So some may refer to an almost 4 month absence since my last blog post a pretty big failure. To them I can only say that balancing between keeping update on world events and updating everyone on my life struggles and successes in Senegal while living in an electricity-less is as difficult as it sounds. I applaud your penitence and understanding then if you still make the effort to read my blog.
So when I last left you all I was just a month or so in village, Guinaing, in the department of Bakel. Since then I haven’t really done much besides drink tea and get into deeply intense debates over who is a bean eater and why (I’ve recently taken the passive route to this debate and proudly proclaim myself a bean eater to my village’s humorous glee). I really wish I was joking about that but to be honest that makes up a lot of my time right now. Though that would be a very simplistic assessment of what I’m actually accomplishing. While some days I come home feeling underwhelmed with what I think I accomplished that day, after a reflecting process where I write down in an activity log what I did I realize that I met a new person or two and picked up a word here and there. Some days it might be something simple like the fact that I finally used the correct formal future tense in Pulaar even if we were only talking about why I didn’t have a wife or kids yet. That is usually the chief debate that I must defend myself and the rest of unmarried Americans my age every morning at the bread bakery. Almost like a doughnut/coffee shop back home in rural America, there is a group of 4-6 regulars whom sit, drink tea and chat about typical Pulaar topics (women, why I’m not married, how many wives I want, why I only want one, etc) and daily gossip. This group has really endeared themselves to me and have been a valuable resource acting as a sort of council of Pulaar masters that quiz me daily about the vocabulary words for harvesting millet to milking cows to what the skin inbetween your toes is called (yes they have a word for that but still not certain why they were adamant that I needed to know).
That’s probably where the similarities end though. Our village bread bakery (or fiirme in Pulaar) is a mud stove with a steel rough held up by a few branches from a nearby neem tree. The bread is AMAZING though! It’s millet bread, which I pick up around 6:45am fresh from the mud oven. The only negative or drawback to the whole operation is that if I want beans, fish mash or other fresh cooked spreads for my bread I need to wait till 8am. In the mean time I usually end the ends of the bread which is delicious by itself piping hot and also makes it easier to cut open for spread beans or fish mash in it (or at least that’s what I tell myself).
Besides that I’ve been brainstorming and searching out opportunities to put my skills and pent up ambition to good use. My first opportunity for this was holding a class/demonstration in my village’s woman’s garden about planting moringa trees in an intensive bed in your garden for high yielding leaf production. Simply put you plant moringa in a 10cm grid in a 5/1m to 7/1m bed. Why moringa? Moringa is considered the miracle tree of West Africa. It’s high in every vitamin you’d ever want or need. More importantly is that moringa will grow anywhere which is important in the volatile Sahel region in West Africa. The demonstration went fairly well with what I considered a reasonable crowd for the size of my village. I’m planning a follow up demonstration on how to preserve moringa leaves through processing them by drying them.
Additionally I’ve been working with the neighboring village of Samba Yiida, my road town (a town that is found on the road where my village transports produce and travels to and from Bakel and Tambacounda). Samba Yiida’s woman’s garden is interested in developing a woman’s garden. As of now they have a modest garden with a shabby fence and no well. In fact, they have to carry water up to 40meters away to water their garden which may not sound like much but watering a garden in the Sahel takes a lot of water meaning a lot of trips back and forth. I am currently working with USAID, my Peace Corps APCD (boss) and the village chief and president of the Samba Yiida’s woman’s group in getting the funds for a new and expanded fence, well and tools. I’m hoping to have the grant completed and approved within the next month and hopefully have the garden completed by the end of the hot season (mid of July). I’ll keep you all updated.
I have so many more updates but unfortunately I have to get back to village life. I promise next time I’m in town I’ll explain the cop costume photos on facebook (yes there was reasoning behind it) and other updates about WAIST (West African Invitational Softball Tournament), meetings and a little get away in Dakar and how things have changed in Bakel.
All your thoughts are greatly appreciated be it via email, facebook, phone call or letter.
Love and Peace from Bakel,