Saturday, December 1, 2012

Project Planning

Dollar Amount of Project: $500.00.           Dollar Amount Needed: $0.00
Sare Meta Latrine Project - Senegal     Our community latrine project has now been fully funded through the generosity the Hack & Slash, who have designated Water Charity as a beneficiary of this year'sHack and Slash Christmas Special Live Onstage and in Technicolor!, held in Baltimore, MD.  This is an important public health project for Sare Meta and the surrounding villages. It has been well planned, has widespread community support, and will serve as a model for future development.

Project Summary: 

6 villages in the Kolda region of Senegal: Sare Meta*, Sare Pathe, Sare Labbel, Sare Kallilou, Sare Konkoyel, Sare Samba
My humble home of Sare Meta is a small, centrally located village of 315 residents, a large number of those children, with 5 neighboring villages (listed above) in small, branching clusters.

During interviews at each village, hygiene and sanitation issues were the most pressing health concerns, specifically proper latrine availability. The area has a limited amount of quality latrines, most existing latrines were poorly constructed with mud and found objects, and 24 household are currently without any facility. Residents living in huts without any latrines admit to relieving themselves in the bush, forests, and even right behind their homes.
The Plan:Across the 6 villages, we plan to build 22 latrines in  family compounds that are completely without. The catch? The 500$ grant through Appropriate Projects water charity funds will provide for the cement and metal supports with the understanding that the families supply all labor, including digging the 2 meter deep pits, retrieving materials (via donkey cart), and building the iron-reinforced platform with extra wood supports. sounds like a deal. 
The idea behind the sustainable latrine design is that the family will be able to relocate the platform to a new pit once the first fills. No worries, several villagers are familiar with this design and all for it.
Estimated Impact: 
895 people will benefit. score. 
Peace Corps Volunteer Directing Project:
yours truly

Sunday, November 4, 2012

403 Days of Senegal

     Its been one year since my swear-in as a volunteer. I now would like to present myself as an upperclassman Agfo volunteer, which does not embody all of the characteristics that I put on the all knowing volunteers before me. I assumed they had it all together, somehow mastered the language, and had all their trees in a row. Now that I am in their dusty shoes- quite literally since Ally gifted just gifted me her chacos at the end of her service, I realize that there is still a degree of chaos and uncertainty, I still speak a very broken Pulaar, and work is still as difficult as ever. The thing is this is all okay and normal.
     The difference that I have found in this stretch is the basic understanding of how a lot of things work. Im comfortable and its that simple. I understand my work along with the tremendous amount of energy required to accomplish anything and Im happy to reach out to this land that Im more often then not fond of.

Summary: I am happy.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A spot of tea...blisters

A fine African day was in the making, it was already 85* IN my hut at 8 a.m., and my oh so trusty bike was on the bench with a flat tire. Everything was pointing towards a low key hut day but I already told a neighboring village I would come by to hang out. Since I have to pass this village on the way to town, I stop by just long enough to greet people and maybe chat about my latest work.  Instead of patching my tire, I decided to walk. I grabbed the necessities, sunblock, bandanna, sunglasses, and water, for my daily battle with the sun and was on my way.

I bounced between a few compounds to say hello before settling in with Haabi Sabaly in Amoudou's household. She told me yesterday that she would be staying home to wash laundry and make lunch instead of working the fields. I was welcomed with a shady seat, several commands to sit, and breakfast porridge. I sent a boy to buy tea an sugar, we like to call this "small boying it."
I falsely assumed someone would takeover cooking the tea if I bought it. After drinking God knows how many hot shots of attaya, I finally made my first round! Even though I kept asking the people around me for a little direction, they weren't very helpful.
    1. Get box of tea, sack if sugar, and hot coals
    2. Heat teapot & then add tea
    3. Once boiling, add 1 shot of sugar
    4.burn fingers by removing teapot to cool
    5. Burn fingers more by pouring tea back and forth btwn glasses to cool (& to make foam)
    6. serve down the ranks
    Repeat 3x
It somehow took me twice as long to finish the 3 rounds than the old men. This is one skill I don't want to lose feeling in my fingers obtaining. Poor blistered fingers.
I handed the teapot of used leaves over to the kids. Sometimes they chew on the leaves and suck he remaining sugar out. This time they decided to make two more rounds of weak tea for themselves.
It was pretty adorable.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Menu: "eSpaghett"

