All or Nothing

Signs for the run-off candidates and rules of the voting game.

16 April 2012

Sitting in the Kolda Regional house waiting for Monday so that the Eaux et Forets(Department of Water and Forests) will be open and I can buy vetiver grass for an upcoming project has gotten me thinking about how each day, each span of day, each project or awaited event has been like this, all or nothing.

We’ll start with the election.  There was the hustle and bustle of the first campaign, whose chants and “politico”trucks I described previously.  Then hardly a peep was heard from my village or outside.

Proud voter, marking her finger print on the way out.

Election officials represented each of the villages voting in the F.B. district.

One truck rolled in, carrying another PCVs host Dad of all things, and another guy, the first spotted of his kind, a Mandinka-speaking politician.  I’m not sure if it was the team coming through or just a lack of activity in village, but the women decided to put on their party clothes, a goofy drag made of men’s discarded clothes (once worn for drag, my ancienne told me, cannot be returned to the men) and found pieces, including a thin, reddish beard, beads, hats, and swimming goggles.  It was bizarrely simple to convince many of the costumed women to make an about-face and claim they were voting for Macky.

Voting Instructions

Whether it was the Mandinka or the feeling that Macky just might win and they wouldn’t want to look foolish standing on the wrong side.  But once the truck rolled out of town, there was nothing.  I tried to get people to talk about it but mostly they’d mutter something inaudible and change the subject.

Election day came and went with a small social scene at the school but when night fell and Wade conceded all I heard was my teenage sister, Binta’s casual remark across the dinner bowl, “Macky won Senegal, but Wade won Fodé Bayo.”  I’m sure Wade is sitting in France right now savoring the votes he got in the F.B.

Showing off their ink marks. I loved asking people to prove they voted and checking their pink finger prints.

There was a truck in village. Naturally all the dudes gravitated toward it.


Next it was visitors.  Volunteers and study abroad students, all of them, in my hut.  My friend Whitney came because we’ve been meaning to see each other’s sites and she had to come my way for a work empire meeting (PC named them work zones, we realized our true potential was as the Dabo Empire).  Her visit was hectic, as I had decided to transplant the day she came and make soup for the whole family the next night.  Everyone said they liked the soup but they’d already prepared a second dinner so who knows if they considered it a legitimate meal without a base grain.  Seyni’s quote from the soup venture was my favorite: “I only ate a little but it did not fill me up.”  Surprising, that.

After Whitney was Austin, a third-year, Urban Agriculture volunteer who extended to do trainings in Thies, and who I convinced to do an Earthworks landscaping tourné in the Kolda region.  Earthworks is a cool term for molding the soil so it holds more water and less earth and organic material is washed away.  More on this after the tourné.  Austin was visiting to assess the feasibility of implementing these techniques in our heavy clay soil before the rains come.  We found it should work and that though kids in my village are not normally scared of toubabs, a giant Arian-looking man can still make them cry.  A day of rest sat between Austin and two study abroad students “rural visit.”  They had spent most of their time in Dakar and it was fun to talk about how different our worries are living in the same country.  One of the is doing research on awareness of climate change in developing countries and I translated a few interviews for her.  Everyone we asked appreciated hat she cared about how the decrease in rainfall, their diminishing forests, and that hot season was feeling hotter than when they were kids.  They also helped me tremendously processing Moringa sees to take to volunteers up North who are lacking a source and assisting in the 574 tree sacks my women’s garden group stuffed for the live fencing project we are doing.  Creating this pepiniere was real all or nothing affair.  Fanta and I had planned several dates for this to happen over the course of three weeks.  It took the rest of the women realizing that I was leaving the next day and they either had to do it alone or it would not be done to gather in the garden that afternoon and burst into activity.

Visitors are great for helping with work, for making everyone in village happy that people want to see F.B., and for making me feel more like a local when my villagers treats me differently from my guests, making me run around as hostess and teasing me that I have not stuffed my fair share of tree sacks.  Having to translate every bit of every day, however, is exhausting.  And when I just wanted to lie down on the outdoor bed and stare at the stars with my sisters, I had to go.  Unfortunately, when I my visitors left it was time for me to leave too.  All or nothing.

And I was off because many celebrations were on the schedule.  In four days I was supposed to partake in ceremonies from three different religions.  Friday night we hosted a Passover sader in the Kolda regional house, complete with jaxatu for bitter herbs and a rap/play written by one PCV’s Rabbi mother.  Saturday we prepped for Easter with a Baliwood-themed egg-dying party.  It was Holi meets Easter meets Senegal, an unsurprisingly fun combination.  I was up before the sun Easter morning to travel to Nioro where Lisa and my adopted Christian family live.  This is the same place I sent Christmas.  Easter was much the same with feasts of chicken for lunch and dinner.  This time there were seven volunteers, representing all of the major language groups in Senegal (most of which Lisa’s host grandmother speaks!), and the bonus of a discotechque at night.  We didn’t last long at the disco, preferring to sit out in the cool night air and play catch up.  It was a good thing too because the next day we spent at an “all-day fête” at the church.  This was supposed to be the day of my Islamic celebration, a baptisim for Lisa’s new newphew.  The legitimacy of the child’s birth, however kept the family from attending and, apparently, explaining this to Lisa.  Nevertheless, at the end of the weekend, I had had all the partying I needed for a while.

(Sorry!  Too much fun, not enough picture taking.)

Andy perfecting his data collection skills, counting millet tillers.

Then there was one restful, peaceful, nothing day I spent in Thies drinking coffee at a restaurant, watching a movie in a friend’s apartment, and making dinner with fresh vegies stolen from the training center garden.  This peace, of course, was rudely awoken at five A.M. the next day to catch a PC bus to Kaolack and sit in three days of meeting for the Sustainable Ag summit.

Typical PCVs stealing children wherever they go. This was during the SusAg summit field trip to a Koalack master farm.

You would think volunteers would take the evenings to kick back, but with access to internet the Kolda girls who have banded together for the Earthworks project realized we needed to spend our free time writing a grant to fund our dream of retaining more water on agricultural landscapes to improve food security (as our grant states).  My time away from home turned out to be all party or all work.

Back in Kolda it was a flurry of people as the current Health and Environmental Education trainees had just finished their volunteer visit and they volunteers they will replace were packing up their two-year services for the long haul back to Amerik.  We all had a big Southern-style BBQ with pulled-pork, cole slaw and baked beans.  Then the house went quiet and I sit here and wait for the bits and pieces of the Earthworks grant to fall together.  I fall into the nothing and wait, not knowing when it will all hit me again.

Whitney and Tucker with all of the pig.

Ready to head home. Amadou, the regional house guard, helped me strap twenty tree sacks of vetiver grass to my bike. Unfortunately the contraption didn’t quite get me home and my baggage and I succumbed to public transportation.







All of the Love,



1 thought on “All or Nothing

  1. Love reading your continuing missives, Mary! Prayers continue for your success and good health there. BBQ pulled pork and baked beans?! Really?! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s