Thursday, August 13, 2009

Senegal, post 1

Staging was tough. For me, it was harder than the Madagascar staging,because Peace Corps finally became real. I mean, I knew that doing Peace Corps involved going to Africa (or somewhere) for two years. I knew that, and it was part of why I originally really wanted to go. Staging made it all real, but since I've been sort of going through the wringer since February, I was running low on excitement, and high on anxiety.

I won't lie—I had a harder time with leaving this time than ever before. It didn't make sense, but there you go. Tuesday night I had a breakdown, and was absolutely convinced that I could not go—could not do it, didn't know why I ever thought I could, that sort of thing. Thank you to Jan, Nashily, Kev, and my mom for being there for me and pulling me out the other side of it.

If I were to try to describe my day, I am pretty sure it would read like a fever dream. The most surprising thing so far is my lack of anxiety about Peace Corps. I'm not scared of it--I feel tremendously unfamiliar, but not as much as I thought I would. Still, so far there hasn't been a whole lot of True Senegal in my experience. We stumbled out of the airport this morning, onto a couple--or maybe three--small buses/big vans. They had air conditioning, which was a big surprise. A couple hours later, we pulled into the Training Center in Thies (pronounced "chess").

As we left Dakar, I was awake. It looked a lot like Nairobi, except more people carrying things on their heads, a little cleaner, more horses-with-carts, less muddy, and nicer cars [read: cars that would be considered nice in the USA]. It looked a lot like Ouagadougou, except fewer people carrying things on their heads, more people riding motos with helmets, fewer women with babies tied to their backs, way more cars, and more muddy. Sometime between leaving and arriving, I fell adoze (sleeplike state, but not actually restful), and woke up in the middle of green. Children waved at us excitedly as we drove towards the Peace Corps Training Center. Adults stopped what they were doing and waved. I nearly teared up--how welcome we are, and it seems silly, because we haven't really done anything yet. Hell, most of us may not make a dent in any of the issues we are ostensibly here to address. But it means something that we're here. It means something that we care enough to try.

We got to the training center, met too many people to remember very well, found our rooms, and ate breakfast (french bread with chocospread/butter/jam/peanut butter). Then--thanks be to whatever power reigns in West Africa--we got free time until lunch, which was rice cooked with spices and oil, some vegetables, and some tasty meat (goat, I think). We met some current PCVs. We ate all out of a big bowl together. When we were finished, we ate an apple apiece, and had another meeting. Our country director thanked us for making this decision, and us Sustainable Ags (the whom of which I have decided to call "Hicks from Sticks" (like Fox in Sox, but different) had to give up one of our own to the Urban Ag program.

Filled out a survey--things like
"How often would you be willing to bike 6 miles? 12 miles?"
"Do you mind being isolated?"
"What are your feelings about parties?"
"How often do you want to see other volunteers?"
PC/Senegal differs most greatly from PCHQ in Washington, D.C. in that the former they want you to have preferences and specificity, and in the latter they rake you for it, a bit. (Sorry to the Peace Corps people reading this, but it is true, or sure feels that way to a lot of us.) I said that I would not mind being isolated, that I'd be happy to bike 12.5 miles per day (well, you know, not happy, but willing), and that I didn't mind not seeing other Americans very often. I am expecting, based on this, to get a very remote site. This is pretty overwhelming to think about all at once, but I'm here to be immersed, there's no point in trying to diffuse the experience.

Had a language interview, talked with a really nice Senegalese woman in French. I'm pretty sure that I didn't fail, but at this point I'm so jetlagged, sleep-deprived, and generally out-of-it that it wouldn't surprise me if I had been speaking absolute gibber. Per my usual, you say? Psshh, c'mon now, be nice.

Had a Medical interview. Apparently, being allergic to mangoes can influence where I will get placed, so, I have to go back to my placement interviewer when he gets a spare second and let him know about that.

Major blooper of the day: When my placement interviewer asked me [in French] how I thought I could use what I had listed as my special skills (communication ability, problem-solving ability, and sense of humor) to work with a group, I thought he was asking me if I wanted to be at a site where I collaborated a lot with other volunteers. So I carefully explained that in the past I had not liked working with a group because sometimes that meant that the group did not do any of the work, that I had to do it all. He was really nice about it, but then explained that No, in fact what he wanted to know was how did I see those things helping my village. Woops.

Good things of the day: Singing with my roommates, playing fife for a couple people later (people really seem to like my musical stuff, which surprises me because it's been a while since I thought of myself as Musical), a cool bucket-shower (with about 6 cups of water!), the meat at lunch, and not feeling totally inept at African French. And getting about six billion email responses to my first-ever ACTUAL email from Africa. Thank you all, so much. It really helped.

Hard things of the day: Being super sleep-deprived.

Other things: It's really sticky here. Like, very, very sticky. Like Ithaca was the last few days before I left, except without the thunderstorms, so far. Other trainees seem great. Everyone seems to be holding up okay. Gotta go talk about mangoes now.

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