Monday, July 29, 2013

Ramadan: A whole new meaning to hangry

Thankfully we are over half way through the month of fasting known as Ramadan that Muslims all over the world observe. Senegal is no different. Based on the lunar calender the month of fasting starts at sun rise  and lasts until sun set each day. Muslims also abstain from sex and smoking as well as eating and drinking during day light hours. If women are pregnant, nursing or menstruating they are to not fast.

There are extremes to this. Many people even spit out the saliva in there mouths during the day. And if a women doesn't know she's pregnant and may not fast due to many reasons. Sadly this report came out as well showing that it's true.
"For quite a while, scientists have known that maternal food deprivation is bad news for fetuses, correlated with everything from coronary disease later on to skewed sex ratios at birth. (Normally, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. But during food shortages and other times of population-wide stress, relatively more girls are born, probably because male fetuses are more fragile than female ones, and more susceptible to being miscarried.) Recent studies have uncovered new examples of this effect. The Chinese famine of 1958–61 saw male births decline sharply [1]. Even fasting takes a toll: When Ramadan occurred very early in pregnancy, Arab mothers in Michigan were 10 percent less likely to have a son. And Muslims in Iraq and Uganda were 20 percent more likely to be disabled as adults if their mothers were in early pregnancy during the holiday [2]."  The Unexpected Ways a Fetus Is Shaped by a Mother's Environment, The Atlantic, June 2013
In no way am I saying Ramadan is a bad thing. This article simply came out recently and reminded us to not only be aware of those around us who weren't eating but also for those who should. Small children, pregnant women, elderly, sick or those who are traveling usually don't fast. Usually being the operative word. Its good to remind or encourage those who should eat to eat. Ramadan is held in esteem to many Muslims.

Typical blessing for Ramadan as seen on TV
I am always greeted and then asked if I'm fasting. I tried it for a week and also drank water during it and thought that was more than enough for me. I still only usually snack for lunch rather than have my typical 3 around my village. But it was good to cut back, observe, be aware and think about what you have and what you are putting into your mouth.

Typical day in my village for Ramadan if you are fasting is:

4:30-5 AM wake up as 1st call for prayer shocks you out of bed. Women usually heat up breakfast of cere (millet cereal) and is eaten with milk or leaf sauce. You ritually wash your hands, feet, head, and hands, pray and either go back to bed or stay up reading the Koran or chatting with family.

8 AM younger children and rest of the family wakes up and heads to fields. Older men and women usually hang out at home chewing on a sooch stick (usually small and used for cleaning your teeth but chewing on them helps the hunger and thirst) and or sleeping, reading or visiting with others.

11-2 PM Kids might come back from the fields around now and relax before a small lunch is served, sometimes even prepared by them. I've had plain rice with leaf sauce on a few occasions (I rather eat a small snack of fruit, granola, or nuts in my hut)

2PM Call for prayer

2-4 PM Nap time, everyone usually is napping someplace. Nothing really happens until 4 in most places I've been.

5PM Call for prayer

4-7PM More field work, water animals, gardens etc.

7-7:45 PM Try patiently to wait until the call for prayer to end the fast. At which time you drink water slowly (you can become sick because you haven't drank anything all day) followed by sweetened kinkillba tea or cafe touba (either has enough sugar to kill most people) and bread (either buttered or if your lucky chocolate paste-not my favorite)

7:45PM Call for prayer

7:45-9 PM Kids dance because they've eaten and are a bit more lively and excited to eat lunch (for dinner because it's typically what you would have for lunch when it's not Ramadan)

9ish PM Eat lunch/dinner, sit around talk as everyone has a ton of energy and drink attaya (a sweet hot frothy tea loaded with caffeine) I usually go home and to bed after this because people typically will stay up late and talk into the night.

Typical bowl of ceeb bu jenn (rice with fish) in my village

10 PM Call for prayer

Lately the rains haven't been as regular as they should be so this is also all being done in 100+ humid heat with a little breeze (it usually comes around 4pm).

Group of boys eating at a lunch bowl at a wedding

Basically your days become nights and your nights become days and then you confuse your body along the way. No wonder everyone is a bit on edge, hangry and a bit out of it frankly. I have had a bit of work in Toubacouta this last week and have been out of site of a little while. Hopefully when I go back people aren't too bad. Mostly they are just tired.

