Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A couple weeks ago i had a conversation with some fellow volunteers about the work ethic of Senegalese as compared to Americans. We made some superficial observations and a few jokes poking fun at the stereotypes we designate to both sides of the Atlantic. Americans, as usual, were called work obsessive, high strung, innovative, reckless, experimental and lacked empathy for their countrymen who appear to all be competitors. We criticized the Senegalese for not being very creative with their business enterprises, conservative risk takers, foolish with business decisions, leeches when their family members start to make money. And that the heat plays a role in it all. Who wants to work when it is so damn hot all the time? The American south wasn't even close to being as developed as the north until air conditioning came around. As you can assume, there is not much air conditioning running in this part of the world.
What we were touching on is something that has been giving me considerable food for thought recently. I mean hey, i have time for thinking. So often as i look at the people in my village, and as i get to know them better, i see many comparisons to people i know in the states and i theorize what job they would have had they been born in the states. My counterpart, Ken, is a clown and a politician. He is my counterpart in the village, not because he is the best farmer and the most interested in learning new ideas and methods, but because he is a leader of the village without the title. A politician walking around laughing and making jokes with all the people and children, voicing his opinion loudly at every important meeting, and has a tremendous influence in the village so can therefore organize what i have trouble doing. He would no doubt be the mayor of a small town. My father, a quiet, reserved, sweet man with a strong religious inclination, would be from Colorado or Idaho. He would hold libertarian values with a sever distrust of Washington, be socially conservative, a card carrying member of the NRA, on a 200 acre ranch off in the middle of nowhere. And also the neighbor down the street who will help put in the dry wall in your new bedroom addition or help you move boxes as you move in to the neighborhood without asking anything in return. Some villagers are middle management, others are accountants, teachers, used car salesman, liberals, intellectuals, psychopathic, drunks, manic depressive, and on and on. It is fascinating trying to place them into American culture because it is so easy. Yet here they are all farmers, they are all practicing Muslims (except the 20 something year old men) they are all poor, and they will all be like this with no real possibility of climbing the economic ladder for the foreseeable future. Which does not mean they are not also what i project onto them.
I have started a theory that tries to explain cultural differences and takes into account personal quirks in the system. This is still an unfinished theory so will obviously be easy to pick apart. But anyways... It is as if there are cultural boundaries that the majority of the population, the masses, who have difficulty breaking from the crowd. They are the average people. They are me and nearly all your friends and family. They are the majority of this world. In America, because we have such a developed infrastructure and a cultural that nearly forces you to go to school, at least graduate high school, and get a job that pays enough for you to make ends meet. You might have some disposable income and go on a trip to florida every other summer. The truly remarkable people in our culture go on to create new products, build giant buildings, develop new mathematical theories, and start new trends and pioneer new ideas. these are not your average people. Across the Atlantic, the status quo is a couple years of schooling, a job at a boutique or taxi driver or tailor or a farmer. Only the truly remarkable (or rich or lucky) go on to college and get a high level job. they have the opportunity to emigrate to Europe or the States. These people exist in all cultures, but they brake the norm and are not defined as easily by their culture. In the states we encourage a do it yourself attitude, try new things, do what you want to do, pull yourself up by the boot heels and get going. In Senegal they are not as experimental. They are more conservative and do not embrace uniqueness. "To make money i will go to Dakar, by loads of sandals, and sell them at the weekly market right next to 5 other people who did the same thing." In america we are told to say "I'm going to contact the maker, by it in bulk and sell it at a lower cost, I will put up a fancy sign with a friendly smile, and i will ask the customer what he wants." That does not happen in Senegal. Blame it on them for this or on colonization or on the dependency the developed world has forced on to them by NGOs and foreign aid: i don't know. maybe it is all of the above. But i do know that it takes a truly remarkable person to go to college here, loosen his cultural ties, and try to seize the money dream. In America, our culture fosters those ideas and so even the more average of us are capable of doing big and great things. But it is true that the American dream has filtered throughout the world and has become the dream for everybody. It is rather unfortunate, though, because it literally is OUR dream. The boys in my village dream of emigrating to the US. It is heartbreaking to be in a country where the dream is to leave this place.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sorry, it has been awhile

