Healthcare in the Peace Corps

So originally this post was supposed to be about snacks in Senegal, but because of recent events I’ll be sharing my stories about my personal health in the past 3 weeks. 

It all started with being light headed. I came to Dakar (the capital of Senegal and where PC Senegal HQ is) to check out what the cause was. Every PC country has what they call Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO), who are essentially doctors or physician’s assistants who help treat us for every medical problem we have in country. It’s all covered by PC and they also give us meds, including malaria, over the counters, and multivitamins. In Senegal we have 4. One from America, one from Senegal, one from Togo, and one from Morrocco. Under certain conditions we are allowed to stay in the office in a place called “sick bay.” The sick bay is composed of 3 bunk bed rooms, a kitchen, a washer, and air conditioning all around. 

It took them 4 days to figure out it was a mix of problems. So I finally get released by med from sick bay and I’m heading back to my site when 15 minutes away from the office I get into a car accident. I hit my head, my knee, and had some other bruises. On this side of the world seat belts are not common and a lot of the time, they are even broken, so naturally I didn’t wear one. Luckily I sat in the back seat so my injuries were not as severe as if I sat in front. I was sent back to med, and was finally released when my concussion symptoms were gone. 

Unfortunately my initial test didn’t show that I strained a ligament in my knee, so last week I came back to Dakar to get an x ray and check out some other pain I’m having. 

So you might ask, where is Tiffany now? The answer is in sick bay lying on a couch in Dakar, with a knee brace. My unlucky streak continues because today I contracted the flu, so sickly me is just resting until I get released. 

So here lies the story of an unlucky Peace Corps Volunteer who came in for one thing, then exponentially increased their medical problems in Senegal. 

I hope to write a post about snacks soon, and I hope to be rid of all medical problems in the next 2 weeks. After all, I’m going to Europe, and I want to be healthy for that. Thanks for reading šŸ™‚

Until next time, 

Tiffany

Expectations and Reputation of Peace Corps

So this is my last post for my mini seriesĀ ā€œhidden side of Peace Corps, what PCVs arenā€™t telling you.ā€ Although I could write more, for example: illness while serving abroad, but I think 3 posts is enough. Today I’ll be sharing my opinion of how my expectations before entering PC and actually being here differ.

Historically I thought Peace Corps was this classic experience (like what you heard about with volunteers serving in the 80s), where I would just get dropped off in a village for 2 years, live among the people, grow in my knowledge of the world, and share what I learned in school, but it’s nothing like that. I used to imagine riding a boat down an unknown river in Africa to get to my village where I would learn all these new farming techniques and I would share what I learned from jobs and my education in the States. Sure, maybe some volunteers in the heart of Africa experience that, but I instead, live in a city that Anthony Bourdain has traveled to, has colorful buildings like Nice, France, has running water, and… is in the desert. Needless to say, I didn’t get the site that I thought I would.

Now that I’ve entered my second year I can speak better to how my expectations of PC before I came and my life now, are different. PC in the States does a great job showcasing all the successes of PCVs. They highlight projects that are large-scale and a lifestyle appealing to Westerners. Let me give you a couple of examples: they do posts exploring different “rooms” of PCVs, including yerts, huts, apartments, etc. I’ve seen videos of PCVs building schools, digging wells, installing sewage systems, bringing electricity to their villages, etc. They make the life of a PCV look glamorous, always smiling and happy. I came to PC thinking I was going to “save the world” just because that’s what people kept telling me when I told them I was going into PC. It was said enough times I almost started to believe that it was possible, something I could do in PC. Truthfully that is not what we do, we don’t save the world. Sure, some volunteers tackle big projectsĀ like I listed, but for the most part, a lot of us lead simple lives hoping to share our lives with others and vice versa. I can only describe it as “jamm rekk” (peace only). The truth is, building relationships and learning are our 2 biggest accomplishments. It’s not about who builds a school, it’s about how you can impact your community and share your knowledge so they can see who Americans are and how sharing experiences and lives is a 2 way street. In PC we call this “integration,” it’s how we also stay safe in our communities. Integration is about 90% of what we do. When people care about you, they will look out for you and will watch over you, because you matter to them. This is important in terms of Senegalese hospitality and it also concerns ourĀ safety. By building relationships built on genuine love we have friendships that will last a lifetime filled with smiles, tears, and stories.

