Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Back to M'Boro I Go

Okay, I just wanted to drop a quick line to let you all know that I'll be away at my homestay for 2 weeks... so most likely I won't be able to blog or answer e-mails for a while.

Not a ton has happened since I've been back in Thies, except for all of us trainees trying to get in as much bar time as possible. We've been playing a lot of the "person on the head game" that they play in Inglorious Basterds. Always a fun time. Here we play that everyone goes around and asks 3 questions to start, then you ask questions till you get a "no," and so on. We're perfecting the art of the game.

One thing worth mentioning is that I've been having some interesting dreams. I've always been a vivid dreamer, and one of the side efferects of our malaria meds involves crazy dreams. Luckily I haven't had any hallucinations, but the dreams have definitely been funky. In one of them, I was Kate Hudson's publicist and I was fielding all of these questions about her pregnancy...? And then yesterday morning, my roommate Anne told me that I was sleep-talking in the middle of the night and spoke English, Wolof and French all within one thought. I said "Now say it in Wolof. Waaw, nanga def? C'est fini." I'm hoping that means all of these language classes are paying off.

Also a point of interest- our group has dwindled down again. We lost another trainee yesterday. We're now down to 46. We were originally supposed to be 50. 48 actually came over with us on the plane. And now 2 have already left. It's definitely not for everyone, and I'm sure if I wasn't enjoying myself that I would want to be out of here ASAP. That first week with the homestay family was TOUGH and I'm really liking everything. I can't imagine how hard it would've been if I wasn't feeling great about my choice. I respect the people who decide to leave at this point. It's obviously not an easy choice, but it's probably better to decide now than to wait a couple months/a year in.

I've heard some mixed things from PCVs that have been through training as to what the hardest part of training is. Some say that the first week at the homestay was the hardest, and others say that this long 2-week stretch is. So I've either completed the hardest part or I'm just about to. Either way, it could definitely be worse.

I'm taking my camera this trip, so I'll actually have pictures! Until then, ba beneen!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hello, my name is Ami Toubab.

So, I just got back from a week at my homestay in M'Boro. WOW. There are so many things I want to write about, but I'm gonna go back to before I left.

Last week in Thies, we found out of language groups. They assigned each of us to a group of 2-4 people that we're going to spend the next 9 weeks with. The language group you're assigned to is significant for us, becuase it indicated where in the country you'll end up for your actual site for 2 years. Of the 48 of us, I was the LAST person to be called to find out my group. No joke.

I was placed in a Wolof group. That means that I could end up all along the coast (which would be sweet) or somewhere in Central Senegal. And at that time I found out that my homestay placement for PST is in M'Boro, which is a little bit north of Dakar. We recieved crash courses in our various languages and then we were off!

I don't think I've ever been as intimidated and overwhelmed as when the Peace Corps land cruiser dropped me off in front of a strange gome and then pulled away. Instantly I was confused because all of the people who came out to meet me just started shouting weird things at me. Eventually I figured out that they were trying to tell me my new name, which is Ami Diop (it sounds like Ah-mee Jobe). I'm not going to give you a play by play of my entire week, but it basically involved a lot of me shaking my head in confusion and people laughing at me.

My family has one dad, two moms, a lot of kids and a lot of grandkids. And a lot of random other people. One of my sisters is also named Ami Diop (most of us were named after other members of our families), so they generally end up calling me Ami Toubab. Toubab means white person. It's what people scream at you when you're on the street. So now I'm Ami Toubab, which is super fun. Also, my family's veryyyy traditional. Most of the other trainees have pretty lax situations. Mine's NOT. I have to curtsey when I greet people. It's intense.

The language barrier is obviously difficult, but I have daily language class so I'm learning a ton every day. The really hard parts are the cultural differences. Despite all of the awesome seminars and lectures we've had at the training center, nothing really prepares you for the cock-a-doodling that will occur at 4:30am when the roosters wake up. Or how scary it is when the stray cats start fighting and it sounds like actually dying. I never understood the term cat fight until now. Or how even though they told us that our host moms will give you a lot of directions.. that they really will give you every direction. Like when my host mom tells me to go to the bathroom. It's just such a learning experience.

