Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, February 28

Emotional States of Volunteerism

The bullet points of this outline are directly copied, or paraphrased, from a Peace Corps handbook, entitled A Few Minor Adjustments, I got just before leaving. And although I read it then, its meaning is a lot more personal now. My personal thoughts are added in parenthesis.

Chapter One. A New Country.
(At this stage you are adjusting to:)
A) The Climate.
B) The Food.
C) The New Community.
D) The Loss of Language.
E) The Lack of Amenities.
F) The Loss of Routines.
G) At this stage you feel: alone, culture shock. (Outside of that, I personally would include: frustrated, bitter, hungry, sick, and depressed.)

Chapter Two. Pre-Service Training (PST) Experience.
A) Strangers.
B) Not in Control. During training, your time- and, indeed, your life- are not your own.
C) Living with a Host Family... is a constant adjustment.
D) More... is More. (Someone once said during our training "We're always on" meaning there's no end of the day, and going home from work to what is familiar.)
E) Guilt. (Here is where they say I felt guilty for hating the process because everything was just for me. But truthfully I had so many other emotions that this never happened for me. Was I cold hearted, or just exhausted?)

Chapter Three. Settling In.
A) The vanishing Americans. (I think they mean the revelation that I'm now alone.)
B) Talking Points. Another surprise you may have during settling in is to discover that your language skills aren't as good as you thought.
C) Culture Lab. (If PST was a lab in which to experiment with trial and many errors, that lab is now gone along with the people who were so forgiving.)
D) Cooking? No One Said Anything About Cooking! Another discovery that awaits you during settling in is how many things were done for you during training, things that you now realize you've never had to do in-country. (Cooking, laundry, shopping, etc).
E) The Culture of PST. (A daily routine that is now over; time to make yet another new one.)
F) Slow Starting.
G) Where Are the Hardships? (This isn't true for me either. While I joke that I'm in the Posh Corps, I still recognize that there are challenges of a different nature that I may NOT have initially expected, but I am now dealing with.)
H) But This Isn't What I Expected! (Didn't I just say that?)

Chapter Four. A New Culture.
A) Culture As Behavior. (Culture is expressed through behavior.)
B) Intellect and Emotions. Information is a tool, a necessary, but by no means sufficient, condition for successful adjustment. You can understand the notion intellectually and, at the same time, fail utterly to appreciate the true meaning.
C) Predicting the Behavior of Host Country Nationals.
D) Accepting Host Country Behavior.
E) Changing Your Own Behavior. Effective PC services requires not only that you predict and get used to host country nationals, but that you adjust your own behavior so that you don't offend them. (Easier said than done.)
F) Cultural Sensitivity. (I don't have to like it, but I do have to live with it... and not step on any toes.)
G) Can I Still Be Me? ...when being you may not be appreciated or understood in the local culture, you will have to stand your ground.
H) The Possibility of Friendship. (Where does culture stop and one's personality begin?)

Chapter Five. The World of Work.
A) Culture: A New Ingredient. (As if a normal new job wasn't enough to deal with, add a new country's culture.)
B) Common Culprits.
i) The Concept of Power. (The US is a low power distance country where, in general, rank isn't pulled, special status doesn't exist, and people work independent from bosses. Senegal is the opposite, a high power distance country.)
ii) Cultural Dichotomies. (The American view: treat everyone equally and then anyone can achieve their desires. Senegalese version: treat those closest to you better than others; doing all you can takes you only so far, and the rest is a matter of good fortune.)
iii) Direct and Indirect Communication Styles. (They are way too many difference to get specific.)
iv) The Pace of Events. (Picture that story about the tortoise and the hair... I'm the tortoise right now.)
C) Trust Me. The issue here isn't whether you're liked or appreciated or whether your credentials are adequate or whether your intentions are good. Its a matter of trust and credibility, which can only come over time.
D) Adjusting On (and to) the Job.
E) Structural Challenges. (What exactly is my job description?)
F) Agents of Change. You like to think that when you leave your host country things will not be quite the same as you found them.

Chapters Six. The Peace Corps Experience.
...You seek a profound encounter with a foreign culture, a series of experiences that change forever the way you think about the world, your own country, and yourself. You expect to be challenged, to have your patience and your mettle tested, to be pulled, pushed, or otherwise forced into new ways of thinking and behaving. (Their point is that given this, don't spend all your time with other ex-pats and minimize this experience.)

Chapters Seven. Coming Home.
A) The Notion of Home. Neither the place where you left off nor the person who went overseas exists anymore. (Home is where the routine is.)
B) How Nice. Your self-esteem isn't helped when no one seems especially interested in what you've been doing for the past two years. (Maybe this blog isn't such a good idea...)
C) A Face in the Crowd. (I'm not the only white person that people want to stare at?)
D) Back to Normal.
E) Back to Work.
F) Home Alone. (There is no neighboring volunteer, who just went through the same thing yesterday, to call when I'm totally freaking out.)
G) The Stages of Readjustment.
i) Excitement and Joy.
ii) Get On With Your Life. (The idea of moving back into the old life, and won't that diminish what I've just gone through?)
iii) Make Your Peace.
H) Think Back.

