Monday, September 28, 2009

Dennaboo (say it "DEN-ah-boe")

PSA first: I figured out what the problem with the video stuff is: you can't upload files larger than a given size (sensible), and the ones I wanted to upload were too large. As a result, I took a bunch of really quick ones, which will be a little like hiccups to experience but are, I hope, a little more real than photos. If not, let me know and we shall not try this experiment again.
So what is a dennaboo? It's an Islamic baptism ceremony that normally takes place one week after the birth of a baby in which the baby's head is shaved, its name is announced, and everyone eats a lot. Jeneba had her baby two weeks ago, and since the dennaboo would've fallen on Korite, they just gave the baby a name then (Yaasi), and had the party the next week. The pictures are all G-rated, but some of the film clips may have butchering-of-animals going on, so be warned.
Toubabs from left: Frank, Zach, Ashley, Melanie.
Zach and his host nephew.
Frank and Zach's other host nephew.
Turns out the kid isn't the only one capable of making silly faces.
The kids here really like to be obnoxious and touchy. Frank is really taking advantage of that here.
So that the women of the family do not have to do a ton of cooking on the day they're throwing the party, there's a women's co-operative that does it. I don't know if they get paid to or if they just rotate through themselves whenever one of them has a baby, either way, here they are in all their laughing, chatty, hardworking glory.
There were at least three of those pots.
Zach's host sister and Issakha, wearing a boubou he stayed up all night to make out of cloth I brought him from Kedougou. He likes that hat a lot, but I think he'd look better without it.
My other namesake, with a water bottle, looking like a bottled-water commercial.
"Hali, atchu!" ("Hali, stop!")
Wooli, I think his name is. One of the nicest people ever, the dogsbody of my compound. Very kind and gentle and patient with the children and with me. However, he has never had to threaten to lash me with a switch to keep me out of the sewer, so we have a less strained relationship than he does with, oh, say, Yero (aka Hiero), for example.
Nogay with pinkeye.
Aissatou, my eldest sister, visited from Dakar to help with the dennaboo.
A small child in very embroidered clothing.
Alpha Omar Sala, my second namesake's and Nogay's brother. Also one of my favorite people.
Here he is again.
Another of my favorite people--this is Frank's older brother, Ibrahima, who is endlessly patient and speaks very slow, clear Pulaar. He reminds me of what a full sibling of both Barack Obama and my father would look like (if such a thing were possible).
Issakha. And hat. Sorry the picture is so dark.
Jeneba, who is even smaller now that she isn't pregnant anymore.
Jeneba, in her gold-embroidered splendor.

Funny, I didn't notice that woman not want her picture taken until I watched the clip.

Yaasi Ba, appearing for the first time to the world at large.

Zach wants to get, like, ten goats. That much English is unusual to hear. It's funny, you'd think that as I've got a first-rate degree in the study of it and am a relatively introspective, analytical type, I would've noticed by now that I really like my first language. Especially given my sensitivity to how it is used. But no, it took six weeks of foreign-language-immersion training to get me to notice that not only do I like my language, butImiss it. Yes, I am sometimes dumber than a box of rocks.

GORE ALERT--nothing dies in the following, but things are being cut up that are already dead.

In which Omar Sala thinks I am taking his picture again.

Wooli and company cutting up a sheep.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

We are sending...

This post is the place to comment with things like, "Do not send her a hammock--I am sending one!" I won't come scroll through the comments, promise. Also, with respect to the gloves, if anyone finds a longer pair, that'd be awesome, because then I could maybe do some Anacardia sp. work.

Oh, and if you want to comment with other things that you are sending, that's fine. Prevent my getting sixteen packages full to the brim with raisins...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Region Visit

Okay, let's see if I can get through all of this. There will be no pictures this time around, because I took very few and, honestly, I'm too lazy to walk over to my room and get my camera.

Kedougou and environs
Kedougou is absolutely beautiful--full of rolling hills, tall green grass, short-ish (10m) trees of all kinds, corn fields, millet fields, cows, seasonal streams, the Gambia River...I know, it's the rainy season, and it won't be nearly as amazing in the dry season, but it's Truly Beautiful, and I hope that everyone comes to visit me. Maddy, my parents, Kevin and Jess are all on the list somewhere, and I expect everyone else to sign up, pronto.