Well so when i came to Senegal, and more particularly to my village, we were in the midst of watermelon season. I must admit, i was only a passive eater of watermelon in the states, but i found a new appreciation to this juicy fruit once i was in the village. more than ever before in my life i have strong cravings for food. not just protein although i often do think about meat, but for fruit and for vegetables. something that is wholesome and i know is contributing to the health of my body. I spend most of my day consuming vast quantities of sugars and carbohydrates. well so we have entered a new phase of life in the village, and in Senegal as a whole. Mangoes. Have you ever had a ripe mango the size of your two fists together? Its incredible. I can buy ten of them for roughly 2 dollars, and save the seeds for planting. Its a two for one deal. Eat the fruit and plant a tree. Such a basic concept for thousands of years and yet i had never done it until i came to this country. Have you? So now, every couple days i ride 5k or go to kaolack, buy a sack load of mangoes and distribute them to my family. Everyone wins. Which really does bring us to the more important topic of this entry... work.
Hey, i have finally started. Thought the time would never come. Just over a week ago i began a tree garden of about 200 trees. I am planting mostly fruit bearing trees or trees that can be used for food. Cashew, mango, and papaya bear fruit while the never-die tree's leaves are used for cooking and pack a considerable amount of vitamins. Lastly i planted flamboyant trees because, well, they're pretty. And pretty is good. I know 200 really isn't too many trees and that inchallah (God willing) half of them will survive into next year but i must accept the fact most will die or not germinate. The UN would be flabbergasted at the seedling mortality rate amongst trees in my village. It's not so much that we don't have enough water, we do, it is that my region of Senegal is being plagued by giant grasshoppers that eat everything in sight. A farmer friend of mine planted 160 mango trees last year, and as of yesterday, maybe 5 were still alive. He has other issues that contribute to this problem but it is due mostly to the grasshopper infestation. But along with my trees I have also handed out another 150 tree sacks to three villagers who are planning on planting 50 mangoes a piece. Inchallah they will plant them and the trees will survive into next year. But it takes 5 years for mangoes to bear fruit, and getting to the three year mark, in which they have a good chance of survival if they reach sort of like a new restaurant, is always a challenge.
As for my real work, the trees are but a side project, I will begin farming in the next couple weeks as the rains should start arriving in less than a month. Could not come soon enough. The heat is just building up, like a pressure cooker waiting to be released. I don't think it will necessarily cool down once the rains come but it will certainly feel good. Yup, so i am farmer Brad. Give me some flannel, a john deere trucking hat and a single piece of hay to stick between my teeth because i am from Indiana. But fortunately I have learned that i am not expected to do much farming, just a small demo plot showing the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and another variable against doing nothing for the crops. Not so sure how i feel about using pesticides on my crops, essentially promoting their use, but i will work that problem out. If the villagers insist... i do not know how i am to argue. it is difficult to explain run-off pollution and the destruction of the soil of long term usage. Not to mention the cost of buying pesticides for entire fields. Ehh... i shall see. it will work itself out. maybe i can convince them for me to do a demo plot about using organic fertilizers. But am i just pushing my values onto them? lastly and most importantly, they want my improved seeds from Peace Corps. Which is why i am in town today, to pick up the seeds (millet, corn, sorghum, beans) so we can have a village wide meeting on Sunday (my first meeting of such a large group) to discuss who gets what seeds. It is an exciting time, relatively speaking. Just if it wasn't so hot. Thank you

