Friday, December 21, 2012

Keur Malick Fady: My home for the next 2 years

“Nestled among mazes of mangroves, tropical forest and islands that float on myriad waterways, the tiny town of Toubakouta is easily one of the most beautiful spots of the Sine-Saloum Delta. It’s an excellent base for excursions to the nearby Parc National du Delta du Saloum and the stunning Air Marine Protegee de Bamboung, Senegal’s only functioning area of protected area.  The whole area teems with wildlife and sea birds, watching flamingos, fish eagles, herons and egrets prepare to roost on the shore at nightfall is fascinating, even if you’re not a keen bird-watcher.”  The Gabmia & Senegal Lonely Planet, 2008

This was the first I had read about my site in Fatick. Beyond this I was told it was beautiful by numerous people. First word out of their mouths when I told them where my site was. So far this place sounded like not only a place I would want to visit...but to live for 2 years. How lucky was I.

View Senegal in a larger map

Typical sunset that I've seen everyday for the week and half I've been here

Not only am I living in a beautiful place, I am the first volunteer in my village. Keur Malick Fady is about 600 people and about 11km or 8 miles from Toubacouta, a small resort town on the Mangroves. Being the first means I have to set the expectations of people of not only my village but of villages and people near by as well. Being the first means I get to start projects rather than continue them. Being the first means (hopefully for good reasons) I will be the one they talk about to  the next volunteer (they compare the old volunteers to the new ones even if the last one wasn't that good).

My brand spankin' new hut
 I get to decorate my hut, I get to plant a garden, along with figuring out the lay of the land, speaking the language and figuring out just what people do here. For the next 2 years I will work with helping with food security, increase variety of plants, vegetables, and fruits grown to help improve diets, along with working on various education, health and whatever project might pop up.

For example, I have been here only a week and half, I've noticed that not only do 2 small children (under the age of 6) have what looks to be abcesses but while helping pull water at one of the main wells, so do a few other women in the town. So I start to track down the nearest health volunteer and start picking there brain on best self care for abcesses (as I know how painful they can be), where the closest health post is (note: not a hospital or dentist, a place for check ups or simply medication) and if there are any other groups in the area working on health care visits to these small, sometimes remote towns and if possibly it would be "normal" to ask someone to come visit the town rather than tell these people to walk the 4km to the next town and shell out a good chunk of money to see a doctor for medication. I'm not a health volunteer, I don't have medication to give these people nor money to treat every ailment they have. BUT I do travel more than they do. I have a brand new bike that I go to the next few towns on a weekly basis, I can ask questions at the health post and of health volunteers for best practices or if there are others in the areas having the same issue. This isn't a project, but it could turn into one.

My namesake, Adam, and sister-in-law, Yassen, carrying water from the well. I can carry two of those by hand, but not very far or long. Typically my family uses 10 a day.

So far a typical day is nothing from typical, everyday here has been a little different. The first few days I've greeted almost everyone in the village by walking from compound to compound in the morning before people head to school or the fields to work or water gardens to say hi, introduce myself, ask questions, etc. This lead to a few people asking me to see their gardens (for example: to look at insect damage and help find what to use), fields (because I had asked about a specific crop or where they were) or something else they wanted to show me (sometimes it's as simple as the kids wanting to practice the little english they new on me others this meant I would have lunch with their family from then on).
Large "Hai" tree and 1 room school house at Keur Mama

 I have visited the next town over, Keur Mama, to be introduced to the village chief, extended family and other notable people in the area. All of these people are potential work partners on projects, what ever those project might be. Peace Corps has a program of extending seeds to farmers, with a hook of course, for every kilo we give them, they must give us double back to increase the project year after year. This is with the understanding they had a good year with said crop. 

Typical village in my area
 Also with farmers we teach improved techniques, such as making and using compost, double digging beds, using 1 meter by 4 meter beds for vegetables, companion planting and others. Many of times projects find you, as I have already found with the abcesses. I might have very little knowledge of the problem my new neighbors, friends and family face, but it's my job to help in whatever way I can. Even if it's finding out that they need to go to the doctor and spend more money than they like to think about.

Onion beds in a field I visited-so beautiful
But I think the most common thing I keep saying to people I meet here is that America has the same problems they do. They think America has so much money, I keep telling them it's credit. They think there are jobs in America, and I tell them that it's a struggle there to find a job and when you do, you work long hours for little pay. They ask me if I can take them there, I show them the conversion into cfa (the currency for the country $1=500 cfa) for a plane ticket and ask them if they've even ridden in one (There eyes get big as they thought I took a taxi or bus to get here). If they do know how much it is, then the problem is getting a visa. I keep saying it's the same in America, if I want to work in another country I need one too. And it is hard. Everywhere is hard. No place is easy.

Ibraehema and I on our way back to Keur Malick Fady from the next town over
Unless you find what you love to do, the thing that makes you want to stay up at night and do it, that makes your heart sing. And if you're lucky you are able to get paid for it and be with your family at the same time. That is true richness. Being able to do what you love with who you love around you. Being content with what you have and where you are at. 

Strangely, after going through the 100 emails I had waiting for me today, writing this, and with Christmas right around the corner, I can say I am very rich, lucky and blessed to be able to do what I love with people I love here with me by email, text messages, thoughts, and support. I wish you all the happiest of holidays and all the love and warmth I can send from Africa. (it's still 80+ degrees here in the heat of the day)

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