Heather in Senegal

Monday, May 22, 2006

May 5,
Today and yesterday were the counterpart workshop. Counterparts are Senegalese people who live in the villages and towns to which we shall be moving, and who should guide us, look out for us, and support us over the next two years. Sometimes this relationship works well, and the counterpart’s home becomes a second home for the volunteer, and the professional relationship is one of great synergy. Other times the counterparts spends every day sitting under a tree chatting, or trying to pursuade the volunteer to marry him. In any case, at the moment our counterparts are people who traveled far to spend two days speaking to us in langauges we barely understand. Luckily, much of the time was taken up with seminars designed to help counterparts understand us, our needs, our dis/abilities, and our desires. In order to engender sympathy for us and our poor language skills, I gave a twenty minute class on Hebrew. The head of the language program, Simone, coached me on how best to teach some basic greetings. When it came time for me to perform, four of the counterparts, mine included, were chosen to sit close to my chalkboard. We studied how to say good morning, how are you, fine thanks, what is your name, and my name is___. More was planned for the lesson, but after they stumbled and bumbled over this much, Simone decided I should stop; they had gotten the point. My counterpart, when deprived of his notebook, was no better than my other students, but I was pleased to see he was the only one who took notes. His name is Mamadou Sek, and he is an adorable skinny little man with an infectious smile and blue eyes. I hear he is a famously hard worker, honest, reliable, and generous. And he has banana trees. He told me he will introduce me to his family, and with their help I’ll be speaking Fulakunnda in no time. I was very anxious before meeting him, concerned about making a good first impression and worried lest I dislike him. I am incredibly relieved.


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