Peace Corps year 1

the beginning approaches

I think “fall” has finally arrived in Thies. It’s now only unbearably hot while walking in the sun at midday, and the mornings, evenings, and afternoons are actually pleasant, especially when there’s a good strong breeze. Mornings are actually, dare I say it, a bit brisk—that good ol’ bucket bath is cold rather than refreshing.

It’s great. Apparenty this’ll last until about February, when it will once again be ridiculously hot until, oh, November or so.

Thursday and Friday of last week was “Counterpart Workshop,” when we meet the Senegalese we’ll be officially working with at our sites for the next two years. Ag volunteers’ villages pick one man and one woman from the village to work with us—they come to Thies to get a sense of us, Peace Corps, and what all of our roles and responsibilities will be. They’re supposed to go back and explain all of that to the village, and then act as co-workers and intermediaries once we arrive in the village. My counterparts, Yaro and Awa, were both very nice—I think we were all equally nervous and anxious to impress each other. Oh, and Awa told me what my name is going to be for the next two years: Jeenaba Ba (sounds like “Jen-a-buh Bah,” more or less—also, there’s probably a dozen ways to spell it “correctly”).

Then that weekend a group of us escaped once again to the coast, this time to Poponguine, a fishing village slightly north of Toubab Diallo, where there’s a house right on the beach that rents for 20,000 cfa (about $40) a night. It’s two stories, with upstairs and downstairs balconies, two bedrooms, a common room, and—most wonderfully—a kitchen. It sleeps as many people as you can fit on the big upstairs balcony, which is quite a few. I think we had nine.

So we played in the water and cooked dinner (pasta sauce with two quarts of what you thought were crushed tomatoes but turns out to be tomato paste? less than stellar. the peas and powdered milk were good, though.) and drank some wine and sat out on the deck with the sound of the ocean next to us. In the morning we made French toast, scrambled eggs, and bananas with sugar syrup. It was pretty great—we even got language and tech-related work done on Sunday before heading back to Thies.

Our eight weeks of training are over, more or less—swearing in has been pushed back to Wednesday so that we can stay in Thies and celebrate Korite, the end of Ramadan, with our host families. In Senegal the actual date of Korite isn’t decided until the night before, and then different brotherhoods declare it to be on different days—so some of our families celebrate today, some tomorrow. It would be like not knowing when Christmas is until the 24th or 25th of December, and then the Catholics celebrating it on the 25th and the Protestants on the 26th. I can’t imagine American marketers tolerating that much uncertainty about a major holiday.

We have Monday off, Tuesday’s some “swear in prep” stuff, and then Wednesday we and assorted host family members pile onto buses headed to the ambassador’s residence in Dakar, where the swearing in ceremony takes place in front of a bunch of important Senegalese, Americans, and apparently the state TV cameras, as well (oh boy). We’re all gonna be dressed up in Senegalese outfits, and there’s some skit involving volunteers and volunteers playing tourists and volunteers playing Senegalese, all in French or local languages (double oh boy ;)… it’s going to be quite a production. I’m just hoping for quality finger food.

Do I feel prepared to be a Peace Corps Volunteer living in a village of subsistence farmers? Hells no, but when would I ever, right? I didn’t feel ready to go to Philadelphia, I couldn’t imagine what stepping off the plane in Dakar would be like, and now I’m about to get plunked down in the middle of some millet fields, but so far it’s all worked out pretty well. I think training has prepared me to actually learn things in my village, which is about what you can ask for from eight weeks. I’m ready to be in my hut.

4 replies on “the beginning approaches”

yay for updates and new names! so exciting. let us know when you’ve got your new address (or, if you’ve already let us know and i, in my infinite wisdom and awareness, have just missed it, then point me in the right direction).

Well, I’ll probably only have one or two more chances at internet before the millet, today being my last push to get as many photos as possible online… I should know my new PO Box on Friday, once I’m in Tambacounda (!)

The problem with “Clare” is that no one here can pronounce it 😉

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