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.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The cockroach game

The cockroach game is not only a catchy title (I'm sure it at least made you stop whatever you were doing, eh?) but also one of the many daily adventures that I have here in Senegal! Yes, I am afraid of nearly all insects but cockroaches instill a special level of fear in my heart. I'm pretty sure that they are immortal; this is where the game part comes in. If you stomp on one and then lift your foot, it miraculously runs away! They also tend to sneak up on you when you are most vulnerable. This is typically when you're squatting to use the Turkish toilet, getting ready to bucket bathe or really anytime when you are indisposed. If you wash one down the drain or toilet, oh, it will crawl right back up. And did I mention that they aren't afraid of humans whatsoever? One jumped (yes, jumped, or maybe flew, whatever those creatures do) right down my shirt the other day which resulted in me squealing hysterically before flinging it out of there. The cockroach game is by no means any fun, but it is one of many we get to play here in Africa.

In other news, my last few weeks at my first Senegalese home are winding down and I definitely have mixed emotions. One part of me can't wait to move onto my permanent village, begin to get settled in, and start working on projects. Another part of me, though, is going to really miss my first family. From my little 3-year old nephew just straight up vomiting on me mid-sentence to my brother attempting to teach me chess in French (a game I don't even understand in English); everyday is an adventure for me here. I've developed a strong bond with my mother here. The other day she knew, without me saying a word, that I was feeling a little down. She proceeded to come and sit by me and just held my hand. She didn't need to say anything, that small display of affection was enough to comfort and calm me. It's weird how much I miss human contact but I come from a family that is very affectionate so to not have that daily reassurance is slightly disconcerting. When this human contact doesn't work, I've found that I can escape to the roof of my little home. Up there I can "do my exercises" (aka dance around like a maniac to alleviate my stress a bit) without any interruptions; other than my nephews sneaking up to laugh at me from time to time. Moral of the story is that I've finally found my routine here, only to be uprooted again, such is the life of a Peace Corps volunteer.

I think I'll end this here by just saying that I officially swear in as a Volunteer in less than 2 weeks! I'm excited, nervous, scared, relieved and a whole bunch of other things. I'll be sure to keep you updated as it gets closer.

In the meantime, as always, thanks for reading!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

1 month down, 25 to go!

The title of this entry is mostly a joke because I'm not really counting down the days (that would be toxic and pointless as I truly want to be here) but it just hit me that I have already been in Africa for a month now! That is crazy! So much of this adventure truly resembles the most wild rollercoaster ride that I have ever been on. I have already experienced many ups and downs and I've only been here for a month (as you may know by now).

I'll start with one of my latest downs and what I truly think has been the root of a lot of my initial discomforts here. As most of my friends and family know, I have been to Africa before. I was fortunate enough to get to experience the east coast of Africa when I visited Tanzania. I went with a bunch of other students from my college to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and work with a few local orphanages. Climbing Kilimanjaro was incredible and I was very proud of myself but I was even more proud and at peace sitting in the dirt and playing with the orphaned children. I always had the idea of applying for the Peace Corps in the back of my mind but it was then that I realized this idea had to become a reality. The people of Tanzania were incredibly friendly. Everywhere we went they wanted to talk to us and be our friends. I felt immediately welcomed and almost as if I belonged there. Senegal has been a little bit different. It's not that I haven't felt welcome (Senegalese people are nothing but hospitable) but I also never remembered feeling this much like a tourist or an outsider while I was in Tanzania. Peace Corps is invited to the countries and communities that it serves in. Volunteers are here to help and to be integrated into the culture. Obviously that will come in time but it has just been something I've had a little bit of a hard time with.
Now, some of the good stuff. These are in no specific order, I just like to write down things as they come to me that have made me smile over the past few weeks. This is also all stuff that has happened at my Senegalese home (funny, culturally awkward things typically don't happen at the Training Center when I'm surrounded by other Americans).
My family is extremely kind to me. They always remember when I like something and try to give me as much of it as they can. This means lots of mangoes, chocolate, candies and more. I have two nephews that are 7 and 3 with whom the bonding has been interesting. The 7 year old and I get along great and he loves to tell me in explicit detail (in French) whatever may be happening right at the moment it's happening - "Alexx, I am whistling, do you know how to whistle? Oh look, that frog is jumping towards us, etc." The bonding with my 3 year old nephew though has been slightly different. He's really not used to being around strangers (white people) and has had a hard time warming up to me. That is, until I spent one evening teaching them how to do push-ups (real ones, man style). They thought me getting down on the floor was just about the funniest thing they had ever seen and proceeded to make me do push-up after push-up (about the most action my arms have seen in months). It was great fun.
Those of you that know me well know that I'm not the most fashion saavy person in America, let alone when living in Africa. Therefore, whenever I wear something that is even remotely good looking (aka skinny jeans instead of my typical loose north face pants) my family hoots and hollers and their favorite English way of telling me I look halfway decent is "You are fashion!" Cracks me up every time.
My mom has taught me the Senegalese way of cutting onions. This entails no cutting board and holding them in my hand. I proceeded to cut about 12 onions by hand and only nicked myself once which I consider a raging success.
The final funny thought I'll leave you with tonight has to do with the name of one of my brothers. This particular brother resides mainly in Dakar (the capital of Senegal) so I rarely see him and only met him recently. I didn't know his name originally so I would hear my family talking about someone they referred to as Peace Co (at least this was how my American English brain heard and spelled what they were saying). For the longest time, I assumed this person that they were adamantly talking about was me. I thought they had nicknamed me Peace Co (short for Peace Corps) and were CONSTANTLY mocking me right in front of me because I couldn't understand the local language they were speaking. Only when I finally confronted the situation in my broken French did I come to learn that Pisco is definitely not me but my little brother! This situation still provides a good laugh for me and my family from time to time.
I'm sure there's tons more but I'm about spent on blog time plus, word around the center is that we get pizza for dinner so I'm definitely going to go check that out.
As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wait, where's Utah?

