Category Archives: Seeds Shoots Leaves
One interesting approach to stopping the encroachment of the Sahara desert is to plant a tree belt across northern Africa: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10344622
The best part: my home is north of that line. Better get planting.
Just a small work/life update about what Paul and I have been up to.
For the first week of November, Paul and I helped with a Moringa tourney in the departments of Matam and Kanel. We stayed in Ourosogui and worked with Counterpart International based there. There were 6 volunteers in all divided into three teams. Each team visited 2-4 villages a day for five days talking about moringa. Three months earlier, another team of agriculture volunteers went to these same villages to teach how to plant a moringa leaf-intensive bed. On this second tourney, we returned to the same sites to explain how to harvest the leaves, make moringa powder, incorporate the powder into foods, and why it is so important.
Moringa oleifera is oftentimes called the “miracle tree” by development workers for its properties. Locally the plant is called nebeday (a butchered version of the english phrase “never die”). It is a fast-growing plant that grows well here in Senegal with extremely nutritious leaves–high levels of Vitamin A, C, iron, protein, and calcium. It is rumored to treat maladies ranging from diabetes to eye/ear infections to intestinal parasites. Leaf powder can be easily added to food as a nutritional supplement. Moringa is good for use in a garden for live fencing or shade because its long tap root does not compete with other plants. Additionally its roots are rumored to fix nitrogen. Not only that, but the seeds can be ground to a powder and used as a flocculant for purifying water and honey.
We got to visit villages way out in the bush. So far out in the bush, the Pulaar word means the bush of the bush. We drove to villages as far west as the Podor department boundary and to villages so far east that we almost made it to Bakel and the region of Tamba. Villages were typically motivated to grow the moringa and use it. Most beds were planted in schools to encourage the use of moringa within student lunches. We met amazing women’s groups, amazing teachers, and spoke huge amounts of Pulaar. As you go east into the Matam region, the Pulaar gets crisper and clearer. Paul and I had an easier time talking to people there than we do in the Ndioum Podor region.
The moringa tourney was an amazing experience and we hope to be able to replicate it in the Podor department with the Counterpart International located in Ndioum. Additionally, I would like to teach health workers how to plant and process the plant as a nutritional supplement for malnourished children who come to baby weighings. Currently, kids that are malnourished are given sacks of potatoes and lentils from Counterpart Int. or the “Plumpy nut” generic made in Dakar from Terre des Hommes. It would be great if we could add hospital-grown moringa as a supplement.
My project with the women’s group and their field has fallen apart. Turns out that the women are squatters on the land they farm. The land is owned by Eaux et Forets and the women had permission to farm the land last year, but not this year. They farm it because no one else is and no one will kick them off the land. There is no way I can help them purchase a pump until they have their own land.
Truly, I would like to spend most of my service doing work that does not involve money; money just complicates everything. As Renee once put it, “once the money comes out, the bad people come crawling out of the woodwork.” I want my work here to be sustainable–for what I teach to be practiced and taught to others for years to come. This it the strength in Peace Corps volunteers: we stay and live for two years in a site so that we can teach people how to solve health and environmental issues for themselves. NGOs are those who throw around money and PC is not like any other NGO here. With that in mind, I have taught the women about the goodness of Moringa. I will teach them better farming techniques that will increase profits until they may one day be able to purchase land or a pump for themselves.
Tabaski (festival of the sheep) was mid-November–a huge Muslim holiday where most families kill a sheep (our family killed 6–but it was split between two houses and much given to families who cannot afford a sheep). Paul and I helped clean one out and ate meat for the entire week after.
Then we had a Regional Strategy meeting and Thanksgiving! 2 turkeys and 5 chickens. My first time to ever kill a chicken.
Paul and I just attended the All-Volunteer Conference of West Africa in Thies and heard about the work of other volunteers. We talked to volunteers from Togo, Cape Verde, Benin, Mali, Ghana. I learned that gum arabic (Acacia senegal) is the number one agricultural export of Senegal, bringing in about $280 million every year! This tree grows extremely well where we live.
