Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!!! I miss everyone back home a bunch and I cannot believe it is January already! So crazy how time just flies! In about a week I’ll be 27 years old (so weird as I feel and act as if I were still 12!) and it’ll be five months since I left the states…so crazy! I’m not too sure how I feel about this whole ‘I’m in my late 20’s now’ thing but we’ll see…I figured staying young isn’t about age, it’s about heart, or at least that’s my excuse J
So winter (as I know it) really does not exist here in Senegal. The coldest it has gotten so far has been around 70 degrees F (I think) and that is actually starting to feel quite cold to me now K heeheehee…The month of December brought me lots of things. First came an intensive two weeks of ‘In-Service’ training with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer friends of whom many I hadn’t seen since we swore in as official volunteers back in mid-October. Next came an amazing Christmas on the beaches of Poponguine, Senegal where I reflected on the meaning and importance of family and friends, successfully prepared a Mexican Christmas Eve dinner, and ate WAY too much good food and therefore probably gained another seven poundsJ Lastly, came a very calm New Year’s Eve in Fatick with my host family where I ate some freshly slaughtered chicken, headed home at about 11:30pm, bought some beignets (donut-type goodies) at the local boutique, prepared some tea, lit my Sacred Heart candle, and toasted the new year with me, myself, and I, and my Lord J Oh, and I can’t forget the massive amount of goodies my mom and my sister Emma sent me and the beautiful daisy flower stocking full of surprises that my Betty sent me J Thank you ladies SOOO much!
2 week In-Service Training: …was very long and tiring. However, I was super duper excited to see the other volunteers who are on this crazy journey with me J We were broken up into our sectors and had about 8 hours of class per day where we learned about the different types of projects that we can possibly get involved in or start in our communities. On the weekend of the 12th/13th some of us went to Dakar for the World-Wide Black Arts Festival. Peace Corps hosted an exposition of local artists of all sorts (jewelry makers, leather workers, painters, etc) that Peace Corps Volunteers work with at their sites and I was fortunate enough to have been able to take a local painter from Fatick. By the end of the exposition, my artist ended up selling all six of his paintings so that was really exciting for both of us J Also, at the exposition I met a handful of RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) who had previously served in other parts of the world and are now living and working in Senegal for NGOs or other organizations. One couple in particular was extremely sweet and it happens to be that the husband works for USAID and is in charge of a couple of education projects that are currently in effect in Fatick. I’ll touch on this a little later J
It’s Christmas time!: ...and three days before Christmas Day I found myself crying all over the place. It was right after I had begun to read a chapter about mothers, daughters, and sisters from the book titled Captivating that I completely starting bawling. It was kind of funny because I seriously could not stop. So I forced myself to take a breather and asked myself what was going on and in doing so I realized that I REALLY missed my family, especially my mom. I guess this experience (especially this experience during Christmas time) is showing me how grateful I should be to have my mom and how easy it is for me to take her for granted for whatever the reasons. I know that at the drop of a hat mom will always try her best to be there for me in whatever way she can. Sometimes she can be there for me emotionally when I need her to be and sometimes she can’t and that’s fine. She’ll send me ten sports bras when I only asked for a pack of 3 or 4 boxes of Mexican candy when I only really needed a few pieces J And that’s the way she loves me and I love it! And I feel so grateful to have remembered this during my crying spell J My mother and mothers in general are just so beautiful and really, for me at least, Christmas is just not the same without my mom. However, even though I was physically away from my mom and dad and my gazillion brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews (I know you guys are laughing right now!) during the days leading up to Christmas, I still felt as if each and everyone’s love for me filled my heart, not to mention the love and support that you guys (my friends) back home have extended to me which leads me to talk about Christmas Day.
