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, January 28, 2013

The Roundabout Way

I was reading through some of my old entries the other day and I think I’ve failed to talk about what actual work I’m doing here. That is, besides the work of everyday getting up and speaking/talking/thinking in several different languages while doing my best to integrate into a small African village (patting self on back, hehe). I have explained my program and the work that I am supposed to be doing but that has become different than reality. Yes, I am still a community economic development (CED, acronyms, love them) volunteer but I live in a village meaning my projects are not quite on the same scale as other CED volunteers. My primary sector was supposed to be eco-tourism but the main hotel I was going to work with is having issues with financing and it is unfortunately more than I could hope to write a grant for. Key words used being supposed. Therefore, I have begun to forge my own way and discover different outlets for better utilizing my time here. My last post was a bit despondent and I’m going to try my best to not go to that place again. I think I was still in shock with my parents leaving and getting back to my village. It was almost like leaving Utah all over again except the first time I was at least excited and unaware of what I was facing. Anyway, I currently have a few things going on that are keeping me… somewhat occupied; busy is too strong of a word.

I have started an informal English class with some artists. My class consists of 5 full grown men who make and try to sell artwork, dresses, little statues, jewelry and other stuff to tourists. They want to learn English so that they can increase their client base. I have never taught English before or anything really, so this has been an interesting process. The first class I proceeded to just try my best to gauge their various levels and the most successful way I could go about teaching them. Each week is a learning experience but so far they have been very receptive and seem truly appreciative of the time that I’m spending with them. Another project that I have is an English/Environmental Club at the middle/high school. We have only met a couple of times and each time the number increases slightly (I’m up to 5 kids now…). The purpose of the club is simply for the kids to have a place to play games, review lessons and practice speaking English outside of school. I am going to do my best to implement projects such as learning how to compost and starting a school garden to make them more environmentally conscious. That sounds so boring when I write it out like that… I promise that we have fun too. This week we are reviewing body parts and playing Simon Says, talk about a good time!

The final larger project that I am working on is teaching a course called Junior Achievement at the elementary schools in my village. Junior Achievement is, “an organization dedicated to the education of students on the knowledge of the economy and business. The goal of Junior Achievement is to inspire and prepare the youth for success.” It’s also about getting kids thinking about their future and possible career paths they might want to pursue. My class is about 25 kids between the ages of 9 and 14. Kids here all start school at different ages depending on when their parents let them go and/or can afford it. I think this also depends on how much their French improves as time goes on. Oh yeah, did I mention I’m teaching this completely in French? Good thing I’m at about the same language level as these kids. A highlight of my first lesson was when I proposed the question of what these kids wanted to be when they grow up. No one ever asks them something like that. Most kids weren’t even sure how to respond but I had one who was confident and quick in his response. I thought that he said a doctor; turns out he wants to be a wrestler, classic mix-up.

Along with the previously mentioned projects I’m working on some smaller scale things such as trying to formulate a grant for a possible youth center to be built in my village and I’m also serving as a co-coordinator for my work zone. This basically means that I am in charge of possible cross-sector collaborative work, projects and the facilitation of these things. Soooo if you’re still reading this, that pretty much catches you up on all of my wordy work-related info.

Anyway, lately I’ve been feeling real philosophical and thinking a lot about fate and how crucial of a role that timing plays in our lives. This might be largely due to reading some interesting books and possibly also due to the fact that every time I log into Facebook it seems like someone else is getting engaged or some other life changing event. Is there something in the water over there in good old America? It’s pretty crazy though to sit and wonder where I might be and what I’d be doing if this Peace Corps thing wouldn’t have worked out. I know this experience is going to shape the rest of my life, how could it not? The question is how much is it going to shape?

