Posts Tagged ‘ agriculture ’

Obligatory Peace Corps Blog Post OR The Shout Out Post

So I am 15 months into my Peace Corps service (meaning I have 11 months remaining), and I am finally fulfilling an obligation by writing an informational “What to Bring Before Shipping Off” blog post. This blog has a decent amount of loyal followers, but I also have a lot of randoms wandering in from the cyber streets to check out what this blog is all about. A lot of these cyber streetwalkers (not to be mistaken with cyber hookers [shout out to White!]) may or may not be doing Peace Corps in the near future. If they are, then this is the post for them.

Of course, every Peace Corps experience is different. I am currently serving in Sub-Saharan West Africa (shout out to Sca-rah and her people!), but PC is all over the world. Volunteers in Mongolia will most likely need a parka because it’s FREEZING there. I wear flip-flops and shorts most days, which I pair with a sweat rag and an overall hatred of the sun.

Yes, every Peace Corps service is different, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few items that I feel are necessary regardless of where you go. Usually my blog updates are random stories about nothing, so hopefully, with this post, you take away some things. As a whole, I’m a better storyteller than knowledge-dropper, so bare with me.

1. Water bottle: I have a love/hate relationship with my Nalgene bottle. I go weeks without touching it, and then all of a sudden I find it in my room and drink from it every single day. Because of this, I am adding it to the list. I brought two initially but lost one during training. Whoops. These bad boys are indestructible though. It also holds a lot of liquid.

2. Sunglasses: Be sure they have UV protection. Even if you’re going to Eastern Europe, sunglasses are still good to have. I sport reflective aviators because I like to feel cool.

3. iPod: More specifically, an iPod Touch. I initially brought a Nano to Senegal, which I cherished the first eight months of my service, but in April, my mama decided to graciously send me an iPod Touch. I have never looked back. The thing has Wi-Fi! I use it every single day. I downloaded a flashcard app that helps me with my Wolof. It has Skype so, when I have Internet access, I can chat with people back home. I can watch movies and TV shows on it. It also has an awesome camera that can shoot videos. This little device has completely changed my Peace Corps service. Of course, I am very careful with it. I have a case to protect it from the desert sands.

4. Speakers: I brought speakers on a whim, thinking I wasn’t going to use them. I was SO wrong. I use them every single day, and I love them. Of course, I have an unhealthy obsession with music, but speakers are still good to have. I actually have a shower radio (shout out to Lee Anne!), so it’s waterproof, which is brilliant. I listen to it while I take my bucket bath, while I make breakfast in the morning, and while I write blog posts.

5. Ziploc bags: You can find a surprising number of things in Senegal, but Ziploc bags don’t exist here. I love having them.

6. Batteries: For a number of things really. I use them for my flashlight, my speakers, and my Game Boy (shout out to 12-year-old Jamie!). Before you leave for staging, buy them in bulk at Costco. I still haven’t run out.

7. Drink mixes: I live in the Sine-Saloume Delta, so the water here is salty and nasty. I have mostly gotten used to it, but sometimes I just need to cover the taste. This is when drink mixes come in handy. My family throws some in every package they send me. I am currently obsessed with pink lemonade (shout out to Crystal Light!). Gatorade packets are actually the best because they have electrolytes in them, and dehydration is not fun here (imagine me lying on the floor of my bathroom vomiting every hour). Drink packets are also good at covering the taste of bleach. When I first got to Senegal, I added 2-3 drops of bleach to my water to kill parasites. I quickly gave that up because it was annoying, but that’s just me. I’m an idiot.

8. Laptop: I don’t care which country you’re going to, but a computer is a necessity. I recommend those little Netbooks because they are tiny (shout out to Lindsey!) and transportable. I have a clunky Sony laptop that’s almost four years old. I like it just fine, but when I travel I take my iPod Touch with me. Best of both worlds (shout out to Megoosh by way of Hannah Montana!).

9. Flashlight: Or even better, a headlamp. Most of the volunteers in Senegal live in small villages without electricity. Because my sector is Urban Agriculture, I live in a pretty big town. I have electricity, but the power frequently goes out (especially in the rainy season). I’m grateful for candles, but more specifically, my flashlight.

