Friday, March 30, 2007

The bigger the better.

So I'm finally beginning to understand when PCV's say that the good days definately outshadow the bad. There's been so much going on (and there still is) but I really appreciate the little moments and accomplishments that mean so much to my success here.

I'm learning the language slowly but surely and growing closer to my peace corps friends, trainers, and even host family. Last night my house was hoppin with family and visitors. I got home and as usual my father told me to go get my notebook so we could study. He usually opens it and makes me read everything, and corrects my mispronunciations, but this time I wouldn't let him and I just kept it closed. I held my notebook on my lap and started asking him questions, in Pulaar, about his family. He loved this, and started asking me all kinds of questions like what HER name was, and what HE does, and what this and that are. It was awesome. At one point he said he had an older sister, so I asked him what she did for a living. He responded with "she's an eater." Everyone, including myself, just lost it. It was the first time I felt like I could portray even the tiniest bit of my personality to the people I'm living with, and that means SO much. We (father and sisters, my mom doesn't speak french,) also spoke in french quite a bit about my family and American life and it felt so good to be able to actually converse and understand someone else.

Language in Senegal is kindof a mess. French is obviously the national language but that doesn't mean that peope speak it, or even if they speak it, that doesn't mean they understand it. The reason for this is that schools only teach in french and most kids come to school never speaking a word of it. This makes learning difficult for the child and teaching difficult for the teacher. Teaching is composed mainly of writing french sentences on the board and the kids memorizing it. So kids will walk up to me and say things in french like "how are you" and "what is your name" but if you ask them the exact same question, they have no idea how to answer. So what I'm getting at is, the only Senegalese who REALLY speak french are teachers or very well educated people. In villages, these people are very hard to find, especially girls because they are taken out of school at about age 12 and married off. So there are like 6 other languages spoken in this country but they change too depending on where you are (Pulaar for example). What's my POINT?? Communication in Senegal is hard.

I'm learning that there are some aspects to senegalese culture that are awesome. As opposed to Americans, who value independance and privacy, Senegalese have a very strong sense of community and family. Whats theirs is everyone's and what's everyone's is theirs. Its perfectly acceptable for a cousin or friend to show up at the door of a family member and stay for days, or even years, no questions asked. And EVERYONE eats. Oh my lord. If anyone in Senegal ever goes hungry then they are doing something seriously wrong, because there is always a whole lot of eating going on. (To my detriment.)

Did I mention that somewhere along the lines of like 80 percent of the muslim population in Senegal is polygamous?? For some reason I didn't really think about that a whole lot before coming here. I'm not sure if my father has multiple wives because there are always so many people around, but I will eventually get to the bottom of it. There are a couple women whom I'm not sure of their relation?? The whole idea here is that the Koran says that men should have as many children as possible to populate the world with muslims. So if a wife can't have children, or doesn't have them fast enough, the family pressures the man to get a second wife. The number of children the wife has gives them status in the family. This is going to be a huge challenge for health and environmental education volunteers. We as health volunteers are trying to promote family planning, and environmental education volunteers are trying to promote population control. These ideas and polygamy don't quite mix.

Oh yeah, I have a cell phone! I probably shouldn't post my number on the internet but if you want it, email me and I'll email it to you. You could also email/call and ask my mother or shaun.
You should probably buy an international calling card to call me because it could be pretty expensive. I do however get free incoming calls and texts. Just keep in mind that I'm 5 hours ahead, so if you call at like 8pm, it will be 1am here and I will be very upset with you. I have training from 8am-12:30, and 2:30-6pm my time, so figure that out. ;)

Chris--i would LOVE pictures, or any sort of mail really *hint hint.* Mail here has been pretty good so far, like 5-7 days. If you want to send something bulky, or like a package, be sure to put it in an envelope because its a lot cheaper.

This is for everyone**: Don't send expensive things because the post offices here can be corrupt and they will go through stuff. Someone told me today, though, that if you do send something you don't want to get swiped its a good idea to put a bunch of tampons or pads in the box or envelople. Apparently Senegalese freak out at the sight of them and just leave whatever it is alone. *shrugging shoulders* A dude PCV actually told me this.

Till next time.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Our little girl is growing up!

This morning, after being woken up and "unlocked" I was allowed to walk to the bus stop ALL BY MYSELF! The bus stop is across the street, no joke, and my host father walked me yesterday and waited with me until the bus came. He was also there to pick me up. This is sad and cute at the same time because everyone else's host MOM walked them. But NO, my DAD walked me. (Yeah, I'm 23, did I mention that?) But yeah, this morning, my dad opened the door and sent me off on my own. *tear*
He did, however, stand at the doorway and watch.