Party and Dinner
When we arrived in Kedougou after a 12-hour car ride (that's fast, apparently), the current PCVs were really happy to see us. They were so happy that they'd spent a ton of money and time making a dinner that included: hand-ground hamburgers, onion rings, sweet-potato fries, fried okra, potato salad, coleslaw with RAISINS (!!), tomatoes, cheese, and homemade hamburger buns. I nearly died of amazing.

The village I visted was beautiful, welcoming, and tiny. I fell down in the mud and the villagers observed that "The mud got her dirty". So as to avoid embarrassing me.

Warthog sandwiches
Are readily available, cheap by US standards, and very tasty.

Journal Excerpt
September 16, 2009
Kedougou, Senegal
Warthog sandwiches last night at the Relay. Tasty, and ruined only a little by the pompous drunken Briton who really, really liked one of the current PCVs. I guess he thought the way to impress her was to say that she should take over the Peace Corps trading up from a napkin and that we're all too cynical to do good development work. And that America sucks compared to the UK. Foodwise, of all things. Because we do not have Cornish Pasties. Really.

Village. I got all weird and self-conscious about Pulaar in front of my host, but he was really nice and it was extremely reassuring to see a place sorta similar to how mine will be, at least in terms of language. It was awesome to hear everyone speaking Pulaar. But I did not practice enough. On the trip there, though, I could feel myself getting sicker and sicker. We'd had dried fish and rice in town before leaving for the 5km ride, so I was already feeling a little crappy, and had in general feeling like there was building internal pressure in a lot of areas. Weirdest feeling--we got there (finally started hating my shoes, the TevaFlops with no heel straps, because you can't walk up a muddy slick hill in them, period) and I lost my host in the cornfields. It was beautiful, and nice in a detached way, riding along through the fields on narrow, winding paths. When we arrived at his compound, after he found me, I was well into the chills phase of heat exhaustion. He sat me down in the shade, and brought me water to drink and bathe, but for a while, I just sat and sweated, sweated, sweated. My face felt as though someone had taken sandpaper to it, even though I was not even sunburned. After a while, I came back to earth, but it was a little scary how easy it was to get that messed around.

Notes on the Journal Excerpt
I have since bought Emilie's Keens from her, and that has solved the heel strap issue.

Oh, and I hate my ex-bike. I named it Gimp, because at the Kedougou Peace Corps house we discovered that the front brakes were beyond easy repair. So, we disconnected them. Then, the inner tube spat bubbles when I inflated a tire. And the frame was too small. Took it out to the town with a road where we ate the dried fish (ew), discovered the chain jumps the cassette pretty easily. But nevertheless, I have regained confidence in my biking ability, even though I am in terrible shape. Not bragging, just saying, because even with a totally unfamiliar and craptastic bike which could barely shift gears and which was heavily loaded in back and had no front brakes and even with me having mild heat exhaustion and shoes that spat out my feet and flung mud all up my back (to my HAIR) when I tried to walk anywhere relevant and the incredibly rocky, uneven, and muddy terrain nonwithstanding, I did not fall over, skid, or lose control of the bike.


I remember swearing my way up a hill, clashing through the gears and feeling horrible for abusing the machine, muttering every obscenity I could think of (and some that I couldn't), and cracking myself up, suddenly, in what was a true Peace Corps Moment (TM). Sometimes you get a breath of fresh perspective when you really need it... "&*$&*@ing *#& of a bike I swear I'll @#*#&ing kill it when I get back @&@#ing Peace Corps won't give me a bike well @#&^@$% them I hate that I'm breaking this bike, because (oh @#*@$ that's a ROCK!!!!!) something is going to break soon, but oh look, it won't be me, because $*@%ing Peace Corps didn't give me a bike with front @#^#$%ing brakes. Hahahahahaha OH @^#&#*^!!!" After that I hated it a little bit less, but it was still frustrating. I mean, I know we can fix bikes and that riding on top of the cars really does them no good at all, but *still*.