And now we are back in the North beginning new projects. Paul is organizing a depistage tourney for HIV/AIDS testing throughout the Podor department. He wants to visit at least 6 different sites and end the entire tourney with the annual AIDS concert in Podor (something Lauren Canton, our ancienne, started that has been a highly visible way to raise awareness about AIDS/HIV/STDs).
I have been working to organize a CCBI training in Ndioum for the environmental education volunteers and their primary school teachers. CCBI (Community Content-based Instruction) allows environmental and nutritional lessons to be incorporated into the strict French curriculum of schools. Basically, we will train teachers how to use environmental health examples to teach concepts of Math, French, History, or other subjects. For example, a class can plant a pepinere and learn about percentages or fractions concerning germination rate.
At my primary school, I am hoping to make the school what we call an “eco-school”. We will repair the latrines, start CCBI lessons, establish a school garden and moringa leaf-intensive bed, plant shade trees, and put trash cans in all the classrooms. I would like to start an environmental club to take care of the garden, however I need to find a parent or teacher who is motivated enough to help organize this. If this all works well at this elementary school, I will extend this program to all the other primary schools in Podor (there are 5 total).
(this is a blog that started out only about peanut harvest…but has morphed into a blog about women and gender roles here in Senegal. Its long. Sorry. I’ll save talking about FGC for another day)
This has been an exhaustingly good week. My fingers hurt from picking mud off of peanuts. Our Neene Ba is part of a Tostan women’s group in our quartier. And there are 50 women from the quartiers of Sinthiane and Lowa Demba in this group. On the 2nd of October they, along with the other two Tostan groups from other Podor quartiers, are going to present plays to the town about some traditional but harmful practices: female genital circumcism (FGC), forced marriages, and ear piercing (improperly done without correct sanitation precautions). And on the 3rd, the women along with the entire Podor department will take a declaration to end forced marriages, discourage FGC, and encourage proper ear piercing at the local hospitals.
As of today, this group of women has defined my service as a PCV in Podor. They are all such amazing women, insisting on doing work not usually defined as women’s work as a way out of poverty. A woman described it to me, as we are standing in their field: So min liggotiima ɗoo e ngesa, min mbaawi yeeyde e jogaade kaalis. So min liggotiima, sukaɓe amen mbaawi ñaamde moƴƴo, mbaawi janngude haa lycee. Ina waawi wonde haa universite. If we work here in this field, we can sell the food and have money. If we work, our children can eat well and study in school until high school. Maybe even through university.
And so the women have a field where they harvest peanuts, bissap, cassava, watermelon, and corn. I have spent the last week helping them harvest all the peanuts. By the end of the day, there are at least twenty women sitting around buckets of water, pulling peanuts off of the roots. They stay in the fields from mid-morning through lunch until the sun goes down. Last Friday, after prayers, I ate lunch with them. Fish and rice with the best tamarin sauce I have eaten yet, and then ataaya as we worked through the afternoon. They yell at the cars that pass the field on the Route Nationale. Ar soɗde gerte! It is my intention to help the women buy a motor pump. Currently they rent one from the Catholic Mission, but at great cost. So much is the rent that they can only afford to buy gas for the machine once a week. Imagine that—a large field that is only watered once a week in this Senegalese desert. The Sahel. They fill the irrigation ditches with river water and let it slowly spread across the whole field. I hope that if they can water more frequently, they can plant a wider and less destructive variety of vegetables.
At the end of the day, as the sun is setting, the women busy themselves with rinsing the peanuts in the river. Then Fatimata or Penda spreads them out, counting them in volumetric units of tomato pots—Lingere tomato paste. No foti pots hande? They are averaging about 30 pots a day, which is about 60 kilos. Fatimata fills up the can past the lip until no peanuts fall off the mound. One pot. 800 cfa for one pot of peanuts. For a day’s work, 24 mille. Not bad at all.
My favorite part of it all is the women talking and dancing. They break into chanting, drumming, and dancing intermittently. If I go to the field only in the afternoon, I am met with them chanting: Kuumba arii, kuumba arii. Coumba has come. And then the rest of the day is filled with them chatting about Tostan, people, money, work, children. Malick, this adorable baby comes in on the back of his sister to be nursed by mom. His two and only lower middle teeth smile at me as he runs over to greet me, little dirty hand extended. The most beautiful smile I have seen. There is a lot of yelling and fighting too—the women shouting at each other in rapid Pulaar and Wolof, their voices overlapping as they try to make their points. Typically about money and how to split things equally. But in the end. Aɗa yarlo mi. You should forgive me. Peace only. Every single woman must have her say.
