Posts Tagged ‘ Sca-rah ’

Obligatory Peace Corps Blog Post OR The Shout Out Post

So I am 15 months into my Peace Corps service (meaning I have 11 months remaining), and I am finally fulfilling an obligation by writing an informational “What to Bring Before Shipping Off” blog post. This blog has a decent amount of loyal followers, but I also have a lot of randoms wandering in from the cyber streets to check out what this blog is all about. A lot of these cyber streetwalkers (not to be mistaken with cyber hookers [shout out to White!]) may or may not be doing Peace Corps in the near future. If they are, then this is the post for them.

Of course, every Peace Corps experience is different. I am currently serving in Sub-Saharan West Africa (shout out to Sca-rah and her people!), but PC is all over the world. Volunteers in Mongolia will most likely need a parka because it’s FREEZING there. I wear flip-flops and shorts most days, which I pair with a sweat rag and an overall hatred of the sun.

Yes, every Peace Corps service is different, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few items that I feel are necessary regardless of where you go. Usually my blog updates are random stories about nothing, so hopefully, with this post, you take away some things. As a whole, I’m a better storyteller than knowledge-dropper, so bare with me.

1. Water bottle: I have a love/hate relationship with my Nalgene bottle. I go weeks without touching it, and then all of a sudden I find it in my room and drink from it every single day. Because of this, I am adding it to the list. I brought two initially but lost one during training. Whoops. These bad boys are indestructible though. It also holds a lot of liquid.

2. Sunglasses: Be sure they have UV protection. Even if you’re going to Eastern Europe, sunglasses are still good to have. I sport reflective aviators because I like to feel cool.

3. iPod: More specifically, an iPod Touch. I initially brought a Nano to Senegal, which I cherished the first eight months of my service, but in April, my mama decided to graciously send me an iPod Touch. I have never looked back. The thing has Wi-Fi! I use it every single day. I downloaded a flashcard app that helps me with my Wolof. It has Skype so, when I have Internet access, I can chat with people back home. I can watch movies and TV shows on it. It also has an awesome camera that can shoot videos. This little device has completely changed my Peace Corps service. Of course, I am very careful with it. I have a case to protect it from the desert sands.

4. Speakers: I brought speakers on a whim, thinking I wasn’t going to use them. I was SO wrong. I use them every single day, and I love them. Of course, I have an unhealthy obsession with music, but speakers are still good to have. I actually have a shower radio (shout out to Lee Anne!), so it’s waterproof, which is brilliant. I listen to it while I take my bucket bath, while I make breakfast in the morning, and while I write blog posts.

5. Ziploc bags: You can find a surprising number of things in Senegal, but Ziploc bags don’t exist here. I love having them.

6. Batteries: For a number of things really. I use them for my flashlight, my speakers, and my Game Boy (shout out to 12-year-old Jamie!). Before you leave for staging, buy them in bulk at Costco. I still haven’t run out.

7. Drink mixes: I live in the Sine-Saloume Delta, so the water here is salty and nasty. I have mostly gotten used to it, but sometimes I just need to cover the taste. This is when drink mixes come in handy. My family throws some in every package they send me. I am currently obsessed with pink lemonade (shout out to Crystal Light!). Gatorade packets are actually the best because they have electrolytes in them, and dehydration is not fun here (imagine me lying on the floor of my bathroom vomiting every hour). Drink packets are also good at covering the taste of bleach. When I first got to Senegal, I added 2-3 drops of bleach to my water to kill parasites. I quickly gave that up because it was annoying, but that’s just me. I’m an idiot.

8. Laptop: I don’t care which country you’re going to, but a computer is a necessity. I recommend those little Netbooks because they are tiny (shout out to Lindsey!) and transportable. I have a clunky Sony laptop that’s almost four years old. I like it just fine, but when I travel I take my iPod Touch with me. Best of both worlds (shout out to Megoosh by way of Hannah Montana!).

