Friday, October 29, 2010

Fewer and farther between...

Hey all,

It's been quite a while since my last update, but I figure now that the day to day stuff of my service seems a little mundane, it's worth waiting until I have a bulk of stuff to write about.
Starting with an update on the well that was under construction at the time I last wrote, it unfortunately remains that way. Though it's near completion, other projects and a general incompetence when it comes to customer service have kept the masons away for the better part of the last few months; though they've been good enough to provide me with plenty of promises to tide me over til it's done. In the meantime, I'll be doing what I can to try and move forward on the rest of this larger-scale community garden, of which this larger-scale well is meant to be a part.
My own agricultural work has been going pretty well, though I find myself a little swamped playing a game of catch-up after having been out of site for a little over a month. My village family was honored to have members of my actual family, Patrick and Molly Hanlon (my cousin and his wife, my cousin "in-law"?), come to visit the village for about 4 days. They were very proud and humbled to have Samba's family travel from a literal and figurative world away just to come see how I've been living for just shy of two years; and how they've lived their whole lives. They were thrilled by the gifts Pat & Molly brought but they were very emphatic about having me translate that their coming was gift enough, and that they would like to speak to them, if only they could. As I said, it was about 4 days with some time fit in to experience a bit of the Bassari culture (another ethnic group in the area) with my friend and fellow PCV Lindsay and her counterpart.
All told, Pat & Molly's visit lasted about 2 weeks, with time in Dakar before heading down to Kedougou and a couple of days before leaving as well. Between the village and their return to Dakar, however, we had the pleasure to travel up to the beach town of Popenguine for a fishing trip with my friend Ankith, the PCV who has been posted their working in eco-tourism for the past 2 years. Unfortunately, due to inclement weather the night before, the captain decided to cancel since, despite beautfiul weather the day of, the previous night's storm would make the water still too choppy farther out. In any case, we still got a beautiful day at the beach and were able to grill out that night; not fish we caught ourselves, as planned, but just as good.
Ankith was generous enough to let us stay with his family an extra night so we would have a place to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Korité, which marks the end of the month-long fasting of Ramadan. I had been wondering what we would do for that, given we'd already be out of my village by that time, but Ankith's host family welcomed us and stuffed us on chicken, fries and salad. Korité is somewhat like Easter in that most people venture to the church (or mosque, in this case) in the morning, then come home for a big mid-day meal; though for them the eating itself is significant since it's being done at a time of day during which they have been allowed to eat for the past month.
We headed back to Dakar after that to get them back in time for their flight and do some last-minute site-seeing, and shopping. Molly has this thing for baskets I'd rather not go into, but in any case, we found some genuine Senegalese woven baskets and mats that are popular here, so she was happy.
I was thrilled and so grateful to have them come visit, if not just to have someone from back home experience my new life here firsthand. I hope they had as much fun as I did, and I, for one, know my family here won't forget them or their generosity for a very long time (probably never). Thanks guys!
I mentioned being away from site for a while, and traveling with Pat & Molly was only the tip of the iceberg. The day I dropped them at the airport was the same day the newest batch of volunteers-in-training were heading to Kedougou for the Volunteer Visit portion of their training, in which they travel to the region, and sometimes even the site, that they will ultimately go to upon swearing-in. It's a good opportunity for them to get a taste of what their next 2 years of service will be like, and I know for me it was a motivation to get through the last of training. Anyway, I'm sure I've talked about it at length in past updates, since this marks the 4th group of trainees that have done this since I've been here. I'm officially old.
Needless to say, I wouldn't be making it down in time from Dakar, so I went back to Popenguine to hang out with Ankith and the trainee who would be his replacement while he showed her the ropes (thanks again, Ankith). Once the visit was done I was meant to be back in Thies to help out at the training center, which I was able to do for one day before the trainees went back to their training villages.
Then I went back to Dakar to travel to Burkina Faso (another West-African country). My first (official) trip out of Senegal in 2 years! I got asked to go along with two other volunteers from my original group who would also be doing third years, but in Agroforestry. It was a conference put on by the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO;, based out of Florida. It was the first meeting of its kind in West Africa, bringing people from many different countries and organizations of which Peace Corps was just one of many. It was a great learning experience and we were sent with the idea that since we had already done 2 years and would be doing a third, we might be good candidates to disseminate this info to other PCVs. Here's hoping.
After 5 days, we came back to Dakar and I myself headed BACK to Thies to the training center to help out with the famed Counterpart Workshop. It's a chance for host-country nationals chosen as counterparts for PCVs work to come meet their Volunteer prior to their install to talk about plans for their arrival, the first 3 months, etc. They also get sessions on safety and security, helping their PCV learn the language, dealing with misunderstandings, and general awareness of what being a Volunteer means. I mainly acted as translator between Volunteers who were learning the same language as myself and their counterparts, but it felt good to do it.
Once that was over it was back to Dakar with the intention of returning to Kedougou ASAP. Through my multiple trips back and forth I had been working on my 3rd year medical clearance and that was finally complete, but now I had about 10 other Volunteers from my original group of 2 years ago coming into Dakar to do their Close of Service (COS) and, effectively, go home (or leave, in any case). So, given the choice between leaving immediately for Kedougou or waiting a couple extra days until another group of PCVs from the region would be organizing a car to go back, I decided to stay and spend some time with these people who had been my friends for 2 years; and some my closest neighbors. We had a great time reminiscing about our own training and our experiences together. It was certainly tough to say goodbye and even harder to believe it was over in what felt like both a heartbeat and an eternity at once. But our paths will likely cross again; they don't seem the type to settle down anytime soon.
I made it back to the village for a whopping 3 days before heading back into the town of Kedougou to, believe it or not, greet those newly sworn-in Volunteers and help them prepare for their installs (again, for the 4th time). I came back accompanying Lindsay's replacement, whom I think is very excited to be out in mine and Ian's (my second closest neighbor) neck of the woods (aka the boonies). And we're very excited to have her, though it will be strange without Lindsay.

