Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Spawolfranglaar du Noord

the title of this post really sums up my feelings about all the languages that are bouncing around in my brain lately. here is how i feel like speaking "mbido yiddi aller au marche para ver mi sehilam kono je ne peut pas sabu es muy dificile without a car." not that that sentence should mean anything but it just gives all of you an appreciation for how perpetually confised i am.
that being said...i have now cried 3 times in language class. still the only one in pulaar du nord to even shed a tear. it makes me feel ridiculous, but the rest of my classmates r super supportive and today we werer even joking about making tshirts: mine would say
"if i cry for 15 minutes in teh middle of language assessments can i still achieve the rquired level of intermediate low?"

our assessments went decently for me except that i just could not understand one of the very first questions whiuch as it turns out was: "are you worried about forgetting your experience as a doula when you get to your site?"
ya. i hope that all of you at home r staring with your mouths open at how ridiculously difficult a question that is to answer let alone understand after 4 weeks of a language!
though last night i had my very first dream in pulaar. at least i was speaking pulaar in some of it. gotta love meflaquine (anti malarial).

so in response to katys post, FGC refers to Female Genital Cutting and you shoudl totally not feel stupid katy. im glad you asked because than others can learn too. i actually have to present on it tomorrow in cross cultural training. im not looking forward to that discussion. it can just be so exhausting to put on those "cultural sensitivity goggles" especially regarding such a controversial and fiery issue. but up in the Fouta where i am going it is common for girls to be married off at 12 or 13, although FGC is still illegal it happens among the Pulaar and Sereer ethnic groups in senegal anyway.

thank you to lisa and wendy for their amazingly thoughtful and surprise packages! everyone was so happy to share the candy lisa and wendy i have been enjoying my blueberry oatmeal every morning! really, letters and hearing about all of your lives at home and what is going on is just so great. sometimes when youre the one to go away you can forget that life goes on without you at home and its nice to be reminded of normalcy.

lately i think ive been caught up in feeling guilty for feeling so overwhelmed with how hard things are getting. the anticipation of community entry and just feeling not as "hardcore" as i thought i was. i guess there has been a feeling that all of us have been trying to project that were fine and we can take it and were tough and can handle all the frustrations. the truth is i think that all of our egos are still very involved and maybe mine is just widdling away faster than others?
today we got our snazzy PC issued bikes and i just was dreading the day while everyone else is talking about riding them 30k to the beach this weekend, i was fantisizing about going in a van with the other volunteers and sipping on a margarita on the beach by the time they all get there sweaty and exhausted! is that wrong?

its crazy how exhausted we all are. and its hard to remember that living your life in another language or 2 or 3 as the case may be is entirely draining and thats okay!

ive decided to have my computer sent to me. that move makes me feel not hardcore at all but i think acceptance of the idea that the pc experience is evolving is going to be my challenge. because im ultimately an urban volunteer i wont have the struggle of dealing with no running water or electricity most of the time, but in some ways my day to day interactions will be more stressful. i will be called a toubab everyday and asked for money and proposed to and have to deal with people haa heewi.

please do keep the emails coming and the letters. its hard to explain how much it brightens my day to hear about everyone at home. and please dont think that im suffering here. in fact sometimes the suffering coles from feeling like im not suffering enough? if that makes sense? really though, i think im feeling comfortable being more realistic about my feelings and writing on my bloggam when im not necessarily feeling 100 percent.
im off to the beach this weekend inshallah.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Week 5

I can't believe that we are through week five already. Though it feels like on the one hand we've been here forever, I also am realizing that site arrival is so very soon. We have our first official language assessment on Tuesday and I am nervous as all hell. This is where they tell us how we're progressign and if we're going to have to seriously bump it up a notch to make it to the required level of 'Intermediate Low' by week 8.
Fingers crossed.
Though talking to my dad made me feel a lot better. Realizing that this is in fact my 4th language and after only 4 weeks of classes I can already write a full letter about my daily activities in Senegal is pretty damn impressive.
I'm learning to be easier on myself. That is my biggest challenge.