9. Flashlight: Or even better, a headlamp. Most of the volunteers in Senegal live in small villages without electricity. Because my sector is Urban Agriculture, I live in a pretty big town. I have electricity, but the power frequently goes out (especially in the rainy season). I’m grateful for candles, but more specifically, my flashlight.

10. Army blanket: Another item I brought on a whim and am super grateful for. It gets shockingly cold in this country…at night….in the cold season….sometimes. No but really, from December to February, I wear sweatpants and a long sleeved shirt to bed. This is when the blanket comes in handy. My dad gave it to me a few years back. You can buy them at any army surplus store, and they are miracle blankets.

So there you have it. Everything on that list should be in your suitcase before you ship off for Peace Corps service. Feel free to tweak certain items, or you can just completely ignore the list and bring whatever the hell you want. These items have been lifesavers for me, and a lot of the things on the list I got later in my service. Having them since Day 1 would have been nice.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t include any medical supplies (i.e. vitamins), don’t fret. Peace Corps provides you with a med kit when you arrive. It has LITERALLY everything you need.

My dear readers, I hope you found this post helpful. I’m done. Moving on. Knowledge dropped.

Miss Me?

Forgive me, my adoring fans, for I have been quite busy these last few weeks. The life of a Peace Corps volunteer, if you didn’t know, is stressful and hectic. Like any 9 to 5 job, I must constantly keep my composure while being frequently bogged down by the trials and tribulations of my life.

OF COURSE I am joking. My life, though it may seem fun and adventurous, is actually pretty lame. I read a lot, and I go to a lot of meetings in Wolof, which result in nothing getting done.

If you don’t believe me, ask my sister Sara (we will call her Sca-rah) and my best friend Allyson (we will call her White). They recently came to visit me (I guess they took my threats in previous posts seriously). They were here for almost two weeks, and it was amazing seeing them and catching up. It was wonderful showing them around my country of residence.

Surely you want details of the trip. If so, ask the girls. Better yet, swing on over to Facebook and look at the hundreds of photos White and me have posted. They are definitely worth a look.

I will solely cover highlights here. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

We rode camels up north in Lompoul, which is a small, natural desert on the coast. Riding back from that fabulous adventure, we got a ride from one of the employees of the campement we stayed at. He picked up a couple of his buddies on the way. The ladies and myself were sitting in the back of a truck. Up ahead, there was a group of large birds feeding on a dead donkey lying on the side of the road (oh, Senegal). Instead of slowing to allow the buzzards to get out of the way, the driver speeds up and plows the truck into a number of birds. He slams on his brakes, his buddy jumps out and retrieves one of the dead birds.
Meanwhile, the toubabs in the car are wildly disturbed. His friend throws the dead bird in the back of the truck, where our luggage lies.

Me (in Wolof): Um, excuse me. Did you just throw that dead bird onto our luggage?
Man: Oh my Allah! You know Wolof??
Me: Yes, I know Wolof. I repeat, did you just throw that DEAD BIRD onto our LUGGAGE?
Man: Haha! You understand Wolof so well!
Me: Listen, and I’ll speak slowly to ensure your comprehension, did you just throw that BIRD CARCASS on our stuff?
Man: Ha!

Clearly that isn’t a verbatim retelling, but you get the point. On the plus side, as a result of this sadistic detour, I got the driver to lower the price of the ride. Remember kids: violence is never the option. It results in angry toubabs and a pay cut.

En route to Toubacouta (a town in the delta south of Sokone), I spied a bizarre sight in the road up ahead (apparently the “road up ahead” in Senegal is crawling with wildlife). Initially, I thought it was a dog galloping across the road, but dogs don’t move like that. As we passed, I noticed it was troop of MONKEYS. These were obviously big, dog-sized monkeys, too. They stopped on the side of the road, whipped their monkey heads around, and glared at us while we passed by in the car. It was mildly frightening. Luckily, they refrained from attacking.