Let's just hope she makes a good third for our Thirsty Thursdays. I'm sure she'll learn.


Til next time,

Steve "Samba" Sullivan

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Long Overdue Update...because when are they not

Hey everyone,

Sorry for taking so long this time around to send an update on the
life and times of Sully in Senegal; the time really gets away from you
when your sweating your way through the days. But thankfully we seem
to be on our way out of the hot dry season and into the hot rainy
season. We've already had quite a few rains, and it's amazing the
difference even just a little moisture can make to the landscape. My
friend who is a fellow volunteer and my closest neighbor described it
pretty well when he said it's like going from a moonscape to a jungle
in a matter of weeks.
With the rains comes the planting, and my 2nd annual distribution of
Samba's corn and assorted crops. I recently got all my seeds that
were issued to me out to my site, and now their in my hut waiting to
be given out to farmers once I come up with plan d'action. I
fortunately got to request things that I wanted this time around,
being all experienced and what not (...?). I also have the seeds that
were returned to me by farmers last year to figure out what to do
with, so I'm thinking of trying to expand out to a neighboring village
or two. Probably just with one or two farmers in each one, since I
don't know those villages very well, and I'd be stretched pretty thin
trying to visit them constantly on top of monitoring the fields in my
own village.
In addition to that, the goings on consists of a lot of work for the
upcoming mosquito net distribution, also for the second year in a row.
However (and you all probably noticed I didn't try to hit you up for
money this time around), the system is a little different since it's
much more on the government's shoulders this year and not Peace Corps.
The national anti-malaria program in Senegal has decided to adopt the
system of distributing nets that we implemented last year, when it was
much more the PCVs baby, and use it to continue towards the updated
goal of universal coverage (and they've provided the nets). Last year
the government did distribute some nets, but they were focusing only
on women and children under 5, so our distribution was beneficial in
ensuring that every sleeping space, regardless of who slept there, was
covered by a net. The government has since, as I said, updated their
goal to mirror our distribution last year in trying to achieve
"universal coverage" (which, incidentally, was the recommendation of
the World Health Organization that distributing long-lasting,
impregnated mosquito nets en masse was the most effective way to
combat malaria).
So while it has been a lot of logistical work on our side, it's been
encouraging to see that with so many national, regional, and
departmental teams involved this time, even if we were to quit right
now, this distribution would still happen without us. My job has been
helping with the visuals (surprise) for the many trainings that are
needed this year to educate local health workers on the best way to
take a census of a family's compound and accurately discover exactly
how many nets that family needs. The dry run of this training was
yesterday, with the first real one being today. I think it's going to
go really well, and I was happy to be able to contribute what I think
will further help these health workers do the best job possible.
That's most of the recent news; however, I do have a continuing well
project which got underway about a month and a half ago thanks to
funds I received from my high school's National Honors Society. They
raised an incredible amount of money putting on a dodgeball tournament
of all things, which I thought was pretty awesome. Some of those
funds are also going to go towards the mosquito net distribution by
helping alleviate the costs of conducting so many trainings of local
health workers and ultimately the transportation costs of getting nets
out to their distribution points. Anyway, the well idea was brought
up at the large village-wide meeting I think I wrote about before,
where we had men, women, and children all separately bring up what
they thought the priorities for improving life in the village should
be. One that they all agreed one was digging a new, modern well
between the two areas of the village which are the farthest apart from
one another. Since then I wrote a grant for the well to be dug, which
was later funded by dodgeball, and digging has been underway for the
last couple weeks. I'm happy to report we recently hit water at 6m
underground (which is ridiculously shallow and I'm very fortunate
since I only budgeted to go no farther than 10m; also because most
people get to 10-20m and haven't hit anything but more rocks). We are
still going to continue down below the water level to the 10m mark, so
that the villagers will never have to worry about that well running
dry. The idea is that since we've only just entered the rainy season,
the water table is going to be at about it's lowest point, so if you
dig to it and then continue beyond by a couple of meters, you can be
sure that even in the thick of the hot dry season, there will be
I'm kind of chronologically all over the place since it's easier to
write about things as I think of them. I did just get back a couple
weeks ago from JazzFest in St. Louis, which is up north of Dakar and
basically extremely far away from Kedougou. It was totally worth the
trip though; myself and three other Gou volunteers went up together
and had a room at a hotel that was by the beach (not particularly nice
but it was by the beach), and our room had a little kitchen area with
a gas stove and mini-fridge, so we were able to cook our own meals
some nights and grill out on the hotel's property. The music was
awesome, though not the music of the actual Fest since I wouldn't know
what that sounded like. The actual event is walled off and expensive
to get into, but every other bar on the island has live music in
celebration of the Fest, so we would just watch those shows for free.
All in all, despite the heavy amounts of travelling, it was a great
getaway and a nice little vacation.
This past week my two closest neighbors, Lindsay and Ian, came out
to my village to paint a world map at the primary school there. Not
much to be said about it besides it was extremely hot and took us 3
days to do it, but PC has like a whole packet on how to complete one
so it turned out really great. It was just that I dont think any of
us expected it to take as long as it did, and my family was surprised
when my guests' stay went from one night with us to three. In any
case, it's done now and looks really nice and the school was
very appreciative since now they have a great new teaching tool
available to them.
Oh, and about 3 months ago, we did a repeat of last year's eye
clinic: same doctors, same deal, I even got to have the same job as
the Pre-Op guy and getting to use what my friend called my "polished
Grandma Pulaar" to help "soothe" patients by explaining everything to
them. It was cool, though, to see a marked difference in how much I
could tell them and to what degree I could answer questions as
compared to the me of last year. They performed something like 94
cataract surgeries again this year which was incredible, but the best
part was that the hospital was performing C-sections at the same time,
so we'd have to give up the OR until they were done; one day my friend
and I asked the head surgeon if we could, you know, watch, and he
actually said yes! We just had to don scrubs and masks and stood in
the corner watching the whole thing. NEVER would have been allowed in
the States, and it was totally gross, but now I can say I've watched a
C-section from beginning to end. They're surprising brutal.
That's about it for now, if you're still reading at this point! As
you may have noticed I switched my email over to a Gmail account
because Comcast doesn't work too reliably for me over here, for
whatever reason, and PC has been doing a lot of info and file-sharing
through Google Docs, so if we have our own accounts it's easier for
us. So I just copied over all my contacts from the old account and
recreated this list; if youre still on it and would rather not be, let
me know, or if you know someone who should be on it, tell them they're
not on it for a reason. Or tell me, and I'll add them.

