Sunday, August 23, 2009

Home Stay/ TMI

Yesterday we left the training center for our home stays and I was far too overwhelmed, emotional, and crazed to write a post. Africa breakdown #1 was in full swing as soon as we started to load the cars in Thies. First, most things here are so disorganized that they start up setting me right away. Second, I was going to meet a family, who I know nothing about, who’s language I do not speak, and who’s house could look like a scene out of National Geographic. Luckily, my village is only about 10 miles outside of Thies otherwise I would have vomited due to self-induced hysteria and car sickness. In my group of five, I was the third to be dropped off and from the looks of the two other houses I felt pretty good about my house especially the lack of four legged animals scurrying around the compound. It was all I could to do force myself to walk into the compound. I wanted to get back in the PC car and go to Dakar and get on the next plane back to the States. Terror does not adequately describe my state and cannot convey the very intense urge I had to leave and go home. Although I’m still unsure that I can really pull the PC off and survive two years of communal eating, squat peeing, and HEAT, for now, I’m glad that I’m at least attempting the home stay.

My family is incredibly nice and it is just one nuclear family living in my compound, which is a little unusual. I have a mom, a dad, a 22 year-old sister (embarrassingly I don’t know her name yet! Oops!), a 21 year old sister Binta, 18 year old brother Ammelou, 15 year old brother Ali , and a 12 year old sister Kytie. I spend the most time with the 21 year old sisted Binta who does all of the cooking and laundry, she’s my personal hero, and the 15 year old boy who has endless patience with me while I attempt to learn Wolof. I’m still learning a lot about my family and am still unclear about what my father does although I am very happy to report that my fam is health conscious for a Senegalese family because they use soap when they wash their hands before meals. This is exceedingly important since we eat out of one bowl with our hands and the mom is responsible for throwing pieces of meat and vegetables from different regions of the bowl into my area. I know it sounds incredibly gross, but you get used to it and eating together all the time is nice. It is of the utmost importance to attempt to leave the table well before you are actually full because they will make you take several more bites before you can run away!

The house is one story and concrete. There are three bedrooms, a tv room, and a small foyer/ sometimes mini kitchen. There is a kitchen room in a corner of the compound and in the opposite corner is my lovely squat toilet and concrete room where I take my bucket bath. Yes, I stand in a bucket and use a cup to splash water over myself. Does this get me clean? Sure, cleaner than I was and it gives me approximately 2 minutes of feeling cool after I get out. Heaven. On a cleanliness note. I thought it was physically impossible to smell as bad as I do after just one day. When I take my night shower I want to die being in an enclosed space with myself. It’s ridiculous. I put on deodorant whenever I can, but it doesn’t help. You literally never stop sweating here. It’s constant. I woke up this morning and could have wrung out my sheets in the bucket. It’s a great way to start your day!

Wolof classes are progressing nicely. I like that I speak Frolof, a mixture of French and Wolod, and that neither are very good. I am picking up the Wolof pretty quickly though and my family, especially Ali, is really helping. The fam and my teacher have incredible patience for poor pronunciation and sheer stupidity.

Now for the two highlights of my so far almost 36 hour home stay.

1. The town I’m currently staying in is only 10 miles from the Thies training center, which is the third largest city in Senegal. And while Thies is teaming with white, American PC trainees and volunteers, Caucasians are rare in my home stay village. A neighbor came over to use the faucet in our yard, yeah we’re pretty sweet to have running water, and she had a baby who was about nine months old. I said hello to the baby who clutched it’s mother in terror at the sight of a toubab. Toubab means foreigner or stranger, but is most commonly used as a derogatory name for white people. The baby started to scream and cry in fear to the utter amusement to all the adults present especially the mother who put the baby right next to me in order to put into further hysterics. All PC volunteers are expected to make small babies cry otherwise you really aren’t that cool. And, I am pretty intimidating.

If you have a squeamish stomach/ do not want to hear about my GI functions please skip #2

2. As I’ve mentioned before I have a squat toilet. Yesterday I forgot the lovely TP that the Peace Corps gave us to ease us Toubabs into pooping in a whole. Well today nature came calling and I realized I had left my paper gold in the PC car. Damn. I decided that it really couldn’t be that hard and that I could do it so throwing caution to the wind and, against my better judgment, not taking a piece of paper I proceeded to the concrete whole of doom. I did my business and was using the tea pot to clean up when I realized that cleaning your bum is way harder than you thought it would be and I poured water down the back of my pants so it looked like I pissed myself backwards. I attempted to hide my wet backside from my family to no avail. They were horrified and thought I was really sick. Once I convinced them I just had no idea what I was doing and that in the US we all have flushing toilets with a seemingly limitless supply of TP my sister demonstrated the proper angle. I thought that was the position I had taken, but obviously not. Regardless another trainee is bringing me an extra roll of gold. Thank god.

Those are the highlights of my first few hours. Hopefully, my Wolof will improve along with my outlook on PC Senegal. I can’t express how hard this is for me. The loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, and the overwhelming heat can really bring you down. I love when everyone comments on my blog so keep the comments coming. Post questions too and I will try and get to them.

Enjoy some porcelain goddesses at home for me!


  1. Sounds like an adventure! Hang in there. :) I'm sure that it will get better as you master the squat toilet and can communicate better. I start work tomorrow - ahh - so I'll email you after! Miss you and I'll be out there to visit you before you know it!


  2. I'm envious of your experience! I could see myself trying it for a week, maybe two. Bill and I got very familiar with the squat toilets in China and I found them easier to use than the regular ones. Of course we had all the tp we desired.

    Looking forward to reading more!