Because I’m not sure this successfully posted the first time, here’s round 2
Prior to being placed in our permanent (2 year) site, we have about 2 months of Community-Based Training, or CBT, in which we live with a host family that speaks the language that we are learning and helps us to understand the cultural norms of the Senegalese people. They are kind of a ‘practice’ family; a place where we can make mistakes, embarrass ourselves, work out issues. This way we can start from scratch in our permanent site and get right down to business in our villages. By then, we will (hopefully) have a good grasp on the language and culture enough to gain respect and to begin working with the community and really fully integrating. This process is not easy, as you can probably assume. It’s awkward, difficult, frustrating. It’s good that we have a practice family before permanent sites, but, no matter what, assimilating into a new culture and learning a new language is UNBELIEVABLY challenging.
Language: so we got our ‘language placements’ prior to leaving for CBT. These placements can be very indicative of where in the country you will be placed for your final site. We were all anxiously awaiting them, mostly so we could just start learning the language already! We had 2 days before we left for CBT to learn some basic greetings, then we were off on our own. Languages included: Wolof (main language of Senegal), Pulaar du Nord, Pulafuta, Fulakunda, Mandinka, and Seereer. I was chosen to speak Pulaar du Nord. This elicited some very negative feelings for me at first because one, I would have a more difficult time getting around in country not knowing Wolof, but two, it means I am going to the North. The North is dry. It’s a desert. It’s sandy. Hot. There are sandstorms. The south is much more tropical with trees, hills, beautiful flowers and plants, and can grow things much more easily. I was really disappointed to not be going to the South. But, in the end, I decided there must be a reason for it. I can’t fight something I don’t know. Turns out, although Wolof is the most useful language to know in Senegal, it is not spoken outside of the country, whereas Pulaar is spoken in most of West Africa. Even if I don’t get a chance to travel outside of the country a whole lot, I still think that’s pretty dang cool. The language and culture is all about greetings. More about this will follow in another post.
Village life: my family wakes up around 6am to pray (the mosque starts blasting prayer chants around 5am, which is actually really beautiful) and I get up around 7. Say the mandatory greetings to everyone in the house who is up. Take a bucket bath. Hang out in the hallway until we get our delivery of baguettes, then one of the kids will take them to have them filled with chocolate, or just butter. Neene (word for mother) makes Café Touba, a spiced, sugary coffee, which is the staple of Senegal. A grandmother or elderly relative comes by for coffee and laughs at me while talking in Pulaar (someday I’ll be able to understand what she’s saying about me). Then I leave to work in our garden. There are 3 of us in our group, each placed in a different home in the neighborhood. We have a Language and Culture Facilitator (LCF) who serves as our interpreter/teacher/counselor/garden coordinator. We have specific gardening projects to complete in a site that has been preestablished for each group. Ours is at a school, which is cool and means we have plenty of little helpers around. When it gets too warm, we study language until about 1pm. Then I go home and rest in the hallway while lunch cooks in the backyard. Baaba (father) comes home for lunch, as do all of the children. I think, altogether, there are about 10-13 people in my family. It’s hard to say because the kids come and go so often, I’m not sure who is actually related. Also, my Baaba has two wives, so I get confused who’s children are who’s. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day: a huge bowl of rice with a sauce of fish (with heads) and veggies in the middle. Everyone goes at it with their hands, sitting on the floor in the hallway. Then the adults and I nap in the hallway. Then around 3 or 4 I go back to my LCF’s house for language and maybe some gardening afterwards. Then home around 6:30pm. I study outside until it’s dark, then I use my headlamp. The kids all keep me company and help me learn so much. They never get tired of hanging out with me and laughing while I struggle to repeat everything they say. Dinner is around 8 and consists of either couscous with meat, rice and beans, or porridge. The evenings are so nice and cool. The whole family lays outside on the mat looking at the stars and chatting until, one by one, they carry the children off to bed.
Family and community are huge here. It’s almost magical how much people take each other in as their own. The community is a family, it seems. I am known throughout the village. I am Binta Tall. Daughter of Aisatu Sol and Abu Tall. Friend of every child. I hear ‘Binta!!’ called out every time I walk out of my family’s home. Its great to feel like a celebrity.
That was the first 6 days at site. Now I go back for another 10 days. Looking forward to seeing my host family again!