The posts are getting farther and farther apart! Sorry for that to anyone at home who looks here for information about what I’m doing now and how life in Senegal is. Since I wrote last, I had a week long, in-service language training seminar, at the end of January, for Pulaar at my friend Dana’s site. She lives in a village of 1,000 people called Mbolo Aly Sidy about 200 km north west of me. It was a really helpful few days where we got to ask questions about language that we had encountered during our first two months in site. Most of it was about grammatical structures and how to properly form questions, but some were about weird words we had come across. For example, one of my fellow volunteers found out that his little brother’s name was not in fact ‘Argi’. Argi means ‘come!’ in Pulaar. I didn’t have any revelations quite so entertaining but I did learn the difference in the words for jackal and hyena in Pulaar, which has been a major source of argument between my host brothers. We have jackals around my village but hyenas are somewhat farther south and a lot of times people simply don’t know the name of a thing in Pulaar.
After the language seminar I went back to Yacine Lakke for one week (I’ve decided to go back to spelling it with two K’s because that’s how all of Peace Corps’ paperwork is filled out already…). I had to leave again on the 6th of February for a variety of conferences, trainings, and related Peace Corps duties. In Peace Corps Senegal we have what is known as the Work Zone Model, a new system of coordinating volunteers in similar geographic areas in order to help them work together better. Some areas are more developed with volunteers and have between 7 and 13 people in a 50 km radius. My work zone, Bakel, is new and isolated so we have a whopping total of four volunteers in a 65 km radius. One of the trainings I went to was to learn about the duties of a work zone coordinator and how to communicate between volunteers and the local government in order to do the most and best work possible.
Directly after this training, there was a SeneGAD conference. SeneGAD is Peace Corps Senegal’s gender and development committee. In Senegal, early marriage, genital cutting, and less education for girls are all huge issues every volunteer deals with. I have unfortunately seen it in my own host family where the girls are not allowed to progress past a middle school education. My eldest host brother also married his first wife when she was thirteen. Unfortunately, there is also the issue of young boys, called Talibe, being sent away to Koranic schools as young as four years old. This happens mostly in the Pulaar ethnic group but there are Koranic schools all over Senegal, so some of these boys end up on the other side of the country, in a place they don’t speak the language, and without their family. Much of serving Allah and learning the Koran is believed to come through humility. As such, these boys have no possessions, beg for food and money, and live and sleep together at the home of the Marabou they are learning from. Some Marabou’s take very good care of the children learning from them and others do not and have been accused of abuse. In my village, the talibe boys are severely malnourished and work very long hours collecting wood from miles away for the Marabou’s house. Each morning and afternoon a rotation of six or seven of them show up in my compound to chant prayers and receive a handful of rice from my host moms. So, for the women’s issues but also for the Talibe boys’ issues I am very interested in gender and development work in Senegal and was happy for the conference and meeting older volunteers who gave me project ideas in these areas.
After this, we had a few days off in Dakar where the West African Intramural Softball Tournament was going on. I was on a team for the northern region and I think we took our costumes more seriously than the softball games. Nonetheless, it was a great weekend with friends and good food and much needed relaxation. Dakar is a beautiful city, in parts, with an unprecedented amount of coastline and I really enjoyed getting to see more of it. The last two weeks I was back in Thies, at the Peace Corps Training Center, for some in-service training in improved agriculture techniques we are to be extending in the field. Much of it was focused on sustainable practices like IPM (integrated pest management), permaculture and earthworks, organic pest and disease treatments, and safe chemical pesticide and fertilizer use. We also learned about good project design and how to set up successful field crop or garden demonstrations (Disclaimer: sorry about all the ag lingo! Hopefully I will be working on these things in the future and can explain them more then). Part of our Master Farm model also involves developing them into a local seed source for other farmers so we learned about proper seed selection and storage.
Mostly what I got out of the last four weeks is that I have A LOT of work to do in the next few months!
I go back to Yacine Lakke on Monday morning until the end of March, when we have our regional girl’s leadership camp for a few days. Before then, I’ll be working with my Master Farmer, Djinde Sow, to establish our live tree fence around the Master Farm plot and also set up our budget for the year and work on a timeline for demonstrations. I’m happy to be so busy and at five and a half months in Senegal I can say I’m amazed at how fast the time goes.