 I'm so full and this time its of food that I cooked. When I got home yesterday I asked who would be cooking because she would be cooking with me! The ladies rotate chores, so it was Aminata's turn, as I was hoping. She understands me a little more, gets frustrated with me faster, and deserves a little break for the extra work that I cause her. I thought I would be cooking dinner, but Aminata called me as soon as soon as I drive my shovel into the ground. Lunch it is! I was quite the spectacle. I carried my fully stocked food bucket and gas tank out to the sitting area to start in a semi-comfortable, smoke free area. I knew they were lingering to asses my slicing and dicing skills. I like to think I passed with flying colors, but they still watched me dice the entire 2 kilo sack of onions.
Thank goodness for my prep work as a server. I cooked the pile of onions and garlic with generous, Paula Dean scoops of margarine on my little gas burner. The chants of my capabilities tarted with the first onion and continued as people passed by. We shifted to their  smokey cooking hut to finish the sauce and 2 kilos of pasta over the open flame. I cooked the oodles of noodles in a cauldron, I kid you not, and a deep pot of sauce from tomato concentrate. I thought the can opener would get more praise, but they only whispered about it's clean cut, much different than the work of their dull knife. I almost wish something crazy happened but verifying was easy peasy and lunch was ready by 12:30, an hour or two earlier than usual. 
Aminata dishes out the pasta, bread, and sauce into 6 large bowls. I watched hoping it was enough to feed the 16 people of my family. Pasta is my favorite (next to pb&js) and I would probably eat it in any form right now, but it really was "pretty and nice" like everyone kept saying. I traded my spoon in or a fork and shared a bowl with tijane and my little stinker Jennabo.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Circumcision Ceremony

Its tradition to 'give alms' with the seasons first cut of "marro farrow," field rice, so several bowls of rice brought an array of people from other compounds over to share breakfast. It just happens to fall on lumo/market day, which guaranteed a timely meal before everyone's departure for the weekly market. With the holiday only a week out, I gave Tijane my 15 mille (about 30$) Tabaski contribution to go towards our sheep (to be slaughtered).

I told my family that the Diaobe market was not the place for me because bandits, thieves, and anyone with the last name Mballo (corny local joke) are on the prowl for easy targets. It got a good laugh. Instead, I joined my sister Aminata in Sare Kallilou, just a 20 minute walk past our new school house and the farrow, for the traditional circumcision ceremony. A storm came late last night, leaving the lowlands flooded and the tall grass battered across the narrow path. My eyes could only leave the path when Aminata paused with her flip flop stuck in the mud. One nice thing about a regular well-beaten path is the freedom to let your eyes wander in every direction.

We were welcomed by another rice breakfast, but this time with a peanut sauce much tastier than my familys. People gathered rather quickly. Women came out in their flowing 'completes' and a few of them even had coins, shells, candy and bells added into their braids. They say it doesnt hurt to sleep on, but I dont believe them.

The ceremony started with a pair of drummers and a familiar cadence fading as they walked out of the village to meet the legion of recently circumcised boys in the woods. And then came the opportunity for my questions. The boys, all around 8 years old, were circumcised a month ago and have since only been in the company of each other and their fathers. During the day they ask for money on the roadside, are served meals by the men instead of they nenee/moms, and only return to the village to sleep.
Today, 6 boys were washed and dressed in new clothes and then paraded back into village with all of the men, drummers, and a finishline of welcoming women. They started a dance circle at the Jarga/Chief's hut and then moved through the village. The boys sat in a row, still draped in pagne/skirts and head wraps, with palms welcoming small shiny gifts. American change is going to feel like play money next to these weighted coins, all more robust than the quarter. I paid my repects and did my dance that everyone seems to love, though the reason is unclear.
People slowly broke for their houses as the parade marched on. The women started lunch preparations, fetched fuel wood, pounded rice until free from the sheath, and battled flies while mincing a bowl of beef, now tinted gray with a pungent that curled my lip. All afternoon was spent in the shade of a small mango tree with attaya and grilled feed-corn. Oily rice is quite a treat and a must at ceremonies, but just another reason I dont like them much.
One last note must be added on this topic. The "Kankouran," a costumed man believed to ward off evil spirits that threaten the boys, appears in my  Casamance region annually as part of the ceremony. As seen, he is dressed in deep red tree bark from head to toe and carries a machete in each hand, a scary site and an annoyance to main road travelers. Its just another part of the tradition to celebrate the boys' passage into manhood.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Things to take along

Sometimes this place takes me back 50 year to a simple time with everything from field work and home births to reusing and recycling found objects until too lifeless to rig a toy together. I can appreciate or at least understand most lifestyle choices and there are even a few I'd like to take home.