10. Army blanket: Another item I brought on a whim and am super grateful for. It gets shockingly cold in this country…at night….in the cold season….sometimes. No but really, from December to February, I wear sweatpants and a long sleeved shirt to bed. This is when the blanket comes in handy. My dad gave it to me a few years back. You can buy them at any army surplus store, and they are miracle blankets.

So there you have it. Everything on that list should be in your suitcase before you ship off for Peace Corps service. Feel free to tweak certain items, or you can just completely ignore the list and bring whatever the hell you want. These items have been lifesavers for me, and a lot of the things on the list I got later in my service. Having them since Day 1 would have been nice.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t include any medical supplies (i.e. vitamins), don’t fret. Peace Corps provides you with a med kit when you arrive. It has LITERALLY everything you need.

My dear readers, I hope you found this post helpful. I’m done. Moving on. Knowledge dropped.

An Update

It has recently come to my attention that I have failed to properly update you guys about what I’ve been up to. Because I live in West Africa, it is not always easy to find electricity, let alone have access to the Internet. I try my hardest to update my blog, and I am proud of myself for keeping it up for almost a year now. I also post on my Twitter quite frequently, and I am happy I can update it using my cell phone.

When I do update my Twitter, apparently what I say is unsatisfactory. I had a Twitter in America, and the reason I like this particular social networking site is because my friends and family can see what I’m doing, even if that includes events that are less than exciting. Like I have stated in previous blog entries, my life is not as thrilling as it may seem. Most days I am bored out of my mind because I have nothing to do. I have electricity about a third of the time, and usually it’s on when I am asleep. Thus, I sit around and read, sit around and talk to my host family, or wander aimlessly around town. I also like to nap during the day.

When people find out I am in the Peace Corps, they have these grandiose visions of me saving the world. I am not doing that at all. Yes, I occasionally teach gardening if people are willing to listen to my broken Wolof. Unfortunately, Senegalese people are not that patient. There is a large NGO presence in Senegal (especially where I live), so when the locals see a white person, they automatically assume I am here to give money. Thus, it is really difficult to successfully do the work I came here to do. In addition, the Wolof culture is very abrasive. There is no beating around the bush, so when a Senegalese person is mad and/or no longer wants to speak with you, they tell you.

Of course, I am generalizing here. I have met a lot of amazing Senegalese people in this country. A lot of them are great at assisting me in my work. Without them, I am sure I would get absolutely nothing done. Most of the time, if I am trying to explain something in Wolof, people either are not listening or they do not understand. This is when those aforementioned Senegalese people step in and say the exact same thing I said. Of course, because they are Senegalese, people listen to them. Because of this, work is really discouraging.

Apart from these difficulties, I am trying my hardest to do what I can. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, most of the projects I am working on will not be sustainable. I quickly learned that grassroots development in West Africa is really hard if you are not willing to dish out wads of cash in order to appease the locals. Thus, in order to keep myself sane, I have focused on the second and third goals of the Peace Corps, which are listed below.

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

On a day-to-day basis, the second and third goals are so much more gratifying. I studied Anthropology in college, so I joined the Peace Corps to travel and meet new, interesting people from a different culture. I have no background in development, and I am not particularly good at it. I am here to teach gardening, but I am not too good at that either. I found that my time is better spent sitting and chatting with people. I tell them about America and about the things that I know. In exchange, I learn more about Senegal and its’ people every day. I am here as an ambassador to the United States, so I work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I get really frustrated and upset when people assume I am sitting around doing nothing just because I don’t have a beautiful garden or because you have not seen photos of successful projects.

I’m sorry I did not do a blog post about the hour-long conversation I had with my host brother about tattoos the other day (he had a lot of questions). I’m sorry I do not update my Twitter every time I sit under a tree and drink tea with a stranger (I do this a lot). I’m sorry if I did not discuss, the last time we talked, the frequent social obligations I must uphold every week so that people in my town don’t think I am a rude American. All of these things are part of my job, and they are really important to me. They make me feel like a good volunteer. Unfortunately, few seem to agree.

My Peace Corps service is mine and no one else’s. I can do with it what I wish. If I want to garden less and chitchat more, that’s my prerogative. To me, making friends and developing relationships is more rewarding than hosting permagarden trainings.

