Tuesday, June 15, 2010

yenni ma = help me take this off my head

hi guys! yup, still alive! and where to begin! so begins the 3rd chapter of my life (the first being my pre-college days, the 2nd being college itself) and there are so many stories and updates but i dont even know how to mention it all. guess i'll just start typing...

sidenote: mosques are beautiful.

so about 3.5 weeks ago, i was dropped off in my lovely village of yang yang and thrown into a world with a beautiful mixture of solitude and a new definition of what it means to be part of a family and a community. like i said, my nearest volunteer currently lives 55 km away from me and the regional office is about 75 km, which is around 50 something miles. normally that would take less than an hour to drive but here, traveling 75 km requires a good 4 hours or so. it's such an interesting way of traveling but i will get to it later. anyway, so my first couple of days in the village entailed setting up my living quarters for the next 2 years, decorating my room, meeting and greeting the family, the community, the school, and most importantly, getting familiarized with the health post. the village was kind of excited for a new volunteer but at the same time, it's old news for them because they had another volunteer there 5 years ago or something like that and they were reminiscing about that volunteer. i took a short clip of my room a couple of days in so it's a little more set up now but roughly the same i'd say. still no table or bookshelf... when will that happen? haha


not gonna lie, it's a bit tough being thrown into a foreign situation all by yourself. my language is pretty good for only having learned it for 2 months but it's still not amazing. i can converse with people but its so hard to grasp entire paragraphs and even harder adjusting to the local accent and vocabulary. a good analogy would be a native of london who learned british english, going to the dirty south and conversing with hill billys (well that is an immense exaggeration but you get the idea). the language is coming along though and although i feel like i havent been making progress, im starting to pick up things easier and ideas are starting to get across. my family in yang yang is very nice (although the kids are slightly bratted and spoiled rotten and arent very well-behaved for that matter - tolerable to some extent) but they are really different than my family back in tassette. for one, the tassette family was just full of jokers and it was so much more lively and fun. but as a whole, yang yang is much more laidback - i am truly living in the countryside. things are just slower and quieter - which is nice, but maybe doesnt suit part of my personality very well. nonetheless, it is a posh situation in the barren dessert - there's electricity (most of the time) and cell phone reception (most of the time), there's water (although it tastes funny) and my family has variety on meals (which is a huge step up). ive also been here only 3 weeks and i knew my other family for 8 so i gotta give my new family time - make some connections whatnot.

so what have i been up to? there's been a lot of setting up and establishing myself in my room, village, and surrounding. i painted blackboards in my room and right outside my room for writing down new words that i learn or keeping a calendar/schedule reminder. i think it's so cool that you can paint a blackboard onto a wall (in actuality, it probably is just regular black paint but there's just something about it that makes it look special and different and blackboard-ish)

ive also been working on my personal garden. it's quite an accomplishment really. a small 6 by 7 meters or so block of space takes a lot of time to turn into a decent looking garden; and even then, you dont know if things will grow out of it. i did end up using the space right next to my bathroom / shower but it also involved restructuring the millet stalk fence to enclose my garden on the other side and open it up on my end for an entrance. here's a picture of the starting plot of land.

i started my tree pepinieres, filling little sacs with a mixture of soil (sand and clay) and cow manure. it doesnt look like a tedious task but it took 3ish mornings to complete. it's too hot to work during the daytime and even the mornings, the rising temperature makes any manual labor slightly uncomfortable. from digging the pit and finding niim leaves and wood ash for natural insect repellent, to finding and carrying manure in large amounts, to fetching water to make the mixture, and then individually stuffing little sacs is quite time consuming. i made 95 in the span of 3 mornings (aka like a couple of hours) - totally lost 5 bags by accident to the wind, haha. i plan on doing definitely 50 more in the future but maybe a lot more since i spoke with eaux et forets (water and forest group) and they want me to help them with reforestation of the area. the video i posted really gives you a clear idea that there arent that many trees and it really is a desert and trees are just amazing. they provide shade amongst many other things!