Today is a hard day, not in an "I'd like to ET" kind of way, but because I'm underslept, I'm running out of stamina, and training (PST, Pre-Service Training) is only about half over. I feel like I'm the stupidest person in my language group, and that really bothers me, because a big part of my identity is that I am intelligent. I also truly do not like certain circumstances surrounding and related to my language class, as some of you may have gleaned. And, so as to remain fairly circumspect (being as this is a publicly identified forum), I'm not going to specify further, but if you are curious, try to imagine the kind of person with whom I would completely not get along, and then put me in the same room with that person for multiple hours per day. It's just an exhausting day, we had a really intense session about rape and sexual assault, I'm discouraged, I am chafing in a subordinate position to someone I feel is totally incompetent (never a good situation for me), I'm feeling isolated and insular and really tired of the specific ways that the world continues to suck, and there is not a break coming up anytime soon.

My family in Sangalkam is amazing, but staying there is not restful. Jeneba just had her baby, which is wonderful, except I do not like babies. I also do not like parties, and here comes Korite (one of the biggest holidays of the calendar) and right behind it, a Dennaboo (say it "Den-uh-boe"), or baptism. And a language test, which, coinciding with a trough in my competence is really not great. Frankly, I'm sure this is just a PMS-y kind of day, and normally I am neutral-to-chipper...but, yeah. Not all blog posts are happy ones, and I just wanted to let y'all know the other side of training: there are days when nothing feels right, everything is overwhelming, there is no respite in sight, and you want to cry, go to sleep, hide, scream, or who-knows-what. Because you feel stupid, you feel overwhelmed and inadequate, but at the SAME TIME you just want to go out to site and get the training over with, already.

But on the up-side, I'm not really sick, my laundry will probably dry before we head to Sangalkam, we just got paid so I have plenty of money to go shopping for things to take with me to village, and I talked with Maddy, Kevin, and Andrew and they made me happy. And I got a really wonderful note from Bert, too. Thank you all for being wonderful!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Some thank-yous

To my Dad, who sent me pens, earplugs, and a letter-a-week so far, and who woke me up with a really welcome phone call during a tough week at homestay...

To my Mom, whose letters and pictures have also been coming thick and fast...

To Pat G., who sent me a letter and a picture that reminded me of Colorado and the Real Mountains...

To Jen Y., who sent me a wonderful postcard that kept me from having a really terrible day...

To Ari, who sent me letters, only one of which I have gotten so far, that made me smile and remember how lovely language specificity and snarky humor is...

To Adam G., Elaine, Kevin, Bert for Facebook encouragements...

To Sarah, Kevin, and Ari for chat support, especially when I was sick and miserable...

To everyone who replies to my emails...

To everyone who has sent wishes and prayers my way...

To anyone who has done something wonderful for me but I forgot to mention...

Thank you, as I have rarely thanked anyone before.

And, to Heidi and Kyle, congratulations on your engagement! I will look into coming back for the wedding, but right now it is nearly impossible to say whether I will be able to make it or not. Either way, my thoughts will be with you.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Homestay the second

[Insert failed attempt to upload video]
I'm going to make a list of things about which I would like to write, and then use those as subject headings again. We'll see how far down the list I get.

C'est facil, ou bien?
Alpha Omar Sala is a 16-year-old in my CBT village (Community Based Training) who has taken me under his wing, somewhat. He loves to joke and tease but is really interested in helping me to learn the language and culture. Every time he teaches me a new word, and we talk in French, he says to me "C'est facil, ou bien?!" "Is this easy, or what?!"

Nyami niebe
One of the absolutely most funny things you can say, if your last name is Ba (like me) or Diallo (like Frank and Ashley) is that the others eat beans. Now, this is common--think of it like Smith and Jones. Imagine that they're all related to the size of being distant cousins, which is in fact culturally relevant and interesting. And imagine that every time anyone named Smith talks to anyone named Jones, they say "You eat Beans! All Joneses eat Beans!" Then Jones replies, "No, you Smiths are the bean-eaters. And you steal things." And then imagine that everyone always finds this hilarious. No, reallyn

Messes you up good. I did it for one day, didn't eat or drink (minus the mouthful of water I needed to take my last anti-mangoface steroid pill that morning) until 7:30pm. The not eating is not a big deal, but the not drinking water is really, really a painful thing to try. The next day I was covered in lethargy. The day after that I was fighting off a virus and losing, felt like I had been beaten with a pipe. Five days later I was finally back to functioning at around 90%, where I feel like I pretty much stay. But yes, I fasted for one day, and although I am telling my Sangalkam family that I am going to fast vraiment, tellement (really, totally) next year, I don't know about that. Because really. Just, ouch. But it made my family happy.