Friday, March 02, 2007

Post elections

well so I'm back in the village, sort of. After three weeks of training in Thies, a weekend of softball and socializing in Dakar, and an in-and-out schedule of being in the village; I am set to take up a long stint in the village. Hopefully. The presidential elections have come and gone with little excitement or violence. There was talk of fraud and of some violence leading up to the election but once the results came back with the incumbent winning another 7 year term, life has carried on with no protests. I have my feelings towards the 82/83 year old president, who is named Abdulye WADE, that i would like to share but will not due to the Peace Corps request that we remain silent about Senegalese politics in an open forum. But if you ask me in private discussion i will be more than happy to talk at length about what i know and think. Not surprisingly I have found myself very intrigued with the system of government and more so with the attitudes and power support amongst the people. Most fascinating is the difference of opinions from the village to the city, or more specifically from Thies, a city i am familiar with and the city considered the most hotly contested, and my specific village in the Kaolack region. My family in Thies had a strong distaste for president WADE because they believe WADE to be a corrupt and autocratic president who has illegally seized more and more power while over stretching resources trying to modernize Dakar. They are an educated, although not wealthy, family who campaigned for SECK, a former Prime Minister in WADEs government and now one of his chief rivals. My village friends disliked WADE because he has refused to buy all the peanuts that are grown in Senegal at a fixed rate like previous governments did for many years to support the rural agrarian lifestyle. Any economist could explain the ramifications and reasons of a country buying all of a single crop produced to sell on the international market and that really is not something i can speak intelligently on except for the basic principles of free market capitalism. But i did get a laugh from a teenage boy in my village who said something that everyone in the world can understand and relate to. Abu came to my hut on Monday night to tell me the results of the presidential race. He explained that WADE received 58percent of the vote which meant there would be no run off and that WADE won on the first ballot. He was clearly disappointed. When i asked why he disliked the president he said because WADE only cares about the rich people. He said all politicians only care about the rich. I told him Americans feel the same way.
And so now i have just over 21 months to do work in the village. Crazy to believe i have been in Senegal for almost 6 months now. Already i am experiencing struggle and disappointment trying to get projects under way. As with life, once something goes wrong every little pain and mishap builds into something bigger than it really is. My chicken coop is going to be more expensive and difficult to start than i had previously anticipated. Who knew chickens would need frequent vaccinations? And on the first day of their life? My garden is still weeks away and it now looks like i might not have enough time to get it stabilized before i leave for my trip to France in 6 weeks. I had a little spat with my village father, and a more difficult than anticipated time adjusting to the loneliness and isolation of village life again after nearly a month spending nearly every minute with my fellow volunteers training and going out. But really all is not bleak. I just bought 2 kilos of hermaphrodite papayas which i am going to consume and save the seeds to be planted in a couple months on the eve of the rainy season. I found a contact with USAID who might be willing to spray the perimeter of my villages gardens and pepeniers to keep out the gigantic/machine like grasshoppers who have been destroying every living plant in sight. I don't know how to explain these grasshoppers. It is as if they are a biblical plague that is only occurring in a small are of the Kaolack region. Measuring almost 6 inches long, they swarm by the hundreds and fly into you when walking out into the bush.
Lastly and most importantly, I am going to France in the middle of April to see my parents. What could not be exciting about that? oh right, trying to buy an airline ticket outside of Dakar. Whatever, it comes with the experience.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Back in Training

Well so i have been in a city with internet for the past week and a half and i am sorry i have not written more. i know you are all heartbroken and have been waiting for this letter. But its ok now. First things first... Colts won the superbowl. for sure they did. how about that indy fans? i was able to watch the game which was entirely crucial for me to enjoy the rest of my 3 weeks in thies. A bunch of us went to a hotel which was broadcasting the game live on the french channel, channel two, starting at midnight and ending very, very early in the morning. I have to be honest, watching the game in french was a new experience, and one i hope to never have to go through again. they just don't do it justice. Anyways...
So training. well i have to say it is good seeing my friends again and hearing about their villages and their crazy stories. Listening to other people and comparing my village has been one of the most profound learning experience i have had here. i am able to compare stories and situations, and gauge other peoples language skills against my own and see how i have progressed. And i think i am alright. as far as my technical skills, you know I'm doing farming work out here right?, well they are progressing slower. The classes have been minimally beneficial. they are good for the most part, but my real training is coming from talking with other volunteers and picking up tidbits of info. Learning this agricultre stuff will come as i get my feet wet when the rainy season begins and the farming is underway. One of my struggles in the village has been a lack of ideas for projects. the importance is on sustainable projects that wont fall apart once i leave but will be carried on by the villagers themselves. That's a tall order being as it is they often are dependent upon outside help to improve their situation. It appears to me that unfortunatly all the aid and ngos that operate have assisted in creating a dependency on people from the outside to stimulate activities. It is unfortunate and is an incredibly difficult situation to tackle. But anyways, I need to find projects in which i am a catalyst to get things going and that they see through. Talking with people, listening to the truly motivated and excited volunteers has given me a sort of burst of confidence to begin with some rather ambitious ideas. Such as working with the villagers who have tin roofs, there are only a few, to install gutters and dig concrete water storage tanks so that they can store water from the rainy season and extend their gardening into the late part of summer. I would also like to get chicken pen going as a way for the villagers to raise some extra cash. They can eat the eggs, eat the chickens, or sell them when they need money. That is an interesting aspect of rural life. They don't have bank accounts or safes in their huts. They might have a little cash lying around, but their real money is invested in donkeys, goats, horses, chickens, or like the pulaars, cows. They just sell an animal when they need money. anyways not enough people have chickens and those that do just don't have enough. bottom line, i am beginning to get more excited about my work. Which is kind of the point of me coming to senegal, right? hrm...
Last thing i want to say. If you have access to pictures of my niece on the internet check them out. Natalie is the best looking, cutest baby that i have ever seen. Especially her in that colts hat. And if you can see her in person, well i guess I'm just jealous of you.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Fried Chicken

