Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tearful Goodbyes, Joyful Celebrations, and New Beginnings...

Well, for better or worse, I am now officially a Peace Corps Volunteer. If swearing in as a volunteer came down to keeping up with my blog, though, I would surely not have passed the test...But alas, thankfully it is not a requirement (although maybe it should be so that I would actually keep up with this thing!!).

Yet again I have dug myself into a hole. So much has happened over the last month that I wish I could share, but it is simply impossible to write it all down here, let alone put some of my experiences into words…
I will start, I suppose, with the present moment. Since October 17th I have been in Dakar, my site for the next two years. What I have been doing the last two and a half weeks, and why I was placed in what I have been calling the New York City of Senegal, well, I'll get to that...eventually. For space sake, and for the sake of everyone reading this, I think I'm going to split this post up into two.

Part 1=Catch up time...

Sometime around mid-September all of the volunteers gathered in Thies to receive our final placements. After training in our home-stay villages for almost a month, with random visits back to the center for more intensive technical, cultural, security, and medical training interspersed, the trip back to Thies was not only extremely exciting (we were about to find out where we were going to be for TWO years!!!), but also very relieving at the same time. Frankly, we all needed a break from our language training and our intense home-stay families. No matter how awesome a family is, it is simply exhausting being constantly surrounded by people, not to mention a language that you are still struggling to understand.

The actual process of receiving our final sites was quite nerve-racking. Near the back of the Thies training center there is a small, concrete basketball court upon which a boot-leg map of Senegal is painted. As the tradition goes, all the volunteers were taken to the court, blindfolded, and then, one by one, taken to the general area where they will serve the next two years. As wonderful an idea as it is, there was one flaw (which ended up not being much of an issue, oddly); Peace Corps Senegal has never had a stage with 60 people, and the basketball court sure as hell isn't big enough to fit us all...or so we thought...Somehow, someway, all 60 volunteers were blindfolded and taken to their sites on this bootleg of a map. It was quite a site, or so I hear. As we all stood in our spots, blindfolded and waiting for everyone to get placed, everyone was murmuring and trying to figure out who was close by and where they were. As for me, I was taken to what seemed like the middle of nowhere, in a little corner away from where all the chatter was. The only person that I could hear distinctly at first was my language trainer, Regina, who proceeded to walk by me time and time again and say “Ohhhh Malikkkk!!! I am soooo sorry for youuuuu! Ohhhh Malikkkkk!” Haha.

Soon, however, a couple of other volunteers were placed close by, one of whom was a fellow Urban Ag volunteer and a good friend from training. When the time finally came to take off our blindfolds, I realized why I felt isolated and away from all of the other volunteers; I had been placed in Dakar, an extremely rare site for a first year volunteer. In fact, Dakar was (and is) known to many of the current PCVs as a place of refuge from the rest of Senegal, as it is by far the largest, wealthiest, and most westernized city in the country and quite possibly in all of West Africa. It is, as I mentioned before, the NYC of Senegal- a place far removed from the rest of the country, a place far different than where I imagined I'd be working when I entered the Peace Corps...

After the immediate shock of receiving Dakar as my placement came the questions...Why me? Why did I, a guy who expressed a deep yearning to get away the greed, materialism, and superficiality of city life, get placed in Dakar, basically the ONLY place in Senegal that is anything like America?? And what am I supposed to do in a massive city that is already in better shape than all of West Africa, let alone the rest of the country? How the hell am I going to get to know the place, to make friends, to integrate when the city is so large? To say the least, it was a bit daunting. Along with the questions and fear, though, came a number of other thoughts and emotions, and I would be lying if I said that I wasn't a little relieved to find out that I would have access to some things that I simply would not have in a village setting (mostly food...).

As the day went on, though, my initial mixed feelings slowly began to change, especially as I began to chat with some of the current volunteers who knew a thing or two about Dakar, the Urban Ag volunteer I was replacing, and the work I would be doing. As for all of that good stuff, though, I will get to it all later.