Do you know how many people could bathe in that nice bath tub of hot water? A family- and I don't mean the american family of four. I think I could cut back on those steamy sessions. An outdoor shower also sounds like a great idea, even if it's function is shifted to post-yard work and pool rinsings. Bathing beneath the stars takes my breath for a subtle smile- until I realize I'm battling mosquitoes without the basic defense of clothing.

Do you know how delicious veggies are when they're not harvested early and piled in shipping crates? Veggies fresh from the earth may not have the ideal marketed shape or color, but I guarantee the flavor fuller. Maybe I'll soon have a backyard garden or even a small veggie patch. I won't go as far as providing my own milk or bread but gardening is too easy and relaxing to pass by. I'm going to have so many experiments.

When was the last time you rode a bicycle? Granted I've always lived in the sticks a significant distance from anything, but there is no reason nit to ride a bike around town. I can make time for a bike exercise to the grocery store and of course through parks. Perhaps I can even bike to the gym and freshen up before work (assuming one day I'll have a big girl job). After bush paths and the limited road suggestions, not rules, of Senegal, I think I could handle a reflective vest and bike lane in America.
Ill leave things on the up & up for now. I look forward to this list growing, even in unexpected directions.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bed Net Care & Repair!

2 Week Recap: 
Villages attended: 8
Participants: 189
Nets Repaired/Washed: 343
Total number of people now sleeping under effective mosquito nets: 956

Over the last couple weeks, we have had a line up of mosquito net trainings thanks to the planning and patience of miss Sarah Kuech. Villages across our dear region of Kolda have been able to host trainings through nearby volunteers. It difficult to get people out of the fields, both corn and soccer fields, but we have had a respectable turnout so far.

How the event runs: 
1: go through a questionnair with every participant
2: look for holes & repair nets
3: wash and then hang nets to dry
4: repeat through the crowd of children and women
5: have a malaria discussion led by the local health worker

The events somehow take an amazing amount of effort and will leave everyone involved yawning with the closing, but are immediately rewarding. We get to talk through problems to the best of our local language ability, which often leads to our Pulaar being translated into a different and more correct form of Pulaar. We are often prompted to get up for a foot-stomping dance and are asked to take meals with families. By the end of the day, come rain and the African strength shine, we hop back on the bikes and hit the dusty, pothole filled roads. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

late night writing

     My mommy held my hand across the street and now Ive crossed the ocean and a world of ideas.
While separation, dramatically comparable to death or loss, always manages to slip back in and surprise me, it has also made room for a... consciousness. My life is flowing, flexible, and free, though its still hard not to cling to the greener grass around stability. Yes, Ive been shaken, but Im wrapped in a growing solitude and full of life even on the most trying days, hours. Ill keep on crossing borders, enjoying each experience, and welcoming the unfamiliar.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Baby days

I had no idea that my neighbor was 9 mos along until her baby-hump tummy hurt the other night. Its bad luck and nearly taboo to talk about unborn children. My brother in the hut on the opposite side of hers told me about the delivery complications of her first tiny tot. They took her to the closest hospital, 2 hours away on a lucky day, only to find that they had to backtrack to the regional hospital 110km to the west. I have no idea how they found transportation, came up with the fare, and covered all of that ground before she went into labor, but hes now 2 and playing hide-and-seek at every opportunity.

After a speedy  village delivery by Gods grace, a 3 kilo little girl increased the population count of Sare Meta. Tiny feet to tiny toes with teeny tiny nails. Nails! She is beautiful with a thick sea of hair and a song of sleepy peeps. I admit that I am a girl with hormones guiding my actions, so I nearly cried when I first saw her lost lost in the blanket bundle... (nearly because that degree of emotion is not publicly displayed).

This weekend was her "dennabo"/naming ceremony. The family is responsible for throwing the celebration complete with cheb/oily rice, a goat, and music! I dont know why it took the women three times longer to cook when its still just rice, but at least they got a social day in the cooking hut. stretched across my compound 12 kids crowded one bowl of cheb, old men circled on a floor mat with playing cards, a possee of boys took over my sitting area with a radio, and women cycled between the cooking hut and "Boomba"/womens' hut.

I officially have a namesake, perhaps bringing the name "Homa" up to the 2nd least popular in the country. She was washed and her head traditionally shaved, families gave their blessings and a "fabaday"/ceremony gift, and I was commanded to dance all day for my namesake and happiness.

