Saturday, September 27, 2014

Summary of Beekeeping & 3rd Year Proposal

Like most things in my life recently (past 3 years) the small thought that stirred softly strangely and easily made its way into a larger, possible, plan. My 3rd year position with Peace Corps was the same.
See the queen in the middle of the picture, my first queen bee in Senegal.
Before I came I knew that beekeeping was a bygone area of work for Senegal. Primary work was in agriculture but with crop seed extension and making tree nurseries. Sadly beekeeping is a secondary, maybe 'other' project in Senegal’s Peace Corps world. While in Gambia, the small country inside of Senegal, every volunteer, all sectors, are trained on bees as beekeeping is a national commodity and is well known for it. Yes I did ask myself why I didn’t get sent to Gambia, but after visiting and hearing more and more about their president, I understood my personality would be better suited in more forgiving Senegal.

PROFILS, near Mboro, Senegal a wonderful NGO that works in the Fatick region
 Okay back to how this all happened. In my community based training village (also known as CBT) the first 3 months of my service I was in Mboro, a sprawling gardening hotbed who's vegetables feed most of the nation. It also had a beekeeping NGO based from Belgium. The volunteer we had living in the village knew them and arranged a meeting with the 4 trainees so I could pester them with my broken wolof trying to make it known that I too, understood bees.

Mamadou pointing at his hives in a cashew orchard

Next thing I know I’m in my village, maybe a month or two in, and I need to charge my phone as my I started having problems with my solar charger. So I go to the next village 2 km/1 mi away as they have solar and I was introduced to a few households over there so I could hang out while my phone was charging. One of the kids in the house notices my bee tattoo on my wrist and asks about it. Soon someone mentions they have bees and honey. I asked for them to show me. Mamadou, a lovely older man, brings me a small cup with honey and comb in it. I asked where it was from, he said it was his. He was the first of many beekeepers I met similarly to this. Waiting and making conversation as I’m doing my thing, and something brings up honey, bees, or beekeepers. 

Beginning of comb at the Master Farm in Same
 I knew that the NGO I met in Mboro, trained many villages in my sub-region (maybe around a dozen). I kept finding there beekeepers and many who wanted me to help, work, train, learn alongside of them. Beekeeping is very different than in the states due to the heat, bees, amount of times you can work a hive (maybe monthly compared to the weekly as I did in the States)
Honey house in Sangako
Ibrah, Salif  and Casey (former volunteer) introducing me to beekeeping brothers
One night of harvesting honey in Sankago

 Taking photos, notes, making calendars, asking plant names, researching scientific nomenclature, having tools made, getting estimates on extractors, sourcing other materials and prices were the things I did in between my other work, when I had time or the conversation presented itself.

Local honey being sold in a juice shop in Kafferine
Store shelves of honey in Dakar

So from very early on I knew there would be a chance of working with this NGO in a larger broader perspective. The list I made of what I wanted to do looked something like this:

-Working in the region of Fatick (possibly Casamance & Thies as needed) doing hands-on training with established and new beekeepers/farmers to improve technical beekeeping knowledge.
-Improve honey harvesting techniques and selection to improve quality and price through hands-on training and public and private honey tastings.
-Creating plant bee fodder list in local languages and identification manual to improve understanding, conservation and creation of bee habitat through seed saving and tree nurseries.
-Documenting local best practices to be shared with local, regional, country and international partners through conferences proceedings, journal articles, blog postings and other various forms of media to extend teaching to others.
-Further and strengthen partnerships with NGO's, countries, and Universities through pollination, research and training possibilities.

In February I had a meeting in Theis and so I made my way back to Mboro to talk and lay out my proposal to the NGO. They agreed and said they would look forward closer to November in hearing more from Peace Corps.

Fellow Senegal PCV Jessica, Gambia PCV Darrin, BeeCause DoDo, Myself and Beekeeper Saikou Nyassi. The banner is in Jola and says, "More frowning when you are working, and more smiling when you are eating!"
Also in February I was able to attend a West African Trainer of Trainers Conference in Gambia to share, learn, and meet with other volunteers from 5 West African countries. (Facebook photo album here) Then in May, the volunteer that went with me to the Gambia conference arranged a tourney on teaching beeswax and honey based soap, hand crème and lip balm down in the Kolda region, where is known for honey and boarders Guinea who personally has some of the best tasting honey (tastes like apples and is sold quite often in Dakar) (Facebook

So after all that I had applied in May to Peace Corps Senegal with this outline. And they made decisions soon after that. Some of the positions they posted were not filled and I received a response that saying it was not approved. Sadly I was not happy with this but later found out it had to do with tightening up the programming that we have for Peace Corps in Senegal. I was very sad to hear this I will be moving on to bigger and better things.

Feel free to to check out my Facebook photo albums I linked to above as I it easier to load many photos there than here. I will also be writing and linking to the more detailed blog posts about my experiences in Gambia and with the tourney training in Kolda.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

About Here versus There

One can never truly know a place unless you've been there, even being there for any amount of time, how much do you really know a place?

The locals don't see the historical land marker because its just something they walk past on a daily basis and don't know what all the fuss is about, although they own dna is attached to the place, the reason, the fight the monument is there. Maybe they don't need to see it externally.

