I was going to write you all a very informative, fact-ridden post about Senegal, agriculture in this country, and the Peace Corps’ history and work here. Unfortunately, I left my notebooks and manuals in my room, in another building, about 300 yards across the mosquito infested wasteland outside. So I’ll have to stick with telling you about my new life in Senegal and the past few days here at the training center in Thies.
We (we being myself and the 64 other trainees) arrived in Dakar at 11 am Wednesday morning after a night flight from JFK. Our PCVLs (Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders) met us at the airport with some of the Senegalese staff and immediately drove us about an hour east to Thies, the third largest city and home to Peace Corps Senegal’s main training center in the country. I am now in training to become a Sustainable Agriculture Extension Agent, working and living in very rural areas of Senegal. There are four sectors of Peace Corps extension represented by the 65 trainees: Sustainable Agriculture (me), Urban Agriculture, Agro Forestry, and Community Economic Development. The goal of my sector is to help people living in rural areas of Senegal (70% of the country’s population!) become more food secure. Senegal struggles from recurrent drought and the encroaching Sahel from the north, both of whose processes have been sped up by deforestation.
Training is rigorous and long days make sleeping in the heat and humidity of the night somewhat easier to deal with. So far, we have had classes (taught by current Peace Corps Volunteers and Senegalese natives alike) in local agriculture practices and agriculture practices the Peace Corps would like to encourage based on health, economic, or environmental benefits. We have also had culture and religion training; ninety percent of Senegal’s population is Muslim. We have started to focus more on safety and security while working and traveling in Senegal, and also on the health risks of working in a country stricken with malaria. My favorite classes are the ones on Islam and all of the holidays and customs that come with it. We’ve learned, for instance, that you cannot walk in front of a man praying in the street, nor can you talk to him. You must wait for him to finish praying or walk behind him if possible. Also, we’ll be at our home-stay sites during Tabaski, the Muslim holiday commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice of his son. On this day, all Senegalese Muslim families slaughter a sheep or goat as a symbolic representation of his sacrifice. I’m so excited! THAT’S culture shock.
We had interviews all day today, in French, medical evaluations, and site preference, in order to determine where we will live in Senegal and, subsequently, what language we will learn. We find out our language on Monday and our site location in three weeks. They asked me in the site interview how I handle dust storms…. I said you never know until you try.