Monday, September 17, 2012

PC Vest!

Early on in village I asked how to make the delicious yogurt-like Kosam, but regret immediately fell in with the answers simplicity.
Set the bowl of fresh milk in your nice, warm room overnight. Voila.
Alrighty. Well, Ive finally earned my kosam badge! Ive colonized, I mean, made my own during the hours of my slumber from powder milk and a scoop of set aside sour goodness. My PC vest should fill out quite well with the things Ive learned and come to appreciate.
Sour milk=delicious. who knew. Secondly, I'd like to reward myself the Garage Badge. I have earned one of the nightmare stories of paused transit at the Tamba garage. An early morning usually kicks off a smooth travel day, but it made no difference last weekend. I arrived at 8 telling a neighboring volunteer that i usually wait an hour for the car to fill. So the first hour passed with small talk and the second set in with slight irritation. We had 3 out of 7 passengers. The three hour mark pushed me and my antsy button to ask when we would leave if the car did not fill. Four hours later, my patience returned with the refusal of a refund, a pb and banana sandwich, and 5 little boys eager to go to France. Five hours in, the ticket desk was probably as happy as we were that the car was finally full. It took me ten hours to travel 115 km/80 miles. Cause this is Africa.

Friday, August 31, 2012

ONE Year & Compulsively Counting

If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.- Confucius 

     This is my brain in Peace Corps…. My nonsensical thoughts are more difficult for outsiders to follow these days, apologies. But Im happy to say Im above the melodramatic clouds of the 9 month mark and the stakes have finally fallen to a normal level. 
         When I first arrived to Senegal, every older volunteer repeated two things: “You just have to figure things out for yourself” and “You’ll finally feel like competent volunteers at the one year mark,” neither of which seemed like comforting advice. Sure, recommendations and solid answers are passed around for field techniques and health tips, but it was difficult to take this hardly reassuring advice. Since Peace Corps Volunteers are a rather independent and skeptical group, blind advice isn’t received without cynicism. After the 365 day loop, Im happy to say its true. Why did it take so long? sigh.a note on Year one:
     After reaching the other side of the Atlantic, we got the best language crash course shuffled with constant moving and living out of backpacks for 2 months. Our bodies more or less transformed behind the bowls of rice and food borne illnesses. Our hands caliced from doing our share of field work and pulling water out of the ground. Our brains acquired a timed shift to overload from the constant processing of our new communities, connections, processes, CULTURE, and how we can possibly assimilate.  
Exponential change. 

     Once the seemingly endless trainings (that should have left me more prepared and confident) were completed, I had to reassess the needs of the people because I didn't see the same “problems” as my community. Early on, Peace Corps required a community assessment but most of my once brilliant ideas fell short. Without a work contact list to build from, I made my way across 7 villages to find serious work partners that would hopefully make my knowledge applicable at some point. I found my shining counterparts with the help of a few ag trainings, which weeded out the mounds of people that just told me what I wanted to hear. I hate that in any context. To be fair, trust is a twoway street and they are all getting to know me over tea and lunch, through countless greetings and small gifts, in every part of the daily “routine.”      Now that we are working and I can form a loose schedule, time does more than drag by and my compulsive tendencies are somewhat relaxed. I have steady sights on sustainability, but if hopes fall short, I will clench tight to the idea that someones life has been impacted to some immeasurable degree.

To all you newbies, Relax. Drink tea. Chat. Have an identity crisis. Im another volunteer saying that the beginning may seem boring (and lonely) at times, but just wait until the one year mark! All of your time will tie neatly together, your thoughts may align just right, and maybe youll finally be able to give back.

Thanks for listening

Thursday, August 30, 2012

English Caaamp!

