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Yesterday we arrived in Dakar, Senegal at approximately 5am local time. Despite being unable to sleep at all during the entire flight across the Atlantic, I wasn't tired at all. I also wanted to keep my wits about me while being thrust into such a new environment - I could feel the tension in my neck as I filled out the customs form. We moved through the airport, and my stress was loosened a bit as I chuckled to find a stray cat cautiously creeping its way toward the exit while 60 Americans covered in luggage made their way out.
The sun started to rise as we piled into the officially-marked Peace Corps vans and buses to make our way to the Thies Training Center. During the ride my eyes were glued to the windows as I studied every person and building we passed. It was a marked contrast to America to find so many people walking alongside a highway often only a few feet from cars moving at 60-70mph.
Many buildings in Dakar seemed unfinished or abandoned while within a few hundred meters there were 3 others being built. As we moved closer to Thies the landscape became more and more rural with much more lush vegetation and fruit stands replacing the abandoned buildings, rubble, and sand. I was amazed at the size and prevalence of the baobab trees that first seemed to dot and eventually cover the landscape.
We pulled into the training center to a grand applause cheers from the staff who quickly broke out into a drum circle. We had a quick breakfast of French bread, fresh peanut butter, chocolate sauce, and Ovaltine - "More Ovaltine please." Afterward we were given time to sleep, but despite having 8 hours sleep in 3 nights I felt wired and went for an exploration of the compound with a couple other Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). Hawks also circle the skies while you can hear a multitude of birds in the many trees surrounding the compound.
After break time we settled down to a lunch of rice and beef with peanut oil--It was amazing. The people here are so friendly; you can feel the strength of community. Rarely will I pass a Senegalese without him/her saying hi and asking me how I'm doing. I finally have a use for the twelve years I spent studying French. The food is distributed in big metal bowls and we break off into groups of 4 or 5 to share - Senegalese Training Center workers joining us to make conversation learning about where they are from while practicing our French.
Other than eating great food we've been going through different interviews to assess our proficiency in French, our placement preferences, and our medical history. It looks like I will likely be placed in a Pulaar region as the government officials will likely be French-speaking. I also might even be directly working with another PCV since trees are more affectively grown and cultivated when multiple people can keep track of them.
For the first few days all new PCVs stay together at the training center where the bare bones lessons and skill are learned. Next week we head to our training homestays. I am so excited to see what else this beautiful country and its friendly people have to offer this great experience.
P.s. We did receive cell phones, but it will likely be very expensive to call unless Skype is used. Feel free to call, but please remember the 5 hour time difference. I will most likely be available to talk after 9pm.