October 12, 2009
I did it and it feels amazing. There were multiple points in time when I was ready to jump on a plane and come back to the US, but I’m happy and proud that I stuck it out. PST is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life and it feels great knowing that I get to go back to Thies tomorrow and swear in as an official volunteer later this week (barring catastrophe and that I passed by business and language tests!).
Looking back on the last two months I would characterize them as hell, ridiculously difficult, and tremendously important. I was completely unprepared to start my Peace Corps experience. I had no idea what Africa was like and was shocked when it wasn’t a slightly less developed Eastern Europe. I can now place my difficulties into three main problems.
1. My family is Puular and I’m learning Wolof. I know the Peace Corps tries really hard to match us with great families during PST and that it’s a difficult and complicated task, but getting the language group right is incredibly important. During my first few weeks while I was dealing with homesickness, the extreme heat, dietary Armageddon, and the question “what the hell am I doing here?” I couldn’t understand my family. Yes, I could communicate with them in French, but that wasn’t my goal. I needed/ wanted to learn Wolof. Until I got a grasp on Wolof I had no idea whether my family was speaking Puular or Wolof and it was not only extremely frustrating, but isolating as well. This led me to speak mainly in French, which hindered my progression in Wolof and made my mom resent me since she’s the only family member who doesn’t speak French.
2. The majority of my stage’s PST was during Ramadan. From a cultural perspective being here during Ramadan was fascinating, from a daily living standard perspective it was terrible. Everyone is grouchy and irritable during Ramadan and for good reason: it’s approximately a million degrees outside and no one can eat or drink, but my sister still has to make me lunch. My family really didn't want to/ have the energy to interact with me or help me during Ramadan. Plus, the daily schedule is all messed up. While I had to get up early and wanted to go to bed early, my family wanted to get up and go to bed late so they were awake for a shorter time when they couldn’t eat. I don’t think new stages should come during Ramadan. It’s too hard.
3. My biggest obstacle during PST was definitely me. I was unprepared for Peace Corps and I was unprepared for Africa. I had no idea and I think it’s impossible to imagine life here unless you see it first hand. It’s just so different. Initially when I couldn’t communicate with my mom and I felt my family didn’t like me and didn’t want to try and communicate with me, I withdrew inside myself and stopped trying. I was hot, homesick, and hostile myself. In Senegalese culture when you move into a new house you are expected to go out and meet your neighbors. Stateside, we expect the opposite. We think our neighbors should come to us and bring cookies. Our cultural trainers had told us this, but I hadn’t taken it to heart. Once I started to really press my family they started to open up. My mom became an invaluable resource and since she doesn’t do anything all day she had infinite time and patience to work on my Wolof with me. When I move in with my family next week I will try and be more extroverted and integrate more quickly with my new family. At the beginning, I had sensory, emotional, and physical overload and I couldn’t break out of myself. I was numb and I needed to push myself harder.
Now, my life with the family is pretty good. I’ve had interesting conversations with my siblings and although my mom is definitely still a hard ass who occasionally beats up on her kids (which I totally don’t agree with and it upsets me every time) I see that she’s an intelligent woman who’s had a really hard life, but who does care. Tonight she and my oldest sister surprised me and took me to the tailor to have me measured for a dress. They want me to have a souvenir from them. They bought the fabric and are paying for the tailoring, which is an incredible expense for them and extremely generous (I printed out a bunch of pictures for them, which they loved). The dress is neon, fluorescent, lime green so we’ll see how it turns out!
Even though I am grateful for everything my family has done for me and the new dress, I’m excited to move on. I haven’t been feeling well today and my mom keeps telling me it’s because I ate at a restaurant in Thies and restaurants are dirty, terrible places. Many Senegalese people don’t eat out because 1. It’s expensive and 2. Outsiders could think that the family can’t cook well, which would be embarrassing. Regardless, my mom keeps telling me that I got sick from the restaurant. This very well could be; pretty much anything could make me sick here, but the last few days we’ve eaten exceedingly oily meals (pools of oil at the bottom of the bowl) and today we had unpasteurized milk with sugar and millet balls. Really, I think it’s anyone’s guess why I’m not feeling great.
I can’t wait to have my freedom back. I can cook for myself, UNPACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, and create my own daily routine. I feel exhilarated just thinking about it, but I know it’s going to be hard too. I wont have my friends’, and especially Tamar’s daily companionship, I have to create my own work projects, integrate with a new family, and live in Senegal for the next two years. It’s daunting. Regardless, I’m done with the home stay portion of my journey and I’m ecstatic.
Back to Thies for some fun, some rest, some internet, some delicious food from chicken dibi, and a real shower. What more could a girl ask for?
Messy, but Warm
10 months ago