Ndiiki Seereer refum.

I wanted to throw up a quick post before going for a language training immersion host stay but I never found the time. I’m glad I didn’t because I would have misrepresented this experience, country, and training.  The training center is an old French colonial military base insulating us from the real Senegalese day to day life. Although only a week and a half has past I could probably write for hours and hours on this experience thus far, I will try not to write too much and organize it into interesting sections.

Staging/D.C./South African Airways/Dakar
Arrival at the hotel in D. C. was Peace Corps mania, trainees for Senegal, Guatemala, and Panama were all leaving the next day, the lobby was littered with giant bags. For all the talk of an assembly line of shots and lots of immunization, we only got one, yellow fever and didn’t get any prescriptions.

From D.C. we flew to Dakar on South African airways. A volunteer from The Gambia (the country inside Senegal) was on our flight, she’s well into her third year, but had to be “med-evaced” due to what was thought to be a flesh eating virus but turned out not to be, she told us our country director was very good at what he does and had other useful info as well.  The flight crew were purposely funny, sarcastic, and silly; the guys checking our seat belts before we landed were pimp walking down the aisle giving people the wink and the gun. At some point during the flight I could here an attendant speaking with a girl in our group, and he was being very flirtatious, I wasn’t sure what to make of it until I heard him ask “Have you heard of the mile high club?”. I had no idea who he was talking to until getting a seat at the disco hut in the training center, Jen was telling the story as she had been propositioned. The attendant asked in front of other flight crew members and Jen being pretty cool, declined politely but asked the others if they were all member, which they said they were.

Our flight arrived at 6-ish  A.M. and we were greeted by the country director and current volunteers, they had been waiting since 4:30 as the previous stage (this is the French word for intern but is used for trainees as well, it‘s pronounced as if the word doesn‘t have an e at the end) had arrived an hour early and were waiting in front of the airport when PC Senegal staff arrived.

First impressions – lots of street vendors, all the building  seemed to be half finished and crumbling, traffic was nasty and lots of buses had passengers gripping on the on the back ladder while standing on the bumper. It looked more third world than I pictured.

Thies/Training Center
The second biggest city in Senegal is Thies (it’s pronounced “chezz”, I was mispronouncing it prior to leaving).  The training center is pure Senegalese luxury, as you can imagine, housing, feeding, and training 53 volunteers requires a lot of staff. Three people have joined our stage, since the Peace Corps evacuated all volunteers from Mauritania, the country to the north. A proselytizing missionary resisted a kidnapping in the capital and was shot and killed and then a suicide bomber set off a bomb near the French embassy hence the evacuation of volunteers. They were given the choice of Senegal or Rwanda.

Four volunteers are bunked to a room and some staff lives here during training. There’s a volley ball court, a basketball court, and a ping pong table. Most time is spent in the Disco Hut – a cement circle bench with high pillars, a tiled floor, and a thatched roof, custom thick leather pads cover the seats. There are presentations made there, wifi is available throughout the training center so you can sit on the computer there, everyone sits around chatting, and one night an impromptu talent show with multiple tap dance performances, juggling, and violin free styling took place.

The first day we had three interviews, I interviewed with the business development trainers, a language trainer, and the medical staff. The med staff handed us a bag of pills, since we didn’t take any malaria meds before leaving we were put on both Mefloquin and Doxy. There have been a lot of intros since arriving most notable was the Senegalese cultural fair and the safety and security discussion.  The cultural fair was really fun, we learned about Islam (Ramadan just started), drank different types of juices, learned about the clothes (men wear boubous), draw water from a bucket, how to eat with our right hand, and slurp tea.  The safety and security presentation was quite intense, taking Doxy makes you nauseous and Mefloquin makes you have crazy dream and paranoid, we also received two shots at lunch, the combination of all that and discussing all the possible safety threats produced some anxiety within. After the presentation we walked around the area outside the training center for the first time since arriving. We were told never to walk along the train tracks right outside the center as that is where the Thies slum is located but that we would do it now as to prevent curiosity from taking over and walking in the “red” zone another time. There were tour of the town later as well and most volunteers that gave tours took us for a beer, but due to said nausea I stuck with Coke.

