October 20, 2009

A Quick Pre-Departure Update

So quick, in fact, that I don’t even have time to come up with a snappy title to entice my reader (apologies Prof. Siegler, no ‘Accusations of Atheism’ here)! Packing for two years takes time people…

A couple of days ago I received some new information about my departure and training that negates what I said previously about my contact for the next couple months. It appears that I will NOT have internet access during training. Hamdallaye, the small village where we will be living through the end of December, has no internet cafes or other facilities. But I remind you all…snail mail!

I have learned quite a bit more about what my schedule will be like during training and, since it seems I won’t be able to describe it as it unfolds, I’ll provide a quick rundown now. My fellow trainees and I, young and wildly enthusiastic, will arrive in Niger Thursday afternoon, where we will be greeted by current volunteers who will give us the traditional welcome gift of a warm bottle of water. Simply enthralled to be off the plane and finally getting a chance to save the world, we will pound that bottle of water and ask immediately who we can help.

Thursday and Friday nights will be spent at the training center (I’m confident there will be spontaneous rounds of Kumbayah, hopefully with accompanying dance numbers). In our first few days we will be bombarded with a variety challenges and instruction: survival tips, a village tour, meeting the chief, language assessment, and a session on the use of Nigerien tools.

On Saturday, I will meet the family with whom I will be living for the duration of my nine-week training period. Depending upon which language I will be learning, my adoptive family will speak only Hausa or Zarma. Most of my days will be full of community-based language classes, cross-cultural and technical training, and medical, safety, and security instruction. Each day, I will receive a stipend of 1,500 CFA for all my expenses. At roughly three dollars a day, I remain a pretty cheap date.

After three weeks, each trainee will embark upon a demystification weekend, a visit to a volunteer currently in the field. (On a side note: I’m really hoping this is the weekend we get to pick our spirit-animal). Time will be spent meeting friends and neighbors and witnessing first-hand what life is like in the Sahel. Presumably, when each trainee returns, they still want to spend two years of their young life in such splendor (for once, I’ll be serious and say I do).

Because I’m in a hurry, I’ll give the rest of the training schedule in bullet form, because really, I’ve always believed that’s how papers should be turned in anyway:

Week 4: Site Placement Interviews

Week 5: Site Announcements

Week 7: Live-In (Visit to Permanent Site)

Week 9: Language Proficiency Test and Final Evaluation

December 30: Official Swearing-In at U.S. Ambassadors Residence in Niamey (ahem, house party!)

Wish me luck!