Swearing in and Install
Trip Start Sep 09, 2008
15Trip End Nov 2010
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A jampacked last weekend of training in Thies included a birthday/pre-election party at Pamanda's during which the owner (a big Lebanese guy) send the waiter out with "Yes we Can" written on a piece of paper and a round of shots for the table plus a banana split for me, the birthday girl. We were able to find a hotel in town with satellite that lended us their tv and conference room for the big night. They even set up some beds so we could catch a nap before the final results came in at around 5 am. I made it till about 3 and then crashed so sadly missed Obama's speech but someone downloaded it. For the next few days we all got stopped on the street and congratulated just for being Americans- talk about a change huh.
We were pretty much left to our own devices as training wound down and we started to prepare for the big move. Some people had a lot of last minute shopping to do as a hut far out in the bush awaited them, certainly no boutiques there. Our last big event before install was the swearing in ceremony, pictures of which you can see on facebook. In usual Peace Corps fashion they tried to pack as much as possible into one day. We assembled at 6:30 in our best tailor made Senegalese complets (grand bubu's for the boys and pagne/chemise outfits for the girls) and were driven to the ambassador's house in Dakar for the big ceremony. We were even given a police escort to get us through morning Dakar traffic. His special maneuvers included leading the two big busses down the wrong side of the road for about a mile or two. We arrived in time and had our ceremony with the ambassador, various other expats and representatives from the Senegalese government. I was particularly nervous during all this because they had asked me to give a speech in front of everyone, something that would have been nerve wracking in English but this speech had to be in Wolof and was broadcasted on tv. Thankfully my language teacher helped me prepare it, so I think I ended giving a fairly inaccurate picture of my Wolof skills. But at least everyone understood what I was saying.
The ceremony was followed by a reception in the yard during all of us good food starved volunteers swarmed any food item we could see. Afterwards we got about one hour at the pool at the American club before we were herded back on the bus to go back to Thies so we could arrive in time for the next party at the training center with our host families. The role reversal of hosting our families at the center was slightly akward but there was a live kora player and more good food. At one point we were surprised to see that the three Americans at our table had given up trying to each chicken with plastic silverware and were using our hands while the three Senegalese family members were still daintily using the cutlery. Oh well.
Then the big day- Install! We spent the night in a youth hostel in St Louis before being installed because there's no regional house up North. What I thought might be a depressing way to be installed at site (without a group of other volunteers to welcome us at the regional house) turned into a rather fun night. Four fairly near volunteers came into St Louis and took us out, first to a bar in the fire house (not as cool as it sounds, its basically the firemen making some money on the side selling drinks) then to a restaurant that consisted of a few tables in a garden where you order brochettes (kabobs) by the piece. You order whatever meat they happen to be making that night which we were happy to discover was warthog. So my last meal before install was warthog and onion kabobs with French fries. Yum. It actually was pretty good.
I spent the first few days at site just setting up my room. I managed to find a cheap bed by buying one of the extra's they had lying around the youth hostel so I set to work painting. My little brother helped out with the higher parts by tying my paintbrush to a stick so the job went pretty fast. The family here is really nice and seem genuinely happy to have me, as is not always the case with some families that are used to hosting volunteers. I've been trying to speak Wolof with them but the kids thankfully speak French. They're a little more Western than my last family- meaning they eat inside some of the time, most of them eat with spoons, and I eat with only one family that consists of parents and children, not a range of relations. That being said, my village is pretty basic. I'm lucky to have electricity and tv (I've been able to keep up with my favorite Brazilian soap opera Au Couer du Peches) but daily living is far from easy. I'm hoping once I learn the tricks of living in a small village life will get easier. For now I spend half of my time in the village talking mostly to my family and the other half hanging around the park (a 1.5 k walk from my house) talking to the agents and the ecogaurds and trying to figure out what in the world I'm supposed to do here.
More to come on recent activities soon (now that I know where the internet can be found in St Louis). I hope you are all doing well and have a great Thanksgiving!