Please note that the opinions reflected on this blog are solely MY opinion. They do not reflect the Peace Corps or the US Government in any way.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Je m'appelle Aisha

So, my Senegalese family decided to name me, Aicha (Aisha?), after one of the wives of the prophet Mohammed. I am quite honored because it's a name that comes with a lot of dignity and respect. My family here consists of Mama Oumi, 5 brothers, 1 sister, 1 cousin, and 2 nephews...I think. I'm not sure because, in Senegal, people are constantly coming in and out of our house. I think it's partly because the little white girl from Utah has become quite a spectacle here. My nephews will literally just sit and stare at me for hours. In other family news, communication has been fairly easy. I got lucky (or unlucky, depends how you look at it really) and have a brother who speaks fluent English, French and the local language Wolof. He mainly tries to speak to me in French though but is definitely a good translator for when the whole family is speaking Wolof and I just stare with a dumbfounded expression on my face. My family has been incredibly hospitable and literally try to do everything for me. It's been a challenge to tell them that I can handle getting a bucket of water for my bucket bath by myself. Oh yes, bucket baths. Give me a bucket, little bit of water and some soap and I'm good for weeks! Truthfully though, I really don't mind taking them. I am here to see and experience how this culture lives and that means participating in every detail that I can.

I'd like to talk a little about the way family and my daily life works here in Senegal. We typically get up fairly early and have our baguette and coffee. I then ride my bike (if you don't hear from me for a few weeks it's because people here drive like maniacs and mowed me down) to my language teacher Assane's house. We typically have French for about 3 hours then I go home for lunch. Lunch is pretty much always rice, vegetables and fish. After lunch, more language which can eventually turn into a little American culture lesson for our teacher. He now knows how to say "what's up" to his homies. Dinner in Senegal is delicious. We usually have rice again, some random meat, and more vegetables. The sauce here is really spicy and fantastic and they put it on everything. In between meals I try to get to know my family and become comfortable in my new situation.

There are definitely good days and bad days just like anywhere else. I will be getting along great with my family, loving the food, speaking lots of French then have a dream about being home and come crashing on down. Overall though the people are very happy to have us here and respect the work that we are trying to do.

I know that I had more to say but my brain is on overload right now. I'll try to write more next time but for now, thanks for following me for the journey of a lifetime!


Friday, June 15, 2012

Bienvenue a Senegal!

After a 7-hour flight to Brussels, 2-hour layover, 6-hour flight to Nairobi, 2-hour layover, then a 2-hour flight to Dakar, I have finally made it to Senegal! We got here pretty late on Wednesday so the Peace Corps put us up in a hotel right on the coast of Dakar. It was gorgeous (at least for the 5 minutes I could look at it the next morning) but we all bee-lined for bed. I don't think I had ever been so tired. At least 30 hours of consisitent traveling will do that to you, along with a 5 AM wake-up call. But, alas, (after, I'm pretty sure, inhaling a mosquito in my sleep) we finally made it to our Training Center in Thies, Senegal.

We were welcomed very warmly by the staff and other volunteers. After a few brief introductions we went straight into training for the entire day. Who knows how to use a squat toilet? I sure do! With only 8 short weeks to learn everything you can about an entirely new culture including their language, they don't give you much downtime. The long day was followed by an even longer evening when I couldn't connect to the internet. This seems like a minute problem but when you've had a long day, even the smallest problems can feel catastrophic. On a positive note, the training day ended well when a drum circle was started and local kids came and danced with us. One small boy in particular came and stood next to me and just grabbed my hand out of nowhere. That small gesture refocused me and reminded me why I wanted to come back to Africa in the first place.

Fast-forward to the night of mosquito bites, intense heat, and a certain cat making it's way into our room (I'm now positive that the cats here are spider felines as my roommates and I were awoken by one literally climbing the screen INSIDE our room. Not entirely sure how it even got in there which was slightly disconcerting considering the size of the rats they have here). Anyway, today has been more training and placement interviews to determine where exactly we will be going and what language we need to focus on. Bonjour francais, so we meet again. The rest of the afternoon will be spent with more immunizations (no rabies for me!), cultural training, and crash courses in the local language.

I'm feeling a mix of emotions about this entire process. I go through intense thoughts of fear and doubts about my ability to handle this. I miss home, familiarity, and my loving network of people that surrounded me there. I truly have no room to talk, though. There are people that have been here 2 years or longer. They have loved ones back home, they don't like the heat or bugs and they certainly get lonely. Yet they are here, handling it, and loving it.

Above all, I'm going to push on. Whenever I'm discouraged I just have to remember that little boy who grabbed my hand. He really is what this is all about. Creating a better future for the people of Africa and letting them see how positive a relationship with Americans really can be.

Lots of love.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Waiting Game

Well. Here I am sitting in the airport. When this moment came I figured that I would be sitting here bawling, making a huge scene, pretty much horrifying small children around me. But, I'm oddly serene (well maybe not serene, but numb). Don't get me wrong saying goodbye to everyone was one of the hardest things that I've ever had to do. People say that all the time - Oh man, this test is the hardest thing, this task at work, this paper, blah blah. But you have your friends and family to get you through those things. I will tell you, leaving your entire family and friends behind and going to depart on a plane for a country that I've never been to that is an entirely new culture...THAT is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. The most difficult part is that I'm choosing to do this. I'm not being sent away, I'm going on my own free will and that almost makes it harder. Lucky for me I have an incredibly supportive network around me who constantly assure me that what I'm doing is the right thing for me and that they are SO proud. Yes, that helps. And in reality, if I wasn't going off into the Peace Corps and just sitting at my mundane jobs, not knowing what I wanted to do, I'd feel a hell of a lot worse.

So, here we go, begins the waiting game to actually get to Africa. I will be leaving for New York flying into JFK at 5:10 PM, get there around midnight, shuttle it to my hotel then pass out face down from all the crying I've been doing. Tomorrow we have an orientation which I am very excited for. I get to meet all of the wonderful people I'll be training with and forming relationships with over the next 2 years. Then, Tuesday it's off to Brussels, layover, then SENEGAL. Ahhh!! After arrival it's 3 months of intensive training (learning the language, culture, and technical skills). Then it's off to our individual sites (if I can handle everything to the levels I need to be sworn in as an actual volunteer).

Sometimes I'm not sure if this is really happening. It almost feels like I'm living the life of someone else. Watching this person pack up two 50 pound bags, not knowing if she'll really be prepared enough. But how does one get prepared for something like this? I'm going to embrace the unexpected and make the best out of each situation that I find myself in.

This has been incredibly scattered so basically I'm in the airport. Tomorrow I'll be in New York. Tuesday I will be in Brussels. Wednesday I will be in Senegal. I am terrified, thrilled, devastated and honored. I will try to write another post once I arrive in Senegal at the Training Center.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!