This week has been full of ups and downs. Everyone has been really tired. I had an emotional encounter with a talibe the other morning. I was waiting with Erin for the PC bus to pick us up and take us to the center just like every other morning. We both had headphones on (neither of us are morning people) and I had Mujy's playlist on. Normally I just say no to all the talibes because id rather give them food than money and i dont usually have any on me. but this morning i gave one of them the banana i had been saving for breakfast. all he did was give me a sweet shy sheepish smile and i nearly burst into tears. It was because his reaction was so meek that I was so stricken. It was like he couldn't believe that he was being given such a treasure. Usually they are fed leftover dried scraps of white baguettes from people, or a few spoonfuls of gruel or given some sugar cubes. Almost never does someone bestow fruit upon them. It was just so sickening that something so little could mean so much. I patted him on the head and watched him walk quickly away to go find another temporary food source.

I have been giving lots of massages to people lately. It feels great to be needed, but I'm also realizing how desperately I need to be caring for my own body. It's nearly impossible to get regular exercise and I know that i am craving some regular yoga classes. It is just so exhausting that I have not worked up the routine. Perhaps at site I will bring new meaning to the term 'hot yoga' in the wee wee hours of the morning when it is only 110 degrees.

For those of you that are worried about my hydration status, have no fear. As a health volunteer I am already equipped with the exact formula for making my very own oral rehydration salts (ORS) and I plan on using them regularly/almost daily.

Oh and some SERIOUS congratulations are in order to many people in my life:
To John and Mujy for being accepted into PhD and Master's programs (respectively) at OXFORD in England. Congratulations! I am so thrilled they will both most likely be there next year and closer to me.
to my fabulous cousin KAREN for her acceptance at Hunter College in NYC! Congrats girlie, my mom told me. I KNEW you could do it and I am SO proud of you.

So last night some of us needed a break from language, and families, and culture shock etc. so we went to what we have affectionately termed the KungFu Theater which is perhaps the greatest theater experience ive ever had. 6 of us went and watched an old french movie in black and white on a huge screen outside in pleine air that was set in teh 70s in LA and had kung fu. it was wonderful to sit with friends have a beer and laugh at the ridiculous cinema playing out in front of us. the movie was called Blood Warriors. Highly recommended! except not....

someone commented that it does not seem like i'm experiencing culture shock. I am finally starting too especially as we are delving deeper into issues like how conservative the northern region is where i'm going. specifically, regarding women's issues. like early age of marriage for girls: around 13!! the prevalence of FGC even though it's officially illegal. etc.

Well my internet time is almost out. I hope to post again soon.

love and peace,

Friday, April 13, 2007

Site Placement!!!!

We received our sites today and I could not be happier!! Well, maybe if i was on the coast like a few other volunteers, but here is the rundown...

I cannot tell u online exactly the name of my town because of PC policy but i can certainly tell you in an email. That being said, get ready for this...

Starting mid May at the very beginning of the dry and hot season I will be going up NorthEast just outside of Matam which is on the border of where mali, mauritania and senegal meet.
Things I know about my site...
I will be in a town of 10,000 people
I will have electricty!!!! OMG!!!
My family compound has running water!!! exciting and unexpected.
AND I WILL HAVE CELL PHONE RECEPTION!!! Yes, its true so to all of you that have been shuffling your feet and not gotten skype, do it now and youll be able to talk to me for 2 years no problem.
i feel amazingly fortunate. all that time and energy spent on solar power was totally unnecessary. good call dad...that was his prediction.
I will be replacing a volunteer who finished her 2 years and has opted to stay a 3 year in dakar. she has been leading my health training here in thies and now i can pick her brain about her site, her host family, the people she works with etc.

here are a few of the inconveniences/reasons why im still hardcore even with newfound amenities...
Be prepared:
when i arrive in midmay the high during the hottest part of the day for roughly the first 3 months im there will be.....

140 degrees farenheit

no, no, that is not a typo. i am kidding you all not. at night it will get DOWN to roughly 100. Matam for 2 months out of the year consistently breaks the record for the hottest place IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD. LITERALLY.

Am i terrified? 100 percent yes.

