Asalaam Maalekum!

So here I am Ive made it! I am writing you from within the Peace Corps training center in Thies. I really don’t know where to start so I suppose I’ll first describe my journey from the airport and my arrival at the center. The plane ride ended up being about 8 hours longhand when we got off the plane at 7:00 am Dakar time, it was still dark and I hadn’t slept almost at all on the plane. All 54 of us (thats how many are in my stage group and we are about half and half men and women), were tired and confused as we got off the plane. We grabbed our bags as fast as we could and were herded out of the airport to the waiting buses. The buses are more like vans except for they squeeze over 20 PCV’s onto it for our journey to Thies which was a 2 hour drive, even though it was only 30 miles away. I was lucky enough to grab a bucket seat which is in the middle of the bus and folds down into the aisle after the back row is full. I was seated much below my fellow seat mates. haha

On the ride there, I finally got an idea of what Ive finally gotten myself into. Although I felt I was prepared for anything, I didn’t have a visual of what “anything” actually was. As a note for those of you who don’t know, this is my first experience in a third world country. The sensory overload began. People were everywhere, but so were the animals. Rogue calves trotted alongside men in long shirts. Cat and dogs ran between women in beautiful African dresses with buckets balanced perfectly on their heads. People came up to the windows of our van when we had to stop for severe traffic and held up bread, stickers, shoes, anything they could sell. A man kicked up a few chickens at his feet to show people that his livestock was alive and healthy. Another thing. In Senegal, it is their huge festival for the end of Ramadan. This means that after days of fasting during the day, they are allowed to eat again. So people were gathering together and herding the hundreds of goats that were to be slaughtered along with them. As I looked out the window at the festival preparation, I saw a goat be carried to the chopping block, and without further ado, had his head quickly and efficiently removed.

When we finally got the center in Thies I hadn’t sleep for almost 24 hours and everything was like a dream. And you know me, even though we were offered a nap I was much to excited to sleep. I walked around exploring my new home for the next 3 months. The whole compound is surrounded by a cement wall and at some points cham link fences mixed with tall beautiful trees. The gate is locked and we are not allowed to go out of the compound until we are adequate Wolof speakers. Since we are ag people in Senegal, the majority of the compound focuses on growing things. This is cool for two reasons. First, all of our resources for technical training are right at our feet. Secondly, the center is basically an African oasis filled with blossoming mango plants, blossoms, and exotic trees and shrubs that I have never seen. Even living in Nebraska, I have never seen so many birds of so many different colors. Lizards run through the trees and across the sand and they also have vividly colored furry caterpillars. Throughout the day, our neighbors donkey brayed quite loudly outside of the compound.

Even though I didn’t sleep I took a look at my sleeping quarters. I am in a cabin with a screen door and 4 bunk beds. Of course I immediately grabbed the top bunk forgetting from Freshman year that it is difficult to climb down from a top bunk especially when you have to navigate through the mosquito net surrounding the bed.

The bathroom facility was a whole other game. And although I suppose I never dwelt on this situation, this has been my biggest obstacle during training. There are 4 cold showers, two mirrors, and sand covering everything. My first toilet adventure, I was not quite ready for the turkish toilets. (story to follow). Anyway, my first time I shut myself into the stall with Western toilet (our kind of toilet), I immediately began to gag form the stench. For those of you who don’t know this about me, I have an unfortunate sense of smell linked heavily to avery annoying gag reflex. This making smells difficult for me, especially she someone began cleaning out the turkish toilets in the vicinity of where I was sitting in the compound. I will say, I am already becoming fond of the cold showers. It is nice in this weather.

As and I bet my parents are particularly wondering about how I am dealing with the SEVERE heat and humidity. I have to put deodorant on at night because you actually don’t stop sweating. Well the truth is test it is very hot and we aren’t allowed to wear shorts unless we are exercising and even those have to be down to our knees. I think when you have no option to go into air conditioning and you know this will be a consistent situation throughout two years, you just deal with a smile. I was pouring sweat that refused to leave my face, but yet I managed to play basketball for two hours with 6 guys and another girl. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have a basketball court and it turns out that PC volunteers (especially guys) are competitive. My dad and Mr. Ellis will be happy to know I hung pretty tight with the boys! Afterward I thought I might pass out, but I didn’t so another obstacle overcome.

At lunch, we had a tradition meal and after finding out that the left hand is actually a bathroom hand and I will not be allowed to use it at any point except for to write. I spilled rice on my dress the first time but Ill get better with practice. When you have a traditional Senegalese meal women must kneel with their legs under them and everyone has a portion of the communal bowl. You use either a spoon or your hand to divide off your portion of meat in the middle of the bowl and move it to your section of the bowl. It is considered rude to go into another person’s portion. The rice is a tad spicy but delicious. For those of you who are cat haters you will be grossed out to know that cats run around everywhere on the outside patio where we eat lunch. They beg for your meat and your only option is to shoo them away.

What else? My Peace Corps group, my stage group, is awesome. I now know all 53 names and I love them all. Even after 3 days we are quickly becoming family. I am astounded at the depth of friendships that are able to form at such af art rate. My only explanation is that we all have some similarities because of our crazy choice to join the peace corps and we have done the whole adventure together. It is reassuring to talk with people who understand what you are going through and plus they are so much fun. We span America from coast to coast. Almost all states are represented. Everyone loves hearing about the ranch and for all of your reading this in Nebraska expect many visitors after my two years are up. I’ve already invited all of them! 🙂

Our Sengalese instructors are also amazing and some of the kindest people I know. At our first Wolof class this morning our teacher Fatima was fut but also stern. She slapped at a girls hand when she reached out for her book with her left hand. I had better watch myself. I am quickly becoming accustomed to Senegalese lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong sometimes I get uneasy when I don’t know what to do and I still have a lot to learn. Such as…

the turkish toilet! Turns out the turkish toilets smell better then the western ones and I am getting used to them. It does not have a seat but instead is a hole in the ground and two marks to tell you where to put your feet. Apparently, although we are given toilet paper at the center we should begin to wean ourselves off it in order to get ready for village life.

They guy who let me borrow his computer needs it back now. So ba been yoon! See you soon!


ps lauren, we eat soy sauce on everything!

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One thought on “Asalaam Maalekum!

  1. Steve

    Hey Whitney, Great to hear your adventure has begun and bringing back memories of my Peace Corps experience in Honduras. I signed my wife and daughter up on your blog today. We are all headed to the kite flight in Calloway this afternoon. Small world. Take care and keep writing.

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