Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Happy!

Ahh, the holidays. We decided that last year's Christmas in Popenguine just really could not be topped, so we settled down for a pleasant, low-key Christmas and it has been very, very nice. We've been staying at my friends' place, where there are two cats, a washing machine, and a little Christmas tree decorated with small gourd ornaments. It's lovely. Marielle baked pumpkin muffins and Marie and Sarah L. just came over for Christmas breakfast. We're all up in Dakar to meet family and friends who are flying over to visit. At this point we're all counting down the hours and looking forward to (and fretting slightly about) showing our guests around and introducing our American families to our Senegalese ones. 

Merry Christmas from West Africa!

So, whether you celebrate KwanzaaSaturnalia, YuletideChristmas,  Hanukkah, Chrishaunakwanstice, or abstain entirely from all the of the many winter festivals that there are out there, I hope you're well and having a lovely day, wherever you are. 

Winter Morning Delivery

Last week the last of the materials (the PVC pipes for ventilation) were delivered to my host fmaily's compound. The truck showed up really early - I had just woken up and was still sitting around my hut, wearing my warm socks and waiting for water to heat up when I heard it rumbling up the path. 

PVC pipes being delivered
I was happy to see them being unloaded and got out my camera to document the occasion, so of course the little kids (who are always up early and full of energy) bounded over, as much to gawk at the truck as to pester me for pictures. I complied, even though I hadn't had any coffee yet. Mankaba took a dozen pictures, mostly of his feet, but also of me and Sajou, and of my arm and Sajou and Daouda. Then Daouda took about a dozen photos of the back of Mankaba's head and then Mankaba told him to stop it and then I said "Ok, that's enough." and padded back to my hut for breakfast and to get properly dressed.

"Ok, that's enough, give it back now."

Another Map Mural

Ever since I painted a couple map murals at the primary school near my host family's compound the director of the local Cas de Tout-Petits (pre-school) has made a point of coming over whenever he spots me in the market and telling me how nice one of those murals would look at his school. For months I've been telling him that one of these days I'd come paint a map there, and last week I finally made good on that promise.

Scary and confusingly-out-of-context fairytale figures aside, Cas de Tout-Petits (which translates literally to "the case of the all-smalls") is a pretty decent place. There's a big yard with some trees, a classroom with some little desks, and various charities and NGOs have donated chalk and little black boards and a few books and things like that.

I think the wolf on the upper left is from some sort of folktale but I really have no idea what is with the earless, smiling elephant-man. I decided to put the map where the elephant-man used to be. I really do wonder if any of the kids will miss him or if they found him to be as off-putting as I did.

I painted most of the map myself, which was pleasant. My little host brother Mamadou stopped by to take some photos and ask various questions about maps and America and whatnot, and while we chatted I painted a blue background for the map. And then started to fill in the regions with different sherbet-y shades of yellow, green, pink, and orange. And then realized that on my map Senegal looked like an island nation, which is not exactly accurate.
The inadvertent island of Senegal. 
Then Jubal, one of my PCV neighbors, biked over to hang out and help me finish up the painting. It's more fun to paint with someone, and Jubal knows his way around a paintbrush, too. It didn't take long to wrap things up, and by the end of the day Senegal was no longer an island, I was having sherbet cravings, and the director was super pleased with us.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mamadou and the Donkey Cart

My host brother Mamdou and his friends had to haul a bunch of rice sacks from one part of town to another, and to do this they employed a donkey cart. 

I really don't like donkeys here. They're scary. They can (and do) kick out for no reason, and they charge around through village like huge, bellowing bats out of hell, coming perilously close to demolishing anything (or anyone) in their paths. Also they tend to have awful, oozing sores (from fighting and beatings and general neglect), which is less scary just sad and hard to look at. 

In any case, the donkeys that (as far as I can tell) my host family owns are in decent shape and Mamadou was obviously quite pleased with himself and when they passed me in the market they took all the painting supplies I was carrying and brought them back to the house for me. They're good kids. 

Driving the donkey cart down Main Street.

Chocolate-Frosted Wonderland and the End of the World

Well, despite all the entertaining speculation, yesterday came and went and the world saunters on. The PCVs in Kedougou were pretty confident that at the stroke of midnight somewhere the world wouldn't come crashing down about our ears, but we made a day of it anyway. A team of crack sous-chefs helped to make a veritable vat of End of the World Chili (it was just chili) and I baked a Farewell Cake, which Rob and Owmy liked very much despite their faces in this photo. Joseph, however, was unimpressed. 

