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!