Tuesday, July 28, 2009

bad water/good water

this morning, the water from the robinet has been getting clearer but today i tried to get water from my filter and nothing would come out. i opened the filter and no wonder -- the candles were completely covered in this thick, off white slime. luckily i have a filter so i didn't actually have to drink all of that crap but i can't help but think of everybody else who had to drink the same water without a filter. i can just picture it coating their insides.

gave the candles a good cleaning.

but FINALLY, REAL RAIN! can i be so hopeful to think that the rains are here to stay? it's only been an hour and this is already a significant rain -- of course i would prefer it to go all night than stop after an hour.

if the rains stay consistent now, can it save the harvest? i wonder how the next year of food will be, due to this late start. fatou was annoying again today and said -- in front of a bunch of women -- that in 5 months i HAVE to send them money so that they can eat. she said it in her smug-cat kind of way and i instinctively felt like refusing because of her annoyingness, even though i've been secretly conjuring up a plan to send money to the next volunteer (my replacement) for a sack of millet each month if it was apparent that it would be a very hungry year.

i know it's not sustainable (as it is charity, really) and i have lots of conflicting feelings about it. a part of me feels relieved to be leaving and released from the obligation of feeding this family even though they're not MY wives or my children. i've really spent a ridiculous amount of money on food for them and -- as is almost always the case (and a subsequent problem) with the presence of a PCV -- they've become dependent on me to feed all 12 of them, plus grandma in the other compound. but then how can i go back to america, land of plenty and abundance and food security and ignore the needs of people i've lived with for 2 years, especially with the knowledge of the craptastic rainy season we had? isn't that just cold blooded? simultaneously, i think: but if they had listened to me about savings and spending wisely and rationing and healthy foods, maybe they wouldn't need my help. if they had listened to world vision's advice and stored food away in the silo...but that's unfair of me because behavior change takes years, maybe even generations to occur. and yet again, if i bought them food -- what about the rest of the village? what about the neighboring villages? they all contain people i care about and people who have been hit by this bad weather in the same way -- my family just got lucky that i got placed with them. and lastly, i really don't want to create the dependency that develops between villages and peace corps for PCVs to solve all their financial problems. i'm convinced that sometimes when the see me, all they see are CFA bills with CFA coins for eyes and earrings.

so really, i have no conclusion and in my own small personal struggle we see the overlying problem of "development," especially "grassroots" or "sustainable" development. people want food and money and they want the fastest way to it. they don't want trees or new corps or new vocational skills or lessons in technology, farming, or health -- they want food in their belly and money in their pocket RIGHT NOW. and it might seem a little crass or harsh to put it that way, but for God's sake -- they're poor and for generations have been. who can blame them for wanting the instant gratification of finally getting their share of the world's abundances? i can't.

Monday, July 27, 2009

rain dance!

yesterday i participated in "nyaan ndox" with the women. "nyaan ndox" means "praying for rain." a pretty crazy event.

from what i gathered:
1. dress up in men's clothes and paint their faces
2. dance while making the ugliest faces ever
3. scream and sing for rain -- big rain

i want rain so badly i even danced once.

i asked why everybody made such horrible faces while they danced. the answer: "we're praying for rain!" i said, "yes, i understand that part but why the ugly faces?" they said, "we must be ugly so that Yallah* will make it rain." sometimes i wonder why i even bother to ask questions.

more pictures on picasa!
*see entry 7/26 for definition of "Yallah"

Saturday, July 25, 2009

almost a drought

spent the morning weeding around my 1 year old live fence and direct seeding a second line of living fencing with Jatropha curcas. busy work, really, to keep myself from being bored to death. in the meantime, wolfgang dicked around, chasing the hand hoe, and climbing the baobab tree and falling asleep in the branches. he's a good companion. later, when he woke up, he amazed me by growling at the approaching crowd of kids from the village i can't stand. they came over and annoyed me while he ran off a bit and glared at them through the weeds.

overall though, it was a nice morning since the sky was overcast (not starting to clear up now -- in other words, no rain today) but i feel a little blue. maybe it's because it just won't rain. the crops are small and sad and the soil is far too dry to start outplanting trees. last night -- once again -- clouds and thunder and lightning and all the boastings of a big rain and all we got was .25 mm. in the meantime, something has happened to the water tower and the water is white -- the color of watered down milk. it's a terrible color but doesn't smell or taste different, nor does it have any sediment settled at the bottom of the buckets. strange. luckily i have my water filter which manages to turn the water clear for my drinking.

i remember when i was younger, droughts in new jersey were inconvenient times. it would be hot and lawns would shrivel as suburban men wrung their hands at the moratorium on lawn watering. we couldn't wash cars or run through the sprinklers. people would talk about drought but as a kid, it didn't really feel like there was shortage of water -- it still came out of the faucets and showers, we still had food to eat, and what did a brown lawn really mean to me?

i don't think we're in a drought state here yet, as there have been an occasional substantial rain, but this rainy season is for sure not...rainy. it is DRY here and the crops are suffering. women have started to pray for rain and talk about rain is tinged with worry. what's strange is that almost every day there are rain clouds around and we can see it raining in other villages in the distance. it just seems to keep avoiding us. one can't help but feel a little superstitious and wonder if we've done something wrong. whom have we offended? shall we sacrifice one of our starving, emaciated cows to Yallah*? No rain but instead we are plagued by flies, grasshoppers, and caterpillars. it feels a little like the scourge of God. these days all i can do is hide on my bed using the bed net as a shield from the (literally) hundreds of flies in my hut that crawl all over everything, including me and all my skin infections that come from the scores of mosquito bites that come at night.

now that i write it all -- no wonder i'm depressed.

