Saturday, May 30, 2009

back on my feet

yesterday morning was pretty crazy. i woke up from a disturbing dream which kind of put me in a weird place. i opened my door and within minutes, el hadji dia showed up asking me if i was ready. we were going to mbirkelane to buy materials for latrines. ready? i had just gotten out of bed! i told him to wait a little and dashed around my hut to get ready while wolf followed me everywhere whining for attention and breakfast.

after a few mouthfuls of (bad) breakfast, i hopped onto his charette and we headed out. no wonder he wanted to go early -- his donkey was incredibly slow and stubborn. walking would have been faster. babakar wilane showed up behind us on a horse charette in an attempt to catch up with me and get materials with us. during the hour and a half it took us to get there (under the blazing hot sun), i contemplated life's deep questions, like if donkeys are so slow and stubborn then why do people continue to use them as farm animals when they wind up being more trouble than help? and why do horses and donkeys have to stop moving to pee but not to poop? and why are they so gassy?

anyway, we got there and instead of souleymane at the hardware store, a little boy sat in his place. i went to the quincaillerie (hardware store) next door (smart business tactics here) to ask the owner where souleymane was. another boy of about 14 to 15 years old sat in the place of that owner. where was everybody? they had all gone to kaolack that day. damn!

not wanting to have made the trip in vain -- as the purpose of going on saturday was to avoid an all day trip to mbirkelane on market day/sunday for just a few minutes of work -- i called souleymane. he was a little annoyed i wouldn't come on sunday but agreed to have the boy write the receipts for my purchases. (the reason i preferred to have souleymane there is that he and i have had an agreement about the purchase of latrine materials for 18 latrines for a while and he is giving me a discount -- i don't want to bring my business else where.)

long story short, it did not come easily -- the boy was fairly new to things and didn't understand what was going on and insisted on charging me the standard price and we had to call souleymane about 7 times to confirm what i was saying was true and even when we had, it wound up that he hadn't listened to souleymane on the phone and was still charging me the wrong price. and then he couldn't grasp the concept of wanting to buy 8 meters of pipe cut into 2 meter pieces. and then some stupid old man came in and meddled about the price of cement AFTER souleymane had made things clear to the boy over the phone so ultimately he ruined things and there was confusion again. in the meantime el hadji and babakar, my village chief (who works in mbirkelane), and one other guy from my village just stood there and watched me yell and yell at this boy until he finally did things my way. i know that the problem wasn't me -- all the other men understood what i was saying -- this boy just seemed to have too much ear wax or was just really nervous about messing things up. i bet he was expecting an easy day of selling a few items and in comes toubab yelling at him about discounts and large purchases of cement. so while i was pissed at him and annoyed at his stupidity, i pretty much understand.

i've also been pretty productive since my several days of self-imposed confiment. i finally confronted the facts and went out to see all my farmers, documented all their problems, gave massaly (my boss) a call and got some good answers/suggestions, and ultimately, it's not as bad as it had seemed because a lot of farmers are getting good germination rates, just bad survival rates. getting things to survive is a lot easier than getting things to germinate. and, i talked to some other volunteers about these things, and they all say that this is pretty normal -- i'm just not used to it since last year i made one big pepiniere instead of working with individual farmers. so it's crappy that pepinieres are dying but it's not an abnormal crappy and for that i am thankful. alxamdoulilah.

also, have been running everyday and doing crunches. it's a nice way to end the day and running through the bush with the sun setting in the african sky brings back the feelings of romanticism and awe i had in my first year. it's been a while since i've felt that way.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


i've just wasted a day and a half completely engrossed in john steinbeck's east of eden. what a remarkable book which i now rank with my tops: lolita, one hundred years of solitude, the wind-up bird chronicle, the age of innocence, and the known world. it is such a gem when a book can take your breath away.

in the meantime, i've done nothing with myself and have been an invisible prsence here in the village. i feel pretty worthless which is a pretty shoddy feeling but i am feel blue and can't seem to shake myself out of it. i feel as though i've checked out and with the combination of prcrastinating farmers and "natural disasters" i am struggling to get myself motivated.

i got back only two days ago and came back to a dead pepiniere and everybody elses' accounts of how their pepinieres aren't sprouting or are getting eaten by something. i have very little seeds left so i fear redistributing for reseeding if they are only going to get eaten again. but then, what else can we do? i need to go and see all my farmers but i'm scared to face the facts and i'm scared i look like a joke.

yesterday i did some calisthenics and panted like a fattie which was prviately mortifying and now that mortification and the aches in my muscles are attempting to discourage me from getting myself physically healthy again.