Luckily, the rest of the year it is mostly manageable. in fact during the cool season it can get down into the which point i am told i will feel like i need a parka b/C ill be used to such absurd temperatures.
I am told that the heat is pretty much the biggest challenge.

but for the moment i am trying to focus on the perks, like the fact that i can sleep with a fan because i will have electricity (see muj i will never be cured of my addiction, even in africa).

as for work that i will be doing, because im in a big town i will be likely working at the local district health center/clinic and be more involved in leading things like causeries in coordination with actual healthcare facilities. i will have access to schools to work with, and birth attendants, plenty of resources. ultimately, because i am coming in after another volunteer a lot of the hardest part has been done for me. everyone is already aware of the PC and she has paved teh way for me with many local heads etc.
id love to give you all better descriptions, but i was only able to briefly corner her today and talk to her about the nitty gritty.

i will still have an outdoor latrine (which i love), my hut is in the family compound but separate. it is cement with a tin my dad so rightly put it, that is an oven, not a home. u pretty much just dont do anything during the hottest hours of the day.
i have 2 stick beds. one is outdoors and i anticipate sleeping in that one only. the one inside is mainly for the "cold" season.

there is minimal internet access. the nearest internet cafe is 25 km away, but i am not concerned about that because of the super cell phone reception!

the travel time time to dakar is roughly 13 hours on a good day. but there is a tiny tiny airport in matam that u can take small seater planes to from dakar. this makes me feel more comfortable because if there is ever a medical emergency i can be in dakar faster than many other volunteers, and those of you coming to visit wont have to tak a 13 hour bus ride to see my town!

the diet up north is fairly well balanced and the other volunteer has told me that she ate really well with her family and that one fo the sisters is a great cook. a lot of my siblings there have children so there are lots of kids running around. one of them is 2 months pregnant right now. that will be so exciting to be a part of.

finally knowing where i am going is making me put all of my efforts into mastering pulaar. i am so eagerly looking forward to my site and kicking serious butt at this post. (though perhaps not between the hours of 11-7 from may to september....hhhhmmmm).

i promise to update more as i find out about my life for the next 2 years.

so think of me in a month or so when i cant even move because of the stifling heat. at least its not humid???? hhhmmm, maybe i can just give my uncrushable optimism a rest this time?

im off to the beach for a night tomorrow with the other volunteers for a much needed break.
thank you all for reading and sticking with me during all of this wondering and anticipation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


They are young school age boys usually running from ages 8-13 who have been sent by their parents to Koranic schools throughout Senegal. Typically, the maribou of the school has too many boys to take care of and its basically accepted that these little boys will have to roam the streets everyday and beg for all of their food. And they do. And they are all barefoot, skinny, tired, hungry, and make you want to cry.
I'd say on a daily basis, on average, I get asked for food or money by 40 or so of them during my walk home.
It is endless and frustrating and infuriating knowing that even if you do give them any food you might have on you, there is nothing being productively done on the macro level to stop it. Knowing that parents send their children to these schools makes it so much harder. I find that I try to give them the benefit of the doubt...
maybe they are so poor and can't feed their son,
maybe they had no education and can't get a job so they can't feed their children, and they dont' have access to family planning, or the desire to limit family size,
maybe they do have the desire but dont have the access,
maybe they think that having their children spend 2-3 years hungry but learn the Koran is worth stunting they're growth and making them beg for food and live in squalor.

The point is, it never gets any easier to see them.

I haven't wanted to write too much in this vein because I think that it can be exhausting for you all at home. You have seen the CNN reports, the Christian Children advertisements on TV, and the articles in the papers and it's always heartbreaking and emotionally draining. It just feels so much worse to actually be here and be powerless to stop it despite the work I'm here to do.

I've resigned myself to just being as polite as possible to them and give them a smile. Something they probably dont' get all the time. I know that it is part of the culture to give to the Talibes. A lot of them have regular homes they go to for scraps after meals, and that makes me feel a bit better, but maybe that is part of the problem? That it has not reached epidemic enough proportions of child neglect to warrant sever action from the top down? But does it really even matter how I feel? That is not the point.

I don't know. There are just some situations that you can't "grad school analyze" your way out of. And all of those little faces just break my heart a little bit everyday...


