Figured I'd start with pictures, then you can just look at them and not bother with any of the rest. Kind of like an executive summary or somesuch thing.
Loading the bus to drop the roughly 22 new volunteers in the Kaolack, Fatick, and Kaffrine regions. I'm proud to say the heinous stack of bags and bikes on top of bus is mostly my handiwork. It did the job though and nothing fell off, although it drew lots of stares, pointing, and shouting from just about every Senegalese we drove by.
My friends--the frogs. At least we were friends at first before they started swarming my yard, hopping into my tree sacks, and burying into the soft soil around the roots of my newly panted guava tree. Friendship destroyed. In this picture they cluster around the base of my water filter, where a slow leak causes a nice muddy patch of soil perfect for overnighting.
My grandfather (one of roughly 6--the brothers of my grandpa are also my grandpas, as is this man who is actually the husband of my grandfather's little sister) with his farm. The peanut crop is just wrapping up here (this field had peanuts on it). In the mini fences are young mango trees that my grandpa wants to graft with a variety that produces bigger and tastier fruit. I hope to help with this project and others. He is full of great ideas.
My rigged up cooking assembly. Sticks, wire, and tin foil unite to form a trinity of heat-holding, energy-saving, aesthetically mind-blowing synergism.
My hauls from the nearest large "louma"--market. About 2/3 of this went to my family, the rest I hoarded for myself. I plan on making the hour-long bike ride out to this market every Sunday to restock myself and my family with veggies. If I don't, there are no veggies to be seen in my meals.
The closest I can come to making a fridge. Every hut in Senegal has one of these large clay pots for keeping drinking water cool, as the water slowly leaches through the clay it evaporates from the outside, cooling the water within. It actually keeps the water significantly cooler, so I thought I could capture the cooling effect for my veggies by building a platform that fits into the bottom to hold my produce above the water, and keeping about 4-5 inches of water in the bottom results in cool--not really cold-- produce, and hopefully improved shelf life. It has worked pretty well so far.
My hut, with water filter/frog mud bath arena (depending who you ask) on the left. My bike and chair that my friend made me on the right.
I installed at my site, Keur Andala Wilane, on December 5th. Its been pretty good at site, the only downside is Ive been getting sick a lot. At least the first week I was feeling healthy and was able to meet and greet lots of people and work in the fields and make good first impressions. But this last week I've been hit with diarrhea, vomiting, head cold, and then general lack of energy because I've lost my appetite and can't eat enough of the food (food here is pretty lame--mostly this corn/millet meal mixture with the consistency of wet sand, and then a scoop of sauce on top) I just can't stomach more than a few bites and then I'm hungry but have nothing to eat to keep myself going. Feel kind of like I'm wasting away, but there's nothing I can do about it right now, just trying to take a rest day today and heal up. I have bought my own food and began cooking for myself, which helped for a while but now my gut has gone rogue and even my own stews and scrambled eggs are unappetizing.
Other than food/sick issues, life here has been a lot of fun. I love that Peace Corps gave me a brand new Trek mountain bike to hit the sandy bush roads with. I've already spend several days exploring new villages, new roads, and visiting a few other volunteers who are (relatively) near me. Both are about an hour bike ride away, making me the most isolated volunteer in my region. I enjoy this though, as the area I am in is beautiful and my bike rides are one of my favorite parts of the week so far. Especially heading out at dawn or returning at sunset, the country here is stunning. There are no mountains (miss them already) but the rolling savanna scattered with lone acacia and baobab trees, or the occasional village nestled in a protective grove of huge old mango trees have their own charm (like my village, so many mango and cashew trees, can't wait for fruit season!).
My work situation is also pretty swell. My host father/counterpart assigned by Peace Corps is not often around since he lives and works in a nearby town with some of his relatives, but he is a very hard-working, patient, and understanding man, and is quite willing to help with any question or concern I have. My main work-partner is Pop, one of my neighbors--also the step son of my grandfather (almost everyone in small villages here in Senegal are related somehow, and marriage of first cousins is common--even preferred sometimes). Pop has a farm about a 15 minute walk outside of the village, and it is a mini paradise--filled with mango, banana, and cashew trees, with a big pond in the center for easy irrigation, and a living fence of eucalyptus growing around the border. He farms cassava, sweet potato, tomato, onion, cabbage, eggplant, and others. On the far side of the pond Pop set aside a generous amount of space for me to make my own garden, which I am extremely grateful for. It is really an ideal place for me to have my own garden and tree nursery, since it has easy access to water, decent soil (quite sandy though), a good fence to protect from livestock, and a dedicated farmer who can water and care for my plants and trees if I have to leave on Peace Corps business.
I've already cleared the head-height grass, leveled off my beds (they are on a slope), and amended my beds with manure, ash, and ground peanut shells (the last is my own invention--since the soil is so sandy I wanted a way to increase it's water-holding capacity and organic matter content, we'll see how it works. I left one bed unamended to test the efficacy of my amendments). I'm planning on planting the American seeds I brought: tomato, broccoli, beet, carrot, kale, and pea. I also have plenty of space to expand my garden, I estimate I've used only about 1/3 of the space so far, so lots of room to expand later, hopefully with some larger beds and bigger crops like three sisters (corn, bean, squash), watermelon, and potato.
So far I've been gardening in the mornings when it is cooler, and then spending the rest of the day in my village, either working in my yard (lots of small home-improvement projects like building platforms to wash/dry dishes, making my tree pepinaire--100 tree sacks, mostly guava with some other ornamentals--and making compost) or visiting other houses to talk, let people know who I am, and just be friendly. I try to be as social as I can, since introversion is a near-blasphemous offense here in Senegal. Being sick makes this especially difficult though, which is one of the reasons I came into the regional office in Toubacouta for a rest day--if I can't be outgoing and talkative I'd best remove myself from my village otherwise people will think I don't like them. The fact that I'm sick is a frail excuse, since I can't really tell anyone that I'm sick (also culturally unacceptable--I'm supposed to say I'm feeling much better whenever asked).
I hope I get my appetite and energy back soon so I can once more engage in proper Senegalese social interaction. This involves lots of joking, teasing, shouting, laughing, and smiling. Most of the time I am up for this rough and tumble banter, and they all love it when I can hang with them with my Wolof, its great fun for all. But it's almost like being on a stage all the time, and can be quite wearisome, especially if all I feel like doing is hiding in a cold dark cave and reading a book. Such is my conundrum.
Overall though I am very grateful to be where I am. My village is full of friendly people who are all eager to talk and get to know me. I'm glad I spent so much time and effort on improving my language during training, as I can jump right into making friends here. I also greatly enjoy exploring my surroundings and establishing a routine that will help me be an effective and efficient volunteer later on--for example assigning a day for going to the market to restock food, going into Toubacouta to work on the computer and chill out, and keeping a free day to explore a new place, forest, or village once a week. There are so many things I want to do with my time, so many ideas I have, I can't really imagine feeling the boredom that older volunteers talk about. Maybe it is a feeling that can sneak up you, so I plan on keeping an eye out for it and trying to always keep myself motivated. That will probably be one of my greatest challenges but also one of my strongest attributes if I'm able to pull it off.