Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, June 26

Close of Service

Hotel Fana Courtyard
The end of a volunteer’s service is marked by a three day Close of Service (or COS) Conference put on by Peace Corps. My training class, whittled down to just 44, was checked in to a lovely hotel in Dakar, Hotel Fana, for four nights.
Three days were spent reviewing check out policy, job opportunities, and how to continue serving after returning to America. For some, the conference was a late kickoff to the final processing by a few weeks. Others found it an early jump that could have been postponed a few months. And still more, who’ve decided to extend their service in Senegal another six months, perhaps a year, found the whole experience mildly not applicable vowing to have a good time with friends and perhaps join another class’ service in the future to adequately review the materials.

Lofted Balcony
At the hotel, they paired us alphabetically by sex for room assignments, which we immediately reorganized. Rooms on the bottom floor contained a bathroom, sitting area, and sometimes a mini kitchen while beds were lofted upstairs with their mosquito nets. Air conditioning was a treat that was never turned off! We stocked our mini refrigerators the first evening with snacks and beverages from the local grocery store called Casino- which is the place to go for an expensive version of anything you’re missing from America. Breakfast, midmorning snacks, lunch, and afternoon snacks were all provided by the hotel. Croissants, bread, yogurt, cereal, eggs, juice, coffee, and tea were served at the first two. Lunch was chicken or beef with rice, cooked veggies and salad, and a slice of tart or bowl of fruit for dessert. Afternoon snack was pieces of pizza and fish sticks. The food was plentiful and tasty; I over ate at every opportunity.

As far as check out procedures goes, medical seems to be the most difficult to schedule. Each individual needs to submit three feces samples taken at different intervals for testing of parasites in advance of heading to Dakar. The first appointment starts with a full physical with the lead doctor in country and serves as our last chance to complain about any and all ailments: rashes, pains, and more. Blood is drawn and checked for HIV, schistose, and blood sugar irregularities, etc. Next we head out of the office to see a Lebanese dentist in downtown Dakar. He is happy to clean and fix most teeth related issues… but if you get real complicated on him Peace Corps will hand you a voucher to get items fixed once you are state-side. If your rash is complicated, you’ll be sent to a dermatologist. Other specialty doctors exist around town for other issues, and yet again if anything can’t be remedied in Dakar a voucher will be awarded for treatment back home. This process has the ability to stretch up to 60 days in processing, but in the last 48 hours before you exit from PC service, you’ll be asked to reveal the tuberculosis reaction from a prick inflicted upon you three days earlier. You can consider this the last (and most difficult to schedule) process that is rewarded with the stack of vouchers and terminal malaria prophylaxis you’ll be consuming at home.

Small Enterprise
Development Volunteers
Copies of your entire medical file are available and, as far as I can tell, contacting PC medical offices after service won’t be much of a hassle. Should you be unfortunate enough to have ascertained a lifelong health problem thanks to your service, you’ll qualify for the federal workman’s compensation plan. Peace Corps extends health care coverage to volunteers for one month after their service ends through a program called Corps Care which can be renewed at the volunteers dime for another eighteen months following the first free one. There are two policy options; both are expensive looking (after living on $4 a day) and only one of them covers international incidents.

Other COS procedures completed at PC headquarters in Dakar include returning PC property (your bike, training manuals, water filter, and other), writing two different reports (official Description of Service to be issued to anyone looking for proof of your work and the less formal Close of Service given to the incoming replacement volunteer), sorting out financial issues such as money owed for projects, purchase of a ticket home (or cash in lieu payment thereof), and details of readjustment allowance payments, and exit interviews with both your program supervisor (APCD) and the country director. As far as the Senegalese government is concerned, you’ll need to write a formal letter to the department from which your program officially operates and submit your residency permit for cancellation. Talked about, but not formally needing a process, is the art of saying goodbye to our host families, work partners, and friends at site. There’s no time table for this, and it won’t be easy. PC does their part by passing out a list of culturally appropriate “good bye” phrases in each local language. Au revoir!

Fall 2009 Stage
Now it’s time to talk about our futures. Going to grad school? We’ve got fellowship programs at many schools throughout the country just waiting for you to apply. Hitting the job market? PC hands you a rather large career resource manual that will help you soul search for the perfect job and write a resume; it also gives leads on websites and other job bulletins to ease the search. But all this information is given to you in advance of the COS Conference so that while there we can focus on much more entertaining things such as not one, but two career panels inviting the expatriates of Dakar to talk about their grad school experiences, noncompetitive eligibility hiring, and current work abroad. The second panel was actually held at the clubhouse of our favorite pool side hangout, Club Atlantique, allowing PC the opportunity to cram 44 people in a bus designed for 25; how very Senegalese of us!

Mboro Training Group
And this brings me to our final topic, continuation of service. During our COS Conference my training group and I rehashed our favorite and not-so memories, talked about the impending reverse culture shock, and all the various ways to continue the third goal of Peace Corps: better understanding of the host countries on the part of Americans. Task number one upon return is finding an alumni group of returned volunteers (RPCVs) to join. They should help me transition from the loss of volunteer identity, through the job search, and into an active community member where I am encouraged to speak about my experiences at local schools or career fairs. I shouldn’t be hesitant to submit articles to media outlets. The possibilities for outreach are endless and there’s even an entire department of PC dedicated to providing RPCVs with presentation help and PC paraphernalia. While one can’t remain an official volunteer for much longer, the mentality of Peace Corps volunteerism continues long after we’ve left our host countries.

3 comments:

  1. I absolutely love the Mboro Training Group picture. I would have loved it more if Joshua and I were in it. COSing is easy, you'll do fine. The DOS and COS reports suck of course. The plane ride is so bitter-sweet. Enjoy your last times of Senegal. Miss you, PST-best-friend!

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