Tuesday, May 5, 2009

the first round of tea is bitter as life.

The national drug of Senegal is attayah. Usually served in liquid form, attayah is heavily sweet with hints of mint and a strength that will knock your socks into next week. Attayah is a type of tea.

Besides being the "national drug", attayah is also Senegal's national pastime. I mean, people drink tea all day. But this is not just any tea. It is made in a tiny tea pot, with strong flaked green tea, nana or fresh mint, and about a pound of sugar. The preparer pours the tea in an artistic fashion until a gentle and bubbly foam forms in the shot sized glasses, and then the steaming hot tea is poured in. Attayah is served in 3 rounds, each round with added sugar to symbolize the growing sweetness of friendship.

I was told that the first brew is bitter as life.

The second is bittersweet as love.

The third one is sweet as death.

The facts of life in three gulps of rugged wisdom.

We drink attayah almost every day. Sometimes we drink it multiple times every day. Why did I wait so long before writing about it? Because I think it beautifully sums up the time I spent in Senegal. I am leaving in 3 days, and as the time comes continually closer I feel like I am going to spontaneously combust from all the opposing feelings running around inside my head and heart.

The first round of tea is bitter as life.

Don't be discouraged by this description. While the first round of attayah is pungently strong and sometimes downright difficult to swallow, it widens your eyes. Such is life and such was my arrival in Senegal. Darting about, new smells, new sights, new people, a new way of life. Pungently strong like the first sip of attayah that sets your viens ablazing. Sometimes, it was difficult to swallow, the village, the calls of random men on the street, the longing for familiar surroundings. But it widens your eyes, and it certainly has widened mine.

The second is bittersweet as love.

The second round is my favorite. The strength of the first round is still ever present, however the addition of fresh mint dampens the bite and sweet sugary flavors compliment the bitter aftertaste just enough to leave something desired. As I gradually adjusted to my surroundings, and the pangs of what I had left behind dissipated, I certainly did fall in love. My new found awarenesses sharpened and the bite of this strange culture became second nature for me. I saw everything around me in a sugary glow, sweetened immensely by the friendships I was forging. And just like love, I was left wanting more, more of something I knew I could not have. More of this country, more of its people, and more of the way things were.

The third one is sweet as death.

The third round gives you diabetes. Not really, but it does have a hell of a lot of sugar. Death has many sides, many faces. For some it is a welcome relief, for others it comes too soon. Death is both an end, it is sad and sweet, but it is also a passing, a movement and a beginning. Such is the end of my journey here. Enough said.

The facts of life in three gulps of rugged wisdom.

Monday, May 4, 2009

i guess it's time for a food blog....

So as you know...village life was pretty slow, days revolved around meals, and if you are a woman in Senegal you spend most of your daytime hours preparing meals for your extended family. So I decided to put my gender to use and learn how to cook Senegalese style, with the intention of making a Senegalese cookbook when I return. The lack of gas stoves in the village means you have to start your wood fire early on if you expect to feed your family in a timely manner. It also means I will be coming home with a lovely case of black lung.

While most meals in Dakar consist of ceeb-u-jen for lunch and some variation of salad or fish or rice for dinner, here in the village we eat meat and potatoes. I still haven’t fully understood why almost every night for dinner we eat a goat and potatoes, when this village is considered a “bread basket” and the fields that stretch miles around us produce beautifully succulent tomatoes, corn, lettuce, squash and other yummies. But at least I’ve become an expert in cooking meat and potatoes while I’ve been here (I suppose my step-dad will be quite excited about that). We can have meat with French fries, we can have meat with sweet potatoes in an onion sauce, we can have macaroni and meat, we can have little tiny spaghettis and, guess what…meat!

So now that you know the principle ingredients here are the other indispensable items that MUST be used in every meal in Senegal. Whether you are making an omelette or a plate of ceeb-u-jen to feed twenty people you will always need this:

Lots of onions.
Lots of garlic.
A handful of whole black peppercorns.
Have on hand anywhere from 2-8 bouillon cubes.
A handful of small dried red peppers (like the crushed red pepper you put on pizza).

Making any meal starts with these ingredients. You then put them all into a giant mortar and pound them with a pestle. When they are sufficiently pulverized you add them to whatever you are cooking. If cooking meat mix in spicy yellow mustard and make a marinade. If making Nyaari Chin (“deux marmites” or “two pots”) put all ingredients into hot oil, simmer and then add water and lots and lots of bouillon cubes until you make a sauce.

Then thoroughly over-cook any vegetables you might have until they are utterly unrecognizable, add your carbohydrate of choice, and plop some deliciously gooey and piping hot dead animal on top.

And there you have it! Wash your hands and dig in, Senegalese style, using a piece of bread as your spoon or just rip that goat apart with your hands, and don’t forget to thoroughly gnaw on all the bones at the end so you don’t miss any of the good chewy bits.