Of course, that does not mean I do not intend to try my hardest to make a difference in other ways. I am really proud of myself and the other volunteers who worked at the girls’ leadership camp last month. I think we made an impact on the lives of 39 young Senegalese girls, and for that, I am happy.

Next on the agenda: mangrove reforestation in September, school nutrition trainings in October, and lots and lots of tea.

Where I’m the Pied Piper and Santa Claus

So this past week was the Kaolack Girls’ Leadership Camp. It was held in a campement in Sokone, and it brought 40 girls from the regions of Fatick, Kaolack, and Kaffrine together for a week of fun and learning. We focused on a different theme each day. On Environment Day we discussed gardening and the earth. On Career Day we had women from the area come in and discuss jobs. The goal was to open these girls’ eyes to new ideas and possibilities.

I helped out with a lot of sessions, but I ran one of them: Container Gardening. On Wednesday, I did three identical sessions on how to plant mint in found objects (i.e. water bottles, old tomato cans, etc.). I discussed how, if you don’t have space to start a big garden, there are a lot of possibilities to grow things. All of this was in Wolof, by the way. It went rather well, and the girls responded positively. They all took the containers home with them.

How did I acquire 40 containers for the sessions, you ask? Ah, let me tell you.

PICTURE THIS: me wandering around the Sokone market with a gaggle of Senegalese children trailing close behind carrying garbage. Yep, this happened.

I spent several days wandering around town looking for possible containers for my sessions. One day, I ended up in the market in the late afternoon. Few people were around. I had a big rice sac filled with random objects, which I carried with me. I stumbled upon two boys playing with an empty water bottle.

Me: Hey kids! Can I have that bottle?
Kids: No.
Me: It’s just a bottle. Give it to me!
Kids: NO!
Me: Ugh. I’ll give you 25 CFA for it.
Kids: Okay.

I gave them the money (around five cents), took the bottle, and continued on my way. Five minutes later, two other boys come up to me with an old plastic bucket.

Boys: Do you want this bucket?
Me: Yeah! Thanks!
Boys: Where’s our money?
Me: What?
Boys: We heard you were giving away money for garbage.
Me: Um, no. Do you want to give me that bucket anyway?
Boys: Um, no.

Seriously, kids kept approaching me with random garbage and holding it out to me. Of course, they all rudely wanted compensation. One little boy, bless his heart, just gave me a bottle and ran off. Not the brightest, obviously.

I ended up getting enough containers for all the girls, and I only paid for the one. I got a lot of interesting looks though as I rooted through garbage for two days. They didn’t think the toubab was weird enough, I guess.

PICTURE THIS: me wandering around a small Senegalese village with a big sac full of gifts to hand out. Also happened.

It’s seed extension time here in Senegal. Part of my job description includes extending improved seed varieties to local farmers and/or citizens. Peace Corps paired up with ISRA (L’Institut sénégalais de recherches agricoles), who supplies the seeds to all the agriculture volunteers. I decided to extend my seed (sounds dirty, but it isn’t) in my friend Joey’s village. I also gave my host dad some seeds, too. He was pleased.

So last week I biked out to Joey’s village, which is five kilometers away, with around 12 kilos of corn, beans, and millet. I mostly extended the seed to women, which I thought was a really good idea because women farmers get shafted a lot in this country. When I got to Joey’s village, we organized everything and headed out to the compounds. I carried a huge sac of seeds, and we went door to door.

At each house, we explained the program. Basically, if we give a farmer one kilo of corn, when harvest time comes, he has to give us two kilos of corn. It’s not that difficult. It’s a decent program, and all the villagers were really excited. After two weeks, and then again after four weeks, I have to check up on them to make sure everything is going swimmingly.

Yep, so that’s pretty much what’s been going on with me recently. Tomorrow I am heading down to the southeast corner of the country for 4th of July. I am going to be crammed in a car from Kaolack to Kedougou for eight hours. Wish me luck.

All Vol

So I just got done with the West African All Volunteer conference in Thies. It was two days of meetings and discussions on best practices. There were lectures from some visiting volunteers from Togo, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia, Mali, and Cape Verde. I met new volunteers serving in Senegal as well as other volunteers in West Africa.

