Tuesday, May 13, 2008

the pepineer

pictures of the pepineer are up on flickr.

here's a brief look:

so that's pretty much been the bane of my existence the past few weeks. now i water and weed and hope that the bugs and birds and my stupid cat don't eat the sprouts. (jamm rekk ate the heads off of all my tree sprouts in my backyard, she's been evicted from the pepineer.) i'll be adding a couple hundred more sacks of cashew (Anacardium occidentale) and eucalyptus (Eucalyptus cameldulensis) but otherwise it's pretty much done.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

saturday morning musings (no cartoons)

it doesn't really feel like a saturday, but then again, when does it ever really? i managed to wake up early today but other than watering my trees, there isn't much else to do.

leanne called me last night and it was so good to talk to her. i cannot wait for her visit -- will i even be able to sleep? there is so much i want to tell her. it is going to be amazing to hang out with somebody who actually knows who i am. i'm also a little nervous because she will be able to see how i've changed -- either for the better or the worse. i sure hope that i have changed for the better: these past few months have been nothing but lessons in humility, pride, dignity, forgiveness, understanding, and patience. they say that we are here to help create change in the physical world here, but sometimes i feel like this is a latent way to straight up some of america's young people. i'm certainly being disciplined in ways i never have before -- 16 hours being crammed and jostled inside a metal box of a car or getting so ill that i lost utter control of my bowels were NEVER things i thought would happen to me in my 20+ years of life. and here i am now and i've done it and there are parts of me that hate this constant barrage of mental, emotional, and sometimes physical abuse and there is also a part of me that is amazed at myself and proud of the fact that i am here and trying to make myself a life of meaning and purpose.

i often want to go home. i am homesick. i can't wait to go home. i miss certain (many) luxuries, i miss the freedom of movement and self, i miss my family, i miss having an income, i miss having (or having what felt like) a certain amount of control in my life. but none of this is valid enough of a reason for me to actually go home. i can't go home just because its a little hot and the people are a little pushy and there is a little "issue" with the water and electricity. moreover, i simultaneously love being here. when i'm in the market buying vegetables and making friends or when i am riding a charette through the bush to go home or when i'm sprawled out on my stick bed at night in the compound under 3 baobab trees and all of the universe's stars with children crammed at all my sides lightly snoring and my sleek little cat laying by my head purring for no other reason to express MY content -- that's when i fall in love with this job, this experience, this country, this community, and this task.

persistence, self persistence, is much needed here and i often find myself wondering if i can really do this. i don't doubt that i can but it is more of a matter of how long i can do this for. i told leanne that after i go home, it will be a long time before i do something like this again. i am TIRED after 9 (!!) months of this and feel as if i could hibernate for an equal amount of time. i don't know if other PCVs feel as tired as i do, but all i know is that i am pooped. but there is still much to do and the task is far from done so i must continue and pace myself and rest when i can without indulging myself. what's interesting is that i don't know if i can consider myself a naturally persistent person. i am so terrified of humiliation or mortification that i have often been lazy and assumed the stance if that i'm not naturally good at something, to not even try at all. hence a string of unfinished business from my childhood like piano, soccer, basketball, math. but at the same time that terror of mortification is stemmed from my (sometimes not so good) pride and and in this case, i might be too proud to step down from this to go home because it is a little harder that i thought it would be.

being here has certainly defied my expectations. i went into this telling myself that i was tough and could handle it. i thought that i was ready: i had moved so many times, had a good ability with languages, could adapt, could "rough it," could remain cool and aloof enough to withstand the personal desires to break down and cry. WRONG. this is probably one of the hardest things i've ever had to do and there are some days when all i want to do is declare "MA BAN!" ("i refuse!" in wolof) and not get out of bed for anything other than the purpose of going to dakar and boarding a plane home.

so why AM i still here? it can't be a mere matter of pride but i have been reevaluating my goals and motivations. coming into this, i had a manifesto about change, social participation, equality, justice. i wanted to actively participate in peace making -- with peace corps being a form of aid and exchange. i also wanted the "field experience" required for most development careers and i also sought a break from the mundane routine of life i had acquired in the city.

most of these still hold true to a certain degree (aside from wanting to escape the city -- i never want to leave it again!) but i am starting to see that my real reason for being here, perhaps my primary reason for it is TO STRUGGLE. sure my struggle can be a bit superficial and shallow at times but its a struggle i have not before faced. i had family and teenage angst but at least i was comfortable, well-fed, in school. it is nothing compared to the constant uphill battle it is to be here to be acculturated, understood, and successful in one's work. but i need this struggle. how can i understand the world through the underprivileged's' eyes if i have never struggled alongside them?

we may be struggling differently, but we are doing so with each other. they are struggling for food and money while i'm struggling to fit in, grasp the language, and initiate an action plan that may help them in the struggle against hunger. the women are struggling against the unending domestic burden and i am struggling against living in a male-centric society as a liberated and free woman. they are struggling for teh right to certain luxuries and comfort of living and i am struggling at the loss of my abundance and the shameful discovery that i simply have too much and have lived a life of ignorant greed. we are struggling to understand each other -- through language, cultural difference, gender roles, age gaps. no longer is life in the developing world just an experience through a case study or a study abroad experience but something i wake up to every single morning. without this struggle, i cannot understand the complexity of issues like poverty and hunger and malaria and desertification and food shortage to the point in which i can make an attempt to do something about it.

i often end my nights lying in bed in the heat battling mefloquine-induced insomnia while shrouded by pure darkness and the sounds of the african bush and think that this is my 40 days and 40 nights. but if this is the path to enlightenment and understanding, then i willingly -- though sometimes with reluctance -- sigh, readjust my burden, and continue down this weary path so that i can discover something about this world that i did not know before. God, give me strength.

