Thursday, November 29, 2007

bitter tomato

i spent my morning walking around d. trying to construct a map of the village and was standing at a crossroad, visibly befuddled when marie sow came up to have a chat and asked me what i was doing.

i successfully explained to her my intents and purposes and then added some flourish to the conversation by trying to add that i was confused about the road but instead of saying "maangi jaxase" ("maangi" = "i am"; "jaxase" = to mix/stir") i said "maangi jaxatu."

jaxatu, by the way, is a small little bitter tasting local vegetable that looks like a baby pumpkin and is called "bitter tomato" in english.

so basically i ended the conversation with marie by saying "and i'm a bitter tomato."


i'd like to note that it's not always fun and games. i'm not always the happy PCV laughing things off and willing to take on whatever is thrown at me. in fact, i get angry a lot and i can usually count on my emotions fluctuating throughout the day. luckily i have learned how to maintain my calm and can generally give off the appearance of being stable (so that my villagers don't think i'm a nutcase) even when i feel like i'm going nuts on the inside.

i get mad when i can't get any peace and quiet. ever. with 13 people -- including myself and 8 children under the age of 8 -- living here, it is a constant cacophony of crying, screaming, yelling, lecturing, laughing, hollering, & bickering.

i'm pissed that i still don't have a grasp of this language and sometimes feel like i never will and sound like an idiot whenever i talk.

i get annoyed when i hear my name called for the 500th time in an hour (my own fault because i can't get a grasp of this language and don't know when i'm being spoken to unless somebody says my name first).

i get agitated when i am out in the fields just trying to gather peanuts and the wind won't stop blowing dust and dirt and sand into my eyes. (i intend on planting windbreaks everywhere.)

i get fed up when it is 2AM and i'm crouched over a goddamn hole in the ground crapping out my life because i drank some shady water because i was absolutely parched and it was either die of dehydration or risk getting the runs.

i get angry every time i want to buy something -- even something as simple as a fork -- i have to argue and bargain the price down because the consequences of a real fucked up history of foreigners in this country has led to the belief that all toubabs have money and subsequently everybody can jack up the cost of things to more than double its price just because i'm not senegalese.

i get outraged when i think about how the president has spent the money creating an arbitrary new senate that essentially is for the purposes of giving his cronies jobs and therefore, exuberant salaries, when the children here have no schools to attend, don't know basic hygiene like bathing and brushing their teeth, are malnourished, and have inadequate, if any, healthcare.

i get particularly furious when there are times that i have absolutely no idea what to do with myself and i feel completely aimless, useless, and unaccomplished and as if i am just a waste of space and resources.

so a lot of the times i am angry and frustrated but then i remember that it wasn't like i was never angry in new york. life pissed me off there too. late subways, homelessness, overindulgence, a starbucks on every freakin' corner, bad drivers, everything costing me an arm and a leg with absolutely no chance to bargain. there were plenty of times in new york when i didn't know what to do with myself but there was the internet and tv and other forms of mindless entertainment that would help mask that feeling of inadequacy.

it is then that i tell myself to suck it up, breathe, step outside of my hut and gaze at the three ancient baobabs i live under, and do something as simple as going down to the valley to pick some bissap or help shell peanuts and soon enough i am laughing and conversing and being teased and remembering that there is close to nothing that could take me away from this so that i could run the post-graduate rat race in a city comprised of steel, glass, and concrete. one day i will go back to that and be glad of it, but for now, i think i'll just look up and see the millions of stars scattered across the sky and remember that the children will stop crying and eventually fall asleep and that everything's going to be okay.

