Saturday, August 15, 2009

weed battle

just had a nice storm for about an hour -- the first day storm that i can recall since last rainy season. 12mm so that should be good for the trees i outplanted this morning.

talla asked me to help him out. since he is so "busy" at the WV pepiniere he hasn't been able to outplant so he asked me to do it. the live fence he planted last year has some gaps that needed to be filled. i don't like him but i agreed to do it because i like tree and outplanting, and i mean, he's a jerk but it's not totally his fault. it's been a two day task -- i started yesterday along the road which didn't have any weeds, just a lot of missing trees so lots of holes to dig. ndey fatou helped me out and got some pleasure out of getting to slice open the sacks with the rusty razor blade i had.

this morning, however, was quite a task. the remaining part of the fence to be worked with was overgrown with weeds. nobody's weeded those trees ever so the rain and neglect led to some weeds as tall as me and so thick that if they could be like that year round, there would be no need for me to fill in the gaps. but, once the rains stop and the grasses dry and die, those gaps will be there -- so in i went. it was an epic battle ripping out clumps of grass and getting torn up by all types of thorns. at the same time, i enjoyed the physical labor and even started to get nostalgic about how never again in my future would i live this life -- weeding a life fence in my little village that i am the only person in north america who of offhand. as eager as i am for my service to end, there is certainly a sadness of never being here again.

anyway, the weeding took a good 2 to 3 hours. thankfully it was cloudy (build up to our storm) and ndey fatou came and helped me out again. but i don't think she found it as fun as yesterday and quickly slipped away when i told her to take a break. eventually it was finished and i outplanted 19 trees into the fence. it should be pretty sufficient by next year, God willing.

today is my last day at the village before Ramadan commenced. my last day to eat normal meals at normal times and to chug as much water as i want, when i want. Ramadan doesn't start for another few days but tomorrow i must go to Dakar.

it's nice and good now and feels like the day is over, but it's not because it's only 3:28pm. strange. i finished my last book so i'm not really sure what to do now. a nap might be nice and hopefully the roads aren't too flooded and i can go for a run later.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

the run

every day i run a path,
the path is always the same.

today i crossed paths with a boy,
his clothes were very dirty.
he said hello, in a language we knew,
and i said hello --
but in english.

he scratched his bum.
i picked my nose.
and all the while a big white cow
cried frantically for her child.

tadpoles seethed in an evaporating puddle,
and storm clouds gathered in the west.

i guess i was wrong,
it's not always the same.

but i can never beat 25 minutes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

i cook lunch and teach a senegalese wolof

yesterday turned out better than it started. thank god. i think the huge storm the night before had really fucked with my head -- living in a collapsing hut can be psychologically draining. i'm refusing to move out of my hut (maybe stupid, but the only thing i can do to keep me from going crazy) so they've put up buttresses against the weakest wall and we'll see who lasts longer -- me or the hut. but last night's rain was very close to the earth and every thunder bolt would make my doors rattle and i cowered all night in bed thinking that the next clap of lightning and thunder would bring the walls tumbling down and the roof onto my head. it didn't so now i have greater faith in the structure.

so yesterday morning i headed to diassoume wilanene to help xadi wilane, aram cisse, and fatou diop outplant but when i got there i found out that they had gone out to the fields. i was a little annoyed because i had told them on sunday that i would bet here tuesday...but i've been here too long to really expect people to keep dates and appointments with me especially when i agree that crops and livelihood come before trees.

so when i got back to the village i was left with nothing to do. i had planned on cooking lunch for the family on wednesday (since i had plans to outplant on tuesday morning) but was bored so decided i would cook lunch that day and try to outplant wednesday morning.

the plan to cook lunch was born out of a conversation i had with fatou a few weeks earlier. i was heading out to dakar and she asked me, "aissatou, when you go to dakar, how do you eat?" i told her that i cook for myself and she was absolutely incredulous. "you can cook???" she asked. she barely believed me. i wanted to be like, "homegirl, i could cook circles around you!" she asked me how come i never cook lunch in the village and i replied because i'm not talla's wife (thank god) but that before i went to america i would cook her a meal to show her that i know how to cook.

so i killed my crazy grey chicken (i did the slaughtering -- to the amazement of the women as women don't kill animals in senegal) and made the family chicken chili over rice for lunch. it was packed with onions (1/4 kilo), green peppers (1/4 kilo), corn, kidney beans, tomato paste, garlic, and tomatoes (1/4 kilo). to my surprise, they really loved it. i was unsure that they would because there are loads of peace corps stories about volunteers who cook their families a meal who then find the meal disgusting and refuse to eat it. there was a lot of hot pepper and cumin in this but man, they wolfed it down. i'm not sure if it was because there was just so much stuff in it (for god's sake -- an entire chicken!) or if they actually liked how it tasted, but regardless they ate it and they ate it all.

