Saturday, October 3, 2009

Counterpart Workshop

One thing that makes Peace Corps' mission a lot more feasible is that they find Counterparts with whom PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) work. A Counterpart is an HCN (Host Country National) who lives in the community and (in theory) a lot of facilitating, from explaining to the community the PCV's role and goals to acting as a linguistic mediator and general go-to person.

One thing that has made me a lot less nervous about install (say it "IN-stall", which is when Peace Corps takes me out to my site and leaves me there), is that we just had our Counterpart Workshop (CPW). My two counterparts are named Tamba Keita and Aissatou Diallo. Tamba is one of my two older brothers in my host family, and Aissatou is a woman who lives in the village as well. They're both really sweet people, and they both speak French and Peul Fuuta, and I think also Wolof and just a smidgin of English. Peace Corps brought in about two counterparts per PCT for two days of intensive meetings and workshops.

Basically, what we did was (a) get to know one another a little bit and (b) listen to Peace Corps lay out the ground rules. The "Here is what your Americans are for, and here is what they're not for. Here is what they will be good at, and here is what they will not be good at. Here is what will come easily to them, and here is what will not come easily." To drive it home, they had some of us do a few "example" language classes in languages like Hebrew and Polish, and asked the counterparts to all imagine that they've been dropped into a totally foreign place without any knowledge of culture or language.

You may think, "Well, duh, it's obvious that the PCTs and PCVs are in a situation like that," but even if you've grown up understanding that there are other cultures, if you've never really thought about it a whole lot, you may not realize that EVERYTHING would be different in, say, America. People in America are white and rich, but most Senegalese probably would not assume that we can buy our rice ready-to-cook without picking, washing, or anything else required. Or that we have machines to wash our clothes and dishes. It's the small things...and so you might not get that no, it gets cold in America like Minnesota cold, not like oh, it's 60 F. And so you would expect your American to get little things like how to pick rice, or greet, or something. Because there are things so basic to your way of life that you don't even think about them. Like looking both ways before you cross the street, holding the door open for someone, tipping a waiter, or things of that caliber.

So, now our Counterparts know a lot more about us, and we know a little bit about them. Tamba called our elder brother to ask him what my name is, and it turns out that in Kedougou (so, basically, everywhere but Sangalkam), my name will be Mariama Keita, which is a pretty name. I count myself lucky.

The rest of training will fly by, I expect. Tomorrow we visit the Official Peace Corps Bureau in Dakar, and then Tuesday we go back to village for the final week, coming back to Thies after our final language test on 13 October, pack like crazy, swear in (in Dakar) on 16 October, and then travel down to Kedougou before install, which for me is on the afternoon of 20 October. I would prefer, of course, to travel on the 17th, because that leavse the 18th for shopping and th 19th for hanging around doing nothing, or perhaps cooking tasty food. So, between now and then, I need to convince two of the other six PCTs headed to Kedougou to leave on the 17th, since we're taking two cars (and therefore the other three can come down whenever they please).

Expect another update in a week or so, after I've left Sangalkam for good and am even closer to the coveted PCV title.