My koto, or older brother, is really amazing, but has taken it into his head that I need to win a Toubab Ribbon of some sort, and so has been praying for me to "Prendre le meilleur note". No pressure. The day of our language test, he woke me an hour early to practice Peul Fuuta with him for an hour. He is taking this way more seriously than I am, and I think he is engaged in some sort of possibly-informal contest with at least a couple of the other host families to see whose American is the Best. Huh.

Phone calls
Are free to receive, but cost me through the nose to make. So, please call me if you can spare the money to talk. I hear rumors of websites that let you pick five frequently-called countries and get a vastly reduced rate, but I do not know what they are called, yet. When I do, I'll post them. Until then, yes, please call me. I'm four hours later than New York, so calling me after 8pm their time is really not a good plan. If I'm in class or busy, no biggie. People in Senegal answer their phones while teaching class, having a conversation, or sitting in class. Much different in terms of etiquette than in the USA. So if I can't talk for long, I can offer an estimate of when I will be able to talk.

Pulling water
I wrote about this already in a letter, but it has left a pretty deep impression. So, for our garden, about which I will write more soon (perhaps below), we had to make some manure tea. And in order to make said tea, we needed water. Lots of water, and no hose, which meant that pulling water out of the well is the first, best, and only option. 50 gallons is a lot of water to pull, and I thought that I wouldn't like it, but it is, although difficult and repetitive, much like meditation. The rhythm of dropping the bucket down two seconds to the water (splat), letting it fill all the way to the top (5 seconds), and then begin to pull the rope. But you can't jerk the rope around, or the bucket will swing, and you'll be able to hear all your water splashing back down, wasting your energy. A smooth rhythm is best, but you have to keep an eye on the rope, because when you can see the knot that means the bucket is nearly up, you need to time the swing just right to get the oblong bucket up out of the square well hole. Otherwise, you dump the water back down into the well. Drop, pause, pullpullpullpullpullpullpull, pause, pull, grab, pour, drop, pause...Peaceful.

Slapstick and praying
Ashley's family has a TV. Actually, many families have TVs, but Ashley's family pretty much
has theirs on all the time. Really. One time I was over and there was a movie on about some sort of People Who Had Been Caught By Bad Guys. The Heroes were white, and the Baddies were Arab, which was not particularly scary except that they were Muslim. And the way that the Heroes escaped was by waiting for all the Muslims to pray all at once, and then attacking them. I saw this and was immediately really nervous, because it seemed pretty horrible to stereotype like that. But, when the Really Bad Guys sat up from a prostration and both got knocked on the noggin by a log, the entire family burst into raucous laugher. And then I realized that it doesn't seem like a racial stereotype or an anti-Muslim stereotype. Everyone, or pretty much everyone, from the Senegalese point of view, is Muslim. So what if the Bad Guys are, too. It was interesting.

Helping to cook and chore increase in general, see also: Watching people work and helping!
Several weeks into my relationship with my Sangalkam family, they've finally started letting me do work, and I think it must've been as a result of someone talking with them, because not only are they letting me do things, but they are telling me to do things. "Hali, go buy bread with this money. Can you say 'I want two-and-a-half loaves'? Yes? Good. Go buy bread." "Hali, come carry this, we're going somewhere. You understand?" "Hali, come twist this thread together so that we can make silken cord to trim boubous." Relatedly, everyone seems to be really excited to have me watch their work, and Issakha has taken to having me draw designs (looking at an original) for him to embroider on fancy Korite clothes. It's nice, but it's also worrying, because I am constantly wondering if I am doing it correctly. Lucky for me I know I am a dab hand at doing dishes out of a couple buckets, so that at least that's getting done to standard.

