Ten Weeks in the Past and Two Years in the Future

Training is officially over! Ten weeks after I left New York and nine and a half weeks since I’ve been in Senegal and for as much as I’ve traveled, I’m amazed at how much Senegal continues to teach me new things. There were days that felt like they would never end and weeks that went by so fast I couldn’t keep track of them. I’ve made close friends in my training group who will be great support for the next two years. I’ve been able to see almost the entire northern border of Senegal, a few beaches along the central coast, and many towns in the Thies region. There is still so much more to see and so many more people to meet.

There is also a lot of work ahead of me. Learning Pulaar during training hasn’t been easy. It’s a difficult language to learn with many rules, exceptions, and consonant changes. My first three months at my permanent site will be spent greeting people, learning about my village and its existing resources, and studying Pulaar constantly. The language will be the key to integrating into life here and being as effective as possible in my technical work. The farmers I will be working with everyday are native Pulaar speakers who may know some French or Wolof and could have even lived abroad in Europe as migrant workers for some time.

My site, Yacine Lakke, has many remittances from relatives working abroad and it has created a weird juxtaposition of wealth and poverty. For example, it’s a very remote village of small farmers at least four hours in any direction to the nearest large city, but it has a water tower for robinets in every family compound and electricity. The village is a few kilometers off the national “highway” coming down from the northern border on the east side of the country. Unfortunately, travel in the area is slow and difficult because the highway hasn’t been repaved in years and has completely washed out in areas because of the rainy season. As a herding area, cows are also frequent roadblocks. In Yacine Lakke, I will be living with the chef de village (village chief) in his family compound for the next two years. He is a wealthy Muslim man with four wives and too many children to count. The sooner I lose my affinity for alone time the better. However, nothing can change the fact that I am SO excited to move out of my bags and into a space that I can call home. Seeing Yacine Lakke for the first time is something I have been looking forward to for a few weeks now. I have some great ideas for decorating and starting a garden as soon as I arrive. Weeding is great busy work when you need to talk to yourself in Pulaar.

Tomorrow night is our swearing in ceremony in the capital of Dakar. As the 50th year anniversary of Peace Corps in Senegal, our swearing in ceremony is part of a larger celebration including a concert with prominent Senegalese singers. All 63 of us trainees have gotten traditional Senegalese clothes made with local fabrics. It should be a really exciting night and a lot of fun celebrating with each other and the rest of the Peace Corps staff that have helped get us to where we are now.

We will be back in Thies at the training center on Sunday, December 1st and have the day to pack and get our bikes in top shape before bringing them to the field. I leave at six a.m. Monday morning with three other volunteers installing in their permanent sites out of the Peace Corps regional house in Ourossogui. It’s a ten-hour drive to Ourossogui from Thies in broken down cars for hire that usually have rusted out holes in the floor and cracked windows. It will be a very long day. Once there, we have a few days to buy things we will need at our permanent sites. Purchase lists usually include tubs for washing laundry, pots for cooking and heating water, other kitchen utensils, desk and chair, bed frame (if you want to splurge), multipurpose stools, food and coffee stocks, seeds if you’re an agriculture volunteer like me, and anything else you can’t get in village. After this, we install one day at a time with the aid of a shiny, new Peace Corps car and country staff. We have a schedule for the day, including meeting with local police, visiting your closest market town, greeting the village religious leader and the village chief, and finally unpacking into your new home. For me, install is on December 6th! Here’s to the future and life as a volunteer.

I hope everyone stuffed themselves on Thanksgiving yesterday and celebrated with family and friends. I’ll upload pictures tomorrow or the next day of my Thanksgiving on the beach and other moments during training.

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