Thanks again for all the love and support, and I'll make a serious
effort next time to deliver a timely (and shorter) update.


Steve Sully Sullivan

Friday, February 19, 2010

Still Alive in Senegal

Happy New Year!

Yep, it's been that long since I last wrote anything. Resolution...?

Anyway, I hope everyone had a great time over the holidays; I know I did. And thanks to everyone who continues to follow these updates, you know, when I actually write them.

I had a really good time over Christmas/New Year's. It was much more low-key than last year's all-out vacation to the north. In fact I just stayed here in the Kedougou regional house, but I certainly wasn't alone. Plenty of other volunteers decided to do just that (after I did, I might add) so we had a pretty big group here. We actually went to church! There's a Catholic church down the road; the congregation's not too big since most people here are Muslim, but just like any other church in the States, everyone turns out for Christmas Eve. It was a pretty cool experience, though there were plenty of similarities, including a lot of kids who looked like they'd rather be anywhere else. But at least we went...for most of it.
Christmas morning had more remarkable difference; I doubt many of you woke up with the task of slaughtering a pig waiting for you (don't worry, neither did I; I just filmed it). But after that gruesome task was done, between a couple of the more culinarily inclined volunteers and the rest of us acting as slave labor, we had some delicious pork chili for Christmas dinner. After Christmas Day was done, most people went their separate ways; some back to their own regions, some back to site, some up north for the party in St. Louis I went to last year. I ended up just staying in Kedougou til New Year's since I had some work to do anyway, and fate seemed to want me to stay since every ride I was attempting to take before New Year's fell through. But I eventually made it back...
In time for the first-ever Samba Diallo village-wide meeting...extravanganza? Actually, as much as I'd like to call it that, I just held a meeting commonly referred to as PACA: Participatory Activities for Community Analysis. It's basically a chance for the volunteer to facilitate discussions amongst the villagers to identify what their top priorities are with regards to the needs of the community. It took a lot of planning but in the end it paid off hugely. I had one of the PC staff for Agriculture, Youssepha, come to help do some of the more detailed project planning which came at the end of the 2-day event, and also a handful of other volunteers came to help out for a variety of reasons. Some of them wanted to do the same thing at their sites sometime, and one of my friends came to record stuff for the next PC Kedougou radio show.
I also had a lot of help, and favorably so, from a lot of Senegalese nationals, including the director and teachers of the primary located in my village. I say favorably because ideally PC is should only be there to help facilitate the activities; it's the villagers who provide the input and direct the flow of the subsequent conversations. The most important aspect of these conversations is that they happen first within each separate demographic (i.e. men, women, or children) to allow people to speak freely without worrying about abiding by cultural norms such as the youth having to defer to the elders or women not speaking openly in front of men. Some of these activities included having the three separate groups draw maps of how they saw the village, then mark where they went everyday, or every week, or every month. This helped show what resources were available to the village already and their level of importance to each separate group. We also did daily activity schedules for the rainy and dry seasons for each group, to show when they have more time to be able to plan/implement new projects, but also to further highlight discrepancies in workloads (i.e. women here work a LOT).
It all leads up to a village-wide prioritizing activity where they pick the handful of needs they've all agreed upon and rank them. Once ranked, I called in Youssepha to help make actual project plans, which basically look like itemized budgets, which ultimately show the overall cost of the project, and how much the village would be expected to contribute versus external funds should we attempt to write a grant to get it done. It was overall a big success I think; I got on the women's good side anyway by making sure lunch was provided. If nothing else, I have a lot more opportunities for work ahead of me now (or my replacement does...ha!)
I would have written earlier, however, shortly thereafter, it was time to prepare to leave for Dakar for the 37th annual (and my personal 2nd) West African International Softball Tournament or, how appropriate....WAIST. I actually went to Dakar about 5 days before WAIST actually started because I needed to finally do my mid-service check-up with med (no cavities), and I also had to prepare a presentation with a fellow volunteer. For two days before WAIST was the All-Vol conference: a really awesome opportunity for everyone in Senegal and beyond to get together and share best-practices and experiences. Everyone always takes a lot away from it, and this year I was, as I said, asked to present with another volunteer on the subject of using murals and visual aids for communication within predominantly illiterate communities. But, being that she and I are in different regions of the country, we hadn't met until the day before the conference. It was no big deal, however, as we both brought the pics we wanted to use and whipped up a presentation that we ended up giving 3 times to big audiences and pretty good reviews.
But, then of course, there was the softball. WAIST is invaluable for getting to get away from village life and un-wind with your fellow volunteers by actually making yourself more exhausted then you've probably ever been in your village-life. It's a lot of late nights and long days, but it's always a blast. This year, the TambaGou team were in top form, sticking to our usual strategy of forfeiting at the beginning and then playing for, you guessed it, FUN. I mean, we still "play", there's just a lot more highjinx thrown in than you might find in one of the more serious games. Our theme, a popular choice this season, was P.C. B.C. : or, essentially the Flintstones. Remember that pig slaughtering I mentioned earlier? Yeah, we plan ahead when it comes to costumes. Mine was rumored to be one of the best at WAIST, and you may get to see it, if I ever decide to put them up here....
Now we're back from WAIST, I've taken a day to prepare to get back for the village, which included a lot of errands and washing all my travelling clothes, and now it's getting late. So, again, apologies for the late update, but those usually are the most interesting.