I hope you’re all excited for me to cook for you when I get back ☺

Monday, April 27, 2009

i'm back....in Dakar.

So it has been a long time, huh? Well at least I have a valid reason.

For the last 3.5 weeks I have been living in the Commune of Guédé Chantier, the village that we are doing our projects in. While I must say that being in the village was quite an experience, I am still trying to figure out if that experience was a good one or a bad one. In terms of our project, we completed all the objectives, increased awareness, and got people participating, so it can be considered an overall success. But on other fronts....well lets just say that I prefer Dakar.

So have to admit I was complaining about coming to the village before I left. And, unfortunately, of my fears, dreads, etc came true, at one point or another over the course of the stay. Figuring where to start complaining is proving kind of difficult as usual but I guess I’ll tell you about my ailing health first. I was (an still am) pretty hella sick. Unfortunately for me it’s not explosive aerosol shits, no, I have a mystery disease. Woohoo! I’ve been in a perpetual state of nausea for about two weeks, before, such that before, during or after eating I have the uncontrollable urge to vomit, followed by stomach cramps that could kill an elephant on steroids. And whenever I stand up I get really dizzy and lightheaded. One day I passed out in the middle of the day, and then the day after I passed out and vomited on myself. I know what you’re thinking…”Damn Jess, you sexy beast…” but not really feeling so sexy right now. So there’s that. And I’ve taken all available meds, and visited the village idiot, I mean doctor. My only hope was that the medicine man could slaughter a chicken and bathe me in its blood and all would be well. My fingers were crossed. But unfortunately, I was informed that it was "too hot to heal". Well isn't that exciting. So I turned to consulting my friends and collegues, and we have drawn the ultimately scientific conclusion that I have some little friends. Some little friends, living in my belly. Some little, angry, hungry, friends. Thrilling.

Well at least my life in the village had consistency! While still mysteriously ill, the village was still pretty hot, and I was quickly running out of books to read. So, woo! On top of that, I had made a beautiful outline/beginning to my final research paper for the semester, with all my works cited and everything, and my computer decided that it would be a good idea to “misplace” all of the documents I worked on between 4.6.09 and 4.12.09. So bye-bye outline. And bye-bye sanity. I was going to get up one day and start writing so I could just finish the paper and then could relax once I get back to Dakar, but I am feeling a little bit of resentment for my electronic friend right now. So I am going to have to wait until I have another bout of excitement over APA citations to start it, all over again. It's been about a week since I even tried. I wouldn’t be surprised if this whole blog disappears too one day along with the rest of my life. If that’s the case I will try and telepathically complain to you across the continent. I’ve heard the power of the whine is above all other things the most easily communicated through ESP. It must be the high frequency.

One good thing that I didn’t tell you is that I now have an enormous library of Senegalese music. Everything from squishy French love songs to club-thumping fantastic baby-making music. I have a complete repertoire. And I have to say the music here is all pretty fantastical. There are those times when I can’t tell one song from another mostly a fault of the “national music” called mbalax (pronounced balakh..with that jewish ‘kkhh’ at the end), pioneered by Youssou Ndour, in which every song sounds exactly the same almost all the time. But since it is reasonably tolerable and at times downright awesome, its ok even if I think each song might be something like 300 minutes long. There is good reggae too and then some Senegalese rap which is interesting and from time to time not as obnoxious as its US counterpart. So I’ll have a lot to share when I get back and will at least be able to host a fabulous Senegalese dance party.

While in the village, I decided its on my top 5 list of things I want when I get back to the USA. That list goes as follows:

1. cheese pizza, extra cheese, extra large, NO I’m not sharing!
2. Matt (so a little creepy, but honest)
3. Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee
4. Gary burgers!
5. cheese

This is by no means set in stone and will probably be re-arranged to include something vastly alcoholic, sushi, and also ice cream.

Surprise! I did find something I actually like about the village. I mean, yea it’s beautiful and picturesque and there are cute snot nosed runts running amuk, but you and I both know that ambiance is not always everything. Unless the power goes out…

The power keeps mysteriously, yet consistently, going out. Blame it on government malfunction or people trying to re-wire their satellite dishes, whatever the cause, over the last few days we’ve had consistently occurring black outs. You can’t really tell when the power goes out during the day, it is still hot as the dickens and everything you touch sticks to you and you lie their as your sweat pools in the small of your back, and every other nook and cranny you can imagine. But at night all the obnoxious TV programs are involuntarily silenced, all the lights with their nauseous yellow glow, all those radios blasting jarring static, all is involuntarily silenced. Even the Senegalese people themselves are quieter, more tranquil, like their plugs have been momentarily pulled. This is the time when I really love the village. And there is only one thing I do. I lie on the roof, listen to music, and let the never-ending blanket of stars suck me up in its glory. Crosby, Stills & Nash are sweetly lulling me into a stardust stupor, whispering Guinevere into my ears and the breeze sweeping off the river effortlessly harmonizes with the timber of their voice as I drift to sleep under the immeasurable sky.

