Thursday, October 14, 2010

A New Chapter...

For starters the beach house was amazing - we were right on the water. The first night we had a big party, and most of us spent the entire evening in the water. The next morning a group us took a hike up to the top of the ridge overlooking the ocean.

On Tuesday we finished our time at our homestays. It is amazing how close you get to people after living with them for only a couple of months. I returned from the market after buying a final silafunda (gift) and sat down next to my host mother cooking lunch. I couldn't understand why she was turned away from me, and I had to tap her on the shoulder to get her attention. As she turned, I realized what it was from the tears streaming down her face. She was so choked up that she could barely tell me that she was going to miss me, and she was worried I was going to be like the previous trainee they had hosted who hasn't called or visited in a year. I was quick to assure her I would visit in the future.

Friday, October 15th we headed out early in the morning for the Ambassador's house in Dakar for the swear-in ceremony. Whenever we go from Thies to Dakar we try to leave at 7am sharp, but of course this never works out and we tend to leave around 7:30/7:45. The problem is that the traffic can get especially difficult trying to get into the city at that time. We loaded up a 3 bus/3 landcruiser caravan complete with Gendarmerie (armed men basically equivalent to a more powerful sheriff in the US) escort. Anytime a car tried to cut into the caravan it was met with a barrage of honking until it moved out of the way. I mentioned that we left a little late, so by the time we got close to the city, the traffic was getting really bad, so what do we do? We travel on the opposite side of the road. Another Gendarm waved us on as we changed lanes and moved into oncoming traffic, but we were official, so we could do anything we wanted. We thought people were staring at us when we just had a few buses full of foreigners with a Gendarm escort, but now we were travelling on the wrong side of the road. We even passed a US army convoy that greeted as we passed them in their lane of traffic. It was all pretty entertaining and we really felt official at that point.

Much to my pleasure, the ceremony was even held inside, keeping us out of the heat while in our traditional Senegalese attire with its robe-like design to keep in a lot of heat. I was expecting a repeat of my college graduation where we sat out in the sun for 3 hours in black graduation robes, but I had some luck on my side. The ceremony consisted of a number of speeches in French given by admin in the Peace Corps Senegal cabinet including Country Director Chris Hedrick and the American Ambassador to Senegal. Then newly sworn in PCVs from our group gave speeches in their respective local language: Wolof, Sereer, Mandinka, and Pulaar. The entire ceremony was covered by RTS (Radio and Television Senegal) and might even be available online, if I get the chance to look it up. We all stood and took the oath, went up and received our visa, and then broke for a relaxing cocktail social (no alcohol though - come on now this is a 90% Muslim country and they are forbidden from it).

Shortly after stepping outside for the social, Bamba (our language coordinator) approached me and asked if I could give a short interview in French for RTS as they were looking for a male who spoke French. I was hesitant at first, but I finally agreed. I have studied French for a number of years, but for the last 2 months or so I have been cramming Pulaar 4-hours a day into my head, so I'm a bit rusty. The beginning of the interview was a little rough as I tried to switch to the language in the back of my head with the camera bearing down on me, but I do feel like I pulled it together alright in the end. It's funny because I've definitely used French a couple times, but it is usually after 5-10 mins of speaking it that it really comes back to me. This interview might also be available online...

After the ceremony we headed to the PC Senegal office to shore up some financial logisitics and change into something a little less like an oven. After that we headed to the Club Atlantique (or the American Club as we all refer to it). It's basically like a country club for American Nationals in Senegal, but more equivalent to a public pool/recreation center/YMCA in the US. We were very excited nonetheless to celebrate our transition to official volunteers with a little fun in the sun and swimming!

We then headed back to the Thies Training Center where the celebration continued. We all went out to dinner at the nicest place in the area (it was great food even by American Standards). Afterward we headed to a local bar to relax and soak in the fact that we were now official. I ended up staying up pretty late especially considering my next day (Saturday) departure for the Kolda regional house at 6am, but it was definitely worth it. I actually even woke up a bit early as I had a bit of packing to do and found a handful of people that had stayed up all night! I suddenly felt a little better about my 4 hours sleep.

We packed up the 3 "Sept-Places" (taxis with 7 seats) and headed out for Kolda. The journey was a bit more precarious this time, but we reached the house just the same. The past couple of days have been filled with logistics discussions, relaxing, buying supplies for our new sites (I swear it was like going to college again - we had to by so much stuff), and of course a little partying. This house is like a frat house (but only in the best way possible) where volunteers in the region can come to relax and get a break from their work for a few days a month.

Today I head out with 4 other new volunteers to Velingara to stay the night at a local hotel (should have internet!). Then tomorrow we will take a tour around Velingara to meet some of the officials in the area before heading South to install at our new sites!! I should be installing around 6:30pm my time. That's it then - I'm there for two years and can't leave the city...Just kidding, I'll be able to leave. But still this is my new home for two years. I'm very excited to finally be able to get to work, but I'm also very nervous about having to start over and meet a whole new family and village. Though the homestay was so different, I eventually got used to it - only to be yanked up and put somewhere else. Time is flying now. So quickly the tomorrow of yesterday becomes today...

I will be trying to complete the newly-created "5-week challenge" where you are encouraged to stay out of regional houses for the first 5 weeks to allow you to best practice your language and integrate into your community. If you complete the challenge Chris Hedrick, the Country Director, has you over to his house for dinner. During this time I will likely travel to a nearby city for internet once or twice otherwise I will be cut off from the western world.

Wish me luck!!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Curtis,.
    All my best to you,you have quite a challenge ahead , but I have no doubt you'll do a great job. Many many people are reading your blog.
    Hope you received our package.
    Miss you Love You Be Safe
    Love Mom