I felt this title was appropriate because it sums up a lot of what I am feeling over here lately. I'm feeling a little bit of identity loss. It's been happening so strongly that Utah seems as if it's slowly falling out of existence. Now, a loss of identity can definitely be good and necessary as well as terrifying. Most of my conversations here go as follows:

Bonjour! Ca va? Ah, ca va bien merci! D'ou venez vous? Je viens des Etats-Unis, l'Utah c'est mon etat.  This results in a blank gaze....followed by "Ohh Utah." Even though 90% of the time no one still knows where I'm talking about. Thank God we had the 2002 Winter Olympics there or we'd be completely off the grid! Oh and for those of you that couldn't pick up on that dialogue. I basically go through the hi, how are you/where are you from conversation resulting in the Utah dilemma. Everyone has pride associated with where they are from, whether or not they like to admit it. It can be incredibly disarming for no one to even have an accurate idea of the place you called home for 23 years. 

Speaking of that place I call home. The strangest things can set me off into thinking about home and they usually hit me out of nowhere like a ton of bricks. Sometimes I will catch a whiff of aftershave or different colognes that remind me of my dad. I will hear a song that reminds me of certain people or just America in general. Among other things, I miss the independence I had back home. It's difficult to just get up and go to the gym (by gym I mean go lift rocks up and down outside) or have the ability to fend for myself at meal times. Basically I miss being able to call the shots in my own life. Hopefully once I install at my site I will be able to cook for myself a little and develop a sort of routine in order to feel more at home. In America people typically  have a way of measuring if their day was successful. Maybe you got a lot done at work or you went to the gym and had a hard work out, etc. Here, I don't get that successful day to day feeling which can be difficult. 

Another frustration that I'm dealing with is the language immersion. I have been placed in a fairly large town because the language I am intensively learning is French. This can be good and bad. I'm excited because I get to really hone my French and truly become fluent but it's frustrating because most local people speak Wolof or another language among each other. This can result in hours of sitting around knowing people are talking about me (because they glance my way and giggle) and not knowing what's being said. Back home you guys might just be having a lazy summer day but here there just is no such thing at this point. Even on the days that I don't have anything scheduled, my brain is constantly working. 

Enough of the negative stuff though! Yesterday my language teacher took us to meet with a local painter. This man told me about a Peace Corps volunteer that he worked with a few years ago. He told me about how much she helped him in his work. She helped him reach larger markets and improve his business skills immensely. A Peace Corps saying we heard recently is, "In your Peace Corps service, you will help plant trees whose shade you will not get to sit under." I think this is completely accurate in the case of this other volunteer. She may not know how much of an impact she had on this artisans life but now I know. The people of Senegal know. Most importantly, he knows the success that he is capable of. A common frustration among current volunteers is that they feel like they aren't making any sort of progress. Instances such as this make me realize that we may never know the impact of our service but it is there and is incredibly powerful.