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Published: September 30th 2010
Dear Family and Friends
Hopefully most of you know that I am leaving for Africa to volunteer this October. Over the past month I have been preparing for my trip, I have been inspected, detected, injected, and infected; and I am now ready to go abroad. This first blog post is to acquaint you guys with the rational and narrative that brought me to the position that I have decided to volunteer for six months in Senegal.
The beginning of this story starts on the day I defended my masters. That morning I woke up feeling like I million bucks, I defended my masters with great success and it looked like my life was shaping up. I just successfully defended my masters and had two degrees a the young tender age of 23 and had the bright future of learning French in Quebec that summer and teaching English job in New Brunswick. Alas my nascent dreams that I had the world figured out shattered into a million little pieces when I received in my email inbox, literally minutes after I had defended my masters, a lovely email informing me that I was not placed in New Brunswick for teaching and was on a wait list of 54 other applicants for 8 positions..... Thus after 6 long, adventurous, developing and amazing years of school my student life was over with no future.
Enter Existential Crisis! (Still ongoing)
Instead of entering the summer with confidence that I had won at life and was better than everyone else; with the anticlimax of my masters, I commenced the summer as another grad student who society had deemed as a waste of tax payers dollars and had no productive value to society. My poorly planned life and hopes, dreams, aspirations, were all dashed by that email. Now the ugly, difficult, self introspective question of what the hell to do with my life had to be faced. Naturally I approached this as a student would to any assignment: with procrastination. Over the summer I realized that the plethora of options that a young recent grad could do was too much for my feeble mind to comprehend. I debated this topic, of my future, with almost everyone I met, and I quite naturally received ALOT of advice which only exacerbated the situation. For much of this summer, I felt like a rally car spinning my wheels at the beginning of a race, spewing and splattering mud over the expectant, as I rapidly changed gears in a attempt to gain some kind of traction to move forward. Why and how Senegal? So I finally realized that after asking a multitude of people and receiving countless opinions and ideas that I needed to actually confront the issue of what I wanted to do with my life. I sat myself down and went through my priorities and what I wanted to do in my life. What the fuck do I want to do with myself. I mean when you are an indecisive, impulsive, inexperienced young adult this is a shitty question. Its analogous to stoned teenagers futilely trying choose what they would like to munch on at a convenience store, wandering the aisles aimlessly overwhelmed by choices. Unlike munchies I can't buy all my life choices. I have to stick with one and, more importantly, I do not want to be in the position of regret that I really wanted vanilla instead of chocolate.
So to limit the list I started thinking about things that I did not want to do. The prospect of moving to a Canadian city to search for a job with no work experience, no clue of what a resume should look like, or how to act in an interview was not my cup of tea. You see, unlike many of my peers I, fortunately or unfortunately, do not have the option of moving back into my parents basement like most grad students to look for a job. In addition because I have been moving so much I had no place in Canada to call home, or return to.... So I concluded that whatever I would do this fall would not be in the cold, confining, capitalist winters of Canada. Check going abroad....
Ok so for those of you who don't know the World is big fucking place. I mean I'm not joking. Like I could realistically could go ANYWHERE in the world.(Metaphorical engine revving at 5 or 6 thousands RPM's) So I tried to narrow it down by crossing off where I did not want to go, I at least could cross two(three: really who the hell would want to go to Antarctica?) continents off my list, I have no desire to go back to Europe, and I don't want to stay in North America. Ok so what would I do? Well I figured that if could not bear the prospect of looking for a job in Canada I would not want to do that in a foreign country, so that left volunteering. As a young idealist left leaning academic this is a fairly attractive prospect. I want to help people out and make shit better. So with volunteering I get to contribute some kind of meaningful work to a society, have an adventure and gain work experience!
Ok, next rational was that I am hell bent on learning French. Why you ask? That is a good question. My reply is why not? Ok so my reasons are little deeper than that, but that is for another tangent. That I need to not bore you with my inane writings. The last aspect is my desire for adventure, but also general knowledge. You see, as a Young Turk, me and my academic companions would speak at great length about the problems of the world, in a British accent of course, and use wide sweeping generalizing statements about poverty of African, South America, and Asia, which we really knew nothing about. I felt that I should acquaint myself with the conditions of those "starving" African children that I so often felt I should defend. I wanted a personal appreciation of what this "third world" was. I mean I have been rebuked several times for even referring to the the regions around the equator as "third world" and should refer to it as the "developing world..."ah the semantics of academia! (as a side note I think third world is far more politically correct than "tropical hell hole")
The wheels are starting to hit some solid ground now, and the engine is down two 3000 RPM's. I started looking on this website called www.idealist.org for organizations that I could volunteer for. This small Belgian NGO called Edulogos had a post for Senegal for a "Versatile Volunteer" that required someone talented with little or no experience to help start a variety of projects in St. Louis. I thought, I am young, talented, energetic, and have no experience this is it! Also Senegal was a former French colony and it was poor and tropical enough to meet my adventure standards, yet safe enough for my mother to condone me going! Perfect
So now it is only several days before I leave for a far off continent. I have received instructions on how to successfully navigate from the International Airport in Dakar to my new home in St. Louis. I was informed that it was rather difficult for them to pick me up from the airport and I offered to get their by myself... So here are the instructions
It's pretty easy to get from Dakar to Saint Louis:
* buy a bottle of water and some fruit at the airport.
* take a taxi at the airport and ask to go to "the gare routière" - agree on the fare before you get in. 2000 to 2500 is reasonable.
* people at the gare routière will immediately ask where you are going. Tell them "sept places" and "Saint Louis". They'll bring you to the cars going that way.
* Find a car that looks ok and doesn't have passengers yet
* Try to get the front seat.
* Ask for the price. Now you have to haggle. Reply with half of the amount the driver asks. He'll make you another offer, then offer a bit more than before. Keep it up until you get to 10.000. Try to go for less (7000 is a decent price).
* When there are six passengers the car will leave for Saint Louis.
* Once in Saint Louis take a cab and ask for "Hotel de la poste" (cab fare in town is always 450 during the day)
* We'll let the people there know you are coming and they'll call us when you arrive.
Things usually go pretty well. The car might break down but they always find ways to fix it. Just don't wander off while they are fixing it. They will leave without you.
So this brings you, my faithful readers up to date on my life. I am what you would call "scarred shitless" about going, yet at the same time excited! My next post will be me, in Africa, writing about my adventures of getting from Dakar to St. Louis and what my abode will be like.
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Jan, this is awesome! I wish you the best throughout your travels and I look forward to reading your entries.
So on your return you will be speaking French with a Senegalese accent? Here's wishing you many exciting moments and precious memories. It's a long, long way from Sointula. Marnie
Have a great time and experience in Senegal Jan. I really enjoyed your blog! and look forward to reading more about your adventures.