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:
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.
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