Last Monday I arrived at my homestay with the Jabi family, and was immediately given my Senegalese name on the spot, Aminata Jabi. My family calls me "Ami" for short. I'm living with Mariama and Karumba, and they have a 2-year old daughter named Fatoumata. Mariama is over 8 months pregnant and looks like she's ready to give birth any day now, so there will soon be a new addition to the Jabi family. Karumba's sister, Senoubou, also lives on the compound, with 4 of her sons, Musafa (5 yrs old), Sedna (8 years old), Hadim (17 years old), and Pap (24 years old). There are also a few other guys who live on the compound who are the children of Karumba's other sister who lives in France.
The courtyard of the compound has a large mango tree in the center, which provides welcome shade during this crazy heat. Surrounding the courtyard are the rooms of the various family members, with concrete floors and tin roofs. Behind the courtyard are the enclosed squat toilet and bathing area, and next to that is the shelter for all the goats and a trash pit. One of the goats just had babies, so there are a few baby goats wandering around, which are extremely cute.
My room has concrete walls and floor, a tin roof, and a bed (piece of foam on wooden slats). Peace Corps gave me a mosquito net and sheets for my bed, but I forgot to bring a pillow with me to the homestay, so I've been creating makeshift pillows with my towel or sweatshirt this week. Adjusting to living with my family has been hard the first week, but by the end of the week I finally started feeling more comfortable. My daily hygiene routine has altered significantly. I brush my teeth with a headlamp on while sitting on a concrete cube under the mango tree and spit into the tree soil. I fill up a cup of water to wash my face under the tree, and then call it a night.
Bucket baths are amazing! To bathe, I fill up a bucket of water and go into the enclosed bathing area and pour cold water on myself with a smaller bucket. I was really dreading doing this, but I actually enjoy it! Since it's cold water, I've been taking a bucket bath in the heat of the afternoon, and it's been great so far. Sun streams in through the cracks in the wooden door as I pour on the refreshing water. Getting the shampoo out of my hair has been a bit challenging, but if I stick my head in the bucket, it seems to work fairly well.
Eating with the host family has also been a new experience. The women and men eat out of separate communal bowls, and we sit outside in the courtyard on stools while we eat. Every meal seems to be a huge bowl of rice with some carrots, potatoes, and cabbage, and sometimes some fish. Some of the meals have been good, some not so good. It's all an adjustment. It's really difficult to get nutrients here, and I look forward to eating a Kashi bar each day for some protein. I brought a Costco pack of them luckily! I don't ever struggle to get enough to eat though, because in Senegal, a host family feels successful if their guest gains weight while living with them. Whenever I say "M'faata", which means "I'm full" in Jaxanke, they continue to say "xa domo, xa domo" which means, "eat, eat!" They don't snack here, so each meal, people eat a lot of food. I'm not used to that, so it's been hard to eat enough during the meals to not get hungry a couple hours later. I'm going to start taking vitamin supplements to avoid malnutrition, and my mom is sending me a care package of protein bars sometime soon I think :)
Communication has mainly been in french, which funny enough, is now my comfort language. I'm learning Jaxanke each day with a Language Culture Facilitator (LCF) in the mornings, and we've been gardening in the afternoons after lunch/nap. Lamine is my LCF, and we have 4 people in our Jaxanke language group. We started a garden in a local school in M'bour. When we arrived at the space where we were to plant the garden, it was covered in litter, including glass and plastic shards. After raking and digging up all the trash, we double dug 2 beds, single dug another bed, and did a tree pepiniere with 50 tree sacks as well. We'll be planting Moringa trees after we return to our homestays on Wednesday to provide nutritious Moringa leaves for the school.
I'm slowly adjusting to the heat. My language group has been meeting up for cold Fantas after gardening, and they taste like heaven after a hot day. Slowly, I'm acclimating to the heat, but I imagine it takes a while to build up to being able to tolerate the 120-130 degree F heat I'll be dealing with down south in the hot season.
This past week I finally felt the culture shock of living in Senegal, and I felt homesick for the first time so far. Thinking about being here for 27 months is hard right now, so I'm taking it day by day and focusing on the positives of being here. As I mentioned before, time passes very unevenly, and the past 2 weeks have felt like 2 months. It's hard to believe that all of this has happened in such a short span of time, and adjusting is hard, but current volunteers have told the trainees that once we're at our permanent sites, time passes a lot more quickly. For now, my goal is to keep learning Jaxanke and learn as much as I can before moving to my permanent site. In training, it's easy to feel useless and frustrated, but if I can focus on the end goal of being competent in the language and health technical skills to prepare me for my service, it's easier to get through it. So much has happened that I want to write about, but it's past midnight here at the training center, and I need to wake up early to run, so I'm going to go to bed and try to write again tomorrow!