Saturday, June 19, 2010

The End

Well, I did a rather slow job at updating this before I was done. I have a series of half finished entries that maybe I will complete when I get the chance.

I am done in Senegal now. Quick update:

Right now I am on vacay in America and will soon be heading out as a volunteer in China in a little more than a week. Senegal was amazing and I learned so much about Senegal, about Seereer, about other cultures and people and of course about myself.

Im starting a new blog on my China experience so check that out if you are interested.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Playing in Cement

I really should have done an update here long ago, but, well, I have been in my village pretty continuously, with short, non-computer filled stints into cities. The village is a bad place to hang out if you want to update people on your life, write a blog entry or things like that. But as it turns out, it seems to be a pretty good place for going and getting some work done. Go figure.
Ok, so the latrines are going. They are taking slightly longer than I had expected, but honestly we have had hardly a wasted day. As of the current tally, this the 11th of March, forty-two families have fully contribted to the project and another two have given a good chunk. While I am hoping, nagging, enouraging, doing everything I can think of to have the full fifty familes involved in the project and finishing next month with a latrine, there are a few that have all but come out and said they arent or cant participate with the rest of the village.

One is one of the Pulaar families, most of the children and the family have already moved to the city, the father I hardly ever see even going over to his house several times in a week. According to the neighbors he is thinking of moving himself and has changed his mind and doesnt want to invest in a latrine.

Another is a very small family, the rest of the grown children or relations have apparently moved away. So it is just a middle aged guy and his wife and three small kids. He says he cant afford the contribution portion. Additionally the neighbors who might be inclined to help, say his house is one some really hard ground and besides the few of them could just as easily use a neighbors latrine.

One last guy just hasnt seemed very into the project from the get-go. He has an average sized family but didnt really see the point of a latrine, despite my best convincing until his surrounding neighbors, some his brothers, joined in the project. Now he is saying he will contribute as soon as he gets the money, but he hasnt made a move to dig a pit either.

But then, even with these three, I am fairly certain that we can get the other forty-seven done. And if once we are done with them and certain that the other three are not getting on board, we can consider other nearby families, up and coming heads of households and all that. But all that is politics. Really what I have been doing the past several weeks is playing in cement.

If you havent seen them, I have been taking pictures of our progress. Two days ago, we "finished" our twenty-fourth latrine. I say "finished" because they are not actually usable yet, they still need the pipe that leads to your toilet, a small but in fact critical piece. I have asked the masons why they havent finished them up thusly and they tell me that it will go so quickly that they might as well wait and do a whole area of them at once so they dont have to repeatedly go back and forth for such things in different parts of the village. That does sound resonable i guess, but means that a latrine might not be usable until next week at the earliest, where the first swath of the village should get all of its completed latrines- the ten houses furthest to the west.

I need to go and put captions on all those pictures, but basically how we have been doing it is that the brickmaker comes in and makes four or four and a half sacks of cement worth of bricks. He can usually do two or three houses worth in a day. Then after a few days to let them dry the masons come and brick up the pit all morning till lunch time. Then they go to latrine that they bricked up the previous day and prepare and cement the lid for it. Its a pretty cool thing. They are going to have little doors such that when they are full - after more than about 5 to 10 years with an average sized family according to my calculations- then a truck can be sent from Mbour to come and pump them out.

Ah, composting, I almost forgot. So after much discussion, mostly with PC staff and my counterpart, the consensus is that, no, thats not going to work. Basically it boils down to the people refuse, the culture and religion does not allow for the handleing of even ones very decomposed waste, no matter how awsome it would be as fertilizer. The truck would dump out the moist soil junk out in peoples fields though, so in a way a very small space might see benifit, but then wherever it was they probably wouldnt be farming there. So, yeah, I hear these kinds of things have worked well in South America and work in Southeast Asia, but in West Africa, people regularly refuse to do such a thing. Sad.

Anyway, so more pictures are coming, oh, and I have been keeping my self busy with other stuff too. I made a second mud-stove the other day, much better than my first one and I think looks pretty awesome. I also went to the nearby college recently and did an English lesson that involved gender inequality. I thought it went ok, but it could have had more discussion or questions or something. I needed to wrap up better I guess. But it was really cool and I think they enjoyed it too.

Us Seereers in country, particularly Bethany and one tech savy Jack Brown, and I have been getting this Seereer-English dictionary into some final book like stages, so that will be awesome to have a version done by the end of my service.

Right, so those latrines will keep on coming and I will keep yall in the loop with pictures too. Mexe nosa

Friday, January 29, 2010

Go Go Projects!

