Saturday, June 28, 2008

it's a nawet (rainy season) miracle!

rain outside my window

i woke up at 6:30 to the sound of rain and had a pot of tea while i waited for the sky to clear up. when it finally was reduced to a scarce drizzle i did my laundry and swept up my hut.

after breakfast, i went out to the pepineer and it was like a freakin' nawet miracle -- the pepineer is sprouting and totally reinvigorated by the downpour. because of the rain, the soil in the sacks was thoroughly dry, making it prime for stransplanting (transplanting = moving seedlings from sacks with more than one seedling to sacks with seeds that have no germinated). i spent the entire morning transplanting and exhilerated at the thought that my pepineer still has a chance. it got pretty humid and the clouds stayed ominously low and heavy and i sweated up a storm which was gross but also a good feeling.

when i was done -- around 11:30 -- i cleaned p and then helped aram cook lunch (she is finally better after being bedriddenly ill for like, 2 weeks). i chopped onions, sifted millet, cleaned rice, made the bissap sauce, and pounded spices -- overall pretty helpful and while being in the kitchen fulfills certain gender role expectations, i like helping and cooking.

we then had lunch and afterwards i went out to buy sugar for my soow (milk that has been set out in the heat for a day so that it sours and is then mixed with sugar) and gum for the wives and kids. i socialized and chatted and it was good to get out of the compound.

at 3, my 5 girls came for english lessons -- diarra, aida, dey fatou, fatou and ma'astou (mamasou/mame astou/whatever). they are such bright girls and are very serious about learning -- today they finished learning the whole alphabet (capital letters) and passed their exam with flying colors. aside from a few mix ups between S and C and J and G, they got them all right and i am so proud of them, especially considering that all of them but one girl have been educated in arabic school and have never learned to write or read letters. we will now start to learn how to put the sounds together and read. they are very excited.

the lessen ended at 5, just as the rain picked up again and we ran about putting out buckets for rain and i transplanted a few more trees -- taking advantage of not having to water with our salt infected water and letting the rain do the job for me.

then i cuddled up in my hut and while a cool wind came in along with the rain. i showered with soap and rain and felt refreshed and peaceful -- aside from the fact that the rain (for some reason) causes the male termites to emerge from the mound they built in my room and invade the walls and floor. i hid from them in my mosquito net but they weren't really as bad as the earwigs that fell from the roof yesterday.

to make the day even better, i asserted myself with talla and it actually worked! he went into my pepineer and saw me transplanting and started to do so as well, even though it was pouring rain and sent me inside. i despairingly watched from my door him do MY work and after a few minutes of hesitation i went over and asked him to leave it alone so that i could have work to do tomorrow. i explained that today i was really happy because i had work to do all morning in my pepineer and he laughed and actually stopped.

it was an incredibly good day and i felt so normal and busy and adjusted. i understood all the wolof that was spoken to me today and i felt like ME -- busy, social, even humorous (in wolof). it was one of the best days i've had here at site and its as if the rain brought in both a revitalization of my trees and my motivation.


just stormed for over an hour and it was amazing. it was impending rain all day but i wasn't getting my hopes up. i reseeded a whole shitload of Parkinsonia and minutes later the sky dumped a wallop of a storm on top of us. it was a thrilling storm, low and heavy and what felt like mere inches above the roof of my hut. i never really thought i would experience something like this in person -- flickers of lightning rushing through the wide, expansive sky while patches of clouds revealed the ongoing sunset.

after the storm was reduced to a drizzle i ran outside to check on my reseeded sacks -- thank God, everything had stayed put. the kids came outside and frolicked through the puddles. i got to watch a newly shaved dame (i guess it was something to do during the storm?) experience puddles. i assume it was one of the first large puddles he's experienced 00 as he was an infant his last rainy season and he was absolutely thrilled to run through a gigantic puddle cat came up to his knees! he was filled with absolute glee and excitement -- running back and forth through the puddles and laughing the entire time. i was glad aram let him do so and a bunch of us had a blast watching him experience rain in a way we would never again be able to since our first rain (which by now we don't remember). he came running towards me at one point and just as i was telling him not to fall, he tripped and fell, belly-flopping into the puddle, before i could finish my sentence. perhaps that the best way to experience a deep puddle -- as it certainly wouldn't be to step around it. i was tempted to do so too but was scared i was not setting a good example so i went into my yard to privately jump around.

