This blog reflects my personal ideas and does not represent any position of the US government or the Peace Corps.

Friday, December 21, 2012

America Fresh

I have just returned from a quick three-week trip stateside. The goals of the trip were to see as much family and friends as possible as well as to fatten up a bit before going back into hiding in the Senegalese bush. As my host family and village like to tell me frequently, I returned home to breast feed at my mother’s side (sorry for the visual). Upon returning, it appears the trip was a success. Even three weeks since my re-entry into the country, I am still receiving comments like “wow, you are looking chunkier these days” or “your skin is so vibrant now” (all a result of eating American foods in wide varieties and failing to be exposed to the sun on a daily basis). Overall, the trip was amazing. It was wonderful to see family and friends and even more so to realize the support that I have from everyone. I am so lucky and must thank you all so much.

FMNR in action! (No age limit)

Saliou, a farmer from my village

Now in Senegal, I have begun my second year as a Peace Corps Volunteer…also known as…time to hunker down. The days are quickly passing and the project ideas, continuously popping into my head. Most recently, I attended a week-long training in the city of Thies. This training invited approximately forty Master Farmers from all across the country, including two from my village in particular. I’m not sure if I have introduced this program yet on my blog but it is something that I have worked extremely closely with in the past year. The Master Farmer Program chooses respected and experienced farmers in communities all across the country, primarily in rural areas where farming is the main source of income for the majority of families. Peace Corps brings these farmers to our training center in Thies and teaches them numerous farming, gardening and agroforestry techniques (farmers will usually attend at least one training per year). All techniques hope to improve the current farming/gardening practices in Senegal by stressing the improvement of soil structures, since most have been ravaged from years of farming (fertilizer abuse) and deforestation. Overall, we, as volunteers, then work to help these farmers bring these techniques back to their respective communities and demonstrate them in an enclosed space. One highlight of this training was two days spent at a local reforestation project which introduced to both me and my master farmers a technique known as Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). In an effort to reverse desertification, FMNR teaches farmers to utilize and care for naturally occurring trees within their fields, as opposed to clearing them each start of the raining season (resulting in multiple issues including erosion and decreased soil quality). Fostering the natural growth of trees throughout a field can increase a farmer’s or gardener’s overall yield through increased soil fertility, water infiltration and retention, biodiversity or even shade (something we all love here in Senegal).

more pruning...

After this training and a small break for Christmas, I cannot wait to jump back into things in village. This past month, villagers have finished harvesting their peanuts and due to a particularly rain-filled rainy season harvests are proving prosperous and pockets slightly happier. They are now amidst the home-improvement season, as field crop stalks (millet, corn, sorghum) are abundant and being used to replace old, falling fences and dead weeds are being collected for roofing materials. As for me, aside from plans to continue extending some great techniques like FMNR at the Master Farm, I have hopes to start a small school garden at the elementary school (including not only nutritional vegetables but just plain pretty flowers…fun for the kiddies). I have also recently received funds to start a women’s garden in a village approximately two kilometers away from my site. This group of women have been struggling to garden in both the rainy and dry season as they lack a properly protected space to do so (with goats, sheep, cows, horses, donkeys and chickens running rampant, you can imagine it’s nearly impossible). Their efforts during the rainy season, as well, have been confined to seasonal ponds, however, when large rainstorms hit these efforts are often destroyed by flooding. So, let’s hope all goes well!
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saliou, Omar and I at the end of the
 training this past week.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


All the kids!
My mother, Fatouxadi
and her youngest, Sulemon.

Khadi Sarr (the second wife)
and her first child, Ibrahima
(now 4 months)

The boys!

Just the lovely ladies...
This past Monday was the celebration of Korite, or the end of Ramadan. Everyone in my family wore their best outfits for the occasion and cooked up a nice lunch of goat meat, potatoes, onions and macaroni (all in a sauce, a good change of a pace!). Here are a few pictures of the occasion!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Are you hungry?

