Working and IST

Trip Start Sep 09, 2008
Trip End Nov 2010

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Flag of Senegal  ,
Tuesday, February 3, 2009

There's not too much to report these days because last Friday I came back to Thies for In Service Training.  The 20 small business development volunteers have had one week of technical classes already and the agriculture group will join us on Sunday.  But before getting into IST let's back track to the past few weeks of work.  Oh and FYI- My computer died a few weeks ago so I'm having to write these on borrowed computer time or using French keyboards at cyber café's so I'll try to keep up but I'm not guaranteeing anything.
So the idea of the first 2.5 months of being at site (between pre service training and in service training) is to settle in, learn the language, meet people and explore work options.  In some cases people have started a little bit of work but most of us have just started to figure out what we can/want to do.  In my case it seems like post Christmas things started (just barely) to fall in to place as far as work is concerned.  Pretty much I started spending half of my time in St Louis and half in the village.  My village and the park are so close to St Louis that all business is conducted, all purchases made, etc in the city.  So it makes sense that most of the work I'm going to find will be in St Louis as opposed to the village.  The kids in my family all either work or go to school somewhere else so my family understands when I tell them I'll be gone for a few days to work in the city.  I almost think all the commuting makes me look more legitimate in their eyes (something that isn't easy to do considering my rudimentary wolof skills).  As much as they love it when I attempt to learn to cook ceeb u gen (the fish and rice dish we eat every lunch), I'd like them to think that I've come to stay in their country for two years to actually do some work.  Plus I try and come back after long absences with a present.  The biggest hits have been a box of Chewy Chips Ahoy cookies from a care package that was so popular my host mom had to lock it in the closet to protect it from my brothers, and an Obama/Biden campaign button that my dad wore around all day pinned to his boubou.
Meanwhile up in St Louis, Brendan has graciously allowed me to leave some clothes and my sleeping bag in his apartment and I have tried to repay him nutritionally with some home cooked dinners.  Brendan has cultivated his two big terraces into wonderful models of urban agriculture so I've been turning his produce into pasta sauces.  I figure if I can cook up reasonable edible dinners using a gas tank and limited ingredients then I should be a cooking pro back in the US.  During the day I've been following Brendan around learning to garden, trying to start my own projects, and doing various errands to gather information for the North's regional strategy.  A kidney specialist from the big hospital leaves across the hall at the apartment so he's been helping me gather statistics on malaria and AIDS rates for the health section.  I also recently discovered the office of demographics/statistics where it doesn't seem like anyone really does anything, but they do have big documents with all sorts of numbers covering every sector for the region of St Louis.
The biggest event in recent weeks was our second regional strategy meeting at the house in Ndioum.  This time we spent another day sitting together in a room trying to refine and fill in the gaps of the draft we produced the last time.  We're hoping that once the plan is done we'll not only have a guide for work in all sectors, we'll be able to measure our progress against baseline data we've collected and use the plan to attract outside partners and funding.  This format of collaboration within regions is fairly new, though a few regions started the process before our stage got here.  I'm really glad that the North's plan got underway just as we were installed so that I'll have gone through the process from start to finish.  Though the meetings are tiring 9-10 hour days, they also give us an excuse to get together every few months.  We planned this meeting to coincide with what has been dubbed the Man-o-que.  It's basically a barbeque/fry fest, so named by the highly outnumbered guys that were in the North before the last stage came in.  As I've been told, the guys felt the need to assert some manliness in a region of almost all girls, and what could be more manly than barbeque and fried things?  So we decided to do it again this year even though the split has become more even.  And after our success with turkey frying at Thanksgiving we were eager to try it again.  Our menu included 6 chickens (which we got to watch getting chased around the yard by a bunch of kids during a break from the strategy meeting, apparently you have to be Senegalese to catch a chicken), pasta salad, chili, onion rings, and at the last minute the girls snuck in some salad.  Clearly a guy-planned meal.
After getting back from Ndioum I only had a week until I had to report to Thies for IST, during which time the program directors came and visited my site (they visit all the new volunteer's sites), followed by one of the people from med who was doing a tour of all the St Louis region sites.  I think my village was a little concerned after seeing two Peace Corps cars pull up in a span of 3 days but I suppose they have a month to get over it.  I was lucky enough to catch a ride with the med staff back to Dakar and spent the weekend there trying to watch as many illegally downloaded Best Picture nominees as possible.  After that is was back to the training center in Thies to start IST.
IST has been a lot like PST but with more of an emphasis on technical classes instead of language.  It's a little surreal to be back at the center after almost 3 months.  It feels kind of like going back to visit your elementary school after graduating from college.  Its weird to think back to the last time we were here and compare how clueless we all were as compared to now.  Back then we could barely speak our languages, would get ripped off in the market, etc and now someone will leave the classroom every so often to answer their phone in Wolof.  So sitting through classes all day can get a little boring unless they specifically pertain to what we're going at our sites.  Luckily there are only 2 weeks left and then we all go to Dakar for WAIST for 3 days of softball and craziness.
I miss everyone, I hope you all enjoy the Super Bowl and the Oscar's.  If anyone wants to send anything I could really use any easy to make food for all the nights I'm in St Louis and some Trident white or Orbit peppermint gum.  That and magazines, I'm feeling very behind on pop culture lately. 
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