I relate Ramadan to doing birkam yoga. Killing yourself for an hour and half in 115 humid heat, but when they open the door, and the cold air floods in, there are no words. It's like having that every night for a month.

Sorry this post is short on pictures, last month my camera and ipod died and I've been working on getting them replaced.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Senegal Revealed: And now I know...

Like most places in the world, cultural dress varies for many reason as do the changing seasons. This is also true in Senegal. In the hot and rainy season, it is not uncommon to take many showers a day (4ish) each with a change of clothes depending upon how much you had sweat through the former.

Also with various holidays, celebrations and simply just on Friday people will get more dressed up. During my first 'chet' or large wedding at my village, I sat behind a female drummer while other women danced feverishly and flashed there legs (that are very rarely seen any part above the calf). I thought I had caught a glance of a "slip" or something similar.

You can see on the women on the right and center something worn under her skirt, but not a fabric slip
I'm going to let you know right now....this post is not umm...maybe politically correct. But I was a clothing design major and so I find this interesting, relevant and have found others who have wrote about  topics in hand.

What the women are wearing is lingerie! Senegalese style of course. I have noticed these crocheted and knitted things made from bukly yarn in the markets but never knew exactly what they were and since I had no need to ask, I never pondered it. Until I read this post from an expat fashion blog (none-the-less) who is based out of Dakar that I started reading before I left the states.

I love that these women write about these things so I don't have to make the mistake of asking a vendor what they are then being asked about them forever after in the market.  But honestly, once I knew what these were I noticed them when women would adjust their wrap skirts or panè.

And then the other day....I was at my friend Ibrah's house. He has a large family with many younger and teenage kids. His sister-in-law, Kiwi, is about my age and has 4 younger kids. I was on the phone at the moment when all the kids were in a commotion over something. The next thing I noticed was Kiwi was trying to pull something away from the boys who had there hand wrapped around this thing. Never in a million years would I have guessed what they were fighting over....

A wooden dildo. Yup.

I was shocked and thankfully on the phone with another volunteer so I didn't have to truly deal with acknowledging it. Sometimes they will ask questions like "do you know what that is"? and no answer by me will then assume I do and ask "why would you know what that is"?  Many conversations with groups of kids turn into questions about of course boyfriends/girlfriends/husbands/wives/sex. Which I am comfortable about but they very quickly lead to questions about me and my life rather than general questions about the subject. And I do live in a less conservative Muslim society in my part of Senegal, having the entire village talk about my (non-existent) "sex life" doesn't need to happen more than it already does. The rumors I have heard about myself are hilarious. Simply my talking to an age appropriate man more than a few times will begin something along the lines that he is my boyfriend.

The health volunteers typically will do sex-ed training and one of which has written about her experience going to the market to find a vegetable to use to discuss how to properly use a condom.

Unlike many places in the world Senegal is a practicing, conservative, Muslim country. Does it surprise me that I have seen these things and it seems to be open conversation? No. Life is life anyway and anywhere you live it. Somethings are not talked about in everyday conversation, but if I wanted to know I could ask someone one-on-one, they would answer my questions and laugh at the nature of it all.

Such is our life in Peace Corps. Never a dull moment.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Bees: Yes I have been working with them here!

If you know anything about me, I’m sure you are wondering “why hasn’t she written about bees there yet??”  It’s true, I have been holding off for a few reasons.

Guard bees at one of the first beekeepers I met in the neighboring village to mine.

One of the first beekeepers I found and was willing to show me his hives. He doesn't sell his honey but keeps it for his family

 First of all the bees here are different. I was able to work them back in February with a master farmer that a few other volunteers work with. I had done my homework and talked to a few beekeepers I knew that had worked in Africa, former volunteers that had done some work with bees while here and an NGO that I was lucky enough to come in contact with in my training village.

Profils, an NGO based in Mboro, my training village and works with many groups and beekeepers in my region.
Bees here (mostly Apis mellifera adansonii or scutellata based on who you ask)  are much more aggressive and abscond (to leave there hive in search of a new one for many reasons) more often (behavioral traits that are occur in most breeds of bee). The keepers I have met work for the most part the same, taking safety precautions with wearing suits, gloves, boots, having smokers handy and never going out alone to work the hives. Which are all good signs.

