Ntooma–A Bird Pooped on Fanta

Mary and her parents, Daba Kondjira and Fanta Kante on Tabaski.

Mary and her parents, Daba Kondjira and Fanta Kante on Tabaski.

9 October 2012

We were sitting on the bamboo bed at Fanta’s house catching each other up on the day’s events.  Due to the size of her stomach, she stayed at home most of the day, only taking one short walk to the faroo to check on her rice; nevertheless she’d gathered more news from the village than I had.  It’s tempting to blame this on my language barrier, but I honestly think it’s a mother’s charm that allows one to know all without lifting a finger.  Fanta is the mother of seven, so I imagine her senses are even more heightened than my flesh and blood mother.  Anyway, we were sitting there chatting and a bird pooped on Fanta.  I don’t know the Mandinka word for luck, so I told her good things were coming.

The next day, September 25th, dusk was well upon me as I raced the daylight home carrying seven kilos of beans on my baggage rack, a reward for a long day’s work on the Master Farm.  I nearly sped past Daba, Fanta’s husband on the path outside the Health Hut.  I assumed he was strolling back from an evening shift of scaring monkeys away from his fields and started shouting a greeting when something in his face made me slow down.  He wasn’t strolling.  He was pacing.  “Fanta is in there,” he nearly whispered as he tends to through the cigarette parting his lips.

I leaned my bike against the fence and hurried up to the porch.  Three older women from Fanta’s compound were sitting there waiting.  They said they hadn’t been there long and after a few silent moments passed I decided to race off to bathe.  For once no one begged my attention or greetings when I said I was hurrying back to the Health Hut.  Those who did not already know Fanta was there understood with a glance towards my anxious, excited eyes and uncertain grin.

I took a book and my raincoat to ensure I would not need them.  And I didn’t, because it turns out sitting anxiously is a very busying occupation.  The other women pleaded with Fanta to give forgiveness as she cried in waves and rhythms, praying and singing in pain.  Ansata, the educated and sassy midwife, who by some miracle comes from a Pulaar village one and a half compounds strong, was inside snapping off commands like it was no big deal to produce a child from between your legs with nothing but cries to Allah to relieve the pain.  I was silent, sitting up straight, ears and eyes wide.  Finally there was a tiny whine,  less wholesome than Fanta’s, full of urgency, not desperation.  After Ansata chopped some more orders, Fanta called for Diara, my host mother, to come to the door.  When told she had left, Fanta requested that someone go get me.  “I’m here,” I called out in a chorus of “she’s here’s.”

1.4We sat and watched Ansata come and go with requests for water and Fanta’s clothes, a bed pan of amniotic sac, and the new clothe for swaddling.  It wasn’t long until we were invited in to see mother and child.  Someone else had taken my flashlight and I had to call the small herd of women in front of me back to the first room we entered to see the child, who had just been born, before crowding her mother.

That’s right, her, a gorgeous baby girl, 4.8 kilograms with sweet, soft curls of black hair, scrunched-up puppy eyes and little hands whiter than my own.  We carried the baby into the second room where Fanta was prostrate, every fiber of her being yanked and pulled, tired to extremes.  Of course she managed to scoot over for me to sit, never forgetting propriety.  The baby was passed around pushy ladies telling her she was ugly and telling me they were going to beat her.  They were all calling her my namesake but I was the last in the room to hold her.  When I did the room finally went still and quiet.  She hadn’t been alive five minutes, and here I was holding her, my namesake, ntooma.

Mary hears her name for the first time at her naambo, naming ceremony.

Mary hears her name for the first time at her naambo, naming ceremony.

A week later little Mary was christened.  The name was whispered from ear to ear around her head so that she might not forget.  The beautiful locks shaved from her head and a piece of Fanta’s were tied away in a cloth to be blessed and sewn into burro, medicine, to protect Mary on a string around her neck.  The day before her christening.  Mary’s father asked me what her name was going to be—mine, my mother’s, any name I want to lie an say was mine to give myself a chuckle every time I saw her.  The position of namesake here is one similar to god-parent but with the addendum that if I wanted to or if her mother every asked me, I could be responsible for this child as my own.