well and so it has come. the first major milestone as a volunteer. i have achieved, survived, struggled, and/or stumbled through my first 9 weeks of life in the village. i think it has been 9 weeks. someone do the math for me... i got there on Nov.23 and i am heading to thies on wed. figured it out? no? good, neither did i. doesn't matter does it. in fact that's something my father, in America, and i were talking about last night. i often have no idea what day of the week it is and i rarely if ever know the actual day of the month. it just doesn't matter anymore. the only time markers i have, for all practical purposes, is sunrise, sundown, and Friday afternoon... the holy day of the week. Friday lunch is always the best meal of the entire week, the reason i love Friday above all other days. i guess i need to know when wed. is because i need to take my malaria medication on that day, religiously. you don't mess around with the malaria medication. it might give me intense vivid dreams, which i personally enjoy, and could possibly effect my mental state and moods... regardless, i don't play around with that. oh and back on subject....
Well so I'm headed back to thies, to the training center, for the next three weeks. Going to do alittle studying, alittle catching up with friends, alittle bit of this and that. not being in my village being the most significant. you know oddly enough i felt alittle sad leaving my village the other day... but not enough to give it too much thought. as i told a friend in an email yesterday, my host family in my village has for all practical purposes become my family. they take care of my needs, they provide a roof over my head, they cook for me, they make me laugh, and they sure make me crazy. like all family, sometimes you just need to get away from them. the ones who make you laugh the hardest are also the ones who drive you the most insane. so yes, I'm sad not to see them for three weeks, but not enough to give it too much thought. besides i will be back living there for 2 years... we can do with three weeks apart. and I'm glad that i was leaving feeling slightly sad, better than dreading the idea of returning. but yea i don't really want to talk about thies.... I'm sure i will talk about it at other times. so... uh...
\nthat's it. \nI know that i often don't talk about important things. but i don't know what to write about. so if you have questions email them to me and i will try to answer them... or even ideas about what you would like to read about. i have all sorts of ideas in my head that I'm sure i pass over because i don't want to think about them... which probably are the most interesting to you. i know there is some disagreement as to what makes for interesting reading. honestly i would like nothing better than to write about how i just ate a chicken pizza, drank two beers, watched a bob Dylan movie last night, and engaged in a number of other americanesque activities in the last 24 hours. to me... that is exciting. come on... i just ate chicken. That is huge! chicken... ahhhh. \n\n here is alittle insight into how i, and many peace corps volunteers think. so we were watching sex in the city on dvd yesterday. yea don't laugh... we have limited choices. so here we are, maybe 5 or 6 volunteers, watching carrie eat Kentucky fried chicken with her boyfriend. they begin a food fight throwing chicken at each other and spraying water on each other with a hose. the point being carrie and her boyfriend were acting like teenagers. All we peace corps volunteers could think and talk about, and almost in unison, was our horror that such good fried chicken was being wasted by these reckless individuals.\n\n \n \n\n",0]

that's it.
I know that i often don't talk about important things. but i don't know what to write about. so if you have questions email them to me and i will try to answer them... or even ideas about what you would like to read about. i have all sorts of ideas in my head that I'm sure i pass over because i don't want to think about them... which probably are the most interesting to you. i know there is some disagreement as to what makes for interesting reading. honestly i would like nothing better than to write about how i just ate a chicken pizza, drank two beers, watched a bob Dylan movie last night, and engaged in a number of other americanesque activities in the last 24 hours. to me... that is exciting. come on... i just ate chicken. That is huge! chicken... ahhhh.
here is alittle insight into how i, and many peace corps volunteers think. so we were watching sex in the city on dvd yesterday. yea don't laugh... we have limited choices. so here we are, maybe 5 or 6 volunteers, watching carrie eat Kentucky fried chicken with her boyfriend. they begin a food fight throwing chicken at each other and spraying water on each other with a hose. the point being carrie and her boyfriend were acting like teenagers. All we peace corps volunteers could think and talk about, and almost in unison, was our horror that such good fried chicken was being wasted by these reckless individuals.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

BBC stories

Here are a couple links to some stories I found today on the BBCs website. I wasnt even looking for stories about Senegalese immigration to Spain but this is what i found just reading about the world.



