A Finished School Well!

May 16, 2011

M’Bam is a very large village. It has two primary schools, a private school (for students that didn’t pass a certain grade in a public school more than twice) and a junior high. During the school year students from surrounding villages either commute or board with a family. This causes the population to fluctuate drastically between the rainy season (when schools out) and the dry season (the school year). Last November one of the many American students that while studying abroad in Senegal have “interned” in M’Bam was teaching several days a week at the second primary school. Having never visited the school, not knowing its location or essentially of its existence I asked to come and meet the teachers and directors. The day I came was this American student, we out-planted ten trees (using compost!) and as it was her last day in M’Bam, it was decided that I would continue on in her absence. The director and I were joking how strange it was that I had been in this village for over a year and was being introduced to the staff by some one who had been in the village six weeks. When I’m here at least two days I assist a teacher by taking over for a period or two but the real interest and direction of this partnership between the school and me was to have a garden.

There is a water tower in our village and a tap can be installed in the compound, though it is expensive. The water tower when built has fresh water but not long into the tower’s life the water becomes salty, this goes for most water towers in the vicinity of the river delta. The pipes that bring in water begin to leak at the depth where salty water surrounds the pipe and thus lets the salty water in.

So though the school has a tap, they don’t even water the trees with this water. The compound next door to the school had a well from which students retrieved fresh water. When discussing the garden, water came up as the main problem, often gardens are held back as well by a lack of fencing since all livestock is loose and will eat away your entire garden. The school has a very sturdy fence made of concrete bricks and iron so beside the seeds and physical labor of gardening, fresh water was the only missing necessity.

Each day/multiple times a day people ask me for money, things, and too give them foreign women so besides this experience changing my outlook on development period, I don’t think in the long run giving money or materials helps or is even a good idea. Some investors spent hundreds of thousand of dollars to invest in a biogas facility, which though installed in 2005 is still not producing methane. Partly due to the concept being a progressive high level idea in the first world pushed on to a village that isn’t ready for that and has lots more practical environmental issues that need to be solved. But mostly this due to my host brother being treasurer of the village organization that accepted the project stealing the money to start his successful hardware store. Money is viewed here as communal by most so unless an outsider manages the funds they won’t go where they’re supposed to. I half-heartedly said I would seek funding for a well so we can have a garden having the anti-giving development philosophy.

In any case I broke down and sought funding. There is an NGO, Appropriate Project ( http://appropriateprojects.com/node/609), which has a division strictly for funding water related projects (communal wells, school bathrooms, etc.) under $500 for Peace Corps Volunteers. There only stipulations are that the work start immediately and finish within 30 days.

Unearthing fresh water!

In order to make sure the well was dug in a spot from which fresh water would be found we had to find some one with that ability. The school director in the village four kilometers up the road said there was an ancient Pulaar method of checking and we could hire them to do it.

The school director with the finished well

There is also an elderly French woman living in village five kilometers into the bush who can do this as well, we’re friends thanks to the French woman that has house in my village. She came and sought out the optimal well site for free, she was able to say the depth of the water and determine whether it was fresh or salty. I don’t completely understand the method but I’ll explain it as best as I can, if you are holding a piece of wood taut between your hands, the piece of wood become bendable over the site where the fresh water is, apparently this can be done with rope too.

Our future composting site

Mid-April I received the Money Gram confirmation number for the $490 worth of CFA (Senegalese Money) that Appropriate Projects sent me to build a well. The original budget the school director and I decided on was more than I received due to the exchange rate fluctuation. There was a truck load of sand on the budget. Sand is used to mix with cement both for the lining of the well wall and also for the bricks used for the exterior to prevent people from falling in. This was removed from the budget as the digging of the well would provide enough sand for this purpose. We reduced the amount of 50 kilo bags needed from 15 to ten. The last way we finagled the well price was to ask the masons to take the price down which they did by $20.

First a perfect circle was placed in the sand and the first week was spent removing sand two meters deeps. Not far from the two meter hole, three one meter holes were dug in the manner. Eight and six meter iron rods were sawed off to the desired length. Each of the three meter holes were coated with cement, lined with iron, and covered with another layer of cement. This was a little over two weeks worth of work and at this point the mason team took a week long break. The meter length cement circles meant for lining the well below the water’s surface needed to have water constantly splashed on it to keep them from cracking in the sun. The mason team came back to work, lining the two meter deep well hole with cement, iron and at finishing layer of cement. They laid gravel and cement around the well and for some reason no one is allowed to walk on it while wearing shoes. The third and fourth meters were completed and after going a little deeper, we reached water. All the teachers were very happy to tell me this and that the water was confirmed as fresh. The mason team has dug underwater, deep enough that one of the three meter linings dug outside the well has been lowered in. More wet sand will be removed so one more of the meter line will protect well wall underwater. The third lining fits inside this last lining so when the well runs dry, another meter can be dug and this last lining will slide deeper to protect the wall at this new depth. Now the well is finished and waist high cement exterior is installed to prevent anyone from falling in.

On the domestic front, I had family and neighbor collect thatch and bought some as well. After it was woven and enough bundles were present, a date was set to remove the old thatch and lay the new thatch. This showered dust all over my room and the material (mosquito netting) covering the top of my hut form dust was too porous so I removed it. A team of painters were repainting the family living room, metal window shutters, and outside wall a week later so I bought a tub of white paint to cover my walls with and the lead painter instructed me on doing proper job. He had me do an initial layer, then plaster the holes in the wall, and go over the walls again with a second layer. It came out nice. It was difficult to decide what to use cover the top of my hut from thatch and dust falling on the interior as mosquito netting was too porous and but I was told plastic would be too hot. As dust has been bothering inside my hut more than heat, I brought meters of blue plastic to a tailor who wove it together so it could be nailed into the four corners of my room. This came out nicely thanks to my cousin Alex doing it thoroughly and a role of duct tape.

Then a very talent volunteer painted three murals inside my hut, one of Chicago, one of the Swiss mountains, and a Japanese water color painting of a boat, its reflections, the sky and water. This hut has come a long way!


Senegalese Wedding

March 30, 2011

A Senegalese wedding is way more complex I’m sure than what I have observed but I will first describe the wedding I attended between a volunteer and Senegalese person then at the end add what other tid bits I’ve been told and learned.

In order to get engaged, a man brings the father of his bride to be kola nuts, how many I don’t know. Kola nuts come from our neighbor to the east, Mali. There is also a bride price, I believe negotiated between families. Some one in my village told me  the bride price for their fiance was 40,000 CFA, roughly $80. Once the kola nuts  and money changes hands, a date is set and preparations begin. Usually organized transport is arranged if a large enough group is coming from out of town. A DJ and drum/dance troop, are hired, a large number of chairs (200 hundred for this wedding), several large shade tents, portable rice sac fence to surround the tents, and a dance floor. Depending on the wealth of the families either a cow (wealthiest), a sheep/goats (standard) or pigs (Christian) will be cooked, other supplies are kilos and kilos of onions, green peppers, carrots, etc., and a 50kg bag of rice.

At 11 AM Saturday March 12, thirty plus volunteers wearing Senegalese clothing stuffed into a mini-bus going from Kaolack (pronounced cow-lack) to a village 25km down the road from me called Pethie (pronounced petch). We arrived, exchanged greetings, and were herded to chairs in front of the house, the bride to be, Mary, a pcv, had her American mom, mom’s friend, cousin, and cousin’s husband attending needless to say she had a large number of guests. It was around one p.m. when we were seated and settled. Lunch by a volunteer’s family is served between 1:30-2:30 so we expected  to eat in the next hour or two. At this point  I went off to meet  the husband  to be, Malick, I’ve heard a lot about him and he even came to my house once when I wasn’t there so I was glad to finally meet him. The DJ and drum troop were people I know quite well in my village so it was nice to see familiar faces.

After sitting a while with Malick, his friends, and a few other pcvs, playing a game of Senegalese checkers, and chatting with guys from my village (asking for me to give them one of the female pcvs attending the wedding and for me to take them to America). I went back to the bride’s compound, passing through the dance floor where everyone I came with had been herded, it being around 3:00, we began to wonder about lunch. I poked my head into the bride’s compound and they were only preparing to kill the goat and then I knew we were in for a long day.

The bride, Mary, had been out of sight since we arrived and as all the pcvs sitting in the dance tent were heading to the bride’s house were rerouted and told to follow some one to another house. Mary came out with probably the most make up she’s ever had on in a white two piece outfit with a white head wrap and her hair done. She was surrounded by seven bridesmaid in blue outfits, a drummer, singer, American and Senegalese family, and a large group of pcvs. This is the traditional part of a Senegalese wedding in a small village they take the bride from house to house, annunce the marriage, play music, and a bridesmaid or some one in the house will suddenly catch dance fever, jump into the center of the group, dancing rapidly and running out, with an embarrassed smile as if to say “I don’t know what came over me”. I’ve seen this parade moving down the main roads  in my village (my village is way to big to go from house to house). The bride party did this until they arrived at her own house and then she’s taken from hut to hut and presented to all the women relatives. The last hut they go into and stay for a chat, all the matriarchs are in the room giving a wide range of advice  and quick prayers.