Loosing her soft newborn curls at the christening.

Loosing her soft newborn curls at the christening.

A small portion of Fanta's hair is shaved off too.  The hair of the mother and child are saved to make a grigri or burro, tradition Senegalese sufi muslim medicine.

A small portion of Fanta’s hair is shaved off too. The hair of the mother and child are saved to make a grigri or burro, tradition Senegalese sufi muslim medicine.

I visit her every day and am questioned on my whereabouts if I don’t make it around until evening.  My feeling are those of a responsible parent.  Of course she is perfect and the most beautiful child I’ve ever seen.  I already worry about her future, how I will keep in touch with her and if it’s be possible or appropriate to fund her education.  I love her to bits and cherish the moments I can quell her tears with a round of “Hush Little Baby” sung at a level audible only to her tiny ears as we sway about the goats and weaver’s nest dropped for the mango trees.  She cures and sadness or tiredness I accumulate throughout the day.  Needless to say, I believe in the luck.

Love from,

M.Cad and M.Kondjira

Mary and Mary on Tabaski

Mary and Mary on Tabaski



26 August 2012

The month of fasting, Sunkaro (suŋ= to fast, karo=month) or Ramadan has come and past.  We waited for one new moon, ate six times that day, combining our daily routine with the new schedule of break-fast.  We went hungry and learned how to work through and beyond hunger.  This is what my brother tells me Allah commanded the fast for, learning to persevere when things are scarce.  His explanation was that Africans need to make their bodies strong through fasting.  Others told me when they felt hunger it made them think of Allah and this was good.  And, they said, they’d think of their duty to those who have less, to those they’d give alms to when the harvests come in.

My Korite flower arrangement. Wildflowers sourced on my morning run. You can take the girl out of Virginia, but you can’t take the garden club out of the girl.

Now I don’t want to sound righteous.  I put in my effort, but I was not fully committed.  At first, I refused to fast.  I’m not a Muslim, it’s not my haaj (way or business).  I worked through the afternooning helping a farmer weed his corn.  In my bucket bath I poured extra water on my face and let it linger on my lips.  Then I sat at my doorstep, litre of water in hand, awaiting not my perception of sunset but when the elders around me raised their cups to drink.  For break-fast we eat things, which are usually never present, bread and hot sweet drinks—café, comprised mostly of powdered milk, “tea” a drink from The Gambia whose contents took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out, and kinkliba, my favorite, a yummy leaf dried and made as a tea.  It always tasted great but never as good as at the end of my first fast day.

After gulping down the initial break-fast and as much water as their stomachs could handle, everyone would run off for fourth prayer.  On their return we’d drink, not eat, a millet porridge we consume with kalamaas, big ladle-like spoons traditionally made from gourds (mine is purple plastic).  Then I’d wait often with my youngest siblings crowding around to read my book with me while everyone else went to mosque.  This prayer they said lasted longer because they’d stand and sit thirteen times instead of the usual seven.  I’d try to distract the littlest ones from missing their Moms and one day found myself in desperation singing camps songs to them.  Those who know my singing voice won’t be surprised that the kids just looked confused while I was going at it and would commence crying with the pauses between songs.  Mostly this was nice, reflective family time, but I’d often be ready to sleep before dinner was served.

When the first day past without too much bother I decided fasting was some what better than opening my stomach for the petit lunches that are served to those not fasting (the children, the pregnant, breast feeding and sickly) and getting the taste for hunger.  My decision was to fast when I was in village, but not when I was out.  With a Sustainable Agriculture sector summit in Tamba and a couple day trips from site, I fasted ten days.  Some days I drank water, some I didn’t.  On three days I snuck mid-morning tea or a spoonful of peanut butter, so we’ll count seven days as true fasts, decent work for an Episcopalian.  And it did make me feel worthy of chicken for breakfast and four bowls of ceebon Korite, the holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan.

My brother, Mama, and the first of my chickens to be sacrificed for human consumption.

And this is Seyni chowing down on that very chicken (for breakfast!).