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In fact, our lives are not glamorous at all… You might wonder, what does Tiffany do day-to-day? Honestly, I don’t know if I could give you a concrete answer besides greeting people. That is the one consistent thing I do every day! IĀ spend a lot of time sitting and not doing anything. I weed, prune, water, and do agriculture things A LOT, but IĀ also read and watch TV A LOT. Sometimes I haveĀ meetings, but 50% of the time, they get canceled, and most of the time they get canceled the day before, so what do I do to fill that time I would have been in a meeting, I sit around. While I sit around, I continue to make strong relationships, but being in my second year, my relationships are pretty strong, and I’m not feeling the pressure to learn language anymore, so I’m complacent. Complacency is a hard place to not be.Ā Motivation and being a self-starter are definitely things sometimes missing from my PC service. Therefore, finding fulfillment in what I do can sometimes be rather difficult. It’s hard to not get dragged down when you hear those glamorous stories about that one volunteer who built 2 schools in his service. But at the same time, when aĀ project starts and goes really well (picture below), it all comes togetherĀ and all those self-doubt days are worth it. One successful project can be all that matters. One successful project can make me think about extending for a 3rd year (just kidding I promise I’ll be done in November, though I can’t deny that it has crossed my mind).

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But let me end my mini series with, it is truly a blessing being here. Though there are hardships and I might not do much day-to-day, I love my PC experience. I wouldn’t trade my strong gender role, emotional roller coaster life for a boring 2 years in America. I love watching children in my community grow up. I love hanging out with my family. I love eaves-dropping on people’s conversations of me because they don’t know I speak Wolof. I love all of the friends (American and Senegalese) I’ve made while being here. As I finish my service, I hope to thrive and radiate good American vibes (haha, does that even make sense?). Here are my silly goals by the end of my service- listen to a radio show and fully understand it (I think I’m at 75% right now), finish my projects out strong, provide a good foundation for my replacement, and celebrate every day in Senegal.

Until Next Time,

Tiffany

Emotional Roller Coaster

Today on “hidden side of Peace Corps, what PCVs arenā€™t telling you” I’ll be talking about my emotions.

This past week I was in Thies (the second largest city in Senegal that also hosts the Peace Corps Training Center where we have trainings, conferences, and summits). I was there for what we call a our “Mid-Service Conference.” It’s a 3 day conference where we explore and rehash old concepts of being in country, new project ideas, etc. At one of our sessions we discussed what our emotions have been like since we have been in country. We were asked to draw a graph of our journey. We were given 20 minutes to draw it. Here is my (recreated) graph below.

readjustment

As you can see most of the graph is positive and it correlates with specific moments that made me happy while I’ve been in country. Among those include vacation, my family visiting, seeing my fellow English speakers, summits, etc. My lows include Ramadan (hunger…), hot season, and feeling trapped with being at site. I want to draw your attention to the everyday fluctutations of my emotions. Even the second time round, I couldn’t do the graph justice. Here’s the other harsh truth, in those moments of daily lows, I will be mad, lonely, and frustrated, but a week later, I bet I won’t even remember feeling mad. Now if there is a specific incident, a couple of weeks later, I might remember it and I might also think it’s hilarious. I will feel silly for feeling that way, but really only time will tell.