Needless to say, I'm somewhere in the middle of Chapters 4, 5 & 6. And I'll probably be there for the next year and a half. But I do remember from my study abroad program that Chapter 7 was pretty hard too. But then again, I've always said that Italy was the best thing I've ever done with my life. So I guess Peace Corps will be competing for number one on the list now.

Sunday, February 21

African Friends & Money Matters

I first read African Friends and Money Matters just after install. At the time a few points stood out, but I kept mentally coming back to one specifically. The idea is that, in Africa, knowledge is guarded while possessions are shared. From the moment we got off the plane, and I noticed the women a few rows in front of me using the in-flight blanket to carry her baby off said plane, it just the beginning to the awareness that personal property was a loosely defined term on this continent. But what I didn’t notice was how little information was shared.

This could have been because we were in Peace Corps training; where information was spit at us from left and right. But when the lessons were over, and quality time with the host family began, I was too tired to miss the lack of substantive information being passed around. Daily happenings on my street, the weather and accompanying climate changes, and whether or not the maid was doing a good job in the house were common topics. What was missing was the pertinent stuff like when we were eating meals, how profitable was my mother’s vegetable stand, and what I would be doing here in Senegal.

The idea that those last topics are highly valuable information that should be guarded with extreme care was beyond me. If everyone knew what time dinner was in the States, then they’d be sure not to intrude then. Family time is important, and one would not want to impose where they were not invited. In Africa, knowing the schedule is an open invitation to sit down for the meal. But social hospitality isn’t the issue. The issue is those that are always looking for a free meal where vegetables and meat are expensive commodities.

Likewise, the profitability of the vegetable stand would be readily discussed between Western friends and family. We are a culture of seeking free advice, and value the opinions and ideas of those closest to us; therefore we would open up about the status of our business as yet another opportunity to engage in such an exchange. But for the African entrepreneur, if a stand is doing well then family and friends will find a need to ask for money or resources. And if the stand is doing poorly, there is certainly no advice to be gained from saying so.

And lastly, my work in Senegal is what Westerners consider a conversation starter. This is why I’m here; this is what I hope to do. I’m excited- nay, proud- to tell people I’m here to share my business savvy in hopes of helping them to better their lives. In my case, it’s also a subtle message that says “I’m looking for work.” I’m here for you and here’s an opportunity to mention your shop, stand, or profession and seek free advice (which we not only love to get but also love to give). Though, again, in Africa my host family couldn’t have appeared less interested in why I was here. Perhaps to them, that seemed like an invasion where it is not socially appropriate seek knowledge from another. And I suppose I made them uncomfortable by sharing.

They say knowledge is power, but I think Africans take this more literally than Westerners. After enlightening myself to the above thoughts, I imagine a secondary goal in my time here: to illustrate that knowledge is a resource that can be both valuable and shared for communal benefit. Knowledge may be power, but ability to share knowledge could be more powerful. 

Sunday, February 14

25 Random African Things

1) I do my laundry daily and by hand.

2) I can deal with mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, lizards, and spiders... but I'm drawing the line at mice. And perhaps the bigger lizards.

3) It's an art to be able to sleep through the 5:15a call to pray from the local mosques, which are broadcast over loud speaker throughout the whole city. Luckily, I was able to train during Ramadan, when the mosques broadcast song and prier 24/7.

4) I refuse to respond to hissing, "Hey, my sister," or even "Toubab" (white ghost person) if you're older than 5 years old. It's rude and you know better.

5) Mefloquine (anti-Malaria prophylaxis) makes me crazy with paranoia, and I have occasional insomnia. I also loose my hair, and am overly prone to extremities going numb.

6) I love that African mustard tastes like mayo and wasabi mixed together but looks deceptively like the boring yellow stuff.

7) I miss my dog, because pets don't exist here. Sheep and chickens are referred to as assets or future meals.

8) I'm concerned there is karma in the fact that I live with 6 boys ranging from 2 to 17 years old, as anyone who knows me knows that I am not fond of children.

9) Given the 9 other people (6 boys, 2 parents, and a maid) I share a shower with, multiplied by 3 showers a day, it's amazing that I rarely have to wait in line.

10) Missing the unexpected things is hardest: new babies, deaths, weddings, etc. Why are so many people suddenly getting engaged? The upside is that there are a lot of all three here.

11) Mashed potatoes are called puree in french. Here they have the consistency of having been through a blender with milk and butter; but are still awesome. I'm working on a skin-on American chunky style with my Mom, but it might take a while.