Five days earlier was the more interesting holiday, Kitimoo.  The last Wednesday of Ramadan everyone breaks into age groups (apparently, I fit with the young brides, 15-18 years old, some only promised off, some recently wed) and go around to each compound singing.  The most prominent song screeches “lye lye de lye.”  This and other songs are shouted in high-pitched voices until the person you’re visiting gives you money.  When the money came there was a jumble of blessings and usually a market-like interaction for change—only small coins are expected and when someone wants to give less than the coins they have, they ask for change.  Each group ends caroling at the mosque, where I left them.  It  was already midnight, but everyone else stayed up until five A.M. lye-lyeing.

Fanta, Mama, Khadijatou, Binta, and Fatou dancing around village, so excited for the feast day.

The prayer place.

Ahminta and Banya, two of the women I stood with just outside the prayer, greeting everyone on their way home.

For Korite, everyone gathers in a big clearing outside to pray in the morning and the rest is mostly about eating and not working.  I’d say Kitimoo is to midnight mass as Korite is to Christmas.  But a fête it was indeed and I’m glad to be back on a regular schedule.  Few events in my life have forced me to change routine and reflect the way Ramadan did and I believe my friends and family here are stronger for it.

“Scolding locks…a leader in quality hair car roducts.” I was sold and how else was I going to get my hair in braids.

Fanta and I in our holiday complets. Note: braids and white scalp.

The aftermath of my hair. Crimped is always in vogue right?

Love, M.Cad. who will be in dire need of fashion advice upon her return to the U.S.

It’s Raining Rain. Alleluia!

9 July 2012

I have a small, two-sided chalk board in my hut, where I keep all my “to-dos.”  On one side I have the “long-term to-dos,” including “build a live-roof on my chicken coop,” make compost”—the ideals for when I have time and the always necessary tasks.  Flip it over and you’ll find a list just as long entitled “to do when rains come.”  Well, my friends, the rain has come, and so has my sister so the past few weeks have been a whirlwind.

After the first rain storm I headed out to check on our earthworks demo at first light. A boomerang berm in Fanta’s farro, doing it’s job, holding water and collecting organic matter.

After returning to site, almost healed from my cashew oil encounter, I had a tight ship to run.  My crew consisted of 10 local farmers and Gano, 4km away in Thiewol Lao.  Some unseen stroke of charm or maybe my ability to speak English had my new site mate, Steph, wrapped-up in much of this too.  We’ll call her my skipper, following my poor directions from her village to mine and taking in the copious instructions I left for my brief trip to Dakar, where I would source Julia, Lexa, and a surprise Aussie, Danushka.

At first it was all hands on deck, my first mates Seyni and Fanta darted with me from starboard to port, fiving orders and gathering assurances that the PC-extended ISRA (Institut Sénégalaise de Recherches Agricoles) field crops would be seeded at proper spacing using mechanical and hand seeding.  I made meter sticks for each farmer and taped the recommended spacing to each bottle of seed, so they could match the numbers on the bottle to the numbers on stick.  Seyni and Fanta took turns meeting with farmers to explain this plan, drawing rows of corn or sorghum in the sand and to reinforce my desire to know everything about how this seed grows.  Peace Corps requires volunteers to record, seeding, weeding, thinning dates, observe flowering, tillering and ultimately determine yields at season’s close.

Along with checking in with each farmer on basic maintenance, a few farmers are helping me perform demonstrations for improved techniques.  Some of these won’t start until thinning or flowering for spacing and pest management.  Two started in this crazy week.  One farmer dug Zai holes, amended, moisture-retaining planting holes for his corn with help from Seyni, Steph, and I.  This guy was prepared with neem leaves (for pest repellent and Nitrogen given by green organic matter), manure (even more Nitrogen and whatever the animal source has been eating), and wood ash (Carbon source and provider of crystal-like ant-killers) as I advised him.  We knocked out four rows of sixteen Zai holes in with pleasant conversation and breaks for breakfast and water brought by his wife.  The next day I found myself in a very different situation with the farmer interested in creating amended ditches for his sorghum crop.  I reminded Farmer #1 once of the necessary materials.  Farmer #2, I reminded three times and nothing was ready when Seyni and I arrived at 7:30 to work.  It was hot by the time we were digging eleven 10-meter long trenches and there was only enough material to amend one trench.  He said he and his sons would finish them the next day but a week and a half later nothing had changed.  Starting this work with individual farmers is a lesson that one must cast a far net to catch both the motivated worker and discover those just hanging on the gills of larger fish to get ahead.

