Tuesday, June 30, 2009

some news and what comes next

news that feels like development:
talla, who was previously illiterate (*education), texted me on his cell phone (*technology) to inform me that he built the latrine (*health) i bought for my family as my going away gift. that is very good news to me.

in the meantime:
COS (close of service) conference was the 22nd to the 24th so all of my training stage was regathered in a nice air-conditioned hotel in dakar to discuss things to help us ease out of our service. it was a milestone in our service -- the acknowledgment that the end is right around the corner.

i have about four months left of service as i have my COS date (somewhat) set -- october 1. then, JC and i will fly out to beijing for an epic trip to explore mongolia, china, the philippines, and taiwan. we've been planning this trip since PST. then i meet my family in taiwan for a family reunion.

what happens next? i'm not entirely sure. i go back to america, i suppose, and search for a job and a place to live. hopefully wolfgang leviticus will be shipped out from dakar and land on the grounds of america the wonderful around january 2010 for a happy reunion. chris has extended his service until around march 2010 so i will eagerly await his return for several months. i hope to be going to grad school (hopefully journalism school) within the next 3 to 5 years but in the meantime i want to fill my days with productivity, good food and cooking, maintaining a healthily throbbing heart, and figuring out my future.

these days most of the routes i am considering point in the direction of writing, food, and agriculture. i have some big dreams and little dreams and some days when the clouds are billowing in the sky and i am running in the company of baobabs and birds i feel like i can have them all and then there are other days when i am running in the company of skeezy dakar guys who try to hit on me while i pant up a hill and i feel like those dreams are impossible and laughable.

it continues to be humid and hot. when i step outside i feel like it's new jersey on summer days of my youth.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

the rash spreads, fun with wolof

the rash is still here and has spread to my stomach, chin, and thighs. sigh. it hurts more than anything else right now but i am continually thankful it isn't excruciatingly hot outside which would make it ten times worse. in fact, there's a cool breeze that feels amazing on the rash if i sit in just the right way in just the right spot.

for my own amusement with the wolof language:
lebal ma! = sell it to me on credit!
labal ma! = wipe my ass!

Friday, June 19, 2009

the danger of cashews

it's amazing how dangerous raw cashews are to me. when they're roasted and salted i can barely control myself from eating myself sick from them but raw cashews are just flat out dangerous. last year i had a pretty terrible incidence with raw cashews so this year had a personal ban on cashews. no cashews in the pepiniere. no working with them, nothing. i gave out dry, raw seeds but otherwise i refused to work with them.

but fatou and aram wanted a pepiniere and filled sacks but since then have done nothing about it (much to my irritation). i figured i would pretreat their seeds for them and then they would seed. so i filled a pot of water and threw in some raw cashew seeds to soak for 24 hours. last night i uncovered the pot just to take a look at them. i didn't touch them or anything but 5 minutes later my hand burst out into a burning, prickly rash. i tried to stay calm about it but now it's spread to the inside of my elbow, the other (left) arm, my neck, hairline, and jaw. it is very painful as it burns and itches and raises my body temperature. luckily it is pretty cool today (due to another disappointingly small and short rain) and everybody can see it so they all understand that despite a busy day i had planned, i just want to lie in bed and sleep it through.

the funny thing is that last year's occurrence was almost exactly a year ago (june 15). strange.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

no rain or lunch, unhappy parrot

3:47pm and we haven't eaten lunch yet because talla and others are rebuilding the kitchen hut. he spent yesterday afternoon knocking it down and then had the bad luck of a late afternoon rain that ruined lots of the mud bricks.

regardless, the rain was disappointing. several hours of buildup, clouds rolling in with lightning and thunder but only just a few minutes of true, torrential, rainy season rain. then it stopped and the sky seemed as though it would rain again later in the night. it didn't but regardless, was incredibly hot and humid.

i am hungry.

the poor parrot is miserable and unhappy.

maybe his situation is better than that god-awful cardboard box he spent his first two months in but this cage is also pretty depressing. he's become this awful dirty green -- nothing plush or emerald like the pictures of his kind i see in the guidebooks. sometimes they even forget to bring him into the shade and he squawks until i do it.

i try to emphasize that IT'S NOT MY PARROT even though people tried to force him onto me as soon as the novelty of owning him wore off because i personally think it was a waste of 750CFA (when they wouldn't even take the baby to the hospital when he was sick for 500CFA) but i can only be so cold. the little guy is just flat out unhappy. and i hear people say that he's useless because he hasn't learned how to talk which i'm sure he doesn't understand but that just makes me feel bad for him.

