Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Being Busy

I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it feels to be busy again.

For the first time since IST (because of Ramadan) I am satisfied with my schedule and I actually feel useful and needed and well, like my old self. Everyday when I wake up I actually have tasks to accomplish, meetings to attend, greetings to do and events to plan. It’s a relief to wake up and not think “gee, would it really matter if I spent the whole day reading?” I mean, I’m not running around like a chicken with my head cutoff, like I was through all four years of college, but for Peace Corps standards, and given the speed of development, I’d say I’m one of the busier PCVs. Granted a lot of that has to do with the size of Kanel, but I’m learning how to pace myself and not get caught up with attending every single little thing. I remind myself that living in another language, and the heat, and just daily chores do take a lot out of you and it’s okay not to go greet a family if I’m feeling tired. At the same time, it’s a lot easier to be motivated to get things done because I have deadlines and health talks to prepare for. The key word I believe I’m searching for is BALANCE. For the time being I have achieved equilibrium.

The teachers are finally back from holiday and school starts this week. That means that my two teacher friends are back and that there are many more to meet and talk with. It will take some time for me to start teaching health classes though because the teachers need to settle into their new positions and get to know their classes and routines. I’m hoping that there won’t be as many strikes as there were last year. I want to impress them with my first few lessons so that the word will get out and lots of them will invite me to come teach. Luckily the way the children here learn is essentially through repetition and copying, so anything I do that gets them actively participating, moving around, performing, and brainstorming will be an instant hit

I’ve also noticed how much more I can tolerate than I could even a few months ago. I guess because our first three months are supposed to be spent adjusting, that after those were over I figured I would have adjusted as much as I ever could. But that is certainly not the case. It almost doesn’t phase me anymore when my family asks to borrow things. Now I’m much more willing to let them borrow things and I also have NO problem saying no when it’s an inappropriate request (my bike, or phone credit for instance).

I’m also letting myself laugh a lot more. At Baby Diana’s baptism, I was overwhelmed and sick of people asking me for money so I retreated out back and sat with a handful of young men who were making the 3 rounds of tea for the masses of guests. Obviously all eyes were on me, but I was surprised at how comfortable I was with them. We spoke a lot about health and my work and America and I even talked to them a bit about nutrition and which vegetables would help with eyesight! (This is the definition of a PC Health volunteer. The majority of my work takes place in informal settings for maybe15 minutes at a time totally out of the blue). Inevitably the conversation turned to why I didn’t want a Senegalese husband and why I didn’t want one man in particular. So I just scrunched up my face in disgust and told him, “I can’t marry you…you’re too ugly.” Some of them laughed so hard that they actually fell out of their seats. And don’t worry, he laughed too. It’s a completely acceptable excuse in this culture to call a man ugly as a way of avoiding his advances. I am spending a lot more time with men because I feel like my vocabulary and comfort with the culture is at the point where I can defend myself and make light of almost any uncomfortable situation. Also I feel like while I might never be able to formally organize a men’s health group, at least showing interest in them and laughing with them instead of running away from them and hating them for being inappropriate, will allow me to informally transfer some kind of health knowledge gradually. Or at least breakdown some gender stereotypes. Inchallah!

Part of my comfort is due to my Pulaar. It really has improved immensely. In fact, I’ve gotten compliments on it when I’ve visited other volunteers’ villages. I don’t know that that’s necessarily because my grammar or fluidity is that good yet, but I’m confident with my level of comprehension and pronunciation. And I’ve learned how to focus in on people’s conversations. It’s easy when you’re sitting around and ripping stems off of hundreds of bean leaves, to just zone out and forget to listen to the conversation around you. Now I can actively engage and am not shy to ask questions about what’s going on or for people to explain or repeat. I can actually understand and follow along full stories when told to me. Today in fact, I sat with my Yaaye, and two of my sisters and I followed along for a good 20 minutes while they told me about a visitor that came to Kanel with the previous volunteer. Everyday I am SO thankful that I began learning languages early on in life. Even if I don’t know a word, I can still understand the story because of the syntax.

(Consequently, (as some of you may have noticed) living in two different languages that aren’t my native tongue have caused my English to become well, slightly less eloquent than it used to be. At least my writing anyway.)

I have so much more to say, but for the moment I am satisfied with you all knowing that I am incredibly happy, and in an upswing. I know that the next few months are going to fly by. And soon the weather will get out of the triple digits (105 right now p.s.).

My favorite new sister from Dakar who has been here since IST is going home tomorrow with her baby, my favorite fat-cheeked 3 month old nephew and I want to maximize my “baby-worship” time.

Until next time.

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