Work break. Seyni, Mahamadou, and Bacardi sitting behind the check dam in Mama’s peanut field.

My namesake wading through water in the seasonal river. Note the entirely hand-hoed fields. These women know how to work. Just a little too fast for implementing earthworks (until next year, inshallah).

I was also advancing the big projects you’ve all heard about already, Earthworks and the Master Farm.  When Seyni, Fanta, and I returned from the Earthworks training, fourteen women and one man signed up to begin water harvesting projects in their fields.  All the women’s work was in the rice fields, which are seeded after the other crops, so we started with my brother, Mama, and his peanut field.  We did not have a lot of workers on hand so we discussed the potential for contour berms throughout the field and built one check dam where a large swatch of water pours on to the field and has previously carried his seed across the path along the opposite border.  Real-time update: Although Seyni and Fanta said they would help organize work days as soon as the women started working the rice fields, when I got home the fields were all prepared without implementing any of the technologies.  I am less sure about teaching community leadership than I am about teaching agricultural technologies, but helping my counterparts become confident enough to lead and extend knowledge to their community I’ve decided is more valuable than me spouting information myself.

The Master Farm field, plowed on contour! These are the things that excite Ag Volunteers.

Sunset ride home. I could not tell you how many times I’ve biked the path between Fode Bayo and Thiewol Lao, but it’s getting prettier and prettier with every rain.  

In the Master Farm we prepared garden beds for rainy season vegetables, seeded leucena trees on contour berms in the field crop space.  We tried day after day  to prepare the field crop demos but we were stopped by rain and the final revelation that Gano did not have the proper piece to attach the new ripper, a conservation farming tool, to his plow.  He had withheld this information possibly for simplicity in our confusing, mixed-lingual conversations or desire to please in the impractical way I’ve come to associate with the Senegalese perception of truth telling.  Just because they want to do it, doesn’t mean they are doing it.  This left Gano, Steph, and I waiting out a rain storm in the newly roofed shed at the Master Farm, reviewing the steps for each demonstration.  We each had paper and pen, where we drew out how the ripper would follow the contour lines established by the berms, digging a narrow trench in which amendments would be added and on which crops would be seeded.  It was as thorough as I could be with the forces of Senegal not allowing us to work the field together.  Being dependent on the weather the way one must be here induces anxiety in us Westerners with our plans.  My sister was coming, the date of her flight would not change if heavy rains pushed back field work.  The rains had come, I’d checked off what I could from my list, but worlds were colliding.  It was obvious that my plans and Senegal’s surprises would clash when I calculated that Julia’s flight from Washington Dulles to Leopold Senghor was a shorter trip than my journey from Fodé Bayo to Dakar.

May God bring us good harvests,


My Master Farm

13 June 2012

Double digging a garden bed with Gano at the Master Farm in my first month at site.

Proud of his companion planted cabbage and salad, not necessarily biologically advantages, but a good pairing for market production.

Proud of his companion planted cabbage and salad, not necessarily biologically advantages, but a good pairing for market production.

As I recline under the shade of Amadou Gano’s (or simply Gano, as his name has been famed among regional PCVs) mango orchard waiting for Peace Corps staff to come install drip irrigation, my work with the Master Farm program is in perfect focus.  Despite the slight distraction of the allergic reaction I’m having to cashew oil and the full-torso heat rash that are plaguing my skin, my mind is as clear as it can be on a day that necessitates it to switch between four languages (English for higher thought processes, Mandinka at home, the minimal gardening and greeting Pulaar that gets me by in my work at the Master Farm, and French for the school garden lessons I’m translating).  The Master Farmer program is a PC/Senegal initiative supported by USAID’s Food Security Fund.  The goal is to have 100 one-acre farms owned and operated by Senegalese farmers in communities with or near a PCV, where agricultural demonstrations can serve as an educational tool and provide income for the farmer.