meanwhile remnants of the storm flickered by as the sky cleared up and gave us a last glimpse of the day before night descended and the bush exploded into frog song.

one of my vegetable beds was flooded so i proceeded to dig little channels for the water to run out of and as i was doing so, a little frog dug his way out of the mud, jumped into the water for a swim, and upon exiting then hopped off to join the wild symphony of amphibians. its totally wild and straight out of the freakin' discovery channel but this time its not on tv but in my backyard!! its nuts.

today's humidity has been washed away and the dark evening sky (we are approaching the end of the moon cycle so it won't show up for another few hours) is littered with stars now and the bush is alive with new sounds of frgus and bugs brought on by the storm, animals protesting their dampness, and growls of the storm making its way east towards kaffrine. this is truly fucking beautiful and we needed this rain so badly as it hadn't rained for nearly two weeks and our crops were just sprouting and in danger of drying in the blazing sun.

granted we have 4 seasons in ny/nj but i have never felt so a part of the earth's it the moon or the rains or the crops or even the life cycle of frogs. there has never been a feeling like this.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

reasons i can't go home

sometimes i can hardly wait for my post peace corps life although i have no idea what will become of me or where i will go or even how i will be able to afford to sustain myself in america considering that i am going 2 years without pay and i only have like, $1000 in my savings account at home.

the idea of a life after this is both terrifying and exhilarating, though i often have to remind myself that the novelty of being back in american luxury will probably wear off after a few months and i'll once again be bored and/or unhappy here with my circumstances.

that's much part of why i can't go home now. can't pack my bags and peace out of the bush because as often as i feel unhappy here, that's not to say that i wouldn't be unhappy back at home. its the whole, life-doesn't-come-edited things and there's a whole lot of worthless nothing in between life's major and pivotal scenes. nothing happening is nothing happening, regardless of whether one is in new york city or the senegalese bush or paris or princeton or ulan bator.

i also can't go home because i didn't get this far just to go home. i didn't go through all the shit and illness and frustration and tears and anger and learning just to pick up when i'm not even halfway through to go home. what would have been the point? would i just give up and go back to a mindless 9-5 and dicking around the suburbs (because God knows i wouldn't be able to move back to the city).

another reason: talla owes me 30 mille.

lastly, i can't go home because next year i want to do everything i didn't do this year and not do everything i did this year. i want to fix my mistakes and learn from all of this year's mishaps and shit storms. did i mention that the main problem with the pepineer was the WATER?? i didn't do anything wrong!! the water is salt and there's sediment that's' deposited from the barrels. that, and over-watering. none of what in fact was suspected by talla and co.


i have failed to upkeep my relationship with God when i so often claim christianity as my main reason for being here. perhaps that is why i am struggling so much -- because i have been untrue and so much of my being here is because i want to be here and not because God wants me to be here. i have forgotten how to trust and rely on God, how to love the unlovable, and to faithfully work for change because God calls for it. i have even forgotten that my work in agroforestry is stewardship of God's creation and instead have been trying to measure things by my own definitions of personal success and failure. these days, i am simply pursuing mediocre goals of personal achievement instead of the grandiose objective of caring for God's creation -- the world, its environment, its people, its societies, and its cultures. of course, my pursuit of success is futile -- i am defining my success on such an earthly and trivial level that i am blinded to my work in the greater scheme -- not my greater scheme, or peace corps', or development's, but God's. what is it that GOD wants for Senegal, for my village, for my peace corps community, for me?

i wouldn't call myself a "religious" person but i do want to be a person who is deeply convicted by God's calling for social justice. i have forgotten God and have reduced this experience to being about me. it's time for my own personal transformation before anything else can change. my spirit must be renewed.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

shit's on fire!!!

so should we even talk about the past few days?

that erratic rash mentioned in the previous post turned out to be one of the hardest trials of my time here in senegal (i feel like i say that often...) and at one point i was about 5 seconds away from packing my bags and going home.

a few days ago, i reseeded my cashew trees. the pretreatment for cashews is a 24 hour cold water soak, so i had over 100 cashew seeds sopping in a bucket of water for some time. while reseeding, i immersed my hand over the course of an hour or two into this water in order to grab seeds for reseeding. turns out, BAD IDEA. if i had been thinking, i would have remembered that cashew water is totally acidic and causes a terrible rash that blisters and burns and spreads worse than poison ivy (to which i am totally allergic to).