      Monday fun-day we started English ACCESS Camp with 70 teenagers and a set of Senegalese teachers. I knew just about as much about the camp when I rolled out of bed that morning as I did with the first call for camp counselors. An outlined schedule of ideas laced with luck that we would surely need was passed on to the six of us. Everyday we planned to  go through icebreakers and activities to help the kids practice English in  a fun and hopefully painless way. Our abilities to adjust and think on our toes were essentials for camp success.
     The typical occurrences of the morning included starting late, but that annoyance faded beneath all of the English greetings buzzing in the air. We split the students into 6 groups by counting off, which is  was not a simple task if measured by the number of times "7" was claimed and the Senegalese teachers shouted in disapproval. Respect and patience are not virtues of the French school systems. My positive reinforcement was shot with surprised looks or even confusion all day.
     We pushed through slow beginnings with a naming and flag making activity. The "Amazing Students" all chose an American name for themselves, only one of which was after a pop star, Rihannah. Other groups included Barak, Lil Wayne, Princess Leah, Beyonce, (a rejected Hitler!), and Ciara, but no Jessica.
     During the Q&A session I was asked why new names were given and could only say it was the same reason that PC Volunteers took new local names. One of my quiet girls said this was her favorite session because its important to learn about other cultures. They make my heart smile more than my eyebrows scold. 
Notable questions:
-  Why is America more developed?
-  Why does the president say god bless America instead of God bless the world?-  Why do Americans want to go to Mars?
     We scratched the schedule and put together games like balltossing with sentences, a version of never have I ever,  sports like baseball and ultimate frisbee, the human knot, vocabulary races... Yes, it is as nerdy as I lead on. We even arranged an Olympics day with an egg race, sack race, cookie face (eat the cookie on your forehead without using hands), and more.  The most awkward session was teaching a song by our one and only Michael Jackson. We took turns reading and explaining the lyrics to Thriller! as we tried to straighten out "technical difficulties."
     The kids have pushed my creativity and the possibility of a career in education. One day left, we'll see what it brings!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Korite/Eid in Village

     We sat in the dark waiting for the scratchy radio to reveal whether or not we could welcome the end of Ramadan, but the dark sky remained committed to its cloudiness. All we needed was to confirm that "the moon died." Fasting means that I have the bedtime of a child, so I swallowed the staticy suspense and settled in behind my mosquito net. (so what is want 9 yet). In several of my morning greetings my (hesitates) village people told me that it was a close call, but not yet time for the party because a sliver of moon was still hanging high.
     I squeezed out of my foam-topped bamboo nest into an air that carried cries of young girls in trouble for undoing their "tidi"/tight braids during the night. Everyone has been getting ready for the celebration from beady braids and flashy flip flops to sacks of oil and saturate the rice.
my sisters walked around with me
     Holidays bring pressure to fit in to the classy and presentable aspects of the culture. As a part of the Koritay/Eid makeover,  I was braided and rebraided as my "little sister," Nalli, got use to my disagreeable hair. Yes, after nine months in vil, they have finally reorganized my blonde locks into neat rows like the corn in my backyard. I then wrapped myself in tailored fabric that my ankles fought with as I walked, or nearly shuffled. The vibrant stains of color and stamped patterns draped over every lean shoulder was comparable to the awe of birds exploding from an unexpecting tree. No matter my charade, I'm still that outsider.
     With a patroned rice breakfast and the late morning approaching, it was time for us and all of the surrounding villages to gather at the only central mosque. It was a weathered white-trimmed-blue (square) building topped with rusting zinc. Mango trees shaded the surrounding prayer yard and a sturdy log-picketed fence safeguarded the grounds.
     I kept thinking of my first mosque visit with my sweet Hailat family, you would have to scroll down the list of differences. My headscarf has been traded for braids and the drone of a drum roll is behind a nasal, African call to prayer, but we're still here giving thanks to God for our many blessings all the same.
     The drum signal grew as the imam entered the prayer grounds, now puzzled with basals and prayer mats. Men segregated to the front and curious kids sprinkled all the way back to the womens area. I was up to my elbows and knees in a crowd that nearly sparkled with fresh pressed clothes, rows and rows of beaded braids, maybe a spot of costume glitter and bright eyes under penciled eyebrows.
     I'm often a child in this community (in my speech and curiosity) and it seemed more apparent as I sat nailed in the middle of a prayer wave. A beautiful picture, maybe. After opening prayer, my fellow littluns dusted the spot of dirt off their foreheads and caused a ruckus as they scattered, but it wasn't close to time to pack up. The imam was accompanied by four assisting men holding an umbrella, a handheld fan, the microphone, and his written speech/ prayers. I'll bite my tongue for this celebratory day. The blessings an wishes for the new year poured on as each village took their turn.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Weeding, Seeding, no Eating!