Traveling in this country is not fun. It is exhausting, stressful, overwhelming, and HOT. Going it alone is a chore itself, but when I have two white girls with big look-at-the-toubab-tourist backpacks, it is insane. To put it simply: we were swarmed. Every time. Upon entering the garage, we had people selling a variety of items including (but not limited to) sunglasses, peanuts, birds, teakettles, and hair extensions. I felt like Uma Thurman surrounded by a hundred Japanese henchmen at the House of Blue Leaves (the reference is less obscure to me because I just watched Kill Bill last night). They thought we were idiot tourists who were willing to dole out lots and lots of money. Little did they know that I am in fact an irate Peace Corps volunteer with a short attention span.
Anyways, so everyone swarmed us, resulting in our inability to walk. It’s like being on the dance floor of a club. You’re surrounded by sweaty people, you can barely move, and you can’t hear yourself think.

Man: Toubab! Where are you going!
Man: Hey! Toubab! Come with me!
Man: Hey! Toubab! Want some peanuts?
Man: Toubab! Look at these toddler-sized overalls I’m selling. Pretty, right?
Men: Ha! The toubab knows Wolof! But seriously, about these overalls…

I can’t remember how many times I flipped out, but I know it was more than once. If you want numbers, ask the girls. I just was not prepared for that sort of reaction. As an American, it’s impossible to fly under the radar at garages, but if I have one small backpack and I’m alone, it’s a lot easier than being in a group.

I know there are plenty more stories to tell, but I don’t want to bore you with the details of our uneventful trip. Haha. Sarcasm. But seriously, to sum up, it was amazing seeing two of my best friends here after months of separation. My Wolof improved babysitting the girls, and I got to see parts of Senegal I’d never visited before.

As of right now, I am still clicking along. I am starting a big garden at the high school in Sokone, and I am actively involved in a Girls Leadership Camp we’re hosting at the end of June. I will try to be better about updating. Apparently my fan base is bigger than I thought.

Gang of Three

I have lived in Senegal for over six months now. At times I feel like I just stepped off the airplane, eyes wide with wonder at the dingy airport and the locals attempting to rob me. Other times I feel like my service must be ending soon based on the fact that I’ve been here FOREVER. The truth is, both are a little correct. Six months is a substantial time to be in one place, but compared to two years, I still have a lot of time left.

Since arriving, I have lived in three cities: Thies, Mboro, and Sokone. In each of these places, I go by a different name, and each of these names is attached to a personality. I call them the Gang (not actually but it adds stylistic flair to this post).

Before coming here, I knew life as a Peace Corps volunteer wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I knew I would miss my friends and family in America, as well as America itself. Living as a minority in a developing country is hard. Luckily, I had mentally prepared myself for it. Unfortunately, I didn’t expect to have split personality disorder. I am pulled every which way; I answer to different names, and people expect different things from each part of me.

So, do you guys want to meet the Gang? They all look relatively the same, but believe me when I say they are very different.

Jamie W.: you guys know him! He’s 23 now, which is weird. He’s an American. He loves to listen to music and travel. He has two sisters and a dog back home in Florida. Occasionally he likes to drink, GASP, alcohol and go out and have a good time. He’s a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Senegal. You can find him mostly in Kaolack and occasionally in Thies or Dakar. He has tattoos and he wears shorts because people in big cities don’t care about tattoos. He also likes wearing shorts because Senegal is HOT.

Medoune Diaw: he only comes around occasionally. He exists purely in Mboro or whenever he’s elsewhere and talking on the phone with his family there. He’s super chipper and doesn’t drink. He goes to bed early and likes to sit around and read. Because he first appeared back in August, his Wolof isn’t all that great. By the time October rolled around though, his Wolof had improved drastically because he went to school every day to learn it. He never wears shorts.

Baba Mansaly: he’s ALWAYS AROUND. Of course, Baba lives in Sokone. He’s definitely the smileiest of the group. He wants to make a good impression on the locals in Sokone, including his host family. His Wolof is pretty good, and he learns new words every day. Like Medoune Diaw, he doesn’t drink alcohol. He likes to read and hang out with his family in the evenings. During the day he rides his bike around town and meets with people about potential projects. He has a little garden in his yard, which he waters every day. He doesn’t care about his appearance, and like Medoune Diaw, he wears long pants only.

