Many people have been asking me what it is exactly that I do here. Surely after close to a year I should have an answer to that. Well...it's a bit complicated. So for simplicity's sake, I can summarize for you. I'm working with a few different small business owners, women's empowerment groups, and artisans to innovate, plan, record, and generally improve their ideas/businesses. It's a huge challenge since many of my work partners do not think about business the same way I was taught. So that means I must essentially throw out the degree I just spent four years earning and rethink my approach. I have to craft a balance between technical aspects of running a business and the informal way of life that constantly pervades. For instance try to think a little about how you would teach marketing principles in a place where their go-to method of advertising is yelling, "Hey! Come buy some mangoes." It's certainly been frustrating, both in terms of misunderstandings and in that my priorities get confused. But it's work, kinda.
I've also been taking heavily to gardening. Both personally with a container garden on my roof and especially with my Master Farmer. We are preparing for an upcoming "open field day" to show other farmers in the area and the Peace Corps how things are coming along. Recently we have been trying to get our millet, corn, and beans planted but we've been waiting on the stubborn rain. Until finally we just decided to plant and pray. So with the help of nearby volunteers and some other farmers from Mboro we got our white corn and white beans planted. Then it rained. But only a little and not the downpours I've been promised since mid-July. So we went out again yesterday to get some more done. It was a cloudless day which here means it was HOT. We ventured out to the field in the afternoon so we could catch a break from the high heat. We worked for about an hour plotting and digging. And right after we finish preparing an area for red beans I felt a gust of wind on my back. I turned around slowly to a black sky and turbulent scene of shaking trees and flying dust. I look to my right to where Cheikh (the Master Farmer) was just a second before but he's gone. He grabbed the seeds and ran for shelter. I followed. After we found cover in his tool shed we sat there for about another 40 minutes while the storm roared and waned. Finally we saw our chance to finish the work and head back home. But once we could see the town, Cheikh noticed something was off about the town. The wind had knocked something around and the city's electricity was out. Everywhere. When it rains, it pours. And it's been pouring since.
I'll have more updates soon as to what kind of work I'm doing exactly. A lot of my time has recently been spent on the scholarship/girls camp I'm doing and to organize this open field day. But in between and after that I am doing some other exciting work.
This past weekend I had a great opportunity to travel to a beach south of Dakar named Samone. A group of 10 PCVs and I were guided by a local eco-guard to look for sea turtle tracks in the sand. The purpose is to monitor and protect these animals so that their populations can be prolonged and the Reserve can lobby against further development of the land. Unsurprisingly we didn't see anything but a few possible tracks on the morning watch. Despite that dissappointment though, it was a great experience and the true definition of an eco-tourism weekend. Low negative impact, locally empowering, and even damage reversing, this trip showed me how possible and positive an excursion like his can have on an area. I encourage all who are planning vacations to take some time and seek out at least a day for garbage collection, nature monitoring, or education. I assure you it will deepen your relationship with and weirdly enhance the relaxation at your favorite spot. Plus you could have great moments like the ones highlighted by the photos below.
Getting stung by a jellyfish!
A really nasty jelly fish...
Soothing pregnant dogs!
And "sleeping" outside to the sound of the tide coming in.
I hope you're all getting out to some sunny destinations this month and resetting your brains, responsibly of course. Happy vacationing!
It's called Korité here and it's a holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Like every other gathering I've been to here it was characterized mainly by the gathering of family and eating of a lot of food. It seemed people really enjoyed drinking water in public in the middle of the day, something they haven't been able to do for a month. One part I really enjoyed was that the standard greeting upon seeing anyone was "baal ma ak" which means "forgive me." You respond by saying "baal naa la" which means "I've forgiven you." This and the visiting of friends and family while dressed especially nicely made the holiday fun to be part of. Of course there was lots of praying all day and kids walking around dressed flashy, asking for money. Overall it was a great way to end a spiritually and physically challenging month. I presume things mostly go back to normal as we wait for the much needed rain.
