As I mentioned before I have a wonderful community counterpart (aka homologue) who has the responsibility to help me integrate into the community. She is a leader of the community and is president of the mother’s association, the women who are responsible for providing lunch for the primary school children, and president of the women’s association at her church.
Everybody’s out of town
I also have other people who made the request to have a volunteer here. One is the man who is in charge of a local group dedicated to improving the lives of women and I think he was behind the request. He was supposed to be my supervisor, but now he is the facilitator because Peace Corps wants the person who is my supervisor to be associated with the schools. My new supervisor is a man who is the Inspector for a group of about 20 elementary schools. As I understand it, his job is to check up on the schools in his district to see that everything is going right. Unfortunately, both of these men have been out of town most of the past week and a half. It is, after all, the end of the summer vacation and a bit like August in the states, I think. One day they were both here and we had a meeting with my community homologue and a couple of other people behind the request for my presence to discuss my work for the first three month and to introduce me to some of the important people in town. I followed their motos on my bicycle and we went to the places where several of these folks should have been, but most of them were either out of town or otherwise occupied so I only met the man in charge of the military police, who are responsible for police business outside of the town, and got registered with the police as being a person living here. I also saw where some of the folks work when they are here. Maybe another time.
Food for me
Before I came to the village I bought quite a bit of canned food so that I would have things to eat that I am accustomed to, or facsimiles thereof, like oatmeal, jam, canned vegetables, tomato sauce, tuna, and the only kind of cheese you can keep unrefrigerated, Laughing Cow Cheese. I have been able to buy local bread, baked in an old fashioned stone oven, onions, eggs and, sometimes, tomatoes. So far I am not starving, but I have to branch out and learn to eat more of the food the locals eat.
Getting around is either walking or bicycling. I am quite a way out of the main part of the village so I ride my bike most places. It is a very nice 24 speed bike, of which I use only the middle 8 gears. I certainly stand out around here, not only because of my white skin, but also because I wear a bike helmet and ride this fancy bike. As I go down the dirt road the kids tend to come running out of the family compounds yelling “Nasara! Cadeau?” in other words, “White person, do you have a gift for me?” I am learning the local language so I try to greet them first with the greeting words in Moore and that often cues them into the fact that I am not a random tourist. If that does not work and they are really pesky, I stop and ask them (in French) “Gift? Gift? Do you have a gift for ME?” which often gets a laugh or a look of puzzlement because they don’t actually speak French. I want to learn to say that line in Moore. One of these days.
My task for the first three months is to get integrated into the community and get to know the life of the community as it relates to my project, Girls Education and Empowerment. This is hard because there are so few people who speak French and my Moore consists of hello and goodbye. I need to figure out how to get some community members involved in these discussions, helping me talk to the people who do not understand my bad French, or any French at all. One way to do this is to walk up to a random courtyard, clap my hands at the gate, saying coo-coo. and see what happens. Often people will run to get a chair to put in the shade and invite me to sit down. If there is anyone who speaks French, I explain who I am and where I am living, nearby, and try to get the names of the people who live there. I am so bad with names and faces, as most of you know, that I really need to be able to go back and review who lives where pretty often. I also try to practice Moore with folks. That is a very slow process, although it is usually good for a few laughs.
There have also been a few people who stop by to greet me and some have invited me to come to their place to meet the family, so I am getting to know a few folks. Sunday I visited the protestant church that is nearest to my house. Everything was in Moore, so I understood exactly nothing, but the music was interesting. I will write more about that later, but there are now quite a few more people who have seen me and probably know who I am and where I am staying, if they did not know already. A couple of people I have encountered had commented on the fact that they saw me at church.