At times I find myself jealous of the normality that I see every day following other peoples’ lives. Did they have to get up this morning and heat a pot of water to make their bucket bath lukewarm? Do they have to think through almost everything they say, before they say it, but then still walk away after conversations with a dumb-founded look on their faces? Do they have to constantly prove their worth being a woman living in a male-dominated, chauvinistic society? Yes, I chose this, and most days I’m happy about my decision. My fear though, is what if I’m never going to be content settling down? Most of my life has been spent chasing after the next adventure. What am I really searching for?

I wonder how much will and won’t have changed by the time I come back home. I wonder how much I will have changed. I already find myself flabbergasted by some of the things that used to seem so important. I don’t think I was ever that concerned with make-up, fancy clothes or stuff like that but here, I don’t even own a mirror. I guess all I can really hope for is that one day I will look back and be proud of the decisions that I made and the person that I’ve become. Right now, I can’t help but feel like I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. Sure, sometimes it’s really hard to see the normalcy of other peoples’ lives but maybe my life wasn’t meant to follow that “normal” path.

I suppose I’ll end this post by saying that I am not accusing anyone of living a lesser life, or a better one, than anyone else. I think we all feel where our paths are leading us and some of us are maybe just taking a more roundabout way. I also realize that not everyone has had the opportunities that I have had to be able to follow my adventurous itch and for that, as I’ve stated many times before, I am incredibly grateful.

Until next time,


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Take that, Mayans!

Well. It’s officially January 2013 and we’re all still here! The world didn’t end after all. The funny thing is how little attention I paid to that nonsense until Senegalese people started asking me about it. I should have realized they are a suspicious bunch in general but the fact that even people in my small village had heard about this had me slightly on edge that fateful day. But, alas, here we all are.

After the apocalyptic scare (silly Mayans) I was able to kick back and enjoy the holidays. Christmas Eve and Day were spent with my good friends from my training group simply enjoying one another. I have always thought Christmas was incredibly commercialized and materialistic and that thought was further confirmed this holiday season. There was no enormous, lavishly decorated Christmas tree surrounded by hundreds of presents that no one really needs. There was no mad dash to the mall and ensuing stampede to find that perfect gift. There was, simply put, love. Christmas Eve was full of laughs, great food and each other’s company. Downtown Dakar (where we spent most of our time) was even decorated with beautiful lights. Christmas Day was spent playing a round of white elephant (I came away with a blow-up santa, score!) and exchanging our secret Santa gifts. We put a $10 limit on purchases and yet each was heartfelt and perfect for the recipient. I personally received a beautiful scarf and candle for my room. The rest of the day was spent in anticipation of my parents and sister visiting!

Time with the Griswolds, I mean the Goellers, commenced a day after Christmas as 3 haggled and jet- lagged Americans made their way through the airport in Dakar. The first challenge was my poor dad being hassled and charged way more for assistance with his luggage than he should have been. This was shortly followed by my mom realizing that she had left an entire suitcase full of goodies for me behind (she felt so awful). This was momentarily devastating but the moment passed quickly when I realized how incredibly excited I was to finally have my family around me again! Those of you who read this blog probably also are friends with me on Facebook so I won’t go into too much painstaking detail about their visit as I documented every moment with about 4819043 photos. The short version is that the time with my family was unbelievable. I was treated to fantastic comforts such as hot showers, nice meals, soft, clean (okay, good smelling, I do wash my stuff believe it or not but it never gets that Tide smell) towels, carpet, refrigerated drinks, wireless internet, air-conditioning, etc... Quick side note, you don’t realize how much you really miss stuff like that until you go so long without it. We met a fantastic German family on our voyages and spent a fair amount of time with them. Something Sara (the woman of the family) said to me really struck me. She mentioned how excited she was to get home and just have a really long, hot shower. This is completely understandable and I realized that I do that exact same thing. Instead of thinking, “Hmm there are people who don’t even have hot water, perhaps I should really limit my consumption;” we end up thinking, “Oh boy this is nice, how I’ve missed it, and I’m never getting out!” This issue of over-indulgence after experiencing impoverished situations is something I’ve discussed several times with fellow volunteers and we’re still not sure what can be done about it.