(one month later)

Red, rashed, and swollen. The aftermath of cracking cashews in village.

So, it turns out the entire rash was an allergic reaction to cashew oil that had overrun the minor heat rash I had prior to cracking open not fully burnt cashews seeds.  I couldn’t ben my arms fully they were so swollen.  As a friend saw the swelling decrease over the course of the turning point day, she remarked, “I can see some muscle definition in your arm again!”  My arms got the worst of it, but the rash spanned my entire body.  It was not pretty and my village was concerned.  This had not happened to either of the previous volunteer in F.B.  Everyone wanted it to go away and they were full of advice:  Only shower with cold water, don’t sleep witha sheet on, let me carry you to the hospital to get medicine.  In the end, a lot of loratadine and two days at the PC Regional house in Kolda with a computer and electric fan to distract me from itching, it went away and all returned to normal.

And normal, at this point in time, was going to the Master Farm every other day.  Typically, PCVs are supposed to work with their Master Farmer (MF) two to three times per week, but preparing for rainy season had me there more often than usual.  Getting the MF to be more independent is a challenging goal for me and several other volunteers.  There’s a fine line we walk between letting the MF be in charge of his own farm and figure out how he can apply PC’s techniques alone and making sure all the demonstrations are implemented correctly.  We want to please our bosses (PC Staff) but we also want this program to be sustainable.  USAID has only signed on for the first four years of the program, so MFs need their fields to be productive enough to continue working at the established pace when funding is gone.

As volunteers, we are also very aware that we are only here for two years and communities are only supposed to host three volunteers (for a total of six years).  Other PCVs will come, NGOs will come, but we want our villages and work partners to be able to stand on their own two feet.  This is both the goal of development work and the sticking point for development.  Since Senegal has been a stable nation, relative to its neighbors, for so long, it has never lost aid money.  Development organizations see Senegal as a safe investment, and thus it has become a dependent nation.  And suddenly becoming a development agent, what do I do to ease the dependency?  This is a constant nagging in my work, especially in a village with incredible motivation and work ethic.  What can I do to wean Senegal off aid?

My female counterpart, Fanta, helping out at the Master Farm. Later that week she taught a double digging demonstration for the Fode Bayo women’s garden.

Gano teaching proper spacing at the garden training.

Step 1:  Only apply for grants that go towards trainings.  See “Earthworks!” and here, what I like about the Master Farm program: Helping Gano become a local agricultural trainer.  Master Farm budgets, written each year specifically for each site by the PCVs working there, typically cover a garden training and a field day event at the farm.  We hosted a two-day garden training this March, attended by forty local women, where Gano’s enthusiasm and understanding of basic and improved organic gardening principles gave him a chance to shine as a teacher.  Inshallah, we will have a field day this Fall open to the surrounding communities, where Gano and PC Staff will present our field crop demonstrations.  Gano is also great at on-the-fly trainings.  Often when people wander into the garden to steal some shade a mango, chat, or stare at the toubabs at work, he will give them a lesson on soil amendments and double digging.

Step 2: Tell people and help them realize what they can accomplish on their own and with local resources.  This is where I try to give Gano instructions for work to finish between my visits or let him roll with a new idea for companion planting.  Also, as a group, the MFs have decided they will get bank accounts before the end of this year.  As PCVs, all we have left to do is tell them how progressive and important their decision is.

Gano and another Master Farmer reuniting during the Earthworks Training.

Gano, Youssepha (PC Tech Assistant), and another Master Farmer visiting for the garden training.