It is always odd when I have to switch from one to the other. I occasionally run into people from Sokone in Kaolack, which is always bizarre. I chitchat with them and introduce them to whichever friend I’m with. I force myself to merge one part of my life with another, even if they don’t necessarily compute mentally. In addition, every time I get to the garage in Sokone when coming from Kaolack, I have to switch to site-Jamie (aka Baba). I smile a lot, and I greet everybody I see. I come home, and I greet my family joyfully. It’s a mental workout.

In order to get through the loneliness of being at site, I dream of when I can go to Kaolack and speak English and surf the Internet. I try to be constantly surrounded by other volunteers when I’m out of site to make up for the lack of interaction I have with them while home. I read so much in Sokone that I try NOT to read when I travel elsewhere. The two scenarios are polar opposites, which can sometimes make for jarring transitions.

Anyways, these are the kinds of difficulties I have to deal with as a Peace Corps volunteer. Like I said, it was something that appeared unexpectedly, and I had to adjust and compartmentalize in order to successfully adapt. Hopefully, in a year and a half, when my service is done, I’m not completely crazy. Here’s hoping.

Sarcasm in Wolof Culture

They don’t get it, but let’s start from the beginning.

Picture this: me walking down the street. I’m rocking my reflective aviators for intimidation purposes. I have a straw fedora, which is worn topside in order to appear cool and also to protect my head from the African sun. I’m sporting a t-shirt bought from Goodwill and pants purchased from Urban Outfitters (a store that, SHOCK, doesn’t exist in Senegal). I’m greeting my neighbors in the local language, and I’m understanding their responses. To sum up, I’m feeling pretty good. I may even splurge and buy a Sprite later.

Then it happens. I spot a child. I pray he doesn’t notice me. Then, he whips his head around (in slow motion, for effect) and spots me. “TOUBAAAAAAAAAAAAAB!!!!” he screams in a high-pitched tone heard only by dogs and white people.

My head, held so high 30 seconds prior, drops. A single tear trickles down by cheek, catching first on the end of my aforementioned reflective eyewear, and then slowly making its way down my face, falling from my chin and moistening my expensive ($2) Goodwill t-shirt.

My loyal readers, do not fret. Although this is a daily occurrence in my life, I have found a way to parry these verbal assaults.

THE PLAN: when the vile children decide to say THAT word, I will counter their rudeness with a few choice words of my own. Now, when they say THAT word, I have started to answer sarcastically (for those of you who know me well, you’re not surprised). Here is how the conversation goes (translated from the Wolof):

Me: WHERE? Where’s the toubab? I don’t see him!
Me: Where? Let’s get him!
Me: Oh, me? I’m not a toubab! I’m Senegalese! Obviously.
Me (patience rapidly dwindling): Look, kid. My name isn’t “toubab”. Shut it.

Basically, the plan doesn’t work. It has about a 5% success rating, and even then it’s not successful. In the rare occasion that the child gets that I am joking, he laughs but continues calling me THAT word.

As a whole, the Wolof culture does not understand sarcasm, which is a little disheartening for me. The Senegalese people DO have a sense of humor, in general. Unfortunately, sarcasm, my favorite subspecies of humor, is mostly lost on them. As a result, I save up all my sarcastic quips and use them on my fellow volunteers, which I’m sure they appreciate (and as you can see, I also cunningly drop them into this blog).

No worries. I have 20 months left in Senegal. This gives me plenty of time to teach the neighborhood children my American wit. When (not if) you come to visit me, hopefully the children will be dropping sarcastic Wolof bombs like there’s no tomorrow. I have plenty of time to embed my way of thinking into their brains, hopefully resulting in a permanent change. After all, Peace Corps is all about sustainability, right?