There were a ton of awkward moments throughout the week. One of my sisters is in a wheelchair and she asked me to buy her a new one from America and send it to her as a present. And she was serious. She also just happened to get married over the weekend, and I was NOT prepared to be at a wedding my first week at the homestay. So overwhelming. Everyone was asking me why I wasn't married yet, if I had a fiance in the US, if I would marry their brother/uncle/friend/them. A bit too much to handle the first week.

But luckily the first week came to an end and that glorious PC land cruiser came to get us and bring us back to Thies. One of the other girls in the van said that she didn't think she would have been as happy even if the driver said he was taking us back to the US. All of us just wanted to unwind, speak English, use a real toilet, take a real shower and get a cold beer. We're all in heaven now.

ALSO, I find this interesting.. when we got back to Thies we found out that one of us already left. So our group is now down to 47. Obviously this isn't for everyone, but I was surprised that we lost one so quickly.

We leave to go back to our villages on Wednesday afternoon. This stint is for 2 weeks. That's total immersion for ya. Definitely not easy, but also definitely the best way to learn the language and get used to the culture. I'm trying to cram in all of my internet and America time into these next few days.

My mom and Cait already gave me the Glee update, which is really the only thing I'm really sad I'm missing in the US (aside from family/friends of course). I feel like the only other thing that I'll be really upset about missing will be when Harry Potter comes out. Obviously.

So that's all for now. I'll try to keep up with this as best as possible, but it isn't easy when you go so long without internet.

I do have a cell phone now, which does work in the village, so feel free to call me! I love speaking English. It's best to call with a calling card or via skype. My number's +221 760 720 262. Seriously, call. I'm 4 hours ahead of the East coast.

Okay, ba beneen!

Monday, March 14, 2011

I'll Be Gone for a Week!

Don't worry if you haven't heard from me in a while. I'm alive, but I'll be without a laptop for a few days. I'm going to my homestay tonight! Crazy!

I'll do a long update when I'm back!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Rats, Cats and Bats! Oh My!

Assalam Maalekum!

Let me begin by saying that I've just been learning and doing WAYYYYY too much for me to even begin to remember everything to write on here. Hopefully I'll remember the highlights and be able to record them..

But anyway, here's what I looked like leaving the hotel in DC for my flight:

I already wish I'd packed less stuff, becayse all of that was NOT easy to handle, but no going back now.

So, before I go into detail about training in Thies, I thought it might be good to explain my process of what I'm up to now that I'm here:
  • Training at Thies Training Center
  • Language & Culture training in my PST homestay
  • Swearing-in (tentative date- May 13)
  • Move to my site and begin volunteering for 2 years
Right now I'm at the Thies Training Center. It's awesome. It's like summer camp for big kids. We get great meals, have actual toilets (though we think they're great, they're definitely not up to US standards), clean drinking/bathing water, dorm-like rooms that we're in with bunk beds, a basketball court, volleyball net, etc. Basically, it's an amazing transition into life in Senegal.

But we're not just sitting around playing games and eating all day. We've been doing crash-courses in Senegal 101 all day long.

My daily schedule here at the Training Center:
  • 6am- wake up
  • 7-8 breakfast is served
  • 8:15- first lesson
  • 10:15- tea break
  • 10:45- second lesson
  • 12:45- lunch (best part of the day)
  • after lunch- 2 more lessons
  • 7:30ish- dinner
  • chill
  • bed around 11pm
We really act like little kids here. I don't think I've played this many card games since 5th grade. Uno, Scrabble, and sitting around singing along to the few musically-inclined trainees who brought their instruments are common after-dinner activities. One of the trainees is French-American and has been really enjoying teaching us the games that he played growing up; like "Sardines," which is like the opposite of hide and seek, where one person hides and then when you find them you hide with them until only one person's left looking. Sounds corny, but hey, it's entertainment. It is pretty refreshing to hang out with a group of 48 twenty-somethings where everyone's sober 24/7 and party's consist of Uno marathons. Oh the life of a PC trainee.

Here's the Disco Hut (I'm not kidding), where we have lessons and spend the majority of our time:

The mats on the ground are prayer mats. I now know a significant amount about the dos and don't of Muslim culture, and a ton of other stuff that I just don't have time to write about yet. But I will!

