Independence Day

On April 4th, Senegal celebrated its Independence Day. For the most part it was a day like any other in my village, with farmers headed to their gardens to work and women pounding couscous for the evening meal. That morning, many of us sat down to watch the Independence Day parade in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. In the afternoon, my siblings and I fired up my wood fired oven and began baking to celebrate. We made a variety of dishes: vanilla cake with chocolate frosting, soft pretzels with mustard, breadsticks with marinara sauce, and hearty oatmeal bread. We ate a nice dinner (duck!) and broke out the goodies, sharing them around with the neighboring families. It reminded me of the cookouts that are often held in the US on July 4th – everyone gathering together to celebrate their country, eat good food, and enjoy the companionship of friends.

 

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An assortment of goodies to be shared!

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Khady Ndiaye shows off the delicious food she helped bake for Independence Day.

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Serigne Saliou shows off the oatmeal bread he helped knead. It will now rise before being put in the oven.

 

 

 

I also sat down with my host uncle, Mbagnick Dione, and asked him about the original Independence Day. Mbagnick was born in 1951, eight of years before Senegal gain independence from France. He grew up in an area called the Djolof (pronounced joe-lof), the arid, sandy center of the country. He started primary school in 1965, at age 14, thanks to a group of development workers who set up a school in his area. At his age, he had to convince the teachers to allow him in as he was older than most of the students. Eventually, he entered high school, travelling to the city of St. Louis about NUMBER of miles away. It was one of three high schools in the entire country at the time. Finally, he made it to the University of Cheikh Anta Diop, then the only university in the country, and graduated with a degree – an incredible feat of personal strength and commitment. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

 

On what Senegal was like before independence:

When we were a colony, we had no voice in our country. All the decisions were made in Paris, or by bureaucrats put in place by Paris in Dakar. These go-betweens in Dakar often altered the government’s policies coming from Paris to suit their own needs. This lined their pockets, but failed to help the other citizens. In many places the French and Senegalese were segregated, with some areas off-limits to the locals. The economy revolved almost entirely around peanut exports to France.

 

On what Senegal is like now:

Senegal today is freer than it was, but still faces many problems. We have been unable to maintain our infrastructure or build more because those skilled in planning, building and maintenance returned to Paris. Further, foreign companies stopped investing in Senegal, causing much of the economy to stagnate. Under recent Presidents, the investment has started to come back, and not just from France. We still have a long ways to go, because most of the investment goes to the cities and not the rural villages. Many villages still need access to electricity, healthcare, and clean water, but we have our freedom.

 

On the independence process:

When West Africa became independent, there was a serious conversation about forming a large country similar to the US. It was going to be called Mali, in honor to the ancient empires which had sprung from Mali in the past. However, this plan broke down because the different countries couldn’t agree on a common plan. In 1959 Mali and Senegal formed a Federation. This did not last long however, and Senegal soon became fully independent.

 

On the election of Leopold Senghor as President:

NAME was elected the first President of Senegal. He was elected despite being a minority – a Catholic, about 5% of the population, and an ethnic Seereer, about 14% of the population. This is because we didn’t care about these facts. What mattered is that he was smart, he was our foremost intellectual, he knew how to work with all of the religious leaders in Senegal, had the support of French President Charles de Gaulle and we believed he could lead us well.

 

Uncle Mbagnick

My host uncle, Mgbanick Dione, shows me his field where he hopes to increase his crop production.

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What Does A Training Look Like Anyways

Trainings are in many ways the heart of the Peace Corps Senegal program. Whether I am teaching a technique to a friend, or hosting 20 local farmers for a multifaceted event, trainings are an opportunity to teach my work partners new skills. This post will show you what it looks like to host a training on grafting for about 15 people.

For  months my work partners requested a training on grafting. Grafting is an agroforestry technique for fruit trees where a branch which produces better fruit is added to a young tree, so in the future it may produce better fruit. When the time came my counterpart Aliou and I organized a training with 15 farmers and three Volunteers to teach grafting, pruning, and tree care.

The day before the training two of the agroforestry Volunteers in my region, Melissa and Kelsey, arrived to prepare for the training. Together, we traveled to the field where the training was being hosted to check out the trees we would be working with. Materials such as pruning shears, sharp knives, plastic wrapping, and machetes were gathered.
The morning of, the farmers joined us at the field. We began with introductions: what is Peace Corps, who would be teaching them that day, and what they could expect to learn. We began by talking about tree care basics – techniques like adding manure to your orchard, or mulching around the base of your trees. We then got hands on as Melissa led the group in pruning, before splitting into groups to practice.We pruned a number of trees, answering questions and creating models for the other farmers to copy in their own fields.