Today was an interesting day because I was finally forced to think about the actual reason I'm here. I came to realize that I hadn't almost the entire time I've been here (except for maybe during demyst). This whole process is just so overwhelming I haven't gotten the chance to sit down and contemplate my task; health prevention. Since arrival, my life has been filled with new culture, new language, new customs, NEEDLES, packing and unpacking, traveling, the heat, feeling sick, trying not to feel sick, deciding whether or not my malaria medication is MAKING me sick... etc.
It was profound to sit back and discuss, specifically what we are here to do, which I have come to believe is extremely important. Common illnesses here are far more dangerous than in the US because of the lack of knowledge and resources to prevent and treat them. Malaria is of great concern. To us, this might be a nuisance and uncomfortable, but many Senegalese die from this disease every day. Small villages lack the knowledge to treat minor injuries. Therefore, minor cuts are often infected and the result is debilitating. Villagers will use tomato paste, toothpaste, or even charcoal to treat a wound (this is all done without washing the wound first, of course.) Washing hands is a big issue too, considering everyone eats with their hands from a communal bowl.

My host family, for instance, will bring soap for me before we eat, knowing that I will want to wash my hands, but they don't wash theirs. Obviously, that kindof defeats the purpose. Malnutrition, food sanitation, and family planning are all major issues as well.

My work here has not even begun. Now, if I could just get this pesky language thing down, I could put my cape and "s" labeled leotard on and get to WORK!

My family was so excited, I can now say simple things like, "how are you? peace only. How is your mother, father, wife, teacher? How are you doing with work, mosquitos, learning pularr? I rock.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Another day, another franc.

I just posted yesterday but obviously, I have some time on my hands since I can't do much else. My sister, Khadia (my namesake) is home from college this weekend which makes things even more confusing for me. Is she talking to me or to her?? I have no idea, but it doesn't really matter because I can't understand what you're saying ANYWAY!!

There are little nuances to African living that I'm still getting used to. For example, at night, it is customary for the father to lock all the doors (and sections) of the house. He is the only one with the key so essentially, I am locked in until someone gets up and lets me out. One volunteer had a particular problem with this when she had to use the toilet (which is outside) at 4:30 am. Her host mother heard her and came knocking on her door. The volunteer opened the door to find her mother holding a bucket. YEP! This is what we call "improvisation" which is the concept for most of my stay here!
No toilet paper??--improvise.
No running water??--improvise.
Don't speak the language??--improvise.

Simple isn't it?

My host father is pretty cool, he tries to speak french to me and teach me Pulaar, even though I have no idea what he's saying or even how to repeat it. I asked him what he did for a living and he pulled out a big bag full of dentures. Ah ha. He is a dentist. He showed me his office....not a place I'd want to get my teeth worked on. There are always people coming and going in my house, but there are these two ladies with children who were never introduced to me. I asked who they were a couple days ago and one of my sister's just said, "they don't live here." But they were still there the next day. So I asked Khadia and she explained that they were there to get their teeth worked on. So they have been sleeping, eating, and hanging out around the Diallo house for the last few days and when they leave, they'll have a shiny new pair of teeth. Africa is so hospitable.

I can't come up with anything new or exciting so I guess I'll end it there.

A demain.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The death of Binta.

My name is now Khadia Diallo and will be so for the next two months. I actually like Khadia better, because if you live in Senegal, you learn that names are very unoriginal. There are thousands of Binta's, and even more Mamadou's and Amadou's. Its tres confusing. Especially when you're thrown into a family and expected to know all of them (oh, like last night!) I actually have a sister named Binta, but in Pulaar its spelled "Bineta" but pronounced the same.

The rest of my demyst was alright. I worked at a med post and held babies while they got shots. They loved me for about 30 seconds and then immediately despised me and probably all white people (and probably will for the rest of their lives). If only they could understand that I, too, know the pain of the dreaded needle. Got another one yesterday and we get more next week!! Hooray!

So I moved in with my Thies host family last night which proved to be quite an experience.
"Tell me about it, Ashley."
Ok. So they speak Pulaar, which is what I'm going to speak (found out yesterday) but unfortunately I don't speak Pulaar yet, not even close and they don't speak french (maybe a little). But they have also been instructed NOT TO speak french or english to me so that I learn Pulaar. THis means that I sit awkwardly while people attempt to talk to me and eventually give up. We then sit in silence until someone decides that they're bored and turns the tv on. There are a couple babies, who would be my best friends (since they don't speak pulaar either) except they scream everytime I come near them because of my scary white face. This is my life.