All the men were taken to just outside the mosque, where a large group of men, except Malick (the groom), came out from. Four large mats were arranged in the shape of squire and circle of chairs were set around the square of mats. Each mat had a group of men with the same last name sitting on it, each went around saying  prayers and good things about the bride and groom, while the Imam threw kola nuts to each person. After each prayer we say amen, I probably said that a hundred times while sitting there. Some of the things that were said: the bride comes from a far place, but shes acts like us, doesn’t have a problem with food, cooking, pulling water from a well, etc therefore she is good and will make a fine wife. Another comment was if you don’t have respect , you’re not a man or a woman, you’re nothing, but those two have respect  and are good people, may God bless them…he went on to say 15 prayers in a row. Basically everyone says everything nice they can think of, true or not and then spoutes off proverbs and prayers. Each man wants to say their piece, we sat there for quite a while but at the end when all the kola nuts have been distributed, the elders decided that the union shall go forth.

We got back to the house in a ravenous state, luckily peanuts vendors came and we were able to snack a bit until it was time to dance. We all went to the floor and my village’s dance troop got the party started. At 7:30 P.M. we were called to lunch. Then some friends from my neighborhood in my village that drove to the wedding took me home around 10. I heard the dancing went on till midnight.

Things I’ve heard and observed about Senegalese weddings and married couples:

Husband and wife never interact in public and men will flirt with the wife openly.

I was told that the day after the wedding, family elders may remove the sheet from the bed the husband and wife spent their first night on, and if there’s blood (signifying she was virgin until marriage) they will parade this sheet through the compound and village.


September 9, 2010
I’m going to start posting on different themes of life here.

This one will be about water. Peace Corps gave us a filter, they recommend putting three drops of bleach in each water bottle after filling it with filtered water. 

water filter

 To fill it I walk across the compound, go into another hut, and pour water in from this small cistern.

My source of drinking water.

I’m not sure where they fill this from, we have a faucet with a meter in our compound (it was installed after I moved in) but I’m not sure how salty that water is so they either fill it from there or a well that is not salty.

Here’s a picture of my shower and it’s accessories.

My shower bucket and bathing mug. The kettle I use to flush the toilet which is across from the shower.

I forgot to take a photo of the faucet and giant cistern I pull water from to fill my bathing bucket and washing basin for underwear laundry. I’ll include them on the next post.

Work stuff:

Another compost!

Jean-Claude wanted a picture with his horse after.

Hut improvement project: tiling my floor

More composting!


My stove and water bowler on my tiled floor.

Mbam can't get enough compost.

Last but not least, COMPOST!!!

Random stories:
One night sitting with all my neighbors, a drunk guy stumbled out of the bar and asked me to buy a monkey he caught for the equivalent of ten U.S. dollars. My host brother asked for a discount if he wanted to buy it but the guy told him not to interrupt our negotiations. I wasn’t going to buy it but I wanted to see it so he offered to bring it to the house the next day but I was leaving the village the next morning. When I got back I asked where the guy the lived so I could see the monkey but my neighbors told me not to go because then he’ll think I want to buy the monkey besides a compound mine has a pet monkey. So I went to check that one out, the poor thing is tied to a tree and bothered by children but I feed him sometimes. I’ll show a pic of him next time.
People were worried because it wasn’t raining and crops were dying so they had a traditional rain meeting. I randomly wandered over because loud drums were playing. People would come up and stab metal spears in the ground and say prayers and when they finished the drums would start again. After some one said something especially powerful people would shout and call in agreement. One guy not that far behind me pulled out a gun and shot it in the air, we all turned around shocked. He was asked subtley not to do that again and I asked around later why he did that, they said jokingly to make a loud noise so God hears us. Not sure how this meeting weighed in on the matter but it started raining regularly a couple days later.

One Year In!!!

August 13, 2010

The other Gora in the village with his children and compost

Pardon the three month hiatus, I’m very indebted to anyone still reading this

May – A month of travel.

June – Week of girls camp and getting some quality time in with the village.

July – Typing class for a group of students and a woman.

There are several projects I’m sinking my teeth into at the moment which makes each day a little easier to get through though I still leave the village from time to time for a breather. There are many annoying aspects to travel in this country and the bus to Dakar from my village is full of them too. When the bus honks loadly and repeatedly at 5:30 AM on the main road of my village, the noise doesn’t end there, they blast talk radio during the three kilometer trips to the Foundiougne ferry queue and as we wait until the 7:30 AM ferry departure in the dark, it doesn’t occur to the passengers, bus staff, or drivers that it would be easier for all of us to sleep if the radio was off. Another painful part of the trip is the traffic on the way into Dakar, a capital with only one road in or out. Generally we sit in Dakar traffic for at least an hour and distance wise it’s the shortest leg of the trip. Meeting in the middle is a new thing Margaret and I have been doing and both times we arrived within ten minutes of each other.

Mbour is about as touristy an area as it gets, two and a half hours south of Dakar, it has been selected as the location for the new international airport. It just happen to be the midpoint between my village and the capital. There is a little town just outside called Warang, where liqueurs are distilled, which isn’t exactly famous but known amongst the foreigners here. We popped in for a visit and were pleasantly suprised.

Warang distillery garden

A half Danish-half Belgian guy is running it with his wife. It’s a family business, they go from country to country in Africa making liqueurs with non-traditional fruits, liqueurs that can be produced with African fruit. Of the 15-20 varieties available in Senegal he had four out for tasting: bissap/mint, passion fruit, cashew apple, and creamy coffee/banana liqueur (likened to Baileys). FYI – until coming to Senegal I didn’t realize the cashew tree doesn’t only produce a nut but also an apple, a very juicy apple that then completely dries out your mouth, the after taste is like the Sahara desert.

Action pose

Arne, the Danish owner, is very interesting to talk to as he has been living in Africa for the last 23 years, moving from country to country with his dad building distilleries. In The Gambia (the country inside Senegal) he had a large plot of land near the capital and Peace Corps would throw parties in his distillery for volunteers so he was well acquainted with the organization for which we volunteer.

Warang distillery from outside on the road

Arne had us taste all four available, asked us our favorite and gave us another glass of it. He genuinely told us not to feel compelled to buy a bottle, not only was there a Peace Corps discount but a stamp card so if you buy five then you get one free. It was a really nice place.

They are going to change their label to this after Arne saw this photo.

Work in the Village:

I was talked into mosaic tiling my floor by my closest pcv neighbor (Jack), we planned on that being a project to work on together. I got three giant rice sacks full of broken tile, a 50kg bag of cement, and a trowel. The floor needs an overhaul, there are quite a few ant mounds I’d like to close with cement and tile. Jack came, we laid down a tiny section of the floor to test how it would work and it turned out great. We planned to meet in two weeks to finish the floor but Jack never showed up and I decided to keep working on it by myself. It’s a great way to pass the time.

Compost by force:

Some one yelled at me on the street, declaring I was his language pupil and I couldn’t get out of his proposed class time. So when we met I turned the tables and made him build a compost in his house. Here’s the one we built at his house:

Make shift household compost.

Nearly every compound has weeds growing all over, a pile of manure, and random bricks or sheet metal to build a fence. So long as we find a large amount of dry leaves or weeds and there is dirty house hold water available we can build a compost.

My two wives in the village are making sure all house hold waters is dumped in the compost.

So now I’ve been going house to house building composts, developing relationships, and adding to my local language vocabulary.

Action pose at another built compost.

Here’s another completed compost:

This one was built in record time.

Building as many household compost as possible in the village is phase one of what I hope will be a waste management project. I’m not holding my breath, as I’d have to find the means to build a landfill, convince families to pay a trash collector, convince some one to be a trash collector, and get people to throw trash away in bags strategically placed around the compound. It might happen and I’m going to work hard in order to see that it does.

A couple of projects.

April 29, 2010

Time keeps on flying by, it’s been two months since in-service training ended, a new group of volunteers arrived, and some projects have begun. As I sat down to type this a drumming troop leading a group of beautifully dressed women were walking down the main road, I stepped out to look and someone explained that this was part of a marriage celebration. It’s becoming more and more difficult to give a proper explanation of all that is going on, but I will keep on posting here. A very exciting time in Senegal that happens annually started, mango season! It’s the beginning of the season so those that I’ve eaten tend to be greener but are nonetheless delicious and help get me through what is aptly named the hot season. I have scattered pictures of my host family throughout the post, as they had me do a photo shoot one night.