Sessions I went to:

  • PCVs Promoting Literacy
  • Moringa and Its Uses
  • Conducting a Regional NGO Workshop
  • Program Design and Grant Writing (it was either this or beekeeping, which I almost went to)
  • GIS Use to Enhance and Document Peace Corps Work

I learned a lot. It was interesting to see what other volunteers in country are doing. I’m looking forward to doing secondary projects at my site. There are a lot of cool health and environmental education projects. The potential to help and learn is endless, and I’m looking forward to it.

Before All Vol was the annual UAg Summit. My sector, urban agriculture, is the smallest in country with only 19 volunteers. I love that my sector is so small. I had met most of my fellow UAgs before, but a few I didn’t know. The 2-day summit was basically the nine second-year volunteers talking about what has worked and what hasn’t. The newbies just sat and listened. It was so interesting, and it made me feel better that pretty much all of the older vols said they were just as inexperienced as I am now. Gives me hope that I’ll have a beautiful demo garden one day.

On the second day we split up into teams and made a permagarden, which is a gardening technique utilized in PC Tanzania. The garden is supposed to naturally collect rainwater so your plants don’t flood. It was fun to learn about it from the other volunteers.

Basically, I’ve just been hanging out in Thies all week. Been busy going to sessions. My IST (in-service training) starts in a few days, which means I will have gardening sessions all day every day for two weeks. It should be fun.

Jamie’s Night at the Ambassador’s

I went to Dakar for Thanksgiving. All the regional houses throughout the country had big Thanksgiving meals, and I considered Kaolack because it’s my region and it’s close, but ultimately I decided to head to the big city because I wanted to get to know it. I had been to Dakar for the day twice, so I wanted to stay for a few days while I had a good excuse.

Normally, I would take public transportation to get to Dakar, but luckily, a PC car was driving through Kaolack on Wednesday, so I hitched a ride with them. PC cars are amazing because they’re air-conditioned and there’s leg room. The ride took about 4 hours (it’s not far, but the roads suck here so it takes forever).

I got to Dakar Wednesday evening. I felt a little awkward at first because everyone, minus a few people (including me), was in the Dakar region, so I felt like I was crashing their party. They were super welcoming though and gave me a bowl of chili as I walked in the door.

So Dakar is huge. There’s over a million people, and it’s super Senegalese but also super Western at the same time. Downtown and the beach-areas are all beautiful with art and nice hotels, but then the suburbs are just like any other Senegalese town. It takes about 20 minutes to get anywhere in a taxi, and everything is unbelievably expensive. I was there for three days and spent SO MUCH.

The day of Thanksgiving, we went to the American Club, which is downtown. There’s a pool there and a bar and Wi-Fi. It’s for Americans living in Dakar and their families. It’s free for PCVs, which is amazing because normally it’s crazy expensive. We sat by the pool and read and chatted, then we went back to the regional house to prepare food. The U.S. Ambassador to Senegal hosts Thanksgiving dinner at her house every year, and she invites the PC country director (my boss) and any PCVs in the area to attend if they want. You, of course, have to bring a dish as well. I cooked nothing but went in on a dish with a couple people. I provided financial support and cut up vegetables.

We arrived at 5:45 PM, which was 45 minutes late. The taxi driver got lost, and we ended up on the Corniche, which is a road that, after dark, has been known to have machete-wielding men looking for white tourists. The driver kicked us out in anger, so we walked the Corniche a little looking for a cab, which is not easy.

We finally get there, have several glasses of wine, and eat. It was buffet style because there was like 80 people there, but I hate a ridiculous amount. I think my stomach has shrunk because I eat less here, but I definitely expanded it again at this dinner. It was so bizarre sitting in a nice house with A/C eating American food. It felt so normal, which is a rare feeling for me these days. I dressed up in a shirt and slacks, which was also weird because normally I wear grungy clothes. It was a nice change of pace.

The next day we went back to the American Club and spent the day there hanging out. For dinner we went to this French restaurant, where I ate an AVOCADO SALAD. Salads are nonexistent in this country. It was really expensive but worth it.