Here we are now in the midst of the rainy season and the month of Ramadan (started on the 19th of July and will culminate in the holiday of Korite on the 18th of August). This past month has just allowed me to fully realize the work ethic of the villagers and their general ability to survive dire conditions. On a typical day of Ramadan, most (sadly including pregnant and nursing women within my village though luckily excluding children) wake up around 4:30 or 5 am before the sunrise. At this time they eat a small meal and drink a ton of water in preparation for the days work. From this early morning meal until sunset there is no eating or drinking any substance. With this in mind, these villagers are now spending entire days in fields as the farming season is now fully upon us. Beautiful green fields have sprouted up but are also filled with weeds that could impinge on crops and threaten yields. Men are in charge of weeding in between crop lines with a machine pulled by cows, one horse or a donkey. Women, children and men (once finished with the previous job) are then bent over with small handheld hoes that remove weeds within the endless lines of peanuts, millet, corn, beans or sorghum (primarily peanuts and millet for my particular village). I, personally, have made multiple trips out to the fields with my family and other community groups and I can safely say this is some of the most back-breaking/blister generating work I've ever done (and I am drinking plenty of water and arguably/ironically eating twice as much food during this past month as I ever have in Senegal). I am ashamed to say that the nine-year-old boy within my compound is better at this than I am...On top of all this, despite the fact that we are in the rainy season, the days are still extremely hot, reaching temps of at least 90 degrees and high humidity. One can only imagine how tired and dehydrated these people become spending the whole day, between the hours of 7 am and 6 pm in the fields. Many often tell me that if they return home in the middle of the day all there is to think about is that glass of water or that bowl of rice that you're missing for lunch. So, needless to say, this past month has made for a fairly lonely village. When they finally return home, most shower and quietly wait for break fast, which comes around 7:30 pm. Families, if the funds are available, will break fast with a small amount of bread, coffee and occasionally dates as a special treat. In my particular household, we eat lunch (as they have just pushed this meal from midday to sunset) around 8:30 pm. This, as usual, is a rice dish with some sort of sauce. This time of year is characterized as the "hunger season." The money from the last crop/the last time my family got a cash influx of any sort has now fully run out, having been finished off on buying as good quality seed as possible and fertilizer for this year's fields. Overall, just imagine, fasting is now combined with extremely difficult labor in full sunshine in Africa and very little nutritious food to help you through it. No one said it was easy.  

My front door.
The view from my room to the compound...
filled with water.
Where my toilet used to exist...
I also wanted to mention that this rainy season is a completely new experience for me (may seem like an obvious statement..). For some reason, when villagers had previously mentioned that Allah would soon be bringing rain, I imagined continuously drizzly Northwest days spent inside and simply could not wait for a reminder of home. This is not the case. The rains here exhibit themselves in a drastically different fashion and come with a variety of fun/interesting side effects. Most often or at least most recently, rains come at night and therefore do not provide too much relief from the sunshine. Villagers know when they are about to arrive because of extremely hot temperatures, a lack of any wind (meaning lots of sweat) and a ton of lightning on the horizon. When the lightning and deafening thunder passes over the vill, it ushers in torrential down pours that can cause serious damage to houses, fields, or anything! Houses, some constructed of only sand, simply fall over, roofs fall in, pit toilets collapse, seeds wash off of fields, roads wash out (making it very difficult to leave ones rural village in search of icecream...). As an example, a few days ago, we experienced a rain of 60 mm in one evening. Both doors to my small abode were filled with puddles and I was confined to my room for the night. I fell asleep early but was awoken by an abrupt crash. I ventured out of my room to find that my luxurious, personal, bathroom was now fully covered with a wall from the adjacent building of the house (luckily no collapsing of any sort occurred and a simple moving of bricks should do the trick...). In addition, this new moisture also brings new biodiversity and huge amounts of beautiful greenery. My room has now seen mushrooms, molds, snails, bats, toads and amazing amounts of flies. 
A mushroom in my room
(photo requested by my father)

Overall, I am enjoying this change of pace. I am learning a lot about subsistence farming lifestyles and how I may potentially help in my second year of Peace Corps service. Work has been a difficult area for me, but as the Wolofs always say, "Ndank Ndank mooy japp ngolo ci ney." or "slowly you will catch the monkey in the bush." 

Currently, I do not have my computer with me and am therefore unable to upload photos but this will hopefully happen within the next month.

Hope summer fun is continuing in America! Love.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Things are Changing!

