The Harvest

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


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