Thursday, May 17, 2012

Demystification & Installation

During Pre-Service Training (PST) the Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) get to go on a Volunteer Visit (VV) to see the villages where they'll be living and serving for two years. Every region (and even every site) is very different, and it's really good to get a basic idea of what it's like there. Is there a water spigot or will you be hauling water from a well across town? Are there mango trees or just thorn bushes? Does the village have a baker and boutiques or nothing at all in the way of places to buy snacks? The PCT gets to sort of shadow a current Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) for a few days, and hopefully that helps demystify the whole life-in-village thing a little bit.

I took PCT Katie O. out to her village, and it went really, really well. She'll be the first volunteer ever to serve in her village, and people seemed genuinely excited and really, really, really nice. They fed us wonderful food, (fonio! chicken and sauce!) showed us around town, and were just generally really hospitable. There's a baker, some boutiques, a bean sandwich lady, lovely community gardens, a couple good hand-pump forages for water, and her hut and latrine were mostly finished.

Katie (the PCT) and myself
Getting ready to bike the rest of the way in 
Yesterday, accompanied by Mamadou Diaw (basically the boss for Health PCVs in Senegal), we went back to install Katie in her village. The traditional village chief gave a welcome speech; the head nurse from the Health Post gave a welcome speech; Mamadou gave a speech about Peace Corps, likening a PCV to a knife, which cannot cut by itself, urging the community to be patient with language, and thanking them for their overwhelming hospitality. Her hut and latrine were all ready to go, her family had built her a little fenced in garden, and the entire community had prepared a huge arrival party in her honor. Dioula ("joo-la"), her sister and village namesake, had had matching complet outfits made, they gave her earrings and a necklace, the school children had prepared a song-and-dance in her honor, and the griot musicians and the older women all sang and danced -- it was an amazing party, above and beyond what most villages put together, and it was completely heartwarming. 
Katie (the PCV!) and her tokora
I tried to stay in the background, taking photos and greeting as many people as possible, playing the photographer and mostly taking pictures with her camera. After the first round of singing and dancing there was a parade through the village, which was funny because there was next to no one to to see the parade, since everyone was in the parade, but it was fun. 

Parade through the village of Dakateli
After all that the party continued, but they pulled us aside to feed us lunch. We were presented with the biggest bowl of rice I've ever seen, and a small vat of rich, wonderful sauce with two entire chickens chopped up in it. It was all very reassuring -- when a community invests this much time, effort, energy in making the PCV feel welcome, included, and well cared for it bodes well for everyone. Not that it isn't exhausting and overwhelming or that village life won't be incredibly challenging in many ways, but it's a very good start.

Dancing and singing for the new arrival

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