After celebrating our site placements the following couple of nights over drinks and excited/nervous chats, we eventually returned to our home-stay villages for more language training. While there is so much to say about the end of training, especially regarding my incredible home-stay family, my hilarious language trainer Regina, and my extremely tight-knit training group, I will make it short for time's sake. While the first month of training had it's slow moments (to say the least), the last month of training absolutely flew by. The language training that had once seemed so long and difficult turned into pleasant visits to various homes for tea and conversation. What we needed, said our language trainer, was simply to get out and talk to people, no matter how intimidating it seemed at first and no matter how fast they talked. Of course, Regina was right. The constant exposure to Wolof has proven to be extremely beneficial, at least for me. Although I am by no means fluent, I am very capable of holding a conversation in Wolof and am now able to pick up on what most people are saying. It is a pretty neat feeling to have come this far in such a short time. I can only imagine what my language will be like in two years time...

Anywho, a couple of quick stories from the end of my home stay village before I move on. I realize that a lot of my posts are me rambling about this and that and are lacking actual stories, so here I go. Story time!

About two weeks into my home-stay, I found out that my family had 25 baby chickens that my younger brother Petit (21) was responsible for. At first, I figured that most of the chickens would slowly die,  as it is quite a difficult talk to take care of chickens, especially when they are first born. But as time went on I realized that Petit was not only extremely knowledgeable about chicken raising, but that he was GOOD. Out of the original 25 baby chickens, only one died. As for the rest, they grew to be quite large and were either eaten (by us) or sold by Petit to neighboring households. When the chickens became big enough to eat, I came home from language training one day to find my Petit, Babakat, and my mother all in the backyard with three chickens in between them. Right as I stepped out of the door, Petit looked up and said, “Malik! Ban ginard moo genna baax? (which chicken is better?)” I walked over, acting like I actually knew what I was doing, and pointed to the one that I thought looked the biggest. In reality, it probably wasn't any better than the other two, but I tried...Right as I pointed to it, Petit picked it up, took it to the corner of the backyard, held it down on the ground, took out a knife and started to chop its head off. Hilariously (and sadly) enough, the knife that he was using went flying out of his hand due to the fact that the chicken was flailing with all its might, so Petit ended up just holding the flailing, half-headed chicken on the ground until it eventually stopped moving. Meanwhile there I was, in the opposite corner, shocked that I had basically just played God by choosing which chicken was to die. My host mother, who I'm sure picked up on my reaction when she saw my face, burst into laughter and just said “Oh, Malik!” As for the dead chicken, it actually ended up being given to my host-mother's best friend, who also happened to be the host-mother of one of the other volunteers in Mboro. Ha.

One of the many things that I loved about Mboro (and really all of Senegal for that matter), was the incredible passion for soccer that was ever-present. I found out very soon after arriving that my host brothers were not the only ones who played, watched, and loved soccer; the entire city loved soccer, and it showed. Everyday, without fail, children, teenagers, and young adults would play anywhere and everywhere. And they were good. In all honesty, I have yet to see a bad soccer player here. Pretty dang impressive. Anyways, now for the story behind this... Once Ramadan ended and people finally were able to eat and drink during the day (aka have energy to do things), the city stadium (a fenced in area with a sand-covered soccer field) became the place to be in the late afternoon. Hearing that there was a soccer game going on, some of the other trainees and I decided we'd check it out. Little did we know, we were in for a treat. We arrived at the stadium to a picturesque site; every single one of the trees lining the outside of the concrete fence was filled with children, all earnestly watching and cheering on the game from the tree-tops. Once inside the stadium, we became very aware at just how serious these games were. The left side of the stadium- the only one with bleachers- was filled to capacity. In fact, the entire field was surrounded by hundreds (seriously, hundreds) of fans, all intensely focused on the match. Standing room only. Lucky for us, we were able to find a little opening along the fence behind one of the goals. We watched as the two teams went at in on this sand-covered field, which looked incredibly difficult to run on, let alone play soccer on. But these guys were used to it, made it look easy. I did, though, chuckle at every set piece, as the players would form a little mound of sand to place the ball on to get more air- a little tee of sorts. What we figured out pretty quickly was that each team represented a different neighborhood in Mboro, so the games were not only about entertainment, they were also about pride. At halftime, all the fans from each given neighborhood would crowd around the benches to hear what the coach was saying and probably to put in a few words of their own. Imagine 70-80 people, if not more, all surrounding a little bench. It was a hilarious site. When a goal was scored, you would have thought the team had just won the world cup. When it was all said and done, the fans of the winning team chanted the entire way home. Needless to say, it was quite the experience.  

