It's been harder than i thought to find time for internet, even though there are lots of cheap places here to do email. Worse still are the french keyboards which make no sense whatsoever! En fin, my apologies for the group email, but i figure it's better to just get the info out when I get a chance. I can't emphasize how good it feels to read your personal responses, and i'm sorry if i can't respond in kind. Here in Thies email is a possibility, but in three months when i get to the village it'll be a bit more difficult. Donc, letters will be the best thing!
News, news, news. Avant, le site visit. We drove out in a Peace Corps Toyota 4x4 - true white person in Africa style - for about seven hours east of here to the town of Messira, 30k south of Tambacounda, in the East of Senegal. Two of us stayed with one other volunteer in a really fancy hut - really an old (failed) community training center of the Peace Corps. We had a stove, good well access, and even solar lighting. For the true PC experience we rode mountain bikes out 6k into the bush one day to visit another volunteer in her village. 6k in the bush at 11 in the morning with 110 F (50°C?) was quite enough for the day - luckily the rest of the day consisted of sitting, sleeping, playing cards, and eating out in the village compound. this seems to be an average day in the life of a pcv - peace corps volunteer- at least in the middle of the day when it's so hot outside. Anyway, the trip was great to finally get to see the kind of village and life that i'll soon be entering, and to meet a few current volunteers and hear a wide variety of opinions about pc. One note - paved roads are not necessarily better than unpaved, especially for 7 hours. Air con and space in the car were definitely not the norm for the future travel here - just an entry-level experience.
Since we returned on Wednesday we've been busy. Started language classes - I tested out of French (yeah!) so i get to take three months of intensive Northern Pulaar! The Pulaar are a nomadic people of sub-saharan Africa that are spread apart from Senegal all the way to Sudan, so it might actually be useful at times in future travel. It's exciting to know about where i'll be going - the northern part of the country along the Senegal River, just on the Mauritanian border, right on the edge of the Sahara. Any of you still thinking about visiting me? It'll be good to live so close to an Arabic-speaking country - maybe i can learn a little of that langauge as well.
I started the home-stay - my new Pulaar name is Ismaela Sarr, and i live in a family of immigrants from the north. My generation doesn't really speak Pulaar too well, instead they speak Wolof. So i'm hoping to pick up some Wolof on the side with them while learning Pulaar in school and from the parents. I've got an awesome setup - two brothers in their mid 20's, with tons of friends of this age. All my time spent at home is either sleeping or hanging out outside talking, playing music, cards, hanging out, or eating wonderful Senegalese food. They speak French really well, and my French is improving, so i've had some really great discussions. The "family" is huge and seems to have no limit. Every day i learn about new relatives or permanent resident neighbors who are always hanging out. I love it! Everyone is so nice and inviting and have accepted me right into the family and laugh at everything i say in Pulaar (so far we've spent two days just learning the greetings!)
Classes take up a lot of time, six days a week, and we also have a tight schedule of technical classes that will begin next week. It's all really tiring and i go to sleep quickly every night, but i can never sleep too well because of early morning mosque loudspeakers and 20-second inteverval rooster crowing from 4am onwards. One day i'll find that rooster and buy it and we'll have some nice dinner. Soon. So many new experiences, i really have no time to think about much else, just do. Village should be more calm. But i love it, and can't believe i'm getting paid for this!