Monday, September 30, 2013

Peace Corps Senegal: the place where dreams are mefloquin induced and the vegetables are all greener on the other side.

Im nearly out. I can no longer count the years or months; I have weeks and am still in disbelief that the countdown will shorten to days. I think it safe to say that I am more surprised than anyone else in regards to my performance. Although resilience has played a grand role, it was a performance of great stature by the end.
Peace Corps Senegal began casting two summers ago, calling ag-interested applicants out of the wood-works. After proving our skills and dedication, not to mention health and legal reputations, over any where from a ten month to a several year span, we got the part. This new season would introduce 54 new (and still clean) faces to the program of 200. Peace Corps Senegal: the place where dreams are mefloquin induced and the vegetables are all greener on the other side. 
We gradually took on local characters as we stumbled through new languages and flattened words with our American tongues, furrowed our brows at cultural practices and realized we could explain ours no better, and felt the pit of our stomachs contract, hardly satisfied by the nonsubstantial staple. Our characters filled out as we were taken in by families and made new, very patient friends. We were assigned a dialect as part of the process to correspond with our new home and workplace in a community guaranteed to be comparatively curious about our ways as we were theirs. And finally, to seal our new identities, we were given names, which sprouting from weeks of hardship and training with the promise of mysterious but gratifying years.
The show began far before any of us realized it. We were right to feel like stars the moment we found crisp invitation letters waiting expectantly in the mailbox.
I am Homa Diao, an agfo PCV in the lush region of Kolda. I belong to the Casamance, which is made obvious by my sweet Foulakounda twang. Consider me a hardworking southern belle, my family still traceable to the herding lifestyle although we've been settled for a hundred years. I have a namesake and she is beautiful; She can walk now and soon will only know me by stories. Ive been given more babies and husbands than I care to count to take back to America with me. I have a hardworking Babaa and two moms that care for me in their own ways.
My days have taken on a slower pace to allow for greetings and hamming it up with the crazy old women; my days have slowed to patiently listen to kids explain themselves without the clues of body language; my sweet days have slowed just enough for people to show me what is important to them and for me to reassess, myself.

What started out as a performance became intertwined with my life. 

I have an "Obama" and "Chris Brown" in my group

“How are you? Are you fine?”
International English books and every surrounding munchkin and adult alike cling to the routine response- Fine! Although we Americans hardly ever mean it when we exchange a polite greeting (or when a woman expects you to decipher when she is employing the “fine red flag”), it seems to take on a more playful flavor here. Fine, Nice, and Cool are hip phrases in metropolitan areas, folded in with the local languages. Im not sure that we have an equivalent in the US since there is miraculously a common language across the huge country (Senegal compares to South Dakota in size). Plus, it would be inappropriate to racially profile someone passing at the grocery store with a – “Que paso?!” Fortunately, Senegal and West Africa are still culturally rich with more than 2000 local languages dominating the perhaps official,  colonized languages. They are also nonchalant about different ethnic groups and races. Its not that they haven’t had rifts, religious and political, or slavery, they simply aren’t resentful and hypersensitive. Their curiosity converges with the need for conversational stimuli with outspoken tendencies, which can be perceived as hospitable or, on the wrong day, hostile and aggressive.
With one month left in Senegal, I dedicated a week of it to teaching at English Access Camp, a program organized by the US Embassy and carried out by PCVs in conjunction with local school teachers. Kids are chosen from underserved districts far and wide across the country to participate (with a 2 year limit) to hear our American accents, practice in a semi-submersive environment, and like many summer camps, to have fun! The kids are eager to compare our accents to the British and Jamacian-like Gambian accents. Its amazing to hear them push through to express themselves and surprising how advance their functional classroom English is. Much like my grander PC service, I hope that I, as an extension of the Access Program, can help some of the kids continue in their studies or even pursue a career previously thought unattainable. Volunteers across Senegal, and Africa for that matter, have similar aspirations of seeing their work contribute to the positive rippling effect for deserving kids. This year, 755 middle school Senegalese students played baseball, translated cultural folk stories, and practiced English through a variety of games. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dear future me,

I've resolved to write a note on my current situation, place in life, and arrangement of mental furniture to be delivered to me 365 (and a quarter) days after a web-cation. 
I like the idea of taking a journalistic snapshot. Where will I be and what will I be doing in a year? How will my priorities shift and how will that affect my decisions?  These questions, easier to ask than answer, are often shot between volunteers and although they evoke anxiety, perhaps they're continuously asked for communal reassurance. You're not alone.
Maybe it's okay that plans seem to abstract with the brush of every sunset; It's okay that goals linger in the long term place, always cutoff by spontaneity; It's okay to live without creating a trivial buzz of routine and distractions. And together we put the anxiety back on the shelf between societal expectations and time's hourglass. 
It's time for an introspective hour (or 3) to make a web of options for those questions. Until next year-