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 http://www.againstmalaria.com/NetLifePCV2009.
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
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