Let me give you and example of a daily low. I’ll tell you about today’s. Up until this moment, my day was very pleasant. It might sound hilarious to you, but in fact even a couple of hours later, I’m still annoyed. To do laundry I need what we call the key to the spiket, which just means the T shaped piece to turn on the spiket. When I had finished doing my laundry, I left it in the spiket.  There were some workers doing construction upstairs next to the laundry area and a couple of hours later they asked me where the key went. I had no idea, so I told them I didn’t know and that I don’t have it. 3 more hours went by and this time I was leaving the house after lunch to go do some work, but I was stopped on my way out by the same worker, who asked me again for the key. Part of me wanted to say “did you not listen earlier? I said I don’t have the key,” but instead I repeated my answer earlier and continued walking out of the house. There are 2 reasons for such a harsh response, the first is that in Wolof, there are no “pleases” there is no round about way to convey something, the culture is very harsh and speaks the truth as bluntly as possible. The second reason is that I’ve had trouble with men believing me when I say something. His response of asking me twice, made it seem like he thought I was hiding it from him, that I am purposefully not giving it to him because I am messing with him. The truth, no, I simply don’t know where it went. My brother is in charge of these things, and I don’t know where he took it to. So yes, it does sound stupid, but all my emotions in PC are amplified.

Now here’s a very positive things I experienced this past week. Thanks to being at conference I got to hang out with my best friends in my training group. We went on a day trip to a lake with pink algae, and it was wonderful! I laughed a lot, got to speak English, didn’t get harassed with marriage proposals, it was wonderful! At the end of that day, I smiled as I went to bed and felt so blessed. Talk about polar opposites of emotions.

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One small thing can change the course of my day. It’s especially prevalent when I am struggling with ideas that are inherently American, but are tough to comeby in Senegal. In this case it was credibility of women. It’s tough not to take things personally, especially with a new language, and a completely different environment. One thing can change the way I sleep at night, one thing can make me smile all day, and all at the same time one thing can make me cry. No one ever told me that my emotions would be stretched to the limit every day and no one ever told me that I would rely so heavily on my fellow PCVs to help me see situations clearly.

So that’s it! Thanks for reading!

Tiffany

Marriage on the Mind

For the next 3 posts I’ll be doing a mini-series of the “hidden side of Peace Corps, what PCVs aren’t telling you.”

To start the series off I’ll be talking about… gender roles (finally!) and how hard it is to be a woman in a society that feels archaic when it comes to gender roles.

The most common example: marriage proposals.

Firstly, I’m going to talk about the interactions a Senegalese man hitting on a Toubab female. I’ll write out the most common experience for me and my fellow volunteers.

Scenario 1:
“am nga jekker” (do you have a husband?)
“am naa” (I have one)
“ana mu?” (where is he?)
“munga fa” (he’s over there)
“Toubab walla Senegalaise” (Foreigner or Senegalese)
“Toubab” (Foreigner)
“Lutax amoo jekker Senegalaise?” (why do you not have a Senegalese husband?)
“begguma ko” (I don’t want one)
“mon, sa jekker laa” / “danu tak” / “begg naa la pur sama jabar” (I am your husband, let’s get married, I want you for my wife)
“deedeet” (no)

Scenario 2:
“am nga jekker”Ā (do you have a husband?)
“deedeet” (no)
“lutax?” (why?)
“begguma ko” (I don’t want one)
“mon begg naa la” (I want you)
“am nga jabar” (Do you have a wife?)
“waaw, di nga sama deuxizm femme” (yes, you can be my second wife)
“deedeet, duma begg bokk” (no, I don’t share)
“lutax?” (why?)
“ndaxte, mon, toubab laa, ci etas unis, gore am na benn jabar rekk, loolutax duma begg bokk” (because I am a foreigner, in the United States men have only 1 wife, that is the reason why I don’t share)

Scenario 2 more often results in worse scenarios, but in both cases, I’ll have to retort with, I don’t love you (but I love you), you don’t know me (but I love you), why do you want a toubab wife, toubabs don’t like lazy Senegalese men (but I love you), you are ugly (but you are beautiful), and on and on it goes. In these situations it makes me feel like as a woman, I command no respect about what I want, and no respect with what I say. No means no! But.. not in this culture, especially as a foreign woman. In the most serious situations, I’ve had men say, but I was a gentleman (while I harassed you) you should marry me, I have a large penis, and Senegalese men know sex. According to Islam it’s extrememly rude and inappropriate to talk about anything sex related with someone of the opposite gender, so sometimes these things are hard to swallow as a volunteer, you don’t expect them going to a Muslim country.

