The REAL Peace Corps experiencePosted: June 5, 2012
Entering this experience I thought, like most of you, that I had an idea of what a Peace Corps experience was, roughing it in a village while saving the world!! Looking back at mine time here, Boy was I wrong!!
Before moving half way around the world I thought “OK I’m going to Africa and it’s going to be hot and I’m not going to have water, but after some time there I will adjust and it’ll be like a second home!” And even though pulling water from a well doesn’t faze me anymore and it’s become second nature there is just so much more to all this. This post is not only a rant, something I need to keep me sane, but a way to try to explain my day-to-day trials to all the readers.
***WARNING: Some things I mention might not be pleasant but this is what I go through on a fairly routine basis!
First, the conveniences, or lack thereof! Yes, pulling water from a well is a typical thing for me, but how about pulling water in the morning after spending the whole night in the bathroom due to either diarrhea or vomiting? After a spending a sleepless night and all your energy is drained you still have to pull water to put in your filter, wash you face with, brush your teeth with, shower with, and flush the toilet. It’s not easy! Plus as the hot season ends I constantly worry about my well drying up (as it did last year), seriously, have you ever jumped up and down and shrieked like a little girl because the water from the faucet finally turned on, No? Well I have!
Then there are the power outages/surges. When the power goes out here I don’t have the luxury of calling up my local electrical company to find out when my power will be back, I have to just wait and hope it’s not an all day/week power outage. As for the surges I have to run around making sure that everything is unplugged (as my sister experience with me in Portugal, I constantly unplugged her IPad because I was afraid of the power going out) when I leave the house because God forbid the power goes out and comes back on and I’ve left something plugged in, the surge of power will fry anything that’s plugged in!!!
Transportation, now I know I talked about how to take public transportation in my last blog, but for my day to day needs it’s via bicycle. I know you’re probably think well at least it’s a healthy way to travel and I agree but you need to be aware that whether it’s a torrential downpour (during the rainy season) or 120 degrees outside (hot season) I have no other alternative. I can’t just get out of the rain/heat by sitting in my car, no I have to bike in the heat, rain, and mud on unpaved roads that would give even Xtreme bikers a challenge!
Speaking of heat, yes it gets really freaking hot here (try falling asleep when it’s 98 degrees in you room!!) but that’s not the worst part, the worst part is no escape from it, no way to control the temperature around me. That was something that I never realized in the states, we have the luxury of controlling the conditions around us. When it gets “cold” (about 59 degrees) there is nothing I can do. I know that doesn’t sound cold, but turn your heaters/AC down to that temperature and live in it! As for the heat, not much else I can do there, I have two choices one, turn on my fan, which blows more hot air at me, but be happy that there is some air moving around me, or two (and my cousin said this was disgusting but I’m going to share it anyways because it’s really something I do) lay on my bed until a pool of sweat forms then roll to another spot, wait till my fan cools my sweat spot and roll back into it! Yup I admit it that’s one of my tricks to beat the heat. That’s another thing, you NEVER stop sweating!!! My neck looks like I have the black plague, as one of my fellow volunteers pointed out to me, due to heat rash because I’m constantly covered in sweat.
Not only do I get nasty heat rash but Senegal has not been kind on my body. My legs are torn up from all the mosquitoes bites I have scratched until they have bled (try keeping those dry and disinfected during the rainy season), every time I scratch myself, no matter where, I end up with massive amounts of dirt underneath my nails, so at this point I just resigned myself to be a walking pile of dirt. Also, my hair is falling out in clumps due to lack of any nutrients in my diet, and I have rice for three meals a day, my Buddha belly in NOT liking that!
So besides the no water, power outages, the weather, and the toll this place is taking on my body there is something else even more difficult about being here, it’s the day to day interactions with locals. Yes, I can speak their language, and yes there are people here who know me and greet me, but every time I step out my door I can’t hide the fact that I am a foreigner. Of course, a big part of it is due to my skin color, but it’s not just that it’s the way I dress, it’s my mannerisms, it’s the way I think. Sorry I really don’t like having to wear shorts that cover my knees when it’s this hot, no I don’t like dressing up in traditional clothing or getting my hair braided!!! Yes, I think women have the same rights as men and are not just around to wait on men and be breeders. Imagine trying to go into a business meeting with government officials hoping to accomplish something and no one can get past the fact that you are a 30 year old woman who is not married and doesn’t have children. This is a true situation that happened to me recently, I was in a meeting with a government official (male) who couldn’t believe that I wasn’t married and kept asking what was wrong with me and telling me I needed to marry a Senegalese man. Suffice it to say I left the meeting with nothing accomplished and a huge headache! I am also sick of every other man asking me if I’m married and when I say no they then ask me to marry them. I also don’t appreciate men screaming vulgar comments at me while I’m trying to bike and take care of my daily errands.
If dealing with inappropriate adults isn’t bad enough I get to have little kids scream at me as I pass on my bike “Foreigner!” “Hey, give me candy!” “Give me a present!” Most of this doesn’t bother me because I have taken to biking with my IPod, but was does get me are when kids throw rocks at me (Yes it has actually happened to me) or they grab my bike as I ride by and try to shake it hard enough to knock me off!!
And if all this harassment by the locals isn’t enough, there’s the loneliness and solitude to deal with. First of all being thousands of miles away from you friends and family is hard enough, but when none of them can relate to what you’re going through it makes it even harder. Sometimes you feel like you’re the only one going through this experience and no one will ever be able to relate to you. Not only that, you have a lot of time with yourself and your thoughts which adds to the feelings of loneliness, yes there are often people around me, my host family, but they don’t understand what it’s like to be an outsider in this country. I have tried to explain to them many times but I feel like it falls on deaf ears. In American we are a society that is constantly bombarded with stimuli, here besides listening to the goats and playing goat or baby (it’s a game where you sit in your room and listen and try to figure out if the sound is being made by a goat or a baby, it’s not that easy of a game!) there isn’t much to do so you are left with your thoughts. I am not one who is afraid to be alone, but I can say at times it gets tiring and very, very lonely.
I know that this is a rant about my service but I really don’t think people get the full extent of what it’s like to be a volunteer. I know I have talked to many of you reading this about my difficulties here but I wanted to put them all together so maybe you can start to see how difficult my life has been here for the past two years. However, with all this said I would never give up this experience in a million years, through the good (yes there have been a lot of good times!) and the bad I have learned so much about the world and myself. I know that had I not done this I would never have realized what a strong person I am, what I can deal with, and learn that I can overcome so much!