The rains have arrived! And so have a lot of other perks and pitfalls that accompany them! Check out a few photos I just uploaded of the now rain-inundated Sali.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Rain Waiting

Hello all! Here in Senegal, things are about to change drastically, everyone has their eyes glued to the sky…waiting for rain. The other night after dinner (around 10 pm), as I sat outside and continued to sweat, a good friend informed me that Allah is in the process of “cooking water.” Essentially meaning, it is necessary for it to get extremely hot, so that we can get consistent rains during the next few months. So, recently, temperatures have been getting higher and higher….or…are at least feeling higher and higher (reaching around 110 degrees). Needless to say, 90% of the day, my hand is extended with a small handheld fan (non-electric, energy-consuming).
Aside from sweating, the work pace is also starting to pick up for the villagers of Sali. In the past few months, in preparation for the rains, all the men of the village have been waking up early and spending most days in the fields. Their field preparation involves cleaning up last year’s left over field crop residues, cutting down any new bushes or weeds, raking all this into piles and burning it up! As you might imagine, in an area that has not seen a significant amount of moisture in more than 9 months, this preparation process leads to lots and lots of bush fires. Villagers are often very careful to wait until dawn or dusk when the wind subsides, but with so many of them, there is no avoiding it. As a result, the bush surrounding my village is suffering some severe damage from generations and generations of this same process. The fires have also been known to make their way into villages (believed to be the work of a genie according to many) which can become extremely devastating very quickly with roofs of houses made of dried weeds, fences/walls made of dried millet stalks and the only water source coming from wells with pulleys and buckets to pull the water. Luckily, my village only had a small fire incident this year and no one was hurt.
In the region of Kaffrine, meteorologists predict that the first large rain of the season should occur between June 18th and 23rd  (defined by 20 millimeters at least). Farmers here rely on this. When seeding (primarily peanuts, millet, corn, sorghum and beans), they eagerly await enough rain to keep the soil moist for a few days, enough to get their seeds to germinate. If it does not rain again within a week or so of that first rain, their entire crop could dry up under the midday sun. If they wait too long, however, until the rains are consistent, they may not have enough time for their crop to fully mature during the season. A delicate balance! Just to give you an idea of the importance riding on this rainy season, these crops are the primary source of income for villagers, and currently the cash from the previous crop, 9 months ago, is running dry….and the food running bland (also, add to this that the last rainy season was marked by very few rains and many had poor crops or little money). Most are very anxious.
             In addition, just outside of the village, things are on the move for the nomadic pulaar people. These people make a living with extremely large herds of cows, sheep and goats. As the rains get closer and closer, they are now headed north. I did not understand this phenomenon at first, but then someone explained that clearly, if all these herds were in the fields during seeding time, any brand new baby field crops would be eaten up! Therefore, recently, large charettes pulled by multiple donkeys (sometimes up to five!) piled with every one of their possessions have been parading through the village. And to think, I thought we were living the hard life in rural Senegal, these people are yet another step down (or up?)…
As for me, with the changing seasons, my work is picking up. As a “sustainable agriculture extension agent,” I am responsible for extending improved seed varieties to motivated farmers in the village. Once extended, I follow the seeds, visit the farms weekly and provide small pointers on how to get a better crop (what the heck do I know!!??). So, my life for the next few months will involve a lot of walking, looking at fields and trying to get farmers to think I know what I’m talking about. We’ll see how it goes!
Lastly, check out some new photos on photobucket (sorry there are not too many!).

Until next time! Love!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Food for thought...

