Saturday, February 21, 2009

When the East meets the West

I just got back from IST (In-Service Training) and WAIST (West African International?? Softball Tournament) held both in Thies and Dakar. IST was helpful in some aspects, learned a bit of Pulaar to help in village and also did some technical activities like grafting, seed collecting, seed storage, and visited/saw a number of good examples of agro-forestry techniques being used around the Dakar area. It was great seeing all 40 from my stage and catching up with them and all they are experiencing in their own communities. WAIST is held every year and is three days worth of softball, friends, food, drinks, and definitely lots of fun. Our team Tambagou (regions of Tambacounda and Kedougou) went as “Peace Corporate” and dressed up in corporate wear that of course was cut off into short shorts because #1 most PCVs are mid-20s and #2 its Africa and no one wants to be wearing actual corporate wear while playing softball. Team Tambagou had a perfect record, all losses! We do not play to win but play to have fun and fun we had! After the many activities of WAIST the volunteers from Senegal met together for an all-volunteer conference where we went to a number of discussions facilitated by current PCVs who wanted to share what wisdom they have attained while in country. It was very helpful and bittersweet to return back to hot hot Tamba after a long restful break in the cool cool Dakar region.

Thus begins East meeting west. I thought I would share a little bit about the differences I have noticed between my “east,” or my village, which coincidentally and helpfully is east of my “west” or Dakar/Thies/the major cities out west. Phew. Its interesting when you are in a place for an extended period of time how things become normal (I think I have blogged about that before) but I hadn’t really noticed the difference between Senegalese until coming to Thies/Dakar. I had the opportunity to stay with a wonderful family in Thies during PST. The family almost entirely is made up of artists. They have 3 galleries in Thies, sell their artwork throughout the world, and the women go into town every day to sell jewelry and odds and ends that are uniquely African. Most if not all of the family members are educated up through lycee (equivalent of high school) and some have even been to university. My sisters and brothers are all above 21 years old and NONE of them are married yet! The culture, conversation, experiences, etc. were all very different from my life in Maleme. In Maleme most women stop attending school after the primary level (around 13 years old) and begin helping out around the house. It is not uncommon for girls to be married at 16-17 years old (although the age is increasing slowly). The younger men of Maleme often do go to lycee but few attend university.

I think what a lot of this comes down to is education, information, knowledge on part of the people. People in Dakar and Thies are exposed to so much more, so many other different lifestyles, while in Maleme most women, especially, have never ventured 30km outside of their community. They just don’t know what else is available, what differences exist, what other possibilities may be around. They don’t know to question the things they have because they don’t realize there is something else.

Now this is the part where I begin to question whether or not this is a bad thing. I obviously come from the “west” and have experienced the something else, Ive been educated to critically examine everything I experience and to question why things happen and how that affects me. I have been taught to think outside the box. I don’t know if simply because I am used to living a certain way and others are used to living a certain way one is better than the other. Most certainly its not good when a family is not able to get food on the table, not able to supply their children with an education of some sort, and does not have the freedom to act and live in ways that allow them to grow and thrive. That is obviously why I am here, to have a cultural exchange, to share knowledge and information. I just have a hard time justifying all my actions as good (simply because they are all I know) and the less developed actions of others as not good enough, even though it is all they know.

I guess when it comes down to it, it makes me think more critically of myself. This helps me to realize I too have learned to act and do the things I do in life because of my family, environment, faith, etc. Because I have had those experiences means I can learn from those who have had different ones, those who come from the “east” and can teach me things they know that I never thought about before. I’m still not sure if I have all this figured out in my head or even hear on paper but it’s a start and something to continue to work through and discuss with others here and there. It is definitely always an opportunity to learn and I plan on doing a lot more of that as I continue my service!

Tomorrow I head back to Maleme in the morning. I will be there for about a week before coming back to Tamba for a regional meeting. This next week I will be checking up on my garden (which my lil brother so lovingly took care of while I was gone) and hopefully starting up some pepiniers with the school I help out at and possibly some of the womens groups I have met with the past couple of months. I hope the pictures are helpful to you all. I haven’t gotten any posted yet from my homestay in Maleme but hopefully they will continue to slowly be added as I take them. Keep your eyes peeled!

Well I will sign off wishing you all in Amerka a beautiful beginning to spring. I am jealous of your cool weather knowing the hot season is coming here fast! Keep me updated on your lives too! All the best!

Herra Doron (Peace Only)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Website to check out

Hello all. Here is a quick website i actually didnt know about until now and thought it might be interesting for you. It has different posts from people all over the world who are involved in the Peace Corps and especially of interest to you the posts of those living in Senegal! So read up to get an idea of what we are all experiencing! More to come soon!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Hello to you all from Thies!

I am currently typing from the computer of my homestay in Thies which has been a completely different experience from where I live in the village! I am here for two weeks of training and then a conference with pcvs from all over west africa in Dakar. Its a jam-packed february but i will take it over some of the slow days you experience at times! Things are going well I am learning a lot more about agroforestry-seed collection, seed preparation, alternatives to using wood, etc and getting excited bout bringing those things and ideas back to my friends and family in my village! Thies, the training center, and all other pcv volunteers from my stage are doing great and it has been fun to reconnect with them all! I am also currently learning a new language for these two weeks! Pulla Futaa is a pulaar language spoken by some in senegal! There are some cases where the words are similar to Mandinka but for the most part it is very different both structurally and its vocabulary! Its been good though because about half my village speaks pulaar and now i will be able to speak with them on a somewhat basic level!

I was having a convo with my sister the other day and wanted to bring it up here to see if anyone had any comments they wanted to make or thoughts about what i say! I have noticed in Senegal it is much easier to be me! I dont know if this is a mixture of things but here is what I am thinking. First of all the people of Senegal are very non-judgemental in that they believe it is completely wrong to judge the actions of another person and then tell that person what they think. Second I think because of this and the fact that the culture is completely foreign and i am completely foreign in it I feel as if I dont have to live up to the expectations i might feel the need to live up to in the states. The communication, culture, language, and a whole multitude of things are either unknown to me or I am still very unsure of them that all i can be is myself and hope for the best. In the states however I know the cultural norms the standards set by society and the host of things that goes along with that so I feel more pressure to live up to those things and show myself in a particular light.

In many many ways this has been really good for me! Yes there are times I feel very stupid, out of it, bored, lonely, etc but during those times the only thing i have to resort to being is myself! I was wanting to know what people thought and maybe it will shed some light into whatever you might be experiencing wherever you are. I guess i just didnt realize how much of an impact culture and societys norms could have on a person. It has been helpful for me just to look at that and then question why is it that i am doing the things I am doing and acting the way i am acting.

Those are just some thoughts! Hope it made sense to you all and let me know how you are doing wherever you are!

Lots of love