The last day in Mboro was full of emotion. We had taken our final language test the day before (which ended up really just being a laid-back, recorded conversation in Wolof with our language trainer), so we were all very relieved but also quite sad to be leaving the families that had shaped so much of our time in Senegal. As I waited for the Peace Corps bus to arrive, I make tea for the family and joked around by acting like I was bursting into tears. They all got a big kick out of it and laughed away, although we all knew deep down that it was a very sad occasion and that we wouldn't see each other for some time. Oddly enough, the one member of my host-family that did burst into tears as I prepared to leave was the maid- a sweet young woman who I always joked around with but who didn't actually live at the house.

Right as we were preparing to pack up the truck, a couple of Senegalese women came running down the street hollering and pointing down the road. We all turned to see a good amount of smoke coming from one of the houses nearby; it had somehow caught on fire. I'd only been in Senegal for about two and a half months, but I had yet to see a Senegalese woman run, let alone run in traditional Senegalese attire and in the sand-covered streets! It was quite the site, to say the least. Nearly all of the adults from the neighboring families, and even from houses decently far away, ran to the house carrying buckets of water. Within minutes, the fire was out and peace was restored in the neighborhood. But wow, what a site! I remember thinking to myself, “Now THAT is what community is all about.” Thankfully, no one was injured and as far as I know there was little damage done to the house, although those Senegalese women sure did some damage to the sand! Haha.

Our next few days before swearing in consisted of some relaxation, volunteer celebrations, and a big party for all of our host families at the Thies center. One member of every host family was invited to come for an afternoon of food, music, dancing, and (of course) attaaya (tea). It was a joyous time, one that I will never forget. The center was filled with an amazing array of people from various towns and villages, all wearing gorgeous outfits and beaming out of pride and joy for their trainee. After a delicious meal of chicken, beef, rice and veges, we all gathered together under a massive tent for music, dancing, and speeches. Representatives from each local language came up at the end and gave testimonies, mostly proclaiming their unwavering love for us and saying how proud they were of our fast progression. Finally, after all the tea had been consumed and all of the goodbyes said, we watched and waved as our families departed, many of the mothers with tears in their eyes. I cannot give thanks enough for my incredibly generous and loving family. After only two months of living on and off at their house, I can truly say that I felt like apart of the family.

Training had officially ended. Soon, we would be sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers and head to our official sites. For such a happy occasion, I was honestly a little sad. I had spent the last two months with these other trainees, slowly getting to know them, becoming more comfortable around them, and sharing with them many of the same struggles. And now we were leaving. But we would go out with a bang, we would make sure of that; for, our swear in date just so happened to be my birthday. October 15th.

To be continued...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Noticing the Little Things

“Each day the first day; Each day a life. Each morning we must hold out the chalice of our being to receive, carry, and give back. It must be held out empty- for the past must only be reflected in its polish, its shape, its capacity...and those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask, vouchafe to give us...”

