March 10, 2011

A year in review

Situation: little boy wakes up cranky and doesn't want to go to school. What to do? Answer: Pick his ass up and port him kicking and screaming all the way to the school. Greeting neighbors along the way, clearly.

Before I begin my windy, frequently misspelled and incorrectly punctuated rambles, I want to thank everyone that donated to the Barkedji Sud water and bathroom project. Your contribution will have an important and immediate impact on the community. You have changed lives. Thank you. Your mailed notes should arrive in 5 to 6 business weeks.

The project is well under way. We already received the funding and purchased all the materials. Our team consists of the amazing director of the school, myself, and about 10 parent volunteers (some of whom are very happy to contribute, others I shamed into volunteering. "It's for the CHILDREN"). Last Sunday we dug the 100 meter trench to bring water to the school, laid the piping and installed the water faucet! My hands and back were rather sore, but my heart was exploding. Thank you for making this project a reality. This Sunday we are digging the GIANT poop hole for the bathrooms. I hope to personally christen the bathroom by my April 2nd birthday. (please note that subtle plug to remember my 25th birthday)

In other news, today I have been in country for one year! There are times when strings of Wolof or Pulaar phrases go right over my wide-eyed uncomprehending face, when the culture feels both smothering and so distant, when I am exhausted from refusing obnoxious marriage proposals, when I spend an entire afternoon laying sweating on my neighbor's mat, that I wonder if my presence here is doing anything. I mentioned this to a fellow volunteer which began a beautifully reflective conversation about our year in Senegal.

In a year's time I have learned a new language. I can explain technical processes, teach new skills, make jokes, bargain like a pro at the market and sing in a language that I didn't even know existed before I came to Senegal.

I have mastered the shear chaos that is Senegalese transportation, from the creeps that lurk at the garage to cramming my huge frame into unimaginably small spaces. I have traveled North on a bush road sitting on top of a truck packed 5ft higher than its cab; gone South in a smoking 7 place through a rain storm; come from the East through the bush on my bike; and gorged in the delicious treats of the West.

I have integrated into a foreign culture. Meaning I no longer notice the constant intestinal pains and explosions, I have danced at more baptisms than I can count and have a baby named after me, carried water on my head, driven a donkey cart, learned to cook for 20 people using one pot on an open fire, lived through the month long Ramadan fast, and know that when someone tells me an event begins at 4pm by showing up at 5:30 I am on time.

I have started gardens, weighed babies, painted murals, planted trees and ideas. Behavior change is a constant campaign that makes up a lot of Peace Corps service. The level of energy input is exhausting and usually the results are non-existent or non-apparent. However, I have a star that is beginning to glimmer. I decided early in my service that rather than purchasing a personal spoon I, like all the women and children, would eat with my hand. By doing so, I have a wider platform for my "wash your hands with soap" assault. It started with a lil jingle I made up, "we need to wash our hands with soap" repeated over and over and over. Then it spread to changing classic games like tag into examples of how sickness can spread if we don't wash our hands with soap. Next was using household items to MacGyver hand washing stations. I am like a constant buzz slowly breaking people down. It's beautiful. My budding star: My four year old sister calls me to wash my hands with soap before we begin every meal. GREAT SUCCESS.

Daily moment of Zen. This is our flat screen TV.