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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Day 1 done!

I am now done with my first day in Senegal, and so far, it’s exceeding my expectations!  It’s around 8pm here now, but this has been a very long day. I woke up at 8, went to Target to buy unnecessary but appreciated last-minute American junk food, went running in the hotel gym, showered, changed, ate one last Chipotle burrito, and boarded a bus from our staging hotel in Philadelphia to JFK airport.  We had to check out of our hotel by noon, but our flight didn’t leave until 9:30, so we had a lot of time to kill.  Naturally, since we are America’s Finest, we decided to get tipsy on $10 airport beers.  I had intended to sleep on the flight, but they had excellent in-flight movie selections (Gravity, The Hobbit, and the TV series Adventure Time) the flight attendants kept walking around and offering us delicious snacks, and I was sandwiched in the middle seat, so I only slept for about a half-hour of the eight-hour flight. 

When I got off the plane in Dakar the first thing I noticed was the temperature.  I’d been worried that it would be too hot, but it was perfect – 80, sunny, and breezy, and the air was scented with saltwater and blooming flowers.  We collected our luggage and went across a parking lot to two waiting busses.  There was an adorable little boy begging everyone for money in Wolof near the bus - I gave him a banana that I had taken from the plane (I’m a bit of a hoarder) even though I don’t think we’re supposed to do that.  They say that giving beggars money just perpetuates the myth that westerners are rich and encourages them to keep begging, but I had just figured that I had a banana I didn’t need and he looked like he could use it.  Whatever.

I fell asleep for most of the 2-hour bus ride from Dakar to Thies (pronounced “chess”, oddly enough) so I missed most of the landscape, but if what I missed was similar to what I saw, there were a lot of dirt hills, baobab trees, and roadside vendors selling watermelons.   I was very happy to see the abundance of green near the road.  I’d been nervous that Senegal was treeless desert.  Maybe it is farther north, but if I end up being placed in a site that’s similar to what I’ve seen today, I’m very happy with that.

The training center is incredible – it feels like I’m staying at a resort.  There are mango and banana trees, a big vegetable garden, and tons of birds and lizards.  We had an impromptu dance party this afternoon.  There were these four Senegalese men who showed up to drum some tribal beats and lead a big group dance.  The dancing was awkward at best, but that was actually perfect, since I have no rhythm but could still easily follow along with the random limb-slinging.  It was a lot of fun, even though I’m sure I looked like an idiot.  Almost all of the other PCTs were also dancing and laughing. 

I have no idea what the rest of the week will look like.  We will get sorted into our language learning groups soon, and language acquisition will be the focus for the majority of training.  I’m hoping that I’ll get a “harder” less commonly spoken language since I’m hoping to be placed in a tiny village, but I’m sure I’ll be happy in a larger town as well.