the next step involved double digging three 1x3ish meter plots and another 1x1 meter plot. it was definitely tiring but what a workout, look at these arm muscles, haha! i used a mixture of cow and goat and sheep manure this time - the sifting took forever and all my clothes smelled of manure for quite some time. i laughed out loud one morning to myself at the thought of me having played with poop all day for quite some days.

the final garden - voila! it's quite a cozy garden if i may say so myself. the fence in the back is patched up and one of my younger siblings decided to take the liberty upon himself to create his own little plots in my garden, without asking of course - which kind of messed up the perfect spacing and orderliness of the garden but it adds character - and it's kinda cool to see what he's going to do with them. though i foresee him asking me for seeds to plant. right now, the plots are seedless but watered daily, letting the weeds grow so that i may de-weed before planting actual seeds - like cabbage, eggplant, carrot, hot peppers, bitter tomatoes, bissap, watermelon, tomatoes, and moringa. this should be super exciting and disappointing. i dont expect anything to grow this first time around since my lack of experience in gardening and farming will probably contribute to the death or growth-less-ness of my plots. but we shall see; enshallah, i will have a garden that actually works. Oh and I will also plant mint and attempt apple tree seeds. Most likely it will fail but gotta try right? I do want to start a garden when I get back to the states, some form of urban garden on rooftops using spare tires and whatnot. I saw such a garden and it was just a fantastic idea.

i've been doing some talking with families trying to find out what my future projects could be and just from observation and dialogues, it really seems like yang yang is well off. They’re pretty well off for a rural community out in the middle of nowhere – there’s electricity and running water, some families even have tvs and fridges. Of course if you compare them to urban folk, they are considerably poorer, but much more well off compared to some villages I’ve seen. The community pretty much wants to become a road town so that theres more traffic and business and commerce through the area, but it is kind of out of my control. In my opinion, the area where the village is placed is so out of the way that I don’t really think it’s possible unless they can start some major attraction, like a beautiful lake or something. They also want more cars to pass through so that it’s easier to travel to and from the village but I have no control over that either. I’d say daily, there are 2 cars that leave and 2 cars that return – so 4 cars pass through the village each day – yeah it’s quite bad. Hmm…

I’ve also been talking and hanging out at the health post which they call a hospital because of the multiple rooms. I could do some malaria prevention causeries and such but otherwise, it’s just the regular skin infections, arthritis, and head and body aches. But definitely causeries on the importance of prenatal and postnatal visits is in order, as well as AIDS/HIV and other STI talks, and birth control and family planning – ahh, I have a tough time ahead. A problem I have encountered is that the majority of people that visit the health post don’t live in yang yang but the surrounding villages and out in the forest. With people so spread out, what kind of projects can I do? Traveling is not easy either so I have to figure that out.

What was really cool though were the vaccination days. We got to travel out into the forest to give out vaccinations. The car ride to find these villages (and I use the word village here loosely because it was more like 5 huts and that’s it – maybe families is more accurate) was super fun because beyond my village, there are no roads, just tire tracks in the sand – and they cross this way, split every so often and just didn’t seem to be very useful because sometimes the tiretracks end and then we’re just driving on sand. So I was super amazed that we found anything and we weren’t lost even though sometimes, we had to ask for directions – and by directions I mean have the villagers point the direction to the next village. But wow, do they live in the middle of nowhere. The words civilization and isolation are given a new meaning! The closest villages to my village looked like villages but as we progressed farther and farther into the bus, people’s huts looked shabbier and toward the end, there weren’t huts at all. It became just some luggage and maybe a cot and floor mat underneath a tree. When I came to Africa, I thought of living a minimalistic lifestyle so I only brought the bare minimum (or what I thought is bare minimum) of stuff; but minimalistic lifestyle now has a new definition. They really have close to nothing but the most essential of essentials. But vaccinations were amazing. We gave out polio vaccines as well as vitamin supplements and anti-helminthes. With the ‘forest’ being so vast, I hope we covered everyone!