Patrick built a fire (that no one could really sit too close to because it was too hot) and gave a somewhat-salacious-but-ultimately-heartwarming an End of the World Speech while we all roasted marshmallows and we were all quite happy that the end was not nigh.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shea Butter Tubs

Shea butter (kare in Pulaar and karité in French) is an extremely popular product here in Senegal. people use it as a lip balm and a body moisturizer and they also cook with it. The struck me as odd but then I tried it, on rice, and it had lovely smooth texture and a warm, nutty taste. It's much better than the soapy, waxy flavor of the bright red-orange palm oil that's also so popular around here. 

Making shea butter is astoundingly hard work. (I've been taking photos of the process and one of these days I'll get around to posting them.) The shea nuts have to be gathered, dried, shelled, pounded, ground, soaked, strained, boiled, re-strained, melted down, and poured into containers. In our area the women's groups often get together to make and sell shea butter. Usually they just pour it into old water bottles or whatever containers happen to be on hand, and a half-liter goes for around 1,000 CFA, or about $2.00 USD. (If you go to L'Occitane and buy a tub of shea butter in the U.S. it will be crazy expensive in comparison, but a reliable source tells me you can get it on Amazon for a very reasonable price.)
Mariama and the Tubs
Awhile back my host mom Mariama went to a training, funded by an NGO, that went over best practices and hygienic processing and packaging methods. They made simple but nice little labels and brought white plastic tubs in liter and half-liter sizes. Mariama bought a big stack of tubs, filled them with shea butter, and is now selling them at a slight mark-up. At some point someone from the NGO will come back and buy up all the shea butter-filled tubs and bring them to Dakar to be sold for a higher price at the markets up there.  

Mariama and Adama and the Tubs
Mariama's really proud of the little white tubs and of how professional and clean they look all stacked up and told me to go get my camera to take a picture of the ones she'd filled so far. I bought a couple, a few other PCVs said they'd like to buy a few more, and before I knew it I had a small shipment of shea tubs to haul in to the Regional House. My host mom was super pleased, we were all impressed with how nicely the shea butter was packaged, and Mankaba, Mariama's youngest son, was just happy that we had the camera out and were taking pictures of things.
"Adama Adama Adama let me take a picture!"
(He took a bunch of photos but they pretty
much all looked like this.)

"Ok that's enough of that, Mankaba. Give it back."

I was glad to be able to show my support for Mariama (she is one of the hardest-working people I've ever met) and also happy to have a reason to stock up on shea butter, since winter (or what passes for it here) is upon us now and my lips were getting dry and chapped. Everybody wins. 


The materials for my latrine arrived! Or, most of them did. Everything except the sections of PVC pipe that will be used to provide pit ventilation was delivered, but the hardware store ran out of PVC pipe. It only took two days for them to get it in stick, but then the delivery truck had some mechanical issues and that took a few more days to fix. Things seem to be back on track now and really, it wouldn't be Senegal if there wasn't at least some sort of minor delay and the driver's a nice guy who gave me a good deal on transport so I can't complain (too much).

The truck drove right up on to our compound and they unloaded the cement into my host mom Mariama's old hut, which luckily is still standing. She had a new square hut built about six months ago and has just been using the old hut for storage, which was extremely serendipitous for me and my five metric tons of latrine-bound cement. People have been digging or hiring diggers to get the latrine pits ready, and once the PVC ventilation pipes arrive (which should happen today, if all goes well) the masons will have everything they need to start installing the latrines themselves.

The truck guys unloaded the iron bars (rebar, you would call it?) on to the ground and my host brother Mamadou and his friends hauled them over to the side of the storage hut. Sajou Ba and Diabou tried to "help" for about ten seconds before they (quite rightly) got scolded away. 

I'm happy to see that things are moving along and even happier to see that people are still motivated and interested in the project. Every time I walk over to the market I see more holes being dug and someone calls me over to ask if the materials are ready yet or tell me that they paid their part of the community contribution and are ready to start. There's still a lot of work to be done but we're off to a good start. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Meetings & Millions

It's been a busy few weeks here in Kédougou. We got four new Agriculture PCVs (and they're awesome), it it suddenly freezing cold (68°F out at night! I have to sleep with a blanket and a fleece!), and the latrine project I've been working on has been making good progress. 

People have been steadily talking about the project, and now that the rainy season is definitively over  the ground has dried out enough to dig a pit without it collapsing. My host father (who is also the chef du village) informed the neighborhood that it was time to get together and called a meeting last week. One representative from each interested household came, along with Mr. Sow, the Coordinator of the Salémata Sanitation Committee and a couple committee members. Thanks to past causerie info sessions and a training at the Catholic Mission last year most people (and all the masons) already have a pretty solid idea of why latrines are important and how to place and build them. During the meeting I explained (and then Jarga Sada repeated more clearly) exactly what the requirements were and why I chose to work on this project. They discussed and then decided upon details of how things would play out -- where to get sand, who would manage the cash, how to dig the holes, all the logistical things that I'd hoped they would sort out during the meeting. 

