Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Last Moments Approach

It's August. Ramadan began this month. This means that nobody is eating or drinking while the sun is up. It means that people aren't cooking breakfast or lunch in my village. So, what do I eat for breakfast and lunch? Powdered sweetened coffee milk mixed with room temperature water, and animal crackers. I actually enjoy it, however I do not often feel full during the day.

It seems as though time is passing at three paces. In a way, time is going very slow, sitting in my hut, letting the seconds pass by, knowing a new life in a once familiar world full of long absent stimulations will soon become my new reality. In another way, time is flying, running from person to person in my village, telling them that my time is almost up and discussing with them what they need to do to prepare for the future of their projects, and the arrival of the new volunteer. Then there is that time in between all of that, where you are rushing to sit down with your volunteers friends, seeking roads to start up a new life in America, yet also rushing to please the administration by closing your service properly, which, I must say, is almost more complicated than applying for the Peace Corps in the first place. All in all, I'm being pulled in many directions. I'm starting a transition.

That has been my month of August. It was my last full month in Senegal. I lived a bit of all my lives,, and tried to appreciate all. I will try to make this blog simple. I will talk about what I have been doing to close my service, I will talk about my last waterfall adventure, and I will talk about wrapping up the village work!

In the beginning of August I went on a nature adventure. Four of us gals decided to get together and bike to a waterfall named Ingli, probably the most beautiful waterfall in the whole country, and camp there for the night. I was the only one who had been there before, but it had been two years, and I had taken a completely different route. None of us really knew how to get there. So I called Matt, a volunteer who knows, got directions (left at this fork, right here, ask this village for directions), and off we went!

Here we are just leaving

About three hours in, the girls are certainly wondering if we are there yet. Nope, only half way!

We did the notorious river crossing with our bikes over our heads.

And we crossed the ever unstable wire and bamboo bridge.

When we finally got to the waterfall, it took our breaths away. The water in the pools below the falls was cool and clear perfect to dive into after sweating through your clothes for 6 hours straight.

Then it got dark. Oh yes. We got there kinda late. We enjoyed sitting by the fire. KC played the tune whistle and we all sang. It was lovely.

When it was bedtime, we tucked ourselves up in our tents, and it proceeded to rain hard all night long. We managed to stay kinda of dry. But not really. Here we are … wet and cold in the morning.

We woke up to a waterfall that was much different from the one we saw the previous night. We got to see a real power of water. It was so misty you couldn't see much. The water was so violent there was no way to get closer for a better shot. Could you imagine trying to swim in those waters?

In the morning I went exploring. I found this cool tree. I know this tree from two years ago. You have to climb a cliff to get to it. When you finally climb up to the tree, you have a nice view.

Here is the tree's view to the left

The tree's view to the right.

Here is a flower the tree has recently shed.

And climbed up to the top to get a better view. This was the view.

And we walked right to the source. Here she falls...

Then we biked home. And because of the rise in water, we had to take our bikes over the rope bridge. Yikes!

The trip was exhausting, but definitely worth it.

Time to start closing my service!

After going on the trip to the waterfall, all of the people from my stage (people who came at the same time and are leaving at the same time) were invited to stay at a nice hotel in Dakar where we attended a mandatory informational meeting about closing out our service service. The meeting helped us to reflect on our time here, and give us an idea of the opportunities that will be available to us as returned Peace Corps volunteers. It also introduced us to the complicated process of getting the paper work done that needs to be completed before leaving. Wow. So, the meeting lasted for three days. All of the volunteers who have been going through the same phases of struggles had finally all gotten together again, the first time since pre-service training. It was interesting.

Here is a pic of our stage at the end of the meeting.

After the meeting was over, we all dispersed. I had a day left to spend in Dakar, so me and a few friends decided to go to the recently finished statue. It's the new statue the celebrates the African Renaissance, according to the sign in front of it. If you look up the statue on any media things, you will find out that the statue is controversial.

Anyway, here is the statue. Of course when having a photo with a statue, you must pose like it.

