Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"So what have you been doing over there?"

I might be able to finally answer this question with some substance.  One would imagine that after a year at a job, progress is long overdue. And I would agree, normally. But this isn't a normal job. And progress is sometimes hard to explain here. In many ways I feel ready to work now. My Wolof is starting to manifest what I want to say, not just what I need to say. My work partners trust me, understand how limited my time is here, and are encouraged to work. Finally, and likely most importantly, I'm starting to understand the brevity of my experience here. Two years is a long time but I can see this next year will be a quick one. I will not get done all that I want, but I'm certainly going to try. Although it's taken a year to get to this point I'm happy to start using these skills and assets to build a future for my work partners. Here is a little of what's been going on:

On October 15th I hosted an 'Open Field Day' with Cheikh Senghor. We invited 65 people with an expectation that 45 would actually make it. 90 came. The good news is Senegalese cooking accounts for about triple what one can eat. So there was plenty of food and the guests were happy. The day began with a light breakfast and tour of the field. Training and discussion topics included composting, pest control, live-fencing, and tree grafting. After the tour and training we took respite from the oppressive sun under the tent. I was given the floor to have a practical training and discussion on farm record keeping. I recieved a lot of empty stares but that's typical and I was told afterwards it was actually informative, hfeww! Overall the day was a success. It was the first one in Mboro and provides a base from which the Master Farm can be graded. It was also the first Open Field Day to incorporate financial training, putting me in my boss' good graces. Below is myself with Master Farmer Cheikh Senghor and my audience of tired farmers. 



After that I continued my work on the solar food dryer for "GIE Marché". This has taken a long time mostly due to miscommunications and delayed material deliveries. But finally the carpentry stage and glass is finished. Now what's left is the painting and it's new designated work area. Below is the day of completion and delivery. 




This past week on November 8th I was again hosting a training with farmers. This time it was a union of citrus producers who want to formalize and take on a larger project. Ideas they've been floating around include buying a car, making juice, exporting to America, and just getting free stuff from a new "partner." My job so far has been to bring some expectations down to earth. Ultimately we are making progress but it's slow. I'm recieving some very valuable lessons in patience. Conversely they're recieving some valuable lessons in expectations and responsibility. That established for us a great relationship and I look forward to seeing what they will accomplish. Below is a "double digging" training session. 





So finally (for now) I've been working with my artisan, Demba Mbow, on developing new products for two upcoming expos in Dakar. I've always loved working on stuff like this but certainly never on a commercial level. Despite my inexperience however, he trusts me. So we've got some new products to look forward to and maybe even a new image for his brand. More to come on that. Pictured below is our new headband and below that some of his smaller products. 




Work has been in full swing but will slow down for the holidays. I will most likely be gone from site for all of December so I'm sure I'll have more to say and show about that. Until then, happy holidays! 





Friday, September 26, 2014

Being Here

It's really hard to describe what being a Peace Corps Volunteer is like. Especially because it's hard to describe even to myself. I've tried to tell friends about this and I know it's a talk I'll have to give many times when I'm finished with service, but I think it will be nice to try and briefly summarize now and reflect on how it changes over the next year.

For one thing it's a dynamic experience, which inevitably causes a changing state of mind. In the first few months it was hard to form an opinion about anything since everything was new and shocking. But after time, maybe months 6-10, this new world became very old for me. I started to get frustrated with the culture, the people, and the things that used to be funny to me but then just seemed unhuman. Like seeing people dangling from busses on the highway, eating rice every day, and recieving constant verbal derision. Integration became a task of forgetting how weird it was for me to be here, something made impossible by my bizarre environment. That's pretty hard to talk about too. Because this is supposed to be a magical experience in which there is so much personal growth and peace. But the truth is, part of this is really difficult. I sometimes feel much less patient than I was. I don't appreciate everyday interactions as I should. And I'm still homesick. I am continually trying to embrace that reality and find out how to make it work. And it should be talked about. I shouldn't avoid these conversations just because the Peace Corps has been my dream. I have learned though that this will likely always be a transitive time of my life. I don't think I'll ever be completely unaware of how foreign I am here; something I pictured for myself before I arrived. I still have opportunities to thrive, impact, and inspire, but I emphasize my limited time here to work partners. After I'm gone, they will continue to do this work and they will have to thrive, impact, and inspire. In sum, that's how it feels to be a PCV for me; living in a transitional life-changing experience while trying to pass on some inspiration to those around me. 

So yes, I've had some really dark times that are likely to continue. And yes, I was pretty scared of Ebola for a few days after the case in Dakar. But no, I'm not going home. I am one year into this and at times my coping strategies still don't work. But I'll persist out of half dim-wittedness and half stubbornness. As corny as it sounds too, I signed up to help people and to serve my country. That job's not yet done. And possibly never will be. But I've found out that's hardly the point. 

For those in the Northeast who I haven't been in touch with, I am sorry. Keep doing what you're doing and know that I care. Although one year really felt like a year, I'm sure the second will go by quicker than we think. Cheers to another  (plus some). 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Another Picture Post (Mangrove Edition)


Here are some photos of the mangrove reforestation I was involved in a few weeks ago. You can read a lot about it at PeaceCorpsSenegal.org but here are some pictures from my POV. 





Some friends getting excited. 




Me and my bucket. 




The sunrise.




The breakfast spread. 





The sunrise encore.





Toucan-ish bird. 




This one is dedicated to Katherine LaRegina because I figure she would want to see what Senegalese pigs look like. Adorable. 





An inventive parrot cage. 










Friday, September 5, 2014

The last few weeks in pictures

Senegal's social media response to Ebola. I was quite impressed. 



New barriers broken with my host sister. (Those are my sheets below her underwear).




Planting field crops in the sun.




Which actually isn't too good for my skin. 




Planting field crops in the rain. But mostly just watching it rain. 





My birthday on the beach. Quiet. Relaxing. Delicious. 





And making soap with some friends!



 I hope everyone in America is having a great transition back to school. Here school does not start until October so we still have some time for vacation here. 


This weekend I am off to the beach and then some meetings, reporting, and medical appointments after that. I will likely have much more to say afterwards. 




Friday, August 29, 2014

And Then It Poured

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. 


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Turtle Watch

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!



Saturday, August 2, 2014

Eid al-Fitr

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.