    Each day the first day; Each day a life. After only three weeks here in Senegal, I am beginning to understand, to feel the meaning of Dag Hammarskjold's words. For one, each day here feels like an eternity, a life. From the time I wake up until the time I flop down, exhausted and overwhelmed, on my bed at night, I am taking in new information. Be it new vocabulary in Wolof, cultural norms, or gardening techniques, I am constantly learning new things,  and my eyes are quickly being opened to a life vastly different from my life back in America. Despite the amount of effort, energy, and patience needed to sustain this lifestyle, it has been an absolute blessing thus far, as I have finally started to do the little things that I have been meaning to do for so long, to pay attention to the finer details of my life. Each morning I wake up to the glorious sound of roosters crowing right outside of my window starting at 5 A.M. I say glorious, of course, as a sarcastic way of dealing with my frustration and new-found hatred for roosters.  One might be under the impression that waking up to the sound of roosters crowing would be fairly pleasant. However, when the rooster that is crowing sounds fairly similar to a wailing child and, for whatever reason (competition with roosters nearby, perhaps?), decides to crow about 5 times a minute for approximately 2 hours (oh yes, I've timed it), one quickly realizes that such an idealistic impression is utterly false. In reality, roosters suck! But I digress. After I lie in bed for about an hour or so, attempting to sleep and at times succeeding (dreaming, of course, of wailing babies due to the crowing of the roosters...), I wake up, get dressed and immediately head to the elementary school with my two watering cans in hand.
      Despite not having any breakfast or coffee at this point in the morning, I have come to love watering the garden early in the morning. The school is located literally right down the street from my house on a nice little hill that overlooks the small city of Mboro. As I trudge up the sandy hill in the morning (every street is completely covered with sand, save for the main road) passing the sheep and goats that hang out in various places around town, I begin to notice, to appreciate the morning. I have always been, in theory, a morning person. I have always loved the quiet peacefulness of the morning, the sunrise and dew-covered grass, yet for the last several years I simply have not made the effort to get up early on a regular basis. Here, however, it has become a vital part of my day, a time in which I ground myself with solitude, silence, and journaling. It all starts with the garden, my place of temporary refuge from the plethora of people and information that I must know or learn. When I arrive at the school, still relatively groggy and half asleep, I am immediately woken up by the amount of work that is actually involved in watering a garden here, as the school's main source of water is a deep well centrally located in the courtyard-like area of the school. The water lies about 60  meters below the ground, so you can imagine the amount of energy needed to haul up buckets of water. Typically, however, children from the city gather at the school starting at 7 A.M., all full of energy and eager to help in any way possible (even when their help is actually spilling half the water that I haul up from the well in an attempt to pour it into the watering cans). After filling up the water cans, I head to the section of the school given to us for our gardening project- a small, sandy corner of the school protected by the several thorny branches that make up our home-aid fence. Watering in the morning is good not only because it wakes me up, but also because I get to witness the slow growth of the plants, the emergence of the first stems above ground. What a gift it is to see each and every morning the wonder and beauty of creation.

     The walk back from the garden to my house, both in the morning and especially in the later afternoon as the sun sets, is one of my favorite activities here in Senegal. Because the school sits on a hill overlooking half of the city and the gorgeous fields surrounding it, the view, combined with the cool breeze from the nearby ocean, make it a perfect spot to both start and end the day. Every evening, without fail, I am overcome with awe as I gaze up at the sky. Corny? Of course. But I have found that the longer I am here the more corny I become. I have taken to noticing all the little things here that never gave me satisfaction (many of which I never even noticed) in America. I'm sure if my siblings were to read my journal entries or hear me talk at times during the day, they'd be sure to tell me how similar I sounded to our dad (who gives thanks for flamingos, random colors, etc. every morning). But here is the thing; it is indeed the combination of all of these little things that keep me going, that keep my grounded in hope and love. In a place so far away from home, a place where there is so much suffering, it is crucial to appreciate the smallest details- to give thanks for each day, for health!

    The rest of the morning is typically taken up by language classes held in our language teacher's host-family's house, which conveniently is right next door to my own. It is unbelievable how fast you can learn when you are in a home-stay situation. I have always considered myself to be a slow language learner, but in only two weeks of learning Wolof I have taken in so much! I read my first journal entry from Mboro today, and laughed at how complicated words and phrases seemed then that are now so basic. I still have at long way to go, especially with the comprehension aspect (people speak FAST here), but each day I am gaining confidence and know that with practice and time it will come. Trusting the process, I think, is a huge challenge for Peace Corps Volunteers- a challenge that, once acknowledged, can really aid in the transition.