The day before leaving for the week long home stay and intensive language training, our language and villages were announced. This has more significance then it sounds. The language determines the region a volunteer will live in for the entire post and in some instance a deduction can be made as to the project from the language. Drum roll… Seereer (say-rare), is the language I am learning and the ethnic group I will be living with (the name of the language is the name of the people) – shout out to Amy M. and Jamie D. – small world. My village/small town for the home stay is called Ngoudiane.  I will write in detail about the language, family, and Ngoudiane.

Seereer – a prominent minority group, many live in The Gambia and in the region of Fatick which borders the coast and a delta. They are the only ethnic group that are not solely Muslim, there are some Christian Seereer villages which means beer will be available. I’ve been told that the reason Senegal has not been war torn is that ethnic group can freely make fun of each other without fighting, the Senegalese sense of humor is very non-politically correct. The ethnic group Pulaar call Seereer people their slaves, then they say no it’s ok to say that, Pulaars and Seereers are cousins. All the language teachers asked me what I was learning, some when told walked off and said they were no longer my friends and not to talk to them anymore others said it’s just not nice that I am Seereer, of course they talk to me when I see them again. There are two responses to being called a slave I‘m told, one is that I am a king and the other is that the state Pulaars are from is my toilet. There are only three of us trainees out of fifty three learning Seereer and only eight volunteer out of the several hundred serving in Senegal are with that ethnic group. I will have to learn some Wolof as well eventually for transport and markets.

Etienne – the safety and security director – the grandson of the first president of Senegal, his dad was the ambassador to the US so Etienne was born in Senegal but moved to Maryland at the age of three. Although he speaks with an American accent he is fluent in French and Wolof (the dominant language/tribe). He has a direct and intense way of speaking that makes you want to listen. He went over all the ways pick pockets will get you and how dangerous it is traveling in the country. His advice for dealing with a hostile cab driver who is lost because you mispronounced your destination is “why are you frowning, of course you are uglier than me.”

Yousoofa the head trainer for Agriculture, he used to be a professional wrestler standing big and tall, he is a gentle giant. I’m excited to sit at the bowl with him during lunch and hear his wise words.

Jared – a third year volunteer with a loud voice quickly becomes the source of entertainment when sitting with us trainees, whether by doing the voice from the Mad TV skit, Stewart (and incorporates funny Senegalese observations) or by telling anecdotes about the times he was “arrested“ in Senegal for no ID.

Bamba Falls – the technical trainer for small business development, he is a rare man among Senegalese, in that he puts his culture and ours into perspective, he is quiet and wise, I really am glad to have him as the SED trainer.

There are many others to write about but I’ll save those for another post.


A small town 45 minutes away from Thies, is where I will call home the next two months. The reason we will spend weeks on end there is language immersion so we can have intermediate-mid level fluency  (PC terminology) when going to post. I have to admit that I was very anxious about leaving the training center, but once  in the car on the way there I felt better knowing there was no turning back.

Housing complex –

Most Senegalese live in a complex which is a gated/fenced off area with multiple housing structures inside. The structures divide up courtyard space  that is communal and at the same time territorially divided.
In my case I live in a giant complex that I haven’t begun to explore but seems to extend for a long way where more and more extended family appears from. The first house when walking in belongs to the woman who dominates the compound, at least ten people live there including a fellow trainee, Jack. The path winds between two buildings after passing the first house, one of these building’s belongs to my host family, the other I believe is a building for storage but people may live there as well, my second host mom is often in there saying my name as I pass, “Gora”.  The court yard in front of my house is a giant rectangle surrounded by housing structures that either families live in or are vacant, I can’t tell which are vacant and which aren’t.

