Monday, November 9, 2009

Jumping right in

Ever since getting to Senegal I’ve tried to not hesitate and be shy about trying new things, and I made sure to continue this trend when I got to Kaymore. My first evening in Kaymore my friend Tomsir came over to say hello and talk about me continuing to teach him English since that’s what the PCV in Kaymore before me did. I said I’d be happy to, so we made a plan for him to come over at least 3 evenings a week during which I would teach him English and he would help me with my Wolof. It works out very well since it gives me something to practice and prepare for each day. And we have a lot of fun – several times we’ve had long laughing fits because, for example, Tomsir will say something and I will have no idea if what he is saying, not even if it is Wolof or English. Good times for sure. And it’s nice that we have each other to complain to about how hard it is to learn another language – but usually we focus on providing each other support and encouragement since we both recognize that complaining isn’t going to help anything.

My first morning in Kaymore I went out to my uncle’s field with my mom (Soukeye), brothers, and several other women and young boys to gather the peanut plants into piles after they were uprooted by a young man (who works for my uncles) driving a team of oxen pulling a plow. It’s not that difficult of work – more straining on the back and hamstrings than physically exhausting. And the dust (because it’s such sandy soil) was annoying – it wasn’t long before my arms and feet had turned a light red because they were covered with soil. This part of the peanut harvesting was soon finished and this past week we’ve been picking up the remaining peanuts in the soil – even more tedious work but no one complains too much. In the afternoons we shell the peanuts. I got massive blisters on my index finger and thumb on my right hand from shelling peanuts the first day, but taped them after that and it was much better. I think the saving grace about all this tedious work is that the women (and girls and boys if they’re not in school) all do it together so they can chat the whole time. My Wolof is decent enough that I can sometimes follow their conversations and even participate, especially when Soukeye talks with me (or repeats what other people are asking/saying to me) because she is really good about talking slowly, using simple phrases, and acting things out which the other women haven’t totally caught on to yet.

Other mornings I’ve gone to the daily market in Kaymore with Soukeye to buy vegetables and fish for lunch and dinner. Then I’ve helped Soukeye (and my aunts on other days) cook lunch. They were impressed with the knowledge I already had about cooking here so I can thank my family in TawaFall for that! :) I am still continually amazed at how different cooking is here compared to the States…that topic probably deserves its own post at some point…

Almost every afternoon or evening my friend Yassa comes over to my house or I go to her house to hang out and chat, even if it’s for just 20 minutes. We talk in Wolof and English since she knows a fair amount of English. She is just a super outgoing friendly girl (17 years old) and is also very patient with the language barrier. I’m sure we’ll be good friends – in fact I’m already not looking forward to when she leaves Kaymore next October to start “lysée” (high school) in Kaolack for 3 years before university. It is also really nice that she lives right next door and her (much older) step brother is my counterpart, Moustapha. (They have the same dad, who passed away a few years ago, but different mothers – a common occurrence in Senegal since men can have up to 4 wives in Islam.) I went to school with Yassa one morning to see what school was like here. Elementary school is confined to a group of cement buildings around a shady area, but classes for “college” (middle school/junior high) are scattered all over Kaymore, much like college is often in the States. The two classes Yassa had that day were math and biology, which worked out well for me since math involves numbers so the language barrier is minimized and I love biology and many biologically-related words in French are very similar to their English counterparts so I could follow what was being taught in class relatively easily. In math we learned about solving complicated square root problems – something I haven’t done in years so I was struggling with it more than everyone else I think. After the teacher, Mousier Fall, taught for a while, he had the students come up as they wished to do practice problems in their book on the blackboard. He invited me to come up toward the end of class, which was quite nerve-wracking (I was back in high school – only now it was worse because I could barely speak the language!), but I solved the problem (incorrectly at first) so it was fun in the end. Yassa has Mousier Fall for math and biology, so it was nice that I didn’t have to explain who I was and why I was there twice. In biology we learned about the nervous system – how the central nervous system is different from the peripheral nervous system and how messages are transmitted through the nervous system. It is such a fascinating topic (and I took a class at St. Olaf on the nervous system so I’ve studied it a bit) that it was hard for me to not want to explain things in more detail than Mousier Fall was teaching. All in all it was a great morning and made me actually miss school and formal learning. Yes, I’m a nerd and proud of it. :) Yassa and I have also had short dance parties in her room with one of her friends, Marem, which are obviously fun. We biked out to the field that the girls’ group Yassa is vice president of has bisaab (aka hibiscus), sesame, millet, and cashew trees. And when I say “we biked” I mean I biked and Yassa sat on the back metal storage place above my rear tire (is there an actual name for that?) – even though I had put my towel down as padding her butt was pretty sore by the time we got back since it’s not exactly the most comfortable place to sit on for 4-5 km. Everyone we passed really enjoyed watching us go by – not only is a toubob going by, but it’s a toubob on a bike with a Senegalese girl sitting on back. I’ll have to have someone take a picture of us like that sometime. For now, here’s a picture of Yassa in the bisaab field – rafett na! (Very nice!)

My first Monday in Kaymore I had my first Wolof lesson with Malik. Mostly we talked about how things were going so far and I asked him questions about words I had heard but didn’t know and words I wanted or phrases to know. I anticipate these to be very productive classes, though slightly more disorganized than the Wolof classes I had during training since Malik isn’t an actual Wolof language teacher (though he is an elementary school teacher).