REalizing that I never talked about my demyst experience, but feeling like it was so far away, about 3 weeks ago nowI'm just goign to briefly summarize so that when I eventually upload those photos, you can all see them. and understand the reference.

Rebecca and I stayed with Soo in a small village of roughly 700 people. The road there was so bumpy and potholed but the 11 of us PCTs crammed into the landrover kept ourselves entertained by telling horrible jokes and crazy stories. We spent a night on each end at the regional PCV house and that was great to see that part of PC life. Namely, that there is a shared apartment in each region that volunteers can meet at to plan projects, work on reports, or to just get away and see some friendly faces for a day or two.

The village was dry, hot, dusty and challenging, but we had an amazing experience. Soo was a great hostess and so patient with us asking zillions of questions about every detail of her life. We got to see her health club (composed of elementary school age kids) present a skit on Oral Rehydration Salts and the importance of hand washing for diarrhea prevention to the rest of the schoool. It was such great timing to see a volunteer in action.

The women in her village had a blast with us. Teaching us silly words like "bento" and basso meaning bench and mat respectively. it got to the point that they used that combo as a greeting when they saw us during those two days. It got endless giggles from us because you can just imagine someone learning english yelling "BENCH MAT! BENCH MAT" as a salutation.

They also knew the lyrics to "That's the way 'don din' 'don din' I like it" (with mandinka inserted instead of uh huh uh huh.) They constantly commanded us to dance for them which we gladly accepted adn loved to do. (laughing at the dancing toubab is a common pasttime no matter how integrated you are). I think it's great.

I realized on the Demyst trip that being rural really isn't all that bad. Soo was roughly an hour and a half bus ride from a nearby big town, but just off the road. Doable by bike for sure. Realizing how quickly I adapted to the bucket baths and the latrine lifestyle and sleeping outdoors gave me the confidence to start looking forward to my own post.

The lack of dietary variety was certainly a challenge. there were a couple meals where we were given just millet...which tastes like sand. that was hard, but it made the days when we got maffe (peanut sauce) so much better.
I'm sure a 3 day experience cannot compare to how it actually is to live like that long term, but there really is no preparation for that.
Certainly challenging was the noise! the donkey baying every hour or so, the sounds of crying kids. that was something to get used to. i had anticipated quiet in a rural village but it is quite the contrary.

i'm goign to post this just out of fear of the track record with trying to get this experience online. I realize its ridiculously delayed, but at least now it's up!!

being culturally integrated..

The Cultural training here in Thies is constantly throwing out key words like "integration" patience, observation, flexibility, etc. We have heard hours of examples of what it means to be integrated, how to integrate, how NOT to integrate, how better to integrate etc. I have never felt like it would be a problem for me because I know that I can laugh easily, be friendly, communicate (in french for the time being) and be open to opposition. But through all this training they have never been able to express how incredibly rewarding it feels when you know you are truly integrate. I have several examples I simply must share:

The other day walking back from the center after a long hard day of training, I was not anticipating my walk home to fuel me....but it did. That 45 minute sweaty, sandy walk that I have come to love and look forward to fueled me. I realized that I finally knew my way home well enough to stop paying attention to my route, the weather was cooling off so I was sweating less profusely than normal, Braiden and I stopped into our favorite "cafe" (a soda/candy/general boutique where the owner lets us sit as long as we want in teh two plastic lawn chairs she keeps in the back as we sip on slightly chilled fantas), we greeted her and she brought her passport to show us. She was trying to go back to the states for her 4th visit and was denied by a grumpy and terribly unfair employee at the US embassy. She was thrilled to see us and clearly surprised that we had remembered her story and purposefully stopped by to see if she was going to go back and try again. It really is true how important greetings are. Braiden and I have officially made a friend in her. AND she is Pulaar to boot so when I get better I will be able to practice with her. Now if only that annoying guy that hangs around her store would stop hanging out there when we come around....

I passed by two women at a road stand selling donuts. They were so nice and talked to me and were impressed with how friendly i was with them. I know I have made a connection there. It feels so good to know people in the neighborhood.

