Pre-Service Training is most useful, I have decided, in that it gives us an idea of the exact opposite of what Peace Corps service itself will be like.
PST? Over-structured, hectic… Peace Corps service? A far-off, gleaming beacon of relaxation, free time, and not having to go to class every time we hear a tam-tam. Granted, some things will most likely remain the same: bucket baths, gossip, “Toubab! Toubab!”, and inordinate excitement over stuff like cold water, ice cream, and toilets with seats.
But, in general, Training is just the hell you suffer through in order to make it to the nirvana of your village. Or, at the very least, your own hut. Language training is miles beyond Frustrating, “cross-cultural training” is generally blah, and Tech class would be great, except that all the language and x-cultural work takes up all of our time.
Ok, so that and we just like to bitch. And even the degree of bitching is totally dependent on how many Good Days or Bad Days a person has had recently. Bad Days are easy to describe—you feel crappy (this has any number of causes, ranging from the unremarkable to the truly gross), you’re sick of picking fish bones out of your dinner, it’s too hot sit in the garden and do that field notebook entry you should’ve done days ago, and the thought of trying to force one more broken, grammatically incorrect sentence in Pulaar / French / Wolof / Mandinke makes you want to kick puppies. Or maybe sheep. There are more of those around.
Good Days? There’s a nice breeze, you broke down laughing instead of crying during language class, not all of your garden has withered and died yet, and you have a vague (fleeting, perhaps unfounded) sense of Purpose. Yes, you will somehow communicate once you get to your village. Yes, you will manage to be useful to someone at some point in the next two years. Yes, this will be worth it. And French bread and chocolate spread for breakfast every morning? You’ll miss it once you’ve been eating nothing but millet for a month. Hell, you’ll even miss those fish bones.
This week, for some reason, I’ve been having Good Days, despite being kinda sick (allergies or a cold, I think, nothing too serious). I even, almost, kinda, maybe feel like one day I might be able to speak Pulaar.
Not that I’ll be speaking the Pulaar that I’m learning, of course: my village actually speaks a version of Pulaar closer to Fulabe or Pulaar Jeere.
Oh yes, my village—site announcements were last Friday, a big ol’ hooplah that takes place on the basketball court, which has a map of Senegal painted on it. The trainers blindfolded us, stuck us in wheelbarrows, and plopped us down where our sites are, making us stand there and stay blindfolded, shouting to find out who was next to us, until everyone had been placed.
I’m going to a tiny village of 150 people that’s about 10-12 km outside of Tambacounda, a major city in the south-eastern section of the country. I think I’m going to be the fourth PCV they’ve had—one health volunteer and two ag volunteers have preceded me, the last one just finishing up her two years this past June. It sounds great—the village is excited about growing beans (which I’m excited about because beans are better than millet any day), and they’re in the process of getting funding for a second village well. Plus there are mango trees.
(Argh, here’s where I start losing patience and abridging… it’s Sunday afternoon and already it feels like it’s time to be back in language class.)
So last Friday was good, then last Saturday I went with a small group to Toubab Diallo, a fishing village on the coast. It was about a 45 minute ride by sept-place to Sobo Bade, a ridiculously quaint hotel / “performance space” on a cliff overlooking the beach. Ohhhh it was nice. Sure, there was trash in the water and donkeys on the beach, and sure we were all asleep by 10:30 Saturday night, but it was oh so beautiful and oh so relaxing. Pictures will eventually make their way to the gallery.
And then, as I said, this past week had a surprising number of Good Days. But I think almost without exception all the PCTs are ready to freakin’ be PCVs already and be at our sites, fumbling through the language but at least fumbling through the language in real situations rather than for four-hour blocks, sitting at a desk.
I also think we’re starting to feel a bit less like scared white kids and a bit more like Volunteers. We’re definitely starting to act like them in some respects:
We’re overjoyed to receive mail and jealous of people who seem to constantly get letters. (Though a surprising number have received junk mail, which is pretty entertaining.)
Also, I’m positive that no other group of people could be as thrilled to open a care package containing photos from the US, pens, baby wipes, and extra ziploc bags (eeeee!). I mean, really—baby wipes AND extra baggies? Hell yes! (though I’ll put in a vote for gel hand sanitizer over wipes).
Plus, magazines we’d normally scorn in the US are suddenly enthralling—I don’t know that I’ve ever been as appreciative of People, and, frankly, the thought of a Rolling Stone makes me a bit giddy.
So yes, it’s still fun. Or at least fun enough of the time to make it worth sticking around 😉 Mornings are the best, usually—the light’s clear, the air’s cool, and there’s often a fantastic breeze rustling through the trees at the training center—you can almost forget how awfully hot it’ll be by noon. I’ll be sitting on a bench during a break from language class and think to myself, “Wow, I’m in Africa. And not only am I in Africa, but I’m having fun in Africa. And not only am I having fun in Africa, but I plan on having fun in Africa for the next two years.