29 August, 2011

Thies Training Center

Hurricane Irene came through Brooklyn the night/morning before my last night in Brooklyn effectively cancelling my 8am train to D.C. for staging. After many phone calls and some excessive stress at home I determined that a Chinatown bus from Manhattan may be the best way for me to get to D.C. in time for staging (something which my staging coordinator made sound was non-negotiable). My parents dropped me off on Murray street, put me on the school bus one last time. It was hard to say goodbye-especially seeing their sad (somewhat heartbroken) faces through the tinted bus window.
As the bus head out of the city, into New Jersey, I took my last glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. A glimpse which was, fittingly, at her back.
We stayed in D.C. one night where we were able to explore the United States Botanic Garden and the Native American museum which was perfect for a bunch of American plant nerds leaving the country for two years.
The flight was over night to Dakar so we were all pretty punchy on our drive from the airport to the Training Center in the Thies (pronounced Chez). The day we arrived happened to be Kourite, the last day of Ramadan, so there were many people out in the streets getting ready to eat and celebrate. We were able to see some of the preparation as we whizzed (and crawled in traffic) past. I saw my first freshly killed goat butchering from a distance-woohoo. Since we arrived on Kourite we didn't have to jump right into language level assessment and classes but were able to take most of the day to get acquainted with the training facility.
Over the next few days we had basic Wolof classes, some technical training in our assignment field and health and safety debriefing and training.
By Sunday we were allowed to head out of the training center and explore the town. Today we will head out to our 'home-stays' or in-village training sites. Four trainees will stay with different families in a village nearby Theis along with a Peace Corps language and culture trainer. We will spend our days there getting used to village life and receiving intensive language training. Part of the 58 day training will be in this' home-stay' site while the rest of the time will be at the training center. My home stay village is only 8K from Theis and it's called Daxxaar Mbaye .
I'm really excited to finally be in country after close to three years of applying and preparing. I'm trying to soak in as much of the intensive training as possible without burning myself out. I know that the more I pay attention and prepare the easier my transition into my permanent living site will be.
Bearing in mind that I'm a brand new trainee I do want to mention that Peace Corps Senegal is incredibly organized and the every staffer, teacher, PC Volunteer, PC doctor I've met truly cares about us and the work that we're hoping to do. That goes for the Director of the Peace Corps himself, Aaron Williams and the Country Director Chris Hendrik down to the guards at the training center. Before coming here it felt like I'd being going off into the abyss and I would have no idea where I was going or what I was doing but everything is so well planned out and communicated so far that there is almost no stress. My legitimate fears right now include biking 20K+ alone in the super heat after getting to site (not for a couple of months), the inevitable day when my stomach starts to betray me.
Well we're getting a few more vaccinations and then heading to the village! I won't have internet or electricity but I will be available via my cell phone 221 77 360 51 66.

12 August, 2011

Packing Time!

Chaos-amended by...
....expert cramming! (kitty not included)

Soo even though I've been gathering items for the past 2 months (probably overkill) it has come down to the final decisions on what to bring. First, I collected the things I've specifically heard were difficult or expensive to find in Senegal and then moved on from there. I used the packing lists from several PC Senegal blogs to create mine so I feel I should pay it forward and post my complete packing list. My bags are one large Kelty Span pack (like backpackers wear), a medium sized rolly duffel and a regular sized Jansport backpack for carry on. After I've spent a few months in country I will edit this post to include stuff I wished I'd brought and things that ended up being extraneous. I imagine the contents of anyone's Peace Corps luggage is unique so bringing the stuff you know YOU will want is more important then following some packing list verbatim.
Today the Senegal Country Director send us two short quizzes on readings we got last week (one Wolof language quiz and one about technical training stuff for our assignment). I plan on taking them both tomorrow morning after reviewing my Wolof lessons one last time. It has been a busy week but not overwhelming or anything. My father kept me sane by taking me to the Brooklyn Botannical Gardens yesterday and my mother helped me pack today (they are a delight). I'll be ending the week by gathering all my friends and family at my favorite local dive for one more night out in Bay Ridge. And now the moment you've all been waiting for...

The List!

Electronics and Gear:
Olympus Digital Camera (nothing fancy-old but totally still works)
Mini Netbook (I bought this in lieu of my heavy/clunky laptop)
Two flash drives and one SD card
200 G external hard drive
Ipod and tiny cheapo sansa mp3 player (the little one is good for running and weekend trips)
Solar shortwave radio (Eton)
Solar flashlight
Solar cellphone/battery charger
AA and AAA rechargeable Batteriis
Two headlamps
Light sleeping bag
Sleeping bag liner
Quick dry towel
Stuff sac pillow
Leatherman multi-tool, pocket knife, and gardening multi-tool (and a whetstone for sharpening)
Nerdy Casio watch (the kind where the alarm is always going off and you can never figure out how to re-set the thing)

3 Skirts
5 blouses/t-shirts
3 pairs hiking capris
1 pair basketball shorts
2 pair light cotton capris for sleeping
1 fleece
1 hoodie
1 rain slicker
1 pair of Teva Mush Flip-flops
1 pair of Teva Dozer hiking sandal thingys (Several companies give discounts to Peace Corps volunteers -Teva is one of them.)
1 pair of slip on dress shoes
1 pair running shoes
2 pair smartwool socks
a whole bunch of undies (some are even that fancy quick dry kind but I'm assuming classic cotton will do)
2 hats (one of those Central American dictator ones and one with a big floppy brim all the way around)

1 bottle Dr. Bronners soap
1 small conditioner
1 small shampoo
1 badger balm
1 bottle immodium
1 Deva cup and 2 cloth pantiliners
nail clippers
hair ties and bobby pins
hair cutting scissors and comb
one bottle bug spray one bottle sun screen (can get more in country)

Other Stuff:
Sweet Dreams by Daniel Dennett
French/English Dictionary
Xylophone file holder (currently filled with Cornell aggie info)
6 Cahier Moleskine notebooks (medium)
1 Moleskine planner
30 Pack Bic Pens
Colored Pencils
Sewing kit
Crystal Light drink powder
Box of Granola bars
Photo album with pictures of my family and neighborhood (and of course Charlie cat)

Obviously there are other things like my PC handbook and some small personal toiletries (face wash etc) that I know I like to have. Pretty much this is what's coming with me...first to our staging even in Washington D.C. on Monday and then to training in Thies, Senegal on Tuesday the 30th !

My next post will be from training. Thank you to all the people (family, friends, [R]PCVs, Professors, fellow students) who have supported me and gotten me ready for this exciting adventure. I will miss everyone but I can't wait to see what's next!