December 5, 2004: Headlines: COS - Senegal: Internet: Blogs - Senegal: Personal Web Site: Gretchen Eisenhut: The Quiet American in Senegal

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Senegal: Peace Corps Senegal : The Peace Corps in Senegal: December 5, 2004: Headlines: COS - Senegal: Internet: Blogs - Senegal: Personal Web Site: Gretchen Eisenhut: The Quiet American in Senegal

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Gretchen Eisenhut: The Quiet American in Senegal

Gretchen Eisenhut: The Quiet American in Senegal

Gretchen Eisenhut: The Quiet American in Senegal

Two Weeks Down, Two Years To Go

So here it goes. The past two weeks have been filled with laughter, with bad Pulaar, and with lots of millet pounding. The village is amazing. I will learn so much more from my villagers than they will from me. Three days before I arrived, the second coming of locusts came through and ate everything. Sorry Youssu if you are reading this, but the childrens garden and all the mangoes, nebidiahs, and papapyas are gone. I expected everyone would be totally dejected. Instead, they want to pick up and work again, and they want my help. Every day, people try so hard, it is not their effort that is wanting, so I still wonder what I have to give them.

This past week, our water pump ran out of gas, so the women had to join all the other women of Senegal in lining up at the well and haul water. The morning the water stopped at the robinat sounded like WWIII between women, lots of yelling and frustration. As soon as I had to help to haul water, I understood as well: it is a pain in the ass, especially considering most women have a baby strapped to their backs while they haul, then trek back to their compounds with buckets on their heads. This is added on top of all the other duties; pounding millet, feeding children and their pcv, chasing after said children and animals, trying to make a living.

My one contribution so far has really been as a source of amousement. Oh, this is Aminita - my Senegalese name - who cant speak Pulaar, who cant pull water, and who tries to tell really bad jokes. There are three Spawns of Satan in my village: goats, locusts, and my little brother Saamba. The only words Saamba ever really says are Rokkam, which means Gimmie! So, I taught pretty much everyone in the village to say Rokkam Joyi, Give me Five, and we sit around, trying to get Saamba to high five while laughing at him. Maybe not what the Peace Corps intended in terms of community integration, but at least I am amusing them.

Posted on December 05, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
The Road to Tambacounda

For those of you who read my previous post, that should not have been posted. I am still experiencing technical difficulties with my camera. In the meantime, check out Clare's site (so it goes) in the meantime. That being said, right now I am sitting in the internet cafe, counting down the last day left here in Tambacounda. PC Senegal is organized into several regions, and we are one of the few PC countries lucky enough to have regional houses. The Tamba house will be my desert oasis for the next two years; a nice place to meet up with other volunteers, enjoy some electricity and kitchen, and just otherwise get out of the village. Although I would not go so far as to call Tamba itself an oasis, the house sure is. Yesterday it hit 98 degrees in the shade, and it is WINTER, so I may be visiting the tamba house and its fans more often during the hot season.

The road to Tamba both literlly and figuratively, was a long one. Last Wednesday, we got up in front of the U.S. Ambassador and took an oath to serve our country, signed a bunch of paperwork, and ate finger food with our host moms and some folks from the local developmental community. It took 8 weeks of training, language, and lots of peanut butter and crusty french bread (our only breakfast at the training center thanks to "the budget cuts") to become official volunteers. Thanks to the impacted schedule, we had little time to reflect, and had to leave for Tamba early early early the next morning. We had all been warned about the road to Tamba, and it is as hellish as everyone said it would be. The fact that the worst road in Senegal is also the main route through the country remains a mystery of logic. Imagine 8 hours of watching bush taxis swerve through a road saturated with potholes. The highlights of trip were: getting hit on the head by a flying locust, watching everyone trek to pee in the bush, trying to talk to our driver who only spoke Wolof, and when it was over. In order to get out of my region, to go back to Thies, to get to Dakar, to visit other people, I will have to take this road. Now I know why Tamba region people never leave.