Ok, totally mushy I know, but didn’t you like it just a little? Yea, I thought so.

On an equally mushy side note, it has been about 40-43 degrees Celsius here since we arrived, and it is only getting hotter. To translate that into American, it’s about 106-115 degrees of hotness. Holy sweating my figurative balls off…!

So that was, more or less my trip to the village. I only have another 12 days left in Senegal. It's not really something I want to think about, to be honest. I hope you enjoyed reading all of my complaints And in the event that you blow this off completely because it is so intimidatingly long…. well you know what I think of you.


Jessie Nafy Lô

Sunday, March 22, 2009

some pictures for you ...

Dancing at the inauguration of the Centre Culturel where I work. All schnazzed up in my Sengalese garb.
My classmate Youssouph and I. You wouldn't know it from this picture but he's the goofiest bastard.
Picture of the group in a small desert village in the north of Senegal. From left to right: Rokhaya, Namory, Charlotte, Soda, Eman & Alassane both in grey sweatshirts, Youssouph behind me, Pete down front looking like a badass toureg, Cody in stripes, Aicha in between, Sydney lookin all blonde out back, Benson hiding behind, and Marcel just to the left of the post

Night out a few weeks ago with my friends Brooke & Aissa

How to Scream Fire and Fuck for Emphasis

On other notes. The village was good. We just got back Friday afternoon. I was really pissed off and bummed out at the beginning of the week when no one was showing up for meetings, and then someone's aunt died and we couldn't do anything, and there was no progress (which you know how much i hate!). But after a few days, one of the herders took an interest and started working, and by the end of the week there was about 7-8 guys showing up, we built 3 compost bins and made 3 piles of compost. I translated the directions/instructions into Pulaar (not the language i'm studying -Wolof- which made it 10x harder - but luckily had the help of my amazing teammate Alassane). and I am hoping that they will actually do something while I'm gone. For the next 1.5 weeks I'm in Dakar I'm trying to make a laminated guidebook on composting in french and pulaar with pictures, complete directions from A-Z and a troubleshooting guide I made. So that's cool I suppose. It means I have a lot of work to do!

One of my favorite parts of my stay here is that we spend more or less every single day with the Senegalese students, especially in the village and we have all become really great friends. And of course, like any good good friends participating in a cultural exchange, we are learning various juicy curse words in each other's languages. Is it really heinous that I find some kind of parental pride well inside of me when I hear them use a well placed injure in the middle of their sentence? Most likely, but I enjoy it anyway. Our educational campaign of late we have coined as "Fuck For Emphasis". We are explaining how fuck is not just an insult, but a glorious word that can be used in a multitude of situations. It is the chameleon of curse words. When you use it, you use fuck, for emphasis. And our campaign is going quite well. We may or may not have completed and irreperably corrupted their english vocabulary. For life. And the best part about it, is that they use it in such creative ways. When I hear them curse, it is kind of refreshing. I think Americans have used fuck so much, it's just quite boring now. There is no originality in it. My favorite example of these refreshing idosyncracies was uttered by my friend Youssouph. He was being teased by a bunch of the guys, they were called him a clown. Benson repeating "Bouffon, bouffon bouffon! And he goes. "Oh yes? I am your bouffon? I will fuck you one by one!" Well I pretty much died of excitement and those achy tummies you get when you laugh to hard for too long.

Another fabulous story. I ended up passing out at the homestay in the village where 5 of the 8 boys live (we call it the Frat House, they call it the Chateau des Hommes, - it depends on how you feel about a dirty smelly room of perversion). And Benson (american from virginia always happy and goofy) and Youssouph (senegalese giant clown extremely lanky and eternally teasing) had gotten up early to meet Sydney (south carolina/new orleans firey southern blonde) so they could go to work on their school garden project. The rest of us are passed out or lying dazedly under our mosquito nets, sweating our you know whats off. And in burst Sydney, screaming. "Youssouph found his penis!" What? I think my stickyness has clogged my ears. "Youssouph, he found his prick!" Yep, I heard her right. "We were walking to the garden and Benson and I were a little bit ahead of Youssouph and then we hear him scream. And we turn around and his pants and shorts are around his ankles and he's screaming at the top of his lungs: 'There's something in there! There's something in there!'" Youssouph walks back into the room at this point, trying to explain that it was a bug and asking why we are all laughing at him. I look at him and I ask him how old he is. "25" he says. "That's just too bad." And I roll over and go back to sleep.