      No cats, dogs, or men, but it has been raining like no other. My field work and line-drying laundry has been disturbed by rolling rain clouds with only the immediate warning of the preceding winds more often than I wish.  The rain has refilled my freshly punched tree holes, dampened my nearly crisp not-so-tidy whities, and even welcomed some aromatic mildew into my hut. <3 .
The rain has even made this stripped land enticing to an array of plants that keep winning the little battles of my backyard.
      “Have you been weeding?” is one of the seasonal questions that has been added into the lineup of greetings.  I usually say no and explain my treetastic work, but I may just cave under the apparent disapproval of incompetence and how often Im asked.  “Backbreaking” perfectly describes this weeding technique as everyone (men included, nudge nudge) spends the daylight hours crisscrossing okra, cotton, and peanut fields bent at the waist with a hand held hoe, “jola.” Try that out for 15 minutes. Not only are they working themselves to a uncomfortably thin and chiseled form, but most people are more or less fasting for Ramadan. Send a crew of Americans here and we’ll start a new Biggest Loser, Africa (life)style.
      Its interesting to see how tightly the greetings are tied to the seasons and culture. Ramadan has reinstilled a friendly air of blessings, the field work has brought concerns of aches and fatigue, the wet season rains reminders of health, and in the slightest absence of the African heat welcomes questions of the cold. For the most part, I am in peace only. "Jam Tan."

Confession: Sorry mom, I took one of my fastest bucket baths yet with a chilly chorus of rain. The babies run and play-bathe ( and occasionally faceplant) in the rain and although I don’t fit either qualifier, I figured it couldn’t hurt.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Moringa train train train-ing

     After a normal dose of confusion at the garage, we managed to arrange a car for the five of us to make the long swing north around The Gambia for Spencers moringa training. After an 8 hour car ride and 2 additional hours in a cramped "bush taxi," we made it to our destination village by dusk.

I can guarantee that this isolated but quite established village of 4000 has never housed this many Toubobs. We were greeted by Spencers family and a generous bean dinner. Swarms of kids bounced between us repeating the same questions, each time as excited as the last. We are 10 names they will not soon forget.

     Monday morning was anything but prompt. After a bread and cafe breakfast, Admins arrival, and repositioning under a comforting cashew tree, we kicked the meeting off with prayers. Because the bulk of the presentation was in a different local language, Wolof, I twiddled my thumbs hoping that my counterpart was paying attention and my mere attendance was enough. There was threat of rain but we didn't get a mist stronger than the cool off and rest stations at theme parks. 
     The first day was not exactly as I expected, a repeated reminder that I should drop any preconceptions of Peace Corps related events. We discussed contracts that would enable villagers to sell Moringa leaves to designated buyers at a set price. My counterpart interests in the training lied with hopes to better extend the importance of Moringa within our village, which was thankfully touched on during the second day. 

     During the training, another small, toddler sized obstacle was running free between everyone, repeating the one word he knows, and apparently only testing the tolerance of volunteers, foreigners. I later learned that "yaay!" (rhymes with lie) means mom and with that it slid down 2 steps on my annoyance ladder.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Gambia Cashew Training

visiting one of the farmer's orchards
   Only 6 days prior to the departure for a 4-day training in our neighboring/internal country, the Gambia, was the invitation extended to the nearby agroforestry (agfo) volunteers. This is quite typical of the system, but it makes me wonder how long events sit on the PC plate before someone realizes that the rest of the country may need to be notified. The 11 of us with sparked interests and blurred expectations met in Kolda city to get passports (oh man!), visas, travel logistics, and all the other ducks in a row. I had a hiccup of a problem with my passport in safekeeping 225km away and a disagreeable printer at hand, but once the effort threshold was reached, I got a scanned copy (that would probably work). It was news to our older volunteer that he was going at all, but his name bolded on the Title line of our Visa persuaded him to throw a backpack together. Foreshadowing?

This is Peace Corps, so a degree of chaos and a margin of wiggle room is expected for the smallest tasks. 

  Our luck was exchanged with the second group the next day when our car arrived 30 minutes early, we found chicken sandwiches for lunch, money exchange was painless, and we arrived at our 'lodge' in the afternoon. This must sound silly, but these are the things that can and often do cause frustration that I have learned to appreciate. On the other end, the second group met us by dinner (8pm) after being hassled at the border, overpaying fees, and waiting at the ferry. The lodge was not the all inclusive resort (with AC, wifi, and a pool) that we cooked up in our heads, but the food served made up for our misconceptions. 

The training:     Peace Corps Gambia and now Senegal are collaborating with the NGO International Relief and Development  whose "mission is to reduce the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable groups and provide the tools and resources needed to increase their self-sufficiency."

Notice the 2 attaya/shot style glasses and the tea kettle
hanging from the cashew tree that we gathered
under for our meeting with the farmers.