Having now lived in Senegal for almost 8 months, there are many sights and cultural phenomena that no longer strike me as strange. Seeing sheep and goats piled on top of public transport, watching a cow SLEEP on a horse-drawn carriage or eating out of a communal bowl with lots of snotty children... now un-phased.   However, there are a few things here in Senegal that, despite how much time I spend adapting to village life, still strike me as drastically different from the American culture in which I was raised.
On a daily basis I get the pleasure of interacting with seven amazing children (those that live within my compound). None of these children exceed the age of 11, though all of them are working on daily chores for the majority of the day. Fatou, a sassy pre-teen/my namesake/one of my best informants, is quickly learning the skills she needs to be a wife and a mother. Her responsibilities include sweeping and cleaning the compound, washing clothes (including mine), cooking lunch and dinner, pounding millet and pulling water from the well for the family to both drink and shower…all done while carrying baby Sulemon on her back (considering he prefers her back to his own mother’s). The younger sister, Awa (age 5), is quickly following in Fatou’s footsteps and beginning to share responsibility in many of these tasks. As boys, Aadama (twin of Awa) and Mali (age 8) are responsible for taking care of the farm animals (goats, sheep, ducks, chickens, a cow and a donkey). Every morning they get up at dawn to venture into the bush and fill large rice sacks with weeds to feed the animals, in addition to watering them twice daily. This may sound cruel to many, though I see a strong desire in very small children to start this process and contribute to the family’s wellbeing. Aissatou, age 3, frequently follows Fatou to the well with a kilo-tomato paste can in hopes of filling it with water, carrying it on her head and adding to the family’s water reserves. And when my morning goal was to carry extensive amounts of manure from the backyard to my small demonstration garden, I was followed by 7 or so children working to contribute their small portions of manure to my pile. In experiencing all of this, I can’t help but think that we need a taste of it in rearing our children. Make the 3-year old cook dinner! Put the 5-year-old in charge of babysitting! Or at the very least get them away from the video games or TV…
In addition, I recently had an extensive conversation with the French teacher in Saly. He was able to give me some great insight as to how families in Senegalese communities deal with money matters. As the eldest brother in his family and the most prosperous, he is responsible for funding the entire Muslim celebration of Tabaski each year (a Thanksgiving or Christmas equivalent). This involves buying new clothing for each member of his family, any food for the day and, of course, the sheep. For his family, he said, these expenses could add up to a couple thousand dollars and successfully empty his bank account/savings from the previous year of work. This does not matter. Here, if you have funds, you share them. If you see an individual wandering the streets with no way to eat/survive, you take them in or provide them with a meal…even if it generates a burden for you and your family. Our closest neighbor in village, a woman named Marem Dimb, is pretty darn old and pretty darn blind. Her daily visits to our house usually result in lots of laughter (specifically from her fear of my cat that she cannot see) but often in my father offering her some money from the family funds, despite the fact that they may not be able to afford this. Why is sharing money such a problem in our culture? This is something else I think we can learn from, Senegalese will share until they have nothing left…though maybe we shouldn’t go this far…
            Anyway, just thought I would share a few things that I’ve been thinking about and provide a little more insight into some cultural values here. Time in village involves a lot of moments to sit and drink tea and ponder all of this. Until next time!

Friday, April 6, 2012


Sulemon! (Male/7 months old/single) The best series of photos I have taken yet in Senegal. 

I have also just updated my photobucket with a few more photos, so check them out.

This next week I should have good access to internet and hope to write a good blog update! Ba beneen yoon! (until next time).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Girls Leadership Camp!

Hi All!

Just wanted to send out a quick update, as I have some great internet access! Currently, I am in the city of Koalack (known for its sheer amounts of trash) and have just had a meeting regarding the upcoming Girls Leadership Camp in June. This is all very exciting, as now I am finally getting to start into some projects. This leadership camp chooses high performing high school aged girls from all across the Koalack region (each region of Senegal hosts a camp). These girls are of course volunteer chosen, and my close neigherbor, Josh, and I plan to attend a couple of high schools in his area (Koungheul) in search of some good candidates in the future. As I have already experienced throughout my rural village, women in Senegal are often married off at a very young age (as little as 10 or 12) and destined to spend their lives cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and reproducing. This five day long camp aims to educate these girls about the opportunities that exist for them outside this lifestyle. The camp incorporates sessions on self-esteem, individuality, women's health, career opportunities, sports, self defense etc... many of which are volunteer taught. Currently, as some of you may have guessed, the camp is looking for funding so as to make it the most effective for these girls. If anyone would like to donate please follow the link below!

This website provides a small blurb about the camp and look to the side bar on the right for information about donating! No donation is too small!

In addition to this, I have just added more photos to my "Sali" album on photobucket. Nothing too exciting has occurred recently in village, but the new photos do include the brand new baby (the second wife's first child) which was born on March 3rd, a boy named Ibrahima Sal Sarr or Ibu for short. In addition, upon my return to village tomorrow, I should be greeted (fingers crossed) with a brand new hut! A few things might be missing from it (including cement covering the walls) but I will still welcome the chance to move away from the bats and mice into a nice, cool hut! So, there are a few photos of the building process as well.


