Shannon's second phone call from the Telecenter in Theis (now seemingly pronounced "chay-ahss") came today, exactly one week after she left Minnesota. It cost her $1000 CFA (about $2.US), 1/12th of her weekly expense allowance, to access the phone, and then she used her phone card (telephone credit card). The first letter that I mailed to her 8 days ago had just arrived that day.
Everything is going very, very well. She is amazed at how fast she is learning French, understanding almost everything being said. And it's a good thing because her training will be immersion French (no more English) starting tomorrow.
She lives with her host family in a compound of three houses, and she doesn't even really know who lives there because people come and go so much. It is very social there, and because there are so few telephones in Senegal most communication is face to face. It seems like around 20 people live in the compound. The roads aren't named or labeled, so directions are given by identifying the neighborhood. In the city of Theis there are many horse carts, far more than cars.
Greeting is a very big thing in Senegal. If you pass the same person several times in just a few minutes you still greet them with a hello and how are you (bonjour and ce va). Her host family has been trying very hard to get one little girl to greet her for several days, and yesterday she smiled a little smile at Shannon, so progress is being made. Unfortunately she has made small children cry on several occasions simply because she is white and strange and scary.
The food is very good, mostly rice with a delicious sauce plus vegetables, and the non-vegetarians also eat fish. When they eat it is with their hands from a common bowl, but (happily) her host family uses spoons. The drinking water is treated: first they filter the well water through a bandana to get out the leaves and dirt, then it gets filtered through a ceramic filter, and finally 3-5 drops of Clorox per liter is added. She has heard that there is bottled water, but she hasn't been able to find it anywhere.
She will get her village assignment in her fourth week. There are so few health care clinics in Senegal that her whole group of volunteers will be going to virgin sites to start new health programs. Then in a year when the next batch of PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) arrive there will be apprentices to train in. All of the volunteers will be concentrated in only five areas, all within a 30-40 mile radius, so she will be within a day's bike ride to all the other PCVs that she has met during this three month period of training.
Shannon hopes to call once a week during the months she is there in Theis. It was 6:00 p.m. there when she called, 12:00 p.m. here. She will use the Telecenter phones most of the time, even though her host brother said that he has one cousin who has a telephone.
It is going very, very well, and Shannon still sounds very excited and happy.