I’m drafting this blog post in a word document in hopes of getting on the internet this week to finally update everyone on my life in Joal! I arrived here two weeks ago after being dropped off by my program director to start the internship phase of the program. Joal is a fishing town located about two hours down the coast from Dakar, with a population of around 20,000 people (I think, though the town is growing and no one I’ve asked is exactly sure how many people live here).
I was excited to leave Dakar and head to Joal, which I had heard was one of the prettiest villages in Senegal. So far, I have not been let down, though I have found myself to be missing my Dakar family more than I had expected. It almost felt as if as soon as I had integrated myself there and began to feel comfortable among my family, I was once again uprooted to experience the process all over again, in a new place, with a new family and internship, with all my fellow students spread in villages across Senegal. I am adjusting, but it takes time and it’s certainly a good thing that I look forward to seeing my Dakar family again!
So for a little bit about my family here in Joal. I live with my host father, Paul, my host mother, Agnes, and three younger siblings: Clauthilde (10), Robert (6), and Therese, who is nearly 3. Unlike my family in Dakar, who was Muslim, my family here is Christian, which makes for a bit of a different experience. First of all, the family names are all very westernized which is kind of odd, and a picture of Pope Jean-Paul II hangs over my bed. The kids are great and my host dad is incredibly nice and welcoming. In the beginning, Therese was afraid of me and even cried when I got too close to her (the whole white skin color thing), but now we are best of friends and it makes my day to see her smile and yell “Emma!” when she sees me coming home from my internship. Clauthilde and Robert are a bit more shy and inhibited, but they are certainly warming up to me. I’ve been helping Clauthilde learn how to ride a bike and Robert loves to do karate with me in slo-motion! My host mother, Agnes, is a bit of a different story however. I’ll just say she’s a little rough around the edges and hardly ever cracks a smile. It’s been hard, especially in comparison with my incredible host mom in Dakar, but it’s clear that it’s her and not me!
For a few updates on lifestyle: I am taking bucket showers, which are surprisingly nice but have also reduced my ability to wash my hair often, and using a squat toilet. I’m woken every morning before sunrise by one of the five daily Muslim prayer times, and then again at sunrise by crowing roosters. Twice a day, for lunch and dinner, I eat some form of rice and fish and am lucky if I get a bite of carrot or potato, and for breakfast it’s always a piece of bread. Vitamins and hand sanitizer were the two best investments I made before coming here!
For my internship, I’m working at a place called MECDPJ, which stands for Mutuel d’Epargne et Credit pour le Developpement de la Peche a Joal. Quite a mouthful! Essentially, it’s a credit union for fishermen. Ironically enough, I’m doing accounting, and I hate to say it but I’m learning a lot! I work alongside these two great Senegalese women, giving out small loans to fishermen and keeping track of their deposits and withdrawals. It’s like working at a small bank and doing microfinance- serving the poor that are often overlooked by larger banks and bank chains. At the end of the day, it’s all about making sure the numbers add up! And turning down various marriage proposals and visa requests from the fishermen clients. For the most part, they are really funny and make work about faces and not just numbers and money.
It’s been hard to be separated from all the familiar faces on the program that I saw and talked to everyday in Dakar. There, I built a kind of comfort, an American bubble if you will that reduced the culture shock and deflected a lot of the initial difficulty. However, I was lucky enough to have four friends visit me this past weekend for my birthday, and I had an awesome time. It was so great to feel comfortable again, speaking my own language, sharing funny stories, venting about our troubles, and watching lots of Scrubs! It was exactly what I needed after two weeks of being on edge. Also, thanks so so much to everyone who called to wish me a happy birthday, it really made my day! It’s hard to believe but so exciting to think about being back home in a little over a month.
Well, it’s nearly 7:30 here, which means it’s almost time for Marina to start, a Mexican soap opera that everyone stops their lives to watch. I must say it was so peaceful one day last week when we had a several-hour long power outage and no one could watch TV in the evening. The quiet was therapeutic and so much more preferable to the blasting television series!