I have been realizing as I spend time here that I want my work here to empower women and girls. Like our ancienne, the greatest issues I see here have to do with gender development. Here in Senegal, serving as a married couple, I experience a contrast in how I fit into society. Certain rights as a women, that I took for granted in the US, are few and overlooked here. These differences stem from the Muslim religion and from traditional Senegalese gender roles. A woman here has little say in how many wives her husband will have, as four is the maximum; but most woman have an opinion on this matter. (People are convinced here that there are more women than men in Senegal, which is hard for me to stomach as a biologist. More logically, that men are more likely to be educated and can leave Senegal.). A woman typically may not divorce her husband, but her husband can divorce her. The Pulaar language itself reveals interesting differences between women and men. A woman is married (reseede) whereas a man marries (resde) but cannot be married. A wife is called the jom suude (head of the room) whereas the husband is the jom galle (head of the house). Rewbe liggotaako. Women do not work (work meaning in the fields or outside of housework) except for the few who sell food, goods, or produce. Women pull water from the well, do the laundry, sweep the house every morning, and cook every meal. PC men volunteers who try to do these tasks have often been met with criticism. You are doing the work of a woman. I was told in training by a language instructor that a good wife is one who is last at the lunch bowl because she spends the entire meal throwing her husband pieces of fish and vegetables. Only after he is full does she really start to eat.
Women, especially in rural villages, seldom finish their schooling. They typically finish college and then get married, have kids, and keep house. Most women cook for a majority of the day, especially as a Senegalese meal is a huge affair and takes several hours to cook. Women wake earlier than the men to start sweeping and cleaning the house, then they go to market from 10-12 and then start preparing for the meal at 12 pm. At 5 pm they start preparing for the dinner at 8 pm. Most young girls have little time to study because they spend all their spare time at home waiting over the fire. Empowering women as I see it gives each girl a chance to have a say in how her life plays out. She can choose whom to marry, when, and who she wants to be. These Senegalese gender roles prevent women from having the opportunity to be more than a house wife. In my host family in Ngekhokh, one of the young girls (probably around 15 years of age) Binta is the one who always cooks for the family. She does not go to school anymore unlike the rest of the kids in the house and it made me sad to see that she already knows this is her life. Over the mud stove under the stars she would ask me how I got to Senegal. Avion? Pointing to the sky. Have you ever flown on a plane before? It is something unfathomable to her, but within reach of any student who takes the bac for entrance into a university. And it is something I did at least four times a year during college. The most she can hope for is a lovely husband, nice kids, and a house. Perhaps her kids will finish school and get the chance to choose their path in life.
In The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs makes a small statement about how countries begin their path toward development when women begin to work and choose when to have kids. True development of a country away from poverty starts with gender development. The women in Podor are making small strides for themselves. I have talked to several women who take part in family planning through depo injections or birth control pills. I have met college-age girls who are planning to finish high school and teach or work after they graduate. The other day, I entered a house and chatted with four girls who are studying at the university in Dakar. I told them that I was happy but surprised. C’est le nouveau generation. One step at a time, women and girls will get the tools and resources they need to live as they choose.
Would anyone be willing to send me some pomegranate seeds? My closest neighbor Evan read up on them and they are perfect for growing in the sandy soil here. Supposedly there are some in St. Louis.
Learned today in IPM (Integrated Pest Management) that: Fact—hanging a dead monkey (especially if painted red to imitate blood) in your fields will send fear into the hearts of all other monkeys, resulting in monkeys never entering your fields or garden again. Can I do this with the kids that destroy my trees and garden too? Mi fijat. I am only joking…
Kigelia pinnata: The Wolof name for this tree means “big penis” because of the medicinal properties of its fruit and leaves, rumored to increase breast size and male stamina. The fruits bear a remarkable resemblance to their Wolof name in both their size and shape.