So, lots of stuff, gee, good news, bad news, great news.

Of course latrines are taking up nearly all of my time, but other stuff is going on: I have been going to the local middle school twice a week and have helped in a few English classes. I even did a lesson on environmental problems, in English! I, like totally, like speak that language! And I know all about environmental problems, that is like what I do! Anyway, so that went well, some of them even asked some good questions afterwards, like when there are less trees and plants is there also less rain. It was fun, they got to hear a native English speaker talk for a while, they learned some useful vocab, they all copied all my little bullit points into their notebooks and so may actually think about things like pollution and deforestation.

I also did a really fun lesson at the kindergarten. A big part of my service is supposed to be around supplementing teachers lessons with environmental and health knowledge, to give them a more rounded understanding of their environment and health and sanitation. I havent really been able to for my whole servie, mainly because the school has been such an extreme headache to work with- constant strikes, teachers never following through with plans, constantly leading me on then not doing anything, and more strikes. The local kindergarten teachers are a lot, a LOT easier to work with and I dont know why I havent done more with them. Mostly they are easier because they are local, they are from the village, and they are private, so dont strike. There is a building recently built next to the kindergarten that suddenly has a class in it. Evidently there is a private teacher there now with the youngest grade of primary school -the public school youngest class is tiny now- and he is supposedly going to take the same kids through the years teaching each class till they graduate primary school. It is pretty cool deal, he isnt a local guy, Wolof but nice, but he also doesnt strike, so big plus. I got all of them together one day, the one primary school class and the two kindergarten classes, about sixty children in all, and we did a lesson on handwashing. I had a bottle of glitter and after one of the kindergarten teachers, the most take charge, a woman named Marie Sarr, gave a nice simple engaging talk about where disease comes from and how microbes get you sick, I presented my glitter as bad microbes. The teachers and I put it all over our hands and hten went around shaking everyones hands. The children then looked to see if they had gotten it, if they were 'sick'. Then in small groups they all came up in front of the class and washed their hands well with soap and water till the glitter was gone while the teachers explained more about how washing was important and when they should do it. Definetly the best part was near the end when a teacher in wrap up asked where it was that people got microbes. Several students shouted 'from that bottle!' and 'from Ndiouma!' (my name). We all paused for a beat, then 'umm, ok, and where else?' That was awesome.

I have also been given premission to do some gardening and a tree nursury in the protective walled enclosure around the kindergarten. My school garden area has completely been destroyed once again, fence posts stolen and plants completely eaten. It was a failed project before I began and now it just needs to be moved somewhere else.

More fun, I also am doing a few mud stove repairs and building a couple from scratch. People here know how to make them from other trainings they have had in the past but people arent so motivated to do it unless someone takes some initiative. I hadn't done one on my own before and I am waiting to see if it all falls apart before I move on to the others. They are a great thing, they make the stove more efficient by channeling heat, you use less wood, food cooks faster, you dont have to gather as much, cut down so many trees in a year, everybody wins and it is free.

Lastly, latrine news, I will have to do a long entry on this one by itself when I have more time, but I can give some highlights: Construction is underway! We have gotten full monetary contributions from 23 families and partials from six others. Most families have dug their pits. The village doesnt like the composting idea, can explain later. And we have essentially finished construction on five so far! Well, we still need to but in the pipe that will actually make it usable an dnot just a box in hte ground, but they are basically done. Go go gadget- douche!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Holidays

So Thanksgiving and Christmas and the new year are all rolling by without much written here about it, so... oh, and also I have what is becoming an absurdly big post about my bike trip, whice people probably dont really care about that much, so itll go up backdated later.

Well, thanksgiving for us was pushed back by several weeks. I spent the actual day of thanksgiving in the village, not doing really anything that resembled holiday stuff, but it was a good time to use as an excuse to relax a bit.

The saturday after was Tabaski, the grand holiday which here involves great sheep slaughtering. Last year I broke out my new camera and took a ton of pictures of the day. This year, I chilled with the old men who were mostly playing cards. I purposely missed the slaughtering and ended up missing about all the butchering too. By the time lunch came around I realized I had taken basically no pictures but wasnt really in the mood to start then. It was like a very chill time of eating that wasnt as great as I remembered from last year, but nice enough. That night there was a big soiree at this fenced in area set up next to the school. They had a generator and huge speakers that blasted music until nearly sunrise for two days. This year that all happened about a hundred meters from my hut, it was not a great time for good sleep.