The up side is that there is a cyber cafe right across the street and the connection is the best I've seen. There is also electricity although it goes out a lot. I've gotten into this soap opera called "The colors of love" but the power went out RIGHT as something (I don't know exactly what because I can't understand it all) big was going to happen. Oh the ups and downs of living in Africa.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sinthiou Mbal

So I'm in a small town called Aura Soge but am staying in a small village called Sinthiou Mbal, I don't know if I've spelled either correctly but I think they're close.

I'm in the north, (the dessert) and it has been very hot. I've heard it only gets hotter. We've walked around the village and talk to people and everyone's always interested to talk to us (Teresa and I) but even when Jennifer tells them we don't speak Pulaar they keep talking to us. Sometimes they start to get really mad that we don't respond to their greetings even after Jennifer explained that we just got here a couple days ago and don't speak Pulaar. The children constantly talk to me thinking that I'll understand them. THe kids here are awesome. THey're my favorite and biggest fans. They love to carry my water bottle for me and hold my hand and play with my hair. WHenever we're sitting in the family compound they'll come up and sit really close to me and just stare. At dinner they pick off some meat and throw it in front of my spot in the bowl and make sure that Jen tells me that its from Her (this is a sign of respect). Most of the food has been pretty good, except our dinner the last two nights have been HACO which is boiled leaves rolled in millet. This basically tastes like soggy leaves rolled in dirt or sand. ITs awesome. And of course, we never eat enough according to Jennifer's mother. So we always have to eat more than we'd care to. After dinner the family loves to pull out the tv (this family has electricty and a refrigerator which is a HUGE status symbol, the mother showed me her fridge seconds after meeting me. She also offered some cold water but I couldn't drink it because it wasn't treated) Wow that was a long aside, anyway, the family pulls out the tv and watches french soap operas for hours which is funny, because they don't speak french. They just like watching the pictures of kissing and lovemaking. The music videos are pretty kick ass too.
Yesterday while doing our rounds we stopped at a hut and layed on a mat and napped for a couple hours while the lady sewed. This country's awesome. Its totally acceptable to go to someone's house and lay around.

Yesterday we went with Jenny while she taught a brief class at school about washing your hands. Everyone was more interested in asking us what we ate in America and what our parents names were. They have a really hard time pronouncing my first name and an even harder time pronouncing my last name. Corinne was easy, but boy, Eric Goodson was impossible for them to wrap their mouths around. IT was nowhere close to anything distinguishable. My name usually turns into "AshAlee", "AshKAlee", or "Asslee" stressing the LEE. One boy renamed me Binta which turns into Binta Ba because of the family I'm staying with. I like that. I might stay with it.

Village life is quite different from the sheltered life at the center. But the perks are nice as well. Sleeping outside is one of the greatest things. Feeling the wind blow and watching the stars is amazing. The only draw back is the f'ing sheep and donkey's that wail ALL NIGHT LONG. The rooster's are loud too and wander around so sometimes you get a rooster crow right in the ear.

Oh yeah, for those of you that know me, I'm kind of a spaz in the car (to say the least). NOT a good fear to have in SENEGAL. WOW. I thought I was going to die at least ten times on the way up here and that was a Peace Corps van. We almost pummeled two donkeys and a cow who apparently had a death wish. Public transportation is even worse which I had the privelage of experiencing this morning while getting on a bus made for 10 but carrying 15. Rock on!

Well, thats it so far. Love and miss you all.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

comments

SO I just read the comments, should have done that first... But thank you Chris. Shaun I thought about you yesterday because we were learning Wolof and in Wolof saying how are you is " naaga deff" so I kept saying "naaga...naaga....naagana work here anymore!" No one saw the humor.
Dad: care packages are awesome. One suggestion: some underwear. yeah. And I don't know anything about the hats??? *shrug of shoulders*
Mom I love you. Stay cool.

Again

For some reason my first one doesnt show up on my page so Im doing it again; so it might do it twice
_________________________


So I finally have some time to write. The problem with being in a group of 43 Americans is that when you want to go somewhere (especially to an internet cafe or use the phone) is that everyone wants to come with and obviously when using these things, it hinders the process quite a bit when there's 10 of you. Technically, we are told not to go anywhere alone but its daylight on saturday ( lots of people around) and my french (and a little Wolof) are pretty good. So yeah, broke the rules and came here by myself. Do not call the Peace Corps office and tell anyone.

Thies (pronounced "chess" I have learned) is great but our center is beautiful. Lots of trees and benches. We are staying there at the moment but after demyst we will stay with our host family and only come to the center for training (monday thru saturday) 8am to 7pm. Obviously Thies is not what I would call nice by American standards, but usually when someone says is nice it ,eans that the people here are nice to Americans.