on top of that, because of the new rains i guess my body freaked out over the new humidity after 9 months of no rain or moisture and i developed a vicious heat rash that spread from my hands (along with the cashew burn) to my arms to my inner elbows to my neck to the back of my neck to my thighs and inner thighs, down my legs and all over my back. basically about 80% of my body was covered in one of two kinds of rash.

basically, i felt like i was on fire 24/7 and for a couple of days i had no idea what was happening to me. it itched and burned and the blisters were weeping and i was terribly stressed out (which probably only increased the spreading of the rash) and i will admit that the pain was so torturous that it drove me to tears (sobs, not just a little crying) several times.

in the meantime, i had to travel down to sokone because i had a small project to work on over there and i was itching and burning and overheating and was ill with a fever and chills for most of the time there. thankfully my colleagues were really understanding and helpful and after we finally called med (and confirmed the cashew and heat rash), i was able to take lots of benadryl and wash myself in hibiclens and cover myself in salvatis powder in an attempt to alleviate the pain. there wasn't really any cure for the issue other than waiting it out and trying not to ask God, "WHY ME???"

i honestly felt like job (from the bible) for a while -- discouraged with my work, i've felt like i've lost all my dignity and pride with the crappy way agroforestry work has been going and my relationship with my counterpart at site continues to disintegrate more and more. site has been really hard for me recently and i often question what i am doing and if i should stay (i want to stay more than anything else). just when i felt at such a low point, suddenly i had to lose my physical health and i wasn't just sick...but sick with something i have never before experienced and was absolute pure torturous pain. i didn't feel like i had anything left, i felt totally broken and totally beat and i was just about ready to quit.

i guess due to a mix of my stubborn pride and the support and belief of my friends and colleagues in my current work here, i am still here and after a week of burning, the rashes have finally started to settle down. i am still covered in small red bumps that itch, but at least the burning has gone down and a good percentage of them have gone away.

in the meantime, i guess it was good that i was away from site because being in sokone allowed me to be near a pharmacy (to get the powder) and to be in an area that had electricity and thus, a fan to keep me cool. it was also good to be distracted by a different kind of project and the company of my friends and colleagues. after sokone we took a short break to go to the beach, which i think was really good for me because the cold saltwater really helped cool me down and made the burn of the rash go away. also amazing: we went swimming at night (after setting up a nice campfire on the beach) and everytime you dove underwater, you could hear the clicking and songs of a pod of dolphins or some kind of porpoise! it was amazing and unlike anything i've ever heard before.

i then headed down to chris's site to experience some senegalese wrestling...which turned out to be really cool but also a few hours of watching really gigantic and perfectly constructed and oiled up (and scantily clad) men strut and parade and dance around with some wrestling done in between. it's hard to explain and i can't really say anything other than that. in the meantime, chris and i attempted a to make an anti-mosquito neem lotion for his family using soap, neem leaves (from the Azadirachta indica tree), a little bit of oil, and hot water. it turned out fine and his family was really excited to use it and we will see if it actually works. i'm planning on trying it out in my village too.

tomorrow i am going back to my village and chris is coming with me so that we can build a chicken coop/chicken tractor (depending on how much money i have to spend on this project) so that i can start trying to get my village started on eating eggs, rather than letting their chickens constantly get knocked up. one of my sisters is convinced that the eggs we eat come from the eggs that the chickens sit on for more than 5 weeks and don't result in a chick -- which is somewhat true...although it happens once in a blue moon (if there's a rooster hanging around the hens) and it also means that we are eating 5 week old eggs.

anyway, it's been a trying past few days, weeks, months? i don't know. i'm having a really hard time here and often feel like i am hanging by a thread. i've certainly been pushed to all my limits and i am trying my all out best to do a good job here and to stay and be positive and be a creative influence here in senegal. i am often told that i am too hard on myself, so maybe i haven't completely failed at my agroforestry work and i pray to God that tomorrow when i go back to site my pepineer is still alive and thriving and maybe the cucumbers, lettuce, eggplant, basil, tebanane (wolof for Jatropha curcas), and "fanta" vines (i don't know the scientific name or the english name, but it is a climbing vine with flowers used for medicine) will all be doing well and will make me feel like i am not a murderer of plants.

leanne comes in a few weeks. i can't wait!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

happy father's day!

as my first year in what i consider true adulthood (and also my first whilst in africa), this father's day is special because i am recalling that my dad has been so much a part of why i am here and why i remain here, despite the trials, troubles, and difficulties of being a volunteer here in rural senegal.

also, the new-found distance simply just makes me miss him so much and i can't wait to see him again (november?).

i've always been a rather emotional person and my father has always been able to keep me grounded as the rational, logical argument in any bout of desperate anxiety fueled by my crazy array of emotions and feelings.

in the past recent years, my father and i have come to know each other much better and it makes me so incredibly happy that we are no longer just bound to each other by just a blood relationship but one of friendship and love and understanding.

happy father's day!