Also, I would welcome any suggestions about what you would like to see or hear about! I am still very new at blogging and am not sure if what I include in my posts is the information that everyone is looking to hear. Shoot me an email or comment and let me know if you have questions or want to see pictures of anything etc.

Thanks again! Katie

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Raw Hog

My life has been pretty crazy most recently and is only just starting to slow down and develop a routine. In the first couple of weeks in February, all of the agricultural volunteers that arrived with me in Senegal in August (totaling 54) got together at the Training center for our In-Service Training (IST). These were two very exhausting weeks involving 8-5 everyday in the classroom or garden, trying to obtain as much knowledge as possible about farming in Senegal/what our future job involves. After finishing this training, I returned to my village on the 16th of February. Now, as other Peace Corps volunteers may attest to, is kind of a strange and stressful transition period. The first three months in village (before IST), is when our time should be spent getting to know the community, chatting while shelling peanuts or drinking attaaya. However now, all of the sudden, things are expected of us. I feel pressure from myself, the community and my colleagues to get some projects underway/be of some importance within the community. Though something you learn very quickly as a PCV in developing countries is that nothing happens fast. And in addition, you as the PCV, are never to lead a project, only to facilitate or hopefully initiate motivation. This is of course all in the hope that our projects will be sustainable and after we return to the states there will be some sort of community structure in place to continue them. In addition, we have to be very careful in the projects we choose for this exact reason –sustainability. The community must actually be interested in the project and have some investment, as opposed to it being imposed upon them. Thus, here I sit, still slightly nervous to take the first step and trying to be sure that everything is in line before I do so.
Most recently, I have been spending lots of time in my small 12x12 meter garden space, digging beds and seeding things like tomato, lettuce, carrot, eggplant, okra, and Moringa (a great tree! A craze in international development work, google it!). I hope that I can set up some demonstrations in the garden that will be of interest to the village, i.e. mulching, composting etc. Though this is all under the assumption that my baby plants will survive the fast approaching 120-30oF sunshine (now at about 100oF). Other than this my head is spinning with more projects but it may be a while until I know where to start.
Before I go, I do feel obligated to update a story that shows a little of what Senegalese hospitability really means. A few days ago I traveled about 5 kilometers away on a horse drawn charette to a tourist camp nearby. A Frenchman owns the camp and brings in small groups of people to visit Senegal and go hunting for various bird species in the bush. Every once in a while they catch a warthog and since this is way too much meat for just those at the camp, they often offer it to the few catholic villages nearby. A few Senegalese that work at the camp asked if I would like to try a taste the next time they catch one. Of course, I was thrilled to integrate more protein into my diet and responded with yes. A few nights ago, I had completely forgotten about this encounter and turned in early, around 9 or 10 pm. About 10 minutes after settling into bed, I got a knock at the door from a friend who works at the camp. I opened it to find him struggling to hoist a large front leg and shoulder of warthog into the air to show me. This leg had been FRESHLY cut off the carcass, still covered with course warthog hair and a lovely tick crawling on it. My friend was completely expectant that I would simply set the raw piece of flesh on a shelf in my room, wait until morning and consume the kilos of meat all to the myself. After much shock and babbling on my part, I finally convinced him to at least cut the meat from the leg, throw the remains to the dogs in the bush and then I would keep the rest in an enclosed bowl through the night. Needless to say, I did not sleep at all that night as I assumed rabid dogs would break down my rickety door in search of the raw hog. All turned out okay, I ended up cutting off a small piece for myself and carried the rest to a nearby catholic friend. Anyway, just goes to show you, you ask for a little, they give a lot!

Until next time! Love you all, sending some of this sunshine your way!  

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Laying the Foundation...

...of a brand new hut (or some other metaphor if you prefer)!!

