other than slowly getting over communication barriers, the homestay was composed of a few intestinal upsets but nothing out of the ordinary. These types of things are unavoidable when sharing lunch and dinner out of a large communal bowl where people of ALL ages eat with their hands. My sickness allowed me to learn that in this culture, when someone is sick, EVERYONE will continuously ask, “are you healed??” It is culturally inappropriate to say no, so of course I always said yes. For about a week, I’m sure my family had no idea whether I was sick or not. 
  In other, more exciting news, I have found out where I will be spending the next two years!! I will be posted in a small village of approximately 300 hundred people very close to the Gambian border and in between the cities of Koalack and Tambacounda. I am told I have one volunteer relatively close to me, meaning a couple of hours away, and a city with lots of amenities around 15 kilometers away. Thus far, I don’t know all that much about my site aside from the varieties of field crops they farm, which I am sure is not interesting blog information. This Sunday, however, I will be visiting the area to stay with a current volunteer. I will not get a chance to actually stay in the village as I am told it is too far out in ‘dem boonies.’ But I hope to at least see the region and become familiar with my surroundings.
For now, I’m gorging myself on food from the center, showering frequently, perusing the Internet and speaking lots of English. Oh and sorry to say that I still have no pictures, I have had a few technical difficulties. Hopefully I will get some up with the next post (if you cannot wait, check out a few other PC Senegal blogs that I have links to on the side). Until next time!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Hello all! This past week was our first in “community based training” or CBT. I was placed in a very small community not far from the training center with three other volunteers and a Senegalese language teacher. My family is wonderful! Though after the first week and my slim communication skills, I am still getting to know the family structure and daily activities. Thus far, I have figured out that my compound contains three families. The three wives are sisters and all live in separate rooms of the house with their respective husbands and children. My mother (yaay) is named Marem and my father (baay) is Ousman…of this I’m fairly positive, considering they often say their names very quickly! I have at least four younger sisters (although a couple more mysteriously arrived this weekend) and they range in age from 2 to 10. In addition to my mother, the other two wives within the compound have adopted me as their own, showing me the Senegalese way of life. They have 4 and 5 children respectively, so our compound is constantly bustling. The youngest child, Ismilla, is less than a year and I am told I will be taking him to America when I leave… Oh, and to match my family, I was given the new Senegalese name Marem to match my mother.  It is frequently shouted at me from all corners of the neighborhood. I much prefer this to kids yelling “tubaab!,” loosely translated as “foreigner.”
Life in the village is extremely busy, overwhelming, hilarious, confusing and embarrassing, but overall it’s getting better and better day-by-day. Each morning the other volunteers and I would work out in a garden established by previous Peace Corps trainees. We practice various techniques (i.e. composting) that we will be implementing/teaching at our permanent sites. After that I usually return home for a much needed bucket shower. The rest of the morning is filled with an intensive language session at the house of our LCF (language and cultural facilitator), in his room, on the floor…pretty informal. There are often goats running/pooping around, children screaming and lots of flies. It makes for an interesting learning environment compared to Whitman. Then it is home for lunch, and back for an afternoon session. At about five o’clock all the “tubaabs” go for a walk to speak some solid English and then return home for dinner. The evenings and early night hours are social and my family often sits out in the courtyard on woven prayer mats drinking a tea known as attaaya (very strong, very sugary, quite a jolt).
            Food and eating rituals at my house have been a bit of an adventure. Breakfast is often bread and coffee (a spiced coffee known as “cafĂ© tuba,” for an American, a bit hard to stomach). Lunch and dinner are eaten out of community bowls, one large bowl placed in the middle of ten or so people (adults and children are USUALLY separate if I'm lucky). Its important to eat only with your right hand, the left hand has other purposes of course… The bowls often have lots and lots of rice or millet, with a few vegetables and some type of meat in the center. This week my family had ceebujen (fish with rice) for just about every meal. The fish is whatever they are able to catch and is never a recognizable species. The one day we did not have fish, I asked my mom’s sister what she was cooking and she replied with “mbutt.” Of course I had no idea what this was so I just nodded along. When the bowl came out, I was still a bit confused and was told that it was similar to chicken (rooster maybe??), though I could not locate any of the meat bits in front of me as thigh or leg etc. Later, the afternoon language class revealed to me that I had just eaten….MONITOR LIZARD…and it did taste like chicken.
            Now, I’m here at the training center for a couple of days. We will return to our homestays tomorrow and stay for about 2 weeks. These next two weeks will continue with language training and complete immersion. It only gets easier from here!
            Feel free to shoot me an email if you want any more details, oh and I'll try and get some pictures up with my next post! Hope all is well in the western world!

Monday, September 5, 2011


Hi All!

Just an update, I now have a cell phone! I'd love to chat with people but probably won't have my phone on frequently. Shoot me an email if you'd like to chat and we can set up a time! Or if not, I LOVE EMAIL!

In other news, today I found out that Wolof will be the language spoken at my Peace Corps post (the location of which remains unknown). French is the official language of Senegal, though everyone speaks different local dialects, including Wolof, Pulaar, Mandinka etc. In total, our group of 55 is learning seven different languages!

Tomorrow, we take our language training out of the training center cocoon and into the villages surrounding the city of Thies, known as "community based training" or CBT. I will be placed with 3 other volunteers and one language teacher within the same community. We'll meet everyday to go over more of the language and ask endless cultural questions. Should be pretty exciting! About to take the plunge! My next post will hopefully be in about week and have a lot more interesting information...

The picture, as requested by my mother, is just to give you an idea of what the training center looks like! Its pretty big, lush, with quite a few concrete buildings.