Wednesday, August 24, 2011

65 Days Later...

Finally another blog post! It's been a while, the last one was in the beginning of July.

July and August were crazy, hectic months of training, travel and get togethers. After finishing all of that and arriving back in my village, I was greeted by... Ramadan! What is Ramadan? Every good Muslim wakes at 5 in the morning and eats a rice pudding like substance with fresh liquid yogurt poured all over it, drinks a liter or so of water, then go back to sleep. They again wake up and start fasting until the sun goes down at 7:30pm: not eating, drinking, smoking or chewing sticks (very popular here). I have chosen to try to not eat anything during the day but the water thing is just silly. I tried not drinking a few times to see what it felt like, and you just get dizzy and have less energy. Not for me! Haha.

What am I doin' in my vill? When I got back from my month long tracation (training and vacation! I just made that up!) I weeded my garden beds and my back yard. I've made a bunch more polypots (tree nursery sacks) from the loads of cow poop I had collected before the tracation. I still have a lot more manure, enough to make about 200 polypots. I've been trying to get my host father to let me borrow his donkey cart but he keeps ducking me. I'll ask if I can use his chartette puccu and he will, like, pretend he doesn't hear me? Or he doesn't understand. It's a very straight forward sentance:

Me: Can I use your donkey cart tomorrow?
H-Dad: Huh?
Me: I want to get sand tomorrow, but it's too heavy, I need your donkey cart. Can you let me borrow your donkey cart?
H-Dad: Bismillah, Bismillah!

Which means something specific in Arabic but contextually in this situation means "Yes I and god allow it to happen, go ahead!"

So he ducked me a few times, saying he had to go watch his cows or go to the fields. Then he sent one of my cousins to find the cart, and he came back saying "The cart wasn't there, I didn't find it."

Creating these polypots is part of my grand action plan. And here it is, abbreviated for your pleasure:

Create 250 polypots of different species of trees: My villagers and I will be creating polypots and seeding mostly cashews, Moringa (a sort of superfood), and other native fruit species. I've got an avocado tree growing in one of the pots! These trees will be outplanted around our village elementary school, Health Hut and the Hut of the Children, which are all adjacent to each other. Others will be planted in households, family gardens, and perhaps be used to create a community orchard. Fencing for either the whole school or for individual trees or orchard will be built, the choice depending on possible budgetary restrictions.

The Hut of the Children: An older, unused building that my village and I will beautify, paint educational murals in and post educational posters/pictures. I've already officially requested a Case des Tout Petits, or a Hut for Toddlers, be installed in this building. If this request is granted, space in the Hut will be used as the classroom and work areas necessary. The rest of the space in this building will be used as a sort of community meeting place. I will conduct my health/nutrition/enviro-oriented causeries (non-formal educational talks) in this building. There is a group of women in my village that have formed a commission for the nutrition of children, and they will be cooking around the Hut and storing foodstuffs inside.

Turning the school into an Eco School: Eco School is a name the UN thought up of for a school that meets certain credentials. To name a few, the school must have a fenced garden, a wall or fence surrounding the compound, a hand washing station, a system for trash management (burning, burying or carting off, unless you can think of something better), and the list goes on and on. Between October and November I will be submitting a grant application for the capital to help our school become an Eco School. The school director and I are currently drawing up the plans for what the school grounds will become. Both he and I are writing seperate grants, mine to Peace Corps and his to the Government of Senegal as well as to another NGO, World Vision.

September nutrition causeries: Another volunteer, my health counterpart and I are conducting causeries in my village showing women, mothers and expecting mothers how to make nutritious baby weaning food as well as nutritional porridge made from beans, bananas, peanut butter, Moringa leaves and powder, and whatever else is available.

There are a lot of other facets to this grand scheme, such as implementing and demonstrating appropriate agricultural techniques within the school compound (nursery management, gardening, live fencing, composting, double digging, etc.) and on crop fields owned by villagers who are willing to experiment with techniques like alley cropping, windbreaks or live fencing. Then there is gathering a group of kids into an English Club, and perhaps having them as the primary caretakers  of the school gardens. And on and on and on, the possibility for work is endless.