Another morning I went over and met with Moustapha, my counterpart (my female counterpart, Marem, is currently in Dakar), to talk about what I wanted to do for my first 3 months in Kaymore before I go back to Thiès for 2 weeks for IST (inter-service training) in late January. It was a slow conversation because of my poor Wolof, but he was patient and used French phrases when I really didn’t understand. I have lots of things I want to do in the next 3 months – some things I really need to do and some I would like to do if I have time and the resources. Here are the must-do’s first:
- Learn Wolof so I am fluent (or nearly fluent)
- Collect the seeds farmers in and around Kaymore owe me (since Kate, the PCV in Kaymore before me, extended many farmers improved seed varieties last year for corn, rice, millet, and cowpeas and as part of this Peace Corps program the farmers reimburse me twice the amount Kate gave them – which was 2 kg of seed in most cases)
- Finish raising the money for a seed storage building for Kaymore (about $4,000 left to raise) so farmers in and around Kaymore can have a reliable and safe place to store their seeds for the next year [I’m sure I will be writing more about this soon]
- Make demonstration cold-season garden plots in Soukeye’s garden (which is in my compound – so it will act as my personal demo plot) and in the fields of 2 women’s groups in nearby villages (I made one garden in one women’s field last week)
- Meet with the girls in the girls group I will be working with (I’ve already done this a couple times) and help them harvest their bisaab
- Continue formalizing the “village captain plan” Kate started to create last year – it is essentially that each village around Kaymore will have a “village captain” who I (with the help of my counterpart and a few others) will train regarding the improved seed varieties (ex. how best to plant them, when to weed, when and how much compost/manure/fertilizer to use, integrated pest management techniques, etc.) and then this village captain will go back to his/her village and train the other farmers there that are getting the improved seeds. This way these farmers can act as the go-to person in their villages and other farmers can ask them questions first before coming to me. This will help me/Peace Corps accomplish our goals of capacity building, self-sufficiency, and sustainability.

Things I want to do if and when I have time (I have already started doing several of these things):
- Teach English to Tomsir
- Hang out with and get to know everyone in my (large extended) family, the girls in “my” girls group, and other women, men, and kids in Kaymore and the other villages I’ll be working with
- Play soccer with the kids and possibly teach/coach in some capacity
- Participate in Peace Corps’ World Wise School’s Program and communicate with students in the middle school I went to
- Help out at the maternity clinic
- Learn French better (I’ve forgotten so much since I’ve been learning Wolof) and Pulaar (another local language in West Africa)
- Read, write, sketch, and explore as much as I can

My first Wednesday in Kaymore I went to a village very close to Kaymore (called Passy Kaymore) with several guys who work for 2 different NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Senegal (ENDA Santé and Symbiosis) because they were working on a drip irrigation project with the women’s group in Passy for medicinal plants and they thought it would be a good time for me to meet the women, see their field, and learn more about their group and what they do. In the morning we finished getting the irrigation system hooked up and I talked with the women about how I wanted to do a garden plot in their field – they were really enthusiastic about it and said I should come back the following Monday in the late afternoon and we could start the garden. One of the guys that was there, Dioum, (and who Kate worked with quite a bit when she was in Kaymore) said he was going to be coming back on Monday, too, so we could go together. The next few days I reread the gardening info we had received from the Peace Corps and put together a plan for the garden. Monday morning Dioum stopped by my house and said he had to go to Passy that morning but his son would come by my house at 3 that day to take me to Passy. I decided to bike there instead of walking with Dioum’s son, so I just had him show me which road to take and I was off. We didn’t end up planting the garden that day because the women had a meeting to talk about their group – they’re thinking about slightly restructuring it so they were meeting to discuss their options (or at least I’m pretty sure that’s what it was about – obviously I couldn’t follow their conversation completely). But I went back again Wednesday morning planted the garden. We didn’t exactly follow the garden plan I wanted to because I couldn’t explain everything I wanted to do in Wolof, but I think what we did will be just fine. That afternoon I went back to Passy because the women were having another meeting about their group. This was an even more heated discussion – these women are passionate about working hard and making money and, as you can imagine, it’s hard for 40-50 women to all agree on what, when, and where to plant, what is being planted for the group to share (in labor and income) and what will be planted individually, how best to distribute the workload of watering, weeding, harvesting, selling, etc., and how to resolve the conflicts that will inevitably happen. The meeting ended because dusk was drawing near not because they had finished their discussions so I will keep you posted on how things turn out when I can. I’ll be heading back to Passy in a few days to check on the garden and visit with the women.

Last Thursday I biked to Nioro (the largest town closest to me – about 25km away) because I wanted to check my email. But when I got to Nioro I soon learned that the electricity was out and would be out all day because they’re doing some sort of construction in town and need to turn the power off every Tuesday and Thursday for the next month or so. This was a bit disappointing to say the least, but I was still able to do some work on my computer and hang out with the volunteer who lives in Nioro, her family, and 2 other PCVs who were in Nioro that day, too.

Last Friday I went to the maternity clinic in Kaymore to see what it’s like and help out in any way I could. A woman had just had a baby boy that morning, so I spent a little time with him, and then helped out the nurses who were taking the weights of the pregnant women, checking their blood pressure, etc. I didn’t do a whole lot but it was fun to see the place and see who mothers and children are taken care of here.

I’ve already been to 2 baptism parties and could have gone to 2 others but had other plans for those days already. It seems like there is a baptism or some sort of party almost every day here. One of the baptisms I went to was in a village a ways away, so we took a charette there – let’s just say my butt hurt by the time we finally got home later that evening; it wasn’t exactly the smooth charette ride I had experienced in TawaFall/Thiès. :)

With such a long post, it seems like I’ve been super busy the past few weeks. I have been, but I’ve also spent a lot of time just sitting, studying my Wolof, chatting with family and friends, drinking tea, etc. That is the way of life here – work hard in the morning, take the early afternoons off when it’s the hottest, and then work again in the late afternoons and evenings if necessary/possible. I’ve definitely gotten used to the rhythm of the day here and I like it.

No comments:

Post a Comment