Also, when the children in Guédé (the village) yell "toubab!", it sounds like they are screaming "FIRE!!!". I almost shit my pants one night.

Also, I danced until 6 am last night. I am a little apprehensive that when I try to get up and go to the bathroom my legs will give out on me in protest of my antics.

That should be funny.

Much love, missing everyone!

Jessie "Nafy Lô"

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dazed and Confused and other sketches from a morning walk

I saw the strangest thing on my way to school this morning. There I was, laxidasically trodding down the sandy alley that leads from my home to the main road. I was in one of those dazes, when you wake up and the surface of everything is fuzzy, hazy, and you bump into everything. In the US I would have blamed this on my overenthusiastic love for having a really good time. But here I think it can be attributed to the wooden planks that comprise my bed. They have a mind of their own, you know. Three am? No, Jess doesn't need to sleep right now. SLAP! Being woken up by a piece of wood bitch slapping you in the face is not something I thought would happen to me in Senegal. So basically I was tired.

And there I am dragging my feet through the sand and out of the corner of my eye...no, what? I didn't see that. And I keep on walking. Slowly. And then, no really, there is a boy riding a horse around in the middle of the traffic circle.

There is a boy, riding a horse. Around the middle of the traffic circle.

I did a double take. Like, huh? And there was a boy, riding a horse, around the middle, of the traffic circle. I was so tired I thought it was a mirage. And just to be sure it existed in my hazy morning reality, I stopped, to watch. I stopped to watch in the middle of the road. I stopped. To watch. In the middle of the road.

I am not the brightest crayon in the box. Not this morning anyway.

So there I am standing in the middle of the road, slacked jawed and wided eyed and potentially drooling. And this horse is gorgeous and the boy's long legs are dangling over the side in an effortless grip on the horse's side. And they are going around the circle. And it looks like he is a member of the Spanish Riding School going through his paces. And it's beautiful.

It was not until the viscious horn of an oncoming car woke me from my staring slumber did I realize I was standing in the middle of the road slack jawed and wide eyed and definitely drooling. So I carried on my way.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Are you really really happy? And other serious things like God.

We have this thing called "Our Space" at uni. It is pretty much what any american university student would call "complete bullshit", but i guess i have always loved complete bullshit in a way, and so i kind of like 'our space' too. During 'our space' we are supposed to pick a topic and a student facilitator to lead the discussion, and then just talk about whatever we want. recent topics have included dating in senegal vs. dating in america (oh dear me) and i don't know i forgot what the first one was about. anyway it can vary to really unproductive, to incredibly interesting. this week the subject we ended up talking about was different notions of happiness. one of the americans, charlotte, read this poem she wrote to us and then we ended up talking as a group for, i think, 3 hours?!? about it. so i don't want to recount exactly what happened, but i am just going to write down what different people were saying, like a book of quotations, beause i think that's the only way to get the idea of what really happened.

1st: Charlotte Poem:

The Betrayal of the American Dream

When you feel you must escape
Or you'll loose your human shape
Buy yourself a car so large,
It even has a turbo-charge.
And tell yourself that it's so nice,
You could drive to Paradise.

When your world is too small
Encircles you within its wall
Buy yourself a bigger house
Go shopping for a sexy blouse.

When you're alone and cannot cope
But know true love is fool's hope;
Buy fresh beauty in a can
Catch yourself a brand-new man.

But when the love fades from his eyes,
And even nude, he's in disguise,
Buy yourself a fine divorce
Bring out the lawyers in full force.

When your children look at you in pleading,
Yearning for the love they're needing
Buy them countless games and gadgets,
Lie to them, say there is magic.

When there's a growing hunger in your heart
Just drive up to the Super-Mart.
Stuff yourself till you forget
Those other needs, ones never met.

When the Gods are stiff and silent
And the world's grim and violent,
Buy yourself a revelation
In 3-D color animation.
It only costs $9.95
To find out Jesus is alive.

When you feel you're standing still
Going nowhere, have no will
Go searching for a better job,
Blend into the busy mob.

It really is a huge relief
To embrace the false belief
That your business is so urgent
There's no time to be insurgent.
You'll right the world's many wrongs
And sing the rebel's stirring songs
When there's a moment left to spare.
But for right now, you needn't care.
And for the few who still feel guilty—
Its very cheap to give to charity.

When there is nothing left to see
But concrete stretching endlessly
Enhance the screen on your T.V.
In full color you can see
People fighting to be free;
Worlds that will never be.

When you're choking on despair
And wonder why you cannot care,
Get an hour with a shrink
You must be insane to think
There's a reason to be sad!
There's nothing wrong. You're simply... mad.

When endless nights of silent screaming,
Have put an end to skyward dreaming,
Buy yourself a hit of crack,
Destroy the need for coming back.

And when the money has run out,
And they no longer hear you shout,
There are pills for endless sleep,
Which take you where you never weep.