Random Notes

Well so the Colts did it, didn't they. They went off and decided to play in the Superbowl the year that i have been only able to watch 3 games. That's right. I will watch the Superbowl, oh yes, that i can promise you. But come on... Come on... really? Make the Superbowl? See i bet few of you actually would have called them going to the Superbowl this year. That's right. I'm calling out you ney-sayers. I for one had a sneaking suspicion all along that they would do it. Don't doubt me here. Its true. Ask my father. Many a times during the last 3 or 4 months Ive mentioned to him that this year they would make a run for it all. Is it because they were not the favorite and the pressure was off a bit? Maybe. Was it because Peyton Manning rocks and the stars just needed to align themselves correctly? Probably that had something to do with it. But I know the real reason and it overrides all the previous statements and makes them insignificant details to the one obvious conclusion. I'm not in the States. They couldn't deal with my pressure i psychologically threw to them from half way across the country in Colorado. Nor could they overcome the football gods smiting them because of all the trash i talked to every fan of every other team in the NFL for the last 5 years. And i had a good time doing it too, and i still hate the Broncos. But... I leave the country and here is what happens. They just needed alittle distance from me. Well Colts fans, you're welcome. And if not... Ha!
Well so life in the village is what it is. I had a visit from my boss, coordinator of agriculture volunteers in Senegal, and he seems to think I'm doing well. My family said good things about me, embellished alittle, and said that my Pulaar is coming along well. They also told Massaly, my boss, that they often say words to me that they know i don't understand just to see if i will ask what it is or if i pretend to understand. Yea, they have fun at my expense. Which i already knew they did but now it has been confirmed. Which is fine, because now i know that they know i will often just act like i understand to get out of an awkward conversation.
But i guess life in the village is normal for the most part. Many of the men and boys have left the village to go back to school or to work in a city. In fact most of my friends, the boys around my age, have up and left for a few months to go work on the fishing boats along the Atlantic shore or to work construction in one of the many tourist cities that stretch along the western seaboard. The men and boys will return just before the rainy season with pockets full of cash for the families, new clothes, and the latest American hip-hop cassettes. Maybe the can get the new Game tape? Or possibly some good ol 50cent. They love 50cent. Work doesn't exactly pay American wages. For construction, it is roughly 5 American dollars per day. Hrm... nothing too exciting. I don't know how much they make on the fishing boats. But that is the way of the village. They basically our subsistence farmers with little cash coming from selling small amounts of vegetables or staple crops, the rest coming from family members working outside the village. Either in the cities or in Europe. Spain and France being the popular destinations of work. In fact most of the boys talk about trying to get to Spain. Work for 5-10 years and than come back to the village to live as wealthy patrons. Its the Senegalese dream. The only problem is that most of them will not be able to do it legally, so they will risk their lives in boats filled well past their capacity that set sail for the Canary Islands hoping to be granted asylum or whatever. Every month you hear about a boat full of people from Western Africa dying trying to reach Europe. Sometimes 300-400 people in a month will die. Its awful. But it pays well if it works out. There is no denying that the money they can make in Europe can more than pay for their families here. Sounds similar to a relationship that we have in North America, huh?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cruel fate

No the end is not here or near, i hope, but it seems to me that cruel a joke might be in the process of being played out on me. The Colts are in the AFC championship game against the Pats, and I am in Senegal. Yes, where i get no american tv, no electricity for that matter. Could they really make it to the SuperBowl with me half a world away? A friend just told me that if they Colts win the SuperBowl Im not ever allowed to return home so that Indy can thrive from all the championships their teams will win. Im sorry there is going to be nothing about Senegal today. Im busy reading in anticipation for that game i will never see. I tell you i willl be excited, if not alittle sad if they go to the SB. It would be like that BoSox fan falling into a coma only to awaken after they won the world series and missing the entire ride. But lets not get ahead of ourselves, they need to win tomorrow. Good Luck Colts.
Oh and what is this Im reading about the Pacers? Sounds good, except getting rid of Baby Al doesnt make me too excited. Someone send me an email explaining what is going on here. Im so completely lost. Word.