Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, February 2

3rd Year

Soap Packaging Project
So if I’ve created a bucket list, you better believe the thought has crossed my mind once, or several hundred times, what I’ll be doing once my service with Peace Corps is up. It’s not unusual that I have no idea- that hasn’t changed much since people started asking in high school. However, there are a few things I’ve figured out. I’m not boarding a plane from Dakar directly to the US. Wherever I land will give me reliable internet access. At some point I’ll force my Dad to sit through another graduation ceremony (for my master’s degree), but I don’t know that that will be this year or the next. I’m also certain that I’ll have to determine a permanent address in the USA to maintain voting privileges, but I couldn’t tell you where that will be. Basically, I still use the phrases “when I grow up” and “I’ll tell you when I’m done.”

Start a Business Class
However, I’m not opposed to outlaying some of the options I’ve kicked around: grad school full time, apply to the state department, return to the auto industry, teach English somewhere, become a full time travel bum, or even do a 3rd year of Peace Corps service. Most of those pretty much describe themselves (no, not a real bum but a wonderer of sorts), save the last which is the awe inspiring 3rd year of service. In short, I mean extending to stay here in Senegal. But let’s go deeper…

Scholarship Award Winner
A volunteer has the option to leave any time he or she pleases. The only thing that changes is the paperwork. Leaving before the end of service is called “early termination.” Leaving on time (within 90 days before or after the date 2 years following swearing in) is called “COS-ing,” where COS stands for close of service. Leaving any time after that is called an “extension” of service. A volunteer has the option to stay after for anywhere between a few months and a full year. Technically, a volunteer can stay for a 4th year, but its rear and comes with extenuating circumstances. Back on point, the volunteer that commits to full additional year will then receive a month vacation along with plane faire to return home for the month. Essentially, they are in the PC lifestyle an additional 13 months. Anything less than a year commitment doesn’t warrant the trip… but that doesn’t mean it can’t be granted if you end up changing your mind months into your extension.

According to the PC Manual, the criteria for extensions are as follows. “Volunteers should speak to their program managers in advance and extension requests should be made at least two months before a Volunteer’s established COS date. A country director will consider the following factors in determining whether to grand an extension request:

Yoga at Girls' Camp
1. A Volunteer's unique importance to the total program and the overall benefit to the host country.
2. The degree to which the Volunteer's supervisor and other host country officials support the extension.
3. The Volunteer's motivation in seeking the extension.
4. Medical approval from the Peace Corps medical officer.
5. The conduct of the Volunteer.
6. The quality of the Volunteer's service to date."

Tie-Dye Products
In my opinion, regardless of why one decides to stay, there are two types of extending volunteers; those that move to Dakar and those who stay in their village or regions. People staying in their village generally have some great project they’re working on and just can’t be torn away. They’re building a wireless network and giving laptop computers to all the kids in their schools. Or they’re helping build a remote lodge so tourists can spend the night next to waterfalls. These are actual stories. If not that, then they’ll stay in their regions guiding other volunteers or working with NGOs. But, equally popular is the migration to Dakar where they’ll become assistants to program directors, work on the Peace Corps websites and various publicity projects, collaborate with NGOs, or help organize events and trainings for volunteers.

Attraction to staying in the previously assigned village can include familiarity with area, already learned language skills and built-in friends. For me, the draws are my family, social network here in Mboro, and constant electricity. On the contrary, Dakar affords volunteers with increased availability of conveniences from the western world, anonymity in the large city, and a community of fellow ex-patriots. These attractions could be seriously expanded upon, but isn’t the point I’m trying to make.

English Class
Although most of the PC world lives a glorious life of freedom in their own apartment or homes, Senegalese Volunteers get the unique experience of literally joining a family and home. While the pitfalls and merits to this are not up for discussion at the moment, it’s worth mentioning that an extending volunteer has the option to live how he or she chooses for that 3rd year. Unless someone is staying in their original village of service, most choose to live on his or her own. With this comes the freedom of eating whatever you like whenever you like, coming and going as you please, and no longer dealing with my 6 host brothers and the noise they bring with them at all hours of the day (or some variant of this familiar distraction). Oh, to feel like a real independent adult again…

It’s unclear if this is the path for me. I’ve pondered options both in Dakar and here in Mboro that are feasible. I’ve had conversations with people. But some of those other after-service ideas are calling my name, too.

New Leather Product Design
What seemed like an unthinkable option when I first got here, isn’t all that crazy anymore. When the time came for my friends to start their 3rd year of PC service, and move to Dakar, I found myself hauling a bag or two. But it’s not all that easy watching your friends say goodbye to the kind of life you’re leading now to move to a better one in Dakar. They’re still a Volunteer, but now they’ve moved up in the world (and don’t they know it). I think about how they wake up at the same time every morning, eat breakfast, and take a car to the office. They have an office, or a desk in the Peace Corps office, with air conditioning. They have to be there by a certain time (supposedly). They have lunch with fellow coworkers, and though it’s at a Senegalese rice shack (possibly equated to a 3rd world Coney Island Diner) it’s something I surely miss. From where I’m sitting it’s as though a 3rd year can act like a nicotine patch that slowly wanes one off PC life and back into the world of corporate America. 

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