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

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.

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