so yesterday i let him out (i made sure the kids were out of the compound) and he wandered around a little. in the meantime i made him a toy with a strip of old fabric and an old washer. i also attached a piece of mirror to the cage and gave him one of the cat's fuzzy toy balls that he doesn't play with anymore (probably because wolfgang has his own pair of fuzzy balls now). i've also fed him some Leucaena leucophaela leaves (a tree with lots of protein and great fodder for animals).

i swear to god the parrot turned a little brighter green when he saw his new digs.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

turtle attack

this early morning i heard something creeping around my fence. i went to investigate and there was definitely some kind of creature lodged between the new and dead part of my fence. i immediately thought "SHREW!" and/or "RAT!" and went running out of the compound with my machete to attack it on the old side of the fence.

a bunch of kids came streaming after me and watched me hack away at the fence -- but nothing came darting out nor did it seem like i was killing anything. no wonder -- after a few minutes one of the boys yelled "stop! stop!" and pulled out a turtle. poor thing hadn't done anything wrong and instead this crazy toubab with a machete tries to chop it to bits. good thing that's a mighty strong shell -- i did no damage and after i yelled at the kids to leave it alone (do as i say, not as i do) it crept off to find a less hostile hiding spot. i could just picture his thought bubble as he rustled away:

otherwise today was an interesting morning of work -- one of those kinds of work days that feel like it's either a miracle or a result of having been here two years. i've been bugging talla to about pruning the trees in the valley for months. he's been reluctant. the day before yesterday, martin and some other WV people came and i told them to tell talla to prune the freakin' trees before the rains started since he is ten times more likely to listen to them than to me. talla did his nervous laugh and said he would do it -- which felt like a lie and i was disheartened. but then diakho (the "president" of the valley) and nefie wilane (of weinde) were there and agreed that we would do it today (wednesday).

i still didn't really believe it but then diakho came looking for me this morning and when we got to the valley talla had actually brought the large pruning shears that i had asked him all morning to find for me. but he still seemed cranky about having to listen to me which made me slightly annoyed. then, looking at the trees i wanted to prune i realized it probably wouldn't make a difference because they're about 4 years old, over 2 meters tall and lignified at the bottom, so how likely would they actually make new shoots at the base? perhaps it was already too late and i could understand talla's resistance because it looked like it was going to be a pain to deal with.

however, last july we had outplanted A. senegal and A. mellifera around the pepiniere area for a live fence and they were very ready to be pruned. i figured it could be a better lesson if i used my time to prune what was ready to be pruned and use the unpruned/impossible prune hedge as a lesson of best practice vs. improper practice.

so i suggested it and at first diakho was scared and said they were too small. but i managed to convince her so we went to it. talla had no part in it but mbaye dia (talla's cousin) and i went and pruned all the trees. mbaye really seemed to understand the purpose of pruning and had no reluctance to lop off any of the terminal buds. the lesson seemed to translate well to those who wanted the lesson and i made a passive aggressive point saying that while it is important to know how to pepiniere, it is more important to know how to plant and take care of trees -- what was the point of putting so much of one's time in baby trees if they were all just going to be improperly planted?

i got many nods and clicks of agreement. i bit my tongue from being a vindictive brat and pointing out that talla is who i was talking about -- he only cares about the pepiniere process but lets his trees grow too tall, doesn't prune, doesn't outplant on time, plants his fruit tees too close, and doesn't protect his trees from destruction (last ramadan i almost passed out in the field planting cashews for him all morning. he promised he would fence them. he didn't and where are they now? gone. eaten by goats and cows.).

once we were done nefie showed up with her machete. she was a little disappointed she missed out on the fun but we hung around for a while and i gave out some limes to some of the farmers i'm working with. diakho and i are getting along these days -- something happened in diakho's head and instead of ignoring me she actually listens to me and likes me a lot and constantly lauds my presence and work to others. funnily enough, it seems to have started since the one day i was so tired of her and was visibly exasperated and pretty much yelled at her. maybe she's scared of me now or maybe she finally just appreciates the fact that i have given her sacks and seeds and that i'm here to help their work and not make it worse.

diakho, nefie, aram signan (from weinde, not the aram signan of my village), a coffee lady named khoudia mbaye, and i all hung out at diakho's field. i seeded her limes and aram ate the leftovers. we talked a lot about trees. WV brought nefie to niger (diakho went last year) to see a bunch of AgFo projects so a lot of what i said had been said to her "officially" in niger. we talked about fences and grafting and that some trees stay in the sack for a year (they didn't know this). it was pleasant and th whole time diakho was putting up a dead fence for her pepiniere. i suggested we do an intensive bareroot bed of Moringa oleifera. she agreed and we will do it tomorrow.