Everyone decided that Jarga ("traditional chief") Sada Souaré, my host father, should be in charge of collecting the community contributions, checking each family off the list, and paying the masons once the work in complete, which is great. He's well respected, very trustworthy, and cares a lot about improving health in his village. Mr. Sow (above, in the blue shirt on the right) was really helpful, particularly with the technical aspects of the project, and Jarga Sada (below, in the pale blue with the notepad) made sure that everything ran smoothly. I'd forgotten my camera but luckily the Sanitation Committee members took photos and then e-mailed them to me. All in all the meeting went really well and I couldn't have been more pleased (and relieved) at how it went. It even started on time (meaning that it was scheduled for 2:00pm and everyone promptly arrived at 4:00pm)!

Jarga Sada aking the list of participating families
Once the participating families were all signed on, committed to making the cash contribution, and started getting their sand, crintin privacy fencing, and pits going, the next step was to finalize the order for building materials and arrange for transport. To do that I came in to Kédougou, talked to the hardware store employees who had given me estimates when I was planning the project, got a few comparison quotes for due diligence, chatted with drivers about delivery rates, and then spent four hours waiting in line at the bank to make a withdrawal.

Here in Senegal we use the CFA franc ("say-fah") and one American dollar is worth about 500 CFA. This project is fairly modest as far as construction projects go, but the budget was still over a million CFA and holding a million's worth of pretty much anything is just kind of fun. I stacked it up, laid it all out on table, fanned myself with it, and then went to the hardware store to pay for everything.

I didn't hold on to it for long, though, (which was fine with me, carrying large amounts of cash is slightly nerve-wracking) and the hardware store wrote me out a very nice receipt (so that no one can accuse me of "eating" the money) complete with both my names and an official stamp and signature and everything. 

Tomorrow I'll be hightailing it back to Salémata to meet the big old truck that will be delivering all the materials. I'm really glad that the project is coming along and - even though there's still a lot of work left to do - I'm already looking forward to seeing the actual latrines get installed. 


During the first year of my service I washed all my own laundry in plastic tubs (baignoires, as we call them here) with a washboard and soap packets. I washed socks, shirts, towels, everything, and I was passably competent (everything came out smelling fine at least) but never really became a stellar washing-lady or anything. There's nothing particularly awful about pulling water, carrying water, mashing the clothes around, and wringing them out, but there's nothing particularly great about it, either. 

The laundry area at the Regional House
I like hanging things out to dry, though. At the Regional House we have lines set up; in village people just drape clothes over fences or wherever and I have a couple little lines running over my latrine enclosure behind my hut so that I can discreetly dry my underthings. Drying laundry in the hot season is like magic - things seems to insta-dry. In the rainy season it's more of an exercise in futility, just an un-fun game where you hope the sun comes out long enough to get rid of the dampness before mildew starts to set in.

Laundry lines at the Regional House

Nowadays my laundry mostly gets done in village and it's my host sister Mariama Kesso who does the bulk of the washing. The first time I gave her my clothes to wash they came back so clean that they were an entirely different color (they had all been slightly orange, from the dust) and I gave up trying to wash things myself. I still launder my own underwear and things but she takes my pants, shirts, and sheets and washes them on Sundays, when she does her own washing. She does a better job than I ever did and is happy to earn a few extra mille every month, so it's a win-win situation. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

ThanksGouving 2012

This year more people than usual opted to stay in Kedougou for Thanksgiving and we were lucky to have a really good group at the house. I had the great honor (no one else wanted to do it) of coordinating the menu (which was ambitious) and market run, and - with help from Jess, Camille, and a whole host of other PCVs - it all went swimmingly. Except for the grease fire. But no one got hurt, not even the casseroles, so all's well that ends well, I suppose.

Some people cooked up a storm, others formed a house band and kept everyone entertained, and Ashleigh and Jackie spearheaded the Decoration Committee. (Many thanks to Ashleigh's Mom and Ilana's Mom for sending decorations and ingredients!)

 We didn't have real turkeys (chickens are much easier to come by around here) but we did have hand turkeys and everyone was pretty happy about that. There were so many appetizers, chickens, sides, salads, rolls, breads, gravy pots, pies, cakes, and fancy caramel apple cider drinks that everyone had more than enough to eat. Even Marie Christine and Pascale, our wonderful housekeepers, were impressed with how much we cooked and how well it turned out, so we all feel like we were pretty successful at hosting a good Thanksgiving party.

Gou Crew & Friends! 

Patrick and Annē, Dish Crew Extraordinaire