Long conversation with Ibrahima
In which I detailed my life in the United States, my parents, my family, and he told me that HE would love to walk to America if he could, but that failing that, it is good to hear about my family, because he hopes one day to meet them.

Lac Rose and my revenge on the flies
Near Sangalkam there's a lake called Lac Rose, because it is pink. We went there on one of our few days off, and although it was not pink, we had a good time anyway. It's something of a tourist trap, complete with fake gifts from vendors, and ridiculously 0bvious price hikes and scams. Still, it was cool to see the mountains of salt they're extracting from the lake (the only economic benefit to salinification that I've seen or heard of so far), and of course, there was a restaurant with (obscenely priced) American food. Some people at pizzas and drank beer, but ever the lame one, I had Fanta. And, because flies here are really annoying, I trapped them under a glass and let them fly around in there. Nevermind they don't have enough intelligence to be annoyed. It also is not my fault that Zach then cruelly murdered one of them.

Embarrassing biriti/billet moment
The word for 'bread' is 'biriti'. The word for 'ticket' is 'billet'. Sometimes it is hard to hear the difference. I thought Issakha was trying to pay for my ticket to Lac Rose, he was trying to tell me to go buy bread, and the ensuing conversation was embarrassing.

Ready, set, pee
Notes on how to use a squat toilet--first, roll up your pants. Then pull down your pants. Do not mix up the order.

What we probably sound like, vraiment
Hello. What are your name? I went to school right now. Have a good morningnoon. Here are two sample conversations with my family. I do not know if they actually happened, but this is about what I sound like.

"Hali, do you want to eat anythng?"
" want to eat anything. I don't understand."
"Eat anything?"
"Are you hungry?"
"Are you...oh! I understand! Am I hungry? No, I am not."
"Yes you are. Come eat."
"No, I was not hungry."
"You are hungry."
"You are hungry."
"Hali, you are hungry."
"No, I am not hungry, but you are hungry. I will eat yesterday."
"Come eat! You will eat today! Now!"
"Okay, okay..."


"Hali, what are you doing?"
"What are you doing?"
"Are you studying?"
"Are you...Yes! I am studying! I was studying, I was doing."
"What were you studying?"
"I was studying Pulaar!"
"Did you learn anything today?"
"Did you don't understand."
"Did you"
"No. I did not learn today?"
"You did not learn? But you went to school."
"I did not learn! I went to school to study Pulaar!"
"Hali, do you know what "learn" means?"
"Do I know what...what?"
"Do you understand 'learn'?"
" 'Learn' means 'pour apprendre'"
"Oh! Yes, I did learn. I went to school and I learnt."
"Say it."
"I don't understand."
"What did you learn?"
"I learned about des verbes."
"Hali, speak Pulaar."
"I learned about verbs."
"Which verbs?"
"I don't know."

Frank has a talent of pushing his LCF to the point of twitching eyes and where he will just say "V-v-v-vraiment, Frank! D-d-doucement!" I am amazed that my family has not yet clubbed me over the head to stop the "I'm stupider than your average baseball bat" Pulaar that I try to speak.

We have one. It has: Corn, Millet, Sorghum, Cowpeas, Rice, Okra, Bissap, Peppers, and five kinds of tree. It's our English-speaking haven, and we go there every day.

Country Director

I'm getting lazy, so here's another journal excerpt (yes, I am aware that around 12 hours after I post this, Chris Hedrick will read it or hear of it. Doesn't make any of it less true. Hi, Chris. Thanks for putting me in Kedougou.) "Chris Hedrick visited today, and I have a disconcertingly comprehensive feeling of faith in him. He came around to visit all of the stagieres and talked to each of us individually for 10-20 minutes. Really awesome, especially because he really has no requirement to do that sort of above-and-beyond outreach. He mentioned beekeeping to me in the first thirty seconds (he has it in his documents that I am (a) interested and (b) sort of experienced with des abeilles), and told me that there were possibilities for collaborating with PC/Gambia for beekeeping training and was really interested in helping me with infrastructure that I might need for a project. He also talked about how he thought Kedougou would be a really good fit for me in terms of values (good, hard work and intelligence). He got right around me, and the weird thing is that I do not even mind. I think he got around everyone, and that is really a talent, because I do not think he is insincere. But it takes talent to communicate sincerity that across-the-board in that short a time period." So, my CD (Country Director) gets a vote of full confidence, andIam excited to work for him.

