Mboro: My Community Based Training Site (CBT)

I lucked out on my community based training site, also known as CBT. I have 3 other site-mates that live with their respective families in the small city of Mboro, an hour north of Thies. On the map its right next to Mboro-Sur-Mer. The region, Niayes, between Dakar and St. Luis is known for their vegetable market and fruit farms that are in the region. The region produces about 80% of the agricultural food production for the country.

My Mboro Site-Mates, Rollo, Me, Vivian, Patrick (on a lucky day at the near by beach)

Since I haven’t a battery charger for my AA batteries, I broke down and purchased batteries here. I’ve been limited to the amount of pictures I have taken, but you can see of the ones I have here:

Mboro photo album
Thies photo album

The other reason for the limited photo taking is that EVERYONE in Senegal loves to have their picture taken. Pictures are a huge deal here and they expect you to give one to them. There are many cultural expectations of Americans and Peace Corps Volunteers alike I am finding. But I also have some myself of Africans, my host family and even other Peace Corps volunteers.

Down a street in Mboro, Senegal

Africa, Senegal, Peace Corps and my site, Mboro have been great. I can not complain about the food, the culture, or the trash I see. All in all, I am fed, watered, cared for and it’s done well and with care. The only thing that I’m finding, or more realizing, is thinking how open and knowing how open I am there are still expectations that you have built into a culture. Some of these we forget we have until you are placed a seemingly “other” world and you start figuring them out because people are making assumptions about you.

For example, in Senegal different things are noted. Anything different than the usual is discussed. Having grown up in a tiny town, this I have found is typical in most small towns in America as well. Different is bad in a way, it bucks the trend, leads to change and possibly worse things that just this 1 random thing that happens to be different that all the other. This is also how we are taught to learn. How many shape tests did you do as a child to find “the different one” or the one that “isn’t like the others”? This is a way for our brains to categorize, inform, and lack of a better word, stereotype things to make sense of them quick to protect ourselves.

My language skills are coming along slowly and I’m able to comprehend quite a bit, but forming a response in the language gets my mouth in a bind. For once in my life, I’m frustrated that I’m unable to communicate with people and have become quieter rather than my more “outspoken self” here. Frustration hits especially when I’m being asked why I can’t speak their language and if I’m dumb for not being able to. Other volunteers have mentioned similar experiences where they have read an english book out loud for a Senegalese for them to realize we are capable of reading, just not in their language.

Inside a Senegalese Primary School Classroom

We do this in America as well. I’m just as guilty of making the opposite assumption, of literacy and fluency in their language. As I sat down with various host-family members over the 3 weeks I have been at my site for various conversations, making a family tree (that I have found never ends), and simply learning vocabulary that the Wolof language is very fluid idea.

French is taught in the classrooms here as you can see on the chalkboard in the picture, but Wolof or a local language is spoken at home. Meaning, french has a standardization for it while Wolof has more of an idea of it. For example in Wolof there are sometimes multiple words that mean the exact same thing, usage of that word is the same, but a native speaker your talking to might only know one of them and not both. Also spelling seems to be phonetic sometimes but there are many similar words that sound almost the same but mean very different things. Xar and xaar, meaning ram and to wait, respectively.  Context of the conversation is supposed to help you figure out the one they mean.

The most common question I get from Senegalese is if I will take them, or their children back to America with me. In their mind, America is great, bountiful and full of money and so there for so I must be too. Senegalese has a wonderful sharing and joking culture. That if you have something, food usually, you are deemed to share it with the group or be asked about it from every person there a few times while eating it in front of them. Its normal for them to share and ask the same of others. Sometimes with the joking culture, they will simply ask you for whatever happens to be on you, in your hand, or whatever they might fancy you have. This I have found is 2 fold. First, it’s to poke you to see if you will play with them or be offended by it. Second, it’s a complement, they genuinely like the thing they are telling you is pretty, nice, or whatever and would like it. My response to this at first was “thank you” and “no you can’t have it”, to now it’s “sure, but I want that dress your wearing and the shoes too” for something as simple as something a beaded bracelet. They have 1 word that means, pretty, beautiful, gorgeous and anything else deemed “beautiful” in there culture so by doing this they are telling you they like your style (a word that doesn’t exist in their wolof vocab, along with please).

Not MY idea of style, but for Tabaski, it is.

I have realized that frames of reference, culture, and personal experience all shape our relationships and interactions with each other and other cultures. I was lucky enough to have this brought during a lecture with author Jean Illsley Clarke in college and it prepared me for at the time traveling to South Korea and with understand other cultures and people since then. I might not be able to fully understand why something happens I don’t agree with but I can ask a questions to get a better idea rather than have a visceral response to it.

I will make sure to take more pictures of the market, school and more of the town now that Tabaski is over.  Let me know if there is anything you are interested in hearing about. There is a beekeeper near by as well I hope to be visiting soon too!