I am writing to you now from Kedagou, the region in the very Southeastern corner of Senegal where the wilderness men go and there are waterfalls to be bathed in, mountains to climb, and chimpanzees to befriend. I am amazed how much the geography can change in just a short 5 hours. I am not here just for fun, though I am lucky to have been assigned the region of Kedagou for my language seminar. Ruth and I traveled here to take a 3 day language class where I have been able to ask all the questions I couldn’t figure out in village about my new language (which are many I can assure you) and practice Puulaar with Houssey, my very talented and patient Pulafuta teacher. As you might imagine, we also manage to have some fun as well with our Kedagou friends that we don’t get to regularly see. Last night for example, we made homemade pizza and baked them in the outdoor pizza oven a previous volunteer constructed out of clay! It was so much fun, especially since we had extra visitors– our Gambian Peace Corps neighbors who had come down to see what this part of Senegal was all about. I am going to be down here for a week because I figured as long as I was in Kedagou I would also hang out with my good friend Kyle who happened to get one of the most coveted sites in Peace Corps Senegal. In a couple of days we will be hiking around, hopefully seeing tons of monkeys and standing under the biggest waterfall in Senegal. I promise to put up some pictures!
Last time I wrote you I was about to begin my regional strategy meeting in Kolda. I am happy to say that the regional strategy meeting and this language seminar in Kedagou have given me a huge boost of spirits and a reinvigorated motivation to work hard here for the next two years on the multitude and variety of projects that I have access to as well as put all my efforts into learning this very beautiful, if also very difficult language. Rereading this sentence, it sort of sounds like I have been discouraged, which isn’t completely the truth. I wouldn’t say I have been discouraged, but I have just been taking each day as a completely new experience which hasn’t given me very much time to think of my time here in the Peace Corps in the broader scheme of things. The thing is, you might not expect it, but moving to an African village is like learning how to walk again. I had to learn the basics of living like I never have before. Daily activities like brushing my teeth, bathing, and getting food for myself are all tasks I had to adjust too and honestly, they took up a lot of my time and effort. At this point, I have been in village for about a month and people are getting used to me at least, and may I be so bold as to say, might even have started to like and accept me as part of their community?
The strategy meeting gave me a good view as to what other volunteers have been doing in my region, and after being in my village for a month I also have a better idea about what the villagers want, need, and are motivated to work on. Now I have a lot of project ideas and alot of room to work, but as my Puulaar gets better I hope to gain a better understanding of what people are willing to do. For now, let me give you a brief overview of a couple of projects at the top of my list.
1. Moringa Propagation: Moringa: Gods gift to earth according to Chris Hendrick, our country director, as well as most agfo’s here in Senegal. For all of you not familiar with Moringa (like me before coming to Senegal), it is a tree that grows rapidly, has the ability to live through heat and fairly harsh growing conditions, is a nitrogen fixer, and produces leaves with high nutritional value for humans and animals. I have found that not only is the soil in my villagers fields in poor condition because of increased peanut production and the absence of crop rotation, but that people are grossly malnourished, especially the children.
When I looked around at my village, I saw that there was not a moringa tree to be seen. Tons of mangos. Tons of baobabs. No Moringa. Next week, one of the volunteers who specializes in moringa is coming to my village and bringing me lots of moringa seeds! From there I intend to start an intensive moringa bed in my backyard and in my compound. I have been spreading the good word about the benefits of moringa every time I go to someone’s cotton field to help them harvest (which is every morning), every time I go to visit a family for afternoon Attaya (which is every afternoon), and every time I talk to my family in the evenings around the fire. I want to get enough interest to plant at least one moringa tree in every compound in my village. I also want to convince them to set aside a hectare in their village owned pasture to plant and maintain a moringa pepinaire that they can use to for seeds to plant in their fields as nitrogen fixers. I also want to teach the women to make moringa powder which they can put in every single meal to make sure their entire family is getting a better nutritional intake every day. The great thing about moringa, is that it is virtually tasteless and you really can put it into anything!
2. As I mentioned previously, the people of Sinthian Samba Foula are the proud owners of a 12 hectare piece of land which they divide and farm amongst themselves. They have built a fence around the entire pasture, but as people know, especially if your from where I’m from, fences have to be maintained and are often expensive to fix and rebuild. The great thing about Africa is that vegetation can last all year long because of the warm temperatures. My counterpart seems particularly keen on beginning a live fence around the Sithian acreage. Luckily, Kyle, my friend I am visiting now, has tons of seeds used for live fencing. I hope to organize my town so that a certain number of people are responsible for planting and maintaining a section of the perimeter around the pasture.
3. It seems that people in my town are extremely interested in English lessons! Once again, I feel so blessed because this is right down my alley. There is a nice school a minutes walk from my compound, with a school director and teachers who are eager to lend me the keys for weekend English classes. I told the people that after I got a little better hold on my Puulaar I would begin teaching. I plan to teach an adult class on Saturday and a children’s class on Sunday. From there we will see if they keep coming or if there is more of a demand so that I have to add more classes.
4. Some of us in the region are also interested in looking into the costs and benefits of building a fruit dehydrator and creating a market for small businesses that women could run in our communities. Much more research needed… stay posted for further developments.
5. A couple of other projects I plan on getting involved with on a regional level are becoming a regular contributor to our Peace Corps monthly newsletter and maybe even taking over as editor once the editor now completes her service in April and a Senegad position which works on gender issues and relationships between men and women in Senegal.
So now you know what I could be getting myself into for the next two years and this is just scraping the surface! I feel like I have revealed too much already as all of these are just in their very first stages of development.
On a language level, I have realized that I am not going to get better at Puulaar if I don’t study my butt off! Yeah sure I can sit around and say small sentences all day long, but if I don’t take the time to sit down and broaden my vocabulary, I’m going to progress very slowly. Its taken me awhile, but I feel like I get it now and am ready to work hard on my language. I have also discovered that my fascination with communication that is so prevalent within my English degree carries over to the study of another language. I enjoy unlocking the mysteries of speaking in another language, which in turn changes the way I formulate thoughts based on the language itself. I love it!
Well now I here some Girl Talk blasting from the kitchen and I think they might be making cookies. As much as I love writing to you all, I can’t skip out on the opportunity of a dance party while baking. Until next time.