My family: Ngum
My host mom’s name is Nogaye Ndiaye Ngum, this took days to pronounce properly, I still get tongue tied saying it, “Ya Nogaye” is safe. Until yesterday I thought Momadou was the father of my eight siblings, but he in fact is a grandfather of sorts, the dad past away. Another woman eats with us and takes care of children, I’m told she is my other mother, “Ya Ali Ma”. Jack, the other trainee in the compound, lives with the dominant family, they have a proper house and it’s conveniently located at the entrance of the compound. Jack’s host mom wasn’t home when we arrived last Sunday but my host mom quickly renamed us upon arrival (each family re-names their guest), I became Daoubda (the Islamic form of David) and Jack, Abdul (the name of the previous volunteer to stay in Jack’s house). Jack, his sister Binta, and I were sitting on the steps of his house looking through our language book, when she walked up, I could tell right away she was Jack’s host mom so I stood up and greeted her. She asked my name, quickly dismissed both of the names with the wave of a hand and she named me Gora Ngum and Jack became Mbye Ngum, Gora means strength, needless to say I like the name.

All the people in the compound come from one man, who probably had four wives, there are definitely over 40 people living in our compound.  A picture of the guy is painted on a house with a mosque painted around him, the art work is quite nice for being painted on what looks to be a vacant building.


Breakfast both in Thies and Ngoudiane is bread with butter and instant coffee.

Lunch in Thies is a large bowl of rice, meat and veggies that five people sit around, each of us has a large spoon and make a path into food directly in front of us. The bowl is centered on a mat and each person takes off their shoes and kneels around the bowl.

In Ngoudiane, we eat as most of the people in the country do. Bowls are gender separate more often than not. We all use our hands to eat the rice, veggies, and fish. Eating by hand is getting easier although I’m still perfecting the technique, you form a ball, drag it up the edge of the bowl, and make a tight fist downward so that it forms one solid clump that you can get in your mouth without spilling all the rice on the mat. Typically when breaking up fish and veggies in the center of the bowl you throw a piece into some one else’s section as a way of sharing, you have to get over hygiene quickly here.  As to not waste food you lick all the oily rice off your hand, then rinse it in bowl of dirty, oily water.

Dinner – is a mound of millet powder (couscous) in the center of the bowl and bean liquid (sometimes with beans) poured around the base edge of the bowl. You mix the couscous powder with the liquid, dollop it on tips of your fingers and try to get it in your mouth without getting it on the mat or your pants. I’m pretty good at this, the rice is more difficult to get into a solid, compact clump.

Language Teacher/Day to Day life

Our Seereer instructor is named Assane and is extremely patient and cool. He’s the same age as me so sometimes when we’re not in class all of us just hang out. We’re creating a tree nursery and garden in the local school so if it doesn’t rain in the morning we work on that and have class in the afternoon. When it was time to sift manure, Assane and I decided to go interview and meet all the local business owners and let the agriculture volunteers take care of that. One day walking up the road, greeting everyone walking past, and introducing ourselves with our Seereer names we decided Assane needed to have an American name, Simon. In class a couple days later Jessica starts laughing, she says I know what his last name will be, Jaglowski. It stuck, he now uses that name when we ask in Seereer what his name in America is. We are brothers.

I could write a lot more but for now I believe this is enough.

Some finals words:

Black out parties with my host family are fun, I’m quizzed on everyone’s name, am asked if insects near the lantern are in the US, and they make the kids dance to the radio that is part of a landline phone with an antenna.

The children are lots of fun, blowing bubbles I brought from the states for them is entertainment for all, and distracts the three year old, Falou from throwing a knife into the sand, his favorite game.

Due to my program (SED) and language (Seereer), I’m pretty sure I will be in the state Fatick, it borders the coast and a river delta, and I will be working on an eco-tourism site.

Our next village stay starts Wednesday night and we stay until September 9th which means no internet until then.

I miss friends and family though not much time has past, know that you are all in my thoughts.

Jam = Peace
Soom = Only

Jam Soom


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