Jamie Becomes Legit/Installs

So I know it’s been a ridiculous amount of time since my last update, but a lot of ish has happened, and although I have had endless amounts of downtime since I installed in Sokone, I haven’t had electricity, so it has been hard. Sokone has a couple cyber cafes, but I haven’t checked them out yet.

So the last you saw of me, I was a meager little PCT. I was still in training. Well, folks, I am a damn PCV now! I swore-in as a volunteer at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar on October 15, 2010. It was pretty epic. Basically, we woke up at 6 AM, got in our Senegalese outfits, and drove to Dakar from Thies. The embassy in Dakar is really beautiful, and the ceremony was cool. The country director spoke, and the U.S. Ambassador to Senegal, as well as a few trainees who gave speeches in the local languages. It was even on national TV here in Senegal, which is awkward. A bunch of other vols took pics of me, but I didn’t bring my camera. I have been so lazy in terms of photography since I’ve been here. Sorry, guys. I will figure things out.

The day after I swore-in, everyone in my region (Kaolack) drove to the city of Kaolack to prepare for install. I stayed at the regional house for three days and bought a bunch of things for my site. Kitchen stuff, floor mats, etc. I installed on Tuesday, October 19th. Basically, a PC car drove to my house, the driver helped me drop off all my stuff, then drove off. Luckily, I’d met my new host family when I visited Sokone last month.

So, I have been at site for two weeks now. There’s this thing called the Five Week Challenge, where new PCVs are expected to stay at site for five consecutive weeks without spending the night at the regional house or elsewhere. There is no prize, but the country director wants everyone to properly adapt to his or her new towns/villages.

The Five Week Challenge is difficult though because we aren’t supposed to do much in the beginning. We are expected to get to know our families, walk around town, and meet people. We aren’t supposed to work much because IST (in-service training) isn’t until the beginning of December. Basically, in a month, I am gonna go back to Thies for two weeks and do more training (mostly tech, not language). PST was focused a lot on language, which I am grateful for, but I am also grateful for IST because I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I have a lot to learn about gardening, and I am not comfortable enough with it to teach others (in Wolof) how to properly do it.

So basically I have been reading a lot and hanging out with my new family, who I adore. The family is huge. I have my host parents, and they have like seven children between them (between 14 and 30). All girls and one boy, who lives in Dakar, so it’s basically a bunch of women and their children, and all their husbands live in other cities and work. It sounds odd, but that’s basically how families work in Senegal.

There are two babies. LOVE THEM. Two little girls around a year old each. Their names are Fanta and Mama. They are adorable and love me. There is also three boys who are around 5-6 and look identical. I just now started telling them apart. My favorite is this 3-year-old girl named Nazar. She is CRAZY/hilarious. She is how I envision Sca-rah being when she was three. Nazar is a little spitfire. She either runs around completely naked or wears a variety of Sunday school type dresses. That’s pretty much it. She’s either in her birthday suit or dressed to the nines in lace dresses. She is hilarious and makes me laugh. She has also been seen sprawled out naked on piles of clean clothes.

Another thing I love about my family is that none of them calls me toubab. I am their seventh volunteer, so the kids have grown up with Americans in their house all their lives. The neighbor children, on the other hand, need to be trained. I taught some of them my name, which, OMG, I have a new name! Forgot. Okay, so my new name is random and long and I don’t like it much, but I will rock it. My name, for the next two years, is Malamine Mansaly (mal-uh-meen mon-suh-lee). It is a Mandinkan name, not a Wolof name. The Mandinkas live south of The Gambia in the Casamance, and my family is from there, which is why I have a Mandinkan name. Every time I tell people my name in Sokone, they ask (in Wolof) if I know Mandinka. I always have to tell them no.

Well, yeah, so basically that’s my life right now. I don’t really start work until after Christmas, when I return to site. Right now, I am trying to fill my days with books and long walks and chatting with my family. I am almost fully settled, although I still have to buy some stuff in town that I need.

Okay, Malamine signing off. Ba beneen yoon!