Kirsty Coombs from Banchory is spending a year in Senegal through the charity, Project Trust. During her 6th year at Banchory Academy Kirsty spent a lot of time fund raising before setting out for West Africa in September 2010.
She has been based in the coastal town of Joal, about 2 hours south of the capital Dakar.
Kirsty, along with another Project Trust volunteer, is teaching English in this largely French speaking country and also helping out in the community. She sent us this update:
“Senegal is incredible and I love it. Everyone has been so welcoming and of course it helps that in Senegal it’s rude not to greet people and shake hands so you must meet everyone!
“Louise, my partner volunteer, and I are staying with two Senegalese teachers and their two children in their home in Joal. This suits us perfectly as Amadou and Aicha are always on hand to ask questions about the teaching.
“However it also means that once the school day is done there’s the housework to do as well as the cooking and cleaning for the family and then there are the next day’s lesson plans to deal with. So we don’t have too much spare time for ourselves, even at weekends.
“Power and water supplies are both very sporadic. It’s not unusual to find there will be no running water for a week and so that means a donkey cart trip to the well with 12 containers to haul back to the house.
“Joal itself is beautiful. We often go to the port when all the fishermen are returning to the shore. There are always tons and tons of fish. There are a lot of fishermen who come here for months at a time from Guinea and Guinea Bissau to work. They send money home so they spend day after day fishing and then run with crates of fish on their heads from the sea to the lorries whilst children wait to catch any falling fish and sell them on for school stationery.
“It’s a lovely school and generally the kids are good fun and the staff too are great.
“It’s quite a challenge remembering all their African names. It seems odd teaching large classes where most of the students are older than I am!
“Initially it was frantic trying to learn the local Wolof language, as well as brush up on our own French. Wolof is essential as children don’t actually learn French until secondary school. I’d never heard anything like Wolof before so that made it a little more difficult! I can now get by pretty well though.
“On Tuesday afternoons I help out at the local hospital and that in itself has been quite an experience.
“I was reminded of school fire safety talks on more than one occasion. More recently I’ve been on the maternity ward which is a little bit less traumatic and a bit easier. They provide family planning facilities which I’ve been involved in and the other day I helped out with a bit of pre-natal consulting. The doctor made me do a consultation on my own which was quite full-on but really interesting.
“The food here is amazing. It’s largely rice and usually fish but sometimes meat, and so hot. For the main meal, which is at lunchtime, everyone eats from the same platter on the floor usually using their hands.
“Breakfast consists of very sugary coffee and a baguette every day. Here they also drink tea called attaya - although it is not like any tea I’d tried before. It was so bitter but now I’ve had it so often that I don’t even notice the bitterness. The social life of Senegal is based around attaya and nothing ever happens in a hurry here, ever.
“The traffic is completely crazy. The buses in Dakar are often wrecks but painted so colourfully and beautifully. It’s hard to understand how the tariffs work as you virtually just jump on whilst they are moving and hang on the back. The taxis are all battered with no speedometers working or rear view mirrors; only cracked windscreens, “Barack Obama” stickers, empty beer bottles and a lot of American, Jamaican and African hip hop music. Biking to school fortunately avoids the chaos of donkey carts, pedestrians, goats, cattle and the many types of random motorised traffic on the Joal main street.
“Unfortunately I’ve not entirely managed to avoid the odd period of sickness. In fact my first day at school I went down with a fever and ended up spending the afternoon in bed before being carted off to the hospital. They did the usual tests as well as a test for malaria that was fortunately negative and then they put me on a drip.
“As day to day life has been so busy opportunities to see other parts of Senegal have been somewhat limited. I’ve managed a couple of trips up to the city of Kaolack to visit people there and an excellent trip to Eastern Senegal in early April when temperatures hit 45 degrees.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to travel a little more when teaching finishes in June, before heading home later in the summer.”