Diving into Peace Corps

Well this is officially my first blog entry as a PCT (Peace Corps Trainee). Bear with me as I have a feeling it will be lengthy. I’m not entirely certain what those of you reading (if there are any) are hoping to gain. So a synopsis of my travels and travails until now seems agreeable. Three days of Staging began in Washington D.C. on July 1st. Predictably terror was my constant companion as I navigated a taxi (for only the second time, color me a country girl) and started meeting other volunteers. Sessions on non-country specific cultural integration models and ice breakers that involved dancing and singing the ‘mingle mingle mingle’ song were interspersed rather haphazardly with trips to the monuments and any restaurants that sold cheeseburgers and beer. We all knew our days of deep fried joy were numbered. I left D.C. feeling that I could name all the other PCTs and claim some knowledge of what would be greeting me on the other side of the pond.

Almost thirty straight hours of travel soon proved me wrong. After so many hours over 10,000 feet I’m not even sure I knew my own name. That said, all of my plane food stayed down and I was able to improve my abysmally lacking cultural repertoire by watching The Martian and The Blind Side. I also indulged in The Book Thief, turns out that ending I missed the first time was not a pick me up… We had a short layover in Brussels, a stop in Dakar and then we flew over some of the most breathtaking landscape I’ve ever seen. Rivers and marshes were disrupted by remote villages scattered through Northern Guinea. Their serenity proved a gift once we landed and were met with a veritable wall of security agents, Peace Corps staff, and baggage couriers vying for a tip. With a luck so pure it must have been destiny, everyone made it to the bus with luggage and life intact, if deplorably sweaty. The drive to the Peace Corps center was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Rows of metal abodes vied for space between market shacks and rows of 125cc British motorcycles. Sprinkled through it all were Guinean women dressed in unbelievably vibrant patterns and colors, carrying packages on their heads and babies on their backs. A final, token hot shower and a shawarma wrap awaited us at the center before we shipped out for the Dubreka training center the next day. This journey too had my nose glued to the window of our Toyota bus.

The training compound is impeccable, brand new and furnished with electricity (reliable if spotty) and running water (cold thank heavens, humidity has soared according to my hair). Getting to know the other G28 education volunteers over the last few days has been nothing short of a privilege. We immediately began adjusting to showers that ran out of water, constant rain, delicious Guinean dishes of rice, chicken, vegetables and, incredibly, even fish meatballs with real noodles and spaghetti sauce (though I suspect this was just for the Americaines! And behind it all sits Le Chien du Fume or Smoking Dog mountain, a beautiful precipice whose top reaches well into the clouds during the rainy season. We have attended sessions on everything from water treatment awareness, to Guinean taboos and culture, to knowing when to gauge the point at which a trip to the loo can no longer be postponed (culture shock is rough in the digestive track). We received another handful of vaccinations and a crash course in the pronunciation of Guinean names (Ousman (spelling questionable) still being my favorite). We roared through lessons in both French and Susu, which prepared us for today, the big day, the one we’ve all been waiting for, the adoption ceremony. Though I am not by any means an orphan, Peace Corps encourages cultural integration through homestays and in Guinea your homestay family unofficially adopts you.

As you can hopefully imagine, this impending transition was nerve-wracking, producing even more sweat than usual. Lots of group dancing to traditional Guinean music, a cold coke, and a live performance by Dubreka’s own drumming band led up to the ceremony. Our names were announced and into the arms of our new lives we went. I know that I have lucked out with my homestay family. This afternoon I was renamed Yari for my host mother, an honor in Guinean culture as naming after important people is a strong tradition, and Bangoura for my family. I spent all afternoon sitting on the porch being handed babies and engaging in English/French/Susu (the local African language) lessons with my new host brothers, Ousman and Mohammed. Mohammed is a student hoping to attend university so we have become something which nears study buddies. By the end of the day I was able to ask him, in French, to take me down the street to a soccer game which was played with a ferociousness unmatched by the American take on the sport.

For those who do not already know, my host family’s house will be my home for the next three months while I attend training at the compound. If I am successful, I will be sworn in as an official PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) and placed at my site for the next two years. Thus far my newest adventure has been overwhelming, inspiring, thought provoking, and humbling. My room here is luxurious, I have a lightbulb which lights up whenever I want, my own water closet with enclosed pit toilet and bucket for bathing, and even a queen bed! And please do not mistake my use of the term luxurious for sarcasm, I wholly mean that I am luckier than I can say to be living where I am. This experience will be and has already been life changing (though the pragmatist within me shudders at the corny sentiment, it could not be more true). Again I would like to offer up my condolences to anyone who has read this far for the length and detail. Although I would like to assure you that the next entry will be shorter to spare my readers time, it is a fool who seeks logic in the chambers of the human hear t so until next time, Ikena from the newly born Yari Bangoura.

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