Pronounced chee dugga dugga, is the Wolof phrase for “Oh, really?” Naturally, the context in which my Survival Wolof teacher (jangelekat #junglecat) taught this phrase to us was in response to the assertion “No, I do not have a husband.” (Deedeet, amuma jekket.) It got me thinking about my cultural expectations as an American versus the Senegalese expectations, and then, of course, there are the intermediate Peace Corps expectations.
On these first three days of Pre-Service Training (PST) we’ve been dancing along this cultural intersection from within the bounds of the PC Senegal training center in Thies. Language, Technical, and Medical interviews gave the staff here a better idea of our expectations and how much of our American culture we’re willing to sacrifice. We’ve been learning the basics of Wolof (tomorrow we find out our site-specific languages and beginning our more intensive language training, but Wolof is the most commonly spoken language throughout Senegal) and we’ve found that the Senegalese have very formal and ritualized greetings. Nevertheless, if you want something, you demand it outright. No may I pleases and yes you mays. #ghany. When you enter a situation it is your duty to announce your presence, not for others to acknowledge you, but when you want to leave, just stand up and peace out. There is not a word for “please” in Wolof. Showing knees and shoulders (depending on the region) is a scandalous display of skin. My impulse was to say some of these cultural standards are contradictory, but I’m sure if I told that to a Senegalese person they’d respond ci degg degg? I guess that’s perspective for ya. Any counter-culture is just a group of people with different cultural expectations.
Speaking of counter-culture, the PC is jam-packed with TLAs and FLAs (those last two are NOLs acronyms for Three and Four Letter Acronyms). I think 50% of the questions I’ve asked are structured “What does ____ stand for?” Generally, in the Peace Corps the learning curve is steep and the expectations are lofty. And I mean lofty, without implying unreasonable or unachievable. Meeting second- and third-year volunteers assures me that with the right attitude and the skills provided in training, we will all be successful. In an introduction to our Sus. Ag. program this morning we learned that success is measured as a 5-20% change, because we are not just teaching facts and skills, but attempting to change cultural expectations. #developingcountry. Speaking of skills, both the American and Senegalese staff contain volumes and volumes of knowledge. Chris Hedrick, the country director, is an RPCV (Returned PC Volunteer), who served in Senegal and henceforth built a career in the political, NGO, and corporate sectors that brought him back to his country of service. And has tightened up an already strong program, to be what we keep hearing is the best program in Africa and one of the best worldwide. #sorryPCVfriends. Our Senegalese trainers are on the cusp of agricultural research and community development. And all our LCFs (language & cultural facilitators) are at least tri- or quad-lingual. A third-year volunteer is dedicated specifically to media and technology to keep our program on the cutting edge of technology EVEN in our developing country. When I say that keep in mind, another third-year asked if any of us had an iPad, cause she’d never seen one.
Sorry, I left this a while ago and by a while I mean an afternoon, which seems like its an entire other day in PST time. It’s been good to hear from those I’ve heard from.