Monday, June 28, 2010

Quick Update

Because our Internet was struck by lightning (no, really, and it fried the router AND the region's external hard drive), I don't have a lot of time, and because I'm exhausted, this will be sorta quick. I'm sorry I haven't been posting more often; I'll try to fix it when I'm back down in Kedougou in ... about a week. After that, though, I am going to try to be out for a little over a month.

Well update
Both new walls for both of the wells went up just fine, but because the rainy season started (whew!), our digger had to go back to his home village to start farming. I can't really hold it against him, but I did not pay him in full, either. He had gotten to the point of pulling out wet dirt (not mud), and wants to come back next year. Actually what he said was that he wants to come back in January, when his harvest is done, but that struck me as one of the head-against-the-wall lack-of-logic situations so common here. Why "finish" the well when the water table is high? I mean, other than that it is less digging that way. To his credit, he agreed to come back next time the water table is low and finish digging. Current feeling on the well project: I'm glad I started this year. And I really, really wish that the water table would come back up so that I wouldn't have to make a kilometer trek for water. It's not a big deal, but it is one of those things that wears you down after a while.

Termites/ants in hut
Those of you who know me know that I love hymenopterans. Even honeybees. Even though they attacked us. But now that the termites are chewing my new roof down around my ears (and itty bitty pieces of thatch are ITCHY), I am reconsidering my opposition to spray poison. And those ants that bite me every time I sit down on my floor? Seriously unwelcome. Luckily, though, the skinks (I named them all Spink, to keep it simple) and geckos (all named Forcible--yes, the names are a Coraline reference) are eating them as fast as they can. Not fast enough to keep me from being itchy and antbitten, but I bet it'd be worse if I didn't have them.

Map at Frank's
At the beginning of June, I biked 40-odd km out to Frank's village where I helped him paint a world map at his village's school. One of the most recently installed stage, Meera, came and hung out with us for a day, helped us draw and paint, and that was a lot of fun. From Frank's, I went via a bushpath through Jordan's old village, a few others, and ended up at Eric's. He'd gone to the weekly market one village more along the road, so I rode there and had lunch with Eric and Hannah at her house, hung out for a while, and then tackled the 28km to Kedougou. It was quite possibly the most beautiful ride I've taken yet. The grass and trees were newly green, the dirt was really red, the sky (finally!) was blue instead of a sulky yellow-gray, and the road seemed to tip just slightly downhill for at least half of the way back to Kedougou. When I got off my bike, it seemed like the world was moving farther away from me, because my eyes had become so acclimated to the scenery zipping by. I subsequently got really sick, though (that night and the next day in Kedougou). Thanks to Melanie for sitting and keeping me company while I lay on the ground and puked.

Radio
Thomas, our regional radio guru, is out of town this month, so it's been interesting trying to cover for him. Last week I completely failed--live, on the air--at keeping the conversational ball in the air. Granted, I was the only one on the air (we had scheduled an interview, but the guy never showed up). In any case, this week was AMAZING (the guy showed up). I don't know what we are doing next week, but I hope it can be done without me, because I don't want to ride in that soon. Why?

The 100km Ride
On Thursday, I rode back from Leah's (another one of the most recent stage). Her site is around 100km out, and though all but the first 30km are on a paved road, it was still a long day. I rolled into Kedougou, ate everything that was not nailed down, and then slept the sleep of the justly exhausted. Friday I rested. Saturday I went to my village. Sunday I worked in my garden (see below). Monday (today) I rode to Ashley's old village to drop off more seeds, and then into Kedougou to DJ the radio show and pick up two of my stagemates from Kaolack who want to visit me. They do not know what is in store for them, bikewise. Best of luck, Byron and Kenny.

Development and Aid
I've become increasingly uneasy about the ethics of Peace Corps and International Development/Aid NGOs in the past month or so. To put it really succinctly (I've become adept at this), I often feel that my very presence here exacerbates the tendency of many Senegalese people to wait for an NGO/Development/Aid organization to fix a problem rather than fix it themselves. I've heard from a lot of people who find this thought very offensive--coldhearted, even. I'm not going to go into it here, but for those of you whose immediate reaction is jaw-dropped astonishment that I could be so cruel and heartless, let me ask you exactly how you think, say, Senegal, is going to become self-sufficient (in any way) if the problems it experiences are all eventually solved by (or solution-determined/initiated/paid for by) Rich Other Countries. For an economics perspective, check out The White Man's Burden, by (someone) Easterly. It's not a very pleasant or convenient truth, but aren't we in the era of those?

Garden
So in my effort to find a way to be here that is not contrary to what I believe the ultimate goal of my work here is, I have started a garden. I bought the fencing, put it up, built rock retaining walls, and am in general focusing on being different and willing to answer questions about why that is so, rather than first motivate people to want change and then find a way that they won't have to pay much to get it. That, at least, I have learned from the well fiasco.

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If you want to discuss my views on Development/Aid work and funds, shoot me an email or comment on the blog and I'll email you. I'm not about to get in a public flame war about it, though, so be ready to (a) have an individual interaction and (b) pay attention to what I'm going to say, rather than simply lambasting me for violating a moral imperative of some sort.