June 9, 2018

From Swearing In to Settling In

After 11 weeks of traveling between Mbour and Thies and having technical training, policy training, and intensive Malinke language training, I was sworn-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer on May 11, 2018 in Dakar with rest of my 64-person stage of community health and community economic development volunteers. With a quick one-day turnaround, my fellow volunteers and I packed up our bags, scattering across the country to begin our new lives as Peace Corps Volunteers. After what seemed like a lifetime but was more like 14 hours, I arrived at the Peace Corps transit house in Kedougou.


My site is located in the southeastern region of Kedougou. Kedougou is a region known for its beauty – waterfalls, wildlife, rivers, and the largest national park in Senegal.


The first week at site I dedicated my time to settling in: drinking ataya with my family, decorating my hut (pictures to come – I still have to paint!), attempting to adjust to the heat, and practicing my language, Malinke. I spent my time getting to know the Samoura family: my dad, Yera; my mom, Sega; my aunt, Sendhi (though she’s only 18); and the four children in my family – Fili, Fili Mady (Seba), Jenoma, and Koliba.


The second week at site, I decided it was time to dive into the activities given to new volunteers by Peace Corps and started shadowing health workers at the health post in my village, my new place of employment. My first morning at the health post was a slow one, with few patients to be seen and not too much work to be done. However, that afternoon, the health post was anything but sleepy. When I arrived back at the health post after lunch, I realized quickly that the one patient from the morning who was resting in the observation room was not resting at all; she was in labor. Before I knew it, Diko, the sage femme, was leading me into the delivery room, instructing me on where to stand, what to do, and how to help. So on my first day at the health post, a week after being sworn in as a health volunteer, I saw Senegalese healthcare in action –  the birth of a healthy baby boy.


Week 2 was also the first week I biked the 13 km to Saraya, for the weekly Peace Corps radio show. Every Sunday evening, the volunteers in my work zone bike into Saraya and host a radio show. The playlist is eccentric to say the least, ranging from throwback hits like Trumpets by Jason DeRulo to Chase’s favorite, Jealous by Nick Jonas, to our closing song, the Jurassic Park theme song. In addition to treating the people of Saraya to the musical stylings of American 20-something’s, we greet people in our villages, our work counterparts, and various community members who have extended a helping hand in some way. Chase and Claire, the two agriculture volunteers in my work zone, provide instructions and reminders in Malinke regarding planting season, cashew formations, and various other agricultural topics. As I improve my local language, I’ll be providing information in Malinke as well regarding malaria prevention, early treatment of common illnesses such a diarrhea, and the importance of antenatal and postnatal visits for pregnant women and new mothers.


The third week passed quickly, with deadlines for the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship (MSS) on the horizon. In addition, I had to make my way to Sabadala, a village 65 km north of mine, to meet with the middle school principal in order to discuss a leadership camp put on by Kedougou volunteers in September. Luckily, week three was also the week the rains came (sanjio naata!). With a slight reprieve from the heat and two weeks of language practice under my belt, I felt confident enough to make the trip to Sabadala. After waiting for a couple of hours for the car to arrive in Bembou, I made the two and a half hour journey to Sabadala, getting there in the late afternoon. Considering I had no idea where I was going, who the principal was, and where I was going to sleep that night, I knew my first stop had to be the village chief’s house for guidance. With a little help from a friend of the driver (who is now one of my favorite people here, Bass), I met with the village chief. I left there with all the same questions, but eventually made it to the principal’s house with the help of the community. The teachers there took me in, provided me with the best meal I’ve had in weeks (potato and onion sandwiches, cold bisap juice, yassa!), as well as finding me a place to spend the night, at the female teachers’ compound. I discussed the leadership camp with the principal with my (albeit limited) French skills and will be returning to Sabadala in the next couple of weeks. From Sabadala, I went straight to Kedougou for some much needed work time at the transit house and a bit of a break from the integration process.


That brings me to today, June 9th! I’ll be back in my village by evening, ready to start another week at site and prepared to jump back into work at the health post. More to come!


P.S. The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind, and I have to thank my wonderful boyfriend Robby for being such an incredible support system through the ups and downs of life at site. I love you!