“Aitcha… haditt!”

Community-based training is the Peace Corps’ way of helping Americans assimilate to host-country culture. A family takes you in as one of their own, gives you a Senegalese name (like Ndoumbé), and you live as they do: slinging rice, slurping tea, bucket bathing, going “SSss!–” to get someone’s attention, etc.

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Ah, mornings… a most tranquil time of day as the sun begins to peak over the Baobabs and casts a soft glow acr– “RAawwm!”, a goat face hungrily shrieks through the window, call to prayer is at 5, and the donkeys begin their walrus noises. Squatting on the cracked tile floor shaking instant coffee shards into a Nescafe promotional mug, I remember the coffee shops I used to frequent in the U.S., but admit that there’s really nowhere else I’d rather be.

After coffee and chocolate-bread I begin my walk to language class, greeting the village with broken Wolof and irrelevant French, like bonsoir. Then, I sit in the sand under a Neem tree, learning sentence structure and conjugations. Every once in a while, a donkey charette rolls by. A shepherd passes through with his flock yelling, “Aitcha… haditt!”, moving them quickly out to pasture.

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After class, I walk home through the sand to greet my family members who are scattered throughout the compound: the men are home from work, seated comfortably, discussing families and business. The women continue their work of wrangling children, sifting sand, and pressing clothes with their charcoal-filled irons. Older children are home from school, antagonizing chickens and singing songs. One boy kicks his soccer ball into the smoldering charcoal, picks the ball out of the explosion and quickly runs away. The younger children are napping under the Baobab, while others are still swaddled to their mothers’ backs, going along for the day’s usual chores.

Lunch is ready and everyone gathers around the big metal bowl that has been carefully placed on its mat. The bowl is full of rice, vegetables, a couple of fish, and a few dollops of leaf sauce (made with tamarind and hibiscus leaf). Around the bowl there are 8, 9, 10 people (14 once, not including myself) all sharing the same meal. We eat with our hands, balling up rice and picking out fish bones. It’s all in the wrist, flinging rice bits across the bowl, taking casualties and hitting them in the face; nothing left to waste. As the dishes are being done, hens teeter on the sides of the bowl for their share of rice and fish, and the family takes a rest on woven mats in the shade while someone prepares two or three rounds of Ataya (tea) for the adults to slurp.

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