My village has officially begun the building process of my new hut, almost three months late... And I am ecstatic! I can't wait to move in! My father has informed me that the search for weeds to complete the roof should be finished soon and the doors and floor will follow shortly after (you guessed it, I just have walls).
     Other than this, I recently visited the post office in Koungheul. My multiple previous visits in search for some mysterious packages (I had heard rumors of from the states) always ended up in disappointment. Most recently, however, after a long stint in village, I chose to make the voyage again. This time, I was led into the back storage room....only to find... a nearly entirely empty room, except for a corner filled with packages all addressed to me! This was the best Christmas ever!! Thank you all so much! I really appreciate the thought that went into each and every one of those and I seriously cannot describe the shear joy that any PCV feels when receiving quality food and goodies from America. Thank you!
     At this point, I don't have too much to update a full blog post, but I have recently added quite a few photos to my "Sali" album on photobucket. The photos have a few family members and include a bit of the  hut building process. Follow the link to check it out:

Currently I am in the wonderful city of Thies for what's called IST or In Service Training. The idea being that now that we've been in village a few months, as volunteers, and we should have some understanding of what things we would like to learn about/implement within our sites. Thus, we have two big weeks of classes to get a lot of information! This does mean that I will have some pretty good access to internet for a while, so if you would like to get in touch, I would love to hear from you!

Hope all is well and the weather is turning up! Maybe even a little snow?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Well, I have officially been in village 2 months as of January 11th. I can certainly say that those first few weeks of adapting were the most challenging (not knowing a soul and not speaking the language) and during that time I frequently questioned if I could really stick this out for two years. Now, however, I am starting to feel more and more comfortable each day (or maybe its just that distance makes the heart grow fonder and I was just on a great beach vacation…not sure as of yet). Something that helps and fills my time, I am beginning to develop a routine of visiting many of the family compounds within the village, chatting over attaaya (strong/sugary tea) and getting ideas for what they would like to see happen in terms of development within their community. Many would like gardening projects including composting or live fencing, but others bring up things like fixing the peanut shelling machine (so women and children don’t have to spend hours shelling a bucket of peanuts that could be done in one minute), getting solar panels for the materinity ward or school or health post, improving access to water by digging wells or spickets in the community, or even building latrines (as many here still don’t have them). As some may notice, not all of these are agriculturally related… I’m beginning to realize that though I made hold the title of “sustainable agricultural extension agent,” I have the freedom to undertake many projects within the village and am very excited to do so…
Other than making my way through the community, and in the process realizing what great people reside here, I have been spending a lot of time with my work counterpart, Omar. This past year, Peace Corps provided Omar with a hectare of land surrounded by a chain link fence and a concrete building in which to keep tools and seeds. This was all under the condition that he would work closely with the agricultural volunteer in the village (now me!) and help extend/demonstrate new agricultural techniques to the village. Omar, Sali—a great guy that works daily in Omar’s garden and is obsessed with just that…working—and I have been diligently putting together a garden. We’re working on digging lots of beds, amending the soil (now purely sand) with manure/compost etc., and seeding and planting things like lettuce, cabbage, onions and okra. Now, the garden is….well just dirt, but I have high hopes that it soon will improve. In addition to this, Omar has had some problems with monkeys (not sure what type) coming into his garden and stealing his now ripening watermelon. To solve this issue, he recently went out into the bush, found a dog with puppies and snatched two of them. He hopes soon they will protect his hectare of land from those thieves. This certainly contributes to the fun I have the garden, getting to play with two adorable puppies and laughing at how scared a lot of Senegalese people are when they see them.
I have also really become comfortable at the health post in the village. The local doctor and his wife are smart, hilarious people both of whom grew up in the larger cities of Senegal and are therefore a bit more understanding/educated regarding my culture and habits. Whenever I have time, I enjoy visiting them as they often spoil me with very nutritious food (like salad!) and always offer the best conversation. This makes me very excited to take on projects involving the health post. Right now, I’m thinking about doing a very simple seminar on hand washing with soap. This sounds obvious, but seeing is believing here, what looks clean is clean, and therefore most just use water before eating (you can imagine how many sicknesses this could cause when people eat with their hands).
As of now, I am off to the city of Thies for what’s called the “All Volunteer Conference.” Peace Corps Volunteers are getting together from all across West Africa to discuss projects etc. It should be a great opportunity to get ideas for my community, not to mention a visit to my previous host family! Hope everyone is having a great start to the New Year!! Until next time!