But the biggest triumph of all happened upon coming home. My sister Diarra told me that our other sister, Aminata (the one who lives in dakar...same dad, different wife) wants me to be one of her bridesmaids in her wedding at the end of this month! I was truly honored. Speechless really. In fact, even though she told me in french, it took me a few minutes to respond. Just feeling so included and accepted and comfortable feels tremendous. Needless to say i accepted and the four of us (another sister and a cousin) have a date to the fabric market to buy matching cloth for our grande boo boos (name of the traditional clothing) is scheduled for sometime next week i think.
I cannot wait. Fingers crossed that they choose blue and not pink (those are the choices). While I am honored to throw down the several mille that it will cost to have our outfits made, I am secretly hoping that I will not be clad head to toe in bright pink. But there are certainly worse things in this world...

In any case, I cannot wait for the wedding. It was only just this weekend that her boyfriend came to the house with his uncle and cousin and sat down with my dad and mom and asked for her hand in marriage. What a great night to have been home. The men discussing the importance of fidelity in the living room, while my 4 sisters and i giggled in the dark, outside trying to listen at the windows adn dreaming up the wedding day.
Here I guess engagements do not last very long. Aminata is already 31 (because she went to school adn wanted to be on her own and start her hair salon before marriage) and just wants to have it be very simple and get it done quickly.
This week her fiancee's mother is going to call to set a date adn then the family will bring by a lot of money to pay for the marriage. I am still unclear what the money is for other than the ceremony. I just cannot wait to be a part of it!

In case you all coulnd't tell, I am in a great mood today. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that anticipation of site placements are in teh air, the weather has cooled off significantly today (my bedroom was actually down to 79 degrees last night! i had to use a sheet AND a blanket! thrilling), and all the trainees are planning a trip to the beach this weekend. Inshallah!

Here's to maintaining this optimism as long as possible.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Infantile Language Acquisition

Today was the first day that I really felt like I will actually be able to learn Pulaar du Nord. The rumors floating around the center are that Pulaar is the hardest language to learn. Lucky me. Those of you who are not linguists bear with me, but I feel like I have to share how tricky of a language Pulaar really is...

There are 24 different articles. In the English language we have 2: the and a. We will not even be learning them until IST (In Service Training in August).
When a verb is in the Infinitive form for example, Wottaade (to lunch) it is easily identifiable. BUT...what happens when the verbs are the plural persons (we-exclusive and inclusive..there are 2 kinds, you all, and they) then the W changes to NG. yeah. okay, plus the endings are all different in the past tense, and the negative past tense. SO:
to say that "They lunched" the verb goes from looking like Wottaade to Ngottiima.
Yeah, not easy. It's going to take some serious memorization.

But finally, after two solid weeks of language classes and a serious kick in the butt from my host family, I am finally getting it. They have sworn off of French with me and my host dad has forbidden the girls to speak Wolof to eachother around me. At least I have their support. But it has been quite a challenge for us all to go from speaking constantly and giggling endlessly to a largely silent, and slow repetitious relationship of:
how are you
i am fine
my name is....
today i learned pulaar. we studied the past tense. it was hard.
i ate fish and rice for lunch yesterday. it was really spicy.

Here is what a writte Pulaar introduction of myself looks like:

Mbiyete mi ko Oumou Sall
Njeyaa mi ko california e ameriq.
mbido jogi nogaas e tati
Mbido jogi minirabe dido e mawnirabe goto gorko.

you get the idea. Try practicing out loud. I know you all are. And I bet you sound hilarious.
I'm just glad that I'm feeling optimistic about my abilities at this point. We have a language assessment on Tuesday covering every competency that we've learned: Greetings, Introducing yourself, talking about your family, and the past tense. I'm worried. Needless to say I'll be doing a LOT of studying this weekend. Assuming of course that the electricity holds up. Otherwise I'll be doing it all during the day.

Nalen e jam!

When Cockroaches Attack!!

