Monday, January 30, 2012

This and That


It has taken 2 months for me to earn the trust of this nearly two year old "niece" of mine, Janabo. I am the first PC Volunteer in Saare Meta.That leaves me wondering how long it is going to take the rest of the village to trust me or to even lose some of their fresh out of the oven curiosity of the well-meaning American, desperately trying to adjust to their lifestyle and culture.

This is where I sit for several hours of my daily routine, writing in my journal or to friends at home, reading the hopeful novels I’ve inherited from other volunteers, or studying this new language of mine, Pulaar. Common greetings that I get because of these actions are, “You’re writing?” and “You’re reading/studying (they are the same word)?”. Why, yes, I am. There is sometimes something beautiful in the simplicity of the language, which reflects how the majority of needs are still on a basic level. On a lighter note, this also makes for difficult translation of their favorite Senegalese star, Akon, who does not have the most romantic language. In translating only every few lines, the song meaning shifts enough to make the Pulaar words leaving my mouth comfortable.

Since early training, I have tried to translate several English sayings into Pulaar with limited success. My latest was when I told my “sister” that you can say “My nose is running” in English. With little amusement (as Im often showed when I expect something to be funny) she said you can’t say that, I have a cold. Hmmmf.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Travelling Back to My Vil:

During my car ride back to vil today, I decided to make a list of TYPICAL things that I see because I realized that I tend to only take photos of new things.

1.Bean Sandwich Shacks: The lovely ladies in these partially enclosed (by any kind of found material, tin, cloth, etc.) shacks cook a variety of sandwiches toppered with beans, petite pois, onion sauce, macaroni noodles, tuna, and eggs. I love bean sandwiches and may miss them in America.

2. Taxis & "Alhams" are chaotically scattered in every direction like ants. Don't let this fool you, however, they are the most perceptive drivers. There are roundabouts, no red lights, any side of the road is appropriate depending on the location of the heaping holes, and pedestrians better watch out! I hear that many people start driving before they are teenagers.

-Talibe kids beg for kalis/money (I only give them food and in this case half of my pear)
-Street vendors usually sell food items along heavily travelled roads and they come in packs!
-Squatters- (n) people in a baseball catchers stance, that cam be found relaxing under shade trees to avoid standing or getting covered in dust on the floor.

4.The Road, from excellent and new to pothole infested, in conjunction with dinosaur cars, makes travelling an adventure every time. I saw a cross walk, but I couldn't identify why it was needed to go from a small village to the bush on the other side.
5. Termite mounds. They are like Barbies mountains.

6. Head carrying, usually performed by women with any imaginable object!
7. Roadside villages
8. Random little monkeys running across the road and into a tree.
9. 3 herds of cattle that we successfully meandered through
10.Mud brick construction sites or lonely standing walls (because they ran out of money before completion)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

WAIST 2012

After a few days crammed in the Thies Training Center with all of the surrounding volunteers (from Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Togo), we loaded up the PC bus to head towards Dakar for WAIST (the West African Invitational Softball Tournament). The event includes teams outside of Peace Corps, like ex-pats and embassy employees that take the games quite seriously. PC teams forfeited nearly all of the games with the reasoning of having fun without irritating the other team completely. The acronym for WAIST is quite suitable for the event.
For volunteers, on the other hand, the more important detail seems to be the region themed costumes. My region, Kolda was “South of the Border/Wild West.” Naturally, I took on the role of Jessi from Toy Story with my friend Mary dressed as my partner in crime, Woody. The theme of Dakar was "French," Kaolack was "Boy Scouts and Girlscouts," St. Louis was "the Scuba Corps," Linguere was "Suits," and Tamba/Kedegou was simply "Baseball." Thank you, Thierno, our local tailor who is a wonder worker of fabric and wild ideas.

Going to Dakar is like stepping through Narnia’s closet. During the last week, we were able to truly experience Dakar, which I like to view as a bubble completely detached from the Africa that I now live in. As the week progressed, I couldn’t help but wonder if the American families living in Dakar had any idea about the true living conditions and culture outside of this heavily western influenced city.
It is here that I have experienced homemade chili & cornbread, Korean soup, French cuisine, and a grocery store with cheese and ice cream! I cannot begin to put into words how volunteers are drawn into this overwhelming American grocery store… if only our pay could support their prices.

