I must say, since I accepted my invite and completed the legal part of the pre-departure process, I’ve got a lot of time to think about what comes next. Of course that is on top of work but at the moment work is very slow since we have no crops planted so it sort of adds on to the time I have to think about how to strategize and prepare to leave in 7 months. Reality doesn’t really seem to be in motion just yet. There are often three recurring thoughts that I have: relative language/agricultural knowledge before service, upcoming medical clearance, and trying to make the most of my time left in the states.
In order to do my best to prepare for service, I’ve been in frequent contact with volunteers currently serving in Senegal, invitees to Senegal, and RPCVs. I hope for their sake I haven’t been too annoying with all of my questions but I am so grateful for their patience and willingness to provide me with all the information they can before I depart. I’ve also been reading various packing lists to get an idea of what I might need to buy and pack. I’m still a couple months out from starting to pack but I think getting a head start can only help.
It is certainly daunting to get deep into one’s thoughts and realize that in 7 months you will be in a new place experiencing new things. From what I understand, this is something that a lot of volunteers experience as they wait to depart. I must admit that this is less of an issue for me and I will wholly attribute that to frequently moving around. For me that was always the fun part! I’ve read that a few invitees are having different feelings than they initially had when they applied. Some are second guessing their decisions for various reasons. I can concur that after receiving the invite your thought process does change because it feels surreal. With the application process being rather long, the goal of becoming a PCV can seem pretty unattainable at times. But to finally have what you’ve put so much effort towards right in front of you, things can become very disorienting especially with the departure date seemingly so far away. I think I’m still in disbelief but I have not second guessed my decision. If anything, I’ve been more concerned about how I will perform once I get assigned to my site:
Will I be able to integrate with my host-families both at pre-service training and at my site? Will I get along with my fellow Peace Corps volunteers? Will I be able to acquire the necessary language proficiency and the agricultural knowledge to assist the farmers at my site? Will I be able to make a positive difference regardless of how big or small it is? Will I be able to sit with local farmers as an outsider and discuss ways to improve their crops?
As you could probably tell, I think the most challenging thing for me will be acquiring the skills necessary to do my job and acquiring the language skills to effectively communicate. These two things are what I think about most. I am currently studying French which is the predominate language in Senegal. I’ve been told from RPCVs that finding an agriculture volunteer that speaks French is very rare. With that said, I’ve also heard that many volunteers, (agriculture volunteers in particular), get along fine without it. This is because as ag volunteers we will likely be placed away from the capital Dakar and the majority of the French speaking population. During pre-service training, which lasts about three months, we will learn a local language, (Wolof, Pulaar, Mandinka, or Jola), that is appropriate for our site which should be more than sufficient to be a successful volunteer. After taking all of that into consideration, I’ve still taken the liberty to learn French on my own time in order to supplement my language abilities. In the end what could it hurt? I really wish when I lived in Belgium I would have taken language acquisition more seriously during French and Host Nation classes, but as a 10 year old, I wasn’t really thinking about the usefulness of learning French. I attribute this to the short duration I was in Belgium and being preoccupied with skating.
As for learning agricultural knowledge relevant to what I will be doing in Senegal, I plan to pick the brain of the PhD I work for at the ag center. He specializes in soybeans and cowpeas. I am very likely to work with cowpeas in Senegal so I am eager to learn as much as possible. In addition to this, I am also going to make an effort to volunteer to help with beekeeping at a local farm in order to learn more about working with bees and hopefully I can apply that to my secondary project while I am there.
These thoughts have only strengthened my resolve to go to Senegal, although at times it is a very tall order to fulfill. At the moment, I think these thoughts only push me to want to do the best I can and that is probably why I am not second guessing my decision. At least that is how I am rationalizing it.
Stress Relief & Related Thoughts
While Shreveport/Bossier and Louisiana in general haven’t been one of my favorite places that I’ve had the privilege of living, I am certain that it has had a profound impact on me. As ironic as this might sound, I think one of the biggest culture shocks in my entire life, has actually been living in the South of my own nation. I suppose I’ve had the privilege to visit and live in so many places and experience so many different cultures and I’ve genuinely felt at home wherever it was that I lived. To relocate to Louisiana and witness these sometimes prejudicial attitudes towards people of color or people of other faiths is very hard to digest. It is sometimes difficult to put up with the subtle racism that still exists in the South and at times I wish I could go to Senegal yesterday and never look back. However, I am here now and I’ve taken the opportunity to learn from and adapt to my surroundings and I feel this approach has been the most fruitful.
I must admit the job I have and the people I’ve met and surround myself with on a daily basis have made the area bearable at the least. I have a lot more time to skate with some of my closest friends here and spend quality time with my mom and our sweet cat.
These are the things that I look forward to in order to relieve any stress I might have. I am doing my best to stay healthy and fit for the upcoming medical clearance but its so tempting to skate as much as possible. I have until the end of the month to get it out of my system I guess, so until then I have some time to skate and film a few more clips.
Maybe I’ll take a skate trip to Dallas next weekend? We’ll have to see. I have a lot of trips I’d like to take between now and September. I’ve got so many friends scattered all over the continental US that I want to see before I depart. That is the curse and blessing of growing up military I suppose. I like to think of it more as a blessing since it gives me a reason to travel.
One thought that is always in the back of my mind that I thought I should mention, is the possibility that the Peace Corps will get defunded between now and September due to budgeting in Congress. Out of all the things to think about and prepare for service, I think this is the one that I find most troubling. How does one prepare for a job when it has the possibility to get cut for political reasons? I hope this is not the case and I try not to think about it, but it is a very real possibility between now and September. All one can do is wait and see what happens.