Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tonight's Insomniac Post...

...brought to you courtesy of Mefloquine, the antimalaria prophylactic drug I'm on for the next two years. Being insomniac is no fun, but it does get stuff done and hey, being sleepy and out-of-it during the day sure beats dying of malaria, right? I think so.

So, continuing from last night, Thanksgiving was a lot of fun, although sort of overwhelming. What was nice was the end of the five-week challenge. It marks no real significance of any sort, being a totally arbitrary time demarcation after which we've supposedly achieved something...but still, it was nice to have that out of the way. Tabaski was okay, and I've written about that already, as I have the radio meeting and the warthog.

I've been out of village for about 8 days now, and the village guilt is really starting to ache. But, most of it has been either for work purposes, or for work purposes once removed. What do I mean by that, and how come it's not just rationalization? I came in a week ago yesterday, a day earlier than I'd planned, because there was stuff I needed to discuss with the Urban Ag PCV in Kedougou. We left for the Ag Summit really early on the morning of the 14th, and did not return until midafternoon on the 17. I had planned to go back to village on the 18th, but as I spent the afternoon of the 16th not in the meetings for the summit but curled up whimpering on the floor with a 102.5 (Farenheit) fever, I was not really feeling up to climbing the mountain. Then I thought about it some more and realized that the Peace Corps doctor had a point when she said that even if I am not doing a lot lately, it is still enough, somehow, to keep me weak enough that I can have a chronic cold. So I decided to stay until after Christmas.

Not that I'm sitting around doing nothing. In fact, I am sitting around a lot less here than I would be in village. Among other things, Matt and I built a gray water system to water the compost pile Thomas dug with the laundry water, and he's helped me start hatching my new well plan. I also dug out the shower drain, planted some papaya seeds, ordered some tropical fruit seeds online (with Matt and Kate), did a lot of coffee research (that was last night's insomnia), and am working on a viability test of some coffee seed that Matt found in the kitchen.

This is actually pretty amazing because, per my research, Coffea canephora seeds, if not fresh, can take up to 6 months to germinate. I counted out 100 seeds this morning to soak for 24 hours before planting in a test pot to see what the germination rate would be, and by dinnertime, several of them had sprouted! I'm really excited about this, because my approach to my Peace Corps service so far is to get as many balls rolling as possible and then chase as many of them as I can as fast as I reasonably can for two years. So, these seeds are going into a bed at the Peace Corps house in Kedougou tomorrow, and I'm taking a bunch up to site when I go, to start the pilot. Another really exciting aspect of this is that because C. canephora is a cross-pollinated species, it needs bees to really do well. Boy, what a beautiful coincidence, hey?

My other really exciting (and rapidly growing) project is to make water a nonissue up on my mountain. To this effect, I've been researching the cost of digging two new wells up there. This is really important, because of the three villages in my area, there is only one with a well (right near my compound). I want to dig one near the school / health facility (so I can have a demo garden at the school next year and the health post can have clean water), and one closer to my market town. After digging them (I'm hoping they'll be around $500 per well), I want to install a crank-pump (like a water wheel on a rope inside two vertical pipes--diagrams to follow when David's given me his blueprints) for each of the three wells, and put a cover on each of them. Before that, I will probably put a concrete skirt and drainage ditch around the current well. But then, after that, I want to build about 10-15 biosand filters, that use sand, gravel, and a bacterial film to filter large amounts of water and don't really wear out.

As the first Ag volunteer in my village, it is important for me to identify the people with whom it is good to work--this is what Peace Corps says. I agree, but I think that even more importantly, my place is to try to put as much of the infrastructure in place as possible for my replacement to hit the ground running and really be able to do things like have a garden right off the bat. To do that, you need a reliable water source, and a permanent garden area.

One thing I learned at the conference that was not a result of any meeting was a cool design for a round garden, which is my plan. The Tamba Urban Ag PCV was really helpful in doing that, and we spent a fun day playing in the garden he's developing there. It made me realize, though, that I really do need a permanent garden site. Because I want to plant fruit trees, among other things.

Other than that, I've been finally getting over my cold, still convinced I have giardia (although Peace Corps Med doesn't think so), and really glad that I have a direction for my energy: water, garden, and coffee. In a couple months it will be time to plant trees, so I may wait to do the coffee until I've gotten my tree pepiniere going and then just have a mammoth pepiniere with the coffee, too, but I think I wouldn't mind watering it (my mind may change drastically quite soon) if I could get the plants started right now. One thing about coffee is that it takes four years or so to actually bear fruit. But all this means is that my double-replacement could work with a SED (Small Enterprise and Development) PCV to create a coffeegrowers' co-op. Maybe they could even export it to somewhere that would pay sixteen million dollars per ounce. Cart before horse, yes, I know, but isn't dreaming big what I'm here to do anyway?

Speaking of "here," these are the rest of the videos of my compound in my village. [EDIT: Here's one. The Internet ate the other one after I'd uploaded it for an hour. Boo, Internet.]

In a really exciting development, while I've been waiting for these to upload, I've been doing some more coffee research, and have gotten in touch with a couple people who do research on which varieties of C. canephora produce the most efficiently, and may be able to get seeds from the breeder who produces the highest quality, highest yield seed in the world. This year. This is really exciting, and I guess it means I should really get my ducks in a row in village to find someone who wants to try to do a coffee pilot field with me.


Donnia and Bill said...

Wow Claire I am so impressed with your love for what you are doing. I wish you luck with your projects in the Peace Corp!
I want to also wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
It has been fun viewing your blog and listening to the movies and viewing your photos.
Take care Claire!
Your friend,
Donnia Callahan from Templeton Home School

canyon wren said...

hi dear,
the 2 commercially available species of coffee are arabica and robusta. i'm assuming someone around there has actually made and enjoyed coffee from the C. canefora beans you've sprouted.

the info i've found on coffee growing said they don't germinate when no longer fresh. thats one advantage for canefora. if it also has a distinctive flavor, or its chemical make-up differs, there may be even more advantages to the one you are working with.

i emailed you about the book i found and ordered and will send soon... it mentions a round garden plot with a single path to the center...... more usable garden, less dedicated to path....

maybe someone there already has the book "gaia's garden". it is a wealth of practical information, much of which i have been using unaware, and very little fanciful blurring of fact.

i'm off to train the pups. i've tried to cal but phone card-africa magic has prevailed.