Talent Show: I almost didn’t go because of our tiring journey into Dakar that evening, but Im glad that I did because the charming photo that I entered into a contest won! Thank you my dear Frank for fulfilling the Humor requirements.
Prom: Although I first rolled my eyes at the thought of having a masquerade PC Prom, it was a success

23rd Trip around the Sun

I brought in my 23rd birthday on an uncomfortable overnight bus out of Dakar. My friend, Andy, and I caught the 10p.m. bus along with a slew of so many other people that all of the "flipdown" isle seats, which do not exist in America because of obvious evacuation concerns, were filled.
Ive always dreamed of the day I could have a birthday on a smelly bus in Africa! Regardless of the stuffy air because the Africans insisted on closing ALL of the windows, the continuous local music in the background (I love my ipod), and the unnecessary stops along the way for both ingestion and excretion of food, I suppose we had a decent trip. We did make it without any mechanical issues after all.
Thank you so very much for all of the birthday wishes from my volunteers and everyone from home!!
Birthday Wish

Monday, January 16, 2012

Compost Idea

The West Africa PC Volunteer Conference, also known as AllVol, has pulled together all of the volunteers from Senegal and Gambia. Returning to the Thies Training Center, which is where I spent half of my first 2 training months, is incredibly comforting. It feels like summer camp with my beloved stagemates within those walls. The purpose of AllVol is to share the best practices from the field (ideas, success, “lessons learned”). I went with my fingers crossed for inspiration (or at least to stay awake through the presentations).

The first presentation I attended, Waste Management, was a surprisingly valuable session led by a third year SED volunteer. I now intend to analyze my village, organized groups, and appropriate objectives. He spoke on waste management facilities in larger cities, but Im interested in making this project appropriate for a village of less than 500 residents. The major active organizations include the Women’s group, school children, and select motivated workers. The appropriate objective is to assess and create a plan for the control of organic waste via compost, and plastics by collection.

My village, Saare Meta, is small and not appropriate for a full on waste facility, so requires minimal input outside of village cooperation and donated food scraps. I would like a fenced concrete structure to collect compost that could be funded by an NGO or grant. I would also like the village to contribute a percentage to accredit the plan. I need to research the possibility of similar systems currently underway, but I don’t know of any nearby villages that are familiar with compost. For this idea to succeed, I realize that convincing people that compost is useful and beneficial is going to be an important beginning step. A MiricleGro-like comparison to show plant productivity with and without compost could be supportive, but may take too long to produce results. Regardless, I will prepare comparison plants with my personal compost. The secondary benefits of transforming the village waste to fertile material extends to a possible income source, increased garden productivity, and environmental education. The women’s group could use the compost in their gardens and with the trees that I plan on introducing. If the compost levels became sufficient, it could be sold to interested farmers or neighboring villages. Benefit distribution would depend on participant envolvment. I think that the initiative would also reach the kids because the adults heavily rely on them for housework. They could be involved in school programs and scheduled clean-up efforts in order to expose them to more environmentally friendly behavior. I don’t think that this idea requires a stiff business plan because it can be implemented without regular funding.

In a brief conclusion, I have an idea and a lot of backup work to do to see if it is feasible.

My Companion

After two months in village my counterpart/brother popped into my hut to ask if I liked dogs, which we shallowly discuss every time I play with wandering village puppies. When he came back 3 minutes later, I realized that he really meant "Do you want a dog?" So, here is my little furball, Puma. They dont understand why I carry him around or even more so why I would strap him to my chest like a baby. After a man joked about beating Puma, I asked if he wanted to be beaten himself... they found that hilarious. My job in village: 1. to sensitize people to the idea of feeding and treating animals reasonably, 2. comical relief.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Eyes Skyward

Ive spent an annoying amount of my time staring at the ground, not because Im lost in thought or afraid to look people in the eyes, but because Im trying not to fumble over sticks, immerging stones, litter of all sorts, or into potholes. Because of this inconvenient precaution, I often only see point A, the lovely trail, and resulting point B. Lately, Ive become more familiar with the roads and bush paths, so Ive been able to enjoy the most rewarding scenery.

A Couple Birds I saw during my bike ride this morning (typical of Sub-Saharan Africa):

Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu: tsee-tsee call

Senegal Coucal: loud ook-ook-ook call

Long-tailed Glossy-starling: "grating" call
They are black at first glance, but these noisy birds show a metallic green upper and violet under.

Laughing Dove
Now if I can only sneak out of my hut around 6, before the village stirs and women pound the morning grain, Ill have a nice date with my handy dandy binoculars (Thank You Dr.L). My bird list is sure to grow as I explore the plains that I now live in.