Friday, August 22, 2008

me & jammo

it rained the other day for several hours so me and jamm rekk were trapped indoors.

she sat at the door for a while contemplating going outside and then gave up and took a nap.

i got bored so i decided to take some pictures.

...needless to say, i think she was annoyed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

outplanting spree

more rain! hooray. i am almost regretful of the fact that i'm getting out of the village on friday.

this morning -- when it wasn't raining (it started about an hour ago) -- i went out and dug holes for 20 trees. i sweated a lot but it was good. i came back exhausted and dirty and covered in grime, showered, and then chilled (including a nap) until lunch. right before lunch a strong wind started to blow in -- a little freaky (remnants of my childhood fear of wind)-- and heavy clouds started to enter the sky.

we had lunch (which was actually good!) and the doors were getting slammed shut by the wind and everybody was running around getting ready for the rain. i was worried that the rain would ruin the holes i had spent all morning measuring and digging so i started to look for trees for outplanting. it started to drizzle.

talla came and helped me get my trees together. they've gotten so big that their roots are bursting out of the bag and desperately need to be clipped before outplanted and somebody gave him a great pair of pruning shears (i wish i had a pair!) which was far better than the quasi-sharp knife i was planning on using. we then went on an outplanting spree as the rain fell on us and everybody came out to watch.

it was slightly thrilling...and slightly obnoxious because the kids were noisy and i was cold and it was rushed and i generally like to outplant slowly and methodically. nonetheless, it got done and the trees were in their new homes being watered by the sweet rain. talla and i are like best friends now, which is great...although he still takes on an instructional tone with me. but maybe i am growing as a person -- i've learned to deal with it and while i notice it, it doesn't really bother me unless i am in a cantankerous mood (usually caused these days by my allergies to the flowering crops and/or the ceaseless crying from the 3 youngest children in the family).

it feels good to work and amazing to plant trees in the African soil...and years from now i can remember that the trees i planted are still growing and still providing beautiful benefits to my village (Inshallah...if the goats don't get to them). its been such a saga with these trees -- the pepineer, the struggles with talla, the lack of rain, the task (plant trees in senegal) in and of itself was daunting...and now it's finally come together and i have an incredibly clear idea of how i will conduct next year's work.

after we were done planting trees, talla stopped by my hut -- he can see my papaya growing taller than my fence now and wanted to see it. he also got to see all the trees in my yard that i've lovingly made into a little haven of trees when it was once only sand and cement. he seemed quite delighted by my 1 papaya (which is actually not a tree), 2 Leucaena leucaephala, 1 Moringa oleifera, 2 bombardiers (i forget the latin name), 1 flamboyant (Delonix regia), 4 mangoes (Mangifera indica), 5 tebananes (Jatropha curcas), a patch of basil, and a wall of cucumber plants. no doubt he'll probably move into this hut when it ceases to house volunteers so he will have a beautiful little yard to grow old in...and i feel like that's the best gift of thanks i can give.

aside from smelling bad (i'm still in my work clothes with hopes that the rain will stop in an hour or two and let me have a few more hours of labor -- i want to start my garden in the valley) and being badgered by flies and my wisdom tooth (the other one is coming in!) -- i'm quite happy and content right now and the two years i've given in lieu of making money and going to grad school and the comforts of urban life and cosmopolitan luxury feel worth it. its moments like this that i really love my job and wouldn't give this up for all the good food in the world.

it's finally raining!!

and i'm pooped.

after nearly two weeks of no rain, we finally had a real, significant rain. alxamdoulilah. for those two weeks i just sat around on my ass staring hopefully at the sky, since no rain means no tree planting even though my trees were crying out to be planted.

after the rain ended (it was about 4 hours!) i started clearing the field and measuring holes out for a live fence at about 4PM. i did a line of 19 Prosipus juliflora and Ziziphus mauritania. it felt good to work. i got off of work about an hour ago and i'm ready for bed.

hooray for trees.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

panic in the bush!!!

i spent the past few days out at JC's site helping her out with some outplanting and her girl's group meeting. we had a good time.

however, getting back was a mess of a day (yesterday). i tried to leave in the morning but left too late -- all the charettes going to kaffrine (where i had to catch a car to mbirkelane and then bike 7k back home) had gone already. we sat and waited for several hours until we gave up and decided we'd try again after lunch. after all, the sun is hot. (actually, "naaj bi, dafa tang" which is something that senegalese people say all the time.) i was a little bit worried because getting out of kaffrine is always a pain in the ass and takes longer than i estimate and i didn't want to be out in the bush during/after sunset. at 3 we started to wait for charettes again and i finally caught a slow donkey charette at about 4:30.

