6 Months in Country!

I’ve made it 6 months! It’s so hard to believe. Although the individual days sometimes drag, the weeks and months are flying.

Random Tidbit: People here are superstitious.

  1. They don’t like to count people. When I was conducting my baseline survey at site, I had to ask, “How many people wake up in this house in the morning?” and “How many sticks of god do you have?” (meaning children). 
  2. Last night I was chastised for leaving my shoe flipped over by the mat.
  3. Tucking your shirt in is another no-no.
  4. Resting your hands on your head is a bad sign because women do that when they wail.
  5. In the lunch bowl, when someone flicks you some bitter tomato, you must eat it or you’re a witch.
  6. The most eerie: At dusk every night there is a call to prayer and the streets full of kids playing soccer, women selling fattaya, and the mosiers clear out and go inside their compounds. It’s said that witches (and cats?) walk the streets at dusk and it’s bad to be outside.

New Post!

Disclaimer: It’s been a really long time since my last post, and too much has happened to adequately blog about it.

I’m back in home sweet Kebemer after about a month of In-Service Training. We learned about a lot of Advanced Gardening/Field Crop techniques including Intercropping, Pest Management, Companion Planting, Waterharvesting Earthworks Techniques, Permaculture and more. WHEW! It was exhausting but really cool. (Side note, I’m officially in love with the 56? volunteers in our training group. What an incredible group we’ve got).

I also realized I’ve done a terrible job explaining to people back home what I’m doing here. The Peace Corps has 3 goals; here they are in my words.

  1. Development work
  2. Talk about the U.S. to Senegalese people.
  3. Talk about Senegal to Americans.

The last 2 are pretty obvious, and the first terribly vague. I’m an agriculture volunteer, and I basically get to do whatever projects I want within the broad realm of agriculture. I was placed in a city, so small scale gardening is practical; but biking out to nearby villages and working with larger scale crop production is also possible.

The Peace Corps approach to sustainable development work is grass-roots, bottom-up and person-to-person emphasized. That means I get to know people in my community first, talk to them, teach them and assist them with their ideas and projects. This approach starkly contrasts the traditional NGO presence in Senegal; namely, that is to walk into a community, hand out money and then leave. (Talk to any Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, and you’ll get a hefty rant about how this makes our daily lives oh so difficult).

So right now, I’m in the seeking-out-motivated people phase of my work. Seeking-out-people-not-just-looking-for-free-money. Here are some of the people I’ve met, to give you an idea.

  • The Senegalese Government’s Agriculture Office – Peace Corps sets all volunteers up with a counterpart at their sites. Mine works in the Agriculture Office. His main focus is a Table MicroGardening project. People are super enthusiastic about growing vegetables in tables, but there are limits to its sustainability ($$).
  • Women’s Group – Women in Senegal frequently have organized groups, and they are a great tool to use pre-existing infrastructure to reach people. I’ve made friends with the president and several women of a MicroGardening group and sat in on one of their meetings.
  • Schools – I’ve been making regular visits to 4 schools in the area: Ekol 8 and Ekol Ndakhar Syll, both primary French schools; CESSA a middle school; and a Talibe Koranic school (I’ll blog about the Talibe in a later post)
  • Khalmbane – A village just outside Kebemer, there is a big gardening group with a large field. The chief of the village is (perhaps overly?) nice.
  • Prison – There’s a pre-existing garden in the local prison and the Warden is really interested in working with me. I haven’t had time to go over there as much as I’d like to.
  • ISRA Seed Extension Program – When the rains come (around June) farmers plant their crops. Peace Corps works with the Senegalese research institute to extend improved variety seed to farmers (more drought, pest resistant, higher yield, etc). We also collect data on yields and whatnot. So I’ve been keeping my eyes open for hard-working farmers to extend seed to later on.
  • Eax et Forest – One of my favorite people in Kebemer is a man working with trees at the government office. He’s great, has worked with PC volunteers in the past, and is super motivated. Hoping to maybe do some tree trainings (fruit trees, reforestation projects) with him.

I’m probably forgetting some, but that gives you an idea of what I’ve been up to for the past couple months. I’ll try to start blogging more regularly and keep them shorter.

If anyone has any questions or has a topic they want me to write about, just holler!

 

Hilarious Cultural Quirks – Greetings

that you probably have to be here to appreciate

I’ve mentioned before how greetings are important, but I haven’t gone into detail. They are very repetitive and formalized with set answers, but can be pretty funny. Questions go something like, “How is your family?” “How is the heat?” “How are the mosquitos?” “Are you in peace?” “Where is _____ (any one of your 50 family members)?” and a million other parallel questions. The answers are set too, and always extremely to moderately positive like “I’m in peace” “Heat only!” “They’re over there” etc. It doesn’t really matter if you match up questions with answers, since they all pretty much fit, and throughout the exchange everybody will undoubtedly interject a few “Peace Only”s and “Praise God”s.

And then if there is a lull in the greeting chatter, people frequently start it back up with a “Ca va?” –a French greeting that has got to be spoken more in Senegal than in France itself. As if they haven’t already asked in detail 25 questions relating to “How’s it going?” Cracks me up.

