This week has been extremely eventful. On Tuesday, we reached a very important milestone. We had site placement! We found out the communities in which we will live for the two year duration of service. There is so much that has happened in these few weeks that we’ve been here that the dimension of time has become distorted for most trainees. While it has only been a month since we left, it feels like we’ve already been here for ages and it is hard to believe it has only been a month. I have a feeling that it might be due to how much we have to absorb in such a little amount of time. In addition to that, I have personally tried to stay disconnected from the internet when I have it especially at the training center. It is tempting to want to connect with your friends and family but we end up missing life take place here and now. Therefore for this post, it will be difficult to fit in so much so I will tell you a brief summary about PST up until this very eventful week!
Upon arriving at Leopold Sedar Senghor International Airport in Dakar, myself and 52 of my fellow new agriculture sector trainees were shuttled to the Thies training center (TTC) in Thies (pronounced chess) about an hour outside of Dakar. After a very warm greeting and our first meal in Senegal, we immediately began our first of many sessions. At the training center, our sessions consist of language, culture, ag tech, and general PC policies. After the first week of sessions we were assigned our language groups and our community based training sites (CBT). I am learning Wolof, the most common language spoken in Senegal and I am placed in Keur Sa Daro with 6 other trainees 7km outside of Thies.
At CBT, we are each placed with a host family to help us better integrate with our communities and be immersed in the language. We have a total of three CBT stays of which I’ve completed two. I have had the great pleasure to be placed with the wonderful Fam family. I have the sweetest host mother, Nayfal Fam and caring host father May Fam. I have 5 little brothers and one little sister who are all extremely sweet and accommodating. As the baby of my family in America, it is a real treat to be an older brother not only to one sibling, but to 6! The name I was given was Maysa Fam and my namesake is my little brother who is about 8 or 9. I immediately grew attached to little Maysa and I often eat my meals solely with him at dinner. Little Maysa has become my shadow along with the other children of Keur Sa Daro.
During CBT, we are required to learn our assigned language with our language coordinator facilitator (LCF) and complete trainee directed assessments (TDAs) in our respective sectors. Our language groups happen to be divided by our sectors, one group is sustainable ag trainees and the other is agro forestry volunteers. Although we are separate language and technical groups, we happen to share the same garden where we work on our TDAs. Fortunately, as government assigned friends we happen to get along really well as actual friends. I personally think we are a very lucky group. Not only do we have the best CBT site, but we also have excellent host families, accommodating LCFs, and the best group of people possible. I definitely prefer the slower pace of life at village rather than at the TTC. There is less stress, more time for naps under neem trees with my host father, and there is always time for attaya!
Our TDAs consist of garden beds, vegetable nurseries, field crop beds, and a 1×1 compost pile. We are assessed on them by group via technical staff. I personally love working in the field (except the compost pile). I am very proud of how much work we happen to do in such little time and on a tight schedule.
Upon arriving back at the TTC earlier this week on Sunday, we had to study for our midterm exams which would be held the following day. I am very pleased to say that all the susags passed, lifting a burden off of our shoulders and setting us up for our site placement on Tuesday. Site placement is a big event because we go from not knowing anything about where we will be located and what we will be doing to finding out everything all at once. During my interview on the second day we were in country, I literally only had two considerations for the susag staff who would decide my placement: cowpeas and bees. I wanted to be as flexible as possible allowing the Peace Corps to put me where they needed me. Of course, I had some thoughts of where I might be placed. In my mind, I was more than sure that I would be placed near the border of The Gambia where there is more rain in the rainy season. This also coincided with my assigned language and the considerations I gave in my interview. Wolof is predominately spoken in the regions around The Gambia, a climate with more rain and green will probably accommodate bees easier than the north of the country where it is very dry and hot. The ceremony of site placement consists of all of us standing on the basketball court with the country of Senegal painted with regions and cities. We are all blindfolded and then led to a location on the map and told to keep our blindfolds on until everyone has been placed. After the last person is placed, we take off our blindfolds and look down at where we are standing. When I took my blindfold off and looked down I was next to St. Louis. How did I get placed in the North? I was completely shocked in the best way possible! I hadn’t even considered St. Louis a possibility. I was content with the thought that I would be near The Gambia in a rural isolated community. Instead I am up north near Mauritania and only 26km away from the city of St. Louis. I talked to the volunteer I will be replacing and she said the predominate crop being grown is cowpeas! As for bees, not so much but that doesn’t mean I can’t start it as a secondary project! Ironically, I actually had a conversation with the volunteer I will be replacing over lunch after we returned from our second CBT stay and as she spoke about her site and the pocket of Wolof spoken in the north, I had totally resigned the thought of that being my possible site. With that said, I am extremely happy and I can’t wait to swear in and get to work.
With site placement out of the way, we had another event to look forward to. Our stagiere (trainee group) happens to be the first one to pilot a new program involving a cultural integration facilitator (CIF). The CIF will be our guide to integrating into our communities. They are members of our sites but are not related to our technical work or our host families. Their sole role is to be a cultural guide for the purpose of seamless integration. This week, we invited 52 CIFs from each of our sites for a workshop where we got to know each other and what our roles will be. My CIFs name is Alima and she is the sweetest woman! I’ve noticed that our CIFs and our personalities happen to be very similar which makes the process really enjoyable! Today we are all going with our CIFs to our sites for field orientation training (FOT) where we will get to visit and stay in our communities for 6 days as we meet people and get to really know our new homes.
As of right now, I love Senegal. The culture, the people, the place itself is wonderful! As these 2 years go on, I hopefully will find more to fall in love with and I hope to communicate my experiences to you readers as I continue my journey!
-Maysa Fam (for now)