I do not know what it is about them, but these suckers are gutsy. Not only have they multiplied, but now, instead of running away like NORMAL cockroaches (if there is such a stereotype to be made) they now run AT ME mid-stream. I am definitely at the point where I don't care about them if they stay still, and even find that I like the company in the middle of the night, but when they dart about and try to run BACK into the Turkish toilet hole while I am using it...they go too far.
Meanwhile my family has now heard my shrieks of fear and they think I'm ridiculous--and they are right. The response amidst laughter from my oldest sister Isatou was totally disbelief. She looked at me like I was crazy and goes "but they can't hurt you!?"
The logic is there. I know she's right. I would much prefer mutant cockroaches to say, a scorpion, but how do you explain to someone so "habituer" that it's just going to take a little more time until I can see them and not cower in fear?


Thank you all for your posts regarding my host sister. I appreciate all the advice and support and I have a small victory to share. I decided that giving Ibuprofen to her, though a good step, simply was not enough. Her vomiting for days and being in so much pain just did not seem normal so yesterday I pulled my "i'm a health volunteer" card and recommended that she go to see the doctor at the hospital (aka. not a 'traditional' healer). She agreed and thanked me profusely and then I also mentioned it to mom, and as of last night she promised that she would go today! As I have not yet been home I have no idea if it has actually happened, but I am hopeful. At least I know that they take me seriously.
I promise to provide updates. Baby steps....


Please check out the website links in the lower right hand side of my Blog for links to other volunteer's blogs that have PICTURES!! And ones of ME TOO! I am currently in a blissful internet cafe that has air conditioning and that will actually upload my photos!. Albeit a zillionth of a megapixel an hour (is that an official measure?) Not sure. But seeing as it's the very first place in all of Thies that I've found with AC, I am not complaining. It's about 100 degrees outside during the hottest part of the day and I cannot think of anywhere I'd rather be. So once I have used up all my internet time and have uploaded as many pictures as possible I will post the site ON THE BOTTOM RIGHT HAND CORNER OF MY BLOG FOR THE LINK TO MY PHOTOS ON GOOGLE PICASA WEB ALBUMS!
Enjoy...and remember, I am cuter in "real life" (just kidding. that definitely is the least of my concerns. Can't wait to hear your comments!)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

feeling helpless, independence day etc.

my host sister here gets such bad menstrual cramps when she has her period that she literally just laid in bed and cried only getting up to vomit outside. I have never really witnessed such horrible cramping and discomfort. i feel like i don't know how to help her. i gave her some ibuprofen, but what can that do? once i leave, how is she going to get it? she was very appreciative, but i dont know how much it helps.
suggestions are appreciated. it's so hard to see such a spunky girl so lifeless and in so much pain.

last night a bunch of volunteers went out to a salsa dance club nearby. it was great fun. we danced our butts off until five in the morning. because today we had the day off for independence day. yesterday was the presidential inauguration. Wade was reelected. The american rapper who performed at the ceremony yesterday , echo, called senegal a continent. hmmm. at least he didn't call africa a country. i hate that.

language class is still endlessly frustrating. i think that my biggest struggle is forcing my family to speak to me in Pulaar. it's just so much easier in french! and we all just lapse into it because we like to hang out so much that creating a language barrier now just seems counterproductive. but they area really encouraging, especially my oldest sister isatou who has been here all week visiting from dakar on spring break.

i love the idle hours with the women. sitting around outside as soon as the air cools off everyone jabbering and braiding hair. usually there are several babies to pass around as well. i feel content to just sit and listen to a language i dont understand. the women all together make me feel safe and peaceful. its hard to explain to people how much we all laugh together. everythign is funny. i cant tell you all how many times my sisters will laugh at pictures tht i have over and over and make the same jokes. it's hilarious.

i finally did some yoga yesterday morning. i brought my mat to the center. i think it is going to become my morning ritual. not having regular exercise other than walking is just not good for my mental health.

my cold is finally on its way out. here is hoping that i wont have anything new to file into the unwell category.
a week from this friday we find out our site posts. very exciting. training really is clipping right along.


Living a paperless life...

I did not think I would ever give in. I denied it, even a week ago. Vehemently too. But today, I consider a big day in my integration into senegalese life. I did not use toilet paper when i went to the bathroom.
Now, i dont' even know if this is an appropriate blog post seeing as how i'm supposed to represent the PC and all and i dont want to gross you all out at home, but i feel it must be shared so that you all understand.