Step 3: Introduce only appropriate technologies and practices.  If anything is too difficult to do or obtain in the unassisted circumstances of my village, it’s not worth doing.  There is likely a simpler, more appropriate solution that can be found through living and working in the same circumstances.  This is where I (and other PCVs) have bumped heads with PC staff.  The drip irrigation system installed at all MFs, for example, PC staff believes is an appropriate technology to model for increased agricultural production.  Yes, irrigation is helpful, some books I’ve read recently claim it is basis for societal evolution and success.  The materials for the system installed, however, cost 240,000 cfa, are only available in Dakar, and require training to install properly.  All replacement parts are also only available in Dakar.  The minimum transit cost to Dakar is 6,000 cfa, plus baggage fees.  New flip flops cost 500 cfa and kids in my village often go barefoot for weeks before their parents  are able to afford a new pair, whether this is poor financial planning or lack of work and resources doesn’t matter because the money is not available for local farmers to apply this system.  What this demonstrates to local farmers is not an improved practice, but reinforces the power of foreign aid.  And perhaps we could create a local system using hoses, faucets and joints available at least in regional capitols and bigger cities.  I don’t want to say that PC staff is too far removed from the village to realize this, because they are Senegalese, which I am not (spoiler!) and they have dedicated their entire working lives to studying and working with agriculture in Senegal; however I’ve not talk to one volunteer who thinks this specific technology is appropriate for their community.

PC tech assistant, Arfang, Gano, and some little helpers working on the drip irrigation installation.

My new neighbor, Steph, and Gano using the Stand & Plant (http://www.standnplant.com/) seeder made of PVC piping and a few metal connectors.

The seeder in action, planting a rice intensification demonstration.

What it comes down to is a balance of giving and teaching.  A balance that I think a program like the Master Farms can obtain, if we watch how much money we are throwing at individuals versus training those individuals to be community resources.  Training of trainers, as its called in development work.  Getting natural innovators to find success with improved access to information and sharing their education with others and creating more innovators and more ideas.  That’s what I hope the Master Farm program will be, a seed of an idea that grows and grows through generations  into a piece of the Senegal developed by Senegalese.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Oh, and did I tell you that Gano has the cutest children ever. Little Souleman and Ami eating breakfast on the farm.


Off on a journey! I ported the luggage and Seyni ported Fanta. At this point we couldn’t imagine the places we’d go.

Okay, this one’s going to be a bit more formal.  I realize as I write my Volunteer Report Form on all the work I’ve done at site in the last six months at site I have done a poor job reporting my actual work activities in my blog.  What it comes down to mostly is a collection of mini-trainings on composting, double-digging garden beds, and proper spacing for vegetables, one big garden training my site-mate and I hosted with our Master Farmer (a subject I promise one day I will explain), and convincing people to try new things like live fencing and drying mangoes.  And then there is my pride and joy, the Earthworks Tourne.  Along with four other Agriculture volunteers in the Kolda region, we wrote a big Food Security grant and convinced a third-year volunteer and our favorite Pulaar speaking technical staff member to come down for a week long training tour.  Earthworks is one of the many fancy terms to describe large-scale landscaping that increases the amount of water and organic matter captured on agricultural land.  We decided that not only did we all want to have trainings in our villages, but that we also wanted members from our communities to travel to each training and become local experts on the subject.  Our core group of volunteers and counterparts got close (physically, in much of the transport), learned a tremendous amount, and had so much fun together.  At each site, with the help of volunteers from the communities we were working in, we created working demonstrations of Earthworks techniques and discussed the further work and maintenance necessary.  The joy and good work produced throughout this training is best told via photographs, so the following is a brief description of each project and then snap shots taken at the corresponding site.

But first, a couple more fun transit shots.

Fifteen in a Peace Corps car is still something to smile about compared to local transportation.

Takes all sizes. A stop for butik necessities in my road town, Dabo.









Day 1: Timbindallah, site of PCV Ruth Nervig

Project: Control erosion channel and ease water flow in a field established on a dramatic slope.  The field was previously used for grains such as millet, sorghum and corn, but may become a women’s community garden in the future.

The vast erosion channel, which we started to control by building a catchment basin and dam at the beginning of its path.

Scraping dirt to make smooth sides for out catchment basin and tossing it down-slope to make the dam.

Austin explaining the purpose and technique of a spillway, which allows water to exit the catchment basin in a controlled manner.

Five counterparts using an A-frame, an easily made, accurate, and locally-accessible level, to find the the fields contour lines.