it was a satisfying morning of work but today is hot and i long for rain.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

new roof, no rain

i finally have a brand new roof! my crappy roof from last year did nothing but leak and ruin things during the rainy season so i paid 9,500CFA to get new hay for a new roof. but for weeks the hay just sat there and talla procrastinated the reparations despite my hand wringing that the rainy season would start before i had a new roof. luck would have that the rains seem to be late this year and the work was done in time. i'm very pleased and it smells great.

and then on the very next day (sunday) it rained! not much but enough to give me lots of false hope. it hasn't rained since even though i hope for it every waking second. it is incredibly hot and humid every moment of the day -- the rain must come.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

you're ugly!

i've been here since august 2007 and at this point i feel pretty well adjusted and kind of just fit into the fabric of things. sometimes i even forget that i look funny to everybody else.

but every now and then something happens that kind of startles me out of this "used to it" state of mind and i am a little baffled and realize that i still don't fully understand this place.

a couple of days ago i was on a horse cart...

guy on roof of unfinished house: hey! hey! HEY! toubab! TOUBAB!
me: [ignoring]
me: [ignoring]
me: [glances over]

i was a little thrown off and could think of no witty comeback and just sat in silence. since he was no clive owen or 1980's robert redford i didn't actually get offended or hurt at the affront but i was just kind of shocked that he would try so hard to get my attention...just to tell me that i'm ugly? i just don't understand it. i really don't. why??

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

where did all the cement go?!

mbirkelane is all out of cement.
kaffrine is all out of cement.

i still have 18 more sacks (900 kilos) of cement to buy for the latrines and the rains are coming!


Tuesday, June 2, 2009


i've been in jc's village since yesterday helping her demonstrate/teach pruning to farmers with lime and orange trees. it's been fun -- i absolutely love pruning and i am confident in the technique but i haven't been able to do it at my site since we don't have any fruit trees yet. plus we've gone to two other villages (outside of her own) to do this work and i always love seeing new villages.

farmers are usually really reluctant to prune their trees; it's a practice that they don't really perform. it makes them nervous because it is hard for them to accept that cutting off major parts of the tree will actually help the tree bear more fruit. i can understand that. but, the farmers we've been working with have been awesome and impressive and ballsy and have let us go at it with pruning. and a good thing because their trees were in desperate need of some major maintenance.

my arms and hands are all torn up from the thorns but it was worth it because the trees look totally fantastic and should be greatly improved. i guess i never realized until now that orange trees have some brutal thorns -- you don't see them in the orange juice commercials.

it has been very hot and humid here and i pour sweat doing the smallest activity. it feels like rain is coming. it must rain soon!

latrines for everybody!

today i woke up with an agenda -- there were a bunch of people i wanted to see and distribute a second round of seeds to both in this village and another. but then kandji wilane showed up before breakfast as i was watering some trees and said, "aissatou, i'm building my latrine today. you have to come over."

he needed me to show the masons what to do, which was a little bit of a daunting task as i myself didn't really know what to do -- it's not like i've ever built a pit latrine before. on top of this were all these things i had planned to do and now this was a wrench in my plans. i hate wrenches in plans.

regardless, i decided to go with the flow and things turned out great. i didn't want to blow him off because he was the first person to finally start building his latrine when the grant money has been in for months and i've been pushing everybody to get started since the rains could come any day now. so i spent the day trotting back and forth between his compound and mine (which are across the village) and trying to get my other tasks done in between. i did a lot of walking. a few people who kept seeing me walk back and forth between compounds were somewhat bewildered with my back and forthedness and teased me a little but word got out that latrine building had commenced -- so hopefully others will begin soon.

the three masons were incredibly nice even though two of them (the apprentices) were teenagers. i'm usually wary of male teenagers as they're usually the jerks that can ruin my day but these two young men were hard working gentlemen who were very polite and i shared some laughs with. the master mason was great and totally understood the building plans and did a great job. i've recommended him to the others who have yet to build theirs.

1 down, 17 to go!

i'm so happy that people will finally be pooping and peeing in a latrine. until now the adults poop and pee out in the bush and the kids kind of just go wherever. perhaps it is very western/American minded of me but this practice really baffles and astounds me. the public health issues that come from this is innumerous and i personally, just think it is bad and gross. in actuality, most of the villagers do too but it is very expensive to build a latrine -- about 14,000CFA for every pit latrine (about $28USD). i'd be surprised if my family even sees 14,000CFA a month so i can understand why one would continue to do their excrement thing in the bush when 14,000CFA could go towards things (like seeds, horses, food) to which there is no alternative. the money i've been using to pay for the latrines comes from a grant that a few kaolack region volunteers wrote and with this grant money families pay 2,000CFA ($4USD) to get a latrine. at that price, people have been clamoring to get one of the 18 spots. i will definitely encourage the volunteer that follows me to get more grant money to do this.

pictures (and video!) to come soon.