Monday, November 26, 2007

how i spent my sabbath day

there is something really amazing and touching about coming home to a bunch of cheering children. i've done nothing particularly spectacular yet they treat me like i have. it really gets to me and makes me want to work my ass off to try and help and empower them to create a change in their lives. as ridiculous as it sounds to say/ask, "WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?" it really is about the children.

today (sunday) was luma day in birkelane and JC and i had arranged to meet up there. what i really love about being a PCV is that living is work. there is no 9 to 5, my very existence in this country is the job in and of itself. i like that and while i know that one day i will probably get stuck in some kind of version of the bureaucratic 9 to 5, its nice to have this freedom and opportunity now in my life.

what i mean is that today, going to the luma, meeting up with JC, and going and greeting and chatting and visiting people that talla had introduced me to last sunday, is my job. it was so much fun but also exhausting -- constantly talking, answering questions, coming up with witty comebacks/remarks (in a different language, no less), and walking around, through, in front of, behind, next to the market from 10AM to 5PM (i am not senegalese enough to apply the "do nothing from 12 to 4" rule).

we visited people all over birkelane and it felt really great walking around town and having people to visit and see -- actual friends! i know so many people now and i'm starting remember names and faces. i'm also starting to make my own friends, not just the people that i know through talla. he was actually quite impressed at some point when we met up for a little bit and somebody that he didn't know greeted me. i just can't believe that this is my job: eating a watermelon slice as big as my face and chatting with the gendarmerie or sitting in somebody's house bantering about why i don't need a husband or having a soda in Chom's butig and talking about why the cows have stopped giving milk (something to do with the dry season?).

to think, i could be stuck behind a desk typing away in an air conditioned building! well for now i choose sweating in the scorching sun in the middle of a cow herd repeating the one pulaar* phrase i know ("i don't speak pulaar") and somehow by doing that, i'm making people laugh and thus, making friends with everybody. everyday i feel like this is my home more and more and the language is slowly coming together.

talk about sunday being a day of rest! ha! i'll be there every sunday making my rounds and doing my job aka LIVING.

*senegal is composed of several ethnic groups (for example, i live with wolofs and am learning to speak wolof) and pulaars are one of these ethnic groups. while most pulaars can speak wolof they have their own language (and several variations of it) and it just so happens that even though i am wolof, i have a pulaar-esque last name (ka) so i get teased by pulaars a lot

Friday, November 23, 2007

see you in a bit

thanksgiving was fun and i am going back to site tomorrow.

since i have one more night in kaolack and a few other PCVs are here too, i decided to cook dinner for us. so as i speak there are a bunch of steaks sitting in a delicious marinade of beer, maggi sauce, garlic, vinegar, and a bunch of other ingredients i was able to gather together. we'll be grilling the steaks on the roof later tonight and we'll have it with rosemary garlic mashed potatoes (that i will make as soon as i leave the cyber) and canned corn and peas. it's like thanksgiving part II and it feels good to have been cooking and preparing food all afternoon. i've missed cooking. and i've missed steak. so tonight should be a good night.

i've recently been barraging my family with lists of requests of things that i need now that i am on site and feel terribly guilty for making them do all of that, so i am going to throw out a few requests to my reading audience and if you want to send an item to me, please do!

headlamp -- the one i have is broken :(
scented candles
books (i plow through books here)
the following periodicals: national geographic, newsweek, the economist, foreign affairs, vanity fair, rolling stone
fine-tipped liquid ink pens (pilot is preferable)
instant oatmeal
granola bars/power bars
chocolate/yogurt covered pretzels!
tank tops
interesting articles and/or stories from the papers or whatever
a new nalgene (i came with 3 but gave 2 of mine away to 2 other PCVs who didn't have one)

i won't be back in kaolack until december 7 (i think) so no updates from me for a while until i come back into kaolack and flood you all with my wacky stories. i hope you find them as humorous as i do (i am constantly laughing at myself) and feel free to leave comments and questions about my life, my work, my village, etc. and i will try to answer them.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

thanksgiving in senegal

happy thanksgiving!

i tried to explain to my family what thanksgiving is in my very broken wolof and now they probably think americans are wacky and have strange holidays that circle around slaughtering and eating a really big ugly bird (turkey, which they do have here). it's funny -- trying to explain american traditions in a different language because i guess that really is what thanksgiving is and then i realize how strange some of our holidays are. regardless, i love thanksgiving and miss the warm fuzzy feeling of being with family in the brisk autumn east coast air.

