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 “café 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!