got into kaffrine after an hour on the donkey charette and sped walked to the garage (on the other side of town) and waited for it to fill up until a bit past 6. i was increasingly nervous - how was i going to make it back before dark? the ride wasn't all that bad -- probably one of the better rides of my life here -- but because i was pressed for time, the trip was excruciatingly slow and my apprehension was building. not only was the sun setting, but it was also getting very cloudy -- either rain or blocking of the near-half moon would occur.

arrived in mbirkelane and practically ran (ignoring the thorn in my shoe) to moussa's shop (where i leave my bike) and he asked me if i wanted to stay over at his house until the morning , as it was getting dark. i should have said yes, but am a coward about sleeping over a senegalese person's house and dealing with that kind of social situation, so i declined. i hopped onto my bike and sped off into the bush. i started out at an insane pace -- probably from the adrenaline of trying to get home before dark -- and managed quite well but by the time i was 2/3 of the way there, the sun was gone and a dark cloud loomed over me and it started to rain lightly. it was dark and scary. then i heard the call of prayer emanating from some loudspeaker from some village off in the distance and suddenly felt terribly alone and vulnerable in the bush. i was tired, thirsty, sweaty, far from home, and desperately had to pee. i started to hear things -- was somebody following me? what was that rustling in the bush? what was that creaking over there?

finally i stopped to pee under a kaad tree (Acacia albida) and tried to gather myself. i got back on the bike and tried to push on towards home but for some reason, started to imagine up all the terrible things that could happen to me -- alone in the bush at dusk with 70 mille on me, a phone with barely any battery power left, and a tiny bit of water. terrible thoughts of robbery, machete hacking, rape, wild dogs, and silent, lonely deaths were conjured up in my mind. (it didn't help that there has been a recent influx of violence in the area, including somebody going after talla with a machete in the middle of the night.) i guess my mentality started to fall apart and i lost my composure. i was panicking. i got all wobbly on my bike and kept getting stuck in the sand and falling over and my bike chain started to give me problems. i was getting nowhere and almost in tears -- why was i panicking like this?!

i tried to go on for a while -- wobbly and meandering and losing control of my bike or my footing on the pedals and falling. i must have looked like an idiot. i berated myself for my stupid decisions and was shaking from this strange fear that had suddenly so strongly possessed me.

finally, i saw the familiar walls of mbanda wolof -- a village i've never been to or met anybody (formally) from --but know of my name because it is a landmark and close (enough) to my village. i decided i couldn't bike anymore in the horrifying darkness and entered the village, sweaty and exhausted and still stricken with panic. i went into the first compound i saw, certain that they knew my village. i greeted several times and was ignored until an old man looked up and saw me. i announced that i was "aissatou" and he told me he knew that (i guess there aren't that many other chinese-americans in the area). i asked if he could help me in a quavery voice, blurting out "i don't want to ride my bike in the dark anymore!!" could i sit in his compound while i called talla to come and get me? i guess he could sense my panic because he immediately came bustling over to help me with my bike, repeatedly told me to sit down, and ordering one of the kids to go and get me some water.

i called talla twice but it wasn't getting through. i sent him a text message telling him where i was and could he come and get me? and then my battery died. i was disheartened and groaned audibly. the old man asked me what was wrong and i practically wailed to him that my battery was dead. when this happened he said, "come on, i'll tie up my charette and bring you home." so he and his son got their little donkey charette together, roped my bike on, and drove me the remaining distance home -- even though i've never met them nor talked to them. i gave him a little box of tea (that i had intended to give to my family) and thanked him profusely. my panic made me at a loss of words so all i could keep muttering was "thank you so much. thank you. thank you!!!"

it was a totally weird and bizarre experience but i guess i did the right thing (although i'm sure nothing would have happened to me had i grown some balls and gone on) and the old man was so nice and kind. the bush is scary at night!!!! and i am never venturing out there alone at dark again. i can't explain the panic but i'll just say that the genies got to me...?