Last names are also an important part of the greetings, especially with more formal, older people. You just stand there repeating each others’ names back and forth quickly. It’s really funny.  When greeting elders, religious leaders (Imams) and people of importance, not making eye contact is the more respectful thing to do. Which is opposite of our culture and hard to get used to, though Brittany would fit in well. In some of the religious sects, men and women do not greet each other which has been awkward a few times for me after I’ve extended a hand. Otherwise, hand shaking is an integral part of greeting and no inquiry about one’s health would be complete without it.

Holidays Recap from Senegal

Well, the holidays came and went full of bittersweet celebrations with new friends. Starting the celebrations my sister had a wedding party in a neighboring village. We all got dressed up, loaded up in the back of this truck, and took off.

Maybe 12 women total? On the way back, everyone took off their shoes and put them in a bucket. I couldn't get a straight answer for why.

Maybe 12 women total in the back of the truck? On the way back, everyone took off their shoes and put them in a bucket. I couldn’t get a straight answer for why.

The Beautiful Bride and her under-dressed friend at a very Senegalese-angle (think Myspace era aesthetics)

The Beautiful Bride and her under-dressed friend at a very Senegalese-angle (think Myspace era aesthetics)

Christmas was a great time including killing and cooking a chicken, eating a LOT of cookies, pumpkin bread, salads, mac n cheese, mulled wine, tapalapa — basically my dream weekend. It wasn’t easy being away from home, but thanks to Skype, letters, presents and Christmas decorations from home and the company of my wonderful fellow volunteers, we all made it through.

Our Christmas card featuring chicken feet (Christmas dinner) and canned snow (courtesy of my lovely mother)

I rang in the “New Years” like this at 8 pm and then peacefully slept through the turn of 2013 with a belly full of sparkling grape juice. Wild night, eh?

This was the most flattering of all the self-portraits I took, though it may give a skewed perception of my enthusiasm of spending New Years Eve alone in my room...

Believe it or not, this was the most flattering of all the self-portraits I took, though it may give a skewed perception of my enthusiasm of spending New Years Eve alone in my room

Then the next morning it was off to the Maggal Touba– a huge annual pilgrimage one of the Islamic brotherhoods takes– at 5am, which means 730 am SenegalTime. They celebrate the exile of their leader with a ton of eating and drinking (soft drinks) and, for the women, at least, gossiping while lounging in rooms covered wall to wall with mattresses to accommodate all the guests descending on the city.

Note: Her Crayola Dress. The prayer scarf on my shoulders -you have to cover your head as a woman in Touba

My mom in her Crayola Dress. And me with a prayer scarf on my shoulders -you have to cover your head as a woman in Touba when you go outside

Note

Street corner of Touba. Note the megaphones on the corner. The covered the city chanting/singing nonstop along with these posters everywhere of the brotherhood leader

Then, just a few near-death incidents later….involving donkey carts, speed bumps on highways, a fenderbender, clouds of dust requiring medical-grade masks, stand still traffic, unmarked lanes, engine trouble (maybe battery related?), subsequent pushing of the car down the street, and getting lost once……..We made it back to the house alive! And, kids, that’s how I started 2013.

Wolof Proverbs

A few proverbs to illustrate some facets of the culture here.


Slowly, slowly to catch a monkey in the forest.
 ndank ndank mooy jaap golo ci ñaay.
The first proverb I learned and the one I most often utilize, this guy is kind of our equivalent “Slow and steady wins the race,” substituting our tortoise and hare for a monkey and trapper. I throw this down on a daily basis whether being praised or harassed for my Wolof skills. It’s easier than explaining the plateaus and challenges involving language acquisition. (Side note, I’ve only seen one monkey so far which I’m quite fine with. I was driving by and saw him walking along the dirt road. My time in Costa Rica taught me monkeys are exciting and exotic the first time you see them, and quickly become terrifying shortly after).

I won’t buy a serpent in the hole. duma jend jay ci pax.
Everyone tries to rip everyone off here, and it’s only worse (I hate to say) if you have pale skin. So you never pay for anything until after you have it, and then try to pay with exact change if possible. It’s a lesson everybody has to learn the hard way once, and then you will always remember. You can also use this in jest when telling people you’ll sell your age if they’ll do a certain dance move, which I frequently do.

People are medicine for people. ñit ni lay garabam.
A beautiful (and difficult for us Americans who value privacy and solitude) aspect of Senegalese culture is the importance placed on community, relationships and simply being together. Sitting, shooting the shit and joking with each other are their cure-alls.

A stick that has a long time in the water does not change into a crocodile. bant lu mu yagg yagg ci ndox du sopëliku jesig.
No matter how much I integrate, become fluent in Wolof, tie babies on my back and learn to cook Senegalese dishes, I’ll still be an American. I’ll still be me. And more surprisingly, I’ve found I identify as a Southerner first, and an American second. Who would have thought?

Debt does not have a younger sibling. bor du am rakk.
People ask each to loan them money all the time here, and in the culture it’s not acceptable to ask your friend to pay you back, no matter how big the loan is. So you never loan anyone an amount of money that you can’t bear to part with, even if it’s your sister. But I suppose you can use this for the second time someone asks you for money. I’m really wary of being viewed as another walking NGO-handout by my community, so I never loan anyone money and have never actually said this to anyone.

