Pictures from Senegal

Monday, August 9

A Note to the New Stage

It occurs to me that a new class of recruits will land in Senegal this week. And in honor of that I figured I’d leave give them a note of encouragement before they embark on their own version of my adventure. As they run the last of their errands, say the last of their goodbyes, I hope they find a few minutes to read the following:

Dear Stagaire,

A year ago, I sat at home with my family for my last Sunday dinner. I had most of my things crammed into my suitcases and spent the evening debating the remaining few inches of space. I had said all my goodbyes and was trying not to fall asleep dreaming of what my new life would be like.

It didn’t matter because all I could do was think about, ponder, and speculate about what would come. I hate to say goodbye, so I pushed those thoughts out of my mind, and thought only of the future. How would I learn French and Wolof quick enough? What were my new friends going to be like? What kind of food would I eat? Where would I sleep? What would my African name be? What does Africa look like? Smell like? I had a million questions- all with numerous hypothetical answers. But in truth I had no possible way of correctly picturing any of it before hand.

Everything is new, different, confusing, awful and wonderful all at the same time. There is no possible way to imagine what will come. By reading PC materials, blogs, and generally bombarding internet search engines with “Senegal,” you’ve done all the preparation you can. But it won’t be enough. Today, you need to accept that you have no idea what lies ahead.

The upside is that I can give you a few certainties:
1. You will speak to your family within the first week or so. Either by sending an email, Skype date, or expensive (but worth it?) cell phone call- depending on how quickly PC gets your phones organized.
2. You won’t understand the accents of the people around you on day one. Don’t expect to, just relax. Nor will you understand all the new words they throw at you. Don’t be afraid to ask.
3. The city of Thies is pronounced like the game of “chess.”
4. The bus ride from Dakar to Thies is about 2.5 hours long. Feel free to sleep because you will see those sights again soon. Not to mention, the sights out of Dakar along the road you’ll take aren’t the best the city has to offer; they’ll only get you down. So take that nap!
5. PC will give you breakfast when you get to Thies. It is Senegalese style meaning a chunk of baguette bread with butter, jam, or chocolate spread along with instant coffee or tea mixed with hot water or milk.
6. Current volunteers will always be around you the first few days, possibly including myself. We are there to help you. No one will laugh at your “dumb” questions, but by the same token your questions won’t occur to us so you need to ask.
7. At some point it will occur to you that you are wildly uncomfortable and would like to go home. Don’t. Don’t think about it. Don’t compare home to Africa. Don’t think about what you could be doing if you were back in the States. Don’t think about what your family and friends are doing. Uncomfortable is just an adjective, and one that passes at that. Things will get better, so stick with it!

Best of luck and see you soon,

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