I have been on the islands for one week today. It feels like so much longer. I’ve experienced such a wide variety of emotions; I’ve eaten completely new and unfamiliar foods; I wear new clothing; I speak a new language. But it’s not the new that has overwhelmed me, it is the familiar.
The first night I spent on the islands I wrote this in my journal: “Since we arrived on the island I have been in a state of semi-shock. I think, of course, I’m exhausted and feeling jet-lagged but it’s more than that. This island looks and smells so similar to Guinea and that makes me scared out of my mind!”
That night I was comforted by two promises. First, I am not alone. Matthew 28:20b says, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” And Jeremiah 29:11 which promises that God has good plans for me. It is through my own failings and weakness that fear consumes me when I am reminded of my life during Peace Corps. As my friend Rachel reminded me, this is not the same and I have been brought to this island for a reason.
Following that first night my tension has faded and I have acclimatized once again to life in Africa. What does this mean? For right now it means that I have once again become accustomed to being hot ALL the time. Sweat is healthy. I am taking bucket baths again. The verdict is still out as to what is worse: the heat or the cold baths. I am readjusting to greeting everyone: shopkeepers, people on balconies, people walking by, people sitting, people on cars, people on motorcycles, children, old men, etc. My stomach is once again getting used to a steady diet of rice with sauce.
But the fact is that Clove Island is A LOT different from Guinea. The similarities were immediately noticeable- they were something tangible that I could understand and grab onto. The differences took a few days longer and I have just scratched the surface. The clothing is different, for one. Women always wear a wrap over their bodies and either over the head or just wrapped over the shoulder. When we leave the hotel, conference room or our team leader’s house, we must always remember to put on our wrap. The food is different too, thank goodness! While lunch does consist of rice and sauce most days, I have not found a single rock in my rice yet and the sauce is superb. The sauce I had today I would compare to a beef stroganoff. Being that this is an island, we’ve had fish quite a few times that has been amazing! So far, I am huge fan of the food.
Another difference from Peace Corps is how we will learn language. We’re using a method called L.A.M.P. which stands for Language Acquisition Made Practical. I was very nervous at first, because it is heavy on listening and speaking, conversing with community members and recording conversations on a digital recorder, rather than the traditional classroom methods that include reading and writing. However, I have been pleasantly surprised thus far with this method. Granted I haven’t learned much. I can’t even say “hello” in the traditional sense. Oh, I can rattle off a bunch of greetings but “hello” is a four-syllable word, which requires one to have the mouth of a contortionist! I have also learned to say “I want to learn the local language”, “what is this”, “excuse me, repeat that please”, “what is your name” and “where are you from”. Every afternoon we spend an hour wandering the streets in pairs to practice the new phrase that we learned. It’s quite intimidating, especially for an introvert but very effective in burning phrases into my brain. I am cautiously optimistic.
My next great challenge will be homestay, which happens this Wednesday. I will be staying with a family in a village. While I will spend two years living in a city, most city dwellers here originate from a village. “Home” is the village. Our organization wants us to also have a connection with a village and better understand village life. I have heard many stories now from the other workers on the islands about the homestay experiences and honestly, I am quite terrified. I was told to expect no privacy and my purpose is to observe. As a natural “do-er”, simply observing or perhaps minimal participation in daily chores sounds terrible. I will also be alone during my homestay so while couples have each other to bounce things off of, I will not. But I think the worst will be with no privacy, there is nowhere to escape and be alone. There is no quicker way for my exhaustion to rise and my attitude to plummet than to take away my personal time. I do understand the importance of a homestay and I know I can do it. But I dread it with every fiber of my being. Yet I am hopeful that when I write next I will have a wonderful story to tell you!