Friday, August 31, 2012

ONE Year & Compulsively Counting

If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.- Confucius 

     This is my brain in Peace Corps…. My nonsensical thoughts are more difficult for outsiders to follow these days, apologies. But Im happy to say Im above the melodramatic clouds of the 9 month mark and the stakes have finally fallen to a normal level. 
         When I first arrived to Senegal, every older volunteer repeated two things: “You just have to figure things out for yourself” and “You’ll finally feel like competent volunteers at the one year mark,” neither of which seemed like comforting advice. Sure, recommendations and solid answers are passed around for field techniques and health tips, but it was difficult to take this hardly reassuring advice. Since Peace Corps Volunteers are a rather independent and skeptical group, blind advice isn’t received without cynicism. After the 365 day loop, Im happy to say its true. Why did it take so long? sigh.a note on Year one:
     After reaching the other side of the Atlantic, we got the best language crash course shuffled with constant moving and living out of backpacks for 2 months. Our bodies more or less transformed behind the bowls of rice and food borne illnesses. Our hands caliced from doing our share of field work and pulling water out of the ground. Our brains acquired a timed shift to overload from the constant processing of our new communities, connections, processes, CULTURE, and how we can possibly assimilate.  
Exponential change. 

     Once the seemingly endless trainings (that should have left me more prepared and confident) were completed, I had to reassess the needs of the people because I didn't see the same “problems” as my community. Early on, Peace Corps required a community assessment but most of my once brilliant ideas fell short. Without a work contact list to build from, I made my way across 7 villages to find serious work partners that would hopefully make my knowledge applicable at some point. I found my shining counterparts with the help of a few ag trainings, which weeded out the mounds of people that just told me what I wanted to hear. I hate that in any context. To be fair, trust is a twoway street and they are all getting to know me over tea and lunch, through countless greetings and small gifts, in every part of the daily “routine.”      Now that we are working and I can form a loose schedule, time does more than drag by and my compulsive tendencies are somewhat relaxed. I have steady sights on sustainability, but if hopes fall short, I will clench tight to the idea that someones life has been impacted to some immeasurable degree.

To all you newbies, Relax. Drink tea. Chat. Have an identity crisis. Im another volunteer saying that the beginning may seem boring (and lonely) at times, but just wait until the one year mark! All of your time will tie neatly together, your thoughts may align just right, and maybe youll finally be able to give back.

Thanks for listening

Thursday, August 30, 2012

English Caaamp!

      Monday fun-day we started English ACCESS Camp with 70 teenagers and a set of Senegalese teachers. I knew just about as much about the camp when I rolled out of bed that morning as I did with the first call for camp counselors. An outlined schedule of ideas laced with luck that we would surely need was passed on to the six of us. Everyday we planned to  go through icebreakers and activities to help the kids practice English in  a fun and hopefully painless way. Our abilities to adjust and think on our toes were essentials for camp success.
     The typical occurrences of the morning included starting late, but that annoyance faded beneath all of the English greetings buzzing in the air. We split the students into 6 groups by counting off, which is  was not a simple task if measured by the number of times "7" was claimed and the Senegalese teachers shouted in disapproval. Respect and patience are not virtues of the French school systems. My positive reinforcement was shot with surprised looks or even confusion all day.
     We pushed through slow beginnings with a naming and flag making activity. The "Amazing Students" all chose an American name for themselves, only one of which was after a pop star, Rihannah. Other groups included Barak, Lil Wayne, Princess Leah, Beyonce, (a rejected Hitler!), and Ciara, but no Jessica.
     During the Q&A session I was asked why new names were given and could only say it was the same reason that PC Volunteers took new local names. One of my quiet girls said this was her favorite session because its important to learn about other cultures. They make my heart smile more than my eyebrows scold. 
Notable questions:
-  Why is America more developed?
-  Why does the president say god bless America instead of God bless the world?-  Why do Americans want to go to Mars?
     We scratched the schedule and put together games like balltossing with sentences, a version of never have I ever,  sports like baseball and ultimate frisbee, the human knot, vocabulary races... Yes, it is as nerdy as I lead on. We even arranged an Olympics day with an egg race, sack race, cookie face (eat the cookie on your forehead without using hands), and more.  The most awkward session was teaching a song by our one and only Michael Jackson. We took turns reading and explaining the lyrics to Thriller! as we tried to straighten out "technical difficulties."
     The kids have pushed my creativity and the possibility of a career in education. One day left, we'll see what it brings!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Korite/Eid in Village