Yay statue! This is me.

We found some Talibe boys on top who wanted to pose with us,

Then they decided they wanted to do push-ups with Lindsay.

We had a nice view of an area of the city that is in development.

So, the last part of August I got to concentrate on my last tree project. August is prime mango grafting time! Last year we held a grafting seminar in my village with participants who came from several different villages. They were leading mango tree farmers in their villages and the idea was for them to gain knowledge in grafting that they could then spread to other mango enthusiasts in their villages. Well, this year I got to put their teaching skills to the test. Well, two of the people that is. I had Numusara, my wonderful counterpart and best mango man, teach people in my village how to graft mango trees. I also had a man named Woori, who comes from a village named Baraboy, teach his very eager and willing villgers how to graft mangoes. It was all very fun. It took a lot of running around and organizing things, but it all went pretty smoothly, as I had great helpers.

Here are some photos of the grafting seminar in my village

And I just forgot to take pictures of the seminar in Baraboy. It' s a shame. They did a wonderful job.

I kept telling my villagers that the last grafting seminar was my last day of official work. I wanted to leave the last week in my village to talk to people about their upcoming volunteer transition, and to give away my stuff to people who have been kind to me. But that is a story for September. So you will have to wait!

Until next time... my last post for my time in Senegal!

and a picture for the road: petting warthogs in the park :)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Time To Plant Some Trees!

July has come and gone. In that time we have had, according to the farmers, a wonderful amount of rain. The corn in one month's time has gone from the size of simple young blades of grass to towering well above my head. The flamboyant tree that I planted last year in my backyard has been soaking up all the water and has doubled in size. Take a look!

Rain here brings more than just food crops. It brings life to everything. The amount of bugs increases daily. I've also noticed, every time that I take a moment to look, that the amount of random things living in every crevice of my back yard increases. Just look at all the wonderful things I've found!

I have several species of mushrooms

I have no idea what this is, but it's alive!

Of the million kinds of bugs, I might as well show a few.
Here is one little guy who I found on my yoga mat.

Some flies had fun having their babies in a bag of seed I left out in the rain... ugh!

These GIANT centipedes like to hide under things. when they sting it hurts!

Village happenings.

So my biggest projects are done and I'm on the down hill slope in my village, preparing for my departure and the arrival of the volunteer who will replace me. So, is work slowing down? No and yes. Yes as in I have no more giant projects. Yes as in people are farming from sunrise to sunset so it's almost impossible to get them to do anything for me. However, my to-do list has been a mile long. Just a few things on my list are: get groups to out plant their demonstration live fences, get members to plant trees from their private nurseries. Promote and attempt to do rainy season gardens, organize people to plant ornamental trees on main road, organize grafting formations, meet with new neighborhoods who want to discuss starting a group, and strengthen the liaison between my leaders. Oh, and have tea with Issa. Yes, there is a lot to do.

I've gotten the groups to out plant their trees for their garden demonstration live fences. See them planting the trees?

The women who planted trees during the formation were excited to take them and plant them in their fields. Here is one happy woman and her trees.

The politics of the groups are ever changing as well. These days this has become one of my favorite sectors to work in. My new counterparts continue to help me in organizing the groups, and the group members and presidents alike are starting to question the role of my “special helpers”. This month I've had talks about it and arguments about it with several people in my groups, including group presidents. I've also discussed it with my counterparts. Basically, it's a lot of drama. The villgers argue: “Are the counterparts the bosses of the groups? But they aren't in any of the groups! Who has the right to make decisions? The groups are doing their work, the counterparts should do their own. We have our wells and they have theirs, leave them to their fields and us to our groups!”
At the end of the month I sat down with my counterparts and my presidents facing one another, said a few words, and then sat back and let them duke it out. The counterparts hashed it out to the presidents saying “there is no individual work here. The groups work together, we all work together. Lets face it, we all have knowledge. If one is not there to help, the other one can, then we can tell the others about it. Some of us know what good soil is, some of us know how to plant trees, and some of us know how to organize people. It's all for one cause and we all need to work together instead of doing everything individually. We are here to support the volunteer, who is here to help us. You are part of her work as well as us. If we work together, her work will be more likely to succeed.” The presidents could do nothing but agree. And if they agree, the groups' members will know. It's a start.