Yesterday I loaded into a PC car and headed to Thies for the UAg Summit. It’s a bi-annual meeting for everyone in my sector. It’s been interesting to see what older volunteers are doing at their sites. I’m starting to get a feel for urban agriculture, which is good because I have to do it for the next two years. It’s also fun to see my fellow UAg friends, who I hadn’t seen in six weeks. It’s bizarre being back at the training center. PST felt like a lifetime ago, even though it’s only been a month and a half.

Thursday is the first day of the all-volunteer conference here in Thies. All 200-something vols in Senegal will be here, which is gonna be overwhelming. After all vol is IST, which is three weeks of intense ag-related training. Gonna be fun.

[insert creative title here]

No fun family stories left. I have been at the training center in Thies since Sunday evening, and I have been going to tech classes (for ag) and seminars and getting shots.

Today Chris, the country director, visited us and lectured about the role of PCVs here in Senegal. It was really interesting. I think he has done a lot for PC/Senegal, and it sucks that country directors can only have their job for five years (it’s the rule).

The last few days I have done a lot of ag stuff. Today was crazy. We went into THE RED ZONE and walked around a landfill to collect containers to grow stuff in. A big part of urban ag is creatively growing plants in places you can’t normally (i.e. cities). Tire gardening is really popular (growing spices, flowers, etc. in old, used tired), as well as table-top beds that can sit on rooftops. We walked around and brought stuff back. We ended up planting stuff in the CRAZIEST places. We found an old cheetah print backpack (pink) and filled it with soil and manure and hung it from the basketball hoop (made me think of you, Mary B). We lined it with plastic and are gonna grow mint in it. We also used old candy containers, a hat, an old shoe, a kettle, and random plastic buckets. It was super innovative, and it made me think outside the box. Got me excited about urban ag.

Speaking of urban ag, I heard some gossip about site placement! There are 3 people speaking Pulaar and 7 people learning Wolof in Urban Ag. The PC knows which sites we are going to, but they don’t know which people are going where. I heard the different places the Wolof speakers are going, so I have kind of narrowed down (a little) where I will serve for two years. Two people are going to the Louga region (north of Thies but south of Saint-Louis). You guys should probably pull up a map of Senegal. It’ll help. One person is going to Dakar, which is CRAZY because Dakar is huge. One person is staying here in Thies (which I kind of want to do because the other urban ag volunteer here is super cool…plus the training center is here, and I like Thies). One person is going North to Saint-Louis, which is supposed to be gorgeous. I don’t know the others.

I have actually met a lot of current volunteers here in Senegal. They come through a lot to help with training, so I have met urban ag vols from all over the country. They are all from the stage from a year ago exactly, which means that, hopefully, this time next year I can return to the training center and teach the newbies what’s what. There hasn’t been one current volunteer I have not liked, which is good because I will be working with them for the next year of my life. Our paths will cross frequently (I hope).

This evening, a group of us went into town to the Bon Marche, which is the huge Western grocery store here. They have a lot of imported stuff from France. Most of it is crazy expensive (crazy expensive = over $5 in Senegal). I bought a huge bottle of shampoo for 500 CFA (less than $1) and a container for my bar soap, which was like 30 cents USD. We then went to a restaurant, where I had another beer. I want to try a lot of local beers. I tried La Gazelle last time, so this time I tried Castel, which was cheap and pretty good. We took a cab home, which was kinda scary, but I think I am gonna have to get used to the public transportation here.

I think I have already become less afraid. The first time we walked around Thies, I was super freaked out. Today, I felt a lot more comfortable. I am getting used to Senegal. It’s obviously COMPLETELY different from the U.S., and it has been an adjustment, but I know I can adjust properly and fully.

OH YEAH. Also, last night we played volleyball. I kicked ASS. I busted out my FL beach volleyball skills. Twas fun.

Tonight, we are playing MAFIA in the Disco Hut. EXCITED!

So THAT’S Why They Call it a Farmer’s Tan: Jamie in the Field

11:45 PM (local time), Saturday night:

So I am writing this post on Microsoft Word because, currently, the internet is down. I will upload it as soon as I can get on a comp and access the internet.