Beautiful contour berms made to hold more water on the field and a nice guide to follow for contour planting.

The three female counterparts, Fatoumata, Fanta, and Koumba, were bosom buddies by the first night.



























Day 2: Nghoki, site of PCV Dominica Martin

Project: Control water flow into the women’s garden and create appropriate garden beds on irregular landscape.  Secondarily, fruit trees will be planted on the top of the landscape, where garden beds are not practical due to the distance from the well.

The rivulets entering the Ngoki women’s garden from a big water path spilling off the field crop space up-hill. Here we did miniature versions of the catchment basin and dam system employed in Timbindallah.

A termite mound we turned into terraced garden beds with a cuvet at the apex to plant a tree that will provide nitrogen-fixation, stablization, shade and leaf litter.

Youssepha, our Senegalese technical trainer, explaining the boomerang berm we created around a tree in the garden space, which will serve as a demonstration for the fruit trees to be planted up hill. Encompassing the crown of the tree, these will hold water around the roots and when done in a series of what are called fish-scale swales will let the spill-over water fall around one boomerang berm into that of the next tree.


Day 3: Fode Bayo, site of PCV Mary Cadwallender (Y’all know this one!)

Project: Improve water and organic matter retention on the slope leading into the seasonal river for increased yields in rice production.  Slowing the flow of water into the lowlands may also decrease the possibility of rotting lowland rice in heavy rain seasons.

Every afternoon when we arrived at a new site we would head out to the field and make plans for the next days activities. This was the scouting crew in Fode Bayo. No one knows the land better than Nacho.

My master farmer, Amadou Gano, learning how to use the A-frame. Good thing too, because we’ll be doing some contour berms on his property next week!

Dancing on the contour berms made to slow the flow of water into the seasonal river. These things are compact. Survived our first storm intact.

My namesake, a dear, fiesty old woman decided beating the berms with a stick was her preferred method for compacting.

Mandes know how to party! In Fode Bayo we even make hard labor fun. I must toot our horn a bit more and let you know that we had the largest community turn-out of the whole trip.

Koumba Diallo aka Ruth Nervig, explaining something in that sing-songy, sweet Pula-Futa.

Youssepha taking his daily, post-lunch nap. A big bowl of rice in this heat can really do you in.

The whole crew fit in our big tree.






































Day 4: Sinchian Sirin, site of PCV Whitney Stockwell

Project: Begin repairing erosion channel that starts at the edge of the bush were land has been cleared for agricultural use and continues through the center of village.  The erosion channel is causing damage to huts and a well.  The village has only been in this location for sixteen years and prior to their establishment no erosion channel existed.

A well going under. The end of the erosion channel, where ironically, water is taking out the village’s water source.

The group planning discussions got a little more lively as the training went on. That’s Seyni, my male counterpart, raising his hand to raise a point, or more likely, mischief.

The three over-built dams we constructed at the top of the erosion channel to begin slowing the water flow through the village. Unfortunately, only the first dam, supported by a full backing of rocks, made it through the first storm. It takes some heavy-duty techniques to combat deforestation.

Whitney and her counterparts, Abdulaye and Fatoumata, walking the contour berms created in Abdulaye’s field to disperse and slow sheet flow off the fields.


















Day 5: Sare Kemu, Kolda, site of PCV Jordan Levinson

Project: Direct the flow of water through pre-existing rice paddies constructed by making a series of berms in a grid design.  This land is not only on a slope that receives water from the surrounding area, but also has a huge influx from a pipe re-directing water from the entire neighborhood into the field.

The maze of rice paddies set up in this semi-urban agricultural education center in a Kolda city neighborhood.

As the last site on the tour, we had the counterparts step up to the teacher’s mound. Here the three on the right are explaining the construction and calibration of an A-frame to the student, far left, and a larger audience outside the shot.

Our ladies were getting a little tired by Day 5. Daydreaming of their own berms and swales back home, no doubt.

The pipeline. I can’t imagine how much water is re-directed here during rainy season.

The bi-directional spillways created between rice paddies to help even out the water levels between sections.