In WEst Africa there is a left hand rule. basically, you dont do any greeting touching, etc with your left hand because it is reserved for bathroom functions. kind of a built in cultural cleanliness sytem. i still recommend washing hands though.
i had talked to other volunteers who were like, yeah, using your hand isn't so bad. really what people do is us a cup or a kettle and rinse with water at the same time. it's actually more sanitary in a lot of ways and cuts down on paper waste.

but i was unconvinced. unconvinced until today when there was no TP to be found and i took the plunge. and you know what? it was totally not a big deal at all. the water makes all teh difference in the world. and of course you just wash your hands afterwards.
I'm officially giving up on TP. it's expensive, hard to find, and boy will i be reducing my carbon footprint in the next two years. kind of awesoem huh??

i know what you're all thinking...she's insane. shes' lost her mind. is she going to stop washing herself soon? didn't take long etc. and i understand because sitting from where most of you are with flush toilets and all the amenities that we love so dearly, it seems like an impossible prospect to wipe your butt with your hand and water. but really i'm telling you. not so bad. and now i will have more money for internet time to post more fabulously enlightening stories like this one.
a bientot,

Sunday, April 1, 2007

"Im rockin' the bin bin"

Women here wear what's called bin bin. it is a strand of beads or two worn low around the waist out of sight under the panyas or pants or what have you. they are a symbol of feminity meant only for the eyes of your husband or lover. I have been wearing mine regularly and yesterday when i didn't i actually missed it!
I wish I could be that instantly comfortable with my cockroach friends...
that is still an ongoing battle. though i have finally stopped jumping with fear when i see them late at night. I have gotten more used to them more than i could have ever imagined. Small victories.

Last night almost every PCT *peace corps trainee* went out for a birthday. It was wonderful to have pizza and beer and to feel normal.

Yesterday was Gamon which is a muslim holiday celebrating the birth of the prophet mohammad. my older two sisters have been visiting from Dakar. they went to a nearby town with thousands of others to pray and didnt' get home until 3 or 4 in the morning. there is typically a cholera outbreak all over senegal twice a year when this celebration happens because of water contamination. we'll see what happens.

TodayI intend to study most of the day and lounge around with my sisters. i love sundays. we wake up and spend hours washing laundry together, and yesterdays dishes, and teasing eachother. they have endless patience for my pathetic pulaar. they are so encouraging and laugh so much with me.

OUr nextdoor neighbor along with my older sisters who are visiting have taken to referring to me as jaye Fondae (which if you remember from an earlier post means big butt). They think it is endlessly funny, and i have learned to respond in wolof "yeah well i have what men want."
they almost died laughing when i busted that out.
it really is true though that i large posterior is a coveted thing. i feel like i have spent a lot of time writing about it, but only because we spend more time talking about it.

Today another neighbor asked me if she coudl find me a husband. she wanted to know why i was wearing a bin bin if i wasn't looking for one. she said she would find one for me anyway. probably would'n't be too hard.

i had a difficult conversation with a visiting cousin about gay marriage and homosexuality. It's something that i knwo i will have to talk to people about sometimes ,but it is always frustrating. All i can do is explain that i have many gay friends and they are just like anyone else. but when it is actually against one's religion, it is difficult to get through. luckily the senegalese are fairly open people and the Pulaar people especially are really laid back and less aggressive than the wolof, so they have been pretty tolerant of open conversations regarding religion, homosexuality, etc.

Typical day in the life schedule:
wake up at 5am to the mornign prayers
sleep until alarm goes off at 6:30.
PC bus to training center at 7am.
breakfast and shower at the center (though i am adjusting and love them, i still prefer proper showers to bucket baths.)
8-12:30 language class.
lunch and break until 2:30
then from 2:30 to 6 various other classes. Technical training (health), cross cultural, safety etc.
bus home by about 6:30.
Sit around with the fam. run various errands with my sisters.
Dinner at 9pm.
Try to salvage a few minutes of quiet ipod listening, journal writing, or letter writing time.
bed by 10 or 10:30.
(anywhere between 1am and 4am.....nightly battle with the cockroaches).

