I have been renamed by my new host family. My new name is Rokhaya Diop. I am named after my 12 year old sister. It’s kind of long, I want to create a nickname out of it, I’ll think about it. No joke, my first week after install has been a whirlwind. I planned on sleeping a lot this week to recover from training, but I quickly felt guilty for not spending time with my family. As my fellow PCV put it, I wanted to be present in my family, so I only spent 2 days resting, and then I started spending time in my community. Everyone is very excited to meet me and start working with me, but I need to better my language skills before I jump into any projects.
So I want to start this post by talking about my living conditions and my expectations for Peace Corps before arriving. I have briefly talked about the sectors within Senegal, but I just want to dive deeper into them real quick. In March a stage of Health and CED trainees arrive, they are sworn-in in May. In September a stage of Agriculture (Ag) and Agroforestry (AgFo) trainees arrive, and we were sworn-in in December. In Senegal, Ag volunteers are considered a separate sector from AgFos, we have different Sector Summits, and different tech material. Within Ag, we have Urban Agriculture Volunteers (UAg) and Sustainable Agriculture Volunteers (SusAg). The main differences within Ag volunteers are (as the name suggests) the location of the permanent site, and the resources at site, but overall the goals are the same, and we get taught the same tech material. UAg volunteers are in big towns or small cities (or so I thought, keep reading), and SusAg volunteers are in rural villages.
When I was accepted into the program, I read in my handbook that UAg volunteers were in small cities or big towns. Being in the states, it was hard to imagine what life would be like in Senegal. In my head, I thought I’d have the authentic PC experience of hut life, in a village of about 500 people (that’s similar to my graduating class in high school, which in my opinion is a great number), boy, was I wrong! I am living in a big city that has a large tourist and expat community. I have never lived in a big city in the States, but here I am, in Senegal, living city life. However, I want to be clear, not all UAgs live in big cities like me, many live in small cities or big towns. The sites vary A LOT.
I call this my wall of resiliency 🙂
I have a room within a house, my own attached bathroom (with a western toilet, crazy right?) with running water and electricity. In my house, I live with my mom, 5 out of 6 of her kids, my uncle, his wife, his wife’s brother, my uncle’s 2 kids, my grandparents, my uncle’s friends’ teenage daughter, and 2 other 20- some year old boys that I haven’t figured out how I am related to them yet. My dad has a second wife in Richard Toll, which is where he works during the week, he spends weekends here. That also means I have a whole set of half siblings that I’ve never met, and may not meet during my service. This family is SO different than my family at training. First, my new family is Muslim (new adjustments all around), they live in a big city, there are 4x more people, and there are children in the house (it makes a difference). My family is wonderful. They are some the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. They bring watermelon to my room after meals, my uncle hired someone to install a mirror in my bathroom (during training I looked at myself in a mirror so rarely, I kind of forgot what I looked like), and they do their best to teach me Wolof. To be honest, I am really learning a mix of Wolof and French, I told one of my cousins to speak to me in only Wolof, and his response in English was “that will be very hard.” The school system begins teaching English in what is equivalent to high school in the States. This means, many of my older cousins and relatives know very basic English. Most people in the city speak a mix of French and Wolof (Frolof). When I ask my sisters how old they are, they respond in French, but I don’t know any French, so my uncle has to translate the numbers into Wolof for me. Also if I use the days of the week in Wolof, no one knows what I am talking about, so I have reverted to using the French words. Lucky for me, I took 2 years of French in middle school, and was just in France in June, so I’ve gotten exposed to it a little bit, but language is still a barrier at times. I guess I’ll have to simultaneously learn French and Wolof.
That’s the Faidherbe bridge and the island.
Now I want to talk about something that’s kind of personal. Here in the city, I will always get called “Toubab” (translates to ‘foreigner’) or in my case “Chinoise” or the other day I even got called “Ching-Ching.” In one outing I will get called either of these names more than 30 times. I am somewhat torn between whether to address this or not. At CBT, it was so nice because Mboro was small, and everyone in our area knew me and my CBT mates by name, so the harassment was limited, but Ndar is BIG, and I am not sure how to tackle this issue yet. With children, I just let them do whatever unless, they are walking next to me and say it to me, then I greet them and introduce myself. However when adult men call me “Chinoise,” my American idea of what is culturally appropriate raises a flag, and I address it immediately. I tell them “Duma Chinoise, Rokhaya la tudd,” which translates to “I am not Chinoise, my name is Rokhaya” but even then most adult men will still continue to yell “Chinoise” at me, especially if I am in the market. Sometimes, they will just start yelling “Rokhaya,” even after I’ve greeted them, but at least they say my name. I recognize that I am struggling with this mostly because my American ideals are in a box of what is socially and culturally appropriate in the states, and recreating the boundaries of that box to fit Senegal’s culture is HARD. Things that are new are easy to learn, such as eating with my right hand on a bassang, greeting everyone I see, and even learning language (at times, just follow my thought for now), but changing my American values to relearn them with the addition of Senegalese values is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Let me end with this, we talk about minority issues in the States all the time, because that’s our home, that’s where we live, I absolutely agree we should, but in the greater scheme of things, I would say that I struggle with a greater number of minority issues everywhere else in the world I have traveled, that includes, Europe, Senegal, even Asia. Children, even one year olds, here will look at me, and just start crying because they see I am different. Just something to think about.