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Once again, I've demonstrated my stunning ability to completely neglect the blog. Much has happened in the eons since my last post. So:
My parents and sister came to visit over the holidays, and we had a wonderful time. They landed first thing on Christmas morning, and I whisked them straight to Popenguine, a lovely little beach community south of Dakar. We rented an impressively spacious house for impressively little money and spent a few days just hanging out as the four of us, for the first time in a very long time. After we all were more rested, we took off for Thies for two nights, and went to visit my training village / homestay during the full day we had in Thies. They were wonderfully warm and welcoming, and we sat around chatting well into the afternoon. I'd given my parents Senegalese names for the trip (Dad: Mbaye Ndiaye, Mom: Yande Diouf), but had remained at a loss concerning my sister. I ran off a list of choices, but she too was at a loss, so finally I had the idea just to ask my host family to name her. Thus, she came to be called Sohna Ndiaye.
From there we made our way down to Kaolack, for one night, before continuing on to Popenguine to celebrate the New Year with my friend David, his girlfriend Margaret, and his family. My sitemate and friend Morgan also joined us, with a visiting friend of hers from the States. It was a merry party, and the next morning we left for Passy, where the weekly market was in full swing. My counterpart met us there, and we took a charette (horse drawn cart) out to my village. We arrived in the midst of a party, which had been going on for some time in anticipation of our arrival, and we were seated at the inner edge of a drum circle as various people danced. My parents were dragged out to the dance 'sand', and made an excellent showing. After some speeches by all parties involved, we finally were allowed to retreat to my hut for some rest and chaotic unpacking.
By the way, trying to house 4 people for 4 days in a 3.2 x 3.2 m hut is something like one person trying to live out of an elevator: It's very cramped, difficult to lie down, and the doors keep opening and closing when you don't want them to, frequently admitting strangers who are just curious about just what's going on in there, anyway. Add to that various insects, arachnids, rodents, and the occasional bat, and you've got a very crowded living environment. A little stressful. My family, however, took it like champs, and we had a pleasant, if fatiguing time of it. We had to visit a lot of the village, both as a courtesy and informatively, which wore us all out. By the end of the stay I was having problems keeping the Sereer and English untangled, and occasionally would speak Sereer to my family or English to the village.
Finally, we extricated ourselves and headed for Dakar, passing through Kaolack on the way. I would like to point out here that up to this point, no one from my family (nor I) had been sick. I think that's pretty impressive, no? Unfortunately, once we hit Dakar my mother and sister both came down with head colds. Alas, how are the mighty fallen.
My mother opted out of Thursday night's dinner out at a Lebanese place, but my father, sister and I ate well. And there was much rejoicing. (Not that my mother wasn't there, but that we were, and well filled). I love Lebanese food, and we ordered the full Mezze spread. Delicious. The next night, Friday, for our last family meal here on the continent, we went out to the French Cultural Center, which serves your basic international western spread, and serves it well. I had a tender steak cooked to perfection. And so it ended. The next morning we were up before the crack of dawn (somewhere around the lower back, I'd say) and off to the airport.
I couldn't think of a better Christmas present than having my family here with me, and I want to say thanks for coming. I know it was a daunting prospect, and not the most relaxing of 'vacations', but it meant the world to me.
I've got some news as well, but it'll have to wait 'til I'm not so typed out. Until then...
It's now rained four times, and the weather is changing as the rainy season approaches. Soon roads will be flooded, Kaolack filled with sewage, and everything damp. But, on the upside, where the roads aren't flooded they'll be better for cycling, everything will begin turning green, and there's nothing to relieve stress better than a thunderstorm. I've re-thatched the roof on my hut, because the thatch was all coming off, and in the process put on a nice porch; this is a great place to sit with a mug of tea or coffee and watch the rain coming down. So far all the storms have been at night, with lighter rains beginning in the evening or ending in the morning.
I'm in Kaolack this morning, about to hop on my bike and cycle down to Sokone. PCVs have organized a girls' leadership camp at a campement (sort of a cross between a camp and hotel) and I've been invited down to teach swing dancing during an activities hour. Another example of something I never thought I'd be doing in the Peace Corps. The camp takes about 25 girls from around the regions of Kaolack, Kaffrine and Fatick and brings them together for a week to talk about leadership, academics, careers, etc. Mixed in with this are activities and down-time.
One of my side projects has been working on a Sereer dictionary. Three PCVs (now gone) put together an amazing dictionary over their years of service, and were finally ready to print it this spring. The data was all in Excel spreadsheets, and I got involved in the process of turning it into a dictionary-style layout using web application technology. I realized that this could be taken further and be used to create an interactive, editable, online dictionary, which could at intervals be compiled and printed for PCVs in the field. This is what I've been working on. When it's online I'll post it here.