12) The fruit here tastes at least 3 times better than at home; mango, watermelon, grapefruit, ditax; but not so much with the oranges (which are actually green, and I feel a sign).

13) Male Peace Corps volunteers generally don't wear their shirts. Women in the north don't always wear them either (or so I'm told).

14) One can only get 4 kinds of beer in Senegal: Flag and Gazelle (brewed locally), Castel and Dutch Royal. I prefer Gazelle with lime; tastes like Corona.

15) If your right hand is dirty when someone goes to shake it, the person will instead grasp your right wrist. There's no getting out of shaking hands.

16) People wear scarves and ski hats/masks in the "winter." It's only 75 degrees.

17) Mass transit is decorated with the phrase "Thanks be to God," in Arabic though spelled out with Latin letters, which I take to mean "Dear God, please let us make it..."

18) I'm trying to teach my 2 year old brother where Senegal is on the world map, but he keeps pointing to Brazil. Hmm...

19) Its easier to say that I'm allergic to fish then to explain that the taste of if makes me throw up. Either way, the point gets across, I don't eat it.

20) When traveling, the car may look like something Americans would've scrapped 15 years ago, has rust holes all the way through the door, no cushion left on the seats, and probably no crank to open the window... but by god, the people have their best cloths pressed, hair done, makeup fresh, and perfectly matching accessories. A confusing sight for sure.

21) Window shopping is simply not done. You don't look at something, touch something, or show interest in anyway unless you are ready to spend the next 15 minutes negotiating a price in order to purchase.

22) The term "sick day" has a whole new meaning to me. And it accompanies another term (recently invented) "Africa better" meaning the best I can be- for being out of my element.

23) I'm fairly certain that the most common first word for the African child was "Obama." The second was "Nice."

24) I've recently been known to mix 3 languages in once sentence... and was understood.

25) My African name is Soda Ndaw. The other day I accidentally misspelled Moshier. French vowels are confusing, but it also doesn't feel like my name anymore.

Sunday, February 7

Friend Shock

I think I need to admit that I'm having a really rough week. Granted, I haven't left Mboro (except one afternoon to meet other volunteers for lunch) in over a month. And the idea that I haven't been able to relax and let go in that long is really starting to take an emotional toll. Because in reality, I don't do a whole lot during the day. Go here, go there, take a nap (it's seriously still hot here in the middle of the day), and teach a class, blah blah. I watch a lot of movies so there's no way I'm physically exhausted. But emotionally... that's a different story.

Every time I look at this picture of my Dad I have on my desk, it's all I can do to stop myself from crying. I know it's dumb but this is the longest I've been without a big bear hug from my Dad. In reality, I should've moved away a long time ago, but I don't think it's that. Because even if I move away, I can still drive or fly home. I just can't do that here. I'm stuck, just stuck.

And it's not all about the hug, it's the whole idea that I miss being with people I can relate to. It's so hard talking to people when I barely have the language skills for a decent conversation. And then there's culture and a lack of common ground. I literally have zero friends in my town. Zero. None. And it sucks so much.

And you know what? This leads me to spend time on facebook looking at my friends pages and missing them. Then (and this might be the paranoia from the Malaria pills but...) I start to think that the only thing I know about my friends lives is what I read in facebook posts. What is that? Facebook posts aren't really anything. But someone will say they went to the gym or that they went out dancing with some of my other friends... and I feel so left out. I want so badly to know how people are doing, and what they're doing, that I've resorted to cyber stalking them.

And then... When I face the fact that I'm now a cyber stalker I realize that I'm really scared of losing all these "friends." I use quotes because knowing someone on facebook doesn't make us friends. Having a relationship with that person does. Being there when shity things and good things happen does. Interaction with people makes friendships.

I try to email people a lot... but they don't really write back. And (again with the paranoia) then I start to feel conceded for sending people emails continuously- because if they don't write back then all I have to talk about is me. I guess if I had to imagine their side of things, not many "new" things happen. People go to work, go to the gym, and go to the bar for a few drinks. The usual stuff. And telling me about it may seem boring, but I feel like I live for it. I wrote an email the other day with just questions like: what are you weekend plans, what new songs do you listening to, what was the last piece of clothing you bought and what's it look like, what color is your nail polish, and what do you order from Tim Hortons these days? It may seem boring to you, but a new coffee drink would be interesting to me now.

It seems sort of idyllic to go away for 2 years and come back and have everything be totally new, but I don't want it. I think it'd be too much of a culture shock and I'd like to know about this random stuff now. Not to mention, just like the culture shock would suck, imagine having "friend shock" and actually having to say "so what have you been up to the last couple of years?" Let's try and save that for the high school reunions please. Because anyone I'd say that to when I got back is clearly no longer a friend. And have we covered that I don't want to lose my friends?