WAIST and back to site
Trip Start Sep 09, 2008
15Trip End Nov 2010
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IST stands for In Service Training. Everyone comes back to the training center in Thies for a little more language and a good deal of work-related technical training. Our classes mostly dealt with how to teach business principles to women's groups, kids, etc or how to set up and conduct one on one consultanting relationships. While getting up in front of a group and teaching sounds like absolute torture to me, I do think I'll be doing some individual consulting with the park and hopefully some smaller Senegalese owned auberges in St Louis. Throughout IST we also heard from current volunteers and several guest speakers. One was and importer who supplies artisan goods to stores in the US. She had recently placed an order with a group of basket makers with the help of a volunteer. Another was a couple who had been older volunteers in Senegal and had started a successful trash removal and compost project. I kind of doubt I'll end up doing something as successful as them but I suppose we'll see.
IST was tiresome in that we had just spent 2.5 months alone at site, completely free and were now expected to be up and ready to learn from 8-5:30, 5 and a half days a week. This at a time when everyone is busy finding costumes and getting clothes made for WAIST. But despite the lack of freedom, it was really nice to be back together as a stage again. I got to hear about all my friends' new friends in their various regions, their funny stories and challenges at their sites. I kind of assumed that someone would have become fed up for whatever reason and ET during/after IST but so far all 40 are still here so we've continued our streak. The common themes among people are, on the negative side: host families trying to exploit us for money, being harassed by men wanting an American wife, eating plain rice every day, various stomach ailments, language barrier. Themes on the positive side: Successful transfer of old volunteers' projects, assorted fun and interesting cultural experiences, good times at the regional houses, joint projects and regional strategies, new friends and relationships both American and Senegalese. I'm glad to be au courant with everyone at the moment and hope that I'll be able to stay in touch with a good number of our stage despite the distances.
After 3 weeks of class we were all ready for softball, hotdogs, and parties at WAIST (west african invitational softball tournament). All of PC Senegal along with PCVs from other west african countries and several senegalese and expat teams descend on Dakar for 4 days of good old American style fun. Each team picks a theme (our North region did the 80's olympic softball team, Kedegou did Peace Corporate, Dakar region did Peace Corpses, you get the idea and competes (or attempts to) for the WAIST trophy. The games are played on fields around the American Club so you spend all day playing, hanging by the pool or bar, eating hotdogs, burgers, bear, cheering on other teams, etc. We all stay in homestays with expat families and I lucked out to be staying with 3 other girls in the pool house of a very nice Australian family.
Though our team displayed superior creativity in the costume department our team sadly did not win any games. I managed to contribute a few outs from my post at first base but it was not enough to lead the North to victory. I learned that the North has not won a game in several years and figured this could be do to the many hours spent rehearsing the Thriller dance to perform in the outfield instead of batting practice.
Our record on the field certainly did not stop us from having fun off it though. WAIST's 3 official evening events are the Marine house party and date auction, the Oceana party, and the WAIST ball. THe Marines (whose house looks unsurprisingly like a frat house complete with bar and pool table) hosted us the first night where we auctioned off a date with eligible volunteers from each region of Senegal to raise money for Senegad, a gender development NGO run by volunteers. Considering the relative poverty in which we all live, the guys went for fairly considerable sums. I suppose there are enough stores of date auction dates turning into real relationships to keep the girls motivated. The third year volunteers in Dakar throw the Oceana party at a sailing club with a big outdoor bar and dance floor overlooking the ocean. We were al grateful for American music and the amazing view. After three straight nights of 4-5 am bedtimes we barely made it through the WAIST ball. Everyone dresses up for this one; beards are shaved, hair is blowdryed (if you can bum a blowdryer off your homestay hosts) and nice clothes are dusted off. The set up reminded me of a wedding or prom perhaps: nicely set tables (with real silverware!) around a huge pool and dance floor. Dinner is served and the ambassador (who's team we played and lost to) and the Peace Corps director make speeches and the awards are given out. Then its on to dancing and general merriment. And so ends WAIST weekend.
But the fun wasn't quite over yet. Every year after WAIST, PC senegal has an all volunteer conference. I had heard this could be pretty boring but this year the format was different. We spent the day going around to various sessions led by our fellow volunteers to learn about the successes and challenges of the projects they had been working on. I was glad to see that other volunteers had made projects work similar to those I had thought of starting. But generally, and this was the theme throughout all of WAIST, I really enjoyed spending time with the SEnegal volunteers from all regions. ALthough I was just meeting many of them it was great to hang out with the people I had heard my friends in my stage talk about during IST. Having done WAIST and the conference and everything with all of PC Senegal I feel a lot more connected to the program and the group as a whole instead of one random person in a little village somewhere outside of St Louis.
Now its back to the village and I'm beginning to move towards actual work. I've heard over and over that usually the first year is a lot of relation building and groundwork and the 2nd is when things get done. SO with that in mind I'm going to continue gardening while trying to make in-roads with a few different organizations. Nik (the third year volunteer in St Louis) and I have already introduced ourselves to the artisan village and the Syndicat de Tourisme office. We're hoping to start a radio show so the station is next on the list to visit. Meanwhile I'm starting to get the materials together from my park for the next ecotourism expo that we want to hold in June. Luckily it is still cool and dry (think New England in early summer) so no need to carry a fan everywhere just yet.
I hope everyone is doing well and staying optimistic about the economy. I will leave you with three funny things I've seen over the past week:
1. A guy with a holographic Obama belt buckle
2. Another guy wearing a sweatshirt that says "You had me at Merlot" with a picture of a glass of red wine (this is a Muslim country, no one drinks here)
3. My neighbors caught a baby monkey and are keeping it for a pet. It eats peanuts out of your hand.