Friday, May 9, 2008

recent happenings

after pout, i hung out in kaolack for two days to run some errands before heading out to the sine-saloum delta to sokone. the kaolack region strategy planning meeting was happening there for a few days so i went down a day early to hang out and see the area.

the sokone region is beautiful and i am terribly envious of those who live in that area. there are cashew trees everywhere and plush mangos and mangroves with a dramatic tide. the first day there, chris (who is about 40k from sokone) met up with me and we wandered out to the mangroves and shlucked around in it before going to a cute little restaurant where he had to meet up with laurel, elisabeth, and kate to write a script for a radio show about field burning and its alternative (mulching). it was interesting and makes me want to try for a radio show in the kaffrine area.

afterwards, we all went to get fatayas and wolfed down the woman's entire supply. we went back to jessica's (who is the sokone volunteer and extremely lucky in site location) for dinner. kate knows a few really cool cats who run a small bar in their compound (we refer to it as the "catholic compound") so we headed over and had a few drinks and chatted and made friends with the guys who ran it and their friends.

the next day, the majority of the kaolack region (comprised of the kaffrine, nioro, kaolack/fatick, sokone subregions) volunteers convened and our strategy planning meeting started. it was awesome to see everybody from the region together at once and for the purpose of discussing our work and how we can do it better. kate, who ran the logistics of the meeting, booked us at a wonderful campement out on the mangroves where we had comfortable rooms, real mattresses (what an amazing sensation!), a fully stocked bar, REAL coffee (which we all got ourselves sick off) and a beautiful view. it was two days of a lot of talking and thinking and planning and discussing and socializing and by the end of it, i was exhausted.

after the retreat, i spent a day in kaolack and was struck by the desire to cook a big meal so i made a vegetable heavy spaghetti sauce with meatballs and garlic bread for about 10 people. the sauce was comprised of a can of tomato paste, a kilo of tomatoes, lots of garlic, onion, carrot, eggplant, green peppers, a can of mushrooms, and a few hot peppers. the meatballs were few but successful, considering that i've never made meatballs before. i bought minced beef at the french epicerie and combined it with soy sauce, italian seasoning, a little bit of oil and vinegar, minced (fresh) onions, bread crumbs, crushed red pepper, and an egg (for the consistency) and i then baked them. i love making these big meals because if everybody chips in for the price, i can buy lots of produce and ingredients and make a big quality meal that comes out to a cheap price for everybody. usually the cost is around 1 to 2 mille but this time i succeeded in getting the meal done for 875 mille. i think people were pleased and i was happy to fill bellies and be able to cook. moreover, it gave me the excuse to splurge on a bottle of real wine (5 mille! yikes!) and have a good meal before heading back to site and millet and fish water.

i got back to site yesterday evening after a somewhat frustrating adventure back that isn't worth thinking about because it was just a string of stupid events that don't deserve much more acknowledgment than that. today i didn't do much because i am so exhausted from the past week of traveling around and sleeping in different places and living out of a bag. i have to say that as much fun as i had, i am glad to be back at site and normalcy (bush life is normal now!) and a place that is familiar. everybody's been real understanding in letting me rest and i practically hibernated all day today and only went out to weed for a few hours.

i also heard dame's first word today...well, the first word he's said to me. he came running naked into my hut -- he was running away from his bath -- and hid behind my door when aram came for him. she asked him if he wanted to shower and he looked up at her with his adorable big doe eyes and said "waaw" (yes). she didn't really react so either he's been saying "waaw" for some time now or first words aren't a big deal here. i didn't make a big deal out of it either but inside i was so excited and wanted to scoop him up and hug him.

i've never been able to watch a child grow and if i am as excited as i am right now, i can't even imagine what it is like to watch one's OWN child grow. i am also noticing how the other kids are growing. baye is a fully functioning/comprehending being now -- that is, he understands and reacts appropriately all the time (dame is still confused by some aspects of life). mamasou has moments when she seems frighteningly womanly and awa is conquering her stutter and sounding more and more like a young girl instead of a child.

its kind of strange to be so far away from childhood. not that 23 is very old, but i am a far ways off from being just a kid. i feel like there is so much that i have to be responsible for -- from basic things like my health to things associated with work like my pepineer to friendships and relationships with peers, family, colleagues to other beings like my cat (who is huge now!) to the mundane like my taxes to the grandiose social consciousness and responsibility i strive to have. being a kid, i see now, (from observing my acquired siblings) requires so little self care and responsibility. this also brings me to a higher appreciation of mothers of small children -- there is an incredibly ridiculous amount of things to be responsible for.

anyway, despite my exhaustion, i hope that all i need is one day to recuperate. tomorrow i intend on wandering out into the bush with my machete to find some good posts for shade structures that i need to build over my pepineer. some of the trees are being burned by the sun.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

the bush, spoiled cats, and other things

if you were wondering what exactly "the bush" looks like, since i mention it so often...

jamm rekk often naps with baby fallou:

mother's day is coming up and i drew this for my mom. it's based off of a photo that JC took of a woman in her village (i forget her name). the photo kind of washes out the color and there are certain elements of it that i regret (WHY did i add the halos?!) but hopefully my mom will like it...since it is for her. happy early mother's day. mothers are great.