They told you it was all for sale.
And so you paid for your own jail.

Then when you ran out of things to buy,
You bought a painless way to die.
And as you drift away and fade,
Know that you have been betrayed.

2nd: Compostite List of What You Need to Be Happy:

health, friends, wealth ?, usefulness, chance to help others, growth, class mobility, work, love, companionship, understanding, power, nice car, house.

3rd: Quotations/Perspectives/Analysis - in NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

"Happiness is a long process, it is impossible. You can never be happy."

"I am completely and 100% happy with my life the way it is now."

"Progress comes from dissatisfaction."

"Right now you just have joie de vivre."

"If you're going to improve, do you need to be unhappy with what you have now?"

"Maybe our words mean different things. Happiness? Is there a language barrier?"

"If you are happy, everything is perfect. I am unhappy."

"I think, Paradise is here on Earth. Because if God does something then we have to accept it and be happy, even if it is a sad thing."

"Real happiness is eternal and a human being cannot have this."

"So, does being accepting make you happy? Jessica is not accepting but she is happy. If she doesn't life something, she changes it."

"It's the power of man's spirit that matters."

"In life there are ups and downs. It is hard to emplain happiness when you talk about religion, because what we are taught contradicts what we are living sometimes, but we are accepting it."

"Happiness now vs. happiness in the future?"

"I will be happy if i don't live like my parents had to."

"So does that mean your parents are unhappy? Are they unhappy just because we don't want to be like them? Because we want to achieve different thing, or more, than them?"

"Being happy and being sad, they go together."

"What is the difference between the happiness of God and the happiness of man?"

"Happiness is not challenging what you can not change."

"To be happy, do you have to create a chance for others to be happy too?"

"If you pray for patience, do you think God gives you patience? Or does he give you opportunities to be patient? If you pray for love, do you think God gives you love? Or does he give you opportunities to love and be loved? If you pray for happiness, do you think God gives you happiness? Or does he give you opportunities to be happy? You just have to open your eyes."

"There are two kinds of happiness, the eternal and the mortal, you can't have the eternal."

"You don't know anything about the eternal. The eternal is the right now."

"Satisfying your desires vs. happiness"

"Is happiness temporary or is it a state of being?"

"You have to be patient, endurant."

"The native americans say you are not a human being when you are born, you become a human being through your actions."

"In the end we will have to respect each other and understand that everyone just thinks about happiness differently."

"Every person has their true self within them - true, raw, uninhibited - but through life you put up your barriers to make life easier but they also inhibit you you from being your actual true self. Part of happiness / love is being able to break down barriers to get there. To do this you make yourself vulnerable - open. With anyone."

"Do we put them up because the spirit, our happiness, can be corrupted? To protect us?"

"It is a chance for your light to touch someone else. But is your light strong enough to bear exposure?"

Saturday, February 14, 2009


ok so I know I said I would blog more often the last time I posted, but I guess I lied. So here is an update of some of the things that have been going on over the past two weeks.

1. Bienvenue Toubabs

The new American students arrived on Jan 28th. They are as follows:

Pete (Bouba)
Cody (Medoune)
Benson (Bamba)
Sydney (Maimuna)
Charlotte (Fatou)

Yes that's right, my entire study abroad consists of 6 American students, including myself. Everyone is really cool so far and we pretty much all get along well. I think we are really benefiting from the small group. I'm sure in a few weeks with will be bickering like a married couple.

In addition to the American students there are also 8 Senegalese students from the University Cheik Anta Diop.

& Soda

They are hysterical. I think about 90% of our day is spent making fun of each other, singing, dancing and just having a good time.

2. Remember that time we were illegal immigrants??

So we have just returned from a week of living in the village of Guédé Chantier. It is a village of about 6000 people in the north of Senegal near the border of Mauritania. This is the village in where we're going to do our development projects for the semester. Although it is in the desert, Guede is an oasis and they have one of the last existing old growth forests in northern Senegal. The village is on the river Duane (?) a tributary of the Senegal river. The people there are primarily Pulaar and don't speak a lot of french, but I've found that body language goes very far here. On top of that, there is always ALHAMDULILLAH. (Thanks be to God). In Guede you say alhamdulillah to everything. How are you? I'm fine, alhamdulillah. How is your family? They're fine, alhamdulillah. How was your day? It was pleasant, alhamdulillah. You get the idea. Anyway, by the end of the week we resorted to answering every question with some type of mumbling with random insertions of alhamdulillah. Either it worked better than we expected or people just stopped caring. Either way, I think we won't be fluent in Pulaar any time soon. One thing I love about Guede is the fresh baked baguette in the morning. It was the best bread I have ever eaten.