How about a test in organization?

I had each group plant many flamboyant trees. A flamboyant is a really pretty tree that has fern-type leaves and has beautiful orange flowers. I discussed with them from the start that these trees were for the main road. Well, the trees grew, and this last week, we out planted them. The great part was, I played a very small roll in it. My leaders are really coming along.
So, towards the end of July we managed to plant about half of the trees. I was head organizer, giving advise to my group president, my counterparts, and everyone wanting to plant trees. It was hectic, and according to my counterparts, I didn't do it right. I was needing to leave town the following day. I actually think they were glad. They told me that when I came back, all of the trees would be planted the way I had requested. And it's true, when I went back, they were all planted. How about that for work partners? A Peace Corps Volunteer couldn't ask for more.
Some photos:

here are the trees. I got metal signs made so the trees would have owners.

We painted the name of the caretaker for the tree on the signs

Each tree got a sign.

Ideally, every person will protect his/her tree when the rain stops. They all knew upon planting the tree that this was the case. So, even more ideally, in 10 years the main road in Thiabedji will be lined with flamboyant trees. Like I said, it's a test in organization. Success rate can be 0% or if we are lucky 50%.

The 4th of July in Kedougou.

Every 4th of July, Kedougou hosts a rather large party and volunteers from all over the country are invited. This year we threw a wonderful party! There was food, drinks, music, games, a singing of the national anthem, and even fireworks!
The day started out with a nice 4k run in the center of town for anyone who wished to attend. Many volunteers as well as locals, participated in the race. It was very fun. I didn't run, I opted to stand by and take some photos.

The start of the race

David finishing the race.

The contestants post:

After that, the party began! Here are some photos.

We had a few freshly slaughtered pigs :) Ian cooked them!

Well that sums up most of July. I apologize for delay in posting. :P

Until next time!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Water is here in many ways.

The rains are here. So sometimes, when I'm not out and about, I help my sister weed her corn.

I'm not the best at it, but it's nice to know what the villagers mean when they say their whole body hurts from farming all day.

Now les get to it. Ladies and gentlemen. It's time for a blog of what has been going on here in Senegal these past couple of months. I've been meaning to blog, believe me. But I've been waiting for this current chapter to close so I could give the whole story, and as of now, it is finished!

I have four new wells in my village. Count that, four.

So it started with a thought. Followed by some research. A lot more thought. Many discussions with many villagers. And finally, a decision. After that I had to accept the fact that what I was doing was giving me the feeling of walking barefoot and blindfolded off a plank into an unknown never ending ocean of some sort that could be filled with any sort of life, poisonous snakes, sharks waiting for their next feeding frenzy, or, perhaps, nothing but cool crisp waters and a couple of peaceful sea turtles.

How does a village of 1,200 people really work? Villages are all different, how will MY village react to this project that is happening for these new garden groups and in turn, for the whole village?

Can I just say that four wells were completed in the small time frame of about six weeks. Four wells, each 1.5 meters in diameter, average of 8 meters deep, and fully lined with cement. Each single well was done by hand, by local villagers (a neighboring village called Gingara, paired with some people from my village).
May I just say, I'm still in shock of how smoothly this endeavor went down. I've been in this country for over a year and a half. Nothing is supposed to happen this smoothly. Ever. Postponing things and putting things off, not matter now important or official they are, always happens. It only takes one person, one sentence, or one small decision by one piece of the puzzle to delay a project this large.
But some reason, for me, every piece of the puzzle came together, everyone stayed on track, and now my village has 4 new beautiful, reliable water sources that aim to help them:

increase income,
increase nutrition,
increase knowledge in gardening techniques AND
increase knowledge in tree planting techniques.

