Hello once again,
As usual, it’s been awhile since I’ve last written. Not to worry – things are going very well here on the extremely sunny dark continent. I’ve just passed the year-in-village mark, meaning one year left to go – well, 11 months by now. It’s a good place to be; I feel like a lot of the pressure and uncertainty has been taken away. I know that I can survive in this environment, that I can fit in, as much as a white American can in an African village, that I can make friends, and occasionally even do some work. The second year is so far panning out just like people said – this is when you reap the rewards for all the language and integration struggles of the first year. And, for me at least, this is when I’m planning on getting my traveling in!
I think it’s been about 4 months since I last wrote, four months that have flown by faster than the dusty Harmattan winds of the hot, dry season. On the home front, I’ve been settling in well to my new hut, which has proved itself to be relatively cool, thanks to the two doors and two large windows that I designed. The tin roof does heat up a bit in the daytime, but as long as there's a breeze (well, a cool, non-dusty breeze) the room is quite nice. Some friends and I've even painted the inside a bright, sky-blue color, and I've got floral curtains to match. As everyone in the village tells me, all that's missing is a woman. They say I could just marry a girl here, and she could cook, clean the house, wash my clothes, etc.; then when I leave all I'd have to do is send money back every once in a while. I think my mothers are especially keen on the idea, so they wouldn't have to do the cooking anymore. While this does have its advantages, rest assured that my morals and religion (I'd have to convert to marry a Muslim) have thus far kept me without an African bride.
After 15 months in Senegal, I'm feeling like I'm finally getting a handle on Pulaar language and the Senegalese lifestyle. I also feel pretty good in the village - I've got some close friends, and I know more or less how to deal with the rest of the villagers. I bought a guitar from a ET’ing PCV (a volunteer who left) and find I’m not that shy about playing for people who don’t sing or play any instrument at all (remember me saying I was disappointed with the lack of music and dancing here?). The guitar’s also a great way to relax and remind myself of other places and people. I’ve been really good about keeping up my exercise routine (barring travel and illness), and find that I love jogging, for the sense of accomplishment it gives me as well as for the chance to escape the sometimes claustrophobic village and be alone in nature. I wish I could say something about work, but as always after four seemingly busy months, I have little to show for it all. The village already knows how to organize for large projects or seminars, and how to raise and manage money. I’m finding that my role is mostly to participate in these activities and give occasional encouragement. My boss came up last week on his year-point visit, and seemed pretty happy with my progress. I have been doing a surprising amount of basic computer training, and a whole lot of cell phone troubleshooting and customer support. Like I’ve said, this isn’t your typical primitive African village.
I’ve also been out of my village quite a bit – I never really get to settle in like I had hoped. I’ve been to Dakar a few times, to take the Foreign Service exam, for mid-service medical and dental check-up (the President’s dentist), to work on the Peace Corps Senegal newsletter, and to pick up and drop off my first visitor, Patricia, an old high-school friend who stopped through for a week on her way back from a business trip in southern Africa. A week’s vacation in Senegal was cramming it, but enough time to see Dakar, see my village, regional house, take canoe trip on the Senegal River, see St. Louis, and back to Dakar. I think she had a good time – said that Senegal was dirtier and the people not as friendly (except in the village) as Zambia, but still seemed enchanted by the experience. Didn’t get sick, either. I got some good advice on what not to put visitors through (mainly regarding public transport and market shopping) and on what to focus on. So, I’m ready for anyone else who wants to visit. 11 months left! Last chance for a guided visit to a real-life African village/country!
Other trips have included another trip down south to Tambacounda (always nice to be in a big city run by the laid-back Pulaars, rather than the in-your-face Wolof ones on the coast) and to the beach for the annual St. Louis International Jazz Festival. I’ve never really heard live jazz before. I don’t know what it was exactly about the experience, whether it was just because I haven’t seen live music in so long, or the music itself, but I loved it. After the main shows, the bands would usually go down to one of the bars and jam for the rest of the night, where you could see them for free. Plus, cool , breezy St. Louis is always a welcome change from my desert.
I’ve been in Senegal only for more than 15 months now, longer than I’ve spent in a single country in many years, and I’m definitely beginning to get cabin fever! In Peace Corps, we get 2 vacation days for every month that we’re at site, so I’ve got 48 days to take in the next 8 months (no vacation in the last 3 months). Hopefully, Simone, my Veronese roommate from my Italy and Belgium days, will make it down in August, and we’ll trek up to Mauritania to see how the Sahara is in August. September is my biggest vacation – I want to take at least three weeks to travel in Morocco with Scott, another old friend from high school. My family will come out for Christmas, and hopefully I’ll make it to Mali for New Years in Timbuktu with another high school friend, Lorraine. So, looking forward to seeing a little more of this continent than just this little corner.
A couple of weeks ago, while I was in Dakar, two of my best friends from training were sent home for medical reasons (some strange allergy). Now, here in Peace Corps, you sometimes find your mind wandering Vietnam-style to the various ways that you could get yourself sent home (shoot yourself in the foot, drink a gallon of river water, sit in your hut making doughnuts all day long – that’s actually been done – etc.). But seeing Andy and Katy leaving made me think differently. Talking with them about the disappointment of not being able to finish what they’d worked so hard and suffered so much for, made me realize that I really do want to be here, that these last 11 months are precious, to be enjoyed and made the most of. I still see very little chance that I’d ever extend (there’s too much else to see in the world) but I’m quite happy to be where I am for the moment.
I hope this letter finds you all well and enjoying your summers (remember, it could be hotter). Here seasons don’t exist in the northern sense – here it’s hot season, wet season, and cold season. At the moment, we’re still waiting for wet season, which came to the south of the country a couple months ago. I’m sorry that I haven’t been the best with correspondence ( I never am) but I’m still thinking about all of you, and hoping to find your letters and packages every time I trek over to the post office.