We were in the village primarily to start up our projects and make contact with our village partners who will work with us throughout the semester. However, we did get in a little sight-seeing. We travelled around to a few tiny desert villages where children burst out in tears at the sight of a toubab (something many of them had never seen). It was so dusty riding in the back of the truck everyone ended up wrapping their entire heads with scarfs and we looked like a group of maurides or touregs cruising around the desert. By far my favorite part of that day was illegally crossing the border into Mauritania. It is not a simple task such as, one foot in Senegal, on in Mauritania, oh no, this was a life-risking, adrenaline-pumping experience. To get into Mauritania you have to cross the Senegal river, so we did. All of us, in one canoe. I think this canoe was supposed to hold maybe 5 or 6 people at a time, well, we sqeezed over ten people in, and with the water lapping dangerously an inch below the rim of the canoe, we only hoped that the crack in the side wouldn't send us to Davy Jone's Locker before we got to the other side. Crocodile dinner? Not today, thank you. Needless to say, we made it across safely. And guess what? Mauritania looks just like Senegal. The people, the language, the landscape. Yea, it's pretty much all the same. Surprising? Not really.

So we finally figured out what our semester projects are going to be and I'm pretty excited about mine. I am working with Pete (Bouba) and Alassane. The ultimate goal of our project is risk mitgation for the herders and farmers in Guede. So we were thinking about how to do this, and we talked to them and the principle problems were that they have no access to credit, and they also complained about high costs of chemical fertilizers, as well as the health risks associated with them. So after a little brain-storming we came up with a three-part bombshell. The goal of the project will be to create a small savings and loans bank in the village for the farmers and herders. It will work like a tontine, where people who put money in can get money out in small sums on a rotational basis, and if there is an emergency an individual will be able to take out a micro-loan. But to start a bank you need money. So here's the plan. My sector is in the creation of a source of natural compost to replace the chemical fertilizer. I will be working with the herders to collect manure and the villagers to collect food scraps and creating a village compost. I have to research the needed inputs, how to construct the site where we will make it, and also the best methods of distribution in the village. But here's the hard part. Many of the villagers are hesitant to adopt new things until they know how it works, they need proof. So what are we going to do? The second part, which Alassane is in charge of, is the creation of an organic teaching garden, to show the farmers how to use the compost, the explain why it is better (cost, health, etc) and to provide them with tangible results. Pete is focusing on the bank part. I think the project really embodies all the aspects of the sustainable ecovillage design education that we have been learning, and if we are successful it will have enormous ramifications for the villagers in Guede. I am really hopeful that we will do a good job but I know that I have a lot of work ahead of me.

3. Hi Mom?

Yea, you read it. My mom and my sister arrived in Senegal yesterday morning and are staying here for a week with me. More updates to come. Their Senegalese names are Binta (Holly) and Mika (Mom).

Many kisses. Everything is good here, alhamdulillah.

- Jessie Nafy Lo

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

P.S: you can click on the picture/post to make it larger so you can actually read it!

groses bises!

Namenala. < trns. - (i miss you) pr.: naam-en-all-ah >

I am trying something new. I am writing in my journal, and then taking pictures of the posts, incorporating photos and do-dads and then uploading them as my blog. I was struggling with posting on the blog because I really enjoy stone age technologies right now, a "pen is greater than the (proverbial) sword" kind of thing. So above you will find my first psuedo-nouveau-archo-techno-blog post.

To put it in context these are the things you need to know:
- I got a job doing graphic design for the new cultural center that is opening at GENSEN. I will post some of the work I've been doing for them soon.
- I went to Ile de Gorée for 2 days with a pair of twins (Kate & Robin) for a petite vacance. Gorée is the only slave island (I believe I already wrote this...)
- Exciting but not important for this post: Mom & Holly are coming to visit me in Senegal, T-minus 2 weeks 4 days. Pretty sweet.

Ok...here I go:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

some people would call it negligence...

So I realize that I have not really been a good blogger over the last few weeks. I mean not really updating on the things I am doing, what I like and dislike, and the quirks of everyday life. To be honest, I have never considered myself to be someone who likes to write about my experience. I have always been content enough to know that the experience is in my head. But I guess that is being negligent of you guys who are stuck state-side, and my friends who are abroad too (who I miss!). So I am going to try and write more consistently. Fair enough?

So here are some things that you shouldn't miss out on:

First of all my homestay family is amazing. I already wrote about them a little bit, but Fatou Lo, who works at GENSEN (where I take classes), she is really crazy. I mean certifiable, like me, and we get along great because of that. I never really told you about my apartment though. I am not living in the same house with the family, my guess is that they are rather affluent for a Senegalese family, as I am housed in my own apartment with 2 bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bathroom. (WOO!) I was sharing the apartment with 2 American girls, but they left yesterday at the end of the January program. On Monday and American intern is moving into the other bedroom. It is nice to have someone to keep company with. My house is somewhat far away from the other homestays, about a 15 minute walk. I have made really great friends with one family, which has 3 sons: Lamine (19), Medoune (27), and Mattare (??). They also host Americans during the program. I often go to the beach at Yoff with them.