i am currently in kaolack (got here this morning) to have thanksgiving dinner with all the PCVs in the k'lack region and will be here until saturday to get some things at the market that i need for my hut. there is an american-owned restaurant here that prepares a real american thanksgiving meal for PCVs and i am pumped to stuff myself silly with yummy food and to eat something other than millet. me & JC bought a bottle of beaujolais and i am excited for this tiny luxury.

however i surprisingly prefer my little pretty village to this big sprawling city. it was fun getting back to the house and seeing everybody and exchanging stories (most of them hilarious, many of them involving vomit and/or intestinal issues) and ideas for what we will and can do at our sites.

miss you all very much on this wonderful holiday and i hope you all eat lots of food for me and think of me when you are eating pie because THERE IS NO PIE HERE AND I WANT PIE!!!

van gogh, vomit, & chickens

i am realizing that i really underestimated the beauty of senegal, particularly the kaolack region. i was originally somewhat disappointed about being sent to kaolack because based on my dymyst experience i thought it was ugly and depressing. but this morning i went out o the fields to help gather peanuts and i couldn't help but feel i was in a van gogh painting...except with baobabs. my village is blessed with beauty and we even have a valley with a pond and water lillies and reeds and birds who come to swim and rest. being out in the fields and the vast landscape i can completely understand the impressionist artists' fasciation with how light and color manipulates visual perception.

but of course -- as it has been proven to me time and time again -- the romanticism can't last and the comedy that is my life makes sure that amongst all this beauty and peace, i get sick to my stomach and find myself running out to the bush and spewing millet and milk (aka breakfast) all over the paftan (a common shrub here) in front of my brother (talla), one of his wives, and a bunch of other community members out in the field. this, of course, freaks them out and i am terribly annoyed with myself that the day i go out to the fields i have to get sick. i'm sure they are wondering what good i am if i going out to gather peanuts makes me blow chunks. whatever. i spend the rest of the morning trying to atone for my weakness while they all try to get me to rest. my stubborness (is that a word?) won't allow me to and i don't need it anyway, i feel a gazillion times better now that i've woccu'ed (woccu = vomit in wolof) and i'm tired of sitting around and not moving.

i tried to avoid lunch but could not screw up the nerve to refuse so i forced it down an then took a nap for most of the afternoon. after waking up i felt a lot better and went out to another village to make visits. i think the expectation is that i will work with them too and i have no qualms with that.

the highlight of the evening is that aram's (one of my sister-in-laws) dad gave me a chicken! a rooster who is balding at the neck. my first chicken! what generosity. i really am touched by this gesture. i named him pedro and everybody got a huge kick out of that. i had to explain that back in the states we name our animals and now they are all calling him "pedro" in one way or another. i've been trying to influence the kids to treat the animals better (sometimes i want to liberate all the poor donkeys!) by simply being really nice to the animals. they think i'm wacky for petting the horses and cooing at the cats, but whatever. when i introduced pedro to the chicken coop i said "bismillah!" (a term of welcome) and they all just about died laughing. the attempt has kind of backfired in that they paid TOO much attention to pedro and the poor little guy was terribly traumatized because all the kids gathered around screaming "PEDRO!!!!" and trying to pet him and help him, aka pulled him squawking and screaming out from under the stick bed he was hiding under. it's okay. he's a chicken and he'll get over it. i think a lesson was learned: not that we should be nice to our animals but that toubabs are nuts and anthromorphosize everything, even down to their very chickens. i figure he will be happy here and knock up a few chickens and help bring in some dough (quite the prolific gift!). i sure hope he doesn't give me bird flue. and i sure hope i don't ever have to face the situation of having to eat pedro.