Mielangerie (honey house) in Sangako and their hives in the mangroves

At another volunteer's site in Dalsame Sereer with a beekeeper who partners with women's groups and other NGO's (from left to right:the view from his encampment, womens group and another volunteer, some shae honey that we had with our tea)

Since then I have been touching base with various groups, attending meetings, finding new beekeepers that want me to come visit and had the opportunity to teach at a Master Farm Field Day explaining basics of how we captured bees for the farm (all in wolof and french). 

Left: at a meeting with beekeepers discussing bee pests and treatments, Center: talking with a group at the Master Farm about capture hives, Right: happily walking out to check some hives in the Mangroves.

Happily I have been able to find many beekeepers that ask for my help, opinion and will simply show me what they know so I can better understand how to work with the bees here. We share information, no one is more right than the other has I have always learned from beekeepers and the bees themselves. There is always more to learn.

AND I was able to harvest some honey from a hive I started at the Master Farm. I would like to harvest more but would like to borrow an extractor to do so to save the wax rather than cutting the comb out as it helps the bees to give you more honey rather than using resources to build more comb.

Some of MY 1st African honey, I remembered to take a picture before I ate, shared and gifted it away
Of course there are a few more groups I know of that I would like to talk to further about partnerships or simply to better understand what their goals are working with bees in this region or Senegal-wide. As being a Peace Corps volunteer I am more visible, travel more often, and sharing information and resources is more 'normal' for me to inquire about than most Senegalese.

Currently I am working on a gathering information on list of plants that are nectar sources in this region, making a calender of the bloom dates and finding the local names for the plants in the 5 major languages spoken in this region so it can be used to plant, locate and increase the amount of nectar sources for the bees here. Like anywhere in the world here, bees here are a big deal. But having people understand basic behavioral traits (and they can be selected through breeding) while increasing and improving the quality of there nectar sources will create a stronger ecosystem for the bees but also strive to give the beekeepers a year around income from honey rather than around the rainy season as it is now.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

"If you do anything, you will die"

So a common phase in my village is 'If you do "blank", you will die' said by many of the younger children in the village. For example, if you don't take a shower right now, you will die. Or if you if you don't stop playing with the knife you will get a cut and you will die. These are usually said by children to other children, but also from adults to children to scare them in to doing what they should know might hurt them. Might being the operative word here. But it is true in this land of many people and little resources. Something small can turn into a larger problem that you don't know how to fix and can be detrimental to your life in cases.

So much easier said than done and trying to convince others...ha!
The same apprehension is taken with foreigners (aka toubobs) and their work near, around or in villages. They think we are here for a short time (which usually we/they are), do work that looks good to us, but maybe not to them (it's true we do things differently for different reasons), and all in all there is a cultural, language barriers, and invasion of their lives that we can not even to begin to fathom in fullest scope.

I bring this up due to a recent NPR money podcast I listened to (before my ipod died) and it brought to light some obvious truths about being a foreigner in a foreign land trying to do work. Its difficult.


"The language barrier was the most obvious problem, but the most important. The biggest problem was the cultural barrier...The Hmong simply didn't have same concepts that I did. For instance, you can't tell them that somebody is diabetic because there pancreas doesn't work. They don't have a word for pancreas. They don't have an idea for pancreas. Most of them had no concept that the organs they saw in animals were the same as in humans, because they didn't open people up when they died, they buried them intact."  -The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down: An Hmong Child, Her Doctors, and The Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman Pg. 69

The questions of not of what could be done to improve peoples lives but the if they want it, will use it and will continue to maintain it should be the biggest factor in doing work in an unfamiliar land. And even in the land we think we know for that matter. Sustainability is a huge buzz word these days but show me any company, NGO or group that integrates it into every step of their work. I'm not saying its even possible, it's difficult. But sometimes as much as you can talk about something, the easier thing to do is simply lead by example. Let your actions show your intentions, because when it's all said and done, what will matter more. How loudly you tried to make yourself heard or simply you lead and lived by example?

Explaining a honey bee capture hive to a group of women farmers at a Master Farmer Field Day

So I that I do not die, become discouraged, a bad volunteer or simply someone I don't recognize before coming here, I vow to lead by example rather than trying to tell my counterparts, work partners and others what they coulda, shoulda, woulda, do to have better whatever. I will show them what I can with what I have and be patient as I can.

“There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.” - Indira Gandhi