Talking to other volunteers about their experiences in village constantly reminds me of why I decided to join Peace Corps. Although I didn’t have one concrete idea of what I wanted from my service, I definitely knew I wanted change. Change of place, change of thoughts, change of future. I wanted to change my attitude about the world outside of America and maybe change some other minds too. I didn’t think of it at the time, but as the only American in my village, I represent America to a small group of people. I hope that after two years, they will think that everyone in America is hardworking and kind. The end result might be slightly less idealistic. I’m shooting for at least available.
Every taxi driver and orange vendor in Senegal seems to want an American wife without knowing anything about America or women. Strangers on the street are constantly asking for my number and saying they love me. If I were a more humble or gracious person I might not mention this but I’m not. I’m desirable as hell in this country. Every time someone asks for my number I try to turn it around and get his number. I have been collecting numbers since I got here and have a nice stack of papers in my hut to remind me of my obvious beauty. They lay right next to my ointment for those cute little armpit infections.
My first official training in Wolof was with other volunteers in my region named Sarah and Ner. We made container gardens and talked about the benefits and limitations and how each attendee could use them. The training took place on Sarah’s roof overlooking the city of Mboro and we celebrated after at the beach (see BeachCorps). I have done a few more trainings since then that have definitely gone more smoothly but a girl always remembers her first.
COS stands for Close of Service and accounts for the time at the end of two years when Peace Corps Volunteers end their time volunteering and head home. Before heading home, however, most volunteers spend some of their separation money on a trip to another part of the world. Right now, there are a few volunteers in my area who are COS-ing. They are talking about trips to Nepal to go hiking and riding a motorcycle down to the Ivory Coast and other exciting adventures. Every time they bring up their pending trips, I get a little pinch of jealousy before remembering that I’m on my own adventure. It is definitely not a vacation, but I am learning a lot and making amazing new friends. Right now COS seems like a lifetime away but I know the time will pass in a blink of an eye and I’ll be planning my COS trip.
Because my work is just starting up right now, I have a lot of free time to sit around my village and do nothing. I try to listen intently to conversations in Wolof and learn as much as possible, but after a few hours, my mind gets tired. My thoughts start drifting and I get stuck inside my own head. In America, I didn’t have as much time to sit around and just think. I spent one afternoon drifting in thought and landed on one question. What are all my favorite figure skaters from my childhood are doing right now. I have come to the conclusion that I might be crazy.
In Wolof the words for yogurt and pee are really really similar. This isn’t normally a huge deal unless you are trying to make curry for your family and accidentally ask your mom where you can buy urine for tonight’s dinner. Senegalese people don’t usually cook with yogurt and most definitely don’t cook with urine, so when I asked this question my mom couldn’t even think of what I might be trying to ask for. After a few minutes of me pronouncing urine in different accents until I landed on yogurt, we were off to the boutique. That night I cooked a big bowl of curry for the whole family. When it was finally finished, my family sat around the bowl and took a very hesitant first bite. “This is really bad,” my sister boldly stated across the bowl while making a disgusted face. As everyone sort of pushed the food around trying to make it look like they had eaten some, my mom tried to assure me that they had just never tasted food like this before. After a few minutes of feigning fullness the family got up. Only my mom and I sat at the bowl as she told me how she had eaten earlier at a friend’s house. She stood up and loudly professed how full she was. After a few minutes of stuffing my face with what I thought was delicious curry, I went to join my family in the other room. I walked in on 5 people huddled around a bowl of couscous and checking the door to make sure I didn’t see them. My mom was embarrassed but my sister shrugged saying, “this is much better than your food.” Our horse was well fed on curry that night.
Having never lived in a place like Senegal, I find myself in a lot of weird situations that I probably should have seen coming and avoided. My autobiography will be 500 pages of the words “I should have thought this through” typed over and over.
A volunteer in my region named Bryce asked me to come help with a grafting/pruning training in his site. He started the conversation with “I have a clay oven and we could make pizza.” I promptly packed my bags and headed down. Because of a terrible cheese mishap (a story for another day) be decided to make breadsticks instead. I ate like a queen if queens ate breadsticks and hummus. Now I’m thinking of building a clay bread oven at my site. YUM!