Today was hella tiring. We got up and had breakfast, then went to an ag meeting. The PC likes shortening everything/acronyms (<~~ reason I am here…these are my people). UAg = urban agriculture (aka ME…there are only 10 of us). Ag = rural/sustainable agriculture. Agfo = agroforestry. SED = small enterprise development. At the meeting, we learned about composting, and we finally left the classroom to go do things. All the aggies made a meter-tall compost pile. Twas interesting. We combined dry leaves with green leaves, dirt, and manure. We built it up in a pile then stuffed a stick in it. A couple hours later, we pulled the stick up, and it was super hot.

We then broke for lunch. More “around the bowl”. Dessert was apples (golden delicious).

We went back and started a demo plot. I have very little agricultural experience, so this is all very interesting to me. I learned SO MUCH today. Every aggie should have a demo plot to show people. It’s necessary to prove that you know what you’re talking about, and you can actually grow. They make great examples. Ag volunteers are merely catalysts. We don’t come in as experts, expecting everyone to trust/listen to us. We come in and introduce new techniques to local farmers, teach them, and help/answer questions. The demo plot had three techniques (and for those of you who don’t care, skip down):

DOUBLE DIGGING: Basically, soil is super compressed, and a lot of farmer’s plant too shallow. Double digging is when you dig down, then dig down again, so that the soil is loose, which makes it easier for the plants to grow and the roots to dig.

TARP (I DON’T KNOW THE REAL NAME): You build a shallow pit and line it with tarp. You then cut holes in the tarp and fill in the hole with dirt. You plant a bed. This technique keeps the water in one place (but the holes are there so the plants don’t flood). It waters the plants slower.

SINGLE DIGGING: Double digging, but stop after the first dig.

We also planted a “nursery” bed, where we will plant some things, then transplant them to the demo plots later.

I actually liked it. It was HOT, and I got a little burned (say nothing, Lindsey/Mama). My normal Florida farmer’s tan has evolved into this epic, Senegalese, holy-shit-the-color-difference-is-ridic-/-embarrassing-for-me farmer’s tan. Tools I used: shovel, rake, hoe (the joke’s too obvious, so I’ll refrain…haha…hoe), MACHETE OMG (not kidding…I rocked the hell out of it, and all 7.2 of my toes are still intact). Number of blisters: a lot. Makes me think of rowing in HS. My calloused hands turned to butter these last four years, and now I have to dirty them up again.

After growin’, we broke for security training. We learned how to protect ourselves in cities and what to do when hailing a cab, etc. We then, and I am not lying, LEFT THE COMPOUND. We have been cooped up in here like British Claymation chickens for five days, and we finally left. Apparently, right outside the PC Training Center, it’s super dangerous. They call it THE RED ZONE. We aren’t allowed there. They gave us a map which tells us the safe route through it to the main road. We stayed with the security guy, Etienne, and stayed all together. The locals were nice. Here’s what went down:

They waved, and we waved back.

They called us “foreigners” in Wolof (which is “toubab”), we still waved.

One woman tried to sell Tatiana her baby. She was like “WTF”, and Etienne had to fix it.

Ya know, normal stuff.

After security training, we had BIKE TRAINING OMG. I have a bike now! It’s blue (Sca-rah, name it ASAP). I got to pick one and test drive it, and I got a sticker w/ my name on it, and it’s on the bike. It’s mine for the next 27 months (then I have to give it back). The bike comes with tools to fix it (pump, etc). I am excited about the bikin’.

Tomorrow is gonna be good. We get our training site assignments! Basically, training is here in Thiés for 9 weeks, but we are separated depending on the language we speak. We have a host family (that we move in with Monday), and then we switch to either an apartment or a different host family in our real sites. I learned today that, of the 10 assignments (there are 10 UAgs), seven are Wolof (pronounced wall-off) and three are Pulaar (another local language). That means I am either gonna learn Wolof or Pulaar. I still have to learn a lot of French though because French is thrown into everyday conversation A LOT. I kinda want to learn Pulaar because apparently they speak it in 27 African countries. There’s a 30% chance I will learn it, I guess.

So, I am going to bed. It’s annoying that I can’t post this. It’s just gonna uselessly sit on my desktop, unread by the general populous, for a number of hours. These posts WANT to be read! Feed their hunger!