(Nov. 30, 2008)
I haven't had any trouble sleeping so far. I like the food, and eat plenty at each meal. The cockroaches have retreated to the pit latrine, fearing my shoe and all-mighty BOP spray. The language is coming more and more each day. Diarrhea and I have remained distantly respectful of each other. Things are going well--But I don't plan on letting my guard down any time soon.
So what are my worries? What are the x-factors that could still derail my service? Integration. Successful behavior modification in those I'm trying to help. Being able to simply function on a day-to-day basis at site. Thses things are all unknowable until after I swear in (assuming I do) and have been at least a month or two at my permanent site.
For now, spirits remain fairly high, save for attitudes regarding some of our Trainee-Directed Activities, which generally involve us doing some type of prescribed activity that will give us moe technical knowledge and push us further into the culture. Some of the activities are short write-ups that require a few questions asked of our family. Others are presentations about health topics given to groups of village members, which invariably make us feel ridiculous. Imagine a group of young Africans coming to your town square, community center, or whatever, and telling you the benefits of hand washing and mosquito repellent using language kindergarteners would find simple. The language studies, as I said, are going wll, but it's still a frustrating process. Given how long we've been studying, we're doing very well. Still, when a Gambian reels off a solid block of clipped phonemes and expects an intelligible answer, it's hard to feel like such a stud.
My family is a bright spot, certainly. They have a great sense of humor, much of which I appreciate despite the language barrier. My host sister Fatou is a great help in everything. She is 14, and speaks very serviceable English, but unfortunately she just has two settings--English or light speed Mandinka. My friend Kasey named a tiny, snow white goat living in my compound Mustafa. He has become a constant topic of conversation. Gambian greetings (which take up much of one's day) often involve asking "where" people are, really asking how they are doing. The prescribed response is "they are there/here." Where's your wife? She is there. Where's your family? They are there. But now, every day I am asked, with restrained laughter, "Where's Mustafa?" He, along with a host of goods, bads, and in-betweens, is right here.