Thursday, May 31, 2007

(31 May 2007) Sharon's Contact Info & Fun Mailing Ideas

So, I thought I'd make this a separate message so you can flag it (if you're so inclined) to keep for easy reference.
My phone number is 258-0099
to call from the US: 011 221  258-0099
My mailing address:
PCV Sharon Suri
BP 309
Tambacounda, Senegal
West Africa
I'll probably be able to check my mail (snail and e-mail) about every 2-3 weeks.  As a note, postcards don't always make it in, so if you write one stick it in an envelope before you send it.  A bunch of people have asked me to send out a list of useful stuff to send so I'll include one below, but please don't feel obligated to send stuff.  On the other hand, if you happen to have some of these things and a bunch of stamps to send them lying around, by all means feel free...  FYI- I can get water, oil & sugar relatively easy in the village and I have a stove burner thing and a pot so I am able to heat things as well.  As there is no electricity, I can't really keep anythig in the village cold.
Food stuff:
Beef/Turkey/any kind of meat jerkey (Protein is difficult to come by)
Protein bars
Dried fruit/fruit leather/fruit jerkey
fruit snacks
instant soup mixes
Drink mixes: such as gatorade (I love the red and purple ones), crystal lite (I like all flavors except for peach or watermelon), kool-aid (I like all flavors, especially GRAPE) or anything like that
Coffee (already ground or instant. I love flavored coffee and unflavored)
seasoning mixes/boullion (ex- lemon peppergarlic saltcurry powder, vegetable seasoning)
sauce packets or sauce mixes
'instant' foods that don't need ingredients other than oil and water (I can make these in the village) ex- easy mac,powdered soup mixes, really anything instant
'instant' foods or food mixes that don't need ingredients other than oil, water, eggs, milk, white sugar (I can make thes at the regional house in Tamba) ex- brownie/cake mixes
Trader Joe's fat free spicy black bean dip
dried/roasted/salted nut mixes (I like most nuts, espically pistachios)
seaweed (dried/roasted/salted)
Sweet n'low
any kind of snack packs
non-perishable meats and cheeses (like summer sausage and laughing cow cheese)
cream cheese/chocolate/rainbow/coconut flavored frosting (to add to creations at the regional house)
hershey's kisses/candy bars
hard candies like Werthers
gummy candies
any candy
gummy vitamins (my nutrition is so lacking, I'm sure any vitamins will be appreciated by my body)
baking powder
also, there are other non-food things that are useful here:
Vegetable seeds (DON'T worry about sending indiginous plant seeds, it's not an issue, the weather here is HOT and sunny. There's a rainy season and a dry season, but no cold season) ex- carrots, lettuce, onions, green onions, tomatoes, any vegetables really that will surive in the heat
toilet paper
instant hand sanitizer
face painting crayons (if anyone wanted to go shopping after Halloween for the clearance stuff that'd be awesome! I know they usually carry glow in the dark face painting stuff then)(for the village kids)
stationary (letters and envelopes)
old magazines (the New Yorker, Harper's, logic problems, trashy gossip magazines, any magazines really)
shot glasses (they don't drink alcohol, but they drink a bunch of tea and use these type of glasses for it)
soap (any kind)
pictures of gardening things or composting that I can use a visual aids
books on gardening or composting
Non-battery-using/solar-powered flashlights or radios (a bigger thing to send, but I can give them to my village)
duck tape
And I might just fly home and kiss anyone who can find and send a solar-powered ice maker or refridgerator. A bit of a longshot I think, but I know some of you are rather gadget-savy...
That's all for now.  If you have any ideas, they're probably good ones, so feel free to send whatever.  Just getting mail makes all of us ecstatic, even if it's random or wierd... Thanks all!

(31 May 2007) Officially A PCV, Well Almost...

So, I should give all of you a heads up that this is probably going to be a long one.
    Thankfully, the last week of PST went by quickly.  Normally swearing-in is on a Friday, but some guy in the government who has to be at our ceremony was on vacation until Friday night.  So, this left all of us with a little more free time to get ourselves ready to go to site.  However, not all of us actually swore in.  The day before the ceremony, one PCT was summoned to Dakar for meeting with the CD (Country Director) and then I received a text message later on saying that she had decided to ET (Early Terminate, or essentially leave and go home).  She'd had a few meetings the week prior in Thies with the training staff, but it's unclear (at least to me) if she was forced out by PC staff or if she just wasn't PC material.  Not having known her well, I can't really draw any conclusions, but she has a lot of friends in our stage frustrated at PC for the clandestine way they handled things.