Anyway, I gotta go to a lesson on planting trees, but I thought I'd end off with an interesting tidbit. Everyone thinks that you're going to see so many wild animals in Africa, but so far everything that I see is exactly what you see in the US, just in different circumstances. Our Training Center has some really cute cats that wander around. (I've been here for a few days and it's like I'm a totally different person.. I think the cats are cute? What??) And we have some bats that like to chill in the Disco Hut with us at night. I'm still not okay with the rats though. Probably never gonna be okay with them.

Gotta go get dirty... if you could see me now you'd find that hilarious. I'm disgusting from gardening all day.

Ba beneen!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Wild Ride of a Peace Corps Trainee

Okay, I'm going to apologize in advance... this entry doesn't have pictures, and I tried to cram a lot into one entry. Bare with me!

So, briefly, here's what's happened since Sunday night...

Monday- My Mom, Taylor and I enjoyed a delicious breakfast at Bread & Chocolate in Chevy Chase, where I gorged myself with hot chocolate, latkes and chocolate fondue that I split with Taylor. Then we went back to the hotel and I said my last goodbyes to Mama and Taylor.

After that, I registered for Staging (orientation) and began. The first thing we had to do was turn in a ton of paperwork, and luckily I was one of the first people in line, so I ended up sitting at one of the tables in the conference room just chatting with the other PC kids for roughly 2 hours. It was a great chance to meet the other people that are going through the same thing I am. It sounds fake to say that everyone was really nice, but for the most part.. everyone was really nice. After hours of orientation, we all headed out to Georgetown for a farewell America dinner and beer.

Tuesday- Woke up quite early and took my last, blissful American shower. Checked out of the hotel, and all of us (48 trainees in total) boarded two buses and headed to a clinic to get our yellow fever vaccines. Yayyy! That took forever and then we got back on the bus and went to Dulles.

I was concerned about checking my bags and security at the airport, not just for me but also because I was traveling with a group of 48, and it seemed like something had to go wrong. But, miraculously, we were all fine. The flight was rather uneventful. I watched "Hereafter" with Matt Damon and a documentary about Annie Liebovitz. I tried to sleep but I was in one of the center seats in the middle 4-seat row, so I didn't have much luck.

Wednesday- We touched down in Dakar this morning a little before 6am. We took South African Airways and it was a lovely flight. I'd reccommend South African to anyone who had to make the DC-to-Dakar trip. We had our own tvs, and got whatever drinks we wanted, so all 48 of us were happy. Anyway, we landed in Dakar and we met by our Program Director, Chris. He and some of the other staff helped us pile into two vans for the drive to Thies.

One again, I'd like to reitify that there are 48 of us (so that's 50 when you add 2 drivers) and we went in 2 vans. Welcome to Africa. (Sidenote to my parents or any other concerned adults- everyone had a seatbelt, and there were in fact enough seats for everyone.. just very tight quarters)

The drive to Thies was very interesting. I thought that I'd be able to see the beautiful Dakar that I keep hearing about and seeing in photos, but we definitely took another route. Throughout our ride I kept seeing things that were a lot closer to Slumdog Millionaire than the extravagence that Dakar is synomonous with. But it was really cool. There were horses, cows, goats and dogs kind of all over the place. People crossing the highway wherever and whenever the felt like it. Men hanging out of the back of colorful moving buses and yelling at the people on the street. In the beginning, it looked a lot like desert. Very dry, arid, dusty. Then slowly we began to see more vegitation, and then a lot of vegitation. All in all, the drive was quite interesting.

When we pulled into our training center in Thies, all of the people in the area were clapping and cheering. The buses pulled in and a group of people were playing drums and singing the Shakira "Waka Waka Africa" song, except they substituted Senegal for Africa. It was really cool, and an awesome way to get our first look of the training center.

*A quick note on the weather before I continue- as I said, we landed before 6am and the sun wasn't up yet. It wouldn't really classify it was cold, but it was pretty chilly with the wind. We were all kind of taken aback by that. But since the sun rose, it's been beautiful! Strong sunshine (we're definitely all going to get color fast), and a nice breeze so you're not too hot. So not the African sun I was expecting, but maybe it's just this time of year*

So anyway, after our welcome we were given breakfast, which was greatly appreciated. We had baguettes with an amazing natural peanut butter and jam. All of us were starving and exhausted after the flight, so this was much appreciated. Then we had "down time," and we all tried to organize our stuff a little.