Once we arrived in Tamba, slept and ate, we began our massive buying spree of such glamorous products as bleach and plastic buckets, key to our survival. Last night we srounged enough food together to have a surrugate Thanksgiving dinner. Never did I think I would eat Pumpkin Pie (ok, squash pie, with fake whipped cream) out in the middle of the bush. It was a nice touch to gather together and eat, since people began leaving for their villages this morning. A major thanks goes to Josh and Corey for taking the initiative and cooking the best stuffing I have ever had. We capped off the night by dancing to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, and playing celebrity charades.

Tommorrow is the Big Day, when I get left out at my little village, and let the shock begin. We actually have a fairly official installment process, where we are introduced to local officials, government agents, police, etc, but as soon as that is over, I will be sitting in my village, surrounded by people who only speak Pulaar, a language I am far from understanding. Somehow I squeeked by the language test, but so I far I have still been relying on bad French and some Pulaar greetings here in Tamba. I think my first night in the village will be a big shock. No matter how much they try to prepare us, there is a huge difference between living in a big city, to living in a village of 150 people.

It may be a while before I post again, so dont get too anxious.

Posted on November 22, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Movin' on up...

Tommorrow is the big day that every Peace Corps Trainee (PCT) looks forward to: swearing in, and the end of Pre-Service Training (PST). Swearing in is a fairly formal event, where we stand before the U.S. ambassador and swear an oath of service to Peace Corps Senegal. Of course, peace corps is not the military, and we can leave at any time, but I definately on fulfilling my two years of service. The actual event of swearing-in is still a little vague, but rumor has it we will be on RTS, THE senegalese channel, so hopefully everything goes smoothly. Each of us allowed to bring one family member with us, so I anticipate an interesting bus ride to Dakar, with our host moms in tow.

Since I will be leaving the next morning for the hellish ten hour bush taxi ride to tambacunda, my regional capital, tonight will be the last night with my host family. We have the luxery of staying at the training center after swearing-in, for one last night with friends. Thanks to Korite, the celebration for the end of Ramadam, I was on house arrest for 3 days, so I have spent plently of time with them before my travels. For being a Muslim holiday, Korite was not all that different from say, Christmas. We sat around and ate a bunch of food, all the kids asked for gifts and fought over who got more, and we watched football after eating. Although, of course, we also ate one of the backyard sheep after my brothers slaughtered it; some people thought korite was a day earlier because an imams wife thought she saw the moon; the big tv show was watching the pilgrimage to mecca; and we watched football - soccer, not football americaine. Senegal lost to Tunisia 3-0, big upset, lots of fouls.

Ill try to update once more before I leave, and fill in a few details, but if not, here is my new address:

Gretchen Eisenhut

B.P. 37

Kidira, Senegal

West Africa

Mail gets sent quicker if you write PAR AVION

Posted on November 16, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
A long time coming

I could talk about the election, and how unhappy (most) volunteers are.
I could talk about our impending swearing-in, and the fact that in two weeks, I will be living in a village in africa for the next two years. Of course, inchallah I will go to the village in two weeks, because if I flunked my language exam today, which I very well may have, I do not get sworn in, get held back for extra training, do not pass go and get 200 bucks.
I could even talk about the fact that I ate something myseterious and slimy at a naming ceremony yesterday.
Instead, I will take a few minutes to answer questions from cousin Donna, because I realize there is a lot I have not explained about the peace corps, senegal, and what life is like here.

*What prompted you to do this and how did you get introduced to the Peace Corps?
I actually thought I would have to answer this in pulaar today during my exam, but I lucked out. I have had the desire to do the peace corps since my senior year of high school, but I never really thought it would be an acheivable goal. I think I was very idealistic in my idea of the peace corps, but I think it really is a good means to aid people in other countries at a sustainable level, and to fully immerse oneself in another culture. I dont even remember where I first heard about the peace corps, I think I had a very vague idea about what it was, until my last year of college when I applied, and met a few returned pcvs (peace corps volunteers).