Sacred Baobob trees in the desert of Senegal

It is VERY hard to explain this place to people that are not here. Even if you've traveled to a place, living there is different. Here we say Dakar is Dakar and Senegal is Senegal. Which is very true, those places are world apart and the people from those places vastly different. Same with the south of the country. In Kolda and Kedougou, being very close to the Guinea-Bissau boarder, when asked where I'm from I would say my region, Fatick, but then my fellow volunteer that lives there, simply said Dakar (6 hours by car north of me & no where near me) They are so close to Guinea, they think everything north of them is Senegal and they are Guinea. All there food, most things come from Guinea, not Senegal and surely not Dakar (12 hours north by car)

Recently listening to a re-airing of a This American Life podcast 'Americans in Paris' David Sedaris makes an interesting point about learning to speak the language of a place...

Ira Glass: Someday, David says, he'll be more comfortable in French. His accent will improve, and that daily anxiety will be removed from his life.

David Sedaris :And when it is removed for me, then I probably won't be interested in living here anymore. I'll probably leave.

Ira Glass: Because it'll be just like living back home.

David Sedaris :Plus the more you learn, the more disappointed you wind up being. It's easy to like somebody when you don't know what they're saying.

Ira Glass: That's interesting. I hadn't thought about that, that not understanding somebody makes them seem more interesting than they really are.

David Sedaris : I just assumed that everyone talked about books and movies all the time. That's all they talked about, as far as I was concerned. And then I learned a little bit more, and I realized that they're no different than people anywhere else, that they talk about the same banal things that we all talk about everywhere.

Which is so true, it's not exotic here, it's not that different than anyplace else. It more or less has what we have, maybe just in slightly different forms of it. I laugh at things that are exactly the same in the two places; fart jokes, driving too fast, checking doors of a car to see which one is open, very long goodbyes, ladies sitting around gossiping among countless others

The large taba tree "Cola sordifolia"tree in front of my compound
The other part of the podcast
Ira Glass Here's something else. There are certain things about French culture, Janet says, that just make life here very pleasant. For one thing, people don't ask you personal questions, where you grew up, where you work, what's your family life, what's your story. You're not constantly explaining yourself. She says she has one friend who she knew for five years before she knew this woman had a grown son. Also, there isn't the same striving, the same ambition to be number one as in the States, especially compared with the corporate law job she used to have, where everybody was expected to put in 60 and 70 and 80 hours a week. Here, that would be seen as very strange. Work just is not that important to most people. 
Janet Mcdonald I'll get tears in my eyes just like-- sometimes I look around the subway, and I look at all these French people, and I'm like, thank you for letting me live here in your country. 
Ira Glass We head outside. 
Ira Glass But you feel like it's your country. But your identity here isn't that of the French person. It's that of an outsider. 
Janet Mcdonald I know. And I think that's what it is to be project girl. I was always an outsider. And I feel most inside right now where I'm most outside. Go figure. [LAUGHS]
That's what's freedom is, though. It's not about nothing left to lose. It's about nothing left to be. You don't have to be anything. I was just thinking about it this morning. It's like I'm an outsider. I will always be a foreigner no matter how good my French gets. I will never really be French no matter how much of a wannabe I am. And yet, I feel that I'm home. I'm just home.
Strangely, when you are you are the only white person for miles around (to quote a dear friend) it is a very odd feeling. And also something that is very hard to describe to another person from another culture and place. I'm not sure if it's possible to transfer the idea accurately or correctly unless they experience for themselves.

I'm very happy to live here but sometimes it makes your head spin and question what and where 'home' is. That being said when I first got here I was very much reminded I was not in Kansas anymore (trust me I KNOW this is not America) but now being so close to leaving it's hard to know where or what Kansas is like anymore.

But in case I need a remind of how things might correlate I have this.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Book Reviews: The Happiness of Pursuit

So as many people would think as a Peace Corps volunteer we have the chance to read many many books through our service if that is how one chooses to spend their time. I am such a volunteer. Thankfully there have been enough paperbacks and e-books to exchange in the country that I haven't read though my continually growing stack (yet).

As a nice gift for writing a guest blog post about where I live I was sent an advance copy of "The Happiness of Pursuit" by Chris Guillebeau. He has also authored  The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future,
The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World,
and I also follow his blog at

Now that being said, I wouldn't read a book just because someone sent it to me. I do have standards. There are 2 ways I determine a good book. How fast I can read it (literally can not put it down is always a good thing) and how many dog ears I leave to go back and write down quotes, other books or authors look interesting to read or something interesting. This book was both!

"Everyday had it's challenges and I'm actually very thankful for all of them."
 -Nate Damn about walking across America in 8 months

Guillebeau has taken 11 years to travel to every country in the world and while doing so also worked in development and 'travel hacked' his way to be able to so economically. All of which I find very interesting. The Happiness Pursuit is a great read while finishing up my Peace Corps service. Guillebeau's story of traveling around the work  is mixed through out other people's stories of their own quests; ie walking across large spaces (America/Turkey), giving up transportation and not talking for 17 years and living a tree for 400 days to save a forest among others.

"Home is where you go where you run out of homes" 
-John Le Carre

His lessions from the journey are great reminders and points I couldn't agree more with! I also have noticed going more in depth with some of the stories he tells in the book on his blog since the release of the book, which I also love!

Read any good books lately? Any suggestions or thoughts?

Let there be mud on your clothes, nails in your boots, ink on your skin, pain deep inside you. Let it grow and don't be afraid. Start with your own story. " - Green Witch by Alice Hoffman

"Either stand tall, or sit the fuck down." - Mos Def