*Yallah = Allah = God

Friday, July 24, 2009


i've been awake for a little over an hour and i'm already done with everything i had planned for today. i'm terribly bored and it refuses to rain so i can't do any outplanting. i SHOULD be outplanting but the earth is still dry and thirsty so there's no chance the trees are getting out of the nursery. i can't believe the lack of rain. it is depressing and stressful. i am so bored. i want to go to the field but nobody ever asks me to go and they leave without me.

clouds that bring no rain:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

last tourney ever

massaly came for tourney today. in non Peace Corps terms that means my boss (massaly) came and visited my site today to see my work. it went well. i am proud of my work and what i got accomplished and feel like i've set up as best i could a situation for the next volunteer.

some of my farmers have great looking pepinieres (notably mbacki beye, talla niang, and penda diawo) and some others totally flopped on me (one of them i'll blame the goats for -- he was doing great until he let the goats get to them). anyway, i was glad to show massaly my work and feel like i can say i truly, genuinely tried my best.

i don't have too much time left here so i'm going to spend the rest of my time getting these trees outplanted and protected. that is, if it ever rains.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


today the donkey cried.
we didn't know why.
we gave him some water
and still he cried.
the flies landed on his tears;
i never felt more sad.

tonight we lit a fire.
the donkey drew near.
he perked up his ear
and looked into the fire.
i think i saw him tremble.

Monday, July 20, 2009

sand dunes and camels

yesterday (sunday) chris and i went to loumpoul with JC & her guest, lizzie. i've heard about loumpoul for a while -- it's this place that is in the north/northwest of senegal -- and reportedly has crazy sand dunes and camels. finally we had the chance to go. first we had to go to kebemer and then get a clando taxi to loumpoul village where we were then picked up and brought to the camp/tents. jc & lizzie were coming down from st. louis so we had to meet them in kebemer. we were 4 hours (or more) early because the road between thies and louga (kebemer is in between) is amazing! one forgets how quickly you can get somewhere when the road is decently paved.

i had been a little reluctant to go because a stay at the camp is rather expensive but i've heard it is worth it and it totally was. i don't regret going. the terrain was pretty amazing -- certainly something i haven't seen in senegal, or even in my life yet. real sand dunes -- high and deep and whispering and morphing in the wind. chris and i went kind of nuts -- something about the terrain unleashed the kids in us and we ran around and tumbled and romped and got sand all over ourselves. it took a lot out of me.

we went on camel rides which were more like an upgraded pony ride as it was led by a guide and the camels were utterly bored by us. they also smelled really bad. still, got to see some cool dunes that would have been exhausting to walk out on one's own to. afterwards chris found the camp's snowboards and we used them to sled down the tallest dune. i wiped out and face planted each time (accidentally) and the little french children who were also there cheered and laughed at me. i didn't mind. it was so much fun and i felt like a little kid in the infamous new jersey blizzard of '96 again -- except this was sand and i wasn't freezing my little butt cheeks off.

that night's food was delicious -- couscous and mutton and veggies. i ate a lot and was happy when the meal was capped with a mango. we then went to bed in a low hanging tent that you have to crawl to get into and i promptly passed out. it got hot though and i slept fitfully for the rest of the night.

the morning was splendid. we woke up late but still were the first one's awake (aside from the staff, of course). it was pretty stuffy in the tent by then (how was everybody else still asleep??) so it was a glorious breath of fresh air when we crawled out. the sky threatened rain with low, heavy clouds. i feel like if i climbed the highest dune i could scrape my fingers in the clouds. so we climbed it and sat and stared and listened. loumpoul is close to the ocean so instead of silence i think we were hearing the steady whooshing of the ocean. no waves crashing on the shore but the sound of the ocean's existence far off.

the sand dunes are a remarkable color. a perfect blend of orange and ochre. i had a hard time finding the right words for it. they were also flecked with gray bits of sand -- i'm assuming from the clay that lies below. because of the wind the orange dunes are tipped in swirls of gray that perfectly matched the gray rain heavy clouds. a picture could not capture the beauty so i let it alone and instead drank as much of the scene as i could.

by 9am though, the desert was reminding us that it is a desert and we were HOT. we had breakfast, played some bocce ball (aka 10 minutes of sweating under the scorching sun), took showers (amazing, i could barely leave), and headed out. on the way back to thies it started to rain heavily. it was scary to be on the road but simultaneously exhilarating to be in such intense weather. even though the camp was set up for us in such a manner, i felt reconnected to nature in a way that i haven't been in a while.

more pictures on picasa...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

rainy season finally starting?

FINALLY a huge storm last night after days and days of waiting for rain! it was pretty awesome. funny, too, because i kept telling myself the build up was just a light storm and would amount to nothing. instead -- 28 millimeters! very exciting. let's just hope it sticks around. AND, the frogs have been awakened! it is the most beautiful sound of the rainy season.

yesterday held a mud stove training for the women. it turned and pretty well -- about 30 women showed up. only problem was that i was convinced to start early -- around 4pm -- by the early arrivers, but the bulk of the women showed up late. still, they all got really excited about it and there was lots of post-chatter about mud stoves and a bunch of them say they will build one. of course, i'll believe it when i see it but i believe it'll get done because everybody the amazing benefit of a mud stove (that being, reducing the wood consumption by 30-40%!).