Monday, November 19, 2007

wilbur the pig

these days i am attempting some semblance of a daily routine but sometimes i feel as if my life is a bit like wilbur the pig's (from charlotte's web). i know i've only been here a few days but it feels like plenty already. i plan my days around what feels like the most arbitrary tasks but i suppose that here in the bush, chasing lizards out of one's yard is equally as important as walking up to 67th and broadway to go to the bank.


today i went to the weekly luma (market) in birkelane with talla. he goes every week to sell peanuts and other things and i tagged along because i wanted to get a cannari and to see how to get to birkelane. my dumb american mind made the stupid assumption that going to the market would be a one or two hour ordeal so without thought, i threw my phone and wallet into a rice sack and hopped onto the wetir.

after a beautiful ride through the bush we get to birkelane and sell our peanuts and get my cannari and are chillin' in some dude's mobile-fix-up shop when talla tells me that we're leaving at 5. it's 12:15. i'm not sure i hear him right but when we step outside to find lunch, i get it. it is hot as balls and all i can think of is water and sweet sweet bissap and i'm parched and have nothing to do but stare and think about the book i could be reading (atonement, by ian mcewan) and the nalgene full of water sitting in my hut that i purposely didn't bring because i thought it was too heavy. i buy a 50 CFA bissap juice (500CFA = $1USD, fyi) but it does nothing but make me want more liquid satiation so i cave and risk my life by buying some shady 25CFA ndox bu sed ("cold water" aka tepid water) in a plastic bag that reminds me too much of a silicone breast implant. i drink 2 more afterwards. we'll see what happens in the next few days (i'm pretty sure i will get sick).

at first i really had no idea how i was going to last until 5 at the luma because it was freakin' hot and i had absolutely nothing to do! turns out i wound up having a lot of fun chatting with people, staring and/or spacing out, and talla showed me around and i got to see where they sell cows and goats. there were so many people to talk to and everywhere i went there was somebody to greet. i surprised talla -- and myself, too -- with my ability to speak wolof and when i was at ease i was even able to banter with a few clear speakers. regardless, everybody (literally) was pleased with my efforts and by the end of the day everywhere i went i would hear "aissatou! aissatou!" i'm like a rockstar here and i don't even deserve it.

i was also able to establish a good rapport with talla today. not that our relationship was ever particularly strained but i guess it is in my nature to be wary of men. however, today i was able to see him in his element and he got to see me interact with more than just the compound (the majority of which are children and seriously, how much do i have to say to kids??) so i think we have a better understanding of each other. he really is well respected in the community and was very helpful in introducing me and helping me with names. he's a cool cat and if this keeps up, he will be a good counterpart.

so the exhausting day at the market finally ended and while i was feeling good from all the fun i just had, i couldn't wait to go home and bucket bathe and relax. but i was giddy and pleased with the way things turned out and as i sat on the wetire i couldn't help but think "is this really my life? did i really chat in wolof all day and experience the market in rural senegal?? am i really riding a horse-drawn charette through the african bush passing by baobabs and desert dates and under the great african sky with the blazing sun setting down for the day??? is this really happening?!" and just as my thoughts get more ridiculous and elaborate and over-embellished, the wetir goes careening out of control and i am almost thrown off as the wetir and horse go out of control resulting in a broken wheel and no possible way to fix it. thanks for the reality check!

we spend the next hour sitting on the side of the dirt/sand road waiting for talla's homie to show up and help fix the wetire. meanwhile, the little goat that was part of the load is pitifully bleating and the horse takes a massive dump. being that the road we are on is the only road, of course everyone and their mom saw our broken wetir and had a comment for talla about it. i'm sure it didn't make things better for him to have a random toubab as part of his entourage (2 others and a goat) and of course everybody had something to say about that too. because we "broke down" in the middle of the road, i also get to witness many intense near-wetir accidents and traffic jams and at one point have to literally jump up from where i'm sitting and run for my life because some dude can not control his 3-donkey charette and directs it right in my way. i, however, remain surprisingly calm and stree-free througout this entire ordeal -- i suppose because the reality of the situation is that this is just how it goes and what can i possibly do about it than roll with the punches?

eventually i hitch a ride with a few other guys who are going through my village. pretty uneventful, other than the pleasing fact that they want to know where i am from and suggest italy, spain, or germany as my country of origin.