Okay, side note over. These things were great but even better than all of that luxury was the resiliency and ability of my family to throw themselves into such new, uncomfortable situations and also just having them here. The feeling of being around all of them again is indescribable. I’m sure anyone who has gone a significant amount of time being away from their family can understand what I’m talking about. There’s a feeling you get that is purely unique to family. It’s that feeling of warmth, comfort, familiarity, and being where you belong, home. As great as it was having them here, it really just hit me again how much I truly missed them. Highlights of the visit definitely included my dad’s bizarre humor. Literally every person that we met loved him and couldn't get enough of him, even though no one really understood each other completely. My cute sister playing with my host family and trying her best to learn greetings so that she could communicate with people in my village. I think my mom was completely shocked at first just actually physically seeing where and how I live (which is more than understandable) but ultimately she was such a trooper and her and my father were more than generous with my family, other volunteers, and friends in my village.

New Year’s Eve was rather strange but ultimately the best New Year’s that I've ever had. We were served an amazing dinner of barracuda (yup, you read that right, it was surprisingly good, just had to look out for the teeth) lobster, and other treats. After dinner there was plenty of authentic Senegalese entertainment such as women singing, wrestling, witch doctors and a dance circle to boot! The evening wrapped up with midnight rolling around and everyone kissing our cheeks and wishing us Bonne Annee and Bonne Sante (Happy Year and Good Health). Their trip finished up with some gorgeous beach days and a tearful departure the night of January 3rd. Shout-out to my parents (and Jack) for a big THANK YOU again for everything.

Now that my family has come and gone it’s hard to say exactly how I’m feeling about my decision to be here. In the past few days since they have left I’ve been thinking a lot about the complexity of human emotions. Sitting in front of my house watching the chickens (yeah, I get bored a lot here), I began to experience a strange emotion… I was sort of jealous of them. Here I am, sitting around constantly analyzing every little thing, critiquing myself and my decisions, and basically putting loads of pressure on myself wondering what I’m truly doing here in Senegal; and then there are the chickens, perfectly content if they just have something to eat and a place to crap. Perhaps I should learn something from them.

Among my standard worries regarding life decisions I was experiencing another round of Peace Corps guilt. This is a phenomenon any volunteer is familiar with and it’s time I explained it a little bit.  You see, most of us are constantly worrying about things such as:

  • Am I spending enough time in site?
  • Those of us that live in a house with family are always wondering am I present enough in my family? What do they really think of me? Is there more I can be doing to help them?
  • Am I studying the language enough? (Probably not…)
  • Then there are those lovely feelings of self-doubt, are my project ideas good enough? Why don’t I have more project ideas? Shouldn't people constantly be approaching me with ideas? Why is no one approaching me? Am I not approachable? Why am I here?
This Peace Corps guilt is so powerful it even often extends to the families of volunteers. They are so worried that their child is in such a strange situation that they feel almost crippled by it. There is an immense amount of energy, money and time spent in trying to make the volunteer feel comforted and comfortable when ultimately all any parent truly wants to say is, “Come home.”

I guess lately I’m just wrestling with the part of myself that wants to go home. Yup, that part of me is alive and kicking. I know that ultimately I would get back to Utah and be happy with family, friends, comforts, good food, etc. for about a month. Then I think I would most likely freak out, wonder why I had left my dream and fret about what in the hell I was going to do next. For long as I can remember I wanted to join the Peace Corps and make a difference. This is why I can’t throw in the towel; at least, not quite yet. In my heart, I know that I can try harder. But at the same time I need to cut myself some slack. I have been told by many people that simply being here and showing that Americans care are fulfilling the first two goals of Peace Corps. Now I just need to dig deeper into my community and find out where I can truly help them. In the meantime, I’m going to focus on quieting my mind and finding contentment here. Just like the chickens seem to do so well.

Until next time,