training

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!

 

Month In

It is so hard to believe that we have only been here a month! I’ve adapted in a lot of ways: Tasks like brushing my teeth and tucking in my mosquito net at night are now mere inconveniences rather than reasons to dread the sun going down. Sure, I still dehydrate myself as the evening approaches to avoid leaving my room, but really who doesn’t? And I might still clean up the occasional coffee spill with my dirty clothes, but I no longer feel the need to choke down my entire bagette in the morning- just pass that nom off to a little sibling or a fellow Peace Corps trainee!

Other adjustments are a little unsettling. I now throw my trash on the ground without a thought which would have horrified States-bound Hannah. Trash cans don’t exist here to my observation.

I’m starting to reallly get to know (and love) my family here. With the help of my improving Wolof skills, I put together a family tree of 50? relatives, 19 of whom live with me. My other sister just had a baby putting our infant count up to 3! And you know what that means – another baptism celebration! Pictures of that and tabaski coming next!

Community Based Training

Community Based Training

I leave again tomorrow for a fortnight stint at my CBT site. My family in Bayakh, the Amars and Jahumpas, are wonderful and plentiful. There are three buildings in my compound, and I think only about 15? people live there total, but there are constantly relatives and friends from all over Bayakh and Senegal visiting, so it’s hard to be sure. I still don’t know everyone’s names in my family, and figuring out the family relationships is far, far beyond my grasp. (This is further convoluted by the fact that polygamy is common). Since one of the only phrases I can understand in Wolof is What is her name? I get called out a lot.

It’s difficult to explain how hilarious, stressful, and absurd it is to be dropped off into a family without knowing how to communicate anything. The first few days I spent a lot of time staring off into space while my family members called my name repeatedly. It’s exhausting listening to a constant stream of noises you can’t even distinguish into words or phrases, but it’s also amazing how frequently you can understand the gist of a conversation or question without understanding a single word that was said. Non verbal communication and intuition are my best tools here.

The first full day I was in Bayakh, I went down the wrong road in search of my compound. Halfway down realizing I was lost, I turned around to head back to the main road when I was called over by a woman under a shade tree. It was lunchtime, and I was ushered into a family’s compound where I was forced to eat with 15 people and fan myself (that crazy white girl sweating buckets wandering around in the hottest part of the day!). There was so much laughing while we tried to communicate in broken French, and they sent people out in search of someone who spoke English. Finally, a boy I recognized came by the compound (I think he is related to my family somehow?), and he agreed to show me back to my house. However not before we stopped by his house, and his neighbor’s house of course. By the time we made it back to my compound, I sat down for my 4th lunch with my family!

Community Based Training Commence!

My language group of 4 trainees leaves for Bayakh today for Community Based Training. The PC bus will take me to my host family compound (or as close as possible), drop me off with my bags including a gift of tea and sugar, and leave me alone with a working Wolof vocabulary of about 5 phrases.

I’ll be greeted by my host family who will give me a Senegalese name –hopefully one I can pronounce. We will stay with our host families 6 days and beyond that, I am unsure what to anticipate. It’s really hard to imagine what I will do to pass the time for 6 days unable to communicate. Some sites have electricity and others do not, but I’ll be out of touch for a while regardless.

A’salaam malekum! Peace be with you!

Loaded down like this, I waddled through customs.

FOP

The humidity hit me and my camera’s lens with a big puff of dirty, hot air straight off the plane

Outside the airport we were greeted by enthusiastic Peace Corps-ers and shuttled to Thiès as the sun was coming up. After the hour bus ride and overnight flight, I was exhausted, but meandering cows in the metropolis Dakar, some 80s-esque French/Wolof music on the radio station, and some cool street art and tags stand out in my memory.

That day was a blur of sessions, small talk, a nap, and a seminar on how to use a Turkish toilet.  This is how we eat lunch, and how we will be eating

 When you get fish bones, in your mouth, just let them fall out onto the

on the mat, shoes off, spoons in!

mat! Also, spoons are quite optional.

When we finally were able to hit the sack, I fell asleep faster than I could have hoped. I awoke in the night to a powerful rainstorm, the doors slamming open and shut in our room, and laying in bed looking up at the mosquito net was all pretty surreal.

The next day, we walked into Thiès for the first time, and it was mind-blowing. Although we had only been in the compound for 2 days, it felt like indefinite period of time – an indefinite bubble of American food, people, smells and references, with designated Senegalese knowledge, language and cultural training thrown in spurts now and then. Walking down the crowded market, stepping out of the way of taxis going everywhere, having a few kids begging beside you –it was overwhelming. In the training center, it’s hard for me to visualize the Senegal I’m learning about.