And a side goal of these wells which has come up between the lines and has also decided to be one of the more important goals of these wells, combines with the garden groups who own them:

To be s starting point in organizing a community.

So, let us reenact the key points in this project.

Why dig wells? The above reasons that I listed quite nicely, of course. Each of my four wells is different, and has a different group of villagers behind it, and a different type of politics. I won't get in to the nitty gritty of all of that, but just know, 4 wells means 4 very different miniature political systems. Each political aspect is now coming together. Can't imagine what that means? Come to my village and ask the people.

The need. Water is one of the important key factors in the way a community works. It can make or break a person's day, month, and year. While there is water in Thiabedji, I must say, there is not nearly enough. Most water sources there were either public and overcrowded or private, with a purpose to water cows. No water sources were there for community garden groups, or for farming technique improvement and demonstration. With water available specifically for these reasons, it allows certain people to excel in something other than the necessities of daily life. And if success is seen in a village, it will be imitated, right? Especially if those who succeed are there to teach and help those who want to.

Organization. It helped that I already had my garden groups. And a couple of amazing farmers to help me with these groups. The groups were brand new groups started by neighborhood, and they had proved to me this past season that they have the desire and the ability to work together for a common purpose. Now they just needed water. They were already hyped up from their harvest, so when I mentioned wells they just got very excited. They were ready to do what it took to get them. And I was confident they could do it. Same with my farmers.

Financing. That is my main job, according to the villagers. I organize that stuff. They need to pay a percentage, and I bring in the rest. For one well I got funding from a website called Water Charity. They are an organization that funds small projects that give people more access to water. They funded the well for my farmer, Numusara, whose field is to become a demonstration site. It will be perfected over time, and people will go there from all around the region to learn technologies that they also are able to see.
The other three wells were funded by grant that promotes food security: AKA gardening and nutrition. With this grant, the people contribute 25% of the cost of labor/money, and the grant covers the rest. That was a lot of paperwork and I learned a lot filling it out.

Workers, materials, village cooperation. All this is a lot more complicated than it sounds, and t's a village by village basis. I got lucky with workers. There is a village next to mine, a Bedik village called Gingara, who are trained well diggers thanks to a Catholic missionary from France who devoted his life to teaching skills to Bediks. He has recently passed away but his legacy lives on. Pierre was the boss well digger in my village. Here he is, working.

My well blog.

He had already started one well, the well of Numusara. Then my villagers and I hit him with a big question. “Can you, Pierre, do three more wells in 6 weeks, before the farming season begins? Pierre just got a huge bomb dropped on him. A huge question that came with a huge responsibility, and a lot, lot lot of heavy work. He thought about it, and he agreed. It was to be done.
There was a big meeting with the well digging team (Pierre had helpers), and the main villgares in charge of the wells. We needed the materials... tomorrow. We calculated how many of what we needed. Pierre, Issa (my counterpart), and I were to bike to town the next day and get ALL of the materials delivered the next day. The whole day was a blur. We got every single item that we needed for the wells to my village in one day. Not a single thing went wrong. Everybody worked together. I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off making wild commands to everyone. . And everyone did what I said. It was quite an experience. I could not have done it without Issa and Pierre helping me.
Villagers. I could not have done this without them. The wells were for them and I needed their free manpower. They did it amazingly. Many villagers broke their backs (metaphorically) helping in the construction of the wells. Yes, they spoke of their pains. But more often than “ouch,” I heard “thank you's.” They were very happy with the prospect of new wells in their village.

Now, for fun. How do you make a well? I sure as heck didn't know. Which is funny because I was the “boss,” according to my villagers and the diggers. But they knew I knew nothing. They had a lot of fun teaching me, and I had a lot of fun learning.

The digging part is the easiest, according to Pierre. I don't know if the diggers would say the same thing. These four wells were dug by hand, with really dull picks. We were very lucky that they did not hit hard rocks. Only soft ones..

