Sunday, April 29, 2007

(29 April 2007) Place de France-PST Rant, My Birthday, & Bargaining For A Sabaar

 Recently, our language classes have been going on field trips; we've gone to different home-stay families and a local artist's workshops.  Some groups have even been to restaurants. Yesterday our class was taken to 'Place de France' (PF).  PF isn't a restaurant, boutique, home or even park.  It's an open paved space enclosed by several major streets. Usually you can find a bunch of street kids riding bikes around in circles on it.  It's basically an empty space with a few (maybe 4) shaded benches that makes for a good meeting point due to its location.  For our field trip we were dropped off in the big white PC bus and told to start talking to people.

    Recently, I've adopted the strategy of not talking to strange men between the ages of 14-35 so as to avoid the inevitable unwanted attention/marriage proposals/requests for money..  However, this particular activity required us to do just that.  Go talk to random strange dudes (without: giving them any food/money/gifts/any of our stuff, offering to become one of their wives, telling them too much about ourselves) and ask them to slowly and patiently help us practice out Wolof.  AND, unlike our other field trips so far, where we've all sat together so our teacher can check on our pronunciation and comprehension, we were told to go off on our own and start talking to people.  Though I was less than 10 feet away from another girl in my class, we were at least 100ft away from the next closest classmate.  I found myself surrounded by a bunch of scraggly-looking boys aged 6-18, who finally resorted to teaching me the equivalent of "head, shoulders, knees, and toes" in Wolof after failed attempts to get beyond what's your name and where are you from. 

    Though I know there was probably something positive about the field trip, right now all it's done is put up a blockade between me and Wolof.  Even giving us a heads up before we were dropped off as to how the activity would work would have at least have a better attitude about it.  As it was, I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon napping at the center and avoiding anyone I might have to speak Wolof to; not my favorite way to start the already short weekend.  The older street boys did tell me that it was much more difficult for them to travel to Europe or America than it is for us to travel here, but I only understood what they were saying once they said it in French.

    PST (these first 8 weeks in Thi├Ęs) is definitely important, but it also needs some revision.  Since so much of our technical training/skills can't be developed until we get to site and have begun to assess the needs of our community, most of our tech training is vague.  Fortunately, we have a current health PCV who's extending for a 3rd year and is making some changes as we go along.  She's sympathetic to our frustrations, but also reminds us that PC programs are always developing and evolving.  We've discussed different training methods in other countries; some places do Village-based training, which splits up everyone across the country, but allows them to begin the process of integrating faster, start understanding the needs of their community earlier, and specialize their training based on needs specific to those areas rather then the needs of the whole country.

    While village based training seems like a great idea now, I think we're a ways off from transitioning to that.  Currently, we have 8 weeks of intensive language training (did I mention that some people are going to sites that don't speak the language that they are being taught in PST?) along with some tech training.  After this we spend 3 months at site trying to figure out the needs of the community so that when we come back for IST (3 weeks of intensive tech training which follow our first 3 months at site) we'll have an idea of what we need to learn. 

    Fortunately, PC (or at least PC Senegal) is open to change.  Around 2-3 years ago PST was 3 months and IST didn't exist, so the split in the training program is rather new.  I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I'm already thinking of extending to continue the development of the health program here.  In all my time of training CPR/Lifeguard/1st aid classes and more I was never so appreciative of their detailed training outline so much as I am now.  I guess if I had to outline my project plan for a potential 3rd year I would explain it as wanting to 1st-shorten PST to 5 weeks of intensive language training 2nd-extend IST to 6 weeks of intensive tech training and 3rd-create a "YLifeguard/Red Cross CPR/AED" type manual for both instructors and students of the PC Senegal health program.  There's SO much information and so many resources that we have as health workers, but all of these are totally disorganized, rendering them basically useless.  I haven't been to site yet, let alone been here 2 years, so who knows how I'll feel about extending or implementing these changes when I get to that point.  We'll see...  (NB: If a PCV does extend for another year, PC requires you to take a minimum 30 day vacation and will not only pay for a plane ticket back to the states, but also continues to pay your stipend while you're there).  Most of the PCV's I've met here recommend planning out projects, trips, anything (no matter how ridiculous) really to help get you through the rough times.

    Well enough complaining about training for now.  More important things like, oh yeah, my BIRTHDAY!   This FriMay 4 brings be to the big 24.  As a couple of other trainees have turned 24 since we've been here, we started discussing it's implications.  24 is definitely 'mid-20s'; no longer can we claim to be in our 'early-20s.'  And after 2 (or maybe 3) years of service here we'll be 26, which we decided was the last year we can get away with claiming 'mid-20s.'   It doesn't really matter; I'm here now and glad to be doing what I'm doing.  If I get to a point where that changes I can always re-evaluate.  Regardless, my birthday is Friday and my goal is to find an ice cream cake, or at least a slice of cake with some coffee ice cream on the side.

