1 Month at Site!

Trip Start Aug 30, 2009
Trip End Apr 28, 2011

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Flag of Senegal  ,
Sunday, May 31, 2009

So I am alive after one month of living in the middle nowhere in Sub-Saharan Africa! I arrived in site on April 28th, 2009; the PC car drove three of us to our individual sites, dropped us off, and there we were...alone and in the middle of the desert. The first week was certainly the hardest as getting to know a village of complete strangers is a tremendously daunting task for the 1st week on the job. I spent time sitting with my new host family and trying to get to know them. My host mom's name is Korka; she's not all that friendly which is disappointing because my mom at home is amazing and to leave that for this person who I don't think cares all that much about me is hard. She's nice sometimes but her general personality is not warm and inviting like I had hoped. My dad is nice and seems to care about me a little more. He's old though so I think it's harder for him to be as helpful. In addition, he's the chief of the village so at times he's busy being chief. I had a bunch of little host siblings too: Baba (9months), Ibrai (2), Hawa-Chiekh (3), Adam (a girl - 4), Chiekh (7), Hawa (9), Tella (12), and Koudu (17). These are all estimates as no one actually knows how old they are. I also have two older brothers that I have not met yet, one of whom will be returning soon for the wet season to farm in the village. The first full day I was there I sat in our compound talking with the fam and greeting other members of the community that came to say their first hellos to the new volunteer in town. My second day on site my father left to attend the wedding of one of my brothers in Tamba, about 130 km away, and he was gone for a full 4 days. I was actually really angry when I found out he had left, number 1 without telling me, and number 2 because he was supposed to be helping my meet the village. My dad is what they call my "community counterpart" who is essentially in charge of helping you get to know the community, figuring out what type of projects might be the best for the village (aka what is actually feasible), and being an overall person of contact in the village. Given that I had just arrived and a day later he left made me furious as I had no idea who anyone was, who lived in what compound, etc. In addition, a significant number of the people in my village do not speak the language I was assigned to learn by PC, and no one speaks French b/c they are all uneducated. So I wasn't exactly thrilled to venture out into the great abyss of my village without someone who knew their way around and who knew what compounds actually spoke the language I am learning (Wolof). However, I managed to figure out where my Wolof people were and spent a chunk of the first 2 weeks befriending them and practicing the language. The first Sunday in site I to a charette (horse or donkey drawn carriage) to a village 7km away that has a weekly market and is the site of another volunteer in my stage. I broke down in tears to her (Melissa) in the middle of all the cows, donkeys, goats, and sheep; I was so unbelievebly overwhelmed and lost. Without someone to really help me in the village I was certain that life here was going to suck for a while. But after the tears flowed and I got my first hug in like forever (b/c people dont hug here) I started to feel a little better. The second week at site was a little better but obviously not great. I slowly began to remember peoples names and families with every time I saw them. It's amazing how made they get when you forget their name, even though you may have met them for 1 minute, in the middle of the market, with 10 other people around. I have given up trying to remember everyone I meet b/c it just isnt going to happen.
It's hard b/c everyone wants so much from you: they want you to remember their name, their childrens' name, they want you to visit them everyday and they get mad if you don't. Not to mention that everyday there is someone asking you for something whether it be money, food, your watch, waterbottle, anything that they think is specifically a "Toubab" belonging. It's amazingly frustrating feeling like people want you here not because they actually want to be your friend or because they care about you, but because they think you will give them stuff and bring things to the village without them having to do anything. Don't get me wrong, there are certainly people I really enjoy spending time with; however, those people are sometimes overshadowed by the many who think that my job as a volunteer is to bring them "things". As most of you know, I am a bit stubborn and strong-headed so this really doesn't go over all that well with me. Additionally, it is culturally inappropriate to say "no"; if someone asks you for something you have to say "another time", or "it's coming", etc. Culturally things are very indirect here, especially conversations. So if something happens you don't like you can't flat out say it, like you can in the states. It's a stupid game of tip-toeing around Sengalese cultural that I am still getting used to. Some of this you may think is a bit negative, which I will admit it is. However, there are great things about life here. I sleep under the stars in my mosquito net every night, a majority of the children are amazing and pretty much worship voluteers, and the work I am starting to do will actually have a significant impact on the lives of these people. The kids are my target audience. I believe that many of the problems are generational and by perhaps changing the ideas of children, you can help avoid problems in the future; such as washing hands with soap (which no one does even though the mothers wipe their childrens diarrea with their hands and then cook your meals), eating vegetables, easing up on the sugar (every drink is like half sugar), dental hygiene, vaccinations of newborn babies, etc. It's simple things like this that people skip over in everyday life. The adults are hard to change thus my target audience will essentially be kids and adults who are willing to listen. The last week on site before venturing to the big city (where I am now using the internet - weird) was better. People are beginning to see what kind of person I am and starting to respect my boundaries. Some people still talk about my ancien (the volunteer who was there before me) which is really annoying. Senegalese love to compare people; they have no problem saying "she understands Wolof better than you", or "she's prettier than you" straight to your face for no reason. It's absurd. The other 2 volunteers I am around and myself have tried to make it perfectly clear that we hate that and that in the States it's considered rude. Some have stopped but random people you meet on the street just don't care. It's hard b/c we have left our family and friends to come here and help because we wanted to, but then they say these horribly rude things to you and it really makes you questionyour job here. I have realized it is just a part of the culture, they do it to each other too, and I try not to let it bother me but it's hard. After 3 months in country, they think we should know everything in Wolof, and should have completely adapted. But the truth is, most of them are uneducated and have no idea how hard it is to really learn a new language, and a majority of them have also never left the village so they don't know what it's like to be in a new place with no family or friends. I forgive these little mishaps b/c it's not worth my time or energy to let these things make me mad, I cannot change them. I am generally optomistic about my upcoming life here. Every volunteer says the first 6 months are the hardest: you're learning the language, getting to know the village, and combating a clash of cultures that is inevitabily always in contrast. Things can only become more natural and comfortable with time (hopefully). I think beginning projects will also help me gain respect within the village b/c right now I can't really do a whole lot.
I miss all of you like crazy and keep sending emails; I get so excited to see them.LOVE KATY!!!!
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