I visited a few nearby volunteer sites I hadn’t been to before, but mostly I’ve been concentrating on what work the community wants done and how I can help facilitate that. The more volunteers I talk to, the more I appreciate my village, host family, and ethnic placement. Once every two weeks or so the group of four volunteers 30km down the road from me come to Foundiougne on a market day and we spend the day hanging out on the water. This provides a nice break besides the occasional visit to Dakar.

Old man Antoine!!! He knows everyone’s business.


I’ve worked with two families to create household gardens. A volunteer in Tanzania came up with a gardening system that yields produce year round that can be added to family meals to improve health as HIV/AIDS is a major health concern there. Only two percent of Senegal are HIV positive but malnutrition is endemic, unfortunately gardens are looked at as a source of income and not as a way to improve health. I’ve used the model provided to create what are known as permaculture gardens. The soil here is basically sand so a lot of work has to go into preparing the ground for planting vegetables. Mixing ash (which lowers the soil acidity), charcoal dust (acting as filter and retains water in the garden bed), cow manure, and ripped up green leave (adding nitrogen when it starts to decompose) in multiple layers of the garden bed reworks the soil in a way that allows for a yield five times that of a standard garden here. In theory this and the other conjoined techniques (like starting a compost and having a berm and a swale – I’ve learned nerdy English garden vocabulary) create a year round garden, the day to day reality though doesn’t make setting up a garden as easy as the manual makes it sound.

Finding all the ground treatment ingredients I thought would be the most challenging part but I was rescued by a legendary volunteer’s visit. Peter Treut arrived in Senegal in September 2005 as an agriculture volunteer, he officially ended his service shortly before Christmas last year (2009), but came back just after the holiday to travel through Mali and possibly more of West Africa and to officially say good-bye to his host family and Senegal. His village is not a terribly long horse cart ride away, so just before he left for Mali he came to my village and we went on to Foundiougne. After sharing a wealth of information on gardening, hut maintenance, and fun places in Foundiougne I hadn’t gone to or learned of yet; he then helped me find a permanent source of charcoal dust. At the end of the day we were both heading back to our respective villages, he asked his host family where charcoal is sold in the market. I was introduced to a woman who sent us to her house accompanied by her son who wanted us to pay a ridiculous amount for something she couldn’t sell. The chaos around our arrival at the house would have been comedic had the situation not been fairly standard. The charcoal storage area was locked up and the key was no where to be found so while trying to convince the children to give us the dust for free and answering their gardening questions, the locked was being pounded with a large stone so they could get to the charcoal. All of a sudden an elderly man came up to us with a file explaining that he was shot in a war fighting for the French and they hadn’t paid for medical treatment because he said they claimed he was a slave (the gentleman was slightly incoherent). He said it had been 50 years since he was shot in the Algerian war and the French still refused to give him money. There was little shade where we were standing and I awkwardly stood in what little space of it I could fine. Finally an agreement was made that I would help them start a garden here at the house, the children were able to slide their bodies between the locked door and wall to get us charcoal, and the old man was happy that neither myself nor Peter were French.

Originally I wanted to create what’s known as a demo plot in the village, which is to say that I would create my own garden using the techniques mentioned above and if it were to be successful, people might be interested in learning these techniques and I could then replicate it at their compound. All livestock roams free and are notorious for destroying gardens so finding a fenced off area was essential. Water on the delta is salty but there are wells with fresh water so I was looking for a site with both attributes. In the end I put the garden at a well known community member’s house so I no longer had control over exactly how and when everything was to be done. What should have taken four days to set up took over a month but this is Senegal and I should be glad that it even happened at all.

The morning I was set to meet with Abdou to break ground on the garden, I arrived at the specified hour only to find out he was not home. Slightly perturbed, I thought about leaving but his wife said to wait and that he would be returning shortly so I did. He did show up and we wandered over to an area where he set up some fencing. Explaining each step of work we were going to do was rather challenging using only the local language and hand gestures, but we started digging. One of my few other work partners here showed up and started to help us with some of the digging, this lasted for about 15 minutes, it was getting too hot according to my two work partners. They told me to come in the evening and we could continue working then since it would be less hot. I returned surprised to see that the swale (a trench) had been dug surrounding the garden by some people who lived in the compound. Though it wasn’t exactly how I would have gone about it doing it I was impressed with the initiative.

It felt great getting up in the morning and working on the garden, it made me miss the physical work we did during the harvest right after moving into the village. Though there were times people didn’t show up when they said they would and the sloppy brute force workmanship sometimes bothered me, we completed the berm (small dirt wall surrounding the garden beds that prevents erosion) and the first garden bed (1m wide x 3m long). During our training on this, we were told over and over not to step on the garden bed or berm since that would compact the loosened soil and limit the depth roots could reach. But whenever a white person is at the house everyone comes to watch and help, no matter how many times I told other people working with me or everyone else to only walk on the foot path created or in the swales inevitably some one stepped where I asked them not to. The first bed was being watered and weeded daily, when I approached the subject of seeds with Abdou. I decided I wasn’t going to buy seeds for this garden because if I did it would be expected of me with anyone else I did a garden with. We had an awkward conversation where I asked if he had seeds or could buy them and I explained why I wasn’t going to buy them. It was about this time the family’s well ran dry, a deciding factor in my doing the garden there was he said he had a large source of fresh water. With no seeds, no water, and the garden only 2/3 done I became disappointed and frustrated with Abdou.

The other garden was a lot more basic. The family has cows so manure wasn’t a problem and since Foundiougne water is extremely salty putting charcoal dust in the soil would only retain the salt and it was being managed by a girl in high school (she’s the one that allowed us to have the charcoal dust for free) and her younger siblings. I instructed them on how and where to dig the swales but after starting to dig it a little they decided to dig the garden bed instead and to dump the removed dirt where the partially dug swale was, effectively refilling it. Only on my periodic visits did actual work take place and it became more and more clear that this girl had a crush on me and just wanted to have me around. Ironically the garden was finished and seeded in a relatively short amount of time. The girl desperately seeking my company asked me to teach her English and to give her computer classes. I gave one typing class and at the end instead of asking for another she requested I come to her house another time and we could practice speaking French by discussing things. I haven’t gone to do this, the most awkward part was her requests to visit me in M’Bam. I couldn’t imagine my host family’s reaction or the other people I know in my neighborhood or around the village seeing me walking around or sitting with this high school girl. I think I’ve been able to make it clear that she is not invited to visit me here.

Finally we start to work on Abdou’s garden again though water remains a problem. He managed to get some manioc plants, which we eventually chopped into small pieces and transplanted. There were several days in a row we were scheduled to meet to do this that he ended up not being home and I’ve learned to let stuff like that role off my shoulders. There are many frustrations that accompany working with people here and disappearances without prior notification are a common occurrence.

My host mom

Annual Tree Nursery

The village’s association, ASPOVERCE, pledged a good amount of money for doing a large reforestation project that should happen annually. Their goal is to grow and plant 20,000 trees this year. During the meeting where this was discussed, several committee members laughed at the amount of money allocated towards project since they knew no one spent a dime on it, both of the people who laughed are stealing or have stolen money from the association. I brought some seeds from the Peace Corps region’s seed bank and someone tried to get me to quote the amount of money they were worth so they could claim they bought them, to which I replied I did not know. I have a large number of eucalyptus seeds and some guava and papaya seeds. We’ve planted some but I have to remind and accompany the people I’m doing this with daily to water them and get the other seeds planted. It’ll be a miracle if any of these trees actually make it to the stage where they can be transplanted but I’m not extremely attached to this project. I would volunteer to water them daily except I’m not in the village everyday and if they depend on me to do it then no one will water it in my absence.

Younger family members, the woman second on the right had a baby last night.

Foundiougne’s website:

My training village compound-mate, Jack has created and maintained websites before coming here so I volunteered his skill set to a work partner, Famara, who manages a campement (a hotel of sorts) there. He’s involved in a tourism associations, and worked with previous volunteers. He and his brother put together a Microsoft Word documents containing photos and information on Foundiougne, unfortunately that doesn’t convert directly to html so Jack is re-doing everything in html and I’m helping in what ways I can. Once the website is live, I’ll post the link.

The hardware store owners, Antoine and his squatting partner Giran

Girls summer leadership camp:

In one region of Senegal, Peace Corps volunteers will be putting on a summer camp for its third year in a row. My region is going to do it’s first one and I was given the task of selecting two students in Foundiougne to attend. Explaining this in French to the principal was very awkward. Eventually he vaguely understood and agreed to arrange for an interview of the five best female students from what’s the American equivalent of eighth grade. The day before the interview, I was in town and stopped by to confirm everything was set. The principal was surrounded by students and staff, he looked overwhelmed. He saw me and started to remember who I was. He went to speak with someone in his office but I was to be seen next. When I got into his office, he said right away he forgot to set that up and it was good I stopped in to remind him. After a thorough search he found the paper on which he wrote down my name, info, and request. He said he’d set everything up for the next day and I thought that might not be the case, but I would come anyway. I was mostly worried because I was having two other volunteers meet me the next day to help with the interviews. We arrived before noon and suddenly he realized the teacher who had chosen the students was absent, but we were told not to worry that he would set something up. We waited in his office for forty-five minutes and then he said he found five students for us to interview, during our first meeting I told him to choose by grades and leadership qualities. I believe these five students were selected at random. The interviews were wrought with miscommunication and getting the girls to answer questions was like pulling teeth. In the end we agreed upon the two students over lunch at the Italian restaurant in Foundiougne.

