Community Integration is Key

I’ve been in my village a week now and I gotta say I’m feeling really bizarre about it. Which is probably why I’m writing this post in a tree somewhere down a dirt road from my house. 

The first thing everyone in the PC tells you is that during the first 3 months in village integration is key. People need to know who you are and what you’re doing there so when it’s time to start projects they are more likely to work with you. 

This means going into town every day for hours, somewhere you don’t speak the (local) language, saying hello the best you can, and getting used to being laughed at. 

I do not like going outside without having somewhere to go and something to do. It’s part of my character. If I’m going to the store it’s because I need something, not because I want to walts down the isles and say hi to strangers. 

So truth be told, I’m struggling right now. I need help talking to the women who sell food in the market, who mostly speak Cerma and Jula, and don’t understand why I can’t respond to their questions. I get asked how I’m American when my skin is Black. People continue to chatter at me in local language after I’ve reached the end of my speaking abilities, have clearly said, “I’m from America, I work for the Peace Corps, I’m an English teacher,” and don’t understand a word they’re saying. 

I end up spending most of my time with my neighbors family, because the couple and their daughter speak French, and I’m their 3rd PC volunteer. But I can’t just stay in their courtyard forever. 

I have to eat ignames with women I can’t talk to, take tea with boys who go to the school where I’ll start working in October and rebuff their request to come live with me in America, and I have to watch the police officers play soccer till it’s time to call it a night. 

Those days feel good, like I’m doing something to help enter into the community, but knowing I’ll have to go out again tomorrow and do it again is frustrating. 

Integration is key in the first 3 months, it’s why it’s called the “étude” period and why we aren’t supposed to start any projects until the 3 months are out. But Education gets a nice little loophole, school starts in October. Soon I’ll have somewhere to go everyday, something to keep me busy, and a key to help me integrate. 

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