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