    In other news, I had my first Sabaar lesson on Friday.  The sabaar, or 'tam-tam' as they French call it, is a traditional drum that is used in most West African music.  They come in varying sizes with varying process, but I've decided to make learning/practicing it a personal project for my first 3 months at site.  When I started asking our teacher about prices he said he could get me a 'deal' for around 12mil.  (1 us dollar = approx 500 CFA, so 1mil is about 2 us dollars).  Since neither I, nor anyone in my family knew how much a sabar should cost I decided to look around at prices before our next lesson.  When I asked the nearby boutique how much for a medium-sized one the guy started at 60mil.  I gave him an aghast look and named 6mil as a more appropriate price.  Very quickly he halved the price to 30mil, then 20mil, then to 15mil. I know that most people here will quote us exorbitant prices because were obviously foreign, but I had him to less than a quarter of his original price before I left.  I didn't end up buying one, but I'm glad I practiced my bargaining skills and tried out a few different drums.

    It's hard to believe that I've been here for 6 full weeks and have less than 2 weeks until swearing in (Sat May 12).  The following Monday (5/14) we'll be on our way in "sept-places" (a kind of transportation that holds up to 7 people and goes quickly between large cities) to our regional houses.  I probably won't get to my village until around the 16-17th, but a big PC car will drop off me and all my stuff.  I've heard that it's hottest right when we arrive, but at least that means each day will get cooler and more comfortable.  I am a little nervous, but I'm also incredibly excited and can't wait to check out my new home.  Oh and hopefully I'll find a kitten...
Ba Chikanoom
(until next time)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

(22 April 2007) Ups & Downs

 Hi all !
Sorry for the delay in updates, feel free to check out: for more frequent postings from a girl in our stage (the group of us here starting in March 2007).  Let’s see, the braids have finally come out.  I had them in for about a week and a half, but the itching didn’t get much better with time and the skin around my hairline was freaking out from the stress of being pulled so tight.  Don’t worry though, I did take pictures and am trying to upload them as I type this.  Someone said I should cut my before I left; they were definitely right.  I think I might wait until halfway through service, take a trip home and get my hair whacked off and donate it to locks of love.  Amber, think you can work some of your magic on me?
The last week and a half has been sort of a drag, but as of yesterday things are back on the upslope.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here for 5 full weeks already, but at the same time I feel like it’s been forever.  Last week I hit a lot of the “walls” in terms of food, sensory-overload, language barriers, and cultural differences.  Food/nutrition probably hit me the hardest.  I started getting depressed waiting for lunch every day because I knew that 1- it wasn’t that exciting flavour-wise and 2- there is a lot of essential nutrition missing from it. Thankfully I got my first care package that included a variety of protein bars (thanks mom!) so  I threw a few of those into my meal rotation and have been feeling better ever since.  
In other exciting news, the beach house went well.  Last weekend 24 of us rented a beach house in Popengheim (sp?) along with an Allhum (giant, rickety, and probably unsafe bus thing) to take us there after classes ended on Saturday and bring us back Sunday evening.  The Atlantic was beautiful, albeit a bit colder than I expected; apparently the currents on the eastern side go from us toward the equator instead of away from it.  Our beach house was amazing! There were 7 or so bedrooms on the bottom floor that each had 2 twin beds and a bathroom and then a rooftop terrace on the second floor.  We weren’t close enough to “spit into the ocean” but we were less than a 5 minute walk away.  Oh, and there was running water in the kitchen and in the bathrooms,  a little bit of heaven if you ask me.  I did end up getting a little sunburned, but it was nice to chill out on the beach and soack up some rays (YES I did wear sunscreen). 
I think my mom sent out an email but in case you didn’t get it, my site for the next 2 years (starting after May 11) is Keur Ndongo.  You won’t find it on a map (there’s less than 300 people in it) but it’s about 30km north of Koumpentoum.  Koumpentoum is a relatively large city that you can find along the road that runs west east just above The Gambia.  It’s kind of smack in the middle, but I’m technically in the Tamba (Tambacounda) region.  I’m not sure exactly where my mailbox will be and I won’t know until after I get there, but if you want to use up some of those 84 cent stamps you have lying around the house or even fill up that old box you’ve been saving for no good reason (mom) and mail it off to me before I have the new address, you can send it to:
Rebekah Johnson
BP 309
Tambacounda, Senegal
Don’t put my name in the “To” field because it seems to confuse the post office people, but you can put something like “Super rad friend of Sharon Suri” above your address in the “from” field so Rebekah will know it’s for me.  Back to my hut in Keur Ndongo, which will be free from the pesky annoyances of running water and electricity; I’m definitely excited to get to know my village and start drinking tea with them. (Tea, or “attaya” as it’s called here, is VERY popular.  People spend a lot of time both making and drinking the tea.  I see it as the social equivalent of the coffee addiction I developed before I came here...)  I’m going to be the first volunteer in the village, although there have been other volunteers in nearby villages before.  I don’t know where the current PCV’s local to that area are in relation to me, but another person in our stage will be about 6 or 7km away. Unfortunately I won’t know much else about my site until I get there, but I’ll be sure to keep you updated as things go on.
Even though the last week and a half has been a bit wretched, things are definitely better now.  As I mentioned earlier, integrating protein-rich bars into my diet is helping a lot and my Wolof is getting better.  I found a really cool little fabric stall in the market with 4 hilarious Wolof women who would really like to marry me off to one of their brothers. Anyways, I somehow managed to hit it off with them the other day and I’ve been back for the last 4 or 5 days in a row (after telling other PCTs about it, a bunch of other people have wanted to go and get their fabric there).  They’re super patient with my limited Wolof vocabulary and even helped me to bargain with them (telling me when it was my turn to name a price).  It’s an odd sort of hangout-friendship, but I’m definitely improving my market-shopping skills while I’m there.
Well, I think that’s it for now.  I’m sure I had more to say, but I can’t remember it if I did and it’s gettiong late anyways.  Most of the pics are up, but my camera died in the middle of the upload so I’ll have to add to the album later.  Hope all is well for everyone at home, feel free to drop a line whenever ;-)
Ba Chikanoom
(until next time)
PS- I’m totally disconnected from news in the US here (especially since I rarely have time to hit up the cyber) so feel free to snail-mail or e-mail me articles about happenings there:  I heard something about the Virginia Tech incident, but not much. Also (but not to worry you) a PCV in the Phillipines was just found buried in a shallow grave near her site.  She was around 10 days away from COS’ing (Close of Servise, when you’re done with your 2 years) and they have no idea what happenned.  We’re getting some info on that from the PC, but not a ton so tell me what you hear. 