The beach at Yoff is not what you would expect. First of all, the beach is not for swimming or sunbathing; it is for playing soccer. In the early evening hundreds of young men gather on the beach to train for wrestling and play soccer. It is really funny to see. They gather in large groups and do squats and pushups and run backwards, it is like watching bimbos in the gym - they are incredibly hyper aware of their fitness - and one of my favorite things to do. The waves here are incredible, and I have seen a lot of "toubabs" (white people!) surfing as well as kite surfing. Unfortunately it's not a great swimming beach, very shallow with strong currents, but I go anyway.

The school is a 20 minute walk from my house. The best park about walking to school is running across the 4 lane highway and jumping the divider in the middle. Mom, you would KILL me. But it is the Senegalese way. Working on the J-term program at GENSEN was interesting, as you can see from the projects below, but it ws kind of disorganized and I'm not sure that everyone got the most out of it. Regardless of organization or tasks, the best part, by far, was being able to meet and work with Senegalese students. We had so much fun, and the most valuable part for me by far, in terms of learning, was just the cross cultural exchanges between us and them. Part of being Senegalese is possessing a great sense of humor. The Senegalese make fun of EVERYONE (Matt, you would fit right in). I've noticed that some of the Americans get easily offended by this, jokes like "I think you ate too much rice" don't really go over well with most American girls. But they learned quickly to just relax.

The village visits were interesting. Mekhe the first one was more like a town, I think 15,000 people, and we had access to everything we needed. I got bitten by a bazillion mosquitoes the first night because we were too lazy to put up the net - oopsies. Gotta love Malarone. We took horse carts everywhere, naturally I loved it and wanted to buy one and drive back to Dakar with it. The Senegalse kids I was with taught me some Wolof, including how to say butt (khotutat) as well as giving me a nickname "Sai Sai", which is usally said to little kids meaning bad girl. My daddy said it was appropriate, haha. Then we went to Mboul. Mboul has maybe 200 people and is in the middle of the desert with no electricty and no water. They have to purchase their water 12km away and haul it to the village on horse cart. I ended up not eating for three days, since it was the Muslim holdiay of Tamaharit (the New Year) and everyone was fasting during the day and dinner was intestines, sour milk and sandy millet, so that kind of sucked, but it was a more realistic vision of Africa outside the city. We all kind of went stir-crazy while there, with nothing to do (thank god I brought On The Road) and I realized that I could not live in a tiny village like that and do development work without going insane.

I also got really fed up with GENSEN and the NGO while I was there. At the first village meeting, a young guy stood up and pretty much reamed us out, asking why we were there since the loans they requested two years ago still hadn't been filled. He said the village was sick of promises and white people coming in with their money but never really doing anything. It was really difficult to hear since we though we were really doing a good thing. But we realized that there were communication problems between the NGO/microfinance and the villages (this also happened in Mekhe on a smaller scale) and that there was a great need to increase the transparency of the loan process and expectations for the villagers. It was a really big task for us to overcome, as the students including myself were really angry. We decided that we would reccomend to the comittee not to send students into villages where the loans have not already been funded. It is not fair to us or them. Other than that there were no other big problems. I did puke my brains out for three days at the beginning of the trip, but I'm not sure it was related to the travel.

So everything is pretty good. I have like 20 Senegalese "boyfriends". i.e. boys who tell you they "love you since the moment they saw you" and then ask to come to america...but I mean it is kind of flattering right? If not a little overwhelming too. You have to be cautious about being nice to boys, Medoune told me not to smile or they will think I like them...that is going to be a bit difficult. I'm going to have dinner at a friend's "toubab" house tonight in the "nicer" part of Dakar. Should be fun. The other American students coming for the semester arrive on Saturday and I'm going with my friend Cisco who works at GENSEN to pick them up. I think it will be less overwhelming if a toubab picks them up.

Ok that's all for now. Love and miss everyone!

- Nafy "Sai Sai" Lo

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

J-term Projects

I traveled to the villages of Mekhe and Mboul in the region of Thies, just north of Dakar. Here we worked with villagers to choose four projects, in total, to bring back and propose to the microfinance committee. The process was long and frustrating in some circumstances, but I think the results turned out really well.