Every morning, my six Bedik diggers would walk/bike about 4 miles to my village. Then they would work from sunrise to just before sunset. They were fed lunch and tea by my villagers. With digging, one or two men would be in the hole digging, and one or two men would be above the hole, taking the dirt out of the whole, one bucket after another.

The next step is to make the cement lining. This takes many steps. First, you need a mold. This is a heavy hard to find item. Luckily, we got one.

Iron bars needed to be cut and assembled to be the skeleton of the cement molds. Here is Tamba, one of the well diggers, attatching them.

For each bag of cement, there needed to be about 3 bags of sand and 3 bags of gravel. It was up to the villagers to bring this. They did it with wheelbarrows, bikes, and donkey carts. This was the most difficult job for the villagers, as this stuff is very heavy and they needed very large amounts of it. But somehow, they all managed.

The cement, gravel, and sand are mixed on site, and poored into the mold.

Each lining needs to dry for 7 hours. They can only made 2 linings per day. Each mold needs to be watered two times a day, for cement likes water. If too dry, it will be feeble and crack easily.

I was watching the cement linings pop up one by one. All the time I was noticing how heavy they were, and always wondering how the heck they are going to get those nicely stacked in the well without any sort of machine. Finally, the day came where I got to see what happened. Manpower was called for. All the villagers knew the wells were being made, and many were eager to go see what was going on. So maybe 30 or 40 men would go to the well on “lining” day. The hosts of the well were offering some sort of compensation, either tea, mangoes, or lunch. Basically, it's a well party.

Each lining probably weighs a up 400-500 lbs. Ha! How the heck do you move something so big and kinda fragile and drop it down a big hole? Materials, ropes, logs, and sheer manpower. Wow.

First, the pried the linings off the ground and tied ropes around them.

They put big logs over the well. Then they lifted the linings by hand and carried them to the top of the hole, where they placed them on the logs.

There was one main rope over the lining. It was long enough for about 20-30 men to hold on to in a line. They were the manpower. There was also a crew of people surrounding the well to take the logs out of above the hole.

On command, everyone pulled the rope and the lining was lifted off the logs, suspending. Those who were around the well scurried to remove the logs. The lining was now suspending over the hole.

On command, the people slackened the rope, little by little. The lining was lowered into the well.

As it reached the bottom, one of the diggers would grab the rope and swing down to the bottom of the well, he would then grab the lining and direct it to it's proper place in the well. This was done with each lining, one by one.

Next, they seal the linings together with cement. They seal the other gap, and then make it pretty at the top.

Here are my four wells.

Well number one is Numusara's well. I have a story about him on a previous blog. His well was funded by a group called Water Charity. It pre-funds necessary projects and counts on donations to be reimbursed. I have had a few people give very generous donations. I need $200 more dollars to reimburse the people who funded me. If you are interested in helping me out, please make a donation of any size. No pressure to you folks. It's just an opportunity. Here is the link to the site with a project description.

And finally, Numusara's beautiful new well!

Well number two was put in a location that is to be an example for the garden groups. A model gardener, you could call it. Through all the difficulties of organization groups, if there is one perfect garden that is open to teaching others and showing them the success possiblities in gardening and tree planting, it can “take off” other efforts. Here is the owner and teacher, with his well.

Well number three. A group garden well. It is finished except for it's beautification. The group is very excited for this up coming season.

And the final well, for another group. Yes I know they all kinda look the same. But they aren't. Not really.

That is four wells. Count that. And the cool thing, it's only a symbol for what opportunities are arriving for my people. Because really, it's the people that make the changes, and they are doing well at starting this.

I have only a few more months in country. I am in the process of closing up my work, yet my to do list is overflowing. I have people in my village and neighboring villages coming up to me with all kinds of ideas, and, surprisingly, they are good ideas. I am still working constantly to help my groups organize themselves and work through problems that come from... well, starting new groups. Organizing people. Every day I learn, and every day I see progress. It's pretty neat.

I will try to write again soon :)

Until next time!