Here’s a link to a video of the camp done in another region of the country. I highly recommend watching it.

Magnum Opus:

When I got back from training I wanted to keep busy so a lot of the gardening motivation came from that, though I did really want to do them. I tried to show several people in my village the different power point slides, hand outs, and files I received during training. Only one person, Mam Diejan (meaning grandfather Diejan, pronounced jay-gan) sat down with me to look at everything I’d received. I mentioned a project done in a city on the other side of the river in the same region by a former volunteer who currently is my boss. Nicole Dewing is the associate program country director for the small enterprise development and eco-tourism program. From 05’-07’ she and her husband were volunteers. Their project is well known among the volunteer community as being one of the few successful large projects and a film was made by the World Wildlife Fund, which helped sponsor the project. I’d heard about it before but didn’t learn about the details until in-service training, a waste management project was set up in several neighborhood of the large city they lived in which separated organics and non-organics. With the organics, they’re collected daily and brought to a compost site and families also could dump their waste water at the compost site, as water is needed for compost. The non-organics are buried in a landfill, which isn’t ideal but better than being burned or spread out across the city and causing health problems. When I described this project to Mam Diejan he became very enthusiastic and we talked about how to find out if the community is interested. He told me to bring the film down and we could set up a showing out doors to a large audience. I wasn’t sure if he was just saying this but I brought the movie down anyway.

Using a connection with the radio station in a touristy town he had a generator and technical equipment brought from a good distance away. Two nights in a row, each night in a different neighborhood they set up the projector, speakers, and a microphone. They played music loudly to draw a crowd, then we showed two films, and a music video with a guy rapping about how beautiful the islands in the river delta are and that we need to protect them environmentally. Both nights we showed the project on waste management and after people took the microphone and spoke about the importance of the project and how it was going to be done here if people wanted it. The other films we showed were on deforestation in Senegal and about replanting mangroves along the coast and inland along both river deltas (there’s one south of the Gambia too). The response I heard was positive and some people asked me the next day if the project started yet. There are a lot of steps necessary just to get permission to do this project and many people to speak with to ask if they’re interested since the entire village didn’t see the film so I found it slightly humorous someone asked if a waste management system was up and running already.

Mam Diejan and I met to discuss the next steps. We wanted to give people information on why plastic materials and other waste are not good to leave around but all we had was an old crinkled poster with a cartoon tidal wave of trash crashing over a Senegalese person. Along the side of the poster, next to the trash wave was a scale listing how long each item in the trash pile takes to decompose. The poster was created by an organization called Oceanium. We went ahead anyway and met with a women’s group and other community members that needed to be informed. I went to the Oceanium headquarters in Dakar and was able to get a stack of new posters.

When I met with the campament manager in Foundiougne, Famara, to show him how the website looked so far I pulled out the posters and immediately he started talking about a friend of his that does this kind of work, Amadou. Amadou works in the hospital there and a few days later Famara took me to meet Amadou in his office. I explained who I was and what we were trying to do in M’Bam, immediately he was interested in helping and wants to start a plastic recycling program so I told him we would love to combine that with the waste management project. The next day I brought Mam Diejan to his office, with a copy of the film, and some posters for him. We met and he agreed to do a health training for us the following week and to help us plan a project.

Ideally there would be several fenced off compost sites across the village and another site for non-organics, which would be collected daily by some one. It won’t be difficult to get families garbage bins and training on why it’s important to participate in this project. Nor will it be hard to select sites for the compost and non-organics and have structures built to house them. I believe the village could afford this on their own if they properly organize themselves and divided up the cost. The difficult part will be finding people (workers) to collect and dump the trash at the sites daily, to manage the compost piles (they need to be turned and watered), and to follow through on the work that needs to be done. There is a large biogas digester that was installed but no one fills it with cow manure consistently so it doesn’t work yet, I fear this too will happen unless a proper structure (a salary) is set up for the people who will actually be doing the physical collecting of waste and administering the sites. If this gets put into place then we’ll be getting groups of people together to clean up the many trash littered areas of the village. I’m excited to have something worthwhile to work on and though I’m not by any means convinced it will happen, I will put effort into convincing people this is something that can change this already progressive village for the better.

This is what I’ve been up to work wise and want to do while here. The next post or posts will be photos to show you where I’ve been and what I’ve seen.

Zombie talibe in the north

March 13, 2010

In order to explain this story a bit of contextual background needs to be provided.

The majority of people in Senegal are muslim and the way it is divided up is by brotherhood. Meaning that generations ago an influential religious person organized a group of people after having or perhaps claiming to have some divine experience. The funniest one is the Black Jesus sect, one religious leader was born with a birth mark of a cross on his forehead and everyone called him Black Jesus, there’s even a beach Dakar named after him. There are four or five main brotherhoods. The current leaders of these different brotherhoods are called maribou, each brotherhood has many maribou which are spread throughout the country. One of the redeeming characteristics of this country (it isn’t this way everywhere in Africa) is that you can walk into anyone’s house/compound and be fed, use the bathroom, or get water. As part of this communal aspect if you have too many children in your house you can send one of them to live in the house of a relative or some one wealthier in the village. This occurs fairly often and another option families have is to send them to the local maribou, where they will become students of the Koran, these students are called talibe. If a talibe is lucky and finds a good maribou he will be well fed and be taught to read Arabic but the vast majority are sent by the maribou into the street to beg in order to pay there way. Supposedly some maribou beat the talibe if they come home without enough money. Being charitable is required by Islam which means many people give to talibe so the children aren’t begging in vain. Talibe are all over the country, roaming in small group, ready at a moments notice to chase down a foreigner and follow them for 10 or 20 feet asking for change. One last thing to note is that because children can be sent off to live with other families and because of the communal way society is all children have to listen to adults and all adults are in charge of raising children which includes disciplining them.

There is a bird park in the north of the country, close to the border of Mauritania called Park Djoudj where thousand of pelicans lay their eggs in November, they hatch in December and go off somewhere else at the end of January. Margaret’s been wanting to go for years so we went mid-January. You have to travel through the beautiful old colonial city, St Louis, to get to the park, we arrived just before noon, other volunteers serving in St. Louis vaguely explained that public transport would leave a round-point at one in the afternoon to get to the park, we asked around to see if some one local knew where the bus left from but no one understood what we were talking about when mentioning the park name so we called the owner of a motel near the park to get clearer instructions. Chiekh, the owner, happened to be in town so we met up, he told us he would be heading back so we could get a ride with him though we felt bad since we reserved a room at the only other place in town. Prior to meeting him we were a little stressed trying to figure out how we were going to get 60k north of that city so we didn’t have time to get lunch or look around.

We were told we had a couple of hours so we crossed the long bridge into the old colonial section and went for a beer and lunch. The restaurants there are nice, the city is on the water, and it’s a definite step up from Dakar. Heading back towards the bridge to cross back over, Margaret got some cashews and a talibe approached us, I waved him away as I do the rest but he kept sticking his bowl in front of us. The woman and her friends selling cashews shooed him away but he kept following us as we started to cross the bridge. A group of teenage girl and a middle aged adult man were in our vicinity, the girls started to laugh as he pursued us with great determination and the man scolded the boy. A couple feet later the man got frustrated that the boy didn’t listen (as previously stated all children have to listen to adults when they are told to do something, it’s the system here) and yanked his ear and spanked him as we walked ahead, naturally we were disturbed the situation but happy the child was no longer in pursuit of us. From the distance a repetitive moan could be heard and it became louder and louder. Soon the man who disciplined the child was again walking near us on the bridge and the child was once again trying to make his through the crowd to get to us. When he did reach us, I tried to make light of the situation by zigzagging side to side to block him from getting in front of us while the child continued his fake crying. Margaret told me to stop and the talibe got in front of us and kept putting his bowl and himself in our path to block us. Now people on both sides were trying to help us and appease him as we approached the other end of the bridge. The man that spanked him just walked on; another shout to the boy in Wolof “How much do you want? Just tell me and I’ll give it to you.” The talibe responded to nothing; it was as if he were possessed. We crossed through the round-point and entered a boutique where we met Cheikh earlier to wait for him. The boy was still hovering over us, another group of talibe approached, saw the situation and scolded him, they told him to leave us alone. One of the boys in the group told us to take him back to France (they assumed we were French) with us, that that’s what he wanted though the two boys had exchanged no words. The group moved on, the boutique owner told the boy to leave, Cheikh then arrived and we stopped to buy fruit as we were going to make our own dinner and breakfast at the hotel. The fruit vendor started shoving the child lightly but we were followed around the corner as we left the busy intersection. Sensing that his opportunity to receive money from us was ending, he skirted past me and grabbed Margaret’s arm so I yelled at him saying that you don’t grab people, Cheikh noticed he was following us and told him to scram. A couple feet later a piece of cardboard flew in front past us and hit the ground and the boy yelled the street phrase kids use often in Wolof saying “go f*** your mother”. It took me a moment to figure out what happened, by then Cheikh was chasing the boy across the street into a chained lot with a guard. The talibe ducked under the chain and ran, Cheikh hopped over it but by that time the guard sitting in a chair caught the talibe without even getting up as the child ran right in front of him. Cheikh gave him a whack across the face, turned the boy around in the guards’ hands and smacked his bum a couple more times. Someone said enough, Cheikh walked away and the child picked up his begging bowl walked out of the gate into the nearest grass where he collapsed on to his knees and started to sob.