i must pull myself out of this funk.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

the P word

as a kid my dad would always threaten us about the "P word" -- that is, PROCRASTINATION. he would always ominiously warn us of avoiding it and due to this i've come to despise procrastination. instead i embrace efficiency and punctuality. i like things to happen quickly, on time, even better early!

good thing i wound up in senegal.

that's sarcasm, if you can sense it. it seems like other than americans and chinese, everybody else runsat least 15 minutes behind. i remember my first experience with it was in navajo country where everybody said "oh, you're on navajo time now." then with my african american friends, "we're on black time." there was "guatemala time," "salvador time," "nica time." back in america again, it was "latino time" and now in my present life, it's "africa time." i hate it. i say it admittingly, proudly -- i HATE it. it drives me nuts and i have a hard time coming to terms with things not getting on time.

so it's driving me batty that i started getting ready for pepinieres the first week of march and nobody came to me for sacks until april. i finally got the sacks out and then nobody filled them until about two or three weeks ago. and now people are seeding and more people are coming and demanding tree sacks when i'm out of sacks and i have to explain that i planned things to start in march so that i could get exact numbers of how many sacks we needed so that everybody could get them but yet (and not at my own fault!) it didn't work out. i have no mercy for those who are late but unfortunatly other people's procrastination has gotten in the way of my work and schedule.

i had planned the year around the idea that things would be done around may and that between may and june we could all chill while we waited for our trees to gain strength and grow -- giving me time to work on other projects, have my friend visit, and travel. but of course everybody procrastinated and did not start their work until a few weeks ago -- but then i had the kid's pepiniere day, my latrine-building project (which they've also been procrastinating on), and my friend's visit which shuffled around my priorities and now there is a constant barrage of people demanding seeds and my tree nursery is a mess and others are asking me to supervise pit-digging for the latrines and i am suddenly swamped in what just seems like disaster after disaster as i see the seeds not germinating and running out of seeds and all of my planning and timing of things going to shit. half of this is development work -- program planning and trying it out and most likely finding out that it doesn't work but i was just so...hopeful for a good season. i dared to hope and was disappointed. now i think about going back to site and facing the disaster of the pepinieres when it wouldn't be so bad if we hadn't done everything so last minute and as of now, the only reason i want to go back is to see my cat (which is ultimately -- i know -- a little sad). okay, end rant.

i just wanted so badly for things to go well and i thought it was for a while but now i am discouraged and dragging my feet to get back to the village. of course i love my village and some great things have been happening but i just...i guess i'm just tired and this procrastination crap is getting on my nerves.

we'll see how things go in the next few weeks...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

hostess and future mother

the past few days i've been playing hostess as a friend from america has come here for a visit. we've been having a good time. he spent a few days in the village where all the children fell in love with him and his soccer ball and coloring books. then we went to stay at a place called keur bamboung which remains my all time favorite place in senegal. i took my sister here last year when she visited and it was still as awesome as it was last time.

because we went to travel around senegal a little bit, i missed a wedding in the compound next door. since it is my next door neighbor, i brought a wedding gift of three kilos of rice to the head of the household. he was thrilled with my gift; so thrilled that it was almost a little embarrassing for me. after he received it he blessed me a few times over -- that i would have a good service, that i would find a good job, that i would have a good husband and many many children. and then -- that i would be the mother of the next great american president!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

we care for our village, we plant trees!

using USAID grant money, i organized a tree nursery day for the school children. the kids from both the french and koranic schools came to learn how to make and manage a tree nursery.

the kids learned how to mix soil and fill tree sacks properly. then we seeded our trees and then had a talk about personal responsibility for the trees and for our village. i made a connection between planting trees and taking care of the village. after we put our trees in the school nursery we then had snacks -- juice, bananas, and beignets (fried dough).

jc and shelley came a day early to help (i couldn't have done it without them) and wallace and peter came from dakar to see the day's events. chris also came and acted as photographer.

it was lots of fun and the kids were cute and well behaved. lots of men came and helped out during the training. the women had stayed up to 1:30am the night before to make beignets for the kids. wallace bought bananas for the kids. i got to blow a whistle like a p.e. teacher. we now have 200 trees -- 100 papayas and 100 nebadies -- in a "kid's pepiniere." very proud of my kids and admittingly, myself. this is probably one of my proudest moments in peace corps.

pictures tell the story better...

me and the kids from french school and koranic school

jc helping mbaye signan and talla ka sift soil

kids mixing soil

shelley helping kids fill sacks


some kids and their filled sacks

emmanual -- the french teacher -- helping the kids "sign" the mural

the mural says "we care for our village, we plant trees"

the future

the rest of the pictures are here: