Hannah Goes Fishing

A Fishing (and more) Blog

This African Life – Senegal

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Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers serve across the globe continent in countries as different from one another as Alaska is from Florida. As part of my blogging goals for 2015, I hope to bring you volunteer interviews from Peace Corps countries from all around the world! This month, I am excited to introduce to you a volunteer from Senegal.

Tina Verrilli – Age 23


Where are you from?
I’m from Cleveland, Ohio. But, I consider my home Chicago since I went to college there and just moved away from the city.

What country and program do you serve in?
I currently serve in Peace Corps Senegal as an Agroforestry Extension Agent. The agriculture sector in Senegal focuses on improving human capacity for food security. In my program, we focus on planting trees that can have multiple benefits for farmers such as a sustainable live fence, wood poles, source of sustenance and a break for wind.

My typical work is dynamic. I work primarily with farmers who are actively planting and experimenting with trees and vegetables. Right now we are working to begin our tree nurseries so that the infant trees will be ready for outplanting before the rainy season. I have five work partners currently and am actively searching for interested farmers. My site it also close to a Peace Corps sponsored Master Farm, a one hectare demonstration space managed by one farmer. The farm is about an hour away, and I try to work there frequently.
I have secondary projects as well. I work with the English club at my local high school and am trying to collaborate with the hospital.
What is your housing like? What amenities do/n’t you have? What are some of the biggest challenges of your lifestyle?  
I live in a modest, one room hut with a 20mX20m walled backyard and douche area. I don’t have electricity or running water. My host dad has a solar panel to power a TV and a lamp at night. I use solar powered lamps to light my room. I pull two 10L buckets of water from the well everyday for drinking, watering my garden, cooking and showering. I have one 8 month old child/cat and his name is Mao.

My family eats millet cous cous twice a day with a peanut and fish based sauce that also includes beans. This meal is served for breakfast and dinner. Lunch is rice and fish or rice and a peanut sauce, usually with vegetables. Depending on how I am feeling, I will cook or make something for myself such as cereal, oatmeal, soup, beans, lentils or a sandwich.

Some biggest challenges are the weather and my lifestyle. On a normal day, it can get up to 115 degrees. This means that my body is constantly burning calories and I find it tough to stay full. We don’t really eat meat and there sometimes isn’t enough food for everyone to be full, especially with four wives and fifteen children plus any guests during meal times.

Pulling water only from the well can be tough. The well is about 300 meters from my compound and water is very heavy. This limits what I can grow and demonstrate in my personal garden because there isn’t enough water for everything.

What are the Senegalese like?
The people of Senegal are generally kind, giving and hospitable. If I ever need any help of any kind, people and children are always willing to help. They value community, greeting and family very much. I can always count on people to properly greet me and have a small conversation, stranger or friend. Most people live with family or an extension of family. Senegalese also appreciate good food and love cooking. They all cook their famous “ceebu jen” or rice and are always trying to teach me how to make it.

Men and women have distinctive roles in society. Women are expected to raise children, clean the house, cook and clean- basically all the domestic work needed. Men are expected to work, bringing in income, outside the home in one profession or another.

The lives of people living in villages are very different from mine. While most girls and wives are expected to work in the home, most of my work is outside the home. I also mostly work with men. I have a unique position in Senegalese culture as a foreigner.

What are some of the most rewarding parts of your service?
I have been serving for 8 months now. Some of the most rewarding parts of my service come from working with my counterparts. I find that I can bridge the cultural gap and effectively exchange agriculture techniques with them.  When I work with folks like Moussa Ndom and Yaaya Ba, I come away with hope and excitement for our work together.  Senegalese people love to offer hospitality and appreciate being praised for it. These moments are when they are very open to discussion and cultural exchange as well.

What have been some of your greatest challenges? 
The greatest challenges have stemmed from language and culture and a general lack of understanding.
Being a woman in Senegal is also a challenge, certainly different than that of male volunteers. Males are perched at the summit of Senegalese society and many people understand various stereotypes of white people. These stereotypes include assumptions that white people know everything and have lots of money to offer. As a woman, I sometimes have to work hard to gain legitimacy in a situation and I am not always taken seriously. Many people have the idea that I am working in Senegal to find a husband and find it wrong that I am not married nor have any children. This is a constant struggle and a conversation that I have sometimes everyday.
Has PC service met/surpassed/trampled on your expectations of what service would be like?  
 Overall, my Peace a Corps experience has surpassed any of my expectations!
Why did you join Peace Corps?  
I joined Peace Corps because I wanted to learn a new language, experience a different culture and do something I am passionate about. I wanted an experience where everyday would be challenging and an adventure. My position in Senegal is all of these and more. These reasons still apply, I love my job and it is only making me a stronger person.
Do you feel like Peace Corps is still a worthwhile program for the U.S. Government?
Yes, I think it is a fantastic program that is successful in its exchange of culture. Peace Corps gives Americans the unique opportunity to experience a language and a culture that is radically different from the United States. Peace Corps provides host countries with trained volunteers who share their experiences in a western culture.
If you had to give a piece of advice to someone thinking about applying to Peace Corps or getting ready for staging, what would you say?
Enter Peace Corps with a completely open mind and be ready to adapt. There will be so many challenging obstacles in your service that you must overcome.

I would say that a person should try their best to prepare for their new environment by bringing necessary clothing and such. But if the environment is radically different than America, it may take a while to adapt to it.

Any plans for post-Peace Corps?
I will potentially be moving back to Chicago, as I have two employers who are interested in hiring me. If those opportunities do not pan out, I will move in with one of my best friends in New York or Seattle! The world is my oyster!

Want to know more about Tina’s experience in Senegal?  Check out her blog!

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