Sunday, April 8, 2007

(8 April 2007) Wolof Phrases

Happy Easter everyone!

With all the time I spend learning and practicing Wolof I thought it might be interesting to share a few phrases with you.  Some are commonly used, others are simply amusing. Unfortunately I haven't figured out the accents, tildas, or other dash thingys but I'm sure you won't mind.  Also, feel free to send snail mail (Always AWESOME), emails, or myspace comments.  and a big THANKS to everyone who has!!!

Asalaa Maalekum?: Do you have peace (standard greeting: SG)
Maalekum Salaam: Peace only (standard response:SR, even if you're on your deathbed)

Nanga Def?: How are you? (SG)
Maangiy fi rekk: I have peace (SR; even if you're dying)

Naka waa ker ga?: How is your family (SG)
Nunga fa: They have peace (SR same as above)

Jamm nga fananne? : Did you pass the night in peace?
Jamm rekk : Peace only (SR)

Jamm nga yendoo?: Did you pass the day in peace?
Jamm rekk: Peace Only

Mbokki fan? : Where are you from?
Mbokki CA: I'm from CA

Looy Liggeey? : what do you do?
Wolunteer u Corps de la Paix laa. Maangiy liggeey ci mbirum wer gu yaram: I'm a PC volunteer working in the health program

Ba beneen yoon: See you next time (also said to people asking you for gifts to make them go away)

Nanka nank muoi jap gollo sine yaye: (proverb) Little by little you catch the monkey in the forest

Jaay fonde: this literally translates (LT) to "one who sells porrige" but means big butt.  Supposedly if you eat a lot of this porridge you'll get a jaay fonde  If you have a "jaay fonde" you have a nice butt.

bantu yalla: (LT) is "sticks of god", people here are superstitious of counting their children so you refer to them as sticks of god instead of children

Naata bantu yalla nga am?: How many sticks of god do you have?

coof: LT is "the most expensive fish in Senegal" but it's used to refer to someone's boyfriend.

Am nga jekker? Do you have a husband?

Mes nga am jafe jafe ak goor?: Have you already had problems with men?

amul bobb amul geen: It doesnt have a head or a tail ( an expression for when something doesnt make sense)

Well gotta run, I'm out of computer time. Miss you all!!! I'll upload photos or links to them as soon as I can.

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