As of right now, I have started my baseline survey, going from compound to compound asking questions and collecting data about family size, health and hygiene practices, water and sanitation practices, among other subdivisions of health and environmental education/resource management. There are about 40 compounds in my village, so by the time I've finished I'll be able to send in my grant application in the end of October and already have outplanted a number of trees, maybe started painting the interior of the Children's Hut and done the nutrition causeries.

I've been reading a lot in my hut when I'm not surveying or taking care of my garden, or dreaming up plans or talking to villagers. I'm almost done with my second book by Tom Wolfe. This guy is so funny, so clever, he is now one of my favorite writers. I'm also continuing to try to understand quantum physics, astrophysics, metaphysics and the universe in general. That quest started years ago when I realized how strange and intangible consciousness is. I thought it so strange at the time that I started banging my head against the wall in frustration! If anyone has any book recommendations please give them to me, we have so many books in our libraries at each regional house, I'm bound to find the book.


I wanted to recount two stories of lovely and much welcomed encounters that I've experienced so far, but I think I'm going to save those for my next post.

Until next time!



  1. Hi Costa,

    It's good to hear from you. I am glad you had an enjoyable tracation.

    So, your host dad says "inshallah" to you, not "Bismillah". It's the ultimate blow-off. It means "God Willing". Inshallah is often used when you don't have a prayer in hell to get what you want. The worst thing a patient can hear in a hospital in the Middle East is "inshallah". It pretty much means you won't be getting whatever you are asking for (e.g. a bedpan, an
    x-ray), etc. So, good luck getting borrowing that donkey cart. He has something that you want and you probably have something that he could use, so maybe you need to trade with him.

    Your plans for the school and garden sound terrific. Good luck with all of your plans. Did you ever get a pot for the school? Just wondering...

    Do you actually cook for yourself in your village? Let me know if you need anything.

    Have fun then hurry home.


  2. I wish he said inshallah! At least then he wouldn't be dodging my request. But he said bismillah in this particular case which in Senegal is used right before you start eating and right before someone enters a room as a way of invoking god and thus warding off the devil. It has gained a general meaning of "go for it!" or "go ahead!".

    Thanks for the wishes of good luck. School ended in June and won't be in session until the end of the rainy season in October/November. I intend on getting the pot and other things for the school kitchen when I purchase paint and other materials for the Children's Hut. My village is 15km into the bush so to get these things from the market to my village will require the use of a donkey cart or a car. It'll be better to knock it all out at once. I've yet to budget everything out yet either, so I best not spend money here and there.

    I have a small tank of gas, like a portable gas stove, and I have a pot and a tea kettle. So if I ever cook in village it's usually coffee or tea, popcorn (I brought some kernels from America), or pasta with a sauce I invent on the fly. Boutiques in my village (there are 3 people that sell things from a hut in their compound) sell little packets of tomato paste but also vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, onions, garlic and peanut butter among a few other things. I experiment sometimes, I'm sure you can imagine, haha.

    No I don't need anything! The want of American food is pervasive but natural among us volunteers. I've now created a list of things I'd like from America. It's on the right side of this blog. I have to stress that I don't NEED anything, but as a volunteer it's impossible not to want specific foods and items that made you happy back home. Check the list out!

    Thanks for the comment!


  3. Hi Costa,

    Inshallah, your host father will loan you the donkey cart. Maybe he wants you to pay him for the use of his donkey cart. I am sure you will figure it out, inshallah.

    Did you ever use the camping food? I am wondering if they are any good since I didn't try them before sending them on to you. They received good reviews onlines.

    What's the name and address of the hotel you frequent in town?

    Posting the list of things you would like to have is a terrific idea.


  4. Inshallah indeed! The camping food is good! Everyone here knows this company very well, Mountain Trails or whatever it is. There are times when I feel lazy and don't want to cook anything but honestly the rare times I am at a regional house I really, really want to cook. So far I've made grandma's west indian curry a few times, slow cooked shredded beef, steamed spring rolls, mango salsa, fresh tortillas, sesame chicken and vegetables, thai noodles, and different variations of fried rice to name a few! The power of cooking as a stress reliever is amplified here by the distance from home and hearth.

    The name of the hotel is Hotel Sehelia, in Kounkane. I can't find an address online but I'll ask them when I go there next.