Peace Corps year 1

a day in the life: training

4:40am – The first morning call-to-prayer starts over the mosque loudspeakers, which sound very much like they’re three feet from my bedroom window: lots of chanting and yelling, which repeats every half hour or so until sunrise.

6:00am – My alarm goes off, usually coinciding with another round of chanting from the mosque. I stumble out from under my mosquito net and go to the kitchen to get water for my bucket bath, from where it’s stored in an oil drum. The stars are still out while I pour water over myself in the concrete shower stall next to the Turkish toilet stall, back near where the goat and chickens live.

7:00am – I walk to Glen’s house, where he, Travis, and I wait for the Peace Corps bus to take us to the training center. On my way I greet a woman who is out sweeping the ground in front of her bread-selling stall. Glen’s mother sets three white plastic chairs out for us, and I usually get the good one that doesn’t have a giant hole where the seat should be.

The bus driver has two music tapes: the first has two West African songs that alternate in about a ten-minute loop. We heard this one for about two hours straight on the ride back from Kaolack, after demyst. The other is a mixture of Limp Bizkit, Korn, Rob Zombie and the like, which is hilarious to have as the soundtrack to a busride through Senegalese towns and countryside.

7:30am – Everyone’s at the training center for breakfast: Nescafe, hot chocolate, tea, and French bread with either Nutella-esque chocolate spread or peanut butter. This time of day is absolutely gorgeous: morning sunlight and a cool breeze that almost feels like fall weather in Austin.

7:55am – They beat the tam-tam (drum) to announce the start of classes: we have language class from 8am until lunch at 12:30pm. There are a few French classes for the Small Enterprise Development (SED) trainees, a Wolof class, three varieties of Pulaar, and one lone Mandinke student.

I’m in the pula-fuuta class with four other people—we’ll most likely be headed to the south-eastern corner of Senegal for service, somewhere east of Tambacounda, where it’s supposedly beautiful—hills and bamboo and waterfalls and the biggest national park in the country. It feels like we learn a week’s worth of Pulaar every single day, which means we usually break down into hysterics at least once every class—which is ok since so far it’s been laughter rather than tears.

Yesterday we came up with “O wi’i, ko Oahu e Hawaii o iwi” (“He said he’s from Oahu, Hawaii”), which sounds indescribably funny when you’ve been repeating the same phrases for the past four hours. No, really. Try it five times fast.

12:30pm – Lunch! We eat in the “lunch hut,” sitting on mats on the floor, five people to a bowl of rice with vegetables and chicken or beef. They save us from making complete fools of ourselves by providing us with spoons (not the case at home…)

Break lasts until 2:30—some people play basketball, some study, and lots of us pass out on couches in the foyer (communal area) or in the hammocks that are scattered throughout the training center compound.

2:30pm – The tam-tam sounds again, like it does at the start and end of each class period or break, and we go to afternoon sessions—sometimes cross-cultural group discussion in the “disco hut,” one of the outdoor meeting areas, or sometimes assignment-specific technical training.

Friday, members from our host families came to the center at 4:30 for a tam-tam dance to celebrate our first two weeks in Senegal. About a third of the volunteers were decked out in borrowed or freshly-tailored Senegalese clothes, and we were all dragged into the center of the dancing circle at some point to make fools of ourselves.

all dressed up

Senegalese dance is crazy—this mixture of spastic abandon and undulating sensuality, involving either lots of jumping and kicking or not-so-subtle pelvic gyrations. The grandmothers danced, the moms danced, the sisters danced, the little girls danced, the toubabs danced—it was great.

6:00pm – We’re released for the day, and either walk home or take the Peace Corps bus. When I get home my family is usually sitting out in the corridor watching TV, which they do every night until 11pm or so.

TV here is one channel (RTS 1), which is a mix of: Brazilian soap operas dubbed in French (my personal favorite is “Muneca Brava”); Senegalese newscasts that consist mainly of footage of President Abdoulaye Wade riding around in cars waving or walking through crowds waving, and sometimes even standing on stage, surrounded by Senegalese musicians, waving; short Senegalese skits with abysmal production values, in Wolof; and the same five commercials, which my sisters know every word to and sing along with.

We eat around 8pm, me doing my best to form rice into a ball that I can eat off my hand. Whenever I show signs of slowing down or stopping they exhort me to eat more! eat more!, which I’ve learned to fend off with “Mi haari! Mi haari!” (“I’m full! I’m full!” in Pulaar). Then we sit on a mat in the corridor in front of the TV, and they help me with my Pulaar homework or talk to me in French (my mom tries to force me to use Pulaar, but I usually get away with defaulting to French since not all the kids speak Pulaar).

10:00pm – I manage to escape to my room, where I lie sweating on my bed and read a book (or the medical handbook—good nightmare material) or write in my journal (or listened to my iPod, until it died : ) until I fall asleep. Usually the TV (which is right outside my door) and the mosque speakers (which sound like they’re right outside my door) are quiet by 11pm or midnight.

Last night was an adventure, though—I don’t know if it was a special prelude to Ramadan or just Friday night in Thies, but the mosque was going at full volume. And going. And going.

At midnight I thought, surely, it has to end soon. It switched from chanting to what sounded like lecturing or preaching, with occasional crowd noise, and I thought, surely, it has to end soon. Even at 1am I still managed to find it funny, as I lay in bed contemplating the stark contrast between the underappreciated beauty of American noise ordinances and the base ugliness of what I’d like to have done with that microphone to the guy shouting into it. At 1:45am the speakers finally switched off and I managed to fall asleep, dreaming of a village out in the middle of cornfields, far far from mosques equipped with electrical sound systems.

6 replies on “a day in the life: training”


T and I wish you the best. Take care and we are thinking about your journey. May you always be safe and have all of the fun you can stand.

justin – 40 40s lives? there is hope for this world!

dee – i sure hope so — all us pcts are ready ready ready to be there 😉

steven – it’s more a dead, not dead, kinda dead, oops dead kind of a thing with the iPod. i hate technology.

greg and terri – hopefully i won’t reach the fun overflow point — so far it’s been great, though 🙂

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