Feast your eyes on my second guest blog, brought to you by my recent demyster.  “Demysting” is what we call the five days trainees spend in or near their future villages, “demystifying” themselves on the realities of PCV life in Senegal.  My demyster, Cibyl, is fantastic (click on her name to check out her blog – it’s great!).  We had an enjoyable, eventful, and definitely memorable few days together… but I’ll let her tell you about it.

I became a “Being Ñamoo” reader sometime last fall, amid my own Peace Corps preparations. I was living with my parents, only sporadically employed and recently invited to serve as a health volunteer in Senegal. In an attempt to feel productive and visualize what this would mean I had taken to trolling YouTube for volunteers’ videos, which is precisely how I ended up here. Finding Amanda’s video of her village and this blog was like seeing into my future; I read a few entries and thought, “Okay, I could see my Peace Corps experience looking something like this.”

Staying with Amanda in Fodé Bayo was like stepping into a storybook. How often do you stumble upon a random blog about someone’s tiny Peace Corps village in the African bush and then a few months later get to stay there with the very person whose face you first saw peeking through a YouTube channel on the other side of the world? I mean, come on. It made my whole demyst experience that much more surreal – as if it wasn’t enough to be walking through a postcard image of an African village, listening to Amanda and her fellow villagers chirp away in this wonderfully silly song of a language they call Mandinka.

I arrived at Dave’s compound in Dabo after a good 10-hour bus ride from the training center in Thiès, tired, hungry and dehydrated. Amanda showed up a few minutes later, shouting Pulaar greetings to Dave’s host mom, and got me and my stuff on a bike and on the road in a matter of minutes. Now, I will admit it has been a while since I did any serious biking, but I’m not in such bad shape either. That being said, keeping up with Amanda in the Senegalese sun (even late afternoon sun) along sandy bush paths with a backpack, purse and pillow tied precariously to the back of my bike was no easy feat. She was a great host and made sure to check in and take water breaks (especially after I heaved into the bushes on that first afternoon – oops), but as she herself put it to another volunteer a few days later, she tends to bike the bush paths rather “ferociously.” Add that to my list of goals for my service: learn to bike ferociously.

When we got to Fodé Bayo we were greeted by a hoard of smiling Mandinkas (as far as I can tell there is no other kind) and everyone wanted to know who this new white girl was and why her Mandinka was so terrible (ironic that I understood when they remarked that I didn’t understand Mandinka). The rest of my visit I did a lot of listening and watching, trying to master the cadence of village greetings while Amanda defended my limited language skills (I think she was just excited to have another Mandinka around even if I only speak baby-Mandinka). I would sit and watch her jabber away with the locals, wondering how and when I’ll ever be able to communicate well enough to do this job.  It’s such an enormous part of being a Peace Corps volunteer and there’s so much pressure and expectation placed on language acquisition, when I think about it too much I get dizzy. But somehow people make it through. Somehow Amanda has made it through. She’s got the gestures, the affirming tongue click, the ability to explain herself and make jokes. It’s amazing to watch. I have to just keep reminding myself that the Mandinka will come and meanwhile I’m just glad that these people are so friendly and warm and patient.

We spent our days hanging out village style, lounging under mango trees, drinking tea, meeting my people and then would bike back to Fodé Bayo in the evenings. I enjoyed being a wallflower (which is good because I’m sure there is much more of that to come), and in between we had our moments of excitement: dehydrated puking in the bushes, tasting my first cashew apple, collecting honey in the moonlight, Amanda’s tire exploding on the road to Mampatim, our chicken dinner trying to escape before we got it back to Fodé Bayo, joining all of the Mandinkas in the area for an all day all night religious celebration known as a Gamou and parading around in matching outfits.

But I think some of my favorite demyst moments happened in the quiet moments when Amanda and I were able to escape in English and get to know each other a bit. There was an element of passing the torch as her service is coming to a close just as mine begins and it was nice to pick her brain, to get to know Amanda instead of just hearing about Ñamoo (because she is a popular figure in our Mandinka community and I have a feeling they’ll be talking about her for a long time).

I install May 17th, not long after Amanda leaves Fodé Bayo, and will take over as the lone Mandinka volunteer in Kolda until her replacement comes in October. Amanda, I want you to know how much I appreciate all the work you’ve done to prepare my beautiful site and get another Mandinka in Kolda and to thank you for showing me the ropes. A baraka!

[For those interested in reading more about my demyst with Amanda, I wrote about other aspects of my experience for my own blog, which you can get to by clicking here.]