    By about 5 in the afternoon our second language class ends, and I make my way to the school garden to meet up with the four other Urban Ag volunteers. After many hours of language training, not to mention the additional strain of communicating with our home-stay families and other neighbors, our brains are fried, and our time in the garden becomes a place of rest, relief, and laughter. I cannot explain just how thankful I am for our Mboro group of trainees. We have mentioned time and again how lucky we are to have gotten placed with each other for the first 2-3 months of our time here. I can only hope to be placed near some of them for the next two years...

    After my amazing daily walk back to my house, I join my family for Ndogu (break fast) and chat with them over coffee and bread. I have come to really appreciate Ndogu. Although I admit I haven't fasted at all during Ramadan (it is hard to concentrate on learning a language when you are hungry and thirsy I hear...), my family is extremely excited to share their time of breaking fast with me, and I have come to really love the time we spend every day outside, chatting and enjoying the cool breeze and beautiful sunsets. As my Wolof has slowly improved, I have also been able to join in on more conversations and joke around with my host family. First, I found out how to say “I like” in Wolof, which was a huge step for me at the time. That night, I excited told my family a handfull of things I liked in Wolof, ranging from “I like to play soccer” to “I like to dance!”. By the end of the night, my family was clapping away and demanding I dance for them. Although I have never really been a big dancer in America, as I have always been too self-conscious, I decided that there was simply no point to being self-conscious here. Having let go of my worries about how I looked, etc., I stood up and danced. And danced. And danced. Despite the fact that I was the only one dancing, and surely looked like the goofiest man alive, I simply didn't care. I flailed my legs this way and that, jumped up and down and let loose. I'm pretty sure my family almost died they were laughing so hard...It was a blast, to say the least. Since that night, I have danced almost daily for my family. On a few rare occasions, little Babakat has joined me, teaching me the real Senegalese dances and laughing away.

    Other than my dancing escapades, I have also learned how to brew Senegalese attaaya (tea), which is absolutely delicious, yet unbelievably sugary. My brothers always watch me make it and scold me if I don't put enough sugar in, so I obey, sighing as I put nearly 2 cup-fulls of sugar into a tiny tea can. I admit, the way they make it here is divine, especially when fresh mint is added. However, the amount of sugar is scary, considering attaaya is consumed here numerous times a day. The remained of the nights here in Mboro are filled with more casual conversations beneath the stary African skies, as nearly every night the electricity shuts off for hours at a time. While I was a bit taken back at first, and a little annoyed at the frequent outages, I have come to enjoy the nightly power outages, especially on clear nights. With the entire city powerless, the sky becomes unbelievably visible. The hundreds of stars, combined with the bright moon and the thin cloud-looking Milky Way, light up the sky. On one such night, I was chatting with my brothers about America when a shooting star bolted across the sky. I can honestly say that I don't think I have ever, or will ever again, see a shooting star so bright and long-lasting as the one I saw this night. It had to have lasted about 5 whole seconds, slowly making its way from one side of the sky to the other. I gazed in awe, jumped up and down and yelled “Wow!!!!!”. My home stay brothers, who surely thought I was crazy, just chuckled and said “Bideow bu fakk!” (in Wolof, literally “star that runs really fast!” haha!). As of now, my new name is Malik “bideow bu fakk” Ndiaye. Ha.

    Our time in Mboro has been interspersed with random trips back to Thies for technical, cultural, and medical training. These trips back to Thies, however, have also been great little vacations from the stressful home stay life. While I say stressful, in reality I can not really complain at all, as I actually really enjoy my situation and am always eager to go back to Mboro after a day in Thies. However, it is nice to get away for a bit, eat ridiculous amounts of veges (which are very rare in the home stay), and exchange stories with the other volunteers who are in various towns and villages. It's so funny how after only 3 weeks here I already get super excited over any sort of vegetable, meat, or food other than rice and fish. Although my host family is relatively wealthy, we eat rice and fish for basically every meal. Typically there will be a potato or one carrot in the family bowl, but as far as veges go, that's about it. Nutrition is a HUGE problem here, even for families with money. Despite the amount of fruits and veges regularly available here in Mboro, families simply don't eat them. I think it is a combination of a lack of nutritional education and culture, which makes it really hard to change. Many of the children here go to elementary school and, in many cases, will learn about the importance of incorporating fruits and vegetables into their diets, but then return home to a diet consisting of rice, fish, and bread.