Lunch was a really cool experience. We ate in small groups of 4-5, on the floor, out of a huge communal bowl. It was awesome. The meal was some meat (the consensus was maybe goat?) with spicy rice and veggies. It was realllllly good. And, all of my friends will be shocked to find out, that while I'm here I plan on going with the flow... so I DID eat whatever meat was in the bowl. I know, shocking. Then we had oranges, which were fresh and delicious.

After lunch we had some meetings about our medical meetings (where we get all of our other shots), French exam and technical tests that we'll be taking over these next few days. And THEN, the best part so far.. we had an outrageous African dance party with all the works. Some men were playing the drums, other men were showing us the moves, and the women laughed at us. It was so much fun and all of us looked like total idiots. This dance party lasted for quite a while (maybe an hour) and I feel like we all worked off the baguettes and rice we had today.

So, now we're all just trying to stay awake long enough to eat dinner and pass out. So far, I love it. But it is the first day so who knows what's in store. I'll put up pictures next time!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

She's Going to Africa! Let her Sit on the Floor!

The past few days have been jam-packed, but very enjoyable. We drove down to DC on Friday night. I went to Cait & Tessie's apartment in Clarendon, VA. We met up with my dear friends Dustin and Oscar for dinner in Dupont, and then hung out at the apartment with some AU friends, Justine and Lauren.

On Saturday, Cait and I met up with my Mom, Dad, Uncle Marty, Aunt Cindy and cousin Molly at the National Zoo. It was a great day walking around (mainly watching Molly, who just turned 1 year old, look at the animals) and enjoying the pleasant weather. The big highlight for us was that there's currently am adorable baby gorilla at the zoo, who was a source of constant entertainment.

Today (Sunday), my Mom and I dropped my Dad off at Dulles for his annual Summit conference, which is in Orlando this year. I was sad to say goodbye to my Dad, but I'm already looking forward to him visiting me in Senegal. Then we checked into the Holiday Inn Georgetown, which is where our Staging is being held. My best friend Taylor (who's more like a sister) took a train down, so we picked her up at Union Station, and have been hanging out since then.

We made a trip to the hotel bar at one point in the hopes of meeting other Peace Corps kids who are already here. No such luck, but we did meet the parents of a PC kid. They were very nice to talk to, and I think my Mom greatly appreciated meeting other parents.

The highlight of this so far is that Taylor has discovered my Peace Corps Senegal facebook group and spent  a significant amount of time deciding which people I'm going to be friends with, which cute guys I should chat up, and who to try to avoid. What would I do without her?

And another funny moment.. at one point I went to sit down on the floor of our hotel room and my Mom said "Ew, Fae! Don't sit on the hotel floor. That's gross!" And Taylor responded with, "She's going to Africa in 2 days! Let her sit on the floor"

So, tomorrow- my Mom and Taylor leave, I have my orientations and meetings, and then it's down to business. I'm very interested to see what takes place at these meetings. I wonder if we're going to go around the room and say our name, age, where we're from, and an interesting fact about ourselves. I'm thinking probably not. I feel like we'll probably be learning a lot about "what the Peace Corps is," "what they do," "what they expect of volunteers," etc. Fun, fun, fun!

There's a pretty good chance I might not update again until I'm actually in Dakar, unless I manage to write a new entry in the airport on Tuesday. So, if you don't hear anything for a few days, don't freak out. I'll try to update at soon as I can.

my e-mail:
skype: fae.patton1

Ba Beneen!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Last Morning Waking Up in My Bed

I woke up a little while ago and had to lay in my bed and mentally process that this was the last morning I would be doing that for quite some time. I'm not one to get emotional about these kinds of things, but I am a little sad to leave it considering my sleeping situation in Senegal is most likely going to leave much to be desired.

