Monthly Archives: April 2011

APRIL FOOL’S! Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Temporal/Locational Displacement

A little over 5 weeks ago, I was anticipating a move to my new site at the end of March. Well, as the time of termination of my lease quickly came and went, a visit to Nthiago ended with renewed insight into the workings of Senegalese time. Left homeless and with nary a choice, I stored a startlingly large accumulation of things at my Wolof teacher’s abode in Richard Toll. Leaving the hospital garden and a well and fence construction project in my wake, I promptly began my vagabond existence, and lived out of a last-minute backpack for 18-days. Left to my own devices, I spent a couple of days in St. Louis, meeting up with Emily (a PCV in Kaffrine who was touring Senegal with Projet Croissance Economique (PCE) for an organic sorghum project at the time) for a night before heading to Dakar. A couple of highlights from the trip:

Yoff Beach, Dakar: Guida can’t swim, but he can surf! (Well, kind of.)

In Dakar, I met up with Guida, a Beninese studying geography at his university and Christoph, a recent Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) from Benin. Traveling across West Africa on motorcycles making a Fulani (a nomadic ethnic group better known as the Pulaars/Tukeloors here in Senegal) documentary, Senegal happened to be their last stop. Through a serendipitous series of connections stemming from our college alma mater, I was able to talk to Christoph more extensively about a Moringa association that he started in Benin during his Peace Corps service. You can learn more about his work with Moringa and watch the Fulani documentary on his website, http://quietgriot.com.

At some point a more extensive entry will be made on the wonders of Moringa Oleifera, a plant that I work with and/or talk about everyday here, quite literally. But for today, be content to hear about what little I have to say about surfing. Christoph, Guida and I hit Yoff Beach in Dakar, rented a board between us for 3,000 CFA (USD 6) and I promptly had my first surfing experience. Granted, I didn’t quite surf but rather kneeled on the board on the scant few waves I managed to catch without wiping out, but still. The real star of the show was Guida though: imagine having never left your homeland before, choosing to embark on a motorcycle trip with an American you’ve only known for 2 years across 6 countries, and trying to surf without quite knowing how to swim, on a beach that’s claimed several lives over the years. That, my friends, takes balls. I dedicate this post to that spirit- a spirit that I can only hope to aspire to for the rest of my life.

Pot-making: One of the various activities we engaged in at the agricultural summit that has large profit-generating potential for locals

Post-Dakar, it was 670 kilometers down south to attend an urban agricultural summit in Kolda, a mystical canal-free land possessing water and greenery outside of the rainy season that temporarily blinded me. Counting the 374 kilometers between Richard Toll and Dakar, I had traveled a total of 1044 kilometers (648 miles), so it could very well have been a fatigue-induced hallucination that I experienced over that 3-day period. Being the farthest-from-site PCV present at the summit (unsurprisingly, a couple of people did not quite make the trip down, it costing a significant amount of cash for us Northerners), I got dibs on riding the Peace Corps vehicle back up north to St. Louis. If anything, the trip allowed me to spend a night in virtually every single regional house in Senegal barring the Linguere regional office and the Kedougou house (which I will be visiting soon enough come the 4th of July). Think of regional houses as clubs PCVs  escape to once in a while to catch up with friends and have a beer or two without having to worry about speaking in a local language after doing so for 4 weeks straight. While arbitrary, I can tick Kaolack, Kolda, Tamba and Ouro Sogui off my list, in addition to the already-visited Dakar, Ndioum and St. Louis.

A pleasant surprise: the well that I wrote a grant for was finished upon return to the North!

Travels for the most part, concluded, I swung by Richard Toll before moving in to find that construction at the women’s group garden I work at was coming along more than satisfactorily—a far cry from the many horror stories I have heard told of PCV experiences when leaving site during a major project. The moral of this story, of course, is don’t sweat the small stuff. People who know me are well-acquainted with my obsessive-compulsive tendencies when it comes to work—this entire month could have been an exercise in torture, but turned out to be my favorite one yet thus far in Senegal. Think the lack of running water at my new place phases me now? I wouldn’t have an excuse to swim in this everyday otherwise:

Me and my new bath-tub: use those lemons to make lemonade!

PS: Why yes, I did in fact, get relocated to paradise. If you don’t mind bucket-baths or rivers (nature’s bath-tub), come visit!

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Postcard Vignettes: Behold, the Sept-Place!

The ubiquitous Sept-Place, a PCV staple for in-country travel

The Sept-Place, which translates into “Seven Places,” is the primary mode of long-distance transportation in Senegal. Quite literally, the vehicle (in general a second, third or fourth-hand Peugeot with 200,000 kilometers too many) has 7 places for 7 customers, though I have heard from others PCVs that the number sometimes jump to 11 (Allah forbid). In general, 1 person sits in the front with the driver, 3 customers sit in the middle row, and 3 get in the back.

While my face appears to illustrate some sort of excitement or even joy at the prospect of spending several hours cramped up in a position only a prepubescent child gymnast could ever find comfortable, I can assure you that quite the opposite is true. The back row is notoriously the worst of the 3, lacking both head and leg room, allowing passengers to become intimately acquainted with each other—bodily musk included! A must-try for the intrepid travel junkie—emerge from any ride frawny but triumphant with the knowledge that you have survived to see the light of another day.

I just hope you’re not claustrophobic.