Friday, November 16, 2007

installation day

is this really happening? am i really sitting in my hut writing by candlelight (2 candles stuck in gazelle beer bottles) in the middle of the african bush? YES. it is. and its crazy. the day has been surprisingly stable although my brain activity is going nuts. but no gut wrenching feelings of fear or regret. in fact, this all feels quite natural and when the peace corps car drove away, i was actually rather relieved to be on my own and to get started.

how can i even go about explaining this day?? it started very early: me, JC, and kyle had one PC landcruiser to load up all of our stuff -- including ourselves -- which i found to be rather ridiculous but our driver eventually managed to get everything loaded and with a good amount of leg room to spare.

so we're driving through the bush to install me and we come up to a village and my heart starts to beat faster and the apprehension grows and i am feeling all kinds of jittery excitement and am secretly kind of disappointed that there are no baobabs...and we drive right through it. faked out! and proof that i really have no idea where the hell i am going, where i am on a map, and if i'll ever actually really figure that out.

anyhow, one thing that is nice is that the bush is actually pretty. my first impression of the kaffrine region was that it was plain and ugly and we kind of bummed that i would be surrounded by dirt and dust and sand. but as we're driving to my village i am seeing beauty everywhere!

we keep driving and all of a sudden i hear bamba exclaim "talla ka!" and i look out the window and see a dude on a rusty dinky motorbike wobbling down the sand road with his blue boubou billowing after him. we follow him. clearly we are almost there. my heart is beating a little faster. i see some huts in the distance and suddenly there is a hoard of young boys yelling and cheering and pumping their fists and chasing the car and there is even a boy on a regally decorated horse galloping behind us. at first i think the boys are harrassing us -- not cheering our arrival -- and i am literally saying out loud, "please don't be my village boys, please don't be my village boys." bus seriously, it was beautiful and all my feelings of fear being to dissipate as we come up to this beautiful village flanked with fields and baobabs and wide-eyed cream colored cows. i am greeted by all 280 (and more) villagers and a sabaar with children clapping and women dancing and all i can see are wonderful faces and smiles and all sorts of whirling brightly patterned colors from the women's clothes. i have never been so well received! never in my life have i had an entire community stop their daily activities to say hello to me.

the sabaar stops as we climb out of the car and i am led to a table where i sit and the children are arranged in front of me and they sing me a song of welcome (in french). many speeches are made -- all very encouraging and warm and assuring. bamba encourages me to say something so i muster up the courage and stammer out some weak wolof sentences about being happy to live there and hoping that we will work and live well together and that i will try hard to learn wolof and help. i'm not sure at all if any of what i say makes sense but everybody cheers and seems to comprehend -- or maybe they are just very excited and want to cheer.

i then walk to my hut and my village really is very nice. clean and crips and organized and well constructed. we come upon my family compound and my brand spankin' new hut. small but strong and well-constructed. my walls are even painted a bright happy green! the yard is spacious and the douche is brande new and very nice. even my fence is brand new, so much so that the seeds are still falling off from the dried grass. everybody wants to see my hut so they all squeeze in and examine everything. it really is a nice hut. we are served lots of soow (kawga steezy) and i can't drink much more than half a cup. soow, by the way, is milk straight from the cow and left out in the sun/heat to ferment -- a type of yogurt, i suppose. its good but new and bamba tells me that i am not obliged to drink it all and then talla forces more on him and he can't refuse and reluctantly drinks the rest (ha!).

eventually the PC crew peaces out and its just me and my village. i re-enter my hut and see that a group of men (key players of the community, presumably) have all settled down in the hut to chill and talk. i am a little worried because PC and other PCVs have always told us to set our boundaries ASAP regarding people in your hut but then i don't want to evict them when thay all probably built this hut and moreover, they're letting me -- a female -- in on their boy's club so i let them chill and figure i will enforce boundaries tomorrow. they hang out there for a while and eventually i stop trying to comprehend and start to space out and accidentally fail to stifle a yawn and they all jump up and bustle out. so that's all it takes.