Last night a few of my good friends came over for dinner so I could see them before I leave. The goodbyes in this situation are very weird for me, for a few reasons. The first being that I've started saying goodbye to people since January, when I would see friends and know that I wouldn't see them until I left, so therefore probably wouldn't be seeing them until 2013. And, for me, I don't think this will feel real until I say goodbye to my parents in DC and actually get on that plane to Dakar. Another reason this is bizarre is because sometimes it feels like I'm going off to war or something. I'm unbelievably excited to go, but most everyone I say goodbye to seems (mainly adults) unbelievably nervous for me. I appreciate the concern from everyone, because I know that they want the best for me.

Like I said, I haven't been emotional about leaving for this whole process, but two days ago I had a slight stress meltdown. I realized that it was pretty much impossible for me to get my bags down to the desired weight limits, AND that my bags were also over the linear dimension limits. (In case anyone is super interested, the limits are that together, my two bags should cannot exceed 80 lbs, and no one bag should exceed 50 lbs. No two bags should exceed 107" together, and no one bag should exceed 60").

So I took to the trusty Peace Corps Senegal facebook page, called Peace Corps, and had many conversations with my Dad on the subject and realized that I needed smarter bags. I was originally going to go with a huge rolling duffel (the orange bag in the pictures from the last entry), and a slightly less huge rolling suitcase. Everyone's wisdom led me to change to a massive hiking backpack and a duffle bag. I can't even begin to express what a smart move this was. My bags are now both under the weight limits, so I have some leeway, which is a huge relief. After all was said and done, my Dad thought to weigh the original suitcases I was going to use and they each turned out to be 9 lbs, so it was no wonder I was over the limits.

Now that the horror of packing is over, it's pretty much smooth sailing for me (hopefully). This morning, I need to get all of my various electronics together because they're all scattered randomly throughout my house charging, put my carry-on bags together, pack my bag for DC, eat breakfast (my last one with my brother and bff Kyle), and get going.

It's my last morning seeing James because he has his midterm for his EMT class this weekend, so he can't come to DC with us. As sad as I am to part with my crazy brother, I know that he's happy for me and is going to be fine.

My Mom has a half-day today, and my Dad is taking a half-day so that we can head to DC around lunch. I'm going to get to see Dustin & Oscar while I'm there, stay over at Cait's apartment one last time, and see my Aunt, Uncle, and adorable baby cousin, Molly. So, all in all, ending in DC works out well for me because I'm able to see so many people before I go. My Dad flies out of Dulles for a conference in Orlando on Sunday. Then later on Sunday, my best friend Taylor is coming down. So, Sunday night, my Mom, Taylor and I will have a girl's night at the hotel, and then my Staging begins on Monday.

I can't believe how fast time is flying by. I wish it could stop for just two days so I could catch up a little!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

50 Years for Peace Corps; One Week for Me!

So I'm currently in the midst of attempting to pack for my immanent departure. You wouldn't really think that packing would be too difficult... but it is starting to take over my life. I'm not worried about fitting things, because I can be a pretty crafty packer... but I am worried about the suitcase weight limits. I even had a dream the other night that I put like 4 t-shirts and a toothbrush in my bag and then weighed it, and it weighed 400 lbs. 

Here's kind of an idea of what I'm dealing with right now:

So, packing is kind of taking over my life right about now. But it's not the only thing on my mind... today is actually the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, which is pretty awesome. JFK founded the Peace Corps 50 years ago, in 1961, and Obama has proclaimed today to be the official 50th anniversary. And I leave one week from today for Senegal. I think it's kind of cool that the Peace Corps began while JFK was in office, and now I'm leaving to be a PCV while Obama's president. Peace Corps is clearly important to Obama (he's raised the PC funding considerably since he's been in office), and while he may not be doing everything perfectly, I'm glad that I'm leaving to volunteer under a president who cares about the organization. Here's Obama's proclamation, if you want to check it out:

These past few weeks, the good people over in Dakar have been e-mailing all of us info/tutorials on Wolof (one of the regional languages of Senegal), and general info on the Health/Environmental Education programs that PC has in Senegal. Today I have to take two online surveys to prove that I've actually read and absorbed that material. I'm being tested before I even get there! Hopefully I can make time in between packing today to brush up on the info so I won't disappoint my program leaders.

And one final plug before I go: for those of you on Facebook, go to the Peace Corps FB site and look at their album of the new PSAs. I think they're really good. Check em out:

Off to study/pack/try to regain my sanity!