In Mekhe, the projects were:

1. Sahel Vet
This microfinance loan will fund a project to increase the service capacity of the local veterinarian in Mekhe. Mekhe is a center of commerce and trade, with a weekly market and it serves as a point of attraction for many travellers in the Thies region. Livestock production remains one of the main activities for many citizens of Mekhe, in addition to extensive use of horse carts for transporting goods, and people, to and from the markets. Mamadou Seye is the only vet actively working in the town of Mekhe and it is in his charge to ensure the health and wellbeing of all of the animals in the area, however he has trained apprentices who also assist with technical work. He runs both a clinic and a pharmacy where villagers can come to purchase goods and services such as antibiotics. He also does house calls and runs a vaccination program for all the animals, encouraging producers to use preventative medicine and giving advice on technical and economical production. It is also in his charge to work with animals to facilitate the creation of small development projects run by local NGOs. He must certify the health of all of the animals within the project. He also teaches classes on vaccinating animals as well as how to do artificial insemination. Mamadou and the technicians charge a fee for each service they provide. Besides the direct benefits to the animals he is treating, his actions also facilitate other benefits. For example he promotes human health by mitigating the transfer of zoonotic diseases from animals to people and teaches methods of proper disposal of animal carcases. Mamadou and his technicians also educate producers on the proper use of manure for compost to replace chemical fertilizers. While Mamadou is the only current fulltime participant in the program, all of the members share the financial benefits at the end of the year. There is currently more demand for vaccinations and medications than the pharmacy can supply. The pharmacy has adequate storage and a refridgerator for an increased supply of medications, but does not have the funds to buy enough stock. There is also an urgent need for surgical supplies such as scissors and syringes.

I think this project is absolutely incredible. Mamadou was really enthusiastic and it was clear that he really cared a lot about what he was doing. I felt like it was very fateful that this was the project that I focused on, since I originally went to university to become a vet and pursue projects like his. He was also really lucky to have me there, because I was able to explain everything he was doing to the students and the committee. Things like why artificial insemination is so important for the community, etc. In the end, the national microfinance committee selected this project as the best one out of all 20 proposals and they will immediately fund it. Yey!

2. Womens Group of Ndiop
This loan will go to fund a group of over 200 women who wish to improve their community by promoting solidarity and self-sufficiency in their work. Within the large group there are four divisions, each representing a different activity that contributes to the project. Ndiop group 1, comprised of 70 women, sells cakes, eggs, groundnut paste and couscous sauce at the local market. All products are cooked in solar ovens, which are made by a local joiner. The women use all locally grown cereals, eggs and other ingredients to make their food. They have a need to purchase more solar ovens to meet the rising demand for their products. Ndiop group 2, comprised of 40 women, is involved in traditional cloth dying. Currently they must go to Dakar to buy their products, but they would like to be able to purchase goods in Mekhe instead. They use only organic cotton and hope use their loan to receive training in the production and use of natural dyes. The group also re-dyes old fabrics to recycle them. The fabric they dye is used in the production of clothing by Ndiop group 3. Ndiop group 3, comprised of 60 women, is involved in microgardening of fruits and vegetables for market sale, as well as in sewing the fabrics made by Ndiop 2 into traditional clothing and selling the clothes. This group also participates in a weekly nutrition program with the hospital to cook dinners for malnourished children. Ndiop group 4, comprised of 40 women, is involved in animal husbandry whereby they purchase young cows and chickens at the local market. Their feed is all grown in the microgarden, except for a specific fodder, which they must purchase from the weekly market. The women breed the animals to produce a herd, and bring them to market size before re-selling them for meat. These women also manage the tontine for all four groups, who participate together. In addition, the women use the manure from their livestock to produce compost for the microgarden. The problems these women currently face is an inability to purchase all of their needed supplies, as well as covering transport costs to and from market.

Projects from Mboul:

1. Bokk Ndiarignu
This loan will go to fund a group of 6 women who wish to both participate in animal husbandry as well as petty commerce. They wish to use their loan to purchase young sheep at market and raise them to market size, and then re-sell them for meat, as well as to purchase soap and cleaning supplies to sell in the village.

2. Takku Ligay
This loan will go to fund a group of 5 men who wish to create a breeding program in the village of Mboul. They will use the funds to purchase young bulls or rams at market and then breed them to create herds of cattle or sheep in the village. When the offspring reach market size, they will walk them to a nearby market to sell them for meat and skins.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

here we go again...

We are leaving tomorrow to go to remote villages to start working on microfinance projects. We will be gone for six days and are broken up into five unit teams of four people each; two american and two senegalese. I am going with an american girl named Katie, and the senegalese students are my friends Hubert and Fatou Mbow. Our unit is going to the villages of Mekhe (me-hey)and Mboul (bool) which are situated to the north of Dakar about four hours. Mekhe is the leader of high quality leather production in Senegal and Mboul is the former capital of the Cayor Kingdom which was once the most powerful in West Africa, today it remains a traditional village with little outside influence.

I also got a cell phone, if you need to call for EMERGENCIES only
my number is +221 77 323 56 25

ok that's it for now...more to come when I get back!


Friday, January 2, 2009