now i have time to rest and get my hut in order. i do this for the next few hours but everybody keeps coming in to feed me watermelon, maffe (kawga steezy, as well), and to help me arrange things. my hut is so nice and pretty and the village is so motivated and i live under three huge baobab trees. i am happy.

at some point i go to fetch water with one of my moms (did i ever learn her name?? is it too late to ask??) and i ask where the well is. she laughs and tells me they have a robinet. we have running water! (thank you, world vision!) still, the communal robinet is a ways off and it is a lot of work to carry (on your head) the bucket full of water. all the women want me to carry it but my mom doesn't take them seriously and does it for me but i think i will learn to do this soon so that i integrate myself into the community and not add onto my mothers' already heavy workload. the women point to objects and ask me what they are. luckily i know the words for donkey, horse, charette, sheep, and goat in wolof and they are all pleased and proclaim i can speak wolof (wait till they try to have a real conversation with me!).

the day also includes a one hour nap, watching more dacing, discovering that i have misplaced both my flashlight and headlamp, and lots of communication blunder. whatever, i have 2 years to get this language down and i feel like for a first day i'm not doing too bad. i'm really tired and we have a dog that won't stop barking (probably because of the strange toubab presence) but i choose sleep over all things right now. this is a crazy experience. it really has begun.

things to do:
- see fields and gardens
- learn names!
- discuss with talla what to call him. dad? brother? talla?
- find out my moms' names (discreetly!)
- find out just how many little kids live in my compound? (so many!)
- maybe figure out where i am on a map?
- set boundaries and enforce them

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

kaolack & cat fiascos

the past few days have been spent in kaolack, a sprawling and somewhat unaesthetically pleasing city that is my new regional base. despite its appearance, i like it and am becoming familiar with the area. i have been biding my time by going to the market -- west africa's second largest covered market -- every day to buy items for my new hut that i will be moving into tomorrow morning at 9AM. thankfully we have had a few other volunteers who have been here for a while and know the whole deal helping us out with the bargaining and finding of things or else i would be completely lost and confused. since monday, PCVs have been carted around the country of senegal and installed to their new sites and since i am one of the later PCVs to be installed, it has been exciting and nerve-wracking to witness them leaving the house with all their belongings as well as receiving relieved and/or freaked out text messages about the installations.

i have a new mailing address that you can send letters and/or packages to. i share it with a bunch of other PCVs (to keep the costs down) and it is under another volunteers name, so please address all items as follows:

Lauren Banta
ATTN: PCV Angelica Kang
Corps de la Paix
BP 493
Kaolack, Senegal
West Africa

i am enjoying my new title as an official PCV and excited for everything to start. otherwise i don't have that much to say because things have been pretty chill (yet i am always exhausted? strange.)

i have really been wanting to get a kitten for my hut but since there aren't really shelters or pet stores here, have just been waiting for the opportunity. the other day i was at the market waiting for some people to buy vegetables and was just wandering around when i came upon 3 adorable kittens playing in a basket. most of the kittens here have been kind of ratty and not so cute but these 3 were adorable and hearty and i definitely squealed a little about it. so i called my friend over to come see them and as soon as i did, i was surrounded by a bunch of little boys yelling at me to take the kittens (senegalese don't look upon cats very fondly). at that moment i thought that perhaps this was my moment to seize so i was like, "really? i can take them?" and they were all "yes! yes! take them! take them away!" so i started to reach for one and then they all started to yell all kinds of things like "they are good for eating!" and all these guys started to come over to help me grab the cats. of course the kittens freaked out with all the noise and clamor and immediately dispersed and ran in all directions so i was unable to grab them. so everybody is yelling and laughing and grabbing for the kittens and the kittens look terrified and i am being pushed around and there is just no way that this is going the way i want it to. so i start yelling "bay ko! bay ko!" which means "forget it! leave it!" in wolof but nobody is listening and at one point i even somehow get smacked (unintentionally) in the face. finally this guy grabs the one kitten i wouldn't want (the ugliest of the three) by the tail and is lifting it up in the air and it's freaking out and screaming and i'm freaking out and screaming and reaching for it and it gnashes all its little teeth at me and the guy drops it and it runs away and i decide that that is a good time for me to run away too.

