Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I'll start with this: 30 years ago, before the filling of the Maka-Diama Dam on the Senegal-Mauritania border, a tributary of the Senegal river greened the area surrounding Linguere. In the years since, the area has undergone a serious desertification process, but the population that settled there in the days of vegetation and flowing water has stayed put as the land dried up and the trees diminished. They farm and garden and go about their lives, but are forced to devote much of their day to seeking and transporting water for themselves and their crops. And now: I will live amongst them.

Personally, my water situation in my future home, Ngaraf, is nothing to complain about. One of the communal village "robinets" - faucets - is located right outside my family's compound. In my work as an environmental education volunteer, however, I foresee much of my time revolving around the perpetual struggle to keep this life-force close at hand, for my neighbors and my plants and who knows what else.

I returned last week from a 5-day visit to Ngaraf, my real, permanent village -- though we won't permanently install ourselves until the middle of May, the Demystification Week gave all of us trainees the opportunity to see the places where we will live. I spent the week with Dana, the volunteer I will be replacing and an intimidatingly-wise and competent young women. Absurdly, my very first nights in the village were Dana's last, and during my stay, we shared - both literally and figuratively - the space that she has occupied for the last two years and I will occupy for the next two. It was a truly intense time for both of us, sitting at opposite ends of the Peace Corps Circle of Life.

As the reality of my foreseeable future set in (and I mean that far less omoinously than it sounds), I picked Dana's brain about the details of her work and life in the village. She's done a great deal to help create and oversee a community garden operated by the women, and this is a project that I'm both thrilled and terrified to take on. (On that note, by the way, if anyone knows of any awesome gardening resources - especially those that pertain to warm weather - please alert me to their existence and/or send them my way!) I guess if I can make trees and vegetables grow successfully in that climate, I will feel like I can do anything! Until that happens, though, I must admit that I'm quite nervous about my prospects.

So, some of the exciting things about my site:
  • Camels: Driving in, we saw a few of these beasts speckling the horizon. During my stay, I came across a few others on my morning runs, and on the way out, our SUV was halted in the road by whole pack of 'em -- domesticated ones! (domesticated, as in they belong to a group of nomadic Pulaar people).
  • The people of Ngaraf: During my stay, it seemed that all 300 people of the village felt genuine grief about Dana's departure. Even so, I felt them welcoming me in all different ways -- trying to get to know me, laughing with me, teaching me, putting up with my bad Wolof. They are truly good people, and I can't believe my luck at getting to live with them for the next two years. Also, I must say that, while it may have been difficult to witness their distress at the loss of my predecessor, the affection and connection they felt with her is a testament to their kindness and ability to welcome an outsider. Such a beautiful thing!
  • My counterpart: every PC volunteer is hooked up with at least one village counterpart -- a competent and well-connected village resident to help you integrate, learn your way around, implement projects, etc. One of mine, Marem, is exceptional -- one of those people that I could immediately recognize as being intuitive, wise, caring, and strong.
  • My douche (my bathroom!): It's mine and only mine, and it's attached to my room, so I can walk there in my underpants when it's a bazillion degrees out! And it's open air, allowing bad odors to escape and letting the stars shine in on my evening buckets baths. The best cement pit latrine in Senegal, hands down.
  • The Missionaries: Linguere region volunteers reap extensive benefits from an ever-friendly and generous Lutheran missionary family living in Linguere proper (2o km from my village). When they got wind that all the region's new PCVs would be in the area for demystification, they invited us over and treated us to wonders untold: microwave popcorn, chips and homemade salsa (I KID YOU NOT), delicious gin and tonics in frosted classes (again, I kid you not). We hear tell of homemade ice cream (a BIG DEAL when there is no other ice cream within at least 100 km of Linguere), feasts on major holidays, cold drinks in the hot season, hot showers in the cold season, and all other varieties of semi-debaucherous delights.
It's been a week since I left Ngaraf, during which I returned to my training village to, well, train. I swear in as a Volunteer on May 14th, and shortly after that I will be installed in Ngaraf for good.

All the pictures below are from Ngaraf and the Linguere region (my permanent site). Coming soon: some more recent pictures from this last week of training.

The women made hordes of delicious deep-fried beignets for Dana's going away party, which doubled as my "baptism."

In love with babies wherever I go.

Children of Ngaraf.

Dressed up for the going away party/baptism.

Many packs of Nomadic Pulaars, all cattle-herders, populate the area around Ngaraf.

Nomadic Pulaars come into Ngaraf every day to fill giant truck tires inner tubes with water from the Robinet.

I can bare the desert as long as there are baobabs. And there are, alhumdalilaay!

Me with the amazing Linguere missionary family: Sarah, Eva, Ellen, and Dirk.
(Camp Warren folks: Sarah's from Eveleth!!)

Camels. 'Nuff said.

Attempt at a picture of me and the camels through the picture of the Peace Corps car.

With Kourtney and Eric, reunited after Demystification.

The "Drive-thru Wal-Mart" -- These guys huddle around the Peace Corps bus all along the (slow-moving) highway on our way to and from Dakar (approximately 2 hours from the PC training center in Thies -- we went there to take care of some administrative business and eat at delicious restaurants.)

1 comment:

  1. Those cows (AND the camels) look awfully skinny. You can see all their ribs! I'm wondering if they're for hamburger or milk. At least the baby is nice and plump.