The other unfortunate part of the holiday was the meat. Even after the first night, eating it for lunch and again for dinner, was something my stomache did not appreciate. I wasnt sick at least but it felt mostly like something was slowly twisting my digestive organs into pretzels. Then we had the meat again for lunch and dinner on sunday. Then more on monday. And more tuesday. Wednesday I was so happy to see it absent, joyous that it hadnt killed me. And then we had more meat on Thursday and I thought i was going to throw up just from the smell. I came out ok in the end. But still, keep in mind I am in a village. We have no electricity, no refrigeration, no ice. The meat is just left out in chunks on a concrete shelf or on the floor in a small metal roofed cooking hut that the air for the most part has been replaced with flies. I try to avoid going near that building after holidays.

Anyway, so then, after my big ole bike trip, I got back to site on the 23rd. Most of my holiday plans were made pretty last minute. I hosted two voluteers that day, they were coming from Tamba and were headed to Saly, just north of Mbour, to spend Xmas with a small group there. Also that day, an American young woman named Ruth came to the village. She is working with the large garden in my village that is owned by a guy from Dakar. Surprisingly she is staying in Louly for about a month, living in my house even, with my family.

Anyway, so then I went to the beach with a different group for Christmas. We got a house up in Popenguine and had an amazing time. There were maybe more than a dozen of us for the actual day of Christmas, some were there earlier than others, some, including me, left later than most. We grilled food on the beach, later made an amazing roast and other food that was all fantastic. We even did white elephant- I got a platic gun which i promptly broke trying to get it working and an inflatable Santa with a squeeking foot which I gave as a present to the people of Popinguine who would surely appreciate the off-season holiday spirit more than the people of Louly...

A day or two after Christmas was tamxarit, a holiday here marking the Islamic new year. Last year I was in the village to see it but this time I missed it, though there is not really too much to see till nighttime anyway and these days I like to sleep after sunset. Yeah, I know, I have gotten really lame.

Then after a couple days in the village again I went up to Dakar for New Years. Though I didnt really do much but sit at the regional house, which in fact is the same thing I did last year. But there was a lot of people out in the city and we say and heard a huge amount of fireworks and noisemakers the whole night and into the next day.

Anyway, now I have been in the village a lot, trying to get just about everything done at once and for once actually accomplishing some of it. I will write up a good post later on the latrine progress. It is progressing!

Developments in Progress!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Composting Possibilities

Ok, so this is a long long overdue response to inquiries I recieved from several people on the subject of composting latrines. I had started writing a post about it ages ago, then stopped and wanted to do more research on it, then forgot about it amidst other work, then remembered it again to look further into it, then i forgot to write up a response, and now I am back at it again, for real this time.

So, lets see. There are several ways that a composting toilet can work. But basically the idea is to limit wasted water, even maybe separating liquid waste from solid, to prevent the spread of pathogens, and to manage the solid waste and aiding decomposistion until it is ready to be used out in the fields or gardens.

Now, for our latrines. The idea of public latrines was brought up and floated about the village for a while before being nearly unanimously voted down. What people wanted, and understandably, was for each family to have their own latrine to clean and manage. Each household getting a latrine meant an emphasis on the utility and minimal resources and something easily incorporated into the already existing village layout. This meant pit latrines topped with a turkish toilet, aka a hole. Now this design works in its simplest form in most parts of the country, all you need to do is put a slab of concrete with a hole all reinforced with rebar over the pit and voila, your very own latrine. Our soil is super sandy in our area and so we are forced to modify the design slightly. We have to cement the walls of the pit, or as we are doing, brick it in. Also, we could have had the hole in the center of the slab, but this would need extra cement and rebar. Cheaper than that is to make a solid slab and fix a pipe to the side that can run to whatever one wants to have at the elbow bend, turkish toilet or a fancy seat or whatever. There will also be a 2m pipe coming from the corner going straight up, acting as a ventilation stack.

So then, with such a design, once it is filled, five or ten years from now depending on the size of the family and all that, a new pit can be dug and cemented for relatively minimal cost, and the slab and pipes can be moved over to that one. Then what to do with all that junk? I had been thinking about this from the begining though explaining it to the community has proved a bit challenging. They have little ideas about the usefulness of compost, but they do know about spreading manure in gardens and around field crops, so there is a base of knowledge.

One option, of course, is to simply do nothing with it, leave it there. This in fact opens up some other avenues of waste disposal. What can we do with these old razor blades, throw them down the latrine. What about broken glass, this old rusted metal or barbed wire? Even more dangerous, all these old batteries that just lay around in the sun and break open and invite young children to put them in their mouths. This seems such an obvious and immediate solution to this growing hazordous trash problem that for a while it seemed just easier to advocate that then try and push any other kind of strategy.