During our training, we were able to learn about IRD's project objectives to improve food security through ag trainings with cashew farmers. IRD offers a well-organized manual in various languages to provide farmers with the resources and knowledge to successfully conduct meetings, improve marketing arrangements, and sensitize community members to the economical and nutritional value of cashew. 
IRD invited 25 PC volunteers along with local partners to attend trainings during June 2012. Although I didnt exactly know what to expect, I was pleased with the organization of the training, user-friendly materials, and clear objectives of the program. I have high hopes for this partnership and can say that we're all excited to extend the skills to our own farmers and villages. 
Although Jake looks like an aggressive tree hugger,he was actually pruning some of the branches with a saw.

weighing the cashew seed

The farmer cuts a deal with people that are
willing to 
scrounge around beneath the tree
canopy to collect 
the fallen cashew nuts for
a few days and on the last 
day they get to
keep their findings.
The delicious cashew apple is a very soft,
juicy fruit encased in a thin skin... so messy but worth it

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Unofficial Peace Corps Anthem"

Dear... home, 
I just wanted to share some of the things that keeps us occupied and even amused when we spend precious time with other volunteers or come across an internet connection strong enough to support anything beyond basic functions.
Without further a due, I would like to share this video that is nearly too accurate. Be happy that you can laugh or just think that its incredibly strange... We do a lot more than just Poop in a hole .
"Homa Diao"

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mango Mania

Mango Count: 50! Ive consumed 50+ mangoes fresh off of the trees in vil. This number means something when I add in that it was in one months time. Excessive, I know. To redeem myself just a bit, they are bush mangoes that are most likely a fraction of the size of any imported mangoes youre going to find on the states side. I could go on a Forest Gump rant about the ways Ive seen this versatile fruit prepared.
Now that we have eaten our way through the bush mangoes, hope has been bridged with the next fruiting grafted variety, which is twice as big.
Ive passed out 2555 tree sacks and counting for people around my village (Heh, "my village people") to start their own tree nurseries. Most people  Everyone wants to grow mango and cashew trees. Trees are wonderful. The reason Im in Africa, even. I just wish that the landscape had a chance of lush and diverse succession. The land is now only sparsely sprinkled with fruit, Baobob, and the introduced Neem trees. Its a big wish of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Tomorrow a group of agfos (agroforestry volunteers- n., a treeloving person of a sustainable-thinking mind and farm-worked body. Also see: treewhisperer) are travelling into the Gambia for cashew transformation training. Because nothing seems to be well-organized, I dont know what the itenerary holds, but my hopes are high and my mind receptive. Update coming soon!

Unexpected day

   I left Kolda city just a little too late and missed the first car to my road town 110Km/80mi to the east. I shrugged my shoulders and was guided over to an infamous overcrowded mini-bus. My road time was 5 hours. That is twice as long as it could have been on a good day, but those dont happen often in the realm of transport anyways. During my transition from one car to the second, which would cover the last 7 km, some sad person stole my ipod right out of my pocket. another shoulder shrug.
   After just a moment I was pleased because I realized my first reaction was pity.   So, I started to think about that weird relationship that we have with objects. It is weird to give something that kind of hold over us. I beat the system. I wasnt thrown into anger or made anxious by some thing. Maybe it starts when we're taught to take care of our possessions that we work so hard for, but it gets lost somewhere and is taken too far.
"On the road again..." I finally made it to my road town and was able to stop off at Dan's (AKA Momoudi) village to help with some work. Once it cooled off enough to work, we headed to the women's garden. Task: dig the well a bit deeper.
We realized we couldnt send both of the guys down the 5 meter deep well with little ol' me to pull them up, we switched spots. So, for an hour and a half, Dan and I slowly dug our way around the well, sending pails of clay up and getting knocked in the head with the women's descending buckets.
Im quite happy with the accomplishment.

We worked until the wind picked up and rolling clouds threatened us with the first rain. This time they followed through and -ah haaa, sound from the cinemas- down came cooling droplets.
There is no way I could not have been more dirty if I tried. I was drenched from the well now with no hope of drying, I had so much clay smudged into my clothes they almost appeared cleaner, and days of sand in my hair.
This could have been an awful day, but I think I made the most of it.

