My sitemates are pretty great people. They have helped me feel at home here, brought me cake for my birthday, and continue to answer all my many questions! But what’s a sitemate, you might ask?
Well, here in Peace Corps Senegal, your sitemate(s) is the volunteer that lives closest to your site. For some rural volunteers that person might be 40km away. But as an urban volunteer I am lucky to have three sitemates who all live within 2-4 miles of me – an easy bike ride!
Two of them are Health volunteers and the other is a CED (community economic development) volunteer. In my experience so far, having fellow volunteers around is great for so many reasons. If you need a break from site you can just go and visit theirs!
If you’re doing a project, invite them to join for some cross-sector collaboration. Even if the original presentation was about urban gardening, a Health volunteer can come and talk about nutrition or a CED volunteer can explain how to market and sell the produce. Not to mention it’s so much fun to do projects with friends!
A few weeks ago I biked 4 miles out of the city to my sitemate Lily’s village. Lily is a Health volunteer who lives in a Pulaar village. A women’s group there expressed their desire to start a garden in order to increase vegetable consumption in their community. The only other option to buy vegetables was the big market in the city, which takes a lot of time, effort, and extra money to get to.
Over the course of a few months, Lily planned and put together a project to start a garden space with the women in her village. However as a Health volunteer, she wasn’t trained in gardening techniques. Despite this she has a lovely garden in her backyard! Therefore, she invited another Agriculture volunteer from our region to come for a work day and lead a training on how to dig and amend garden beds.
The next step of course was to plant stuff! The beds were dug, amended with manure and wood ash, and watered. About a week later, after buying 10 containers full of baby lettuce plants, Lily invited me to come back to her village. This time I was going to lead the training to show the women how to transplant lettuce and seed okra, bissap, and cabbage.
“Me, leading a training? Already? I’m not ready for this!” These were the thoughts running through my head as I reread our gardening manual and wrote out some sentences in Wolof.
But I got there, spoke in relatively complete sentences, and we planted lettuce! Since this was a Pulaar village, only 2 of the women in the group knew Wolof. These two became my translators! Here the tables were turned for me because as a Wolof speaker I am in the majority in Senegal, but in this case I had to be translated for. There were a lot of hand motions when describing proper spacing and seed depth, but I think the point got across.
In the end, my first training as a volunteer went well, perhaps even better than expected! Coming into this, I knew I’d be extending techniques and teaching people about agriculture. However when you have a group of 40 or so women all watching you expectantly, eager to start growing vegetables – it’s a little stressful! But one great thing about this place is that laughter flows easily even when language doesn’t – so we laughed a lot that day.