“Mi faamaani Pulaar buy.” (I don’t understand much Pulaar.–in Fulakunda).
Unfortunately, I feel that I’ll be repeating that sentence many, many times in the next several weeks or months. The end of this coming week marks the end of the mini-orientation/training in Senegal for me, Katherine, and John. We’ll be heading out to our new sites in the Kolda region (south of The Gambia), where apparently they speak the minority language (Fulakunda) of the minority language family (Pulaar). Not so useful, even in Dakar–but at least I’ve been getting by on my rusty French (which has actually really improved, thanks to my training homestay family–by far the nicest people I’ve met in Senegal yet–who I plan to take up on their offer to come visit any time I “need a break from village life”).
Over the past 3-4 weeks, we’ve had some fun, hands-on tech training (new sector: Agroforestry), and LOTS of language training…rather, independent study. (Because there was a PST underway when we transferred, all their current language tutors were being used. We had a last-minute find: a first-time teacher who speaks no English. We communicated in pigeon French.) Needless to say, we’re feeling rather non-confident about our language skills when we get to site. Oh well–I’ll figure it out. C’est la vie.
I’ve just found out my site has a “Master Farmer:” a local farmer trained by PC to educate the rest of the community on the best farming practices to maximize soil fertility, crop productivity, etc. The farmer will also be a seed source in the future. PC/Senegal currently has 23 master farmers, with the overall country goal of having 100 within the next 4 years. Check out the program’s official site for more info:
While I’m really, really stoked to finally be heading back to “real life” after what’s felt like an eternity of living out of a suitcase, I still have some qualms. Since we’ve already experienced life as a PCV, and Malian and Senegalese cultures are very similar, I’m confident certain things will be easier. For instance, I already know what kind of personal/professional boundaries I want to establish with my site, and when to expect things to be done through the whole integration/acceptance process. However….I’m starting all over again. I know I’m about to embark on an awkward several weeks/months of charades and miscommunication as my language slowly develops (and this time, I’m starting almost with nothing–it’s sad how little Fulakunda our teacher helped us learn). I’ll have to sit through the same tedious afternoon tea sessions, start the same conversations of explaining who I am, what PCVs do, etc. When I left Behon, I was already a member of their community. I felt accepted, in spite of all my Toubab-ness. I had some good friends at site who I could joke with, and who knew me well enough to feed my dog when I was out of town, or come find me to let me know a big soccer match was on soon. It was a pretty sweet set-up, but it took at least a month of frustration and confusion for me to make it that way. Luckily, I think my new site will also be wonderful, if the previous PCV’s site report is any indication…and with a Master Farmer as my work partner, I’m sure I’ll have more than enough to keep me busy. At least pruning live fences, transplanting young trees, and making compost don’t really require any actual talking…
*Also, while I’m now happily a member of the PC/Senegal family, Mali will always have a special place in my heart. I’ve been keeping up with developments since the coup and subsequent rebel take-overs in the north/Azawad. The news has been sad; rural Malians are/will suffer the most if sanctions are imposed and aid revoked. While I feel I could never fully repay some people in Behon (particularly Samba and Numu, their young children, Moussoumady, and my many friends at site), as well as PC staff, for all the kindness, help, patience, and hospitality they extended to me, at the very least I can ask everyone to keep the awesome people of Mali in mind…inshallah, I’ll be able to return to visit them wonderful people sometime in the next 2 years….