Traveling to and from my village is quite a journey – as well as all other travels for that matter. So imagine a pickup truck of regular size. Then put a metal grill around the perimeter of the trunk to tie things on. Then put some wood planks across for seating. There you basically have my transportation. We sit on the wooden blanks, all 30 of us (remember this is only your average sized pickup truck) and beneath our dangling feet, there are 20 or so sheep and goats, baggage of all shapes and sizes, and chicken tied to the sides of the truck. It’s such a fiasco (no that’s not the right word, maybe a circus show? Haha) of a car ride but it was so much fun. I felt like I was on an amusement park ride because we had to duck from getting hit my spiky tree branches and the car slowly wobbled and swayed toward our destination.

Normally it takes 30 minutes to get from my village to the road town of Dahra, where the weekly markets are, but our transport picks up people and livestock along the way in the bush so the ride actually becomes like 2 and a half hours long. Once in Dahra, if I wanted to get to Linguere where my regional house is, I would have to go to the garage and wait for a minivan to fill up to twice or 3 times its capacity, which on a good day takes about an hour (ive waited close to 5 hours once for a car to fill up) and then it’s just another hour to Linguere. So total travel time for 75 km (like 50 something miles) = ~4 hours. A lot of the traveling also occurs very early in the morning so I have to get up at 4:30 or 5:30 at times. It’s so serene out though, almost doesn’t look any different than the states!

Just some pictures of bugs…

This one is more interesting. One night as I was going home, I heard a crunching side as I was opening my door. Shining your light in the dark at a bizarre sound is never a good idea, just word of advice. I see this massive bug eating one of the large beetles that inhabit my area. These beetles are already quite large to begin with so imagine seeing an even larger bug, that is quite ugly if I may say so myself. I find out much later that it’s called a horse scorpion, or as wiki likes it to be called, the wind scorpion or camel spider. they're... quite fast.

and i read a lot. which is good because i never had that pleasure or leisure to read books back home and i was missing out on so many great books (thank you mepham for giving me shantaram minutes before my departure from india - one of the best books i have ever read and i definitely recommend it to all of you). music wise, i have to thank ratatat and owl city and la roux and silversun pickups for carrying me through the days. without these 4 great artists, village life would just be a little less unpleasant.

But on to a more serious note. Ive realized that I can do a lot of projects outside my village and that a lot of you can get involved. There’s so much more that this place needs and we are fortunate enough to be able to contribute to the cause. If youre interested, do a google search on talibes. Theyre children that go to koranic schools and in doing so, they leave their family and live in, a form of poverty, in a way. They don’t own many clothes, if not just the clothes on their backs, and they beg for alms for food. Many of them don’t own shoes so they walk around barefoot, which is quite dangerous not only because there could be broken glass or whatnot, but also the worms and other parasites that can dig into your skin and embed themselves (look up creeping eruption for one example lol). Shoe donations, shoe drives, or just companies sponsoring a massive purchase of used shoes or whatnot would do amazing things for the lives of these children. And any of you looking for ways to help financially or know connections to other organizations, those are always welcome. I guess what my area needs is an economy, a means for making a living actually. Since a lot of them are farmers, if I could just set them up with a large corporation, say exporting peanuts to make American peanut butter, just imagine the possibilities. Of course im getting ahead of myself so gotta still study the inner workings of my community and the surrounding communities that work with mine. Once I understand the culture and tradition and people better will I be able to do a better job.

Here’s a progress of my hair, lol. Opinions? haha

I will blog more in a month when I can say for sure what my actual project is. Pretty much just observing life and looking for opportunities and making connections now. Theres another training session in about a month so that’s when everything will be more solidified. And I leave yall with this lovely image… I found Reqles! Lol… I thought it was a magical alcoholic beverage the way people were describing it but in essence, it’s just a minty Bacardi 151 if you think about it. Strong and minty… quite deadly.