     We sat in the dark waiting for the scratchy radio to reveal whether or not we could welcome the end of Ramadan, but the dark sky remained committed to its cloudiness. All we needed was to confirm that "the moon died." Fasting means that I have the bedtime of a child, so I swallowed the staticy suspense and settled in behind my mosquito net. (so what is want 9 yet). In several of my morning greetings my (hesitates) village people told me that it was a close call, but not yet time for the party because a sliver of moon was still hanging high.
     I squeezed out of my foam-topped bamboo nest into an air that carried cries of young girls in trouble for undoing their "tidi"/tight braids during the night. Everyone has been getting ready for the celebration from beady braids and flashy flip flops to sacks of oil and saturate the rice.
my sisters walked around with me
     Holidays bring pressure to fit in to the classy and presentable aspects of the culture. As a part of the Koritay/Eid makeover,  I was braided and rebraided as my "little sister," Nalli, got use to my disagreeable hair. Yes, after nine months in vil, they have finally reorganized my blonde locks into neat rows like the corn in my backyard. I then wrapped myself in tailored fabric that my ankles fought with as I walked, or nearly shuffled. The vibrant stains of color and stamped patterns draped over every lean shoulder was comparable to the awe of birds exploding from an unexpecting tree. No matter my charade, I'm still that outsider.
     With a patroned rice breakfast and the late morning approaching, it was time for us and all of the surrounding villages to gather at the only central mosque. It was a weathered white-trimmed-blue (square) building topped with rusting zinc. Mango trees shaded the surrounding prayer yard and a sturdy log-picketed fence safeguarded the grounds.
     I kept thinking of my first mosque visit with my sweet Hailat family, you would have to scroll down the list of differences. My headscarf has been traded for braids and the drone of a drum roll is behind a nasal, African call to prayer, but we're still here giving thanks to God for our many blessings all the same.
     The drum signal grew as the imam entered the prayer grounds, now puzzled with basals and prayer mats. Men segregated to the front and curious kids sprinkled all the way back to the womens area. I was up to my elbows and knees in a crowd that nearly sparkled with fresh pressed clothes, rows and rows of beaded braids, maybe a spot of costume glitter and bright eyes under penciled eyebrows.
     I'm often a child in this community (in my speech and curiosity) and it seemed more apparent as I sat nailed in the middle of a prayer wave. A beautiful picture, maybe. After opening prayer, my fellow littluns dusted the spot of dirt off their foreheads and caused a ruckus as they scattered, but it wasn't close to time to pack up. The imam was accompanied by four assisting men holding an umbrella, a handheld fan, the microphone, and his written speech/ prayers. I'll bite my tongue for this celebratory day. The blessings an wishes for the new year poured on as each village took their turn.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Weeding, Seeding, no Eating!

      No cats, dogs, or men, but it has been raining like no other. My field work and line-drying laundry has been disturbed by rolling rain clouds with only the immediate warning of the preceding winds more often than I wish.  The rain has refilled my freshly punched tree holes, dampened my nearly crisp not-so-tidy whities, and even welcomed some aromatic mildew into my hut. <3 .
The rain has even made this stripped land enticing to an array of plants that keep winning the little battles of my backyard.
      “Have you been weeding?” is one of the seasonal questions that has been added into the lineup of greetings.  I usually say no and explain my treetastic work, but I may just cave under the apparent disapproval of incompetence and how often Im asked.  “Backbreaking” perfectly describes this weeding technique as everyone (men included, nudge nudge) spends the daylight hours crisscrossing okra, cotton, and peanut fields bent at the waist with a hand held hoe, “jola.” Try that out for 15 minutes. Not only are they working themselves to a uncomfortably thin and chiseled form, but most people are more or less fasting for Ramadan. Send a crew of Americans here and we’ll start a new Biggest Loser, Africa (life)style.
      Its interesting to see how tightly the greetings are tied to the seasons and culture. Ramadan has reinstilled a friendly air of blessings, the field work has brought concerns of aches and fatigue, the wet season rains reminders of health, and in the slightest absence of the African heat welcomes questions of the cold. For the most part, I am in peace only. "Jam Tan."

Confession: Sorry mom, I took one of my fastest bucket baths yet with a chilly chorus of rain. The babies run and play-bathe ( and occasionally faceplant) in the rain and although I don’t fit either qualifier, I figured it couldn’t hurt.