So by Christmas Day the tears that had come out of my eyes three days before had diminished J I figured if God gave me the gift of tears, then I would use those bad boys up! And I did! So once Christmas Eve rolled around I was in full Christmas spirit in my Santa hat, bathing suit, and red apron with the Peace Corps logo all over it feeling enlightened after the epiphany I had during my crying spell three days priorJ I spent Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the 26th at the beach in a beautiful beach house with 5 other amazing Peace Corps Volunteers whom I’m blessed to call friends. We decorated a giraffe with lights and ornaments and called it our Christmas tree, we made stockings out of my friend’s socks and some kitchen towels, we wrapped up our secret Santa presents, wrote a letter to Santa and even left some cookies and milk out for him (and a carrot for his reindeers), had a bonfire where we made smores and lit up some fireworks, and we cooked up a storm throughout our stay there. But the most memorable of things that we did (at least for me), was on the night of the 24th as we sat at the table getting ready to eat dinner in the candlelight (since the power had gone out) with the sound of the waves crashing in the background. Each one of us very vulnerably expressed our feelings at the moment and toasted to those feelings and to new memories. We shared how we missed our families and friends back home but how grateful we were for this experience but more importantly for one another. And it is something that my friend said that caused me to have another epiphany. I can’t remember the exact words he said but after genuinely expressing his vulnerable feelings he toasted to new friends, new memories, and new family. And it hit me, that friends aren’t just ‘friends’ but that friends are family, not in the traditional sense of the word but you get my gist. This is nothing new, I’ve always heard it but somehow I never really understood it until that night. That we were put on this earth to love one another like true brothers and sisters because life is hard and because that is exactly what we are, family, all of us, whether we are white, black, brown, green, yellow, whatever, we are all family putting up with each others’ good side and not so good side and genuinely wanting the best for one another because we are all on this crazy hard journey called life trying to find happiness meaning and trying not to lose hope after taking some of life’s beatings because we all know that we can get beat up by life from time to timeJ Sometimes we look for happiness in all the wrong places for all the right reasons or in all the right places for all the wrong reasons, or whatever, but whatever it is, we are all on this journey together and I like that J That I’m never alone because I have all of you guys and all of everyone here and more importantly I have God as I stumble and fall while trying to find my way as I travel through this thing called life (and Peace Corps J) yay! Okay sorry, I totally ranted…on to New Year’s Eve, it’ll be short, I promise!
New Year’s Eve! 5,4,3,2,1 yay!: So as I had mentioned earlier, I spent the countdown in my room with my Sacred Heart candle lit and my apple spice tea and some beignets. It was awesome but I still can’t believe its 2011! So crazy! I took time that day to reflect on 2010 and it still seems so surreal to me that I am actually here in Senegal, West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer with only really a small clue about what I’ll be doing during my service here but nonetheless with an open heart and an open mind (or at least I hope so because we all know how easy it is to close off our hearts and stay in our ‘safe’ placeJ). I just feel so grateful for all of the wonderful memories and lessons I’ve had to learn during 2010. But I am the most grateful for all of the love and support you have all shown me. Yes all of you! Whether you are a friend I haven’t talked to in a while, or a friend who knows way too much about meK, or my previous coworker, or my niece or nephew, or one of my sisters or brothers, or someone who happened to stumble across this funky blog, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, really, for accepting me for who I am with all of my craziness J
So with that said, I guess we’ll just have to see what 2011 brings for me here J I hope to collaborate with the RPCV that I met at the Artisan Expo on the USAID projects on education in Fatick to hopefully help some kids out along the way to help them gain some job skills or help them realize the importance of staying in school. I don’t know yet, all I know is that I trust that I am where I need to be in life right now and I have to remind myself that I am here to serve the needs of the people of Fatick. Translation: I need to put all of my fears and inadequacies aside and trust in myself and in life. I know that I’ll fall and stumble along the way and will have to pick myself up and keep going but as of right now I will be grow visiting each quartier (community) in Fatick during the month of January to try and get a better picture of what is going on so that I can better assess Fatick’s needs and resources in order to serve those needs bestK I’ll keep you guys posted. So broken French, broken Wolof, and little heart of mine here we go…may this New Year be full of love, joy, fulfillment, and peace for all of usJ Love you and miss you all a bunch! Happy New Year!