And now my service as Peace Corps Volunteer begins

Mucho tiempo has passed since my last post, apologies for leaving you all in the dark, but events and training seemed to pick up speed and happen in rapid fire succession. Yesterday I was sworn in as a volunteer at the ambassador’s house in Dakar (it’s like a museum) and am leaving tomorrow to start what’s called installation in my village, M’Bam. I’ll list off all the events that followed what is legendarily known by my training group as the stuck in the mud event and say a few words about each one.

 

Last two things I’ll say about the off-roading debacle, it’s amazing that no one was injured during the process of getting the car unstuck and the kindness of the villagers went above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen. After helping for hours and hours, they often asked for nothing, the only request I remember is that a volunteer be sent to their village.  

 

Volunteer Visit – visiting my new family and village in M’Bam.

Leaving for this trip I was very nervous, it felt fatalistic to visit my new site and meet my new family, if I didn’t like the people or the place or vice versa that would not have helped my mental state during the rest of training.

Fortunately M’Bam is a beautiful village, picturesque, traditionally Seereer, and progressive. The host family is extremely nice and catholic which allows me to have a lot more leeway than if I lived with a Muslim family. In fact the family owns a bar that is connected to the compound that I live in, where they also served fried pork, so in regards to host families I’m quite lucky.

The volunteer took us on a walk through the country side to swim in the Saloum river. We road on a horse and cart into Foundiougne, a touristic beach resort town two kilometers from M’Bam, and we relaxed in the shade of a hotel courtyard overlooking the delta.

The trip back went smoothly, the only disappointing part was that while sitting in the front seat of the SUV while reading, I missed seeing a monkey that ran in front of the vehicle, that the driver then pointed it out after it ran into the bush.

 

Next stay in Ngoudiane –   

To get ready for the end of Ramadam, I decided it would be cool to buy live chickens for my family to eat in the feast celebration of Korite. A friend that’s starting a third year as a volunteer went with me to the market to help. After some negotiation, two chickens were tied together by their feet and handed to me, wings a-flapping. My friend wanted to buy fabric as gift for her family so I stood in front of the shop with the bustling market moving around me, a giant speaker in the shop next store blasting Senegalese music, and dangling live poultry in my hand; it was a moment that allowed me to recognize how different my life is here.

 

For Korite we ate lots of meals all containing meat, it was glorious, and I was really looking forward to the end of the morning call to prayer. It just so happened that a wrestling tournament was to take place in the village in three nights time so in order to hype up the village, music was played loudly all night long during the two proceeding nights and of course on the night of the actual event.

 

The wrestling event, was very chaotic. All the wrestler had mystical charms called gri-gris that were supposed to help them win, which took the forms of roots that were chewed on, bracelets and articles of clothing worn, and in one case, nine bottles of liquid that each were a different color and he poured on himself. There was no official start time or properly organized match, the wrestlers walked/ran back and forth the length of the arena getting themselves ready; live music was drummed near by, and two or three match went on at a time. We left after midnight, when our language instructor informed us that the event wouldn’t finish until 5 AM.

 

I thought at last I would have some peace and quiet with the tournament over and done with, only to become aware of all night Islamic chanting/screaming as lied down to sleep the next night. I woke up at 4AM and they were still at it, only their voices were hoarse and completely gone after six plus hours of screaming.

 

Also during this stay, I had a crazy dream where I got really angry that some one pointed a gun at me and at the moment of my anger flaring up the most in the dream, the wooden frame of the bed collapsed. Peace Corps came the next day and built me a new one.

 

Popenguine – the beach

 

Each training group gets an overnight party at the nearby beach resort town. The volunteer placed at that site rented the house for all 50 of us and we made communal meals, drank our fill, and swam on a beautiful beach. It was a nice outlet, but left us more tired than we already were. The couch I passed out on for the night was actually the home of a bed bug colony and I had more bites than I could count, including some on my forehead.

 

Counter Part Workshop (CPW)

 

After the beach we returned to the Thies training center to prep for meeting our future work partners and we had a two day seminar prepping all of us on what is to come over the next two years. I met my counterpart during the volunteer visit, but I hadn’t met the government official that I will submit a report to every three months who was there as well.

 

Weekend in Dakar

 

After CPW we had the option of unwinding at the center or going to Dakar. After arriving at the regional house for volunteers to stay at, I went with two volunteers to a friends apartment where we drank wine and I opened the duty free bottle I purchased in the airport prior to getting on the plane to Dakar. We relaxed over drinks and had a pizza delivered. Then some one with us told us they had a friend with a room at the Radisson, Dakar’s fanciest hotel, and that we could hang out over there. Upon arrival to the apartment I declared it was “pure luxury” but that had nothing on the room at the Radisson. We sat in the hotel room with AC drinking fancy wine with a big screen TV displaying CNN. It was a lot to take in since I hadn’t watch TV in 7+ weeks and had forgotten about western creature comforts. From there we went to a good bye party for a leaving volunteer at party called Coug Raoul. On the first of Saturday of every month there is a party at a open air bar on the ocean that is frequented by ex-pats and creepy Senegalese men. The next day we recovered at a private club for Americans that as a PC volunteers we get free access to. Monday was our visit to the office with the entire training group and they took us downtown to have lunch.

 

Last stay in Ngoudiane –

Not much happened, I just felt like I’d been there two months and could speak Seereer a little and understand what was going on a lot more. The coolest part was moving my bed on the roof of Jack’s house in the compound and sleeping outside all week, since it’s officially the dry season. I think I got a cold from it but it was wonderful to get out of my hot room and out into the open air (besides the mosquito net covering). We had an emotional goodbye and promised to stop by in February when we have in-service training.

 

A look ahead:

There isn’t much to do in a little village, but dream, and dream we did. Jack and I have decided that our post-service travel, will be from Dakar to Washington D.C. without a plane. We plan on seeing the North Africa and the Middle East during this voyage. We’ve spent many hours discussing this and while I can’t give you all the info now, be on the look out for our website dedicated to making this trip happen.

 

There is a challenge from the country director for us to stay each night at our site from install to Thanksgiving, if we do so we can attend a plush super bowl party at his house in Dakar. I plan on staying those five weeks and then having Thanksgiving in Dakar at the ambassadors house (an option available to all PCVs). Then on December 3rd we have a eco-tourism in Dakar at the other fancy hotel in Dakar, Le Meridian.

 

Not sure what I’ll do the next 5 weeks in the village, but I’ll find a way to keep busy, I’ll be on the look out for projects and practice Seereer. Although I’m physically and emotionally exhausted there is still no question that this is the right thing for me to do and right place for me to be. Thanks for all the emails, blog comments, and support along the way. Oh…and sorry about the lack of pictures, I will work on that.

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