    Swearing in.  The ceremony itself was about 2 hours long and we were accompanied by the Japanese (JICA) and Korean(KOICA) PC equivalents.  The man, who we moved the ceremony to Saturday to accommodate, was there and in his 15 min speech to all of us said that he needed to get the phone numbers of all the beautiful female volunteers.  Oh yeah, that's totally normal here.  Even during CPW (Counter Part workshop) when clarifying the relationship between PCVs and their CPs (Counter Parts) someone mentioned that dating had to wait until after the work of the day was done.  Thankfully for me, all the men I work with most are married, but I have had my share of marriage proposals... Back to the ceremony.  A lot of important people were there.  The US, Japanese and Korean ambassadors to Senegal all spoke along with some of the higher up PC Senegal staff.  We all stood up and received envelopes; however, our CD couldn't seem to put his hands on the paper copy of the oath that we have to sign before we're actually official volunteers (hence, the title of this email).  They've said they are going to mail us the forms once they find them, hopefully that will happen before our 2 years are up.

    More recently I've been at site (Keur Ndongo, sometimes also referred to as Lewe), which is about 30 clicks (or kilometers) north of Koumpentoum.  The PC car brought myself, my 2 closest neighbors and our stuff to site 2 Wednesdays ago.  I'm not sure how they actually knew where to go.  The 'road' north of Koumpentoum is sand and dirt, just like the rest of the land.  If ever there was a place where you'd need GPS it's here.  I'm sure that with time I'll figure out which trees to turn right at and for which sand pits you go to the left, but in the meantime I'll pay 800 CFA (approx 2US$) to ride a pickup truck between Koumpentoum and Koutia Ba (a neighboring village, approx 6km from me).

    Installation was intense.  You arrive in a big white PC land cruiser with all of your stuff and drive through a dusty village, somehow navigating so as not to run over any animals or children.  You arrive into a huge dusty crowd of people and your APCD (Assistant Program Country Director, basically my PC boss) speaks with the village about you in the local language.  Then they unload all your stuff and drive off, leaving you to begin the process of integrating and trying to communicate with your new family.

    So far things are going well.  It's pretty ridiculously hot and all we really eat is rice.  There's usually something mixed into the rice, but there's so little to go around the bowl that it adds a little bit of flavor more than anything else.  I have seen minuscule bits of onion, but no other vegetables than that.  Sometimes they have sauce on top or fish, but for a bowl for 6-7 people there are maybe 2 4-inch fish mixed in.  I'd like to supplement my diet, but there's not a ton of vegetables at the loomo/lumo (weekly market, mine is every Sunday in Koutia Ba).  So far I've seen onions, potatoes and moldy onions there.

    This brings me to work.  After a day or so in the village, some women approached me and said they want me to help them create a garden.  Excited that people already have ideas in mind (a lot of the new PCV's villages don't really know what they're there to do) and at the idea of having an actual project to work on, I've jumped on it.  We are a LONG way from starting anything or having and veggies, but I am working on some research here in Tamba as I type.  Additionally a garden with vegetables means people will have vegetables to put in their (and my) food.  Think happy garden and anti-termite thoughts for me.

    People have come up with other good ideas too.  Some women want me to help them organize a women's group that could run the garden.  They'd then like for the women's group to use all the money they make from selling vegetables in the market to improve the village.  So far they want: a machine to bring water (our wells are all 65meters or deeper), a machine to pound the millet and a health post stocked with medicines.  It's not bad to think big, but it is important to go slowly and not get too far ahead of ourselves. 

    Overall, I really like my village.  My CP, Bassirou, is really friendly and helpful, the village is welcoming and patient, and everyone gets along great with David Bowie.  I have a new name too, but I'm not entirely sure how to spell it yet.  It's something along the lines of Kordu Mbodji, but I'll have to correct the spelling of it once I find out for sure.  I haven't seen anyone use soap yet (except for when my sister did laundry) and things are pretty dirty, but ndank ndank ('step by step' in wolof) I will be able to work with them on different things.

