The monthly news from Yacine Lakke (in a highly condensed format)
January (the month of my return from the lands of snow, craft beer, and bacon)
I had an incredible three-week vacation over the holidays and return to site was an abrupt reality check on the work I have yet to finish. I spent most of January getting the materials for building our women’s garden fence in order and then a few days with the construction team putting it up. The result is an extremely satisfying, (hopefully) goat proof, shiny, new work of metal wire and concrete. Around the middle of the month we had the first fruit from our first grafted zisiphus tree! The improved variety fruit tree is something I have been working very hard to extend in my site because of the low availability of nutritious fruit in our arid area. It grows incredibly fast and my Master Farmer, Djinde, has plans to incorporate this on a large scale into our demonstration farm. At the end of the month we had a visit and overnight stay from Peace Corps Senegal’s very own Country Director, Cheryl Faye. My village and work partners were incredibly excited to meet her and she spent time visiting and greeting various people and even eating my family’s leccheri hakko (corn couscous and leaf sauce) for dinner.
February (the month of my 24th birthday! And gardening. LOTS of gardening)
I spent half of February with my hands in piles of old goat manure and the other half sweating in cars around Senegal. Most gardens in my village are temporary, half thrown together jumbles, encased in dead brush fences within people’s compounds. Because of this, I focused on small, five people trainings on improved gardening techniques. We worked on incorporating more manure into garden beds, stressing the importance of not compacting the already rock-hard clay soils by stepping in the garden beds, and varying the types of vegetables grown. I’ve also been encouraging women to leave zisiphus trees in their compounds so we can graft them later, during the rainy season. The rest of the month I was in Thies and Dakar celebrating my birthday with an incredible peanut butter and chocolate cake that took my friend and fellow volunteer, Megan, a half a day to make. The effort was worth it; it was by far the best birthday present I could have had after weeks of not leaving site and a diet of oily rice. I also spent time with the first year agriculture volunteers during their in-service training and got to help train them on their way to becoming full fledged, oily rice tolerating, goat manure picking, Peace Corps volunteers. Happy five months in site guys! You’re an excellent group.
March (the month of tree nurseries and quiet moments)
Things slowed down and temperatures started to heat up around this time. We planted 400 zisiphus trees in our tree nursery at the Master Farm and I’m not sure if there is anything as mind numbing as filling tree sacks. We’re very happy they’re done! All the trees will be out-planted into a live fence demonstration in August and will be pruned into a thorny wall of terror to men and goats alike in the coming years. I also had some wonderful down time this month and got to spend it riding my host dad’s horse on long rides going nowhere in particular. Those evening rides are my absolute favorite part of life here. Call me biased after a lifetime of growing up around horses but there’s nothing so calming or peaceful as a fast gallop on sand and that brief moment to feel like you have all the time in the world. With the arrival of 110 degree or more daytime temperatures I’ve also resumed my early morning running schedule. I’m usually home in time for coffee and local announcements on the Pulaar radio station by 7 am. It’s these small moments that allow for the greatest times of self-reflection and appreciation. My Peace Corps service hasn’t always been easy and fun but it’s absolutely been the most formative experience of my life and allowed me to grow in ways I never imagined a year and a half ago.
April (the month of the bat, the spotted genet, and the blisters)
This month starts with the story of a bat. A sickly, mean little bat that I had the misfortune of having to dispose of because of a tiny little thing known as Ebola. The outbreak isn’t over yet and Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone will continue to struggle with the consequences of the outbreak for years. Here in Senegal, people are terrified of bats and call their local exterminator (that’s me, didn’t you hear?) to get rid of them whenever they show their faces in daylight hours. And so, at the very beginning of this month, when my host sister was stuck in her bathroom cornered by a hissing bat, my 200 lb, six foot tall host brother came sprinting to my hut, banging on the door, and shouting for me to make it better. With some gardening gloves and a rake I did just that. Then, a few weeks ago, when some fellow volunteers were visiting the area and my site, we ran across a (dead) spotted genet in the tree management area of our Master Farm. Google it! What an interesting find in a place with very elusive wildlife. And finally, after another month of meetings and organizing more materials and labor, the 300-meter trench for water piping was dug to our women’s garden project over the course of three days. We broke two pick axes and one shovel and blistered and re-blistered every finger on our hands, but our garden has water! We will spend next month building basins to hold the water in and then the individual plots will be assigned to the women in the group and we will be gardening in time for rainy season.