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"