A Day in the Life: Peace Corps Volunteer, Senegal
Mark is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, West Africa.
6:30 a.m.: Thwunk! Thwunk! The sound has been creeping into my sleep for about an hour now, and I finally wake up and acknowledge it. Outside my hut, the women of the village have been up since pounding millet.
7:15 a.m.: I dress - no shower now, but one later. With no electricity or running water, a shower in the morning would be a luxury. Plus, I know I'm going to get dirty today, so what's the point?
7:45 a.m.: Time for a leisurely breakfast in the family compound. We all sleep in our own huts, and meet in the middle for meals and socializing. I sit on a raised dais and drink the local coffee - bitter but good. As I drink, I think about what I have to do today: the upcoming meeting, the state of my motorcycle - do I have enough gas?
8:00 a.m.: I wave goodbye to my host family - the men are heading out to the fields and the women are cooking or going out on water runs. I hop on my motorcycle - with 50 villages in my area of responsibility, good, reliable transport is a major concern. Luckily this little guy hasn't let me down yet.
8:30 a.m.: I drive along the dusty roads and wave to the occasional villager I see. After two years here, they all know me, and I know most of them.
9:15 a.m.: I arrive at my target village, dusty and hot. Even though it's still relatively early, the sun seems impossibly high in the sky, like it's been every day. Senegal is one of the hottest places on earth. Sometimes, I feel like I spend every day just sweating.
9:30 a.m.: The women of the village are slowly gathering in one of the central compounds around me. Today is our fifth meeting, and we're actually going to get started on the project we've been talking about for two months now: planting a fruit orchard. The women will use the fruit to supplement their family's diets, or to sell for some surplus cash at the market.
10:00 a.m.: All the women have finally arrived. Time is a different concept here: having everyone together an hour after the meeting was scheduled is actually great. Heck, I was even 10 minutes late! I explain what we're going to be doing today, and then we all head down to the field that's designated to be the orchard.
10:45 a.m.: We're hard at work in the future orchard, carefully preparing the fruit seedlings in little bags of soil and lining them up in the ground. As we work, the women chatter and tease me. They all want to know when I'm going to bring my girlfriend to live in the compound. The fact that I don't have a girlfriend doesn't seem to stop them! They also ask about my family, and tell me about theirs.
12:00 p.m.: A good morning's work, and time to get out of the sun. I have lunch at one of the compounds and share news with the men of my host family. Then a short nap, a quick play with some of the smaller kids, and then it's time to be off. I'll be back next month when the seedlings start to sprout.
1:30 p.m.: I head towards the nearest town, realizing I've actually got a free afternoon. This is a rarity - with the number of villages I'm responsible for, I usually have two or even three meetings in a given day. This is good - I've got some shopping to do, not to mention getting some more gas for the motorcycle...
2:30 p.m.: Fuda is the central town around here, a hub for all the villages in the area. I wander through the market, picking out some vegetables for my family. They don't receive a stipend for hosting me, so I try to help out in other ways. Buying some vegetables to add to the family's cooking budget and (I've got to admit - bring some changes in my diet!) is a good way to help out.
3:30 p.m.: Potatoes, tomatoes, onions, a couple of delicious looking oranges, gas for my motorcycle and a new shirt for myself. All in order. I've still got time and some energy, so I stop by a local bar. I hope to see one or both of the other Peace Corps volunteers that serve in the area, but I'm out of luck.
4:00 p.m.: I down a local beer - like the coffee it's bitter but good! I chat with the owners of the bar and a couple of men who have sought refuge on the cool patio. They all know me by now, and after studying the local language fairly intensively during my first year I'm now comfortable enough to talk bout anything.
4:30 p.m.: No more beer, I have a long drive ahead of me back to my village. I leave a note for the other PCs, telling them I'll be back on Saturday, and telling them to look for me. Then it's back on the motorcycle and the dusty roads.
6:00 p.m.: My favorite time of the day. The work is over, I've had my shower, and the heat is slipping away as the sun starts to set. All around the village people are drifting between compounds, talking and catching up on the news of the day. We have plenty of visitors over at our house. I relax on our dais in the middle of the compound, trying to forget about the busy day I have ahead of me tomorrow. It'll take care of itself.
8:00 p.m.: Supper is prepared by my 8 year old "niece", who is just learning to cook. Tonight it's chicken and a rice mixture we eat with our hands. The sun is setting now, and after eating we lie back on the dais, staring up at the sky. We talk about astronomy and the stars, then listen to the BBC on the radio for a while. After, we discuss international politics and the state of the world. The villagers are very interested in the world outside, and since I've come to live here I've become much more aware of world events too. Funny to think that in a tiny village on the edge of Africa the people are more informed than in some of the biggest cities back home.
10:00 p.m.: My host dad wakes me gently. I've drifted off to sleep outside on the dais, and now it's time to go to my hut and my real bed.