Thanks again, and talk to you soon!

-Steve "Samba" Sullivan

Friday, December 4, 2009

Senegal Parenting 101 and the AIDS Day that never was

Happy Belated Thanksgiving! Hope everyone's holiday went as well as ours; though for us, "well" meant feeding a group of about 40 people, including the country director and his family and figuring out how to make a turducken. I, however, has the sense to leave the cooking to the pros and just chop or carry something from one room to another every now and then, so I didn't have to do much of any cooking.
I was happy to get back to Kedougou for the holiday, which meant seeing everyone from our region, including the newest volunteers with whom I havent spent much time yet, as well as the neighboring region of Tamba (we're affectionately known as TambaGou whenever we get together). It was also exciting to be back in the regional capital as I had just been at site for about 4.5 weeks (hence the long-awaited update, right?). It was the longest stint I had done in the village thus far without leaving, except to go to the nearest town over for the weekly market. It was a relief to simply be speaking English again and to be around friends; though for my own mini-village-marathon, it wasnt all that difficult. I fortunately had a lot of work to do, what with calculating yields harvested from the farmers I worked with this growing season, outplanting my woodlot of about 100 trees, many now over my head, into rows to be used as fuel/fodder wood, plus I got to teach a few more art lessons at the school (BAD time to not have a camera), as well as help them with an activity for Children's Rights Day, unclear as to whether or not it was celebrated anywhere but my primary school; and by "help them", I mean a teacher asked me to do something for Children's Rights Day.
This became a really interesting opportunity to use the boatloads of art supplies I've received from the States, but also came at a time when I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the parenting techniques of my village family. In general, most parents here use more of a negative reinforcement technique when raising their kids; it was actually part of a session during training as explained to us by one of the Senegalese staff, also a mom. Instead of a, "This is what you did wrong here; dont do it again" approach, its more like a "What, you cant do it this way? This is the right way; are you stupid?" And you can only hear "If you...I'll beat the piss out of you" so many times from the same woman in one day before you at least start wishing they'd mix it up a bit. Verbal abuse is one thing, but at least have some sense of originality.
I dont mean to paint a bleak picture of the parents in my village;' I know the parents in my family love their kids. This is how they were raised and how they were taught was the proper way to raise children. And theres probably something to it since most of the adolescent girls in my village are more self-reliant and capable then people I went to college with. But I do think my family should exercise a certain amount of perspective when dealing with their kids, since they use the same tone/harsh language for serious transgressions, as well as stupid crap. I've started to be more vocal about things I dont like or that make me angry; I think I've earned that right at this point, so we'll see how that works out.
Anyway, with this on my mind, Childrens' Rights Day, which apparently was sponsored by UNICEF as they had sent posters to the school, seemed like a great opportunity to have the kids bring home to their parents what they had learned about their own rights (i.e. the right to be well fed, to be vaccinated, to live in a clean environment, to express themselves) and what they needed from their parents in order to be happy and successful. So, with the whole school, we went over the rights they had learned, and I asked them who could help them achieve each on. Low and behold, "PARENTS" showed up the most number of times, so they all went back to their classrooms and, armed with good old Crayola, picked a couple from the list of rights for which they needed the support of their parents; they wrote/drew whatever they wanted to take home to them as a visual reminder. Doubt it did much to change anything about how parents treat their kids, but they enjoyed the activity anyhow.
After coming in for Thanksgiving and having a great time, I jetted back to my village (luckily got a car) the next day so I'd be there for the Muslim holiday, that Saturday. It was exhausting, but it was good to have made it back and be able to reminisce with them about with them about last year's Tabaski when I had only just got there it seemed. So, I went from turkey and stuffing to the Mosque and goat slaughtering in a matter of a couple days; totally worth it.
I'm back in Gou again, however, because I needed to continue/finish a project I had started when I was here for Thanksgiving. I may have mentioned this before, bu the volunteers here in Gou are trying to work alongside the hospital for an AIDS awareness and campaign in the form of multiple billboards that would be put up in prominent spots all over town. Yours truly got asked to paint said billboards, and once we had a list of possible messages from the hospital, it was on to figuring out just what the hell I was supposed to do. The billboards having long since been made, it was now left to come up with some way of sending these messages visually to the public. Anyway, World AIDS Day was December 1st, and thus I had come right back to Gou to try and finish the billboard for the big unveilling during the town's AIDS activities, as organized by the hospital and one of our city-based health volunteers. Unfortunately, the hospital decided to postpone these AIDS Days activities for a later, non-AIDS Day day because they felt it was too close to Tabaski; they have yet to reschedule. So, I'm here finishing it at my leisure, waiting to see when they might reschedule the event; though I plan to go back to my site tomorrow regardless.
Again, hope everyone had a great holiday; let me know! Hope to talk to you again soon; I should be back through here again in a little over a week on my way to Tamba for the next Ag Summit, and then it's Christmas. A bunch of us are thinking Christmas in Kedougou has a nice ring to it.

Talk to you soon!



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Year In (almost) Update!

