“Are there crocodiles in Senegal?” I inquired at the edge of the stream, blocking our way across the path.

“Yes,” Tatiana asserted as she ploughed through the moonlit water. I hardly had time to turn my flashlight on before she’d reached the other side.

Right. Why check? I splashed behind, shining my light around the water…just in case.

This is a termite mound growing inside of Tatiana’s hut. Just one of the many special touches of nature in her home!

I’ve never considered myself a worrier, but following Tatiana around Senegal has definitely pushed the limits a little. After living in village for over a year as a Peace Corps volunteer, some adjustments to perspective are expected. She doesn’t worry much about what she eats, and she doesn’t flinch when a neighbor gives her a live chicken as a gift to carry home over 7 km.

It’s all just part of life.

Uncomfortable

But other things are a little harder to stomach. For example, Tatiana has found no less than three Black Mambas (a deadly snake) in her hut. Her hair is thinning from malnutrition. She’s suffered multiple skin infections. And last year, she came down with a case of Shigella (a form of dysentery) during the hot season when temperatures reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tatiana gathering her beans from the fields.

“You know, as miserable as Shigella was, it was great to feel a chill. I had to cover with a blanket! I sort of hope I get a fever this hot season…” she told me, optimistically.

Well, at least she gets adequate compensation for her suffering, right? Not exactly. Upon arriving in Senegal, Tatiana received three months of training, a mosquito net, a water filter, a bike and one ride out to her village. Now, she receives a modest living stipend and will leave her service with a few thousand dollars to pay for things before finding a job.

Basically, there are a number of things a college graduate with a dual degree in economics and Spanish could do that would bring in more cash and involve far fewer mosquitoes. But despite all of this, there is no place Tatiana would rather be for these two years than in the village of Ethiolo.

Becoming Local

Tatiana was sent to Ethiolo as a Small Enterprise Development volunteer. Since arriving in village, she’s been learning about the women’s groups, community gardens, marketable local products, Bassari cultural tourism and more in an effort to figure out sustainable ways for the people to generate more income to send children to school, feed their families during the starving season and pay for important things like medicine.

Tatiana and a local teacher, Antoinette, preparing curriculum for the girls’ program.

But above all, her responsibility is to learn. She has been thrown into the humbling situation of living amongst an entirely new culture with people who survive by the work of their hands and reliance on one another.

Tatiana is not their savior; she is an honored guest in their home.

“It is good that she’s here,” her host mom told me (through Tatiana translating, of course) over our shared dinner bowl, “we can teach her many things she doesn’t know.”

And teach her they have. She helps farm, participates in food preparation and she’s learning more of the two local languages daily. Her mom even gave Tatiana her own plot of land to farm this year. Tatiana blends in seamlessly with her family as she sits around the compound and sorts peanuts or jokes with her host sisters about the local men.

Her Place

The adaptation is not without hiccups. Tatiana grows frustrated with little things like the practice of the entire village visiting the hut of sick person (it really cuts in on rest time). We also couldn’t help but shake our heads when her host brother intentionally cut his foot with a razor one morning at breakfast to “bleed out” his sprained ankle.

Antoinette and Tatiana meeting with the mothers in the village to discuss the upcoming program for their daughters.

Tatiana speaks up when something is dangerous, but in general, she is not in Ethiolo to change local practices. She waits for opportunities where her knowledge may be of use. She cites teaching her host mom how to document sales on market day as one of the most important contributions she’s made. And lately, one of the local teachers approached her with the idea to address important health and life issues facing young girls through a series of lessons.

When ideas like these come up, Tatiana helps gather resources, whether it’s finding markers, doing internet research or applying for a grant from the local World Vision office. She serves as a link between her village and many well-intentioned programs that sometimes don’t quite make it out to Ethiolo. Her work brings her in contact with the ins and outs of poverty alleviation efforts on the ground level.

Open Up

Tatiana probably won’t solve world hunger during her two year stint in Ethiolo, but the impact of her experience in her own life and the life of the village is unknown. Because of her willingness to let go of the familiar, she’s gaining an understanding unlike any other:

Tatiana and her host mom out in the fields.

What does sponsoring a child look like from the other side? How does corruption play into development work? How do local people feel about practices like female genital cutting, labeled by the international community as a human rights violation? What does poverty actually mean?

Tatiana’s commitment reminds me that to find out—I mean really strive to understand—it takes more than just asking the right questions or being in the right place. We must humble ourselves. We must be open to other paradigms, accepting that ours are merely a few among many.

Maybe we all need a year in someone else’s village.

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Next Steps
    • Try embracing a cross-cultural experience in your area. Go to a cultural festival, shop in an ethnic food store or rent a foreign language film.
    • Have a little time on your hands? You should go somewhere for a year! Look into AmeriCorps for a year-long placement of service in the U.S., or Peace Corps for two years abroad. There are definitely more programs out there, from office jobs to living in a village, faith-based and secular...try something!
    • Consider what your “paradigms” are and how they were formed.
    • Pray for the residents of Ethiolo and the projects Tatiana and the village are engaging in.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.

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Comments

  1. Peter Gesler said... 

    Reply

    January 19th, 2012 at 11:51 am  

    Can’t tell you how proud, honored and humbled I am to know both of you as you continue to contribute to the worldwide human element.
    Peter Gesler

    • Laura Stump said... 

      Reply

      January 25th, 2012 at 12:08 pm  

      Thanks Mr. Gesler. It helps that we’ve had some awesome teachers along the way…

  2. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    January 23rd, 2012 at 8:10 am  

    Laura, thanks for bearing witness to this extraordinary young woman’s work. And praying that her love for the people of Ethiolo bears great fruit in their lives and hers. Would love to meet her some day!

    • Laura Stump said... 

      Reply

      January 25th, 2012 at 12:09 pm  

      I’ll pass on the message! :)

  3. torie said... 

    Reply

    March 9th, 2012 at 9:20 am  

    Laura, I am so proud of you! You are the voice of people who are doing amazing things in quiet corners of the world… and you’re doing a darned good job at it. Keep up the great writing! Miss you!!

    • Laura Stump said... 

      Reply

      March 9th, 2012 at 2:55 pm  

      Thanks Torie :) I appreciate that. Hopefully our paths lead us back to Tucson…at the same time…some time soon…

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