Tuesday, June 22, 2010

At long last...He speaks!

Dear friends and family.

My apologies for leaving so many of you in the dark as to my whereabouts and activities within Senegal for the last year, but I assure you, I’m doing well, and life could not be better.

Life in Saly Escale, a community in the Kaffrine region of Senegal [WEST AFRICA], is slow but pleasant. I live with the village chief and his young family (all five children are under the age of 12), and, despite the presence of two overbearing homestay mother(s) living alongside me in my family’s compound (not uncommon in this country), my homestay father, Bassirou, has proven to be a very serious and curious student of both agriculture and the Koran, and my stay has been (more-often-than-not) enjoyable and an incredibly rewarding experience.

Even though Bassirou is our local imam, he still finds time to tend to his peanut and millet fields as the men in his family have done for generations. Having visited the fields with him for the first time in a planting capacity last week (I’d only helped with the harvest in late October 2009), I have a newfound respect for the world’s farmers working without machinery and matériel at their disposal. Six days a week he works with a pair of stubborn cattle that are literally “running on empty” because grass and hay are difficult to come by during the dry season (which lasts roughly ¾ of the year and is [thankfully] nearing its end). Oftentimes while plowing the fields, the female (presently nursing her calf) refuses to move mere inches from where she stands; she lacks the necessary energy to drag behind her the planting and furrowing apparatus to which she and the pair’s male are harnessed. So, we wait for her to revive and then it’s back to work in the blazing Sahelian heat. As I mentioned before, Senegal is nearing the end of its dry season as recent storms have hopefully indicated, and the other volunteers from my staging group and I will once again set eyes upon the green Senegal we were introduced to upon our arrival in-country roughly nine months ago. Oh happy day! This region’s monochromatic color palate can trigger what seems to be a reverse-seasonal affective disorder within me; the unchanging scheme of browns and tans surrounding me (with, albeit, few variations) has the power to wilt my mood almost as effectively as the pewter gray of sleety, winter climates back home. But that is coming to an end!

On work-related matters: I am happy to report that, this past Wednesday, I distributed roughly 22 kilograms of improved seed among ten local farmers along with specific seeding, weeding, and thinning instructions for each improved variety of millet, corn, cowpea, and sorghum (given to Peace Corps/Senegal’s agricultural extension agents by the Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles [ISRA])…all in our community’s local language, Wolof. With a little luck and a lot of pestering, I should be able to retrieve double this amount from these vey same farmers at the end of the harvest for re-investment within the community next growing season. Forty-four kilograms of seed doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of all the professional farmers in my community (let alone women’s groups, school groups, and religious groups who are begging me for seed), but, if properly executed, this strategy could offer a strong start and take a big step in the direction of establishing “food security” in my the Rural Community, or district, of Saly…quite a few years down the line, I should say.

FYI: As I am writing this I am the proud owner of two handsome rams, Romulus and Remus, as well as three laying hens (Gladys, Henrietta, and an as-yet-unnamed fowl who is half-elevage—ooooooo, fancy, I know). Learning about livestock has been an interesting side project of mine, and I’m glad I went through with the purchases, even if the sheep turn out to be a seemingly bottomless money pit. They’re like children, always needing food and vaccinations and medicines! I hope that my experience with the chickens ends up being a positive one. I would consider raising them in the United States…nothing beats eggs, fresh from the coop.

I look forward to continuing this one-way correspondence with all of you back home in the US. I think about my friends and family non-stop when I am at site. I welcome emails; my address is on the bar to the right. But a brief reminder first: While I do posses access to an internet signal, it can be spotty at times. Also, my ability to respond to emails is limited primarily by what little juice I have stored up in my netbook battery. I have a guy who charges it for me in town, but, sometimes it’s returned to me with only a little bit of power, insufficient to both complete my work AND read/respond to emails at site. But I’m trying!

Oh! And I absolutely welcome care packages and snail-mail letters! Shortly I’ll be posting a running list of items that both my village and I can use while I’m serving in Saly Escale for people who might be interested in sending something through the mail.

Stay well and stay in touch!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

T-Minus 4 Days

Packing. Updates to follow.