(in other news, my arms and legs are covered in a strange and erratic rash. it's rained 5 times here, which has given life to the dry land of senegal and brought about a new set of wonders -- and mosquitos. i've reseeded but only my cashews seems to want to make it. tomorrow i will be going out to sokone to work on a landscaping project and then down to karang to see some wrestling and then back to site to build a chicken coop and have my supervisor come down and see what i've been up to in the village. leanne is coming to visit july 7 and i can't freakin' wait!!!)

Friday, June 13, 2008


yesterday i went to an ngente (i feel like my service here consists primarily of going to ngentes and celebrating the birth and naming of babies) in bagana, the village fatou grew up in. i didn't really want to go as i am sick and tired of these things -- but she invited me and i didn't want to decline her eager invitation. because all the men were out in the fields planting this year's crops, there weren't any charettes (horse carts) to bring us, so we walked there. it took us a bit more than an hour, which wasn't all together too bad, i just wish i hadn't been in my complet (senegalese clothing) or that it was so freakin' humid and the sun was so strong.

the ngente was a humble one and uneventful but i'm glad that i went because people were happy to see me/have me there and fatou was pleased. i ate a lot of rice, i napped (like a true senegalese), i walked around and greeted. i was too afraid to ask for a pee situation because i didn't see a single douche in the village, which would subsequently make me have to pee in the bush and i didn't really know the polite way to ask (i know how to say "i have to pee" but i don't know how to ask "may i go to the bathroom?"), so i held it all day. it was quite the relief to finally get home and pee in my douche.

i began to lose patience by the end of the day though because they kept saying that we were going home but we wouldn't and i was getting tired of listening to gossip and the women were getting loud and shrill and all i could think about was peeing. of course i was made to dance and i felt like a fool but i did -- not once, but TWICE -- and everybody looooved it. the things i am willing to do these days just to be liked.

and then, as if a reward for my good humor and behavior, somebody gave me a chicken! she's a hen and she's still in between being a chick and a full grown chicken but she's nice and brown and cute -- if chickens can be cute. she's also quite the fighter -- after we tied her feet together (to get her ready for being taken away), she managed to get up on both legs , hop over the door stoop, and make it down quite a ways before she was caught and replaced into the hut. i named her gerte, which means "peanut" in wolof. she's currently being quarantined at a neighbor's house because all of our chickens have been dying of some kind of chicken blight that has been killing more chickens than just pedro.

(interesting side note: in attempt to save ourselves from wasted chicken meat, we've been killing and eating our chickens as soon as they show some sign of sickness...which is essentially kind of worrisome and weird but i have to do it because all there is is chicken and rice so when i eat only the rice they are like, why aren't you eating the chicken?! and i can't admit to them my fear. my, how i've changed.)

anyway, gerte comes at an opportune time because next week i am building a chicken coop to try to start a chicken project. it's not a full blown chicken project but i am just testing it out with my own chicken. she's probably not big enough to lay any eggs yet so i will have to buy her a friend who is capable of eggs. maybe i'll name her niebe, which means "bean" in wolof.

i still think it's funny that growing up i would talk about moving to the big city and be cosmopolitan and glamorous and fashionable and all those big awesome things you do in the glittering city and now i am living in a hut in the bush talking about attempting to raise chickens...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

PEDRO the chicken R.I.P.

sad news: i found out today that while i was in dakar, pedro died! my family didn't mention anything when i got back until tonight and they were like, "oh yeah, aissatou, your chicken died while you were away. he got sick at adja's house and she caught him and brought him back here and we put him in the chicekn house to spend the night and the next morning, he was dead. he's out there behind that tree, we threw him in the bush." that's as literal of a wolof translatoin as i can do and while its sad, its also kind of strange and funny considering the way this language works. also, he was such a comical looking bird and his life story has been so well chronicled by this weird american, it almost seemed like an appropriate end to his story. he would have been eaten by me and my sister, but illness got to him first...

