As Assistant Coordinator of AVN Senegal I am in charge of research and development on training and technical issues and co-manage deployment in the field while assisting with strategy and networking.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Golden Era of Garden Expansion

One of my best friends from back home, Bevan, paid me a surprise visit. He had been traveling for the last several months in East Africa but had led me to believe he was in New Zealand working. Then rumor reached my ear that "a strange tall man with a large beard and some kind of foreign accent" had showed up in the regional Peace Corps office looking for me. I had no clue who this stranger could be until I narrowed down the list of conceivable bearded traveling friends I have to one: Bevan. I was still in a state of denial, repressing my excitement that he could actually be here, so I went about my day in the surrounding villages, visiting some friends and buying supplies at the market. When my host family called to tell me a visitor was there looking for me I finally believed it was true, and raced my bike home just before dusk to find Bevan waiting for me in my tiny village in the middle of the bush. This was no small for feat for him, given he knows no Wolof or French, and managed to find me by using my address and a picture of me off my blog. Since nobody here in Senegal nows me as Patrick (it's Mustafa), he had to show people a photo of me and repeat the name of my village. This tactic worked surprising well.

After a joyous reunion, we settled into a solid work schedule, spending every day out at my garden working, coming home each evening exhausted after digging, watering, foraging, weeding, landscaping, planting, etc. We've been busy turning my humble garden space into a stellar botanical resort complete with mud-brick terraces and a bench with rice-sack pillows. Our main building material is cob--a combination of clayey soil, straw, and water which once mixed and set, hardens into brick-like rigidity. Here are some pics of our progress:

Bevan and me relaxing on our lounge couch. Naturally this was the first thing we built.

 The original part of my garden, now dubbed the Sculpture Park after our contoured terraces and decorative cob spheres.

 We started building in patterns on our main staircase as well. Some of these superfluous design additions draw skeptical or confused looks, but most people like them.

 Some local kids enjoying a fresh watermelon from my garden. The mangos are also exploding on the trees right now, meaning the most delicious snack breaks imaginable on days that never stay below 100F

 The largest section of the great garden expansion Bevan and I have been working on. Six new beds about 1.5x3 meters, dug to a depth of .5 meters and heavily amended with compost, manure, and sand (the soil here is almost devoid of organic material, and the high clay content makes for an almost cement-like consistency when it dries). This area is the Back '40, behind our central shelter.
Our terraced melon beds (second wave of watermelons and honeydews on their way). We had some extra cob one day and made heads, which turned out to be a huge success with visitors to my garden, especially kids. So now we have plenty of cob heads around the garden, protecting against evil spirits and malicious monkeys.

The upper half of my garden, all new expansion since Bevan has joined me. To the left are the new beds we are breaking in the hard earth to the north of our current space. Known as The Northern Frontier, this area is our sunniest location and we have high hopes for corn, melons, beans, and tomatoes there.

The lower garden, my original area but now remodeled with smooth paths, steps, and rock-hard berms for every bed.

 Shot from underneath the shade structure that will soon complete our central pad, off to the right is our cob oven, dug halfway into the side of a termite mound (the soil in these mounds is like rock, has to be chipped out with picks) and then built in layers using an internal removable frame of peanut shells. It is drying now, we hope to fire it up this week for a pizza, banana bread, or roast meat.

Cooking station, a sheltered cob alcove that does an impressive job of radiating heat and conserving cooking wood. To the left is some amazingly dense wood that Bevan and I hacked off of an old stump out in the bush. It burns like crazy and lasts forever. In the background are two of our three compost pits.

Movie night with the neighborhood kids. I get constant petitions for movie nights, and occasionally relent granted I have my comp charged up and I have the requisite energy to stay up a little later after our long work days. But the kids are always super happy to see some random American film that must confuse the hell out of them (How to Train Your Dragon--"look, it's a giant chicken!"). The kids are a lot of fun to hang out with, and since they have learned I give out snacks to however helps me with my chores (feeding my rabbits, pulling water, sweeping my porch, etc) I almost inevitably have an army of little kids nearly fighting over who gets to help with the evening work when I get back from the garden.  I couldn't imagine a better arrangement.