Monthly Archives: January 2012

1, 2, 3 Strikes and You’re… Out?

‘Tis the season for protest in Senegal. This month alone had drivers across all of Senegal go on 2 transportation strikes spanning 5 days thanks to rising gas prices. Teacher strikes are a daily occurrence in some part of the country at any given time now thanks to delays or insufficiencies in salary payment, not to mention the growing number of rallies from both opposition parties and President Abdoulaye Wade supporters alike. Some PCVs in Ndioum witnessed police tear-gassing citizens in the main market during Thanksgiving, and disgruntled university students have had several rock-throwing skirmishes with the police in major cities over the last couple of months. With national elections occurring in less than a month, the atmosphere here has been somewhat heated, to say the least. The BBC has a good article on recent unrest here.

Abdoulaye Wade: Senegal's 85 year-old incumbent President wants another go at next month's elections

In most villages however, life goes on as per usual, with people’s concerns directed mainly at the outbreak of violence within the cities. In all honesty, most of my village is engulfed in football fever at the moment, with the Africa Cup currently in full sway. The Constitutional Court ruling just 2 days ago validating President Abdoulaye Wade’s candidacy in the coming election was accepted in Temeye-Thiago without much fanfare, though disgruntled smatterings from more progressive and well-informed villagers were heard. Interestingly enough, Senegal’s most famous musician, Youssou Ndour, had his bid for the presidency denied, which sparked quite a bit of street protesting on Friday night. For the most part, however, people seem resigned to the fact that Wade may well remain President till his death. His bribes don’t hurt, either. Just the other week, I found my host father, Masseck (also the village chief), collecting the names and identification details of 100 villagers on paper who said they would vote for President Wade. He said he would get 50,000 CFA (about USD 100) for the effort. Not bad for him, but I can hardly see what’s in it for those 100 individuals.

Still, I did catch a music video entitled “Mr. Wade Out” on national television last night, which featured some rather amusing images of Mr. Wade’s head superimposed on a stop sign, and blinking text taking jabs at the nouveau riche and declaring the need for soppi-soppi (change). And rightly so. A look at Senegal’s Human Development Index of 0.411 in 2010 ranks it 144 out of 169 countries with comparable data. While the list excludes the poorest and most war-torn of countries such as Somalia, the figure still places Senegal in the bottom 25. This never ceases to amaze me whenever I have to take a trip to Dakar, with the multi-million-dollar Monument to the African Renaissance looming over everyone in the distance (built with North Korean cooperation), yet the streets flood every rainy season because the government has yet to even begin building drainage infrastructure even after years of complaint from the people.

An early January morning surprise: my first pet scorpion, to add to the resident frogs, mice, crickets and ants

I was in Dakar just a couple of weeks ago for the West Africa Invitational Softball Tournament (WAIST), one of two annual events (the other being the All-Volunteer Conference held in Thies just before WAIST) in the Peace Corps calendar where most volunteers get to see everyone else in the country at one given place, not-to-mention interact with PCVs from neighboring countries such as Cape Verde, Mali and the Gambia. While the beer and hotdogs I could get at the softball field between games were glorious, it was the homestay with an expat family living in Dakar that made me ache for home. Carl, Laurie and Matthew hosted me and two other PCVs for much longer than I’m sure they expected, especially given our early morning returns from the various parties organized to coincide with the softball tournament. You can read more about their Senegal experience here. Still, I hope our stories of village living, of finding scorpions in rooms and rubbing elbows with goats on daily commutes to work, were at least mildly entertaining. I cannot thank them enough, and hope our costumes and antics on the field were amusing at the very least.

WAIST 2012: The North as "Aquatic Corps", along with "South of the Border", and stray "Boyscouts and Girlscouts" team members

I leave you with that stirring image of Americana in West Africa seared into your eyeballs, and incidences of political and civil unrest aside, I am sure the February 26th elections will pass without major incident. I will try to post another update before they occur, but in the meantime, jamm rekk.

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Tabaski, Thanksgiving, Tamkharit and Beyond: Exercises in Gratitude, Slaughter and Cross-Dressing, and then some

Transplanting Cabbage on New Year’s Day: Nothing beats wearing pajama pants out to the fields on a chilly Sunday morning while your bare feet get stabbed by thorns because you can’t wear boots thanks to a healing foot infection. Also, I am sure my sartorial sensibilities in Senegal would make everyone cry.

First off, Happy 2012 to everyone who still bothers to read this even after my 3-month radio silence! Your continuing interest in my life is appreciated, and one of my New Year resolutions is to combat the bouts of crippling sloth and procrastination that sabotage my blog-posting abilities. In attrition, I spent the first day of the New Year transplanting cabbage in my host dad Masseck’s field. Standing ankle-deep in icy-cold water for 6 hours was a far cry from my New Year’s Day 2011, which I spent eating a late brunch with other PCVs, after a night of major groping at an Akon concert in St. Louis the night before. (No, I was the gropee, not the groper, and yes, I saw Akon live. For free. Boo yeah.) My Christmas, like the year before last’s, was spent in village, though for the primary reason that my never distant friend, the staph infection, came to visit again twice during this busy holiday season.