pedro, you were a good chicken.(pedro, keeping watch outside my hut)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

recent crappy happenings

i haven't written in a while because the past few weeks have been too depressing to write about.

ultimately, the pepineer i last spoke about is dead. i've been away from site for over a week now (for reasons that i will soon address), but the last time i was there, i had 10 trees left. it has been terribly traumatizing to see months of hard work and labor die/fail before my very eyes and my first attempt at agroforestry in senegal has gone to to the shitter. it sucks.

what happened? basically everything that could wrong in a pepineer did -- due to personal errors, errors of my counterpart, and acts of nature. first, in fear of the intense heat and sun my pepineer was barraged by (due to poor site choice location, not my choice), i overwatered. of the total sacks i seeded, i had about a 50% germination rate (pretty good). of that 50%, about half withered from overwatering and/or exposure to the blazing heat and constant hot west wind. the other 50% of the seeds rotted in the sacks. the half that didn't wither and still had the willpower to live were then victim to goats breaking in and ransacking on the fresh tender greens of my seedlings. i was heartbroken and had an emotional meltdown one day in which i could do nothing but hide in my hut and break into tears throughout the day. thankfully i had lots of emotional support from my fellow colleagues who also banded together and gave me all their leftover seeds to use for reseeding.

because of the breakdown and also because of my wisdom teeth coming in, i left site and went to kaolack where i met with JC and we made eggplant parmesan. chris came in that evening and surprised me with a mah-jong set that his dad had mailed him, so we spent the rest of the evening playing. the next few days were spent in kaolack moping around in depression about the dead trees and cooking lots of fish. we grilled a big fish in a red wine marinade (red wine, garlic, soy sauce, lime juice, pepper, salt, red pepper, dash of vinegar) with some roasted vegetables. the next night, still on a fish kick, we grilled up more fish -- this time 7 smaller fish with three different marinades: honey (honey, soy sauce, garlic), red wine (same as the previous night's), and a lime-pepper butter marinade. we also had a big salad with kidney beans and sheep cheese and roasted potatoes and herbs.

chris and i then headed out to dakar. he had a few meetings to go to and i had an appointment with the medical office in hopes to alleviate the issue of my wisdom teeth coming in. i had heard a rumor that peace corps flies you to america in order to get your teeth removed so i was pretty excited about the possibility of that being true. turns out, all i got was a free trip to the dentist who told me that he would remove my teeth on monday morning (it was a wednesday), so i would have to hang out in expensive dakar until then. it wasn't THAT much of an issue considering that there was free access to a pool and constant access to the beach and good food and all of the luxuries that dakar provides.

because of greater accessibility to foods and groceries, we took advantage of the opportunity to cook loads of good food. the first night we made pesto (mostly from a jar though, as i had no basil) which we then used the leftovers for egg sandwiches for breakfast. then i made a chicken curry over rice another night. a third night we made green onion pancakes and i had found udon at an indian grocery store and spinach (!!!!!) at a vegetable stand so i made a chicken broth based soup with soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, chinese turnip, and spinach in it. i then fried two eggs and threw those on top of the soup and it was delicious. two nights we went out for authentic chinese food and another night we went out to a place called point almadies which has the freshest and most delicious seafood for an insanely cheap price. oh and not to mention, i had ice cream twice. REAL, delicious, creamy, ice cream. it was amazing.

after dicking around dakar for a while, i then found out from med that i WASN'T getting my teeth pulled -- the head doctor of peace corps west africa would have to approve my surgery and then peace corps in DC would have to approve it. i was told that i would be called on monday to be told the results of all the conversation about my teeth, which are in the meantime throbbing at the back of my mouth, so we were stuck in dakar for a few more days. not entirely the worst thing -- aside from the cost -- but still, i felt apprehensive about being away from site for so long and was eager to get my teeth pulled.

monday came around. no phone call and i couldn't be in dakar any longer without going broke, so chris and i left and headed back to kaolack. now i'm here and will go back to site tomorrow to start all over and try not to be too entirely discouraged by everything. overall, it's been a frustrating past few weeks and as i sit here, i am trying to pep myself up about going back and picking things up again. while being in dakar was nice, it was clouded by the apprehension of redoing my pepineer and not fucking up the entire thing again.

we'll see what happens. wish me luck.