Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New trainees

After almost a year at site and adjusting to solitude, this past month I’ve been around people nonstop. Immediately after Amanda’s 12-day visit, I was supposed to host a study abroad student at site. But because I was so ill I couldn’t leave the regional house (literally couldn’t be away from a toilet for more than 30 minutes…gross right?). I was with volunteers most of that week and then went straight to Thies to help with the training of the newest group of trainees the following week. Then I rode back up with them after several days and hosted them at my site for 10 days of “Demystification” or what is now called Community Based Training. They took language classes, shadowed my work, saw the schools, dipped mosquito nets, helped in a garden, and basically were exposed to all the elements of life as a PCV.

It’s so strange to feel like the seasoned, experienced volunteer when I still feel so unsure and infantile sometimes. I cannot believe how quickly the past 13 months has gone by! I’m already starting to plan my next step post-Senegal. I wonder now if the other volunteers felt that way when I came in last year?

It feels great to be able to talk endlessly about my experience though. The trainees have endless questions and it’s so encouraging to hear myself talk about my work, my family, my community, and all the little mishaps and hiccups I’ve been through that seemed so horrible at the time but that now just don’t even phase me. And their energy has fueled me. They are fresh and have new ideas and come with all different skills, and experiences and I am learning from them just as much as they are learning from me. And they are opening my eyes to things in my own town that I either didn’t know or didn’t notice before.

I also realize how far I’ve come, and how much I have learned, about Senegal, about the Peace Corps, about myself, my community, and other volunteers. And how far my Pulaar has come! I had forgotten what it felt like to not be able to communicate beyond the simplest greetings. I had forgotten the tears, and frustrations I went through in language training. With the newbies here I have realized how much I’ve grown and how invaluable this experience has been. I feel so proud of myself, for getting this far, for surviving, and well, for really doing pretty well. And of course I’m sure that I will not truly realize how much I’ve changed until it’s over and I am in another job, community, and country.

It feels good to be able to lead the new trainees through what can be such a scary and uncertain first experience at site. This new stage is just wonderful. They seem to be so relaxed and flexible and willing to jump into anything and go with the flow. My group of trainees are just the best! (Yes, I do hope they read this and smile). I’m so impressed with how they take the heat and the discomforts in stride. I mean, there are 6 of them (plus a trainer) staying in my compound and my tiny “boulangerie” of a hut (as the trainer nicknamed it). The heat is stifling (mid-130s in the direct sunlight, about 118 in the shade), and they are just learning the language. They seem to really already understand the value of a smile and the ability to laugh off minor annoyances. And while I know how tired they are they are making valiant efforts to practice their Pulaar as much as possible and integrate and spend time with my family and friends even though they’re exhausted.

I feel as if I’ve known them all forever. I guess that’s the nature of the Peace Corps though. You are thrown into such an intense experience with strangers and expected to become instant friends/family, and you do. You really only have each other to rely on. While there are others at home to provide a listening ear to cry to, at the end of the day, your site neighbors, and your stage mates are your best support network and no one will truly be able to understand the challenges we go through unless they too have been through it.

I think that this is my worst fear/anxiety. That even though I have such a supportive community of family and friends at home, that I will always feel slightly misunderstood, or that I will never fully be able to share the profound impact the Peace Corps has had upon me. And I need to accept the fact that I probably won’t. Maybe this has been on my mind a lot more because I have been surrounded by others, but I think it’s more likely that I am getting close to my vacation at home and I’m starting to get nervous about it, about being home, and the reverse culture shock. At the same time, I’m worried about having NOT changed enough. Like I’m holding myself to too high of a standard.

Maybe I just have too much time to think.

It feels great to be starting a new chapter of my service. It’s exciting that part of that new chapter is helping other volunteers find their way and embark on their own “toughest challenge they’ll ever love.” I’m still thrilled that I have.


Anonymous said...

Caitlin, my daughter is one of the trainees you recently hosted. THANK YOU. She was inspired by you and your work, we are now following your blog with so much anticipation to every entry. Thank you also for your pics, What an adventure you are all on. Keep up your amazing work, you know you are making a "differance".
T. Falzone, (Michele's mom)

Booyataa said...

Your website made me feel very nostalgic for my 9 years in Velingara. Would any of your Pulaar speaking friends like free copies of a paper in Pulaar? See http://soon.org.uk/fulani/free-papers.php

We mail them free of charge if specifically requested.

Thanks, Jane

infatuated_w_culture said...

hey girl. me, claire. i understand exactly how u feel about the peace corps reverse culture shock anxiety. the way im looking at it is at least my family in america actually knows and gives a shit about me and are more open minded than ...ok today is one of those days. im gonna stop writing. love u, cant wait to see u in just a week n a half. bisousss.