This month, my program organized a weeklong rural visit, sending students out into the bush to stay with host families and PeaceCorps volunteers. During my rural tour, I visited Toune, a small village near Kaffrine in central Senegal. I stayed with a volunteer from the Peace Corps who worked on health education. The Peace Corps is something that I have always considered as a possible choice for my life after college. Since my childhood, and even now, my future was always open. I do not know what I want to do as a career but I know I’m going to travel, and as soon as I learned about the Peace Corps, I kept it in my mind as an option. More recently, I’ve decided I want to live in developing countries and help people there in any way I can, and the Peace Corps is exactly that. This week was the perfect opportunity for me to see how the PeaceCorps really works. More than just talk with a volunteer about his or her experience, I had the chance to experience it myself. I am pleased to say that the week has not changed my plans and the Peace Corps remains in my possible plans for after college.
Although the days passed slowly, I could not believe it when the week ended. Each day developed a routine, which made the week kind of a blur, as hours passed seamlessly into days. I woke up to the sounds of the village – first, the muezzin at 5am, closer and longer than the muezzin in Dakar. If I could catch a few more hours of sleep, I would wake up again to the calls of donkeys and the responses of goats around 7am. Finally, the sun and birds would infiltrate my ears and eyes at 8am. When I could no longer snooze the alarm clock of nature, I would get up and start the day with coffee and a breakfast sandwich.
The second day we decided to start a mural at the school, but when we finished breakfast, it was too hot to do anything. We spent all day reading and resting in the hut or under the shade of a big tree just outside the camp. We began a voluntary program of ten ‘waxtaans’ or ‘chats’ for village mothers about health, with topics such as nutrition and malaria. The second day, after the afternoon muezzin, we went to the health center for the second ‘waxtaan’. Unfortunately, only one mother came, so we did not do the ‘waxtaan.’ It was difficult for the volunteer because she had prepared and worked to help these mothers, but they were not grateful and didn’t even show up.
The third and fourth days followed the same pattern, but with more success. We ate breakfast in the same hut. We had the same conversation about our foreign coffee (Starbucks, a gift from the volunteer’s parents). The Senegalese woman who made sandwiches thought it was ‘neexul dara’ (not good at all) compared to her Senegal coffee which was ‘neexna torop’, ‘very good’. But for us, even though I like Senegal’s coffee, the Starbucks coffee was a luxury, a memory of the United States. After breakfast, we went to school to work on murals for an hour or two.
To avoid the heat and exhaustion, we would return to the compound to rest. Every afternoon I needed to choose between sleep, read, write, or think as ways to pass the time. It was so relaxing. I noted the slow pace of rural life, and decided that I loved it for a week but I would be too bored after a long time. But I also saw patterns of life in Dakar, when every time I talked with friends there, they were also doing the same things. Yes, I was always in the middle of reading, but one friend was always playing football and the other was always drinking attaya. I realized that it’s not just rural life works like that, and if I’m not careful, I can fall into a boring routine anywhere.
At the beginning of the week, my volunteer said she likes to go to Dakar sometimes because she can pretend she’s not in Senegal. When she said that, I did not agree. I really feel that I’m in Senegal in Dakar, with all the differences and difficulties that come with it. But when I came back after the week there, I saw what she means. In Kaolack, I went to a small market to buy a snack for the long ride back to Dakar. The market was not special or great, but I was overwhelmed by all the choices I had. When I talked with my Dakaroise friends, I complained that I ate ‘ceebu jeen’ (the national plate of rice and fish) and sometimes only rice for each meal. They responded that life in Dakar is better because you can eat anything you want. That is something I would never say before going to the village, because there are many times when the Senegalese cuisine needs more variety and I have many times when I miss American or Asian cuisine. But now I agree. Maybe it’s not the same as in the US, but if you want it enough, it is possible to find almost everything or do almost everything in Dakar. In this way, we can pretend we’re somewhere besides Senegal. Through my visit to the village, I gained a new perspective and appreciation of Senegal as a whole but also the city where I lived for two months. It was an experience that opened my eyes.