Losing ability to articulate
I talk funny now. And my syntax, it is broken. My English degree is a commonly-referenced joke around here, because it's just absurd. My ability in English, too, is falling off disproportionately to my gaining competence in French and Pulaar, even if you add the competences together.

Lists of things to write about (we love infinitely metarecursive things!)
I like to make lists of things to write about. It helps. So, I have journal entries of about 12 items. Anyway, I miss having really intellectual conversations, and this is exacerbated by regular interactions with a person who considers himself an Intellectual but is in reality hidebound and frustratingly backwards.

Took the LPI (Language Placement Exam) and got Intermediate Low. I only need Intermediate Mid to swear in, so we are hoping that when I next take the exam, in five days, I will get that level, so that when I take the final LPI, I can get Intermediate High. We can hope.


There is a Peace Corps Senegal cookbook you can buy, which I now read and salivate. Angsting about whether to eat every meal with my family or not--I hear that everyone is happy when they eat with their families, but I really like to be in control of my own food. Like, a lot.

Dried Fish and concept of food
Dried fish is gross. And I am not picky here--I eat Vache qui Rit and actively enjoy it. But somehow my concept of food just will not expand to include dried fish. I do, however, regularly walk past a stand that sells very fish-smelling fish and think, "mmmmm". Shudder.

Anger going back in on itself

Journal excerpt:
"August 28
It's been raining a lot. Yesterday it rained with increasingly torrential fury for about an hour, or just under (45 minutes). We had to stop class and went under the school's overhang outside to escape the worst of the noise. I was trying to present my family tree, but literally could not shout loudly enough to be heard Especially in Peul Fuuta (there are no standardized spellings, so that's my chosen one). Standing outside the room, watching the water pour down, I listened to the rain (obviously) and thought I heard a rhythm in it. Not possible, given the nature of thermodynamics. I decided that I must've been hearing my heart, and that seemed so poetic and fitting that I have decided to believe it.
Last night I slept inside. That's right, I SLEPT inside. Now, given it was night-after-mefloquine, sleeping is really sort of an optimistic misnomer, but the point is that if it is raining and my wooden door is open, and so is my window, then I am able to sleep. What a relief."

Note on sleeping--I have now gotten pretty good at predicting (a) when it is going to rain and (b) when it is going to rain enough to matter. At least in terms of overnight weather. I'm also pretty pleased with myself because although I can sleep through roosters, calls to prayer, children, enthusiastic Parcheesi games, arguments in the street, and tea parties (loud things here), I wake up as soon as the pre-rain wind starts to blow, or when water falls on my face. NB I know I
can sleep through these things because I keep hearing about other people being waked up by them and/or they are still occurring, but I no longer notice them. And whenIam sleeping inside because I've decided it's going to rain and it starts to really rain and I wake up slightly and hear it, well, I don't think I've ever felt more smug.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My new hair, and site announcements

So, I think I am technically disallowed from revealing the actual name of my site. So I won't tell you what it is. Barring that, though, I'm going to type in my COS report, which was written by a Health PCV who left in 2007. So, things will be different in some ways, but here is pretty much all the information I have.

"I served as a Health volunteer in ____, a small village about 25-30 km south of Kedougou. ____ is located on a mountain ridge within view of Guinea and is home to about 300 people. Though not terribly far from Kedougou, _____'s mountaintop location makes it a bit remote. This is both a plus and a minus. The area is beautiful and peaceful but travel to and from the village involves pushing a bicycle up and down the rocky mountain paths. Also up on the mountain ridge is teh village/town of Fongolimbi, about 9 km away. There you will find teh Poste de Sante, lumo (weekly market), Sous-prefet, a large school, Eaux et Forets, telecenter and a handful of boutiques.