But doing composting is also an excellent benifit to the comunity and to the environment. One issue though is that the layout of the the latrines themselves does not yeild itself particularly well to making efficient compost. There is no way to stir, to aeorate the solid waste. While it may not be that hard to add good imputs like sawdust, this is not available in the village and might not be stustainable to try and push its use village wide, especially if people would have to go and buy it from a nearby town.

So I think I can explain the different sides of it to each family as we go. My plan all along has been to include some health lessons family by family about proper handwashing techniques, about where disease comes from, and the importance of having a clean environment. Then people can decide for themselves if they would like to try and see how the composting option works. Once their latrine is full, a new pit is dug and they can should leave the other pit, covered in grass for example, for several months or maybe a year for the cold compost process to break down the waste. Then they can empty the pits and use it as compost, as fertilizer, wherever it is needed in their gardens or in thier fields.

And then thats about that. Honestly any more complicated approach may work on a public latrine basis, but that is not what people want here. People do need latrines, any latrines, because now there is nothing. I will do my best to present all the information I have avaliable to them and explain it particularly to village representatives who can pass that information along after PCVs are gone. If a family wants to just throw trash down into it, it may fill up a little faster, but after it is full they can dig them selves a new one and the old one will decompose on its own and can be buried. If they want to be brave and try the compost thing, if they can get over the stigma of where it all came from, then they can go for that too, maybe not in the most efficient way but they have the basic tools and can do it for an added benifit of soil quality and a healthier environment.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Owe Ñaayaa

Looking back on my recent entries I realized that I havent really made any real update on what is going on in Louly right now.

So the harvests are finishing up now. The millet was tons of itchy fun. Peanuts are tons of all kinds of work but worth it. The beans are pretty much done and now people are waiting on bissap. The sorghum is also getting all cut down now and we have been eating that most nights.

With the kids finished with that I hope that we can actually have some legit afterschool ee club meetings. We had a couple little things, and one of them was actually kinda cool. Mostly we transplanted some mango trees. A mango that sits protected in a big garden had tons of seeds strewn about it that have turned into a tiny forest of little saplings. We moved a bunch into the school garden in plastic sacks that we are watering for a couple weeks to outplant in peoples fields or wherever the kids want them.

The teachers love to string me along but they say they would love to do some environmental lessons with their usual topics. So, maybe that will happen soon, inchallah.

I am trying to get some good stuf going with the college in Sandiara. The English teachers there say they can really use some help, the students get used to their accent and expressions and could use a native speaker. They are as slow to get going as the primary school though and only slightly less frustrating with strikes. At least they are genuinaly interested and communicating.

Something good going on now though- I have been pestering the heads of household a lot recently. The latrine project, yes that project that I am so honored to have gotten funding for from friends and strangers back home that I thank you all so much for, well it is still getting itself started. This is Africa, as they say, eh? Well, so we were waiting for the rainy season to end so we could start building. Then all the men and boys were busy with the millet and peanut harvest. Now that is wañing, err English... work is finishing, so we can start now. And so I have been telling them. We should start now, ndiiki, ndiiki ndiiki, now now, like yesterday would be better. The thing holding us back is that we decided that a family needs to contribute their full amount before they can get a latrine and that we would build them in groups. So now, eight families of the fifty have given the full amount but all but three are pretty scattered around. So we decided to start with those and the mason, my counterpart and I went and marked off where they should dig their pit.

This little activity sparked some good interest and people came up and after some discussion my counterpart and the mason agreed to mark off everyones pit dimentions so they can start digging. The beauty of doing it at the end of the rainy season is that the ground is softer, but its getting dry pretty quick and people would rather do less work in the short term than wait and have more to do. Thats good there, its a kind of planning ahead I think which is not often seen here.

Anyway, so now they are busy going from area to area in the village when they have time, marking off where the pit will be. They are nearly finished now and several people are nearly finished digging too. I will definitly get pictures of the process as it goes so you all can see how amazing this is to them and how much they want this.

So thats the main stuff going down. I am mostly pestering husbands and wives to give the money that remains for them to give. With the harvests being sold off, this is the exact time of year that people actually have money to spare and will more than likely throw it away at tea and sugar if i dont gently nudge them...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Future in Progress

Ok, so I have been doing a lot of thinking of what i will do post-Senegal. For all the same reasons that I liked the Peace Corps, selfish reasons, I still want to see the world, learn about new cultures, maybe learn a new language or two, live in a place and do things that will be expensive and hard if not impossible when I am older, settled and working a real job. Then it is just a question of where I want to go and what I want to do.