So that’s life as a woman in my shoes, but then there’s the opposite situation. My neighbor is a crazy woman and has been rudely trying to offer me away to her customers (she owns a breakfast stand). Just the other day I walked past her stand, and she said come, let me offer you to my friend here. I refused, she started repeating herself and making a scene (like always), and the man said to her that he didn’t want to marry me, and immediately she was quiet. As a woman of a different culture this was insanely annoying. I’ve been saying no for the past 16 months every time and I say it persistently. The minute a man says he doesn’t want something, there’s instant respect and no one prods him for a deeper answer, whereas if I say no, I get asked why why why, and no matter what I answer I give, they continue to question me. I get harassed continuously when I say no, until I am exhausted and can luckily escape the conversation.

In our region, we have 8 volunteers, and only one is male. The other day some of us were in another city trying to find a cab, 1 guy, 4 gals. One taxi driver cut through us and walked up to our male volunteer and said “gore lay waxale” (the man will bargain). We all left that conversation frustrated because the blantant disrespect for women is so strong no matter where in Senegal you are.

Of course I have many more examples, women are highly encouraged to wear skirts at meals, women sit a certain way at the bowl, women get served second, women do all cooking, cleaning, raising kids, but I’ll save those for another time.

Rereading this post I’ve realized that I’ve had a lot of trying experiences. There are moments when you meet a woman insistent on finding you a husband she drags you through the entire neighborhood introducing you to all men which leads to an endless afternoon of harassment, it makes me wonder how I’m still a PCV. I’m surprised I haven’t left yet haha just kidding. Here’s the harsh truth, it becomes a normal part of life. Being hit-on by a taxi driver, a neighbor, any man you encounter, it makes me as a woman really dread talking to any Senegalese man. Which in reality I think is really sad. My fear of being hit-on now determines who I choose talk to, what routes I walk, etc. Every time a Senegalese man approaches me, my heart swells with annoyance and I want to just walk away. My past experiences with Senegalese men have formed my opinion so much that I now fear and hate talking to men in Senegal.

I did warn you this was the ugly side of things. PC may be glamorous but there are real challenges with being here. Gender roles here are so different here. People can and will use the excuse of me being a woman for me to do something. In the States, if you anyone did that (especially in the work force) that is gender discrimination. Everyday it’s a battle of 2 cultures within me, my American side and the Senegalese culture I live in.

Don’t let this deter you from applying if you are thinking about it, the positives farly outweigh the negatives. Senegal is a beautiful country, but this is a harsh reality and I wanted to share it.

Next time I’ll talk about the emotional roller coaster.

Until then,
Tiffany

Jamm Rekk (Peace Only)

The Holidays are here, and my friend asked me to write a post about living a minimalist life. In all fairness, I’ve never labelled myself as this, but I thought it was interesting, so here we go! 

Have you ever thought “why do I have so much clutter, I should get rid of some of it,” but the truth is you don’t because you feel like you need it. 15 months ago, I packed my life up in 2 suitcases and came to Senegal. At that time I had to decide what was important to me and what wasn’t. Since then, I’ve accumulated a bunch of stuff, consumed my half a suitcase of snacks, and wondered again in my life “how do I have so much clutter!” So in reality, I’m a terrible person to talk about this, because I don’t live minimally. I love my luxuries and possessions. I love having things, just to have them. If I think there’s a chance I’ll use it in my second year of service, I’ve kept it. Because of this, I won’t pretend to be some expert, but being the ultimate American I am in owning “too much stuff” I will share what I’ve learned. 

People live all over the world with only what’s locally available to them. Disregard Dakar, most people in Senegal buy and sell everything at their local markets. They don’t have things like Sweet Baby Rays, specialty pickles, Barbies, and they most definitely don’t have a Gap. Packing to come to Senegal, I brought a little cooking pot, which is actually quite stupid of me. How do people here cook? They must have pots here, yup they do. I didn’t need to think of my future lifestyle as having nothing available to me. People here live with what’s available to them. 