    As for the training, it has been very informative for the most part. I have already learned so many new gardening techniques through various in-class and hands-on sessions, not to mention the 8 books/manuals I have on gardening laying in my room for reference...The cultural training has also been extremely helpful, especially in understanding our home-stay families and interacting in the most respectful way possible. It is very obvious, even from being here only 1 month, how male-dominated the culture is here. Women are responsible for basically every household task, save for a few small things here and there, as well (of course) as the children, food, etc. It is a very interesting, and hard, thing to see. I am very curious to talk to women here and hear about life from their perspective, and also to see the differences (if any) in gender roles in the different regions of Senegal. More to come on this subject, I am sure, later. As for now, I think I have sufficiently rambled for quite long enough. I hope this post have given at least some insight into a day in my life here in Senegal, at least during training that is. More to come soon!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Under African Skies...

      Wow. Where to begin? As expected, I have delayed starting my blog until now. Four years of college and I am still an expert at procrastination. There is so much to say, so much that has gone on in the last two weeks that I want to share. Although I really wish I had not waited until now to start writing, I am also very thankful for the time I have spent off of the computer here. Spending time with other Peace Corps trainees, current volunteers, and Peace Corps staff has been a huge blessing so far. Unfortunately, though, due to my procrastination I'll have to keep this post somewhat short and choppy. Hopefully I will do a better job in the upcoming weeks and months keeping up with this blog. Starting something like this has always been the hardest part for me...

     The first two weeks here have been simply incredible. There are 64 of us total that came to Senegal together, and we are now scattered all over the region in various towns and villages living with host families and learning various languages. The group as a whole is truly awesome- so energetic. Although I haven't had the time to get to know each person on a very deep level, I have been able to make some great connections with a few volunteers here. It is so interesting to see the different types of people that were drawn to the Peace Corps. Within this huge group of 64, there are so many characters, so many completely different personalities!

      All 64 new volunteers (well, technically trainees at the moment) flew into Dakar, Senegal on the 11th of August and immediately took a two hour bus ride to the Peace Corps training center in Thies, where we were greeting with drums, applause, and (later) a huge dance fest! The first couple of days in country were thankfully pretty relaxing, considering we arrived sleep deprived and let-lagged. After getting settled in, we took part in various cultural, medical, and technical sessions in order to give us a broad outline of the training and next couple of years here. While I could go on and on about the first couple of days- the dancing, the ridiculous heat, the food, etc., I'd rather jump right into our first "official" week as Peace Corps trainees.
             So this is basically how training is set up and will work for the next couple of months: All 64 trainees meet up in Thies at random points over the next couple of months for cross culture training, medical training, and technical training that is held here at the Thies Peace Corps Center. For the remainder of the time, we are split into small language groups and placed in home-stays in villages all around the Thies region. Typically, volunteers are placed in language groups (about 3-4 per group) with other volunteers that are in the same technical group as well (such as Urban Agriculture, Rural Ag., etc.). However, I was actually placed in a language class with 3 other Small Enterprise Development workers, but in the same town as another group of Urban Ag workers studying the same language. All of my language training and classes are with the group of SED volunteers, and then I meet up at random times with the other group to do gardening work in the town that we are staying in. We are all in various houses that are pretty close to each other, and we are all learning Wolof (the main local language here). Although French is the national language, everyone speaks Wolof, so our focus is strictly on developing Wolof skills over the next couple of months. It is going to be a TOUGH couple of months to say the least, but I am actually really looking forward to learning the language and working on the school garden that we are starting from scratch (the plot of land that they gave us for the garden is literally ALL sand! Hah!). 