Friday, August 8, 2008

leanne's pictures

pictures from leanne's trip to senegal (and then ghana...without me...sniff) are up! i was an idiot and forgot my camera cord somewhere so couldn't charge my camera and couldn't take any of my own pictures.

check them out at:

Thursday, August 7, 2008

story of a cucumber

my obsession with cucumbers continues...

i think they look more like melons than vegetables.

who knew that's how cucumbers grew?

the wild mess that are my cucumber plants.

cucumber and fly.

first harvest!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


yesterday afternoon the kids caught one of those gigantic lizard things and chopped off its head and cooked it. i -- after a lot of thought -- ate some. not bad. i expected it to be rubbery or mushy or tough or something...lizardy? but it was the consistency and taste of the dark meat on chicken. not something that i'll suddenly crave when i'm back in america ("god i could go for some gigantic lizard meat right now") but definitely worth trying and not something i would refuse in the future. (especially with the food scarcity we're facing right now...)

ma'asou and dey roke show off the kill

eggs and organs!!!

kids posing with the headless lizard

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

morning musings

strange hour to be awake; i woke up at 2am and haven't been able to sleep since. its humid (not unbearable though) and i am getting chewed up by mosquitoes. i can just feel the malaria running through my veins (thank God and the government for prophylaxis!)

somewhat out of the early-morning-hours boredom, i decided to i eat my first cucumber. i harvested it a few days ago -- entirely by accident. i was pruning the wild tangle that has become my cucumber plants when i cut a "doom" ("doom" means either "child" or "the fruit of a tree/plant" in wolof) off. it was just about ready so i had it sitting in my room a for while as i contemplated what to do with it.

i mean, yes, EAT it, but how? very limited resources to do anything with the cucumber in the village -- salt, olive oil, vinegar. or did i want to wait until kaolack and put it in a salad or even try something creative with it? or, give it away? share it with others? who could have thought that a single plump cucumber could cause me to over-think like this.

finally it was just time to do it and eat it -- plain as it was with no additives (5:14AM -- i hear jackals hunting!!) or anything. i don't think i've ever just eaten a cucumber singularly, just as it is, by itself. i've somehow magically managed to grow HUGE cucumbers that are twice the size of the ones i get at the market for about 100-250CFA. these cucumbers are THICK and deeply soaked in green and could easily fetch 350-400CFA). for the first time, i realized that cucumbers are much like melons -- more fruit than vegetable. my god, being raied with produce aisles has really led me to some major ignorance about food and sustenance.

i grabbed a knife and sunk in -- that in itself was an experience. the cucumber was at its very freshest, the knife glided right through with just the right hint of resistance. i've never eaten a cucumber at such freshness (no in between time trapped in a crate or cardboard box). needless to say, it was delicious -- juicy and crisp and perfectly, well...cucumber.

now my head is churning with ideas on what to do with all of this upcoming cucumber (there is going to be a shit ton -- there are LOADS of flowers and developing cucumbers) from pickling to soaking in a mix of citrus and vinegar (something i learned from karim, my moroccan-store owner friend who speaks impeccable English) to combining with soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil (precious import from dakar) and garlic to a cold soup to a variation of tea time cucumber sandwiches (village bread, sheep cheese, and cucumber slices). i have a feeling i'm going to have a lot of fun with the cucumbers but by the end of all of this -- will be sick of them.

i know its ridiculous to be so thrilled about growing a vegetable but i've never been a complete part of a food cycle -- i've never had to raise my food before -- and now that i'm doing so, i'm completely with the idea.

i'm starting to feel like working in agriculture (plus trees) -- something that i've never even been close to doing before aside from gardening flowers and helping mom maintain the yard -- is changing my interests. i am increasingly interested in...the "growing of things." i want to grow more vegetables, raise my own chickens for eggs and meat, hell, maybe i even want to go milk a cow. this, coupled with my increasing interest is cooking is making me think that maybe...maybe...i don't want to spend my life in what i thought i wanted to spend my life in.

social science was once really interesting to me -- i could read voraciously about studies and policy and history but now that my life has become so much more about activity opposed to work i'm starting to think that maybe social science is something that should be an interest and not a career choice. where policy or social work or law or study was once what i thought would be my way of living a purposeful life, i think i am now interested in seeing how i can impact the world through more creative avenues -- writing? food? farming? maybe i am interested in nutrition? now that i am in the field and get to wake up to the great outdoors everyday, i don't know how much i want to return to a world of desks and world schedules.

i am definitely reevaluating my plans and goals and career ambitions.