You can feed 20+ people a day with only owning 4 plates, 15 spoons, and 2 plastic mats. Reality is, the food at each meal gets split into 2 bowls, then they are lidded with another plate. Not everyone needs their own plate. Culturally this is a society that shares everything and is also a culture that’s been poor for a long time. It’s difficult to afford a plate for everyone, and it’s even more difficult to plate each according to how hungry each person is. Therefore, feeding everyone out of the same bowl lets whoever wants to eat very little, eat very little, and those who want to eat a lot, eat more. The result is less food waste. Especially with children, who have no idea how much they can eat versus how much they want to eat. 

Children don’t need extravagant brain training games to survive. I would even argue not having teaching games on iPads is better. Children are forced to be creative with what they have. I’ve seen kids have fun just rolling a tire around while chasing it with a stick. I’ve witnessed children create drum sets with old cans, wire, and thin rubber. I’ve watched children build treehouses with chunks of a fallen tree and some rope. I’ve played in a swing a child built with wood and rope. No one teaches them how to do these things, they create them. That’s a pretty unique skill.

I will say this, there is a reason why people say Senegal has “peace.” This lifestyle with simple enjoyments and a strong family base is why Senegal has so much “peace.” It’s really difficult to explain, but the mindset is really what it comes down to. My friend and I were talking and we discussed these “Orange Money” booths all over the place. When people get money transferred to them they can cash it out at these booths. These men who sit inside have millions and millions of local money. No one tries to rob them, no one even asks for more than they are supposed to get because everyone knows that life in Senegal is hard, and taking something from someone else is making them worse off (though that’s always true when it comes to stealing). But in my opinion it’s all about the mindset, and that’s what creates peace.

Now I’m not telling you to donate all your possessions, but I’m simply encouraging you to think about how other people are living their lives. Even more so, I’m not saying have pity for people here, for they find true happiness in their every day lives with sitting with their families, playing with tires, and eating communally. This is life here and it’s AWESOME. 

Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas,

Tiffany

18 Ways You Can Tell You Need a Vacation

Peace Corps Senegal edition.

1. When you can’t tolerate cars/vehicles falling apart anymore.


2. When you become a savage and don’t peel your salty peanuts


3. Speaking of peanuts, when you buy a bag of sugar peanuts and eat them in a day, and you don’t even like them…


4. When eating your favorite local dish, it no longer lights a fire in your heart to consume the entire bowl.


5. When your least favorite dinner of a grain and yogurt becomes the dinner you crave every week.

6. When teenage boys harass you to buy them bissap juice and don’t even greet you and you retaliate by scaring them with a flying rock. 


7. Even the best restaurants don’t fulfill your NEED for American food anymore.


8. When you grow up bilingual, but can’t even think in your native tongue anymore because local language has consumed your mind.


9. When the driver fills the gas tank of a car while it’s running, and it doesn’t even frighten you.

10. When you despise rain even though it helps all farmers (mind you, you work in agriculture) with growing their crops and feeding their animals.


11. When every single man in your host country angers you because the consistent harassment pisses you off. (i.e. propose to you, crowd your space in a sept plass without apologizing, quiz you on how well you know local language, belittle you because you are a woman, not even hide the fact that they are checking you out (umm.. what is there to look at, I’m fully covered I live in a Muslim country), etc.)

12. When seeing 2 turkeys on the side of the road causes you to do a double take because you only see goats, donkeys, horses, doves, and sheep all day e’ry day.


13. When you become a master in handwashing that your clothes smell good when they are dry (wait..what?)


14. When you are cold at any temperature <90Ā°


15. When the shoppoholic (hi my name is Tiffany and I’m a shoppoholic) in you is no longer satisfied by fabric shopping because it becomes a hassle to get things made.


16. When someone doesn’t have headphones while you are stuck in a 5 hour car ride with them and all you want to do is grab their phone and throw it out the window.

17. Which is totally okay, because litter is a normal way of life, and the environmentalist in you, finally caves and conforms because it’s a losing battle…


18. Lastly, when your site mate says you need to go on vacation because you have been mean for a week straight.

    Now go book your vacation! 