     Although I am not in the Urban Ag language group, I spend a lot of time with them and see most of them around at various times during the day. It is so nice having such a tight-knit group during training. Despite all of our individual struggles with the language and the culture, we always come together, share frustrations, funny stories and awkward moments. I can't tell you how many times I have almost started crying from laughing at the stories that are shared about the home-stay experience. My Wolof teacher is amazing. She is a fairly young Senegalese woman who has been training volunteers for 9 years now. Her experience shows. She is so calm, so fun, and so confident in all of us, despite our struggles with the pronunciations (...I thought I had problems pronouncing French words...yikes!). We meet at her home-stay house, which is literally right next door to mine, and sit in her living area for most of the morning and afternoon learning the Wolof grammar and practicing with our few vocab words. It is truly incredible how fast you pick up on vocabulary when you are in a home-stay and have to adapt. We've been learning Wolof for one week and I already feel like I know more than I did studying French for an entire semester (not to say that I put a ton of effort into learning French, but still...). One side note, I have had to quickly adapt to the amount of flies here. They are EVERYWHERE. No joke. As we sit as learn Wolof, our legs are nearly covered with flies. Pretty annoying, but I'm getting used to it.

          On another note, my home-stay family is incredible. I can't tell you how lucky I am! I am in a house that is considered pretty middle-class for Senegal; we have electricity, running water (only outside, though), and even a little TV (there is soccer on at literally every hour)! However, it is not the house or the electricity that makes this place so special, it's the family. There are 9 of us living in the house, including my mother (Sama Yaay in Wolof), her brother (who I call Max), his brother (Assan), and all of her children- (Baye-24, Pop-20, Petit-18, Nabou (female)-21?, and Babakat-5). As you can see, most of the names that they told me to call them are nicknames...which makes it a lot easier to keep up with! Max, Baye, Pop, and Petit all speak a little English and are fluent in French, which has really helped me communicate this first week. It's also been really helpful, though, that they speak to me mostly in Wolof (unless I simply can't comprehend what they are saying...haha). Baye, Pop, and Petit are all big soccer players and fans (they love Chelsea and Barcelona), so I have it made in the shade! They took me to the stadium to go on a run the other night, and were shocked when we ran for about 2 miles and i wasn't tired. I think they expected me to fade pretty quickly...haha! Although I haven't gotten to play a lot of soccer so far, I am aching to play and hoping that over these next two weeks in my home-stay I'll be able to get out and play some. There are soccer players everywhere here, and they are all very solid from what I've seen. Exciting!

      Most of my day in the town consists of language training, but the nights have been simply divine. I break fast with my family every night, drink delicious, sugary attaya (tea), share stories in my broken Wolof, dance, laugh, and watch the sun set together. It is what community is all about, and I have been so thankful for it this week. The house only has one floor, but it does have stairs that lead up to an open roof where they hang their laundry. It is up here where I have had some of the most incredible views of the African to come soon.

            Although it has been a very good couple of weeks here, I would be lying if I said I haven't had moments of fear, loneliness, and home-sickness. Typically the mornings are the hardest for me, as I am usually the only one besides my mother that is up, and I am simply too tired and groggy to communicate well. Some good has come out of this, though, as I have finally started to journal consistently- some times twice a day! I can't tell you what a blessing my journal has been. I filled it with quotes from The Warrior of the Light and Markings, along with pictures of friends and family. Also, God really does work in mysterious ways. I am utterly convinced of this after the first couple of weeks here. Since I arrived at my home stay, I have had various points of home sickness and sadness. Truly enough, it is precisely these moments that Babakat, the 5 year old brother who is extremely shy, sneaks either into my room or onto the roof where I sit. He comes by me, smiling, and sits down in silence next to me. He doesn't say anything, almost as if he knows that I just need someone to be there with me- to show me that I am not alone. Now that he feels comfortable around me he has perked up a bit and now loves to show me things and tell me what they're called in Wolof.

       Although there is still so much to say, I must end this blog here for lack of time. I hope that my posts can slowly become more organized and descriptive, as I have so many funny stories to share. However, I thought that it would be best to start with an overview of my service here so far. More to come soon. As the Senegalese would say, Inshallah (God willing)!