Hey everyone,

Im glad to finally have a chance to write another long awaited update; however this extra time I have is thanks to the fact that the twice a week car that goes out to the town nearest my village has randomly decided to change its schedule from Thurs/Mon to Sat/Mon; meaning Ive got two more days stuck out here away from site unless I can find some other mode of transport out there. This also means that if they keep this new schedule, that leaves two days between trips which would force me to either come in and leave again almost immediately, or stick around for almost a week each visit. The joys of Senegalese public transport.
In other more uplifting news though, work projects have been going very well and Ive been pretty excited about some of the successes weve been having, both personally within my village and through our regional work as a whole. Its also an exciting time because we are welcoming yet another new group of volunteers who are actually being installed into their villages over the course of this week. Its been interesting to get to watch the whole install experience from the perspective of one who has been here a year; especially since it never feels like you know enough to be considered as knowledgable as someone who has finished half their service. Though it is comforting to know that those people who were a year ahead of me, who seemed so experienced, their language and tech skills so very intimidating, also felt like they were in no place to teach anyone new. The general rule seems to be that, in the end, you know a lot more than you think you do.
I also had the opportunity to host one of our new volunteers at my site about a month ago during the program where trainees get to visit the region theyll be ultimately going to and stay with a volunteer who speaks the same language they are learning and ideally also work in their same sector. It was a real chance to see my village from a fresh perspective, but also use that perspective to reflect on my last year here and find out if I really was in a position to prepare a brand new volunteer for; well, anything. It seemed like KC, the girl whom I hosted, got a lot out of her visit, however short, which I was happy to hear. I also was able to pass on my Pulaar bible I had been adding to pretty much since my training and during the subsequent months at site to try and help her get through her last few weeks of language class. She passed her test in the end, and Im comfortable with taking full credit for her success.
But despite all these exciting new introductions, and somber goodbyes to our friends being replaced and moving on with their lives, work goes on; most notably the Youth Summer Camp I had written you all about a couple months ago. Long story short, it went fantastically well in my opinion; of course there were some hangups and quick thinking that needed to go on to keep things running smoothly, but the kids all seemed to have a blast and really took away a lot from the experience; as did all us counselors. We had an awesome ratio of counselors to the 38 campers we had of almost 2:1, since on top of the PCVs who helped out, we had about 10 additional Senegalese counterparts working with us. In the 7 days we were there, the kids got to go to sessions about food security, sexual health, economics, agroforestry, malaria prevention, and more; not to mention getting to participate in awesome challenge courses set up in the woods, learn to play dodgeball and other camp games, and have a Career Day where successful Senegalese male and female entrepreneurs came in and basically used their stories to inspire the youth to stay in school and pursure their own futures; not allow themselves to be pigeonholed, especially the girls, into a life chosen for them by tradition. Not to mention the fact that we held the camp in the town of Dindefelo, which is a tourism hotspot here in Kedougou thanks to its amazingly beautiful waterfall only a short hike away; so of course a trip to the falls was included in our agenda. Also, I was able to use some of the art supplies that had been shipped to me from the US to conduct 4 art sessions which went really well; especially since, regardless of the content of the lessons, the campers were just excited to use materials theyd hardly had a chance to use up to this point in their lives (and a bunch of them said it was their favorite activity...just saying...) I was also involved with the food security sessions which we were able to enhance by having them make visual aids thanks to those same supplies. So thanks again!
This has also been a very exciting time for me personally thanks to the continued selfless efforts of friends and family back home, particularly my mom and stepdad and my former art teacher Elaine Farmer, to organize not one but two showings of my artwork I left behind to try and raise money for this camp. Its been so gratifying to hear how excited people are about the shows and about helping out one of their own, not to mention how much press this project and PC in general have gotten out of it; and equally gratifying to be able to contribute about $700 towards my fellow volunteers project. Truly, thank you so very much again.
Unfortunately the only downside to my recent trip to Dindefelo was that I lost my digital camera with the pictures Ive taken since arriving here on it. I know it wasnt stolen, because it was lost when it fell out of the vehicle we were taking out to the camp without my knowledge. We had to take some cramped safari esque cars on a less than ideal road and I had been seated on a bench facing the opposite direction in which we were travelling. I had had my camera to take some pics of the kids I was facing as we travelled out there; and it was securely in my lap when we went down a pretty steep embankment to cross a river, then had to lurch up the other side. It was only afterward that I noticed my camera was gone and no where to be found within the car; but what I did find was about a 6inch gap of space between the bench I was on and the wall of the car: a space which opened onto nothing besides the machinery that connected the passenger car with the drivers car; and Sullivan law would dictate that, however unlikely the chances, if my camera could find its way through that narrow opening down to the ground, or more likely the river, below, it most certainly would...and did. Im still hoping that maybe it wasnt washed away in the river and that perhaps someone in the village we passed through has it and may give it to one of the volunteers in passing who lives out that way, which has been known to happen with lost items in the past; but considering when I got on my bike and immediately backtracked to said village after arriving at the camp and searched/asked around for about an hour and got nothing, the chances are probably slim. Its not the end of the world though; I did lose a lot of photos but the best of the best tended to find themselves posted online anyway.
Ill leave you with one more experience I had recently which besides being trying was a pretty good closing to my first year here. After the camp a group of about 8 of us decided to head out to the very same waterfall I got to go to during my training a year ago while I was on my own PCV site visit like the one I described earlier. Last year when I went, the 10k bike ride, which included fording a river and one of the crappiest bush paths known to man, was the most I had ever biked in my life and was extremely challenging. But I was surprised to see how much difference a year can make, because even though this trip wasnt without its challenges, I felt well equipped to deal with them and help lead some of the other visiting volunteers who had never done such a trip before. Besides the long bike ride out there in the first place, our 23 hour journey from Kedougou to the falls, thats right, 23 HOURS, included plenty of exhaustion and dehydration for those unaccustomed to biking, thus we stopped a lot, fording the same river with bikes over our heads, finding ourselves not at the falls by the time it got dark and myself negotiating with a Pulaar family in a passing village to spend the night with them, then getting up early the next morning to make short work of the rest of the trip only to have my friends chain break and having that be the first time Ive ever fixed one in the bush and only finally arriving at the falls at about 11am, having left at about NOON the PREVIOUS day. The waterfall is so beautiful though that it makes any amount of hardship worth it just to get there and I was happy to go.
So, like I said, you really do know more thank you think.

Thanks so much again, especially Bernie and Jo Brennan for their package I recently got, and to everyone for your continued support!

Talk to you again soon (if I dont die on the road...Pulaar saying...).