the end.
and so the adventure continues...

write me letters!
i will have lots of time in the bush to write back so i promise i will write you if you write me.

happy thanksgiving (a bit early) and i will talk to you all soon.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

sworn in

i took my oath (and signed it too) yesterday at the ambassador's residence in dakar and am now an official peace corps volunteer. hooray!

performing the skit was a fairly traumatizing experience that involved not looking up from my script because i didn't want to remember that there was an RTS1 camera filming everything for the intents and purposes of broadcasting the thing across the country, forgetting to speak into the microphone for 80% of the time (we never practiced with microphones!), losing the script for one of the scenes and not knowing my lines, ripping (and thus breaking) the zipper on my skirt when i knelt for a scene (thankfully it was hidden by my top but imagine the fear that went through my heart when that would not be cool for all of senegal to see me bust open a zipper!), and being terrified of making my stage look bad.

in my mind's eye i don't really remember what happened but i had a few randoms tell me that my wolof was very good (despite not having memorized my lines) and my family in thies was tickled pink to have seen me on tv. i had told them i had a role in the skit but they didn't know i was playing the main role (simply b/c i don't know how to say that in wolof) so they all freaked out when they saw it on tv. moreover, all their friends called at some point last night to be like "we saw aicha on tv!" even better, i was in the market trying to buy pillows ("njegenay" in wolof), and the jaykat (vendor) recognized me and JC from the skit/television. he did not give us a discount.

so, ladies and gentleman, apparently i am now a rockstar in senegal.

after swear-in, we returned to thies from dakar and had a host-family appreciation dinner/party where there was a lot of food and dancing involved. the dance party extended way into the evening and after the family members left, the new volunteers and trainers continued sweating and dancing to 2AM in the lunch-hut-turned-dance-floor. i love that everybody here dances and i love their steezy and i am committed to learning how to dance like a senegalese by the end of my two years here.

i spent the night at the center along with a bunch of others and we stayed up, enjoying each other's company for what would be the last time for a while because this morning we shipped off a load of volunteers to kolda and kedegou. the sending out of volunteers has begun and we are being sent out to the far corners of the country (for some of us, quite literally) and we won't be together again until february when we all caucus in thies for 3 weeks of in-service training (IST).

i depart thies tomorrow at 6AM and have spent the day packing up (or at least trying to) my mess of a life into two bags and it has brought back many memories of when i was just getting ready to leave the states for senegal. it seems very far away but then again, i remember it clearly and then it doesn't seem too long ago. life has changed very much from since then. i wonder if i have changed. i know that i have in the sense that i look like shit everyday and don't care as much (but still a little) but in terms of the bigger things, i don't know.

my host family has been amazing and we are sad to be leaving each other. my sisters here have been absolutely marvelous and i will miss them. i got the three of us matching bracelets as a thank you gift and i hope that can convey my appreciation for them, because lord knows i can't express it in wolof very well. they let me choose all the meals for the day because they know that very soon, i will be eating village style aka millet everyday (maybe). so i just had an amazing lunch (one of my favorite dishes) and stuffed myself silly because i know that i won't be able to indulge like this for a while. dinner should be equally if not more amazing tonight and i am even getting tchaikry (spelling?) for dessert. tchaikry is this delicious lait caille and millet dish that is terribly addictive and i think about it every day but get it very seldom so i am very excited. my sisters are both excellent cooks and while i have heard many horror stories about the different kinds of foods other stagieres/volunteers experience at their homestays, i have never had a day of bad food in this house. if you've noticed some chub on me in the pictures i posted (flickr's been updated again!), it's because if i'm not studying wolof, i'm eating. i figure it's okay, as i need the fat reserves for village life.

