Deranged Donkeys

For a few straight days last month there was a male donkey breaking loose from his compound next door and running screaming into ours. I suspect he was after the lady donkey in our pack of three but he nonetheless caused utter chaos every time he showed up. Donkeys don’t take kindly to unwanted attention and our three would take off running across the yard, scattering the kids in every direction and causing the goats to take refuge on the woodpile. The intruder donkey has some sort of fungal rain rot on his neck and lost half of his left ear at some point in life – all of which give him the mangy, deranged look of some wild thing you want to capture and give a good bath. After he’d scared half the village with his braying and taken a few solid kicks from the other donkeys the kids would gather up their scattered courage and chase the poor thing out. I haven’t seen him in a few weeks and I expect he’s found a new family to terrorize in his free afternoons.

Lately, I’ve been as much of a sideshow as my crazy donkey neighbor. May was hot and tiring as we finished prepping and clearing fields in Yacine Lakke for planting in July. My master farm will have a few demonstrations on companion planting, zhai hole use, zisiphus grafting, IPM (integrated pest management), tree nursery care, and SRI (system of rice intensification) this coming rainy season. Djinde, my master farmer, also has a walled in demo space right next to the village where we will do demonstrations in growing improved varieties of corn and sorghum and show the benefits of adding organic matter through compost and manure. My master farm is located outside of the village about two miles and is close to the river, making it inaccessible for a few weeks in the rainy season (this is what my village tells me – I have yet to see the phenomenon that is precipitation in this country). So most of June and July will be finishing field clearing and preparation, seeding, and praying to Allah the rains are neither late nor early. The importance of rain and floodwater timing cannot be stressed enough where accessional and recessional agriculture are concerned. Given our proximity to the river, the farmers I work with practice both kinds of agriculture and count on the rain to be held long enough in the hard clay soil to give them two rotations of crops in a season.

As an extension agent, one of my projects is to extend small amounts of improved variety seed to responsible and motivated farmers in my village for them to grow and save seed for the following year. I’ve started to select the farmers and will be discussing with them in the coming weeks what they are interested in growing and whether or not they are willing to try a new crop. A failed crop can easily sink a small-scale producer and farmers are naturally slow to accept new techniques or seeds. However, I have some enterprising men and women in my village and I’m excited to work with them this season and keep our eyes on the future.

A side project of mine that has required much of my time and attention lately is called the Michele Sylvester Scholarship and it provides a scholarship for nine middle school girls (three from each grade) in order to cover their tuition fees and to pay for school supplies for one year. Michele Sylvester Scholarship was established in 1993 in memory of a Peace Corps Volunteer dedicated to girls’ education in Senegal.  Its purpose is to help close the education gender gap, which many experts contend is the foremost challenge facing international development today.  The ideal scholarship candidate shows academic promise but a lack of financial resources or familial support; scholarship recipients are aided through follow-up activities with PCVs in addition to the financial support provided by the scholarship. To date, I’ve talked to the school director about candidate selection. The girls will then be provided with the application, an interview and an essay asking about their favorite subjects, plans for the future, etc., and finally a home visit to explain the scholarship to their families. The scholarship will provide 10,000 cfa (the Senegalese currency, 500 CFA = 1 USD) for each student, the equivalent of about $20. In total, I need to raise $180 in order to cover the scholarships for all nine girls. If you would like to donate, please drop me an email! Or my mom, Karen, who has all the details and created a wonderful informational pamphlet about the program (She also has the regular internet access that I do not and knows how to get a hold of me at site).

My last two updates for this post are things I hope to prevent in the future but wanted to share with you all, as they’re very much a part of my life here in Senegal. Two weeks ago I had a health scare as a result of kidney stones at site with horrible pains in my right side that had me doubled over next to my hole in the ground toilet and vomiting up everything I had eaten that day. It was past midnight when the pain started and after calling our medical officer on duty I spent the next twelve hours in a delirious state of fever, nausea and pain. Although you couldn’t have convinced me at the time, I’m pretty sure no one has ever died of kidney stones and my semi-hysterical host family kept me as cooled down and hydrated as possible (even if I did have to repeatedly turn down their offer of whole goat’s milk which they were convinced would fix all of my problems). A Peace Corps car arrived the next afternoon and took me the nine hours to Dakar where I stayed in our sick bay wing at the office and went to get an ultrasound a few days later to confirm nothing unwanted was left stuck somewhere it shouldn’t be.

Secondly, after a long week of meetings out of site, in Thies on Saturday morning, two men on a moto robbed me as I was walking to the bank. They pulled up beside me in a nicer, but deserted at the time, area of the city and the driver stayed on the motorcycle while the second man jumped off the back with a glass bottle in hand that he immediately smashed on the ground in front of me. Rather than just give him my cheap Senegalese phone and bankcards, I tossed them into a bush behind me and started screaming my head off. We ended up struggling on the ground for a minute where I wound up with some good scrapes and managed to give him a solid kick between the legs that he repaid with a kick to my upper arm right before grabbing my wallet and jumping back on the moto. The bank cards were cancelled within an hour (not that there’s anywhere to use them in Senegal anyway) and my Peace Corps issued cell phone is only worth about 10 USD. So although I was angry about the incident and definitely scared in the moment, I’m happy their cowardice was rewarded with nothing. Someone ought to warn these guys about the salaries of Peace Corps volunteers before they go wasting their time; they owe me lunch.

Nonetheless, after the events of the morning were straightened out I headed for Saint Louis with a couple of good friends and enjoyed jazz fest in the old city for the weekend. Its beautiful, French inspired streets on the island are reminiscent of the French quarter in New Orleans and the jazz bands that came to play could be found in almost any bar at night. There’s something about live music that can’t be beat. Something in the way a song comes together after seeing all the elements in play. Jazz is certainly a classic example of this and it was wonderfully strange to be able to enjoy such a thing in Senegal.

Out to dinner in Saint Louis with my friends and fellow agriculture volunteers, Megan and Rhianna

Out to dinner in Saint Louis with my friends and fellow agriculture volunteers, Megan and Rhianna

We have a new health volunteer installing in the Bakel area on Wednesday and after I help see that through I will be back in Yacine Lakke for the next month. I plan on drinking a lot of water, working with my farmers in the fields, meeting some amazing young women, and occasionally feeling like a deranged donkey running around, keeping life interesting.

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