On the village front, I caught four goats in my tree nursery last week after one of my host brothers didn't adequately secure the gate. Unfortunately, they ate a lot, and while I think most things will recover, I'm worried about timing. The rainy season is coming, and they need to get established prior to outplanting. We'll see.
That's it for now, I'll try to be better about posting.
Below is the list of books I've read since getting on the plane for Senegal. I thought I'd post this in case anyone had suggestions or wanted to talk about any of them. Obviously, getting my hands on books over here can be difficult. The PC regional houses have libraries, and Kaolack's is particularly good, but if they don't have the book I really have no way of getting it without someone sending it. That said, any book you send me will be read and appreciated. I've kept a list as I read, but not the authors. I'll note the author where I know him or her.
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
The Time Traveller's Wife
Scoop, Evelyn Waugh
The English Patient
Running With Scissors, Augusten Burroughs
The Little Sister
Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver
The Magus, John Fowles
Iron Council, China Mieville
All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy
Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
Indiscretions of Archie, P.G. Wodehouse
The Lost Oasis
The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver
Foundation, Isaac Asimov
Patton & Rommel: Men of War in the 20th Century
The Well of Lost Plots, Jasper Fforde
Foundation and Empire, Isaac Asimov
Gang Leader for a Day, Sudhir Venkatesh
Second Foundation, Isaac Asimov
Love In the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
All of these with the exception of Brideshead Revisited I've gotten through PCVs or the Kaolack House Library. I'm quite impressed with what all is floating around the PC world.
Yesterday was a day which turned out to be full of those little things which make living in Senegal a joy. As I believe I mentioned in a previous post, I had made the acquaintance of a woman in Djilor, my road town, who makes goat cheese. Because David had come to visit for a few days, and was on his way home, we had set up a meeting with Rouby to discuss her cheese.
Yesterday morning we walked the seven kilometers into town and then wandered our way over to Rouby's house. As we were crossing an open area of town, a man with a hospital mask over his face came riding towards us on a motorcycle, shouting to get our attention. We finally stopped and he asked us if we were (as I heard it) vingt-cinq (the number 25 in french). We said no, and he asked us if we were looking for Rouby's house. Surprised, I said yes. He then seemed confused and wanted to know who we were if not vingt-cinq. It turned out that he was saying Vincent, pronounced in the Senegalese french accent, and that he was a veterinarian. We got all this sorted out, still not knowing what Vincent was doing looking for Rouby, or who he was, and continued on it Rouby's house.
Her husband told us that she wasn't here, but at work (which was ridiculous, because we had come on Thursday because she was supposed to be at home), but that we should go meet her at the school. He then handed us a covered platter of about a liter of goat cheese, and off we went, completely confused as to why we had this cheese, and what were were going to do with it at the school where she worked.
The school office, as usual, was bustling, and Rouby was at her desk, serving samples of cheese to staff in and coming through the office. We pulled up chairs, presented her with the cheese and two loaves of bread we had purchased, and David told her about what he could offer in the way of small-enterprise development assistance. He wanted to buy some cheese to take around as samples to hotels and restaurants in the tourist town of Foundiougne, and I wanted to buy some for myself and my host family.It turned out that the platter we'd carried over was all cheese made especially for us, since she knew we were coming, and she sold the whole lot to us for the price of the milk used, because she hadn't yet figured out her pricing (an area in which PC works) and much of it was going out as samples.
We wound up buying at least $50 worth of cheese by American supermarket pricing for the equivalent of $5. Not a bad days gustatative work. David took most of it with him on his way home, and I wandered over to Farba's house to spend the afternoon charging my computer, working on digitizing my notes and my Sereer manual re-write. Bethany and Mary, two volunteers in the area, were there preparing for another sex-ed training happening over today and the weekend, and we spent a very pleasant few hours, eating with Farba and his family.
After lunch I had a very pleasant walk home in the late afternoon sun.
Happy belated New Year! Thank you to those of you who sent Christmas cards or packages. You all will be getting letters with a thank you. Everything that comes my way is much appreciated.
My hitherto placid existence in the village has begun accelerating. My life remained largely normalized during the weeks between my installation at site and the holidays. I felt as though I was treading water, getting to know the residents of my village, working out my living routine, etc., with the occasional blip of AgFo/development work. Christmas was wonderful. I travelled to Popenguine, a sleepy town on the coast south of Dakar, heavily populated with tourists. There I gathered with ten fellow volunteers and two volunteers serving with the Korean equivalent of PC. We relaxed, procured some quite enjoyable wine of Spanish origin in town, and cooked delicious and attractive meals.