a week from today i will be living in a mud hut with a straw roof. it's mind-bottling, really, and i am pumped. the next time i write, i should be in kaolack! (inshallah)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

this is it!

we received our last assessments today and it has been confirmed that i will be installed on site next week! all the AGFOs did really well and will all be sworn in and sent to site. i am really proud of us, as we are an awesome sector and i think we are going to do great things here in senegal.

in order to be sworn in one must get at least an 80% on the agfo tree test (tree identification) and reach the level of intermediate low in language. i -- alxamdoulilah -- got a 110% on the tree test (the extra 10% because i knew the tree names in wolof, when we were only required to know them in latin) and reached intermediate high on my wolof exam. i found all of this out literally like, 30 minutes ago, and it is just now hitting me that in a few days my life is about to change completely...again. i am very excited but simultaneously terrified.

swear-in happens on friday in dakar and i will be wearing my corite outfit, which i am not the biggest fan of -- you can see pictures of it on my flickr -- but appreciate very much because my wonderful host family bought me the fabric as a welcome gift. (yes, i finally updated my flickr, but have not been taking many pictures and they are in backwards chronological order. i promise i will take more pictures once i get on site.). i also somehow wound up getting thr the lead part in the 10-15 minute skit that we will be performing at swear-in that demonstrates what we've learned about senegal and its culture. might i mention that all my lines are in wolof and sprinkled with seerer, pulafunta, fulakunda, mandinka, and jaxonke? might i also mention that they air peace corps swear-ins on RTS1 -- the national television channel? so there is a huge chance that a large part of the electricity-privileged-tv-owning population of senegal will see me stumbling over my lines in wolof. hooray! granted, it will probably only be 5 minutes of air time but being that i am in every scene of this skit, i'm pretty sure i will be seen.

tomorrow is the last day of pre-service training and i will be spending most of it plucking chicken feathers. after swear-in on friday we will be having a big party for ourselves, the trainers, and our host families (hence the chickens) at the training center and then on saturday, people start trickling out of thies and heading to their sites. it is a bizarre and crazy feeling and while i am excited for this, i am also somewhat sad because i have made some really wonderful friends and some of them are going far away. i will not see these cats for another 3 months (until in-service training), which may not seem like much, but then consider the fact that i have been with these people literally every single day since i left new jersey for this crazy adventure.

on sunday i leave thies for kaolack (my new region) and will be there until thursday. i stay in kaolack to purchase things for my new hut and to hang out with other current PCVs and to meet some of the eaux et foret peeps that i will be working with for the next two years. thursday, i get installed and the crazy adventure that is my life in the african bush will begin.

(if you want to write me letters/packages, stop sending them to the thies address. i will be getting a new postal address in kaolack and will post the new address as soon as i can. also, i am transitioning into a life of no electricity, running water, or internet so from now on out, letters will be far better than emails -- though emails will still be appreciated!)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

there's no stopping it now

PST is coming to an end and the scariest day of my life is quickly approaching!

i get sworn in as an official PCV on friday and will be installed in my site not this thursday but next. the idea of going to site is both exhilarating and terrifying. i met my counterpart (the community member who will essentially be my wingman in my agroforestry attempts) this week during counterpart workshop. it also turns out that he will be my host-father and i will be living with him for the next two years. things didn't go as well as i wanted, as my wolof escapes me as soon as i get nervous and i am terribly nervous around him. despite having received top marks in wolof, i feel terribly unprepared in my language abilities and can't even picture what the next few weeks of my life will be like...other than traumatizing. but then again, there is no stopping this train and i am committed to riding this whole thing out so i am just going to take things as they are and live a day at a time.

if you were planning on sending me any letters/care packages, you may want to hold off as i am moving soon and getting a new address. i will notify you all of the new address as soon as i find it out.

my apologies for the lack of descriptive and/or exciting things to write about. plenty has been happening but i find it harder and harder to write about it as all the little mishaps and miscommunications are becoming a part of daily life and daily life is difficult to write about.

peace and justice,
angelica (aka aicha sagna soon to be aissatou ka)