Tuesday, May 22, 2012

See you later! COS Conference

Close of Service (COS) means I've made it through my two years in the Peace Corps: I've lived in a different culture, learned a new language, met so many interesting people, challenged established beliefs (American and Senegalese), served my country and the people of Senegal. It's kind of a big deal...
In order to help volunteers through that transition, Peace Corps Senegal brings us all together as a training group one last time to reflect, debrief, and start looking at our options in the future. Reverse culture shock is an overwhelming process, so it's really great that we can come together as a training group, remember the good times, discuss tentative plans for the future, and get away for a weekend in a beautiful beach house.
My Training Group
What's really amazing is how close I've become to my training group, even though some of us are so far apart and don't get to see each other very often. They are a great group of people that have been nothing but supportive. And seeing everyone all together again was such an exciting moment - it doesn't really matter that this is the last time we will be all together. It doesn't matter that life is going to lead us down a hundred divergent paths - something will keep us together and I'm sure we will run into each other again.

Goodbye Send-off Breakfast
While we were going through our COS conference, the training group before us was getting ready to actual COS and leave. I have spent so much of my service working with these people, not to mention they make up about half of my neighbors, that it is surreal to know they're gone. I am so happy and excited for them: congratulations on completing Peace Corps service and getting to go off on some new amazing adventure! Of course I will miss them, but I have a feeling that it's not actually goodbye... I'm going to see all these wonderful volunteers again in someplace better!

Easter Ceeb

Village had gotten so quiet; all my host siblings and cousins had gone off to CEM (middle school) and Lycee (high school) in the bigger towns. Suddenly there is no one to have a friendly conversation with during siesta or late at night waiting for the winds to cool things off. The daily discussions of market prices, okra, and why I'm not married yet just don't do it for me. And these seem to be the only things anyone ever wants to discuss with me. I had this idea that maybe I ask Senegalese villagers their opinions on GRE essay prompts, but it kind of fell on deaf ears - what was I talking about and how did that have any relevance to their very orderly (if not monotonous) lives? They do things they way they've always done them because that's the way to do things... or so they say.
Down time during the day, I played with the kids. They are a lot more fun: leap frog, coloring, reading at the library, adventure hikes, and imitating anything and everything. Playing with them is great, but I'm not a huge fun of the crowds of children that tend to develop - 8 is my cut off...

When Easter break finally rolled around and my teenage/young adult siblings started to wander back home, it was such a relief to have more stimulating conversations and debates about values, lifestyles, beliefs. Suddenly the dull evenings turned into inter-village soccer tournaments and late night parties. The students were interested in my projects and tagged along everywhere. And older siblings came, listened and helped younger siblings read books from the Goundaga Primary School Library. (Thank you all for your donations!) Everyone is so excited about the library; I got 5 kids reading their first chapter book!

Harriet, Lisa, and I cooking over the fire.
Best of all, my favorite girl friends in village came back for the holiday: Lisa, Harriet, Jenny (not their real names, but they figured if I got a Senegalese name, they should also have American names). We had a long over due cooking date so we planned to make the most patron (bougie) ceeb (Senegalese style fried rice) ever! Unlike people stuck in the village all the time, i.e. the adults and children that I had spent all of the previous month with, these young women know their food and know the importance of a balanced meal. Our market list was full of every vegetable in season and a special note for Lisa's dad to catch us the biggest fish he could find. One of my host mom's, Mata Sadio, got on board and sent us a small mountain of fresh basil to stuff the fish with. My neighbor, Jenae, and her friend visiting from America came by too to enjoy the day in village.

So, how do you cook the best ceeb ever?

Easter Ceeb
We started washing and cutting the bucket full of vegetables we had bought in the road town market. We cleaned and gutted the big fish. We built a big fire and boiled a big cauldron of water over it. We picked the rocks out of the rice and rinsed it before steaming it. We mashed basil, garlic, pepper, green onions, and chili peppers up in a mortal and pestle and stuffed the fish with the mixture. We fried the fish with oil and onion, put that to the side, and fried some potatoes and sweet potatoes. We added water and spices and boiled the vegetables until soft, then we added the steamed rice and let everything simmer. And when it was all done, we served it up to the whole family and ate until we were stuffed. So good!