Here are my host siblings and cousins dressed up to walk around town.
The time is 7:35PM. I'm sitting in our dimly lit hallway/living room/dining room listening to my host mom bark orders at the kids as she prepares "dogu," the afternoon snack to break fast. The sun is almost set and in the distance I notice the Mosques quiet down as they prepare for the approaching belch of prayers. This has been my favorite time of day for the past two weeks. The city slows down and all the families get together to pray and eat. Sweet symphony.
I must admit I had never given Ramadan a moments notice before this year. I suppose I had heard about it and knew that it was a time of prayer and fasting but that was the extent of my knowledge. Well I certainly know about it now. I have tried fasting from both water and food for two days in a row and that is no picnic. So I really admire my people here who do this for a whole month. The way it works is you cannot eat or drink anything while the sun is risen. So you can wake up at 5:30 to eat but after that you must wait until 7:43. Then you break the fast with a date, sandwich, coffee, and juice. Then you go pray for a while. Dinner in this house is around 9:30/10.
I think the reason I've enjoyed this so much is because Ramadan is supposed to be a time of forgiveness, friendliness, and prayer. People have been very curtious or at least quiet. Visiting other homes has been a treat as well since many people break fast with pastries and delicious juice. But it has led to a little stir-craziness so I've been out exploring the rural parts of Mboro some days. Here's what I've found.
Anyway it is time for me to go eat my date. Bon Ramadan!
Our month-long tour of my current life came to a brief halt yesterday morning when Lizzie boarded her 11AM Delta flight 271 for JFK. I had no idea how quickly a month could go by. And I had forgotten how happy I could be just having a conversation with her. Being together here that long had me almost believing that 8 months apart was no time at all. Which made it even harder to see her walk away into the terminal. I was slapped back to realizing 8 months WAS a long time and 12 is an even longer time until we will see each other again. But as I kept saying throughout her stay "I signed up for this." Which is true, and I am still fully committed to my stay here in Senegal. But, beside gushing, the actual purpose of this post is a suggestion from Lizzie. She encouraged me to write a post to other people considering the Peace Corps while in a committed relationship. So I guess the best I can do here is tell a little about our story and how we make it through the tough times.
The topic of the Peace Corps came into our relationship a couple months after we started talking to each other. We weren't "going out" but whatever it was, I wanted to end it. I knew I wanted to do the Peace Corps and I knew a relationship would not last. I'm glad I was wrong. She insisted that we don't worry about that but rather see where we end up. Two and a half years later I was offered the ticket to Senegal. I accepted and the relationship did not faulter. And I guess that's due to the honest conversations we had leading up to that decision. We actually did the corny Peace Corps relationship scenarios and read the literature they had on how hard it is to maintain one throughout service. We consulted volunteers' blogs and talked about some strategies for when I left. And I really think this all paid off. We had fights, especially in times of transition and around holidays when stresses were high. But despite that, we tried to understand each others' lives. We don't downplay each other' challenges and we don't judge. We trust each other. I know those sound like general good traits to have in a relationship but this is what held things together and it started before I left.
Additionally it's been extremely helpful to have some hope down the road. For me, looking forward to Lizzie's visit to Senegal was torture but the only fuel I had left. While she was here we talked about plans for another trip so we can have something not so far in the future. From now on it's going to be important that we don't keep our plans vague but rather have some kind of vision for the next year.
But I don't want to make it sound like it has been all struggles and hard times. Today is tough and maybe the next few days will be just as hard. But her visit here has given me a new energy and a new perspective on this country. She looks at frustrations differently than I do and she gave me new ideas for some of the work I'm doing here. And I know she will tell people from home all about the journeys we had here. If I can learn to look past the pain of not being with her for another year and look forward to doing good work here and staying in touch with home, there is definitely a bright side to all the struggle. For those thinking of taking this on like we have, I'll only give one piece of advice: don't go into this half-hearted. All or nothing.