The entire episode left us cringing. What was wrong with the child that he would stalk us for as long as he did and not acknowledge anybody that spoke to them? How badly was he brainwashed by the maribu? He seemed to snap out of his zombie-ish state when he cursed and threw something at us. Was the child too harshly disciplined? It disturbed us that we were least bothered by the child getting beaten (which I assume probably bothers you, the reader most) feeling vindicated that a child shouldn’t throw things or swear at people older than him. I must emphasize that this is how children are disciplined here, that’s the worst beating I’ve seen and it really wasn’t bad. I’ve heard other volunteers say they’ve seen parent dole out nasty, abusive beatings but I haven’t seen anything more than a couple of smacks.

Hundreds of mother and baby pelicans huddled together

An hour or so later we left St. Louis, an hour after that we were at the hotel at Park Djoudj. We got our room, unpacked, and still there was a lingering sour taste in the air from the events several hours earlier. The hotel was beautiful, the pool was lined with palm trees, each room on the outside had a bird painted largely on it with its Latin name, and there was greenery all over the courtyard: I talk to the guy behind the counter about getting to the park, he told us just to take our car in the morning since it’s seven kilometers away, I explained that we didn’t have a car and he said we get a ride some how in the morning. We ended up going out there with the car that the guides were going there in. Before departing on our boat tour through the Senegalese everglades, three scout warthogs trotted towards the edge of the river that was filled with pelicans. A bit later the three went back into the tall grass and fifteen minutes later came out with six adult warthogs and a litter of babies (I really wanted to take one of the babies and have that be my village pet but I wouldn’t dare mess with a group of warthogs or break the law by stealing a wild animal from a national park) As we got closer to our boat more and more group of pelicans flew overhead to land in the pond. They flew and landed in a series one behind the other which looked like old footage of warplanes landing in a series of twenty or so. According to our guide these pelicans spend the night in Mauritania and cross the border in the morning. We were the only two tourists at that time so we got into a big boat with a guide. The week before I toured through the mangroves in the salty river delta I live on where I saw what I thought to be lots of bird, it was nothing compared to this river. The birds were flying overhead and landing in front of us. Hundreds were perched along the side path, some sitting on the water were gigantic, their large wing span displayed as they flew off when our boat buzzed by. We rounded a corner and the guide turned the boat around while simultaneously killing the motor, the boat drifted backward into a corner of lily pads, he quietly pointed out the very close adult crocodile facing away from us on the edge of land (I included a photo of this in my previous post). We went forward a bit; stopped where a two year old croc was laying (it looked as though a full size one had been shrunken down, it was much smaller than what I expected a two year old would be). At the same time komo dragon-looking lizard was approaching slowly as its four fat legs dragged its large body across the mud. I was hoping the two were going to face off since the mini croc wasn’t moving and the lizard seemed to be heading right for it. We left before impact, not far away was the spot where the pelican eggs are laid, I would estimate around five hundred baby pelicans (they have black feathers then) and mothers were perched on a bald spot of mud. The boat ride wasn’t very long, possibly an hour or so but we saw a lot in a short time span.

Here is where the male pelicans land coming in from Mauritania

Stepping back on to land the guide remembered we hitchhiked in and stopped a car as it was leaving to ask if it would give us a ride back to the hotel. On the way in we asked if he was going all the way to St. Louis, he said he was but going to stop in another city for an hour on the way. We quickly packed and paid, the guy almost took off without us but I stopped him in time. The city we went to was the site of another volunteer and wouldn’t you know it the house he stopped to go into was next to the one the volunteer lived in. We went to the house and chatted with the volunteer only to realize we didn’t grab our bags from the car and the guy had driven off. We were a little worried but we called the guy, he said how long he’d be then called back to say he’d be a while longer and actually showed up. We let out our breath acknowledging how rookie a mistake that was on our part to leave our bags in the car of a total stranger. We had a quick lunch in St. Louis and were on our way back to Dakar after not too long. The Dakar traffic is always bad but something strange was happening with one lane being blocked off and lots of police standing guard. We all laughed when it turned out to be the president’s pimped out stretch limo Mercedes stopped and blocking a lane because of a flat tire. The license plate is PR, which stands for présidente de la republic. It was a whirlwind trip jammed pack full of stories and adventure and took lees than 48 hours.

Some of the other wild life in the park

Since then the entire group of volunteers I started with had a training on the technical work we’ll be doing. The agriculture volunteers learned techniques for growing in the poor soil and dry climate. The business volunteers (myself included) listened to speakers on a multitude of subjects. It lasted for the entire month of February and ran over into March a bit. I’ll take some time to write about that.

The holidays

January 24, 2010

My hope was to update this weekly but I have very limited access to computers and the internet. The most frustrating part of going to an internet café is the French keyboard which slows my typing down and hides punctuation and symbols so that I don’t know where they are. The ideal way for me to write this out is to type this on a computer I borrow from an American. In order to avoid this I may create posts consisting of only pictures and videos. We’ll see how this turns out, apologies for the long wait.

My host niece Sophie-Josephine, this was taken in my room.

Christmas: I felt a little bit guilty about spending two weeks in Dakar and missing Tobaski in my village (Senegalese for the most part celebrate all holiday whether Muslim or Christian) as my Catholic family killed and cooked two sheep and all the people in my section of the village asked why I hadn’t stayed for the event. In order to relieve the burden I decided I’d spend Christmas in the village. For one, my family’s Catholic and it would make for a Christmas like no other. Leading up to the day there were fire crackers going off all over the village and I thought this was related to this upcoming holiday, little did I know they were actually for the Muslim new year the very next day. On the 24th I noticed that the bar was only playing Christmas music and the real main event for the day was mass that night at the village’s priest-less church. All the family members living in Dakar came home including a host brother I’d only heard about once, Raphael. I asked Jean-Marie what the plan was for the day itself, he said after we come back from midnight mass we’ll drink and dance all night long. An hour or so before it started Jean-Marie I asked if I had a suit and tie to wear for the service, so I put on the nicest clothes I had available and we walked across town to church. The service had Western elements, the infamous diorama of baby Jesus (this one had stuffed animals in it as props), a play enacting the events leading up to Jesus’ birth, and we took communion. Some of the more unique aspects were the music, the ever-present microphone feedback ranging from a light ring to a deafening blast, and a toothless old man. Once the music got going this older gentleman could not help but break out in dance, to which many around me tried to disguise their laughter as coughs and choking; this only seemed to motivate more dance and sometimes he would look back and speak to people he caught laughing. Even with people discouraging him from moving about he found that dancing in his seat would not be enough, he had move up and down the main aisle, taking the hand of the priest and dancing with him. He decided to change seats after this display and pushed people out the way for a seat in the row in front of me next to some one who became tense and rigid as the old man chatted him up. At one point he said something that resulted in my entire section simultaneously doubling over in laughter. In short, a good time was had by all. One of our weekly pigs being prepared by Jerome, the bartender.

