Sunday, August 16, 2009

PCT in Thiès

Seeing as I haven’t been very good at keeping this blog updated, I’ll run through the first few days of PCT (Peace Corps Training) by sticking to the highlights.

Bismillah means welcome!

The first day we were here, we had language, technical, and medical interviews to help the Peace Corps Senegal teachers/staff know what to teach us and where to place us. We had plenty of down time to get to know each other more and get used to our new home.

The “Disco Hut” = our most common hang out place in the compound.

One of the many caterpillars that are all over the compound.

During the second and third days of PCT, we split up into our technical groups (I’m sustainable agriculture, and there is also urban ag, agroforestry, and small enterprise development) and learned a bit more about what our goals and duties will be when we become PCVs. We also spent time as a large group learning more about the Senegalese culture – we learned which foods and spices are common here, how to properly slurp tea, what clothes are appropriate for what occasions, how to get water from a well, and how to go to the bathroom (though some of us already experienced the pit latrines at the airport [see third picture from my previous post]). Yesterday afternoon we also had our first safety and security training, which was a bit frightening. I think our safety and security officer intentionally makes the first training so intimidating to toughen us up right away and keep us on our toes all the time. He said he’ll send us period text messages (once we get cell phones, which will be in the next few days I think) with just 2 words: “eyes open” Can’t wait for those. :) Then we had a brief walking tour of the “red zone,” which is the one area in Thiès that we’re never ever supposed to go. He took us there so we wouldn’t be so curious about this forbidden area to try going there on our own. Then the PCVs that are helping with training took us on a tour of Thiès: we saw the market, the restaurant area, the stadium, and other areas. And we may or may not have accidentally returned via the red zone.

For fun, I’ve played basketball and volleyball quite a bit, which, as anyone who has ever met me knows, means I’m practically in heaven. And it wasn’t even that challenging playing volleyball in a skirt…though I did change into capris for the next game.

Our volleyball court! (with the disco hut in the background)

This morning we learned more about our homestays as well as the language we’ll be learning during our homestay. (Quick side not about languages in Senegal: French is the national language of Senegal since it was colonized by the French, however there are numerous local languages spoken in Senegal. There are general regions in Senegal where each language is spoken, though some can be found in small areas throughout Senegal. Wolof is the most common, so it is spoken throughout Senegal. ) I am learning Wolof, which I am really excited about. (I will be calling you, Alec, so we can both practice our Wolof!) I could be placed almost anywhere in Senegal, but most likely in central or northern Senegal.

We had our first Wolof class this morning, and I learned how to say hello: “Asalaa malekum” (technically this phrase is Arabic, not Wolof), which actually means “Peace be with you.” And one response to the question “how are you” is “Maangi sant”, which means “I’m thanking God.” There is much we, as Americans, can learn from the Senegalese (and West Africans in general) and this is one such example. They do not just say “Hello!” as an initial greeting, but rather express their desire for everyone to find peace. Similarly, rather than saying how they are feeling at that moment, Senegalese say they are thanking God, which they (and I) cannot deny that regardless of our temporary feelings or even overall mood, we should thank God for our lives since he created us and sustains us.

Our classroom

The rules we established before starting our Wolof lessons. Bamba is our teacher. (His official title is “Language and Culture Facilitator.” He will be living in the village with us during our homestays so we can have class together as a group in the mornings and so he is close in case we have any questions or problems.)

My language/culture training group (from left to right): Jo, Cora, Theresa, and me! (Apparently the reflector on my shirt works!) :)

This afternoon we split into our technical groups again and we aggies learned what sorts of gardens we will be planting as our demonstration plots, as well as how to start a small tree nursery, since all volunteers, regardless of their sector, are expected to start a small tree nursery and help people in their area learn how to plant and maintain (as well as conserve and use) trees. We will start our garden plots and tree nurseries at our homestay villages tomorrow, which is useful (and fun) since all the PCTs in each village will work on their garden and nursery together. It was sweet to finally get our hands dirty and play in the dirt.

Before dinner I went out to the market in Thiès with a few other PCTs to get tea and sugar for our host families. Drinking tea (with lots of sugar apparently) is a pretty regular thing to do each afternoon when it is too hot to do much of anything else. What I can’t quite get over is how they can stand drinking something hot during the hottest part of the day. I start sweating drinking tea each morning with breakfast…but I guess that’s another one of those “your body will adapt” things. It was fun to practice our Wolof, especially since they father and son selling us the tea and sugar were really helpful and friendly. It certainly was frustrating, though, only being able to say a few things to him in Wolof, and only a bit more in French.

We leave tomorrow afternoon for our homestays for 7 days. Then we’ll come back to the training center for about 4 days before going back to our homestays. This is what our schedule will be like for the next 9 weeks or so. Seeing as we’re leaving the confines of the comfortable Peace Corps compound, I will no longer have electricity, a flush toilet, a shower, internet, and other such modern conveniences I’ve enjoyed my whole life. I’m mainly saying this so you all know I won’t be updating my blog or anything until next Sunday at the earliest. It is both exciting and incredibly nerve-wracking to know that tomorrow night I won’t be hanging out with all the other PCTs, but rather struggling to remember the few words I’ve learned in Wolof to communicate as childishly as possible with my host family. Just the next step in this grand adventure I suppose. :)

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