Steve Sullivan

Friday, August 28, 2009

Long Overdue Update...Again

Hey everyone,

Sorry for the overdue update, but then again, haven't they all been? When I last wrote, I was on my way back to the village after recuperating a little at our regional house. Once I felt up to it, which was only after about a day and a half, I was able to get myself and the seeds for my farmers transported back to Kekeressi. Afterwards came the challenging task of getting all the seeds out to those whom I had decided to extend to, which proved not to be as hard as I thought. Over the course of a few days, I managed to get corn, sorghum, bean, and rice seed out with the help of my counterparts in the village. Part of the deal with this seed distribution is that, in exchange for getting a kilo or more of an improved variety of the crops their used to farming, the farmers who receive them agree to pay me back doubly. For example, for those who I gave a kilo of corn seed to, they have to give me 2 kilos of seed for me to save at the harvest; if I gave them two kilos of beans, they have to give me 4 kilos at harvest, etc. I had heard putting something in writing to try and hold them more accountable works well, so though most of the villagers are illiterate, I wrote out a very simple sheet that said (in Pulaar) "Samba Diallo gave me..." and then wrote in what I gave them; "I, (their name), will give him..." and then what I expected of them, and we both signed it. They all seemed to understand what they were agreeing to well enough, and if anything they got a kick out of it when I asked them to hold the paper up while I took their picture (they got to keep the paper, so I needed my own proof, right?).
For weeks after the seed distribution, it had been a constant struggle with the weather in order to continue with the program. What I found out in terms of their usual practices is that they wait until it's rained a few times for the soil to moisten and then they begin seeding. It's a slow process which continues gradually over a couple of weeks, so with respect to my seeds, I had to wait for farmers to get around to that part of their fields where they had chosen to plant them. However, troubles began for us when the rains began enough to motivate the farmers to begin seeding, and then they promptly...stopped. The farmers understand the typical weather patterns better than I ever will, and even they were concerned that the rains were extremely late in their consistency. It was sporadic enough for those first few weeks that a few farmers had to actually reseed what I had given them (thankfully they had some leftover) because they had seeded thinking the rains were finally come, then they stopped for 15-20 days, and the crops died short of their germination.
For myself, this was a trying time because it was one base of the whole seed-distribution program that I could do nothing to cover. Seeds were out, instructions given, demonstrations planned, meetings held, etc...and then no rain. What could any of us do? It was also physically challenging as I had been investing a lot of time and energy into a few of my own demonstrations involving a lot of agroforestry work that I wasn't prepared to see wasted because of a lack of rain, so I was obliged to schlep water from the well up and over hills and mountainsides to try and keep them alive. Thankfully, however, the rains have now become sufficient enough that many of the villagers' worries, as well as my own, have been assuaged, the fields look gorgeous, and the seeds which I distributed, as well as the demos myself and my Pilot Farmers have been implementing, are looking really promising. I talked somewhat about the demos we're doing in my last post, but the ones I myself have worked a lot on are the contour-planting demo to try and combat soil erosion (a pic of the A-frame we used to find the contours is on the blog), as well as an alley-cropping demo, where rows of trees are planted intermittently within a field to improve the soil fertility and, hopefully, the crop's yield. Both demos have gone well so far, now that I've gotten everything in the ground and haven't been having to hand water them. I outplanted 50 trees from my tree nursery into one farmers corn field, so they'd have an idea of how the rows will look eventually, and the remaining two rows were direct-seeded into the ground. The PC Director for Agriculture/Agroforestry, Famara Massaly, just recently came out to my site to see all this work, and he seemed to approve.
Other agriculture stuff we've been working on in the village, as exciting as I'm sure it is for you all to read about, have been to demonstrate other ways trees can help benefit a farmer's field. Once such example was a windbreak which I planted along a farmer's corn field; the idea of a windbreak is to slow down the powerful winds that often whip through fields during storms, damaging crops and/or gardens. The trees slow it down, but don't stop it entirely; wind has a way, if it hits a solid wall with nowhere else to go, of simply going up and over it and not really losing any force whatsoever. The trees help diffuse the wind to the point where it can still get through but is nowhere near as powerful by the time it hits the crops. I also tried a demonstration of a firebreak, which was my director's suggestion at his first visit, since I'm in such a rural location where the high grasses come within the village boundaries and ultimately become a danger during the dry season when wildfires run rampant. The benefit of planting a firebreak now, such as with rows of cashew trees which I did, is that these trees typically have large canopies which shade out the ground underneath them, stopping the growth of vegetation; and, in the case of cashew trees, they have medium-sized, thick leaves, that, when they fall, canvas the ground around the parent tree, further preventing anything from growing under them. Thus, if a wildfire approaches the fire break, it finds that there's nothing to fuel it, and ultimately goes out. Obviously, this would take a ton of trees and a decent amount of manpower to do a whole village, so I just did a small section to try and entice others to do it in their own fields; which, really, is the point of doing ANY of these demonstrations.
As exciting as all this Ag work has been over the past couple months, people are probably more anxious to hear about how our mosquito net distribution went (THANK YOU again to everyone who donated), and I'm happy to say it went really well, and was something I was extremely proud to be a part of. It certainly had it's ups and downs; it didn't involve a whole lot of rest and relaxation, but that was probably what made it all the more rewarding. Without detailing the entire 10 days here and including every trip to every tiny village we went to, I can say that in general it involved quite a bit of thinking on one's fit, a lot of biking, and a lot of patience. First of all, as you probably know already, we weren't the ones behind this distribution, but were there in support of those who were: the NGO, NetLife. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, NetLife was started by a former PCV who came back to his village after he had finished his service to try and supply them all with sufficient bed nets, and since then the project, and the NGO, have expanded to try and cover entire Departments in the region of Kedougou. Of course, the PCVs were there to help with transporting as well as translating, and in the end we were able to provide almost full coverage to the entire department of Saraya. Unfortunately, the nets werent quite enough, as it was not uncommon for us to bike into one small village and be told about an even smaller one with about 20 people in the vicinity that we hadn't planned for, but that of course we couldn't refuse. However, we are going to be trying to do a sort of Phase 2 to finish out the rest, so if anyone is still interested in donating, the website is
I was happy to get to help out with another aspect of the distribution which was aimed at providing education for villagers on how they can contract malaria, what the symptoms are and what to do if they appear, and how to properly maintain their mosquito nets. It was important to us to not seem like we were another NGO giving out handouts, and one way to do this was to actually have discussions with the villagers in their native languages. While most everyone already knew that mosquitoes posed the biggest threat to contracting the disease, there were other important aspects of prevention we wanted to make sure got across, especially with regards to children under 5 and pregnant women. My part came, surprisingly enough, when I was asked to draw visuals that could be used when giving these presentations, so I ended up making about 4 identical bed sheets (since we were split into teams) with images that could help aid the discussion; including a scene with people in the village doing what they should not be doing, like hanging out outside a dusk when the mosquitoes first come out, people experiencing the symptoms, a mother taking her child to the local health "relais" (a rural health contact), the Poste de Sante, or Dispensaire where they could receive free treatment, and finally someone correctly using their mosquito net. It seemed to really help with the trainings, and I know I had fun using them on the distributions I did. I know there were some great videos taken, some of them with me in them doing these trainings, and once they've been put up and I know where to find them, I'll let you know.