M’bam is unique to Senegal in many ways, its Christian presence, the tendencies it has toward environmental responsibility, and the amount of foreigner living in and visiting this random village. The University of Minnesota has a “developing world” study abroad program, if they choose Senegal (I remember Ecuador and India as some of the other choices) the student spends six weeks in Dakar and six weeks interning in a town or village around Senegal. Each semester M’bam receives one of these students. Another study abroad program sends American students here for a week. Some environmental NGOs bring foreigners into M’bam for introductions to an “eco-village”. Walking towards the river one day for a swim a white woman on a horse and cart passed, I inquired as to who that was and found out that a French woman was having a house built in the Toucouleur (essentially Pulaar – the second largest ethnicity in Senegal) section of the village. Since then I have befriended Katia Mignon and was fortunate enough to get my second dinner invite for after midnight mass. Her parent and parent’s friends were visiting as well as one of Katia’s French friends in a neighboring village. After returning from mass I went to her house for an incredible feast accompanied by wine and champagne. I came back home at 2AM and stopped by the bar where I had a drink with some very festive family members and known associates. The next day everyone lethargically made their way towards the family horse and cart for a ride to morning mass in Foundiougne. Coming home we had a delicious lunch and spent the rest of the day relaxing. Jean-Marie wanted to borrow my camera and I received some calls from home (Thanks Mom, Dani, and Pat!). I went to sit with everyone just outside the compound wall and enjoyed relaxing with everyone. A very tall/large drunk guy challenged a short/small less drunken friend of the family to wrestle. Though they were discouraged from this, the tall guy would not let up and soon enough they were going at it. There are two types of wrestling here, with punching and without. On this Christmas day bout punches were thrown. In the end the short guy pinned the tall one and walked over to sit with us, he got thrown into some branches during the match and had a nice welt on his back. The tall guy came back over and threw more punches at our friend until he was grabbed and escorted down the road. Not too long after the previous volunteer called the family and I got a chance to speak with him for while. It was an eventful and memorable Christmas, my first away from both home and loved ones, I’m certain I will always remember it. Tam Xaarit: The Muslim New Year is held a month and two days after Tobaski which happened to be the day after Christmas. I explained Halloween to the family here and was told this holiday was comparable and that it would occur sometime in January. Sitting around the dinner bowl, I asked why we were having another “fancy” meal (ground rice mixed with ground millet served with lots of duck meat), I heard the name referenced but wasn’t sure if that’s what was said and some one explained in French it was the Islamic New Year. The Senegalese spin on the holiday is that children get together in troupes; boy and girls wear each others clothes (essentially cross dress), and go from house to house for candy. For hours and hours groups of children divided by age groups walked past in funny outfits, some with millet powder on their face, rhythmically beating make shift drums and shouting funny chants. In Mali, the neighboring country to the west, children and people don’t celebrate the holiday this way, Margaret went to visit Dogon Country and was in the capital of Mali, Bambako during Tam Xaarit. After reminding her about Tam Xaarit when we spoke that day, she and other volunteers swapped clothing where they were staying in the spirit of their country of residence’s holiday. It was fun to see the children I know and others in village, out and about, having a good time. New Years: I went to Dakar to celebrate. Each time I go, I become more and more comfortable. This trip I road a roommate of Margaret’s bike all over that part of the city, which was a bit terrifying at times but character building in the end. Another third year volunteer has an apartment downtown, I’m told only male volunteers can live there since it would be more dangerous for a girl to live next to a brothel than a guy. We got there well before midnight and I caught up with several people I hadn’t seen since training ended but soon enough masses of volunteers arrived and it turned into quite a party. The mix of travel fatigue and alcohol made me want to head back not long after midnight. The streets were wild and crowded downtown, but no one bothered us and it didn’t take long to find a cab. On the ride back we noticed an insane amount of gridlocked traffic heading into downtown and were thankful not be sitting in that. As I stepped on to the second floor landing, Margaret discovered the door that no one ever locks was in fact locked by a roommate who lives on the first floor. After some phone calls and discussion it was decided we would head downtown for the key and come back. Our cab didn’t get very far before we hit traffic and after spending to much time in that chaotic mix we had the driver turn around to take us back home. Eventually some one was sent to us with a key, early it was decided we’d leave the champagne for another time since there would be too many people at the party to share it, upon getting back in we opened the champagne to unwind. Upon finally laying in bed, the morning call to prayer in the nearby mosque blasted from it sound system (that happens at 5AM). It truly was a happy New Year. There have been three day intensive language seminars held for our training group all over the country and when I was asked my preference for language and location I then arranged for it to be Seereer and held in my village. I was going to return from my village the day before the class started but after getting on the bus there was a problem with a tire, after waiting between three and four hours I decided I could stay in Dakar one more night. It just so happened that Margaret went to hang out at another volunteer’s house across the highway from where the bus was. Since the language teacher was coming from Thies to my village in a Peace Corps car that day I went to the training center where I hadn’t been since the end of October. Eventually we got in the car and headed to my village, along the way we picked up all the people in that class. Typical Peace Corps setup, one person hadn’t studied Seereer ever, another had learned a little, and Jack and I were at a much higher level, but some how the class worked well and my language teacher got a chance to see me in my village using Seereer. He liked Foundiougne so much he’s actually coming this Tuesday to visit me and other students of his. I’ve had a good many visitors since then as well and got to go on a couple of cool boat rides. I’ll write about these more soon. I had a video of my house to upload but in order to do so I have to pay a $60 fee each year. I’ll consider it. I’ll add another post soon.

We saw this up close from the boat on a cool excursion in a bird park.

The Harvest

December 10, 2009

After receiving endless threatening emails and dropped hints I will formally apologize for not having updated my blog sooner. In order to prevent a repeat of such negligent behavior I will be changing up the format to shorter posts at a higher frequency which hopefully will include more photos and even some videos maybe. I moved into my village on October 21st and besides spending two days (not in a row) in Kaolack (a large dusty road town with the closest regional Peace Corps house) stayed until November 24th. I’ve been in Dakar the last two weeks staying with Margaret – a volunteer who just started her third year in Senegal (remember this name as it is likely it will be referred to frequently in this post and others). There is a lot to write about, unfortunately though some events, observations, or behaviors I am now accustomed to here and therefore do not stand out to me as blog worthy anymore but if you were to witness some of the same things they might seem more foreign and worth mentioning. The cultural training aspect of Peace Corps Senegal has done its job.

From Swear-in to Move-in:
I didn’t mention this but at the ambassador’s house at the swear in ceremony I was called over to give an interview to the national television station in French, a night or two later while out to dinner in Thies my government assigned counterpart called me to say she just saw me give an interview on T.V. and in Foundiougne (the tourist beach town two kilometers from my village) a person I met earlier said they saw that interview too.

It was with great nostalgia that I grudgingly squashed all my belongings into bags and prepared myself for the long awaited and dramatic move in day. Station wagon caravans came and went from the training center as some groups of volunteers were traveling farther than others. Our group of 25 volunteers left the training center with 8 station wagons for Kaolack one morning, the regional house there was to act as home base while staff and Peace Corps cars moved us into our villages and cities during the week that followed. Most people had to buy mattresses, crates, and other random necessities so that between all the people, luggage, and newly acquired possessions the Kaolack house became an over-crowded mess. The actual move-in (install is the terminology we use) was anticlimactic and over rather quickly.

One month in the village:
I like to be busy and between having a program like eco-tourism that develops slowly and not having great communication skills, I volunteered myself to harvest my host family’s fields the day after arriving with the men in my family. I’ve never worked in the fields before but in order to keep busy I was out there consistently harvesting millet and peanuts.

Between losing English and being in a completely different environment that alters my perspective on life and the language I use to describe it, the most apt description of harvesting millet I could think of was decapitating millet. I was handed a piece of bamboo with a blade angled obtusely out of the bamboo and told to pull the head (grain) of the plant down and slice it in a quick motion from the stalk. The first day they took it easy on me, a large group of us walked through an almost completely harvested millet field in order to finish it off. Each head of grain you carry until it gets to be too numerous to be carried in one of your arms and you put it in that area of the field’s communal pile, which some one eventually bundles together. The first day and during part of the second I found it difficult to hold more than five in my hand at once and continue to slice off the grains from the stalk which reached up to seven feet or so tall. The second time I went to the fields they worked me hard, we cleared what at points seemed like a never ending field and stretched the bottom of my t-shirt so that I could carry a large number of grain heads before dumping them in the designated pile. The best part of that day was a compliment I received by a friend in my neighborhood though him having to repeat it in Seereer and French frustrated him, I could tell he still meant it and I was proud to be called a lion/brave for the way I worked that day in the field. I was feeling adjusted and ready for more millet decapitating after those two days but apparently our fields were finished and it was time to move on to peanuts.

Peanut harvesting, while I’m sure differs greatly in method world wide is a process I was unfamiliar with and was glad to see and participate in every step of the way. Each day we rode a charette (horse and cart) into the fields with a female horse in tow and its pony following unattached. A horse (switched midway through the morning or afternoon) is walked up and down each row of the field and attached to the back of the animal is a manned device (a hand plow?) pulling up the dirt and peanut plant which grows into the ground. I and another then pulled the plants out of the ground and made small piles throughout the field. After days and days of this, the field is now completely dug up, we gathered small piles to create a giant pile in center part of the field. In order to efficiently fill it, we went with the horse and cart to each section of the field, picked up the small piles of peanuts and tossed them in the cart which we then unloaded into the giant center pile, this took several days to finish. The final step was using sticks with a carved hook at the end to pull down chunks of peanuts attached to leaves and beat them so that they are separated from each other, the leaves are used as horse feed and therefore collected. In the beginning of this multi-step process, either the first day or not too long after they took a pile of peanuts into the shade and burned it without explanation, at first I thought this was some type of ritual sacrifice only to be given a much more practical answer, after the fire went out we sat around the pile of roasted peanuts and ate our fill. Sometimes midway through the peanut feast some one will ask each person to show the shell of the first peanut they ate, if you didn’t set it aside, you’re kind of a slob, but this is really a joke and one of many I hear since the Seereer culture is very playful.

