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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.