I also just got to have another Ag volunteer, my friend Jordan, out to check out my site for a couple of days, which was exciting since, besides the volunteer who is 5k from me, I haven't had anyone out to see where I live and what I'm doing til now. He also helped me out with a project at the primary school in my village, where I started the art lessons, in conjunction with the school director/staff where we planted 12 flamboyant trees. Flamboyant are, as the name suggests, very beautiful, though that's about all they're good for. However, the director has asked me about doing some beautification stuff at the school, so I included them in my tree nursery a few months ago, and decided they were big enough to plant. So with Jordan's help, and several Senegalese who have a tendency to assume the white guys cant work and did most of the digging for us anyway, we got them all planted and they'll be a nice addition to the school grounds...God-willing.

That's about it for now; sorry for the long update but, like I said, aren't they always?

Thanks again, and talk to you soon!


Steve "Samba" Sullivan

Villagers helping me sort seeds for extension

Some of the sorted seeds ready to distribute (beans)

One of the farmers I work with holding our contracts I mentioned

Two of my friends hanging up our banner at the 4th of July "5k"; everyone in Kedougou was invited to come run alongside PCVs for prizes and to learn more about what we do

Hanging up signs advertising what PCVs have to offer (zoom in)

At the starting line...

And they're off

The visual aid I made for our training sessions

Matt, our PCV Leader for the region, using the visual aid to educate villagers

We transported a lot of the nets by bike to the smaller villages, like this one shown with a Senegalese man who helped us out for the day

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tournée; A Festival; A Big Thank You, and Happy Father's Day, Dad

Hey everyone (or, as they say here, I greet you),

Just wanted to send another exciting (hopefully) update on my life here in Senegal. I promise its much less of a downer than the last one.

