Peace Corps year 1

Week 1

My new home is a smattering of thatched-roof huts surrounded by yellow fields, boys herding cows, and scattered trees, the only green during the dry season. The women start the day pounding millet, then they cook, then they draw water from the one village well, which they then carry back to their family compound in giant buckets balanced on their heads, sometimes they go to the fields to pick cotton in the heat of the day, then they come back to pound more millet and cook more millet, they go back to the well to bathe and do laundry and pull and carry more water, and most of them do all of this with children tied to their backs or nursing as they shell peanuts and grind peanuts and talk and yell and laugh laugh laugh.

I think I’m in love.

It’s a hesistant love—I don’t understand most of the village Pular I hear, but I’m slowly able to pick out more and more words. I do a lot of sitting and listening. My hut is small and round, and throughout the day I retreat behind my closed door for maybe half an hour at a time, to sneak a cookie or read another chapter in a novel or simply sit and not worry about communicating for a few minutes.

Then I go back out and find that I’m able to correctly greet people, at least for the first three greetings (every meeting between two people involves a seemingly endless cycle of greetings, which is repeated at least twice as each person takes his turn asking about the other’s village, family, work, children, wife, house, livestock, etc.), or that I can understand a phrase I didn’t learn in Thiès, or that I can feel peaceful simply sitting in the moonlight with my mothers and aunts and sisters and whoever else they may be, listening to them gossip and joke and enjoy the one time of day when this is all that’s required of them.

What can I tell you?

They feed me five times a day, two of those being milk and millet couscous (I boil the milk and save it for my morning cereal, I’ve started just giving the millet back to them with copious thanks).

I’ve learned most of the names in my family, but I’m still not clear on how everyone’s related, or even who actually lives in my compound.

Today I rode my bike the seven kilometers or so through fields and countryside between my village and Tamba, a long but pleasant ride. I greeted everyone I passed and didn’t get “Toubab” yelled at me once, until I got to Tamba.

I’m nervous to actually begin my Peace Corps work, but keep reminding myself that cultural adjustment and exchange is two-thirds of that work, so so far I’m doing OK.

I’m overwhelmed with village and village life and Africa Africa Africa, but will write more when I can.

5 replies on “Week 1”

Clare, How wonderful it is to be able to get news of you. Sounds like you are still doing well. We missed you for Thanksgiving, but take comfort in the fact that you seem to be so content with what you are doing. Keep up the good work. Love, Ma Ma. Barbara.

Talked with Renee and Paul today walking through the neighobrhood. They are very excited about your adventure. I am glad to read about it in your blog and wish I too were on a Peace Corps adventure. Loved your opening remarks.

Phil Ward
(Jeff’s father…)

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