Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Officially a Volunteer : Swearing in

The last week of home stay flew by into whirlwind of celebrations to wrap up training, making us trainees officially Peace Corps Volunteers!
To thank our homestay families for all of their patience and help as we struggled to learn a new language and adopt Senegalese customs, we held a luncheon at the Thies training center. It was a little bit awkward because are training group was so large that we could only invite one family member each. So my "mom", and namesake, Habi Balde came for the afternoon. For all the trying moments that we had together during homestay, it was actually really nice to see her, all dressed up. Best part of the luncheon: lunch. Probably chicken, vegetables, and rice sound very simple to all you back at home, but it's expensive here and that is a treat. After lunch and tea, there was music and dancing; I actually got my "mom" to get up and dance Gwana (the national hit dance) in public with me. She loves to dance and we'd always dance at home, but never ever when anyway was home, so this was specially. It was really sad to say goodbye in the end because Habi started crying and honestly I don't know when I will be able to visit them again, but hopefully I will.

Two days later was swearing in at the US Ambassadors House. I was so ready for this one, minus the pre-speech butterflies in my stomach. I own a pair of coral pink Converses and I thought it would be symbolic to pair the shoes with a Senegalese outfit. The outfit was a process (finding the right material, designing the pattern, explaining to the tailor in broken Wolof-French what it was I wanted) but well worth it. Everyone looked gorgeous in their Senegalese outfits as we boarded the buses for Dakar. We had gendarme escort us into the city: sirens, lights, wrong side of the road and all. ( A little bit over the top and embarrassing but it was kind of fun too.) The ceremony itself was televised and there is a Peace Corps video of it somewhere(youtube?). I had the honor of giving the Pulaar language thank you/congratulations speech to an audience of the Ambassador, government officials, PC & JICA directors, and of course my fellow volunteers. I was all nervous because my Pulaar knowledge is very limited. But   everyone else thought it sounded great and I had a sweet outfit...

My Peace Corps Stage

The swearing in ceremony was concluded with delicious  foods, cold drinks, and photos in the Ambassador's garden. Then we went over to the American Club, aka swimming pool and grilled CHEESE and ICE CREAM! All the indulgences of America for a day.

River crossing to get to Kolda
Unfortunately, since Kolda (the region that I am serving in) is so far removed from Dakar, team Kolda had to be ready to leave the next morning, by 6. In a stupor from too much excitement and no sleep we left before the sun was up and began the confusing voyage to Kolda. Normally, we are not supposed to go through the Gambia to get to Kolda, but there was a miscommunication somewhere along the lines and we navigated our way cross the borders and ferry across the Gambia river and made it to Kolda record time with all of our belongings in tact. Kolda was one big shopping trip with interludes at the hotel pool. (We stayed at the Peace Corps regional house but free swim at the hotel if you buy a drink is too tempting to resist when it is over 100 and humid every afternoon.)

Velingara Hotel had no power...
The final leg of the trip was spent in a hotel in Velingara. Peace Corps introduced us to the local authorities and put me and my fellow Kounkane area volunteers up in a sweet hotel (aka working toilets, showers, and ac) for one night. Unfortunately, this was the day after one of the generators at the local power plant broke, so there was neither electricity nor running water at this lovely establishment.

Finally finally I installed October 20th  in Goundaga. I was greeted by the entire village singing, dancing and drumming in my new home. A man on a faulty loudspeaker announced to the town my arrival and gave me my new name: Ramatulaye Balde. Exhaustion took over, and after some dancing, chicken(!) for dinner, and thanking my family I was able to sleep like a baby (seriously, asleep by 8:30).


  1. Ramatulaye Balde -

    CONGRATS on becoming an OFFICIAL PC Volunteer!
    Girls Club is SOOO PROUD!!! DPW misses you, but we are PROUD and EXCITED for you!
    Anna is interviewing for real gigs, so I fear we are on the brink of Girls Club completely falling apart... not the same if we are left with just Nick and I.

    Since you've been gone, Nick is still dancing to his own special music and has found additional inspirational quotes on stickers throughout his workspace. He has also created a rather impressive (and menacing looking) scorpion out of binder clips and a staple remover.

    On the homefront, we've relocated 2 ground hogs from under our house, and home improvements are progressing. Our dog had heartworm followed by tapeworm, but she is all better now and we are over $3,200 poorer, but she is so worth it.

    We miss you, but we are very excited for you.

    Safe travels and keep us posted.

  2. Thanks so much Rich!! This message made me laugh so much... the girls club will live on in spirit i think. Glad to hear that the house is becoming a home and your dog is healthy again. I greet everyone down at Town Hall especially the DPW crew: I miss you guys!