Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Hello Friends! We have spent the last 6 days with our training site host family in Mbour, Senegal. We are trying to learn Mandinka as fast as we can, because they don't speak English and we speak no French. I can now converse in a very primitive fashion on several topics including: if one slept in peace, if the people of one's compound are there, how the work is, if someone is sitting/standing/lying down, if rice and fish is delicious, hair braiding and extensions, chickens and goats, and breastfeeding.

Our family name is Maria, though in Senegal this means only our host father and siblings have this name (not the wives and various extended family members in the compound). Host families are apparently very excited to name their Peace Corps trainees after members of the family, so Darrin is Caoussou after our youngest host brother and I am Maamaa after the oldest host sister. Our host mom is very nice and patient with our language learning and our brothers and sisters help us with our homework everyday. It's a very relaxed atmosphere and they keep us very well fed. We have a tap in the yard and electric lights in the compound, as well as a pit latrine and bathing area (for bucket baths) which we share with everyone.  In case everyone is wondering, the Peace Corps gave us each one roll of toilet paper to take with us to our sites, but I actually  forgot I had it and am pleased to report that with a good bar of soap on hand everything is just fine. Our host family also has a TV, but nearly everything is in French or Wolof.

All the streets in our neighborhood are deep sand, with the occasional horse or donkey cart or car careening through. Walking from our family's compound to our language teacher's compound involves compulsively greeting everyone we see in various languages while avoiding the crowds of children screaming "Tubob!"

On Sunday Darrin and I walked to the beach with our host brothers Omar and Paapaa and went for a swim. We also walked through the market, which was intimidating because it was very crowded.

I am sorry to admit I still have no understanding of the money here in Senegal and that without speaking French or Wolof it is generally impossible for me to understand how much they are asking me for. I am kind of excited to go to the Gambia, where more people speak English.

-Colette (Maamaa)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

We arrived!

We arrived in Dakar, Senegal Tuesday morning, came to the Peace Corps training center in Thies (pronounced "Ches") (I didn't know) directly and have been here since. The weather is warm and lovely, the bats are impressively large and awesome and the food here at the training center is excellent - I think we are being spoiled. The other Senegal and Gambia trainees are all really nice and smart and interesting. Basically, we have been busy going to training sessions and socializing rampantly.

Today we went on a walk in the market with one of the seasoned Senegal Peace Corps volunteers. It was a bit scary for me, because I no idea what anyone was saying (I now know almost as much Wolof as I know French, which is to say next to nothing). It is really humbling to not know the language, the local currency or how to get anywhere.  Also I was scared of being run down by the traffic, which consists of dilapidated automobiles, a few really nice automobiles, many carts drawn by skinny horses and some motorbikes/scooters. I am trying to have faith that I will learn a lot and become more comfortable someday. In the meantime, I plan to only venture out in a group that includes at least one decent French speaker.

We begin learning our languages and living with a host family in a few days. I am really nervous for that, but also excited. I think Darrin and I will be learning Mandinka, which is very common in the Gambia (we will go there permanently after another 4 weeks or so). We'll find out for sure in the next few days.

I didn't take this picture, but it shows a street in Thies, so I am including it. Someday I will take pictures and figure out how to upload them...