When I last wrote, I was on my way to being a "tournee" of all the collèges (essentially middle schools) of the Kedougou Region. A group of volunteers, myself included, were going to be travelling to each location with the aim of accomplishing three goals: paint an AIDS awareness mural (that was my team), conduct interviews for the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship (a scholarship created in memory of a former PC Senegal volunteer which provides money for school supplies for the winner), and to invite students to apply for our upcoming summer leadership camp (headed by a group of 3 other volunteers).
As I mentioned, I was recruited to be on the mural team and worked alongside another PCV from the north of Senegal, Colleen, who extended an extra 6 months in order to do educational murals such as this in various regions of the country. She and I worked on the design together, which was simply a guy and a girl holding hands, apparently coming to an agreement to talk about the most crucial ways to prevent HIV/AIDS: abstinence, fidelity, condoms, and testing. The message, in French, was "We respect our community. We talk about AIDS (SIDA in French), and we included the red ribbon, Senegalese flag, and I tried reproducing the PC logo later on. Then we got started on our whirlwind tour. Rather than go through each and every one, in the end, we completed a mural at each of the 11 collèges in our region, as well as interviews and camp stuff. Of course, being Senegal, some schools had to be completed piece-meal, with our only doing a mural that day because the teachers weren't prepared with the girls' info, etc. and it required multiple trips by different people to get everything done. Others went very smoothly, with Colleen and I knocking out the mural while the others did the interviews. We got pretty fast towards the end; using a grid-system was much easier and made the drawing much faster so we could get other people to help us fill in the colors sooner. Our adventures included a lot of biking out to some pretty beautiful areas of the region, getting caught in a storms and spending the night at health posts, taking some nice, and not so nice transportation, and above all interacting with a lot of different students. The best ones were where the discussions already started to take place before we had even finished the painting. At the collège in Salemata, the town closest to my village, a teacher started asking the onlookers (they were usually more willing to watch us than paint themselves) what they saw: A boy and a girl. And what are the dangers of them being together? Diseases. Like what kind of diseases? Like AIDS. What do you know about AIDS?...and they were off. It was a great experience and a great way to see a lot of the region I had yet to visit. Colleen had to leave shortly after completing #10, which I had gone back to the village for, so #11 was completed by myself and a few other volunteers just a couple weeks ago.
In amongst this whole tour of the region, the Bassari Festival happened. Im not sure if Ive mentioned this before, but the Bassari Fest is an initiation ceremony for adolescent males thats steeped in tradition, since the Bassaris around me claim to have been there long before the Pulaars. Theres one of the largest populations of Bassari villages out by Salemata, near my village, and finally having a volunteer in Salemata, my closest neighbor, Lindsey, after about 12 years, made getting to see the initiation a lot easier than in years past. The Bassaris are notorious for not announcing when their particular village is going to be staging its initiation until the last second, which makes it difficult for tourists, especially PCVs, to get out there; last year, in fact, before Lindsey or myself or any PCV was out there, a group of volunteers traveled all the way there on the weekend they had heard the initiation was supposed to take place, and found they were a week early. This year, though, Lindsey had the inside scoop so people new exactly when to be there.
The result was a group of approximately 40 volunteers descending upon the department of Salemata. We had a little soiree at our house, which we took a break from the scholarship tournee for, and the next day had transport arranged to take us all out there. We left our things at the nearest tourist campement, and let the festivities commence. As some of you may know, Muslims dont drink alcohol; Bassaris, however, are NOT Muslim by any means, and the palm wine flowed like, well, wine. The next day was the big event of the entire initiation, the combat. Each of the 45 "pledges", we'll call them, had to go up against a Bassari "brother" in one-on-one combat. However, we had the feeling that over the years, despite the fact that the young men get a sword and a kind of bow-shaped shield, and the brothers are armed with sticks and a handguard, that the fighting had probably been dumbed down a bit once tourism to the event started to take hold, because most of the fights quickly turned to just grappling, and either one of them got thrown down or they called a stalemate...lame. Some of the fights were pretty good though, with kids making good use of their swords and cocky brothers getting taken down.
Now, a few weeks prior, Lindsey and I had gone to a smaller village's initiation, which was much the same order of events as this one. However, Lindsey was told she was not allowed to go to the battleground because it was for men only to watch. The Bassaris, during the festival, wear elaborate masks to hide their faces (check out the pics on my blog), and those come off for the most part during the fights. This "secret" must be kept from the women, so they arent allowed to watch at all. That sucked for Lindsey, but we talked to the coordinator from the village whose initiation this huge group of PCVs was going to attend, many of them women, and asked if they would be prohibited as well. He said maybe not, but it would be up to the village. Well, the village ultimately went the same way as the others, and all the females who came to the ceremony werent allowed to watch. They said they still had a good time though, and were able to watch from the top of a large hill where you could still see what as generally going on.
With the Bassari Fest over and the subsequent mural/scholarship tournee done, Ive been back in my village focusing on slowly getting a new garden going (currently waiting on new fencing to be made), and mainly working with my 5 pilot farmers about what we're going to do with their fields this rainy season. Id been meeting with them individually, since they were the people said to be the better farmers in my village and the one nextdoor, to see if they would be willing to not only receive improved seed varieties from me for their crops, but also to try new techniques that, if they work well, can be taught to other farmers. They're commonly called "demo plots". Theyve all been very receptive to reserving parts of their fields for these demonstrations, and we had a good meeting with everyone together not long ago where they were able to learn the demos each other was doing and get an idea of the bigger picture. Ive been told with all the things I want them to try, Ill be putting a lot on my plate, but I think they can handle it. Some of the demos include (if youre interested in that sort of thing): improved spacing between rows/plants for corn, sorghum, and peanuts; intercropping beans with corn/peanuts; a demo of chemical vs. organic fertilizers, a demo of alleycropping rows of trees into the corn field for fertilizer; planting other trees for fertilizer in various places within fields. One other that Im proud of is one that my village brother and I are doing. He wanted to some of his corn on the side of one of the many large slopes in our village, so we're trying a contour planting demo with him. We constructed whats called an A-frame (see pics) to find the contours along the hill every 5 meters, and we will be planting rows of trees along them to help stop soil erosion.
Most importantly, theyll be helping me distribute the improved seeds to other farmers as well, which is what I came in to Kedougou to pick up. Id be back there with them not, if not for my first case of Senegalitis that floored me all day Thursday with a fever, vomiting, and diahrrea. Its gotten progressively better since then by yesterday I was feeling much better without having had to take any antibiotics which was good. I figured I should pay my dues at some point for having made it this long without getting that sick, and the fact that it only lasted 2 days, could have been much worse.

Last thing, but definitely not the least, is a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone back home for contributing the AMAZING number of art supplies that have been shipped over here slowly but surely over the last couple months (and THANK YOU to Mom for packing them all up). The request went out at my moms work, Spectrum Gymnastics Academy, for any supplies people might like to donate, since I had expressed interest at our primary school to start teaching art classes; a curriculum which they currently dont have. The response was enormous, and the supplies havent even all made it here yet. Needless to say, these kids are going to be set for a while. I completed the first class with the youngest kids about a week ago, and with the help of a couple of the teachers it went over really well. I told them to draw their families and their compounds, with markers and crayons, and did a little demo of what I meant. It was obvious these kids had never been encouraged or given the opportunity to draw before; they seemed to think it was some type of test. But once they realized it was supposed to be fun, they loosened up a bit. Check out the pics on my blog if you get a chance (a handful of the 130 that the teacher I loaned my camera to took over the course of an hour). Hopefully we'll get to do many more of these in the future.

Thats about it for now; I'm heading back to the village tomorrow, healthy and ready to get these seeds in the ground (hopefully); and I wont be coming back again until our huge 4th of July bash, which I'll be sure to tell you all about...or not, depending.

Thanks again for everything!

Happy Fathers Day, Dad. Love and Miss You.

And Happy Fathers Day to all the other Dads.

- Steve "Samba" Sullivan

P.S. I also included a picture of the mural I've been doing off-and-on at our regional house, which will probably be done by our party.

Collège in Dindefelo

Colleen working on the grid for the mural

One of the teachers who helped us with the writing in Fongolimbi

Two Bassari Warriors

Bassaris marching

And again

Me with my A-frame

My village brother working with the A-frame

The school in Kékeressi

The other side of the school

Trying to explain the concept of markers

How most of them started...

How they ended up

The one on the right is my nephew

More finished products

Cracking the whip

Mural of the Ingles Waterfall at the house (in-progress)