Thoughts from My Intro to Africa

I sit here now, in the Peace Corps, “transit house,” on my free day, waiting for the final week of training before I officially swear in as a volunteer.

As I ponder what to write, how to communicate my recent experiences and everything that I want to tell all of you, I’m at a lost for words. Not that it isn’t possible to write about things that happened, like trying random bush meat that local children have caught or having to take bucket baths every night, but there is something intangible that words can circle around but never pinpoint. Even before leaving for service, I had heard past stories and experiences from people who had been volunteers but now I am beginning to understand how those stories that amazed me with the thrill of adventure and excitement were but the outer appearance hiding a soul underneath that until I actual walked the path could never be truly understood.

We were always told during training that we would be constantly learning about ourselves. Only now as I have internet, constant water and electricity, shade and an ocean breeze, have I realized just how much that is true. While in the village, constantly being aware of how I act, trying to speak the local language and dealing with new ways of life, my brain did not have too much time to process what was going on. Even now, I’m not sure exactly what I learned about the world or myself, but coming back to the main city and seeing it with new eyes has acted as a measure for change.

The life of a Peace Corps volunteer is not easy. It’s hard to gauge how much stress you are under since here it isn’t the amount of paperwork one has to finish or the amount of tasks ahead, but the constant battle to integrate while dealing with losing the conveniences that sometimes I didn’t realize I depended on to relax. In fact, I didn’t even realize I was stressed until I came back to the big city and breathed a big sigh of relief.

This is not to say that it isn’t fun. Though sometimes it’s hard to remind myself how fun it actually is, there are moments that are amazing. I’ve taken a 25 km walk through the bush, having to swim through swamps and spotting baboons and wild pigs. I’ve been invited by village children to watch them skin a bush animal, which I don’t know the English name, only that is called, “waati dingo.” I’ve also eaten this same animal after it had been cooked by a local women in a tomato sauce (and of course, it was kinda chicken-esque.) I tried to make myself try baboon meat, which I got maybe two pieces down, and decided it wasn’t for me (whether from psychological reasons or that it really just didn’t taste good.) I’ve made friends with other volunteers, Gambians and missionaries. I’ve even had a full fledged Korean meal with a random Korean missionary I met, that most locals thought was my uncle or older brother. With all of this sometimes how cool it is doesn’t hit me until I find myself writing about it later.

So with those initial thoughts that I find myself hard pressed to communicate over the phone, here is some updates on the on goings of my life.

Training village was great, I was still juiced just to be in Africa, which really helped me meet people. I made many good friends, including like three marriage proposals, and have been picking up the language pretty well. Every morning I woke up, watered my garden, and then headed for language class. After lunch I usually hung around my language teacher’s compound and spoke to the village women. These conversations were some of the best. It was a lot like being back in the Choy family. You have to have a thick skin, because all we do is make fun of each other, how useless they are, how their husband is a chicken or the size of their butt. It is all in good fun though, and laughing was great medicine for me. There were a lot of good friends made and it was tough leaving, but now the real deal is coming.

So now we bring ourselves to more recent events. After leaving training village, we left to our site for a short 3 day visit. My family consists of my host brother, his two wives, the mother, kids and a few other male relatives. Everyone is really chill, no rude children and everyone really takes care of me. My house is brand new, having to be remodeled to be up to Peace Corps standards, and this has been a great plus. And technically, my brother’s wives are mine and his kids are mine, so technically I now have two wives and 7 children. I’m sure grandma would be very proud.

As far as my work is concerned, there are a lot of ideas, but nothing too solid. There is a credit union that is all but formed, tomatoes that need a market, a hospital that needs computer training and a school that I haven’t even had a chance to take a close look at. But to assess a communities needs in three days is nearly impossible. But the people seem motivated and there seems to be a lot of activity going on that could be encouraged and developed.

So now, I am enjoying my free day, catching up on the on goings of home and catching up home on my own on goings. People are starting to ask what I need out here, but I’m not quite sure yet, and much of the little necessities can be found here. But as I go into service more, I’m sure needs will arise. General care packages are of course, always welcomed.