Thursday, September 17, 2009

Roasted Chicken and Arabic

Technical training makes me want to dies 99% of the time/ whenever a volunteer isn't presenting, but today although less boring than usual made me want to beat my head against a wall. All of my RSB compatriots (who didn't skip this day of class) will appreciate that I was forced to play a version of the OMS house building game. Yes, in Senegal. For those of you who are not privy to the ideas of the house building game, it's pretty much about building houses in time to satisfy demand while smoothing supply. In Senegal, we are supposed to use it to show that people should put their money in the bank. We played the game in class today in order to learn how to play so we can teach it to people in our villages, fascinating. I did enjoy one part of the game, which our instructor made up, and that's when we randomly get to decide that a robber has stolen all the players money they haven't put in the bank. It's to teach people that the bank is safer than your mattress. And this is one of the reasons why I'm struggling in Senegal...

A 10 year old American child is qualified to be a SED volunteer. No fancy business degree earned through countless tears, Sunday nights "comparing" OMS answers, and endless cold calls need apply. Everyone's best qualification is that they are American. That we were taught from a young age that it's better to save your money, invest, and plan for the future. In Wolof, there is no word for goals and that's one of the problems here. Many volunteers go into schools and ask kids to draw what they want to be when they grow up, but kids don't draw anything because they've never thought about it before, no one has every asked them that question. Therefore, the business techniques that we are teaching are incredibly simplistic. I'm struggling with not using my hard earned knowledge even though I didn't enjoy getting those skills. I want to find meaningful work and I'm not sure that it's possible here. I came here to do work.

That's also what I'm currently spewing all of my emotions on to... worries about work. I also think I'm experiencing a new form of homesickness. I've always struggled with homesickness, but this is extreme. Last night I completely freaked out and almost came home and was blaming everything on not thinking that the work was good enough for me, but now I'm not sure that it's not just the most extreme and convoluted case of homesickness known to man. I really had no idea what the Peace Corps was, how incredibly difficult it would be, or how foreign Africa is.

While I continue to adjust to the heat, the bugs, the food, my continuing GI issues, and a myriad of other things, I'm constantly learning and it's exhausting. I'm definitely dreading going back to my home stay village on Saturday, but I'm promising myself an amazing bracelet as a reward if I make it to swearing in... October 16. Everyone says pre service training is hell and to just keep pushing through. I'm going to go back to the vil and then re-evaluate.

On the flip side aka the happy and amazing side we went out to dinner and it was to die for. All the current volunteers rave about a little dibitterie (chicken shack) along the main restaurant route in Thies. We were warned that seeing it would make us want to cry and run away, but the reward for staying was amazing chicken... a thought that is constant in every volunteer's mind here in Senegal.

So, we get to the restaurant and push aside the already sketchy looking curtain to get inside and I wanted to laugh in amazement that I was definitely going to eat at this place/ absolute horror. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera (I will next time) because it's hard to describe. The tables are just plastic tables with plastic table clothes and chairs and the walls are filthy and covered in grease. The men inside barely speak French and Tamar and I struggle along with some Wolof. As we're sitting a very long time to get our meal we are all comforted by the fact that we had to get a tetnus shot to join PC and that this is a true African restaurant no toubab food for us!

Soon we start to smell the deliciousness wafting from the courtyard in the back. We couldn't see the cooking area and I'm thankful for it because I'm sure it's absolutely revolting and I wouldn't have been able to eat my amazing chicken. Out comes our chicken and by chicken I mean all of us got a roasted half chicken, a huge pile of fries, and a cucumber salad with onions covered in a tahini like sauce. At that point we all threw caution to the wind and inhaled everything. I even at the lettuce and cucumbers, which I'm about 99.9% sure will come back to haunt me. We saw them lightly dunking the veggies in what I'm sure was gross water to begin with and we're supposed to bleach water all of our greens so... yeah, I'll let you deduce what might happen.

The meal, as I've stated, was amazing. I think it would've even been great in the US although my perception of good and bad has already drastically changed. Stuffed to the brim and so happy we didn't eat meat aka fat and peas at the center we attempted to pay. Paying in Wolof is ridiculous and stupid because they changed all of the numbers around when the CFA was devalued blah, blah, blah, I still don't understand and they didn't speak French so one of them asked if we spoke Arabic which caused uproarious laughter among the workers because toubabs don't speak Arabic, they can't even speak Wolof.

They were pretty shocked when I busted out the Arabic and schooled them. Yeah, go me. Obviously the requisite questions followed:

Q: Are you married?
A: Yes. (It makes everything easier/ they only pursue you at 100% instead of 1000%)

Q: You are white? How can you be Muslim?
A: I'm not Muslim. I'm Christian. I learned Arabic at University.

Q: When are you going to become Muslim?
A: Islam is a beautiful religion, but I am happy being Christian.
Response: You should become Muslims. God is Muslim.
Me: Smile

Anyway, I had a sweet conversation with this guy in Arabic and he was impressed to say the least. He was also very confused that I introduced myself as Jeenaba and was not Muslim. That brought up the whole African name shanaigans and got very confusing.

Moral of the story: These guys make awesome chicken and speak Arabic and are in Thies. I want to practice Arabic with them/ potentially make them give me free chicken. Sounds awesome. I'm actually finding a surprising amount of people who speak Arabic, especially in the smaller villages. We do have some dialect problems and I'm a little rusty, but it's still really cool and gives the toubab girl some street cred. I'm hoping to practice a lot.

Well, this was a long post. I hope you found it interesting and less depressing than the last couple of posts. Sorry I was so blah. And even though no one asked I will tell you that my address for packages and letters will be the same even after I leave the center since I will be staying in Thies. Therefore, please keep the stream of well wishes coming.

I'm so happy with my chicken tonight that you can all eat some fish in my honor since that's what I have to eat every single night!

And happy belated birthday to Jeff. I know it was a couple of days ago and Matt reminded me so I'm sorry for sucking... you're old.



  1. Alyssa, trust in your gut. You will know what to do when the time comes. The answer will come to you loud and clear. Don't try and push the outcome either way. It is a cliche but it is true "Patience is a virtue." We're sending lots of love and hugs your way.

  2. Just wondering: What would happen if you told them you were jewish?

  3. Yeah, I was wondering about saying you're Christina too.

    I did think of you this weekend as we were celebrating a wonderful wedding and your mom was there without your dad and we were so happy with SO much food.

    And we did have fish tonight. Hang tough. It will be worth it in the end.

  4. Alyssa,

    Nice to see you with some Arabic cred, it would be interesting to understand what the Arabic speakers really think when you start conversing with them? They better be careful, they don't know what they messing with!


  5. I had Tuna in charleston a couple weeks a go and thought of you...I wonder how your current over consumption of fish is going to effect your tuna consumption when you get back. Maybe you won't get mercury poisoning now.

    no one asked about your address because those of us among your relatives who are lame (namely me) wanted to be able to use it as an excuse to cover the lameness. "Oh, Alyssa you moved? But I sent a package 2 weeks ago! it must have gone to the wrong place. Too bad,that."