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.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Time after time

Mango season is rolling in in Senegal! This will soon mean that we have more fruit on the trees than we're going to be able to eat. Ive heard that some families get creative with different mango concoctions, so I guess I will soon see (or rather taste). I have had about four mangoes, ranging in ripeness, one of which I accepted from the sticky little fingers of a child. sigh. What can I say, I have "slowly slowly/seeda seeda" broken my PC shoes in.
Speaking of tasting, I just engulfed an entire papaya. Granted it wasnt the whopping kilo that the fruit lady was trying to persuade me to buy, but my tummy it still uncomfortable satisfied. Yes, I am quite capable of saying what I want, haggling a little, and standing my ground (in PULAAR). Now that I think of it I may be a more
abrasive person in this language, but that is only in response to the need. Im mean with purpose.

This is a photo of two of the toddlers in my compound playing mommy, or "Neene." The women strap children to their back piggy-back style and secure them there with material the size of a towel. This allows them to keep the baby under wraps (heh) while continuing with their kilometer-long work list. I dont know where the women find the strength to get through all of the physical labor that they squeeze into one day because
it cant be in the white rice. These two cuties have tied a stick and bowl to their backs.

WORK! Regardless of the steadily increasing heat, accompanying sleeplessness, and ongoing party drumming at night, Ive been on a penciled in work schedule. We have started a tree nursery and just had our first demonstration!
My village decided that we should have a demo a few days after I received my tree sacks. We biked to the surrounding villages, chatted with the chief, and invited them to our training. Tijane, my counterpart, called me out, "Homa would you like to talk?" at every village. My initial response was nervous laughter, but really all they wanted to hear was that I was happy and thought their village was nice. These little traditions are sometimes an annoyance, but definitely not the hardest thing to deal with.

Village Maintenance!
I woke up to my compound rethatching the womens' hut, where both of my moms and sister stay.

They also molded some mud bricks to rebuild the Kitchen Hut that will surely be the death of a few people. I will not help them cook because I cannot stand the smoke build up. Once again, I dont know how the women do it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

VIllage Views

"Always there has been an adventure just around the corner - and the world is still full of corners!" -Roy Chapman Andrews, quoted in Remarkable Creatures

Ive fallen into a comfortable village routine that leaves me feeling humbly accomplished as the sun ties the day off.

Now that Ive got a loose plan with a penciled in calendar, Ive shifted my thoughts to what goes on beside the daily tasks. Im tempted to Google the population count of people with this lifestyle that is new and still regularly surprising to me. I live in a town of less than 500 people that is a nice 2 hour bike ride from my bank and post office. Mind you, it does take just as long on public transportation due to tip-toeing along the poorly managed roads, stopping at every village to deposit passengers.

My area is not exactly a tourist attraction, so most of the munchkins in my village and those without reason to travel have never seen an American/white person a.k.a. “Toubob.” This makes everyone very curious and interested in me. Perhaps with little luck, I’ll be able to break some of the American stereotypes. From what I understand, they think that we are all rich, don’t or cant work hard, don’t have a worry in the world, own weapons, and are aware that we only marry one person, but some seem convinced that we can become one of their wives. In short, I’m the shiny new toy.

This attention is appreciated when it results in more cabbage on my side of the bowl or a full bucket of bath water, fresh from the well, but this is nearly a fascination that leaves me with little privacy. My name (Homa J.) is chanted when I walk through vil, everyone wants to greet me or have a look around my room, and they even ask for my clothing or to take them to America.

Ive become this person that I do not recognize sometimes. If any of my friends (or their families) were asked how long it took me to warm up and spat out what was on my mind, they would probably reveal that I was annoyingly shy for the first year. Being under the microscope has expedited that process, which may correlate with my stress level. Although I previously would have considered myself a morning person, I do not want to shake the hand of every person and ask three versions of “Did you wake up?” to know that they are going to say “Peace Only.”

–frazzled—I do it anyways because it is part of the culture, but only after I have adequate wake-up time behind my locked door. After lunch is an opportune time to sit in my thoughts and do what I please as everyone seems to retreat to their huts to nap or get out of the heat. Did I say everyone… I meant everyone except the children that are then somehow satisfyily stuffed with rice and playing. I take this time to read or study. I would like to sit visibly outside under the mango tree instead of closing myself into my room, but herds of kids staring and whispering are rather distracting no matter how frivolous my thoughts. Sometimes I just want to be in a quite (and perhaps air-conditioned) room with a sizeable desk. Don’t jump to hasty conclusions, Im in no way being unsociable or “cushioned in cotton.” This aspect of solitude is more important than I realized. How much time do you spend with your computer, phone, or books?

So, Ive found a little comfort in my schedule that now has time for those things important to me that they will not understand here. The word “integrate” is overused among volunteers, like we are going to actually blend in with our 4 year old language level, pigment-lacking skin, and the privileged, but incompetent persona.
I am here learning and hopefully teaching a little in return, living in what sometimes feels like a different world, and I am (maybe most importantly) enjoying this experience.

"Every traveller must remember the glowing sense of happiness, from the simple consciousness of breathing in a foreign clime," Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Friday, March 2, 2012

Welcoming committee

After being away from site for 3 whopping weeks, I finally returned to my sweet, chanting kids. I do mean that sincerely. They sing "Homa J, ay!" over and over while clapping and frolicking around for me, even if I only spend a couple nights elsewhere. At least they like me. Ive been trying to upload the video with no success, but maybe Ill get a better connection at some point. Im told that Im lucky that they seem to care about me so much because the families of some volunteers hardly turn after their time away.

I started a tree nursery with my counterpart/brother, Tijane, in our compound. He is really thoughtful and makes sure Im taken care of. The prep work of even the most simple tasks make themso much more tedious. Prior to planting, we had to collect sand and manure, build a protective fence to keep all of the little e-i-e-o farm animals out, dig a trench to sink the tree sacks into the ground, and finally sink our hands into the sand-manure cocktail to fill our first 100 sacks!
They actually brought us breakfast as we were packing in the soil... I promise I really dont want rice porridge that badly.

The bird is not in its ounces and inches, but in its relations to Nature –Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was presented a gift from my family the other day for my share of cotton picking! I found it difficult to accept a gift from them, but rejection was even more inappropriate. They gave me material to make a "complet" dress set and explained that we would all wear our matching tie-dye clothing together for the next party, baptism, or wedding. See, surely like me.

Contact: I lost my phone 2 weeks ago, but was surprisingly content in village without having any outside contact. I just took a step further off of the grid...
Dont worry nana, I cant stay out here without a phone (temp number: 77 214 1018) . The best part is that someone found it! And the cheery Senegalese man refuses to return it.