Slowing down that pipeline flow with a big spillway as the water enters the field.

























Going out with a bang.  The last night the volunteers cooked up a big American-ish style dinner and held a small ceremony to thank and congratulate our community counterparts.

Crammed in the Peace Corps car with a buffet of food.

Excited, confused, anxious? Our American cooking required some explanation and the reviews were highly variable, but they were all impressed that we are able to cook.

The proud participants and their bright blue certificates! This was such a wonderful group and we all hope to work together again in the near future.

I’m holding all the water in my fields for you,

Here’s to a happy rainy season and healthy crops,


Ya Win Some, Ya Lose Some

24 April 2012

My little borther, Hydra eating a mango and playing cards in my hut.

On the day I texted several people bragging about mango season, I saw a scorpion in my hut.  I think this may be the perfect metaphor for hot season.  When I returned home from summit and grant writing Fanta told me the garden had grown well, my tomatoes got so big.  Did they have flowers, I asked.  They got eaten by cows, she responded.  Half the garden we share was eaten by cows.  Cows desperate enough for food that they found a way to open the rope-tied, pole-reinforced gate.

I got big hugs and smiley visits from my whole family.  I finally figured out the right question to ask about what happened while I was gone.  And as I was finally getting answers that weren’t “hani feŋ,”“nothing,” I found out that my brother Maalaŋ, the one I milked cows with, robbed bee hives with, am raising chickens with, left two days ago to go work in the Gambia.  He warned me this was coming but said he’d wait until I got home.  He didn’t wait for anyone, however, and snuck out in the middle of the night.  But it’s hot season and money is getting low, so the family needs the money and no one can complain.

My sister in-law, Sunko, and her son, Maalan.

One of my Mama’s, Diara, and her daughter, Tida, listening to the singing Christmas card Julia sent. It’s still fun to listen to Christmas music when its 100 degrees out.

Also, some other “volunteers” came while I was gone.  I’m pretty certain my village thinks volunteer is the nice word for foreigner.  Two women and a man came.  They threw a big fête.  Oh, and we dug the wells deeper in the garden.  Are these things related?  I can’t figure it out.  They seem to have happened on the same day.  But whose money was spent?  The dance everyone does around this subject is dizzying and leaves me resigned to unknowing.  Is this a win or a loss?  We have more water.  It’s white with clay soil when we reach the bottom.  The women did not use the money they’d been saving as a group in the lock box I bough them.  Fanta says she tried to stop them from deepening the well, but had no say in whether or not it was dug.  Maybe this tells me that the women’s group is ineffective without a volunteer and won’t listen to its elected leadership.  Maybe this tells me they are finding ways to do this without aid.  Maybe the other “volunteers” gave them money to do it.  I’ll let you know when I find out whether this one goes in the win or lose column.

I am one of the only volunteers in country whose village serves bush cat. Lucky me! And lucky little Abou who even gets to breast feed while Mama Jiapa is preparing dinner.

Our whole region is in for an influx of win and loss as the second-year HE/EE volunteers leave and we prepare for new ones (plus, a few Aggies transferring from the canceled program in Mali).  On Saturday we had a meeting of the Dabo Work Empire to say goodbye to its first ruler, King David Samba Seydi Glovsky.  An obviously bittersweet event made sweeter by visits from our local Master Farmer, Gano, and my counterpart, Seyni, and more bitter with the cold I woke up with the next day.  Although kids cannot get it into their heads that my uncharacteristic sitting around all day is not so they can bombard my hut, the adults have expected my every need.  Someone to water the garden, someone to pull water, hot cereal for lunch, and mangoes for snacks.

It’s a healthy dose of reality in village life.  Every win and every loss changes my plans for the day and the week and changes my perspective on work and life here.  Oh, and my brother nearly cut Nacho’s tail off while collecting firewood.  His perky say now has an odd bend in it, but as this is not his first fall, I know he’ll heal quickly and we’ll be back to running in the bush together.

The hammock I made to dry mangoes, so we can keep eating them once the trees are bare and we are working in the fields again.

Sweaty, sticky, hot season love,


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,