Peace Corps year 1

index, month 6 + bonus material

Days my village had to go to a neighboring village for water because our one well was too low: 1

Baby warthogs seen trotting single file after their mother, tails held high, while on my morning jog: 3

Rainy nights in the village: 2

Minimum number of village kids with raging cases of pink eye: 4

Calves born to my family’s cows: 3

COSers from the Tamba region: 6

New PCVs in the Tamba region: 6

Total times my iPod has been sent back to the US for repairs: 2

Hours Steven spent at the Austin Apple Store on Friday in order to get them to give me a new one: 3

Newly-engaged high school friends: 1

Special six month bonus:
The Longer than “Fine” But Still Incomplete and, Ultimately, Unsatisfying Answer to

“How’s the Peace Corps?”

…I’ve learned more than I wanted to about the disgusting things that livestock do. For example, did you know that you can watch a lump of goat or sheep cud travel up and down an animal’s throat when it swallows and regurgitates? Or that cows can pick their very own noses with their very own tongues?

…My tolerance for sweat, dust, flies, screaming children, and noisy animals has increased exponentially.

…I am now expert at aiming various substances and objects into the rather small hole of my pit toilet.

…I hate sheep. I really hate sheep. I’ve gone from quasi-vegetarian to advocating that all sheep deserve to be eaten as quickly as possible.

…My understanding of the Peace Corps is evolving. It’s not news that Peace Corps is a government bureaucracy, nor that it’s a government bureaucracy with its headquarters on one continent and almost all its operations on other continents. But getting caught up in the unavoidable organizational politics and inefficiencies is especially frustrating when you’re a volunteer. Most of us didn’t come here to complain about budget allocations, but it’s the nature of the beast. I do, however, have a deeper appreciation for the Peace Corps approach to development now that I’m learning more about NGOs… though my opinion of development work in general is anything but certain.

…I now have my Village Guilt under control. If I have a reason to be out of the village, I’ll be out of the village. And I will not feel bad about it, dammit.

…I’m starting to feel vaguely competent in Pulaar: I can respond to most questions or statements directed at me by my family, and I can catch words and even phrases overheard in others’ conversations.

…Food is still an issue for me. There’s only so much millet and peanut water a person can eat before even Taco Bell starts to sound delicious: village food is mostly the same color, the same texture, and, well, just mostly the same, day after day. It comes in a giant bowl, and everyone fusses if you don’t eat at least half, preferably all, which is easy to do since you keep eating in the hope that you’ll eventually feel satisfied, like you’ve had a real meal. I now weigh far more than I ever have, and dealing with that isn’t helped by the absurdity of complaining about being overweight while surrounded by so many malnourished, painfully thin women. A lot of PCVs experience weight changes; women tend to gain, and men tend to lose.

…I’m still not sure how to interpret “toubab,” but my latest coping strategy is to cheerfully yell it back at kids who scream at me as I pass on my bike. I refuse to accept it as anything resembling polite, but I’m willing to consider that most people may say it without malice.

…Two years is going to go quickly. As slowly as the individual hours may pass, the months fly by. COSers are COSing, newly-sworn-in PCVs are swearing newly in their first days at site, and my group has just passed the six month mark. Right now we’re like the bastard middle children of the Peace Corps Senegal family… nobody’s excited to see us anymore, but nobody’s getting pre-nostalgic about our departure either.

Watching the COSers—packing, writing final reports, buying gifts and souvenirs, throwing village parties—I want to skip ahead. Two years behind me, memories good and bad, home and family and familiarity in sight. Let me have already done this—check it off, smile and tell stories, not have to slog through the meta-boredom tedium that memory will edit out later anyway.

But then I have an actual conversation about something other than the weather, or the women clap and dance after a meeting, or PCVs get together and dance our butts off, or the sun is setting on my bike ride back to the village, or the rain finally arrives with a spectacle of lightning and wind, and I’m so so happy that I’m here. I’m seeing and learning so much; I feel stronger than I ever have before… I turn my head to find that the whole world is open to me. Hell, I’ve navigated African PT by myself—what can’t I do?

…No, seriously. I hate sheep.

Peace Corps year 1

daily life, may

These days, the roosters start at about 4:30AM, Deya’s alarm and Ceerno Jallo’s prayer call are at 5AM, and the sky begins to brighten around 6AM. That’s when my alarm goes off and I crawl out from under the mosquito net; I’ve got my bed set up in the backyard since it’s too hot to sleep in my hut. I head out for a jog, which sometimes becomes a walk since in addition to being light earlier, it’s also hot earlier. Breakfast and BBC in my hut—cereal and Network Africa, respectively.

By 8:30AM I’m out greeting the galle. I spend the next hour and a half pounding grain, shelling peanuts, sometimes greeting the rest of the village, always doing my fair share of sitting and staring at livestock. 10AM I go to the well for a bucket of water; I’ve started going in the morning partly because it’s not as insanely hot then and partly because that’s when the guys are there using a donkey to draw water for the animals, and they’ll give me some of their water. Head back to the hut, stick bissap out in the sun, then recommence migrating from shady spot to shady spot.

Time slows down as the day heats up. I help with lunch, I sit some more, sometimes I read books, write, or prepare ag-related work. Lunch is ready around noon. I eat in my hut then go sit in the batiment, where at over 100°F in the shade it’s a good bit more bearable than inside my hut, where the main entertainment is watching big yellow-headed lizards eat the ants that tunnel through my floor.

Saturday through Tuesday, most weeks, Pular alphabetization class is held from about 2PM until 4PM. I usually attend at least part of the class each day, but sometimes it’s hard to sit on a log for two hours listening to, say, addition and subtraction in Pular.

In the afternoon, the women go to the well to get water and do laundry, and I try to put myself in a happy place until the heat finally lets up around 5 or 5:30PM. Sometimes I take a walk then, often watched but unaccompanied by Bandi, who clearly thinks I’m nuts for walking anywhere in the sun—if he does join me, he runs from shade-patch to shade-patch, stopping in each to lie down, pant, and look at me as if to say, “Ok, are you done? Can we go back now?”

Bucket bath, BBC if it’s not just cricket news, sit in the galle some more or help with dinner while the family takes their baths, kids are scrubbed, and the compound is swept (we must have clean dirt!). It’s dark around 7:30PM, I sit on a plank bed, start using the nighttime greeting, and wait for dinner, which I eat by lamplight in the backyard. 8:30 or so, dinner’s done and I’m out in the galle again, lying on a bed watching for satellites and falling space junk until 9:30/10, when I say goodnight, set up the bed outside, and either read or surf the shortwave radio for American evangelical programming.

Lather, rinse, repeat. I’m excited that the rainy season will begin within the next month or so—I’ll have actual work to do once planting begins.

No word on well funding yet… digging may not start until the next dry season. Molly and Mariah came to my village Saturday for another meeting with the women’s groupement about selling the beaded jewelry that they make. We managed to communicate info both ways, despite the fact that I was serving as translator again. There were a few times when I’d finish an attempt at a question and the women would all continue to look at me expectantly… so I’d try again, then one of them would translate my Pular into actual Pular, and I’d do my best to follow their responses.

I’ve had the least luck with open-ended or abstract questions—I think it’s caused by a combination of my awful Pular and their social/educational conditioning, which makes contradiction (perhaps discussion in general) seem like an unacceptable challenge to authority. I want them to give me their own ideas, they want to agree with whatever options I list out for them. I’m hoping that will change with time and practice.

So yeah. New PCVs swear in at the end of the week—congratulations on surviving PST, y’all. Also, new photos, oh boy!