Earlier this year I gave some thought to trying to learn Arabic and after PC I could get a job with an development organization or other work in a Mid-Eastern Arabic speaking country. This seemed rather bold and I hadnt really narrowed anything down. This summer I started to drift from the idea of Arabic, at least right now, though I do hear it is a very logical and interesting language. Senegal is not so bad, but I could always go somewhere with a different majority religion for a change.

So then I started to think about where else I could work, what other language would be challenging and amazing to learn, what I could do. Then I started to think about China. It is a really interesting place to me and is diverse and undergoing many changes. It is a growing sprawling industrial power with vast and growing environmental problems. And hey, I am an environmental volunteer, right? Not that what I do here would qualify for much there, but maybe it would be an in with some NGO. I have some friends of friends who have or are teaching English in China. That certainly is a possiblility but I wanted to see if there would be other options that could get me a toe in otherwise. I would love to learn Mandarin. I realize it is one of the hardest languages for a speaker of a European language to learn, it being tonal and all. But I studied linguistics and that certainly helped with my Seereer.

So then, three months ago now, I was talking to a couple volunteers from the north of Senegal and explaining my thought process and how after PC I could find away to move to and work in China. They mentioned the fact that there was at least one Mauritanian volunteer who, this past spring extended his service with PC China.

I had not even concidered this possiblility. I had thought of extending in Senegal. And even now I go back and forth on it. The problem is probably my own perceptions on a justification. I dont hate Senegal now, I could do another year here I think, but I would rather go somewhere new. Also my village could totally use a new volunteer, not many EEs extend in their own sites and do the same work here. So that would mean a Seereer town. My French has deterioated to mostly useless. My Wolof isnt good enough for anything more elaborate. And I dont know what I could do in a Seereer town but work with a college and that would need to be a new site and I am not sure if I could do that or could justify it here, or if there would even be such a site avaliable and wanting a volunteer.

I had emailed PC Senegal's country director soon after but it was right when the new trainees were coming in and he was far to busy and overlooked or forgot about my email. Since then I have been trying to corner him whenever I come to Dakar, which has not been that frequent really. The day before yesterday I did finally get an appointment with him. I had prepared for him to ask a dozen complex questions and appeals for me to at least extend my service in Senegal and I wasnt sure how to be articulate when I am so easily intimidated. Anyway, so as usual all tension was just in my head. He was surprisingly easy about it. I just need to update my resume and write a letter of intent that would get forwarded from him to Washington and that would be it.

China has a program that is excusively English education, and from what I understand, all teaching at the university level. An extension of this kind is not just out of the country, but the region, Africa, and out of my sector. He explained that it would probably not be a problem for me. China is looking for extending 3rd years, they are safe bets for stable volunteers. Also I was initially invited as an English education volunteer, I volunteered at my university's center for English as a second language, tutoring study abroad students. Here I also worked a week of English camp at a highschool in Dakar and I have made plans to work more formally with the nearby college in the next town, helping in thier English classes and maybe facilitating an afterschool club. Our country director said that all that would probably qualify me enough for this program.

I was shocked at how simple it was put. Just update my resume, type up an intention statement, email those off and there I am. Instead of haveing to look for a different NGO in the states, apply when I get home, probably fly myself out and find a place to live, PC will get me out there, where I need to be. They will get me the training nessesary, resources, money and housing. Plus, if I could manage to spend some time on Mandarin, what better way to learn a language than with PC and its resources? They provide basically free medical everything for as long as I am with them. It almost seems crazy not to try and stay on with them when I have had such a good service thus far.

So thats where I am now. I got my old resume out and boy does it look simplex and silly. I understand that China's program starts in June. Six months before countries generally send out all their invitations. So I would like to get these out as soon as possible and get a slot early. In talking to some extending volunteers here in Dakar I have some idea of what to expect and what I still need to figure out.

I know that PC has extending volunteers take a month-ish, i think, vacation before extending. I guess from a mental health standpoint they dont want us to be away from the rest of the world for so long we lose sight of it or otherwise flip out. So, for all you out there who ask me one and only one question, I should be back in America sometime if not for all of May. There is that wrestling tournament May 7-11 in Louly that I would kinda like to be at again, but I could stand to miss it.

So, ok, there it is. English education in China in 2010. That has a nice ring to it.