Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Back in Thies

After only three short hours in Thies I had already eaten a hamburger and ice cream, drank a beer and an espresso, all while emailing on wireless internet at a cafĂ©/restaurant in the center of downtown. Tremendous. It feels so wonderful to be “normal.”

Being here makes me remember how much I love living in cities, and how relaxing it is to be able to be anonymous and wander the streets and run errands without running into cousins and uncles, siblings, friends and colleagues. And how much I love being independent and not having to constantly report back to anyone about where I’m going or what I’m doing. Thies feels like what I expected Africa “should” feel like. It’s mildly humid, not too hot, breezy, green, lots of trees, and you can hear birds all the time.

It’s such a treat to see all of the volunteers I have been away from for 3 months. I didn’t realize how much I missed them until we were all back together. It’s like seeing long lost friends and family. Collectively the boys have probably lost about a person in weight. I think the most anyone has lost is 43 pounds. Some of them are looking pretty skeleton-like. Many of the girls have lost weight too. At least half of the group has already been to see the medical officers in Dakar already. Most for GI problems like amoebas, and others for various skin fungi, rashes, and side effects of anti-malarials. I feel fortunate that although I have been mildly ill at site a few times (most recently last week with a lovely 24 hour full body “purge”) nothing has been serious enough to warrant the trek to Dakar.

We all just can’t hang out together enough. Everyone has so many incredible stories already. Yesterday, in health technical training we went around and shared funny stories from site. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. It’s comforting to hear that everyone has had the same kind of awkward interactions and embarrassing misunderstandings. Today we each presented the health concerns of and activities within our communities. It’s informative and interesting to hear how varied the health problems are even within regions. It really is true that every volunteer’s experience is totally different. Speaking with the few other semi-urban health volunteers made me feel better about being so overwhelmed with how much there is to do at our sites.

I know that the next three weeks are just going to fly by. It’s a challenge to be back on a 6 day a week 7am to 6pm schedule, but we are all attacking IST with lots of energy and motivation to gain the necessary skills to get back to our sites and start implementing some great projects. We’re going to receive training specific to the needs of our sites. I want to learn some teaching tools for presenting health information to children, and women, and how to make things like Neem lotion (anti-mosquito) and present effective visual aids, how to access resources for women’s groups etc. The great thing about the training during IST is it’s all going to be concrete practical information that we can actually use back at site.

This weekend we have a trip to Dakar planned. The American Club is going to hold an exclusive party for all of us with a barbecue and we’ll spend the day by the pool and have a dance party in the evening. Sunday I plan on tracking down the Ethiopian restaurant in Dakar and having a feast. (Any of you sensing a theme to this entry yet? Aka. FOOD!)
Seeing my Thies family has been so great. It’s tough to balance spending time with them and getting in time with the other volunteers. But at least this time around I feel a lot less guilty for spending evenings out with the other PCVs. Family guilt is something that was pretty all consuming during PST for most of us. It was so great to see them though. The 4 sisters ran to greet me when I came home and my Baaba and Nene were just all smiles. It really did feel like I was coming home. Even the cockroaches were excited to see me!

I was impressed with how easy it felt to come back here. The first time we went to our host families in Thies it was totally overwhelming, and that was nothing compared to installation up at site in the Fouta. So coming back felt like no big deal at all. I caught myself thinking I was such a baby for being so nervous the first time around. But it’s all part of the adjustment process. And I’m proud of myself for being able to tolerate so much more after just 5 months.

Part of me feels a little schizophrenic being back here. As one of the other volunteers said, “how many lives can we lead at once?” She is absolutely right. I am a 24-year-old American named Cait Givens, but I am also Oumou Sall, a PCV at training in Thies, but also a Pulaar Fouta inhabitant volunteer named Binta Lam. It feels a little crazy to be juggling all three at once.

Here’s to a busy and productive three weeks!

And of course, to three full weeks worth of ice cream…

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