i found that i really do love feeding people good, healthy, nutritious food and i think it is my ultimate gesture of care. i made sure there wasn't a bit of unhealthiness in this meal -- no msg, no maggi cubes, nothing unwholesome went into it. the women were very interested that i used ingredients they were familiar with in a totally different way and they were totally impressed that i didn't need a bit of maggi or msg.

but my god, i learned that it is hard to cook in that kitchen. the smoke from a 3 stone fire is unbearable -- even in a mud stove. if you breathe through your mouth it sears your throat. the kitchen hut gets hot and smoky -- was sweating and choking like mad. moreover, both the women were super curious so they squeezed themselves in there with me to watch and ask questions the entire time. i mean, i've always known the kitchen to be a rough hut from helping cook and stuff, but this was the first time i was standing right over it, in the blast of everything. at one point aram, watching me struggle, asked, "is there no smoke when you cook over a gas?" and i emphatically yelled "no!!!"

i was worried there wouldn't be enough food but i managed to feed 16 people for lunch and a dinner bowl for me and talla. plus, a small bowl was sent to yaay fatou for a taste.

of course i received little recognition, praise, or thanks for the food -- it's not in the culture and i think it makes a woman's job even harder. but the empty bowls and seeing the women and children chow down were enough for me to feel satisfied. however, with talla it was a different story. we ate together twice this strange and new food that i guarantee he's never eaten before and he didn't mention a thing. ate it as if it was just another mafe lunch. not even a word about what is this or that i cooked it or that i had killed one of my chickens for lunch. it made me very disgusted with him. i highly doubt that being talla's wife is a very fulfilling job.

later in the afternoon i went out to see yaay fatou in her field because i knew that she was outplanting. i love that woman and will miss her when i leave. she was outplanting in some flooded area so we shlucked around in the mud. yaay mag was there too and i felt bad because she was like, "aissatou, i know nothing about trees! nothing!" because her pepiniere had completely died not once, but twice. yaay fatou retorted, "it's because she doesn't have any luck!" i agreed but then yaay fatou quipped, "she doesn't have any luck because she's ugly! ugly people have no luck!" i thought this was hilarious and laughed for some time. i promised yaay mag i would give her some trees from my pepiniere because she really had tried and really had no luck.

then i was helping yaay fatou plant tomatoes and she was yammering away and goes, "ah! aissatou! aissatou dafa begg nibbi." this is interesting because "begg" means "to want" and she was saying "oh aissatou! aissatou wants to go home." but "begg" is an interesting verb because when somebody needs to go somewhere or has plans to go somewhere, "begg" is used in this context even if there is actually no particularly desire attached to it. i've never liked that because i'll say something like "i have to go to kaolack tomorrow" and actually don't want to because kaolack is gross but in order to say it, i need to use the verb "begg." (god i hope this makes sense.)

i was feeling playful with yaay fatou so i snarked back, "deedet, dafa war nibbi!" which means "no, she has to go home!" i had pointed out the difference between wanting to do something and having to do something and she totally got and she laughed and laughed and repeated the story a million times to anybody who would listen and telling them all that today i beat her in wolof and that "now, now aissatou understands wolof." it was a slightly triumphant moment for me because for two years it was "aissatou, you still don't understand wolof?" and moreover, it was a great laugh and we had a lot of fun.

then i went out to aram cisse and xadi wilane's fields because they had heard i had come in the morning and wanted to outplant. i helped out a little and outplanted some trees. i'm really proud of my farmers. yaay fatou and i had sat in aram cisse's field for a while and the whole time aram babbled all these ideas she had for how she would improve her field with trees and vegetables. it was cool and i should have been hanging out with these old ladies a long time ago. i outplanted trees with them until the sun started to set and they sent me home because i was tired and getting destroyed by mosquitos.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

my hut is falling

perhaps it is good the rains have been so late. they have now caused my hut to collapse. i'm in too bad of a mood to write about it again so here's the email i sent to my family about it:

"...An unfortunate situation I've found myself in is that on Saturday we had a very big rain and the water flooded next to my hut. For the past two years I've had ants digging under my hut so I'm assuming my hut was sitting on top of a foundation that was more lace-like than solid. The flooded water finally made it's way into there so basically, the ground beneath my hut filled up with water and my split in half and sank. It hasn't broken apart completely but it's definitely split in half and one part of it is sinking into the ground. I can't even close the doors or the windows now. It's a pretty crappy situation because I have such little time left and I have lost the really great comfort and privacy of my hut. The women want me to sleep with them -- use whichever hut Talla's not in for the day (as he alternates which woman he sleeps with every night -- terrible polygamous society) -- but that is like, the very last thing I think I have in my sanity to do. I could not possibly sleep in the same hut as the children, sharing a bed with them or the women. Moreover, that's just totally weird to me, switching among the women as if I'm another husband in the family. They can't rebuild in the rainy season so the next volunteer is going to have to temporarily live in the storage hut for a while. They built this hut a few months ago and use it to store all the horse feed and tools. It's right by the animals and smells terrible. It has two doors but no window and no private yard. I think my only option right now is to move into there for the last few weeks of my service which is a pretty awful situation to me but I guess I have to do it. I'm very annoyed. Obviously they would move everything out when I moved in -- I'm just kind of being a baby about my own space and having my yard and my hut which was comfortable. Guess I just have to suck it up -- it's only a few more weeks and then I'm out of there."