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I hope you had a good laugh out of this. I sure did. Seeing that I leave for vacation in a couple days I’ve noticed certain things about myself and my current opinions of local Senegalese culture, I started to jot them down and before I knew it, I had a list. I thought it’d be fun to mimic a buzzfeed article! Feel free to share this! 

    Tiffany

    Noises of Senegal

    When I read my title I think about donkeys, goats, and the call of prayer, however those aren’t the noises I’m going to talk about today. I’ve been wanting to write a post about this for sometime and I think it perfectly marks my year mark. 

    No matter what local language you speak within Senegal there are some noises people make nation wide. So let me clarify what I mean with an American example. Umm… actually I can’t think of one, so let me move to a Chinese example. In Taiwan when people are told something shocking or not what they were expecting to hear (especially children and the change of plans) they say “haaauuh?!” with a certain type of intonation. Reading that I realize this post might have its challenges, but regardless my point is: this noise is used for the same purpose thoughtout an entire culture and country. 

    In Senegal there are certain noises that are nationally understood and are used for certain purposes. Let me start with the one that’s most obvious. Hissing. Hissing is a non-existent noise in the States, maybe you’d hiss at a cat, but you wouldn’t use it out and about. Here, in Senegal, hissing is used to attract the attention of someone, whether I’m trying to catch a cab or I’m walking and a group of people sitting outside want to talk to me, they hiss at me. This is something that’s really hard to get used to. It’s not a pleasant noise and it almost has an obligatory effect. When I walk and get hissed at, I feel obligated to stop and talk to whoever did it. It is, despite its unpleasantness, extremely effective. When I need to capture someone’s attention it works, almost like magic. Somehow the right person always looks at me. It took me an entire year to finally feel comfortable to hiss at anyone. I also got told that my hiss is really quiet haha, but me shouting is less effective, thus I hiss. 

    Next is snapping. Snapping is an extremely rude thing to do in America. I remember one time in high school one of my classmates snapped at the other, and my teacher responded “what is she, a dog? Don’t snap at her.” But in Senegal, snapping is used also as an attention getter, but in a different context than hissing. In schools, when students raise their hands, they snap as they do it. It’s meant to help the teacher give an opportunity to call on students when she may have difficulty seeing them. Another example is snapping in a restaurant. When you need to grab someone’s attention, you can snap at the waiter and they’ll come. Seems rude, but it’s the culture here. Along with these two include snapping at babies, in boutiques, and even in trainings that I hold.

    This one is my favorite. This noise is “unh!” It’s a mark of surprise. It can include both good and bad things. For example my host dad and I had a conversation over the phone and he told me he was sick, me: “unh” and that he wanted to buy moringa powder from my fellow pcv, me: “unh.” So really, I use it all the time, probably incorrectly all the time actually haha. His reponse after my noise is always “waaw” meaning yes in Wolof. 

    The last one is clicking. I still don’t do this one. I do it sometimes, but not always. This one simply means clicking your tongue. It marks and understanding that you are paying attention to whoever is speaking. It shows you get what they are saying. A lot of volunteers use this one, but maybe it’s the fact that I can’t click discretely or something else, but I don’t use it. 

    All of this makes me wonder: we are conditioned to understand things based on the culture we live in. And yes, my response is like “duh Tiffany.” But what I really mean is how does it translate from generation to generation to do things like snap at babies. Who decided they [babies] find enjoyment in adults snapping? Because in fact, all the babies I’ve seen been snapped at don’t really respond. But I bet that’s true in America too. I bet we do things to babies that they find no enjoyment in, but we do them because the culture and society taught us to. 

    I’ve been living in Senegal for a year now (September 28!) and it’s amazing to me how integrated and unintegrated I am. I say “unh” but still get confused when I’m supposed to give people money (yes, still confused, starting to think I’m being taken advantage of, just kidding, but not really). It’s interesting to me how my American culture so strongly influences my reactions to things. If you remember in Cultural Differences I talk about personal space and how that isn’t a thing in Senegal, I still can’t deal with people touching me whether it’s someone grabbing my shoulder, pulling my arm, etc. But somehow I can hiss just fine. Just something to think about. If you were in my shoes, what cultural noises do you think you would adapt to use?

    Tiffany