A couple of projects.

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.

Gardening:

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.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CB6Gqkjow5w

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.

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