"The best parts of my service have been my location and my family. The Kedougou region is unique with its greenery and mountains. And ____, especially, is beautiful with its scenic vistas of the hills in Guinea, foggy mornings during the rainy season, regular breezes when it's hot and still elsewhere, many biking trails, nearby waterfalls and varied wildlife (beware the snakes!). The village is small but spread out. My family's compound is surrounded by corn and peanut fields. They have truly been like a family to me. They're playful, funny, sincere, generous, and are always looking after my best interests. I've had no troubles with them at all and completely trust each and every one of them.

"The people of the village are also very friendly My original village counterpart was always welcoming and often asked if everythign was goign well with me and my family He has since been replaced by another villager who has been a friend and is eager to do good work...

"There's no public transport anywhere near ____ other than the once-a-week lumo truck that struggles up the mountain "road" to Fongolimbi from Kedougou. The road is about 5 km away from ____ and can be very treacherous during ascent or descent. Most of us volunteers in the Kedougou region bike everywhere. It takes me less than two hours to bike into Kedougou and about half an hour longer to get back up onto the mountain to ____. During the rainy season some of teh trails can get very muddy and the creeks and rivers become swollen with rainwater. Biking to and from town you WILL get wet. Accept it.

"Most of my work has been in ____ and in the surrounding villages. I've done malaria prevention and AIDS awareness. It's been difficult convincing villagers to show up for meetings and presentations, but once there they've been receptive. Prevention and awareness are long-term ideas that aren't always considered by poor village people living hand-to-mouth. It's best to propose projects in a way that shows an immediate benefit to the people. Children in the classroom are easy since they're essentially a captive audience. Conducting presentatiosn on lumo days is a good idea since everyone is likely to show up anyway. Women's groups or health committees might need some incentive to show up (i.e. tea, lunch, snazzy take-home visual aids).

"Possible projects for a new volunteer might include improvements at the health hut, more malaria prevention and AIDS awareness (always), working with kids and the school (English classes, painting murals, educational games), supplemental gardening, improved water sanitation (fix the forage, deepen the well). I think most of the villagers would be willing to support any project started by a new volunteer.

"I would have liked to have accomplished more during my time here in Senegal but overall my experience here has been good. There is so much to be done, especially here in the south. I'm sure that the next volunteer will find their service in ____ to be very rewarding. I wish them the best of luck."

So, what will I be doing? I'll be working with farmers to try to improve seed varieties, selection, and storage techniques. I'll be trying to get people to garden and eat vegetables, and to teach them how to organize as a community (!?!????). What I personally am really interested in is drying produce, beekeeping, live mulch, composting, gardening, and tree propagation.

I am super excited about this site, and really think I got the best assignment in Senegal. Breeze, no water issues, a back yard in which I can have a garden, a place that makes me exercise...couldn't be happier. Plus, I will be as close as humanly possible to where Sarah and Jacob are, and not all that far from Katie. And, since my site is really awesome, it means I will get plenty of visitors. I'm also within a day of travel from a National Park, where there are chimpanzees and (allegedly) lions. There are, sorry Paul, also snakes, though. And since some of them are Elapidae, I will be carrying an Ace bandage everywhere I go.

I have a lot to write about, but I think I'm going to leave you with this for now, even though most of it is just my ripping off my site assignment. Other news is that we cut my hair today so that my head can fit into my bike helmet, and some more stats about my site. Tomorrow, inshallah, we will have a mammoth update and some more videos.

Site Stats:
Population: 400
Language: 98% Pulaar, 2% Bambarra
Groups: Men's, Women's, Young People's
Projects: Fornio cultivation and processing, peanut field for school canteen
Site description: Compounds are distributed in two or more distinct quartiers that are separated by a short distance (less than 0.5 km), 3 km from a paved road, access road is clay with gravel, town is mostly Muslim (as in, practically unanimous)
Schools: French (5 classrooms), Koranic, Literacy Class
Cash crops: peanuts, millet, cassava, rice, gardening, animal husbandry
Main source of income for women: peanuts, cassava, rice, gardening, animal husbandry
Some men leave the village to work elsewhere to supplement income, but this is seasonal.
Weekly market during dry season, all sorts of goods
Boutiques in ____ sell tea, batteries, onions, sugar, rice, etc
Public buildings: Health Post, Mosque

Three greatest problems villagers identify:
No cash to buy peanut seeds, fertilizer
Lack of assistance from outside agencies
Lack of training (literacy, numeracy, management)

There is sufficient water year-round, and no salinification issues, which, I admit, really is something I am glad to escape.