*Did a bunch of your friends join with you, or did you brave it and go solo?
I braved it solo, although there are quite a few people from my hometown of turlock currently serving in the peace corps. In one of those its a small world situations, some people have found connections by playing the do you know ... game. One woman from our group studied at uc davis last year, and we have some people in common. Someone else went to high school with some family friends - Dad, that would be your friends who served in the peace corps together. I also think another volunteer is the niece of someone who knows my dad. There is definately a weird mix in people, especially between the business volunteers and the ag and agfos, but we have all gone through this together.

*Do each of you live with a "family", as you refer to your brothers and sisters, etc.?
Yes, we all have host families that we stay with in theis while we train. When we leave for our permanent sites, we will also be placed with families, although I think some business volunteers in cities have the option to move out later. It is comforting to be with a family, and for the most part they help us to learn the language. I do have to say the first few nights were pretty scary, and I am not always comfortable, but for the most part, I think I have a great host family. They have had two couples and one other single volunteer previously, so they know what they are doing by now. When the first couple came back to training, my host family was SO excited. I hope they are as happy to see me when I visit.

*How are families selected?
I cant answer that question, I really dont know. A lot of people around thies know the peace corps, so I think it is fairly competative to be a host family. I believe the host coordinator evaluates things like proximity to the training center, adequate facilities, motivations for hosting, etc.
*What are your living conditions with your family?
I think they are fairly good. It is a requirement to have a room with a locking door and locking window, so I have a safe room. There are 7 kids and 2 parents living at home, and they are crammed into two bedrooms since I have my room all to myself. There is a turkish toilet that doesnt always get rinsed down enough, and a little enclosed bathing area with a drain and concrete floor where we take bucket baths. We have electricity, but it goes out for a few hours every night, and all the cooking is done in a portable gas stove. My family does clean rigorously on sunday. There are quite a few animals outside, all getting fattened up for the tabaski holidy.

*Do you have a bed or do you sleep on the ground?
I sleep on a bed that the pc provided, with a real mattress - although it is a little gross looking.

*It looks like there are beds, sofas etc., but one picture showed them cooking outdoors. What types of food are you eating?
Ah, the food. Well, there was food before ramadam, and food after ramadam. I eat breakfast and lunch at the training center. Breakfast consists of stale french bread and this chocolate stuff, sort of like nutella, and if I am lucky, peanut butter. We also get tea and nescafe, which does not really count towards coffee. Lunch is served in big bowls. I signed up for the vegetarian list, but they only serve veggie meals when it is red meat. Most meals are rice and bony, dry fish. The training center meals are considered really good food by volunteers, so we will see what the villages have in store. There are a variety of Senegalese sauces that I get both at home and at the center. I actually have gumbo sometimes at home, althought it is made with goat.

*Is anything totally gross to you? I'm sure you all were schooled in what to not to offend the native culture, but what are some of the specifics?
Ummmm how much time do you have?
- the smell of the dying fish leftover by the fish market
-just the market in general, if I only I capture that scent and put it on my blog
- poop in the turkish toilet that is NOT mine
- the trash
- eating greasy food with our hands, when oil gets flung everwhere
- horse pooh, everywhere
- when my host brothers bath in the toilet
- goat meat, and mystery meat
- the giant dead rats, dead birds
- getting pooped on by a bird
- cats hanging out watching us eat
- mboom sauce - this is a leaf sauce, really good for you, but absolutely disgusting
- kosam - spoiled milk
-millet, which will be my primary food in the village
- the communal cup
- bleeding animals
- the body odor

More updates and pictures will be coming soon!

Posted on November 08, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Our debt to Bill Moyers Our debt to Bill Moyers
Former Peace Corps Deputy Director Bill Moyers leaves PBS next week to begin writing his memoir of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Read what Moyers says about journalism under fire, the value of a free press, and the yearning for democracy. "We have got to nurture the spirit of independent journalism in this country," he warns, "or we'll not save capitalism from its own excesses, and we'll not save democracy from its own inertia."

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