An Argentinean-Canadian going from Guatemala to Senegal
GuatemalaSenegal — Uniterra
Finally, I am in Thies, Senegal, starting my second mandate with Uniterra.
I said finally, because I started planning this since the last months I was in Guatemala, in my first mandate. Then it was time to go back to Canada, travel a little and prepare to come here. I had a three month break between the holidays and the time in Montreal to finish all the papers and start again.
It has been a long time dream to be a volunteer worker in this amazing continent, so it is a great accomplishment to be here!
So many things to talk about in this first Senegalese blog!
Let’s start by saying that in my mandate here I am an advisor in environment and production for an association of horticulture and forestry producers, the AUMN (Association des Unions Maraîchères des Niayes). I will be putting in practice the environmental plan developed by a past Uniterra volunteer. This plan includes improving waste management, irrigation systems, oils disposition, and also creating seed banks, nursery schools, tree plantations and developing new products that may be of interest for women and youth.
I am just starting; I am in the planning process, getting to know all the organizations, colleagues and producers.
Also, I am still discovering all that Senegal has as unique: food, traditions, music, places, wildlife…
So I will write more about all these subjects shortly.
And now the difficult part…. I never thought it would be so difficult to leave Guatemala behind! In fact, it has become a very sensitive issue…I cannot talk much about this without crying, even now as I am writing there, some tears are falling on the computer…
The fact is that I am used to leaving friends and family from time to time. I left Argentina in 1999, then Montreal last year and I left friends in many other countries, so, I already know how difficult it is.
But Guatemala had something special. I think it is a mix of things: it was my first cooperation project, I became extremely involved with the work, the people, the place, I made so many amazing and close friends, and I was in a paradisiacal place: Panajachel in the Atitlan Lake. To make matters worse, I had a very beautiful house, a spectacular view, people were always kind, and the country had lots of places to explore…the food was great too! On top of all, I had the honour to work with Mayan people and learn about their culture, visit their families and share travels and work.
What I miss most of all however are my friends, all of them, the other Canadian volunteers, my co-workers from CECI Guatemala, ProAtitlan, AMSCLAE and all the other groups that I worked with. We had a very interesting social life!
I wasn’t expecting this to be so difficult. I really thought that I will be stronger. I knew that I will keep in touch with everybody, but I didn’t know that I will feel that I left a piece of me there, nor that the nostalgia will be so strong.
Africa is very different. When I started working in Panajachel, one friend told me that I was always comparing Guatemala with Canada…now I feel I am comparing Senegal to Guatemala! I know it is not good to do this, but it comes naturally! I really should stop!
Another volunteer from CECI Guatemala told me to concentrate now on the Senegalese people and what can I do to be useful, and I remember his counselling very often.
I wonder how all the past volunteers go through this process of leaving such an important experience behind and moving on. I really hope not to go through all these “Separation anxiety” feelings every end of the mandate! I think it is a subject that we should talk more, share experiences and even have some professional opinions.
People here are very nice to me too, they are very helpful, and we are starting to have very interesting conversations about cultural values, and Senegalese way of life. I am intrigued by the Polygamist family structure, which is common here. I look forward to visiting villages and to make new friends.
But most of all, I hope to have a successful mandate, helping improve environmental practices in the agriculture area. I also hope if not to forget about Guatemala, to be able to talk about it without crying….so not professional of me!
In the pictures: the ProAtitlan Team in Panajachel, Guatemala and the young from the Senegalese Synapse organization in Thies, Senegal