Concrete-lined wells in village: 1

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pictures from Sangalkam, part 1

Ashley, Frank, and Melanie after our first LPI (Language Placement Interview). Melanie's hand is sorta blurry, but that's just because she has superpowers.
Frank in his room. I wanted to crop this one, but figured it was better to get it uploaded than to forever intend to improve it and upload it and never quite get there.
My host mother, cleaning the kitchen. Her name is Fatoumata Dya (I think), but I call her Nene (say it "nay nay") when I talk to her, which is not often, because she terrifies me.
My older brother Assiz, husband of Rama and father of Fatou (you'll see, she looks exactly like him). He can be sort of a jerk sometimes, but is really good underneath it all.
My eldest brother, Issakha, husband of Jeneba and father of Hiero. He's one of the gentlest, most kind and patient people I have ever encountered, and takes frighteningly good care of me with the help of Rama and Jeneba. He's also incredibly good at what he does.
Issakha again, in his shop.
Jeneba, Issakha's wife, and some neighborhood kids. The one with all the bright things in her hair is Adalai, who is Korka's granddaughter and incredibly annoying. The one in yellow is her younger brother, and the one in blue and white is Jeneba's son, Hiero. The other three are not from my compound.
One of the two children I like. Her name is Nogay (say it "NO-guy"), and she was the one who, my first day when I was nearly exploding from overwhelmed terror, stood next to me and answered my questions of "What's that?" patiently. She's a little annoying, but she's a great kid and a good person and very patient with the younger kids and very self-possessed. I really like her. She also keeps some of the kids from yelling "TOUBAB!" all the time and is thrilled to go with my anywhere. Very valuable asset, aside from being fun to have around.
Korka, my eldest sister, doing laundry
Korka and her laundry in its final stage. If it rains, she will run and grab it all and take it under a roof until it stops raining. Otherwise nothing would ever really dry, as evidenced by the faint smell of mold on some of my shirts. Luckily, it's the green shirts.
Jeneba and Hiero
Rama and Fatou. Rama takes incredibly good care of me, and speaks French, so I am closer with her than with Jeneba. I have started to joke around with her, and so that is a lot of fun. She laughs at me a lot, but mostly in a nice way. She is also one of Frank's older sisters, who married my brother, making Frank and In Senegal, that's practically full siblings.
Rama and Fatou again.
My namesake, Halimatu. She is my older sister Aissatou's daughter (Aissatou is older than Issakha and Assiz, but younger than Korka and the other sister, Hassatou, who lives in Dakar).

Cherif, Frank's younger brother.
Frank's older brother, whose name I don't know. This may be El-Hajii.
Sojuu's son (I think). Sojuu is Frank's eldest sister, and she's deaf, so communicating with her is pretty much funny, since it's non-standardized sign language.
Ashley and Sojuu from across Frank's compound
Hadi, Frank's older sister, and a girl in her family. Possibly the girl does not live in the compound--I just barely got my family mostly sorted out, so I haven't even started with anyone else's yet.
Hadi and her baby. Beautiful picture, I think.
My courtyard. It's sand. On nights when it doesn't rain, I sleep under those two trees in the middle of the yard.
It's my room! And it's very nice. I normally have my tent on the bed if it's raining, if not, it's outside.
The kitchen again, blurry, but I thought the light was pretty neat in this picture. It reminded me of a van Gogh or Vermeer painting. Not the quality of the photograph, but the lighting and the subject matter and, to be honest, the grubbiness.--if the Dutch masters had had a baby blue plastic handwashing station...

And, for those of you committed enough to reading all the way through this post, a special treat:

In Which: Ashley thinks I am taking a picture, I speak a little bit of Peul Fuuta (my chosen spelling for the lanugage we're learning) with Hadi, and we see Frank's compound.