There have also been random days of work that don’t involve harvesting a particular crop. I rode out to the forest with the guys I hang out with and they chopped down branches from trees to shred into feed for horses. Another day I used a machete to chop down millet stalks which can be woven together into fencing. I wove millet fencing together with teenagers and some children prior to doing the chopping down of those said stalks. The stalks we did chop were woven together to build a structure for a day care center put in a private school my host brother is the director of. The day we put this together we waited for hours and hours for a cart of logs to come and finally when they did some one carelessly tossed a log down where I had just set mine which resulted in a large chunk of skin being stripped away above my ankle, rendering me useless for the actual building of the day care center, the current status of the wound is that I kept it clean and it has formed into what I hear is to be one of many Peace Corps scars. The bundles of millet are kept in mini-hut structures woven together and we built one in my compound that I helped weave and work on. Sadly though most of the farming techniques used, especially peanut harvesting, are linked to and responsible for erosion as well as what is now known as desertification. If any of you know of any other peanut harvesting methods I would gladly introduce them awkwardly in a hodge-podge of Seereer and French as to “sensitize” my family and village.

This won’t be the last time I mention millet, as it is my dinner each and every night in the village and sometimes my breakfast too. My last name can be divided into two parts: Jagl + owski, the owski is an ending on a large number of Polish last names but Jagla means millet. A book I read casually explained that most western last names are derived from the profession on an ancestor (Smith as in blacksmith), name of your father (Jackson/Johnson – son of Jack/John), or where you came from (da Vinci – Leonardo from Vinci), I looked up my last name and found it’s meaning, not to get too deep or philosophical but I felt life sort of come full circle knowing that Polish ancestors of mine had harvested millet in Eastern Europe and though I’m totally disconnected from my Polish roots and am a city boy through and through I some how managed to find my way into the beautiful country side harvesting my namesake.

The first trip was to get money from the bank and attend a training on giving a radio show. The training ended up starting really late and instead of attending we returned to our villages. I still hope to get involved with radio programs and I think there will be opportunities to do so in the near future. The PCMO (Peace Corps doctor) came to visit a bunch of people in my region, fortunately she was able to look at the gash on my ankle, switch my malaria meds (I hadn’t slept a full night since I’d been in Senegal), and give me a free ride to Kaolack after visiting more volunteer sites. On the way to the Gambian border where we visited a volunteer who just got over a bout with Dengue fever we saw a troop of monkeys running along the rode. I went to get a bottle of water in that town and a guy I knew met in my training village, which was many hours away, shouted my name as I walked down the street and we had a jovial reunion. Margaret, who was on a tour with the director of the business program where they installed one volunteer in a far off region and checked in on other volunteers, was going to be in Kaolack that night on the way back to Dakar so we decided to meet. She lived with a host family for two years near Kaolack and her host dad was a butcher so she arranged for him to bring a live sheep to Kaolack the next morning for an Islamic holiday we would be celebrating together in Dakar two days after Thanksgiving. We fit it into a rice sack and loaded it on the roof of the Peace Corps car they drove in. I got a ride with that car the next day to Fatick where I then took a taxi to the edge of land and then I caught a ferry across. Funny and ridiculous events had been happening all day and they continued on here with British marines testing the river water accompanied by an English speaking Senegalese navy officer, it was very bizarre but I couldn’t think of any good conspiracy theories to accompany the event.

This time was to serve as a refreshing break with Thanksgiving at the ambassador’s house, eating a sheep for Tobaski two days after, and the eco-tourism promotion fair during the end of the second week I was there. Randomly there is bus that leaves at 5:30 in the morning from M’Bam (my village) and goes directly to Dakar which simplifies travel in a country notorious where going not so far distances can be a nightmare.

I spent a lot of time relaxing while there but if there is any major theme to that two week vacation it was eating. The first night I went to a seafood restaurant right on the water called Chez Fatou, the food was fine, the wait staff tried hard, but it was the view and crashing waves that really sold it. My breakfasts were amazing, we ate oatmeal with bananas, raisins, and fresh honey (made in region of Senegal called Kedegou that Margaret brought back with her from the trip previously mentioned); we ate scrabbled eggs with squash, onions, garlic, and tomatoes; and my other favorite was soy yogurt (bought at a fancy Dakar grocery store) with bananas, raisins, granola, and said honey; all of this served with French roast coffee. Thanksgiving at the ambassador’s house was delicious though the amount of food wasn’t overwhelming, the pumpkin pie was notable, but the real winner of the dinner and evening was the amount, variation, and quality of the wine. There is a creperie down the street from Chez Fatou and walking distance from the Peace Corps office in Dakar that had amazing galattes, a thicker crepe from the Nantes region of France, one called the Sombrero was by far the best with a mound of good guacamole on top with chorizo, cheese, and other delicious ingredients inside. A day before the eco-tourism promotion fair we crashed a conference at a fancy Dakar hotel called Le Meridian, it was about general tourism, the Prime Minister and other major government officials were attending and speaking at. All attendees were then handed lunch buffet tickets where there was sliced steak, lots of good salads, and over ten different deserts to choose from; we talked about this buffet for the rest of the afternoon. Ironically our program director baked us all brownies that day because she thought we weren’t going to get free lunch there. That night we went to a restaurant at the western most point of Africa where I ate fresh clams and oysters. Two of the nights that we stayed in but didn’t cook I ordered pizza, this in itself was very exciting, the apartment doesn’t have an address on the building so I have to tell the restaurant to deliver them to the mosque down the street. The icing on the cake was a word of mouth only Brazilian charasco meat buffet that happens twice a month, we were served amazing beef, chicken, and pork, with amazing sides. I hadn’t eaten that much since coming to country and promptly went into a food coma after returning home even after drinking regular coffee there and Turkish coffee at Margaret’s after. I’m not starving in the village by any means, but my snack options are limited/non-existent and the times at which I eat are quite spread apart so generally when it’s time to eat, I’m hungry, so you might say I overcompensated in Dakar but I’ve also lost 30 pounds since I’ve arrived in Senegal.

Tobaski (the Islamic holiday):
Exactly two moons after Korite (the ending of the month of Ramadan) Muslims celebrate God’s allowance of Abraham to save his first child after being told by God he to kill him as a sacrifice and proof of faith but at the last moment was instead allowed to kill a ram (it should be noted that Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holy books share the old testament more or less). Eventhough none of us were Senegalese or Muslim we wanted to celebrate the national holiday hence the reason for buying the ram in Kaolack. The morning of Thanksgiving Margaret killed the sheep (we named it stew for what we eventually planned on making out of it), she was going back and forth on whether or not she could actually go through with it but on the morning of she got down to business and I have the video evidence to prove this. I helped her roommate Nathan disembowel and cut the meat off the animal. We killed it two days early to allow the meat to tenderize and marinate. Our Tobaski felt more like Thanksgiving because of all the food preparation we did the morning of. I chopped onions, Nathan peeled potatoes, and Margaret got last minute bowls, pots, and ingredients while we sipped bloody mary’s. We made beans, mash potatoes, cole slaw, hummus, and some one brought pasta salad. On the roof we grilled ram’s legs wrapped in foil and covered in butter, garlic, and onions. The feast was amazing, the volunteers invited got out of control, a glass was broken; fortunately I was in bed semi-early so I didn’t witness too much insanity. A couple nights later we barbequed the ribs as we had invited the SED trainer Bamba Fall over (he recently left the Peace Corps after 7+ years there for another job in development work).

The Family in M’Bam:
I live with a Seereer Catholic family. I’m not sure if this was clear or not on previous posts but I came here and met them on my volunteer visit. My host dad passed away a few years back and my mom, Ya Ndoug, definitely runs the show here. The oldest son, Jean-Marie is the director of the private school near-by and owns the bar that’s attached to my house, his wife, daughter, and new born baby live here with him (men stay living in the family house and their wife lives there with them unless they have moved to a large city to look for work). Antoine is the 2nd oldest and works at the hardware store down the street, I’m not sure if my family owns this or not. There are over ten more people living here but the notable ones are the children, Charles, Hortance, and Sophie. I’m friends with all three of them but play the most with the youngest, Sophie. She played with me fearlessly upon arrival (some children are terrified of white skin), but some how we morphed our play into her pretending/actually being frightened of me, she calls to me
”Gola”, she can’t pronounce the “r”, so that I approach then she runs to the nearest family member while laughing, coughing, and saying to them, “Gola a garaa”, Gora’s coming. The game and her sayings are now famous on this side of the village, so much so that people quasi torture her, so that when she actually is frightened of me, they pick her up, kicking and screaming and place her near me; it can be disturbing but everyone else finds it entertaining. Sometimes she forgets or doesn’t care and will sit next to me during a meal at the bowl or come over to talk to me especially if I’ve been gone for the afternoon, day, or overnight in which case she’ll run up to me when I get home shooting my name then remember she’s scared of me and the game starts again. Beside lucking out by living at a bar that serves fried pork on the weekend, that family is incredibly nice, they treat me well and I feel very comfortable with them.