But to begin where I left off in my last entry.

Tabaski 2011: 6 dead sheep lined up in a row. I can’t make this stuff up, guys

My return from America in October was quickly followed by the grand-daddy of festivals here in Senegal, Tabaski (better known as Eid al-Adha in other parts of the world). Literally the “Festival of Sacrifice”, I thought the slaughter of one sheep last year at my counterpart Diatta’s home was a fairly gruesome event, requiring the teamwork of 3 people to hold down the rather hefty haunches of the poor animal as a distressingly blunt knife was used to saw through its neck. Imagine my personal horror when the exact same practice was repeated this year in Temeye-Thiago on 6 sheep and 1 goat, and I didn’t even bat an eyelid, even helping to hold down the goat as it went through its series of death throes. I didn’t even flinch at the sight of the third sheep’s wind pipe flapping open and shut like the mouth of a fish gasping for air. Honestly all I could think of at that instant was that film “Un Chien Andalu”. Behold, the rivers of blood coagulating into puddles across households in Senegal! No big deal. Man, how things have changed.

Thanksgiving in Ndioum: Beer Pong Victory Dance!

However, my desire to kill a turkey on Thanksgiving was foiled by inexperience and performance anxiety, so with that goal not achieved, I instead played one too many games of flip-cup and beer pong, resulting in my passing out between the hours of 1 and 8 pm on Thanksgiving Day. I would like to thank the person who fixed me a huge plate of food and left it in my tent next to my comatose body, and the 5 people who valiantly tried to wake me up. I will try not to repeat said performance at the West Africa Invitational Softball Tournament (WAIST) in Dakar in the upcoming week. Such are the perils of my Peace Corps life; coupled with my inability to metabolize alcohol, the few instances I am afforded to throw sobriety out the window are quickly followed by premature slumber.

Awa Traore gives a talk on career opportunities, the perils of drug-use, and dressing appropriately at school. I quickly regret my see-through chiffon top and red bra.

The past 3 months have not all been exercises in revelry and over-eating. Awa Traore, the Peace Corps Senegal Gender and Development program coordinator, came to the CEM2 in Richard Toll to give a talk to one of the Michele Sylvester Scholarship winner’s classes. I managed to secure funding to deepen the well at the women’s group garden (mentioned here), and replace the India pump with a pulley system instead. So far, so good. With any luck, that will be the last of any major construction to be done in the garden space. Work at the hospital garden continues. The pre-existing gardener was fired before I left for America in October, and a replacement has yet to be found. Still, the garden managed to yield over 1437 kilograms of fresh produce for consumption by the hospital patients in 2011, not too shabby I think. Moringa powder demand has begun to outstrip existing supplies, so my goal this year is to introduce more intensive leaf beds at the women’s group garden.

British Invasion by the River: Beth, William and Hadiru

I had the pleasure of hosting 3 British backpackers in Temeye-Thiago for a couple of days that I will probably regret for the rest of my service since one of them agreed to host my Senegalese dad, Masseck, for a month in Britain. I’m pretty sure public sentiment in my village towards the British quickly skyrocketed past Americans with that one little gesture. Whether the British Embassy agrees to grant that tourist visa remains to be seen, not to mention the money that Masseck would have to come up with to buy the air ticket. I still don’t think he grasps the gravity of staying past the terms of his tourist visa, should he even be able to procure one, and the odds of him getting a job in the area of England he will be visiting. Still, if the trip works out sometime this year, I wish him the best of luck. You too, Will!

Tamkharite 2011: Mamadou still gives me nightmares, while Pape gives the girls in the village a run for their money. I let you decide which one is which.

Their visit was quickly followed by Tamkharite, the Islamic New Year, which occurred on December 5th. Another gorge-fest of millet and meat, supplemented by fresh milk drizzled generously over the dish (my mouth waters at the thought of this meal I’ve only had the pleasure of experiencing once in the 17 months I have been here), dinner is quickly followed by festivities that parallel Halloween. Boys dress up as girls and vice-versa, then wander around from household to household singing and chanting, receiving rice, sugar or candy in return.

In other news, with the impending departure of the current Waalo region coordinator in February, I got nominated to take over, along with another PCV located in St. Louis, Julia. My lack of regular internet access makes the paperwork involved a nigh impossibility to deal with, so Alhamdoulilah for Julia! I pretty much act as technical support than anything else. A couple of weeks ago, I supplied Moringa seeds and helped conduct a Talibe workshop on Moringa intensive beds in St. Louis a couple of weeks ago, before heading to the village Kassack Nord to plant some banana trees and talk about the logistics of starting a Moringa garden at the local health post there. The Waalo region is generally a little too wide-spread to have as many collaborative projects as other regions in Senegal, but I’m going to try to see if it makes sense to organize a Moringa tournee with the other PCVs here sometime later in the year.

So there you have it, the abridged version of my past 3 months back in Senegal. I leave you with a photo of the turnips currently growing at the hospital garden, and promise to attempt to update this blog once again before the month is out.

Before and After: Chinese Turnips, ready to harvest in 50 days