Blue sky thinking

Ive been back in West Africa for a week now since my visit back home to America.  After discussing it with other volunteers, I think “Shiny” is an appropriate word to describe my much enjoyed time home. Taking a break allowed me to step away for a semi- retrospect view.
I am grateful for this opportunity to see another little piece of the world, meet hospitable and sometimes strange people, broaden my worldview, and hopefully help out a bit. I don’t think I answered questions from home very well because I used my friends and family as an outlet, jumping to complaints too quickly.
In my time away I would like to say that I have been able to test my strengths, definitely reveal my weaknesses, stretch my patience, polish up my courage and even open myself up a bit (big deal). I know my personal growth is only a secondary objective, but I feel like Africa has done me justice and I hope to give back just as much.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Made in America

First thoughts:

1. It didn’t take long to see just how much the importance of appearance has slipped into the background during my time in Senegal. Everyone in the airport was clean and I immediately felt like I was better off ditching the little bit of dinginess that I brought back in my backpack.  I had plenty of time during my 16 travel hours to people-watch, which is always amusing. I saw pounds of makeup, miles of jewelry, tapping heels, and wasted meals.  sigh.

2. I could also understand every word spoken from nearby whispers to distant jokes. I wasn’t being nosey or purposely listening, I was just appreciating the fact that I could understand. I couldn’t eavesdrop on a Pulaar conversation if I tried.

3. We (the inclusive American we) are organized, patient, and completely capable of forming a line.  We have had the idea of standing in line pounded into our heads since kindergarten and it has since gained an importance that may not be realized until being tested at every opportunity.

Story time. I arrived at the Dakar Airport early and then some. The most chaotic crowd filled the small, poorly designed building. Unlike other airports, the most time consuming stage was not the security checkpoint, but customs. The standing and waiting around at midnight was not an issue, but the anxious Senegalese man that thought he should be able to shove to the front of the meandering line was testing my patience. I rebutted at every turn until the situation finally boiled over. We shouted at eachother and neither of us understood a word.  New low? perhaps. But the crowd and police sided with me, so i didnt feel nearly as guilty for trying to make this building of a man understand that I value the ounce of respect and patience required to stand in a line. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Surreal Thoughts

Just the other day I was sitting cross-legged in the dirt (I always feel grimy saying dirt instead of soil, but it seems like a more appropriate noun to play in) filling tree sacks with my work partner when my ipod committed to serenading me with homesick music. I found a surreal experience and wanted nothing more than to be in connection with my real home. The rowdy kids, cooking women, and work within my own fingers faded into the background. I was alone for those few minutes with a stream of emotions and old memories. Life is crazy beautiful and sometimes the reminders come in strange forms. Im in this different world, I swear it. I think there is still more good than bad, more happy than longing tears, and even more laughter than cursing. I still think if I were to be honest with myself, I could admit to the missery lying between the triangle of heat, humiliation, and petty annoyances, but in the end I do love my life. I live in Africa. I am exactly where I want to be, more and more everyday.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Missy's Birthday WEEK

“A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of the land.”
-Aldo Leopold A Sand County Almanac

To commemorate a quarter century of Missy, we travelled to Kedougou, an explorer's paradise. The local volunteers gave us the mega tour package including everything from navigating the Gambia River on trucktire tubes to baking pizzas with market-fresh ingredients.

Saturday: After losing two people to sickness (no, they didnt die), we made our way through the surprisingly calm garage and all the way to Kedougou in record time! Travelling has taken on a new meaning and set of frustrations in this country, but not that day.
We hit the ground running, or rather the river swimming, as we headed to theRiver. We kept our eyes peeled for hungry hippos, but only saw old women sifting for gold on the riverbank.

Sunday (election
day): After a lazy morning and a shared pot of grits, we departed for Segou, Kyle's village a 26Km bikeride through the bush. We bought a couple bowls of rice and leaf sauce for lunch before hiking down to the pools of water that are on the path to the waterfalls. We walked for about an hour past the mango trees and open field, through the partially burned bamboo forest, past an arranged campfire circle of rocks (or compressed laterite soil), and finally meanding along the stream.

After our first long day, we all sat in our dust and dry sweat around the table, waiting for our INDIVIDUAL plates of funyo and chicken to arrive. The campement has obviously received training in some basic dining courtesies, like setting the tablecloth and silverware. I dont know if tourists would be equally satisfied with the service, but it surpasses any of the grunts and groans we normally receive. After dinner we found ourselves somewhere past sleepiness and in profound happiness. Summary: best dinner.

This of course led to a cuddle puddle. Cost of stay: $6 per person.

On the trail to the waterfall...
"Missy, go see if the ledge is slippery..."

We're feeding our souls.

One step closer to understanding nature.