Not much is brewing, I have ideas but we’ll see if I can articulate them and even persuade people that these ideas are worth following. The most concrete one I’ve had so far is creating a video commercial for each Peace Corps tourism site. I brought my video camera and filmed a little in Foundiougne but another volunteer who’s been here over a year was informed of this idea and put together different clips he’d taken over his service and formed a really nice commercial for his site. I’ll have him send it to me and post it to this blog so you can see how beautiful it is here. I asked the bar to collect all the bottle tops so we can make something out of them, otherwise they just litter the ground around the bar, I’m going to google bottle cap art projects one of these days. If any of you have any arts and crafts project ideas, please let me know so I can do them with the children in the village.

There’s more to tell but this is all you get for now.

Jack and I at the ambassador's house for swear in

My host family in the salon, my namesake Gora is in the soccer jersey.

Falou - my nephew in the training village

Jack's knife wielding host mom and my aunt, the infamous Baji Roquer

This is the only time I've ever seen Adama not smile

Jack with his training village host family

Me with my training village host family in the compound courtyard

A picture of Foundiougne from the top of a hotel being built

A picture of Foundiougne from the top of a hotel being built

My village, M'Bam in the late afternoon

Popenguine, this was our view from the beach house we rented during training

Popenguine, this was our view from the beach house we rented during training

My new address

October 19, 2009

Here’s my permanent address:

David Jaglowski – PCV

B.P. 59

Foundiougne, Senegal

West Africa

Feel free to send me letters and packages.

Bottles of champagne are always welcome.

And now my service as Peace Corps Volunteer begins

October 17, 2009

Mucho tiempo has passed since my last post, apologies for leaving you all in the dark, but events and training seemed to pick up speed and happen in rapid fire succession. Yesterday I was sworn in as a volunteer at the ambassador’s house in Dakar (it’s like a museum) and am leaving tomorrow to start what’s called installation in my village, M’Bam. I’ll list off all the events that followed what is legendarily known by my training group as the stuck in the mud event and say a few words about each one.


Last two things I’ll say about the off-roading debacle, it’s amazing that no one was injured during the process of getting the car unstuck and the kindness of the villagers went above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen. After helping for hours and hours, they often asked for nothing, the only request I remember is that a volunteer be sent to their village.  


Volunteer Visit – visiting my new family and village in M’Bam.

Leaving for this trip I was very nervous, it felt fatalistic to visit my new site and meet my new family, if I didn’t like the people or the place or vice versa that would not have helped my mental state during the rest of training.

Fortunately M’Bam is a beautiful village, picturesque, traditionally Seereer, and progressive. The host family is extremely nice and catholic which allows me to have a lot more leeway than if I lived with a Muslim family. In fact the family owns a bar that is connected to the compound that I live in, where they also served fried pork, so in regards to host families I’m quite lucky.

The volunteer took us on a walk through the country side to swim in the Saloum river. We road on a horse and cart into Foundiougne, a touristic beach resort town two kilometers from M’Bam, and we relaxed in the shade of a hotel courtyard overlooking the delta.

The trip back went smoothly, the only disappointing part was that while sitting in the front seat of the SUV while reading, I missed seeing a monkey that ran in front of the vehicle, that the driver then pointed it out after it ran into the bush.


Next stay in Ngoudiane –   

To get ready for the end of Ramadam, I decided it would be cool to buy live chickens for my family to eat in the feast celebration of Korite. A friend that’s starting a third year as a volunteer went with me to the market to help. After some negotiation, two chickens were tied together by their feet and handed to me, wings a-flapping. My friend wanted to buy fabric as gift for her family so I stood in front of the shop with the bustling market moving around me, a giant speaker in the shop next store blasting Senegalese music, and dangling live poultry in my hand; it was a moment that allowed me to recognize how different my life is here.


For Korite we ate lots of meals all containing meat, it was glorious, and I was really looking forward to the end of the morning call to prayer. It just so happened that a wrestling tournament was to take place in the village in three nights time so in order to hype up the village, music was played loudly all night long during the two proceeding nights and of course on the night of the actual event.


The wrestling event, was very chaotic. All the wrestler had mystical charms called gri-gris that were supposed to help them win, which took the forms of roots that were chewed on, bracelets and articles of clothing worn, and in one case, nine bottles of liquid that each were a different color and he poured on himself. There was no official start time or properly organized match, the wrestlers walked/ran back and forth the length of the arena getting themselves ready; live music was drummed near by, and two or three match went on at a time. We left after midnight, when our language instructor informed us that the event wouldn’t finish until 5 AM.


I thought at last I would have some peace and quiet with the tournament over and done with, only to become aware of all night Islamic chanting/screaming as lied down to sleep the next night. I woke up at 4AM and they were still at it, only their voices were hoarse and completely gone after six plus hours of screaming.


Also during this stay, I had a crazy dream where I got really angry that some one pointed a gun at me and at the moment of my anger flaring up the most in the dream, the wooden frame of the bed collapsed. Peace Corps came the next day and built me a new one.


Popenguine – the beach


Each training group gets an overnight party at the nearby beach resort town. The volunteer placed at that site rented the house for all 50 of us and we made communal meals, drank our fill, and swam on a beautiful beach. It was a nice outlet, but left us more tired than we already were. The couch I passed out on for the night was actually the home of a bed bug colony and I had more bites than I could count, including some on my forehead.


Counter Part Workshop (CPW)


After the beach we returned to the Thies training center to prep for meeting our future work partners and we had a two day seminar prepping all of us on what is to come over the next two years. I met my counterpart during the volunteer visit, but I hadn’t met the government official that I will submit a report to every three months who was there as well.


Weekend in Dakar


After CPW we had the option of unwinding at the center or going to Dakar. After arriving at the regional house for volunteers to stay at, I went with two volunteers to a friends apartment where we drank wine and I opened the duty free bottle I purchased in the airport prior to getting on the plane to Dakar. We relaxed over drinks and had a pizza delivered. Then some one with us told us they had a friend with a room at the Radisson, Dakar’s fanciest hotel, and that we could hang out over there. Upon arrival to the apartment I declared it was “pure luxury” but that had nothing on the room at the Radisson. We sat in the hotel room with AC drinking fancy wine with a big screen TV displaying CNN. It was a lot to take in since I hadn’t watch TV in 7+ weeks and had forgotten about western creature comforts. From there we went to a good bye party for a leaving volunteer at party called Coug Raoul. On the first of Saturday of every month there is a party at a open air bar on the ocean that is frequented by ex-pats and creepy Senegalese men. The next day we recovered at a private club for Americans that as a PC volunteers we get free access to. Monday was our visit to the office with the entire training group and they took us downtown to have lunch.


Last stay in Ngoudiane –

Not much happened, I just felt like I’d been there two months and could speak Seereer a little and understand what was going on a lot more. The coolest part was moving my bed on the roof of Jack’s house in the compound and sleeping outside all week, since it’s officially the dry season. I think I got a cold from it but it was wonderful to get out of my hot room and out into the open air (besides the mosquito net covering). We had an emotional goodbye and promised to stop by in February when we have in-service training.


A look ahead:

There isn’t much to do in a little village, but dream, and dream we did. Jack and I have decided that our post-service travel, will be from Dakar to Washington D.C. without a plane. We plan on seeing the North Africa and the Middle East during this voyage. We’ve spent many hours discussing this and while I can’t give you all the info now, be on the look out for our website dedicated to making this trip happen.


There is a challenge from the country director for us to stay each night at our site from install to Thanksgiving, if we do so we can attend a plush super bowl party at his house in Dakar. I plan on staying those five weeks and then having Thanksgiving in Dakar at the ambassadors house (an option available to all PCVs). Then on December 3rd we have a eco-tourism in Dakar at the other fancy hotel in Dakar, Le Meridian.


Not sure what I’ll do the next 5 weeks in the village, but I’ll find a way to keep busy, I’ll be on the look out for projects and practice Seereer. Although I’m physically and emotionally exhausted there is still no question that this is the right thing for me to do and right place for me to be. Thanks for all the emails, blog comments, and support along the way. Oh…and sorry about the lack of pictures, I will work on that.