You are asking a frog about his tail. dangay laaj mbot u genam.
Basically to use when you’re asking a nonsensical question, like something a crazy person would ask. I don’t really ever use this one, but a friend of my family’s taught it to me and I thought it was a little funny, so I included it.

A Day in the Life – Morning Edition

Every morning I wake up to the mosque chanting the call(s) to prayer before sunrise, and lay in bed until my alarm goes off at 7. My emotions during this dark time range from rage to romantically feeling like “I’m in Africa!”. (I imagine exercise will worm its way in at this time, once I figure out how. The one time I ran, a piece of glass went through my Vibram, and my calves hurt for 2 days. Deep sand is deep.) Opening my east facing windows, I spy a lovely sunrise and settle down to drink a cup of Nescafe and powdered milk while working a crossword puzzle that I never finish. Settling down means sitting on my stool that I asked some carpenters to craft last week; I cannot go on enough about how life changing it is to have something to sit on. Those first mornings were rough. It’s worthwhile noting the mosquitos are raging at this hour. Once I’ve given up on the puzzle, I get ready for the day, pack a backpack and fill up my water filter. I bike to the government agriculture office a little before 9 and stop on the way for breakfast from my favorite lady. There I join some people eating in silence on benches arranged in a horseshoe around the chef, Psiu Nabu Diop. The benches are surrounded by hanging sheets, giving an illusion of privacy. My bean sandwich costs 150 CFA, 30 US cents. I work at the office here until 1 when we break for lunch until 4. That’s three hours of lunch break, in case you missed it. Senegal shuts down for lunch, especially during the hot season. I bike home and relax until lunch and sweep.

To be continued, I’m tired.

I’M INSTALLED, HELP!

I am finally in my home sweet home Kebemer, which started out about as sweet as three week old Tabaski ram. I’ve only been here a little while, though, so I’m trying to keep an open mind. Instead of going on a rant about my new family, the city, and the men of this country, I’ll entertain everyone with a bathroom tally. In six days there have been:

cockroaches slaughtered in the bathroom – 22

escaped cockroaches now MIA – 2

cockroach carcasses discovered the next morning – 6
(ensued the heated debate among my friends and I about what was happening to all the slain)

Cockroaches killed fighting over the carcass of their own kind  – 6                                                      (settled the debate)

Cockroach arch nemesis – 1

*** some may be represented in multiple counts

Sworn In, Now What?

Well, I just spend an hour writing a lovely, witty blog update just to have the power cut out and lose it. As we like to say, “High highs, Low lows.” Peace Corps is an emotional roller coaster. I’ll summarize what I had already written:

I took an oath regarding upholding the constitution, and I’m now an official Peace Corps volunteer! Here’s a video where you can see my teacher, confidant and second mother Ouly and a bunch of my friends–all of whom kept me sane these past 2 months. One noteworthy discrepancy, however, is the atmosphere of our cocktail hour. While we seem to be leisurely enjoying pleasantries and the sunshine, it was in fact more along the lines of a bacon-in-the-middle match with hors d’oeuvres in place of a football. Fingerfood-deprived Peace Corps volunteers can’t be expected to behave themselves around cheesy mashed potato balls.

It’s bittersweet finishing training and moving to Kebemer. I developed a unique bond with my host family, the Peace Corps training staff, and my fellow volunteers. Being so vulnerable when I arrived here and being taken care of so well by everyone has left me overwhelmed with gratitude and very sad to say goodbye. It’s hard to articulate how terrifying it is to be unable to meet your basic needs on your own, and how life changing it is to be surrounded by people who you know care deeply about you. Almost like speed-growing up; I don’t know if I’ll ever experience another time in my life like this, or ever make relationships under similar circumstances again. Tears were shed during the swearing in.

But I’m excited to unpack my bags, cook for myself, and start my work. It’s both exciting and also really scary to have a completely open ended schedule in my future. Come Wednesday, it’s all up to me what I do with my time!

Food

Here’s a rundown of the food I eat daily:

Breakfast consists of bagette and chocolate (or bread and butter) and Nescafe instant coffee. I eat alone around 9 in the morning after someone in my family goes down to the boutique my family owns and brings back the bread and spread.

Lunch is the main meal and takes place around 2 or so in the afternoon. We sit around on stools or the ground gathering around a big bowl placed outside on the sand. We eat with spoons or our hands. Rice or ceeb is the star player in this meal with different sauces, vegetables fish or meat. Popular dishes include:

Ceeb u jen (rice and fish with lots of veggies if you’re wealthy)

Ceeb u yapp (rice and meat – all you eat during and for weeks after Tabaski)

Maffe (rice and a peanut sauce)

Dinner is really variable but smaller than lunch and eaten after dark in the same fashion. We sometimes have something similar to rice pudding, rice with crunchy fried rice in the middle, or rice and beans.

Noteworthy snacks we learned to make from our friends at rooftop party include

 

“beignets”

and fattaya- like a fried hot pocket. ours were fishy and small