Despite being far from home and family, the climate and ambience in Senegal so little reminds of what I associate with Christmas that I didn't feel particularly homesick. I'm sure my family at home took greater notice of my absence. After Christmas I returned to Kaolack for the New Year, which I spent in the regional house quite peacefully. I was able to Skype my family briefly before losing power (as frequently happens). Then I returned to site and was suddenly quite busy.
We had a Sereer language booster course taught in David's village, which I attended along with David, Tamar, and Byron. Tamar had some Sereer experience, and Byron none, so the course was a fun mixture of the basics and more advanced material as it came up. Assane, our old LCF, was the teacher, and it was great to see him again. After getting back to site after the course, I learned of a large number of individuals and groups in my village who had gardens of some sort, and began going around to tour each garden, interview the farmer about his needs and wants, and make some kind of evaluation. Many gardens and fields have existing live fences, but all of them are in need of pruning and most have holes, currently not serving as barriers. After my In-Service training in February I'd like to hold a pruning seminar for the village, and then get all these fences pruned before the rainy season kicks in this year. The men's group in the village wants to plant one to two hectares of cashew orchard with accompanying live fence. They've now chosen the site, and I need to go have a close look at it and decide what all me need.
The women's group in the village is beginning their group garden by clearing a former millet field, and they plan to dig a well there. I've found an NGO I hope to work with on the well/irrigation project (appropriateprojects.org). Also about this time, a USAID representative based in Passy came by to say that he wanted to begin a children's nutrition / community health garden, then again to discuss chicken farming and salt processing projects.. I hope to be involved in those as well. Two different villages in the area have expressed interest in applying for a volunteer. I met with one community, and am scheduled to also talk with the chief of the second. David has been working with campements in Foundiougne, and one of the campement owners has founded a tourism organization of the city and is interested in starting a website. We met, and I'm going to be helping his brother transition their information and photos (already in a near-web brochure form) to an online format and set up hosting. Additionally, Bethany has been organizing Sex Ed / Avoiding Early Pregnancy and Marriage trainings in the area, and I've attended two of those.
Through chance, Chris and I heard about and were introduced to a woman making goat cheese in our road town (Djilor). Not wanting to pass up the chance to discover a local source of cheese, we followed up and spoke with her husband (she was at an expo in Dakar). We're going to meet with her in person later this week, but from the sounds of it she's just getting ready to increase production and wants to sell to local tourist markets. We tasted the cheese, and it is excellent. Imagine a very mild chevre, with the texture of cream cheese or butter. And neither of us got sick. Check and check, quality control passed!
All in all, I'm feeling pleasantly active, and as though I can begin to see the shape my work may take during my service. It's nice to feel that I always have something to do, but not be overwhelmed. My host mother has been in Dakar most of the month first for a Baptism and then for a family death, and my father is frequently away (he often stays away while working as a painter, and also has a second wife in Sokone), so lately it's just been my brothers Tijan and Buki and myself. Of course, there are actually many people running around the compound, but it does feel different. It's been a reminder as well of the drastically different family dynamic here in Senegal. No on need worry about who is home when, because just in my compound at least three meals are being cooked at any given mealtime, and there is always more than enough food. I'm frequently invited to eat again after having just done so, and can thereby conveniently scale my consumption to my appetite: days I'm active and hungry I'll eat two big lunches, other days just a light one.
I'm in Kaolack for the weekend, picking up files and forms I'll need back at site, and then off to In-Service Training (IST) the first weekend of February. Hopefully I'll get another post in soon.
I am now the proud owner of an Eee PC netbook. It just arrived this weekend at the Kaolack regional house, and I'll be taking it back to site with me. Hopefully it will allow me to be much more responsible and long winded with my blog posts, seeing as how I'll be able to compose them offline and then add them when I have an internet connection. This also will now give me the time to finally compose an article for the Daily Record in Ellensburg, which I hope they will publish at some point. I'll keep you all updated on that front.
I'm also extremely excited to organize many of my notes on Agfo, Sereer, and work in the village in a digital format, allowing them to be continually improved and shared. Down the road I may post some of this material, or links to it, for those of you interested. I'm beginning to get involved in more and more projects, spanning sectors, and am pleased to feel that I'm working. More on that to follow.
John Brown B.P. 06 Djilor Saloum Senegal West Africa
Things you could send:
magazines drink mixes / flavorings pens quality writing paper tea (all sorts) addresses of people to mail gum prunes (or other dried fruit) photos tapes (mixes, radio, voice, whatever) coffee (I can brew drip grind) Peanut M&Ms good tropical clothing weird things I wouldn't expect
Agroforestry Extension Agent Senegal Language: Serere 3 months in-country training 2 years service