there is literally a crack running through my hut from one side to another. i can't close or open any of my windows or doors now because everything is in the process of submitting to gravity.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

the rains are finally here

8mm rain last night. it was nice and cold to sleep in. the miracle of good rain -- the crops look significantly bigger and better in just a few days. alxamdoulilah. people are talking about these recent rains with satisfaction and i think we feel safe from drought and bad harvest.

Friday, August 7, 2009

finally, productivity

big cold rain blew in this morning at 6am. 10mm. nice to sleep in that. maybe i can still have hopes for rain this season.

amazing -- today was finally productive. the most productive i've been in weeks. started out with that 6am rain which gave a nice, but excusable, slightly late started to the day.

i went up to mbanda peul with all these intentions to goad the women into outplanting their papayas. a nice little boy walked with me and asked me plaintively for wolfgang. i had to refuse.

when i got there i passed by the pepiniere on my way to penda's house and to my amazement -- outplanted thornies and all the papayas gone! penda is THE superstar farmer. with her own initiative she'd gotten a huge chunk of trees outplanted (some of them -- mangoes and lemons -- too soon...oops). i was so incredibly happy with her. i wanted to hug her. she hadn't finished the live fence yet so we agreed for me to help her tomorrow afternoon.

on my way back to the village i passed through the WV pepiniere where talla, diakho, and moussa were transplanting eucalyptus seedlings. i decided to help them for several hours. diakho found out about penda's outplanting and decided this afternoon she would outplant too. hooray for contagious behavior!

for some reason -- maybe i was a little dehydrated -- transplanting really wore me out. i got back to the house around 11:30 and worked on editing the Agfo manual until lunch. lunch was kind of awful but i got over it by taking an hour hap. it was really hot and humid.

i woke up at 4 and headed out to diakho's field. she wasn't there yet, even though she had interrupted my nap at some point (senegalese have absolutely no qualms about waking somebody up from sleep) to remind me to go in the afternoon. her trees were too small to outplant anyway, so while i waited for her, i transplanted some of her thornies (why doesn't anybody ever thing even though i tell them to all the time?!) for her and did some weeding.

she finally showed up -- she had been working in the rice field so excusable and forgiveable. i explained her tree situation to her but we agreed that the sisal was ready to outplant so she dug holes and i outplanted something like 20 sisals at 1 meter apart. it too was exhausting and i got a little sloppy at the end, accidentally slicing some roots. hopefully they will survive. while we were working we got sprinkled on with some .5mm of rain (i checked the guage as soon as i got back) so it felt nice to have some relief from the humidity.

after 2.5 hours of work i headed back to the village and found i was back just in time for a run. even though i was really tired i decided to go since i could still feel that terrible lunch sitting heavy in me and making me burp all afternoon. i figured the run would either make me puke or get rid of that heavy feeling.

it was a decent run -- slower than usual -- and when i got back i was just totally, utterly, pooped. i sweated for a good another 45 minutes-- even after a shower -- and felt like taking my shower sitting down.

the day ended with dame suddenly freaking out screaming, "mom!!! mom!!! there's a bug in my nose!!!!" we all slightly panicked and aram pinned him down with the help of ndey fatou and gouged around in his nostril with a stick while he whimpered. i braced myself for some big, long, white tapeworm but instead aram pulled out something green and smothered in snot. it was a leaf. dame had shoved it up there himself earlier in the day and decided that now was a good time to freak out about it. strange boy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

burden on my back

i managed to make it back to site by last night. it was a long and arduous day. all the car rides were hot and stuffy and i got car sick on the way to kaolack. i was scared i was going to puke everywhere.

i had 6 kilos of sesame seed and 2 of Jatropha curcas along with a bunch of books and other things to bring back and for some reason thought that i would be fine walking the 7 kilometers back. i was wrong. it was so freakin' heavy and i hadn't eaten since the morning and it was a late start and threatening to rain. it was pretty terrible. i prayed for a charette and i got one for about 5-10 minutes before they dropped me off at the fork in the road -- i was grateful anyway. i think pinched a nerve in my shoulder carrying all the weight. but eventually -- of course -- i made it back cranky, hungry, exhausted, and bitter.

amazingly, the minute i stepped foot into the village it started to rain which turned into a little downpour that gave us 7mm of rain. otherwise it still hasn't rained in days.