Mangoes to melons, floods to mud: Seasonal starts and finishes

With the cursory click of a button heralding the unpresumptuous beginning of an end, I bought my air ticket home: a November arrival in New York City, right smack in the middle of fall and winter. What better way to jolt oneself out of season-less sub-Sarahan living than a brisk New York fall, replete with color-changing leaves and the donning of down or wool layers?

Waxing lyrical on the wonders of moringa to a wonderfully rapt audience in Kalassan

Though, I’d be lying if I said the past 2 years have passed like an endless July summer. Even now the skies open up once a week or so to deign us with the presence of precipitation. The rainy season is upon us, though I can’t say that everyone is happy with this year’s heavier rainfall. Down in Dakar, frequent rains coupled with trash-filled drains and canals (with refuse running the gamut of discarded plastic bags to the blood and viscera of a freshly slaughtered goat) produce outbreaks of disease and illness in inundated neighborhoods unlucky enough to be the victims of poor urban planning. Volunteers in Dakar sometimes lament that even rain-boots don’t go high enough up the leg to keep the flood-water out, a problem Richard Toll thankfully does not have. Our heaviest daily rainfall to date this year has been 25 millimeters, so the worst I have had to deal with is circumnavigating potholes filled with mud or algae in paths that contain more loam than sand.

An unexpected 35kg sweet potato harvest from some old onion plots I was intending to amend with organic material!

Seasonal fruit changes also mark the passing of time here—you know mango season is nearing its end when prices now spike to 1000 FCFA (1 USD) for 5 mangoes (or less), and the products are far from the gorgeous, plump, juicy specimens that were quite literally falling from the sky just 3 months before. Still, the passing of a fruit’s heyday often makes it more delicious—that anticipatory wait between seasons (so foreign a concept when you grow up with a superficial supermarket bounty for most of your life) to taste fruit at its peak (versus foreign cargo shipped thousands of miles away, and picked far before its actual ripeness) is incomparable. Besides, in Senegal, there more often than not is another glorious fruit to fill the void. Right now, it’s watermelons. I can get a gorgeous one than could house two strapping toddlers within for 500 FCFA.

With just 8 weeks of service left, it appears that my season of volunteer fruitfulness is likewise coming to an end. My move back to Richard Toll in August brought me closure, as I bid farewell to my village of Temeye-Thiago. Bittersweet as it was, the thought of saying goodbye to two communities at the end of October seemed like too daunting a task, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to stagger that, while learning to maintain contact with my newfound family and friends in the process.

The Access English Camp crew in Ziguinchor

Far be it from my luck or style to allow my last few weeks in country to be a series of calm, unhurried days of gardening in the morning and lazy lunches in the afternoon, to be followed by tea-drinking and bountiful periods of napping. An unexpected invitation to help run an English camp in the lush, oft-forbidden region of Senegal called Ziguinchor in late August was an offer too good to refuse, even if it was a 21-hour one-way trip from Richard Toll. Camp Gëm Sa Bopp begins on Monday after months of pre-planning and fundraising, thanks to the generous donations of many of you kind readers. A couple of visits from my program director and other USAID officials loom over the horizon, in addition to the flurry of report-writing that I really should begin to engage in soon. All of this, of course, to be tackled alongside the eternal life cycles of fruits, vegetables, and my oh-so-detested-but-resilient foes (pests and weeds).

And so it continues… with any luck, in perpetuity for the rest of my unforeseen future.

My counterpart’s adorable daughter, Aisha, trying my boots on for size


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