We've been completey spoiled since we've been here; beautiful, cool weather, running water, flushing toilets and every dinner so far has been quite American. Last night we had FRENCH FRIES! Can you believe that? The night before we had spagetti.

The trainers here are all amazing and completely understanding of our plight. THey're teaching us Wolof and they get such a kick out of it when we ask them "Nakanga deff?" which means "how are you?" They are all Senegalese of course and most speak very good English although we speak french most of the time (le plupart des temps).

THe sounds and smells here are very distinctive from America. There are the constant noises of a man chanting muslum prayer over a loudspeaker. Also, we are called to each class and meal by a "tum tum": a drum. We do sleep under mosquito nets.We have many safety and health classes that obsess about malaria and diaherria which are commom problems...can't wait for that. I also had to get three more shots yesterday :( But this time I asked for them in the butt ( I know that sounds dirty) but it was so much better. I didn't feel fainty at all. We get three more next week when we get back from demystification. To clarify: demyst is when we go stay at another volunteer's sight for a few days. I leave in a peace corps van tomorrow morning. I am going to a village near Matam to a volunteer named Jennifer Kline. I'm really looking forward to it and hopefully I will be able to send those letters I've written to Mom and Dad and Jerry. (We only get stamps on wednesdays). Ive also heard that mail doesnt take nearly as long to get here as we previously thought. If ONLY I had the STAMPS!!!! I suggested going to the post office myself but they didnt think it was a good idea. Baby steps, Ashley, baby steps.

Anyhoo, I cant think of any more at the moment but I will write agan soon.
I love and miss you guys!

Finalement! Assalaam Malekum!

So I finally have some time to write. The problem with being in a group of 43 Americans is that when you want to go somewhere (especially to an internet cafe or use the phone) is that everyone wants to come with and obviously when using these things, it hinders the process quite a bit when there's 10 of you. Technically, we are told not to go anywhere alone but its daylight on saturday ( lots of people around) and my french (and a little Wolof) are pretty good. So yeah, broke the rules and came here by myself. Do not call the Peace Corps office and tell anyone.

Thies (pronounced "chess" I have learned) is great but our center is beautiful. Lots of trees and benches. We are staying there at the moment but after demyst we will stay with our host family and only come to the center for training (monday thru saturday) 8am to 7pm. Obviously Thies is not what I would call nice by American standards, but usually when someone says is nice it ,eans that the people here are nice to Americans.

We've been completey spoiled since we've been here; beautiful, cool weather, running water, flushing toilets and every dinner so far has been quite American. Last night we had FRENCH FRIES! Can you believe that? The night before we had spagetti.

The trainers here are all amazing and completely understanding of our plight. THey're teaching us Wolof and they get such a kick out of it when we ask them "Nakanga deff?" which means "how are you?" They are all Senegalese of course and most speak very good English although we speak french most of the time (le plupart des temps).

THe sounds and smells here are very distinctive from America. There are the constant noises of a man chanting muslim prayer over a loudspeaker. Also, we are called to each class and meal by a "tum tum": a drum. We do sleep under mosquito nets.We have many safety and health classes that obsess about malaria and diaherria which are commom problems...can't wait for that. I also had to get three more shots yesterday :( But this time I asked for them in the butt ( I know that sounds dirty) but it was so much better. I didn't feel fainty at all. We get three more next week when we get back from demystification. To clarify: demyst is when we go stay at another volunteer's sight for a few days. I leave in a peace corps van tomorrow morning. I am going to a village near Matam to a volunteer named Jennifer Kline. I'm really looking forward to it and hopefully I will be able to send those letters I've written to Mom and Dad and Jerry. (We only get stamps on wednesdays). Ive also heard that mail doesnt take nearly as long to get here as we previously thought. If ONLY I had the STAMPS!!!! I suggested going to the post office myself but they didnt think it was a good idea. Baby steps, Ashley, baby steps.

Anyhoo, I cant think of any more at the moment but I will write agan soon.
I love and miss you guys!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Im here in AFRICA

I havent quite gotten the hang of this keyboard yet so this wont be long. Thies is beautful and so is the weather. We are staying at the training center and the trainers are awesome. Sleeping under a mosquito net is interesting. And eating so far has been great. Oh I got my first " toubab" shout today fro,m a little boy: To be white.

I have to go but Mom and Dad: I love you a ton and miss you and I might call you ( mom) tomorrow at work. Im also writing a lot of letters so be ready.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Address in Senegal

So I have my mailing address for training. Training takes place in Thies, Senegal for about three months, so it will likely change in mid-June, so check out my blog and I'll keep you posted.

My address is:

PCT Ashley Goodson
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 299
Thies, Senegal
West Africa