Well, I think this is pretty lengthy, so I'll leave it at that for now, but next time I'm in Tamba you'll get another one of these. 
Ba Chikanom,

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

(9 May 2007) David Bowie, Counter-Part Workshop & Swearing-In

Well it's hard to believe that PST is almost over and swearing-in is in 3 days.  Though 8 weeks is a long time, it's flown by fast. This Sunday I head to Tamba in a long bumpy sept-place ride few a few other volunteers and my new friend David Bowie.  Yes, I got 2 birthday wishes this year; I ate coffee ice cream and found a kitten.  David Bowie (first we thought it was a boy, then a girl, and now we've decided that it's too early to tell) is 4-5 weeks old, all black except for 2 big white spots on her abdomen, and, has clear blue eyes. I found Bowie along the road while I was walking home last week.  I saw her walking towards the street and when I went over to her she ran up to me and climbed in my lap.  I looked around for her mom (no mom or any other cats for that matter), did a quick check for any obvious funky skin conditions, and phoned another volunteer who has worked with animal shelters/humane society type organizations forever (Thanks Meg!).  After my fellow volunteer's vote of confidence that, yes indeed, this was a feasible idea and deciding that this little black kitten had a better chance of surviving with me than without me, we were on our way home together.
So far, Bowie drinks mainly milk, although she's eaten 1 hard boiled egg and a little bit of chicken.  I found some cat food in the Toubab store, but she's not up to it yet.  The vet I took her to said she was too small to get any vaccinations, but come IST (Aug-Sept) she should be big enough.  She's SUPER friendly; all the other volunteers are in love with her and my counterpart even picker her up and played with her a little. I have some photos, but my camera's having issues, so no word on when those will be up.
Beyond the awesomeness of having a kitten, life's going well so far.  Last week we had our Counterpart Workshop, where the people we'll be working with come to the Training Center in Thiès to learn about the PC and get to know us.  Both my Official and Local counterparts came, which is really encouraging.  Apparently, PC delivers invitations the week before so often times counterparts don't come to the CPW (granted there are other difficulties besides notice, we all in the health program just thought that less than a weeks notice to figure out how to get yourself to Thiès was sort of ridiculous).  My official counterpart speaks French, Wolof, Pulaar, and a little bit of Pula-Futa; my local counterpart speaks Wolof and Pulaar.  We were able to communicate somewhat during the workshop, but I have no doubt that communication is going to be extremely difficult during the first 3 months.  Though we both speak Wolof, the Wolof in the villages is different than the Wolof we learn at the center (as is true with most of the languages).  Additionally, most of the people in my region speak Pulaar; my actual village speaks Wolof, Pulaar, Pula-Futa, and Mandinka. I also think my counterpart might be more comfortable with Pulaar than Wolof so I'm hoping that for IST I can get some Pulaar down.
I know I vented a bit about PST before, but on a more constructive note I really want to go visit other PC countries and see how they run their trainings.  Not all countries are the same and I'm really interested to see how the health programs are run.  Though I'm sure that every country's needs and priorities are different, I would imagine (or at least hope) that PC would have some type of overarching health program mission statement or something.  We filled out our final written evaluation of the training program, so there are a lot of ideas running around in at least my head.
Besides the challenges of language, the first 3 months are going to be difficult just settling in.  Our training frequently reinforces that going to other compounds to meet people, learning where the wells are and how to get water/food is actual work.  It's difficult, it's hot and just because we're not leading causeries on making neem lotion or family planning doesn't mean we're not working.  But, I am excited.  It will be nice to not have to wake up while the stars are still out or run to class at the beat of the sabaar.  It will probably be too hot to do much during the day, so I'll have plenty of time to sit and talk with my family/community and get to know them.
Well, David Bowie's napping in my room for now, but she'll be up and wanting some love and attention soon.  I found a giant feather at the center yesterday and it's her new favorite toy.  Thanks for everyone's birthday wishes and support.  Tambacounda here I come!
Ba Chikanom,
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