It has been a while and that is mostly because things are very slow here. I am still researching and doing my needs assessment. Very soon though things will be picking up with language seminar, All-Volunteer Conference, WAIST (West African International Softball Tournament), and our second round of training all happening in February. And although things are slow now, it's still pretty tiring with the heat and persistent culture shock. So here is a picture of the secret of how I got through my first month at site.
It is hard to adequately describe in detail how my New Years was and what I felt but what I can say is I've never done anything like it before.
Myself and two other volunteers went to Dakar on the 30th to get settled. We spent the day exploring and orienting ourselves in the city. We went to the shopping mall called Sea Plaza which made us feel very out of place among all the wealthy French people. But once we saw the grocery store, our minds panicked because of the wide variety of western products. For me, I did not think I would see anything like it for two years so I was not quite sure how to handle it. In reality it was about the size of a small town grocery store with similar prices. But for having eyes starved of that feeling for a few months, it felt like we had walked into the world stockpile of food. We bought cereal and milk and went back to the hotel.
New Year's Eve was spent similarly; exploring Dakar scenes and cuisine. Chicken and pepperoni pizza for lunch and ice cream afterwards. For dinner and celebrating we descended upon a known hit: Ceasars Fried Chicken. We all of course enjoyed fried chicken and reminisced about past years as the New Year slipped by without much event besides the kids running through the street lighting firecrackers.
After dinner we went out searching for our other friends. Since there is no good way around the city other than word of mouth, we spent an hour wandering and asking strangers with our still fledgling Wolof where "Calypso" was. We ended up in "Place de Independence," the Times Square of Dakar. There we were confronted with more wild kids and teens lighting off little firecrackers and rockets. It felt like we were in a different lawless world where there are no inhibitions or rules. There were fights breaking out beside us. Little bombs were making us jump ever other step. All we could see were people running around wildly as we clinched to each other. I felt like I had watched the scene in movies before but never actually been there. There is no way it could have taken place in the US since the national guard would have been called in way before it escalated to what it was. The whole experience brought me way back from the feeling that Dakar sometimes creates; that you're not actually in Senegal but a whole other European city.
We eventually found our friends and danced until we were exhausted. The whole night was a continuous realization that I'm in a unique and unforgettable time of my life. I know I probably should have had this moment by now but being in the madness of Place de Independence on New Years called me to really enjoy this place in the coming year. I may miss home and I may be excited about my prospects for after service but my goal now is to take in as much as I can here. I have had many days of frustration already. I'm sure there are many to come. But I don't want it to fly by. I want to encounter every day knowing this is what I've wanted to do since I was a kid. And that is what I encourage everyone reading to do-enjoy where you are. Don't wish you are someplace else until you are someplace else. Bonne Anne!