I will be posting more soon. please ask questions and post comments so i know what you all want to hear about.

Mbalen e jam,

Letters and packages!

I have to send out a huge thank you to those of you who have been writing me letters. It just brightens my day to receive them. I think that i have gotten more than any other volunteer. i feel loved. I am trying to keep up and reply to them as much as possible, but i know that i will be firing them off much more once i do not have email access very much.

If anyone is planning to put together a care package for me i do have some suggestions:
*small hard candies to give away to kids
*bubbles! they're crazy about them. i had 20 kids in my compound shrieking and laughing for an hour just over the bubbles i brought.
*instant oatmeal! i'm dieing for some whole grain. there is a "toubab" market i town, but it is ridiculously expensive and out of the way.
*small cosmetics (for my sisters to give as gifts. they LOVE american products. anything will do. it does not have to be quality. wet n wild is more than sufficient.)

i have so many ideas but that is all for now.

Davis Enterprise Article

This was the article the Enterprise released about my departure. Extremely vague, but I appreciate the gesture.

Caitlin Anna Givens, 23, of Davis, departed on March 16 with the Peace Corps for Senegal to become a preventative health education volunteer.
By accepting the invitation for 27 months of service, Givens joins a strong tradition in Davis.
A recent Peace Corps ranking places UC Davis among the top 25 universities in the number of alumni serving, with 45 volunteers currently in the field.
Givens, a graduate of Idyllwild Arts Academy, attended Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and earned a master's degree in population and development at the London School of Economics and Political Science in England in 2006. Her work in Senegal will include developing health education and awareness promotion programs, focusing on capacity building of local people, and enabling locals to implement and maintain these basic health programs.
Givens joins the more than 902 California residents currently serving in the Peace Corps. More than 25,400 California residents have served in the Peace Corps since 1961—more than any other state.

Pulaar, Internet, Illness, cell phones, and the like

So much to write.
I have still not written about my demystification weekend because the third time i tried the power went out. perhaps it is just not meant to be. I would much rather concentrate my efforts on writing about our first intensive week of training.

I am still adoring my host family. I really do look forward to going home so that i can spend more time with them . My french has improved phenomenally in the last week alone and i find comfort in the fact that it has returned so quickly and strongly (not that it was ever gone anyway, just put away for awhile).

Learning Pulaar du Nord has been an incredible challenge. Having learned french so early and then spanish being so closely related, this is the first time that i have ever struggled to learn a language. i find that i am instantly frustrated with myself when I dont understand right away. In my end of the first week language eval Sahir my Pulaar teacher commented that I need to be more patient with myself, that Im doing great, but I need to not be so hard on myself. He is right, but it is hard to be patient when we are all hyper aware of the fact that our quality of life at our sites will be directly correlated with the level of our language.

I had my first breakdown in language class the other day. I cried for no reason. mere frustration i supppose. I'm told that that is common and there are certainly other stagieres (trainees) who have had the same thing happen. its pretty much inevitable really.

I am learning how to keep myself healthy. since i have moved in with my host fmily a week ago i have dealt with some GI issues and now have been battlig a head cold that put me in sick bay with a fever last week. Nothing that wouldnt go away in a few days at home, but because the conditions are so hot and dry here and my diet has been so drastically altered, my immune system is renavigating.
Im sure that part of it comes from shared meals that we eat with our hands all together. Typically at dinner, my dad eats alone and the women and children adn i all eat from one huge bowl. I love the community aspect of it, but i know that it is the reason for my constant cold. Because i am a guest, i am constantly passed pieces of the vegetables and meat that sit in the middle of the bowl (children are not allowed to reach into the middle. it is up to the adults to pass the middle pieces to them), that means that there are many hands handling my food before i eat it. I am working up the nerve to insist that we all wash our hands with soap before we eat. i have been partly successful and will wash my own hands in front of everyone everytime. I think that i will start to insist and pull the "volontiere de sante" card.

I do have a cell phone now. It is very exciting. Email me if you want the number because i cannot post it online.
I'm going to post this for fear of a regular power outage. READ ON!!