Sunday, October 4, 2009

Counterpart Workshop!

The end of this past week we had our Counterpart Workshop. Every PCV (in Senegal anyway – not sure how it works in other countries) has 2 counterparts that are members of the village/town/city that the PCV lives in and works in the general sector that the PCV is in. So for ag volunteers, we have one male counterpart and one female counterpart, both of whom are farmers in some capacity. Typically one of the counterparts (usually the male counterpart) holds some sort of leadership position in the village (such as the leader of the local farmer’s association) and/or is a more educated, innovative, and/or open-minded (to new ideas/practices/technologies/etc.) farmer. The other counterpart (usually the female counterpart) is the leader of a community group – such as the local women’s farming/gardening group. Agroforestry volunteers have one counterpart who lives in their village and one counterpart who works for Eaux et Foret (Water and Trees – the tree-focused branch of the Senegalese government). Eaux et Foret is actually a sub-branch of the military so some of the E&F counterparts were dressed in full military attire – that was fun and random (to us anyway) and HOT! (I can’t imagine having to wear those heavy pants and long-sleeve shirts and boots in this heat!) Many of the PCVs live with their counterparts – for example, one of their counterparts is their dad or brother. (That’s not the case for me, but my male counterpart lives next door to me, and I’m sure my female counterpart isn’t far since Kaymore isn’t that big!)

The counterpart workshop was mostly an opportunity for us trainees to meet and get to know our counterparts (as best we can in 2 days with our limited language skills). Our days were packed with sessions on what the Peace Corps is, on what ag PCVs do (such as what PC Senegal’s goals are for the next several years and what varieties of corn, millet, sorghum, rice, and cowpea we extend), on how our counterparts can help us when we first get there and for the next 2 years (like tell other people in the village that we’re coming and why we’re here, speak slowly and clearly with us and act things out to help us learn the language, and show us around the village and introduce us to all the important people – and everyone else, too!), and on the challenges we might face as ag PCVs (like learning the language and adapting to a new culture, receiving excessive amounts of unwanted attention, and figuring out which farmers will really work hard with us and which ones are all talk and no action). It was very tiring for everyone involved, but well worth it. Perhaps the most challenging part was translating everything into all the languages that are spoken in Senegal – the main language being Wolof of course, with French a close second (though almost always as a second language for everyone), and then Pulaar (with several varieties of that), Sereer, and Mandinka. (There might be another couple more that are spoken in only a few small areas where PCVs aren’t so we wouldn’t have any counterparts from there.) Luckily our amazing ag trainer knows Wolof, French, Pulaar, and English (which was of course another language that everything had to be translated into since our language skills are not anywhere close to being good enough to understand everything everyone was saying), so he did most of the translating and then we had our LCFs there to help, too.

Definitely the most exciting part of the workshop was the soccer match between the trainees and our LCFs (Language and Culture Facilitators). We played Friday evening once all the sessions were done. Let’s just say it wasn’t a fair match to begin with because only guys played on the LCF team (since women don’t really play soccer here as I’ve said before) and they’ve all played before, while we had a good number of girls on our team and most people hadn’t ever played soccer before (or at least not for years and years). But we did our best and held our own. The final score was 3-0, but really it should have been 1-0 because the first goal was right after a hand ball on the other team that our ref (a random guy that was nearby when the game started) didn’t call, and the second goal came after when the ball had gone out of bounds but the sideline ref (another random kid) didn’t call that either, so yeah, it should have been 1-0. Not that I’m complaining. :) I shouldn’t complain at all though because it was super fun. Most people were really out of shape (by most people I mean most of the trainees, though a good number of the LCFs were out of shape, too) so we subbed a lot, which was fun anyway to play with a whole bunch of different people. I had gone into the market earlier in the day and bought some cleats, so it was really nice to have them, and I only got a small blister on one of my toes, which I think is a record in all my years of playing soccer. It was also really fun to show more Senegalese men (and women, since many counterparts came and watched the game) that women can play soccer, too. So yeah, it was fun. :)

We’re all lined up doing warm-ups while our “coach” (in the khaki pants and yellow shirt) gives us a pep talk.

Coming together for a big cheer before the game starts.

I’m #4 – getting ready for a big kick. :)

All of us after the game!!!

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