 

Learning about Pruning

PCV Melissa explains the basics of pruning to a group of farmers.

PCV Melissa advises community members as they practice pruning

Tree Pruning

Aliou prunes a citrus tree at a Peace Corps Training.

 

Once all the farmers had pruned trees, we shifted gears to the more difficult grafting technique. Kelsey began by demonstrating on sticks collected from the field. Once they gained some skill, the farmers moved onto live trees, primarily mango. By the end of the morning, all the farmers felt confident doing the technique themselves.

The powerful aspect of such trainings is that in one morning 15 farmers learned a new skill which very few people in the village know, became able to improve their fruit yields, and can increase the incomes and  nutrition status of their families.

 

Grafting Practice

PCV Kelsey leads a group of farmers in grafting practice.

With the Rain Comes Work

Rainy season is drawing to a close here in Senegal, marking the end of the busiest time of the year for an Agriculture Volunteer. The season began suddenly in July with a rainstorm. For weeks dark clouds had skittered across the skies, only bringing relief from the glaring sun. One day, those clouds opened up, sending excited children into the streets in their underclothes and farmers dashing for their seedig machines.

Water rushes through my compound during a rain storm

 

Immediately the pace of life changed. Everyone rose at 5 or 6 to eat an early breakfast before going to the massive fields to seed and tend their crops. This is perhaps the most important time of year in Senegal as the crops grown during the rainy season feed families for the entire year. Recognizing this, Peace Corps Senegal has partnered with ISRA – Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles – to increase crop yields throughout the country.

The process is simple. ISRA breeds staple crops adapted to local conditions within Senegal. Each year Peace Corps Volunteers distribute a selection of these improved seed varieties to the farmers they work with. At the same time they teach improved crop management techniques. Last year, 70% of farmers in the program produced above the national average. This has helped families to become more food secure and financially stable.

The peanut crop is especially important for the income it brings

These fields will soon produce sorghum and corn to be saved as food

 

My hut has a flourishing garden as well. While I spend much of my time in the fields or speaking with farmers, the rains have eliminated my daily watering routine. Now I have tomatoes, eggplants, okra, rice, and hibiscus growing in my garden. The veggies it will produce will go towards my meals with extras given to my family.

Sweet potato flourishes in the rain and is ringed by moringa trees

Veggies grow in containers on the concrete pad in my bathroom, ringed by sweet potato and moringa trees

Playing with Mud

The mud stove program in Ndianda began with a conversation about cooking fuel with my host aunt, Yacine. She told me about how she and the other women in the village primarily cook using cow dung, as fuel wood is scare due to deforestation. I told Yacine about mud stoves – mud walls around cooking fires that increase fuel efficiency and reduce cooking time. Yacine expressed strong interest in having a mud stove, so I did some research. I referenced both Peace Corps resources and outside resources from NGO’s in Africa to see what stove models already exist. Synthesizing these resources with my own experience with mud construction in the states, I came up with a model I believed would work in my village.

 One afternoon I sat down with Yacine to discuss the prototype I had designed. We talked through important questions such as resource availability, technical skills, and the benefits and drawbacks of the design. With a finalized model created, Yacine and I created a prototype in her kitchen. I was an immediate success. My aunt Yacine reported increased fuel efficiency, decreased cooking time, and high satisfaction. Within days women from my neighborhood were requesting I build them one too.

An improved cookstove being used in my village


Instead of building hundreds of stove for my village, I worked with Yacine and my neighbor Mariama to set up a training. We invited women from the neighborhood to learn the technique at a hands on training which included the building of a mud stove. Many of the women who attended were skeptical about their ability to make the mud stoves at first. I made them an offer: I would go to their houses to ensure they were making them correctly and check the finished stoves myself. This gave an initial group of women the confidence to make their own mud stoves.

Women in my village pound clay from termite mounds for use in making improved cookstoves


A decorated improved cookstove dries before use

With my support, Mariama went on to set up a program amongst the women in the neighborhood. They helped each other prep the materials and build the stoves, even teaching new women the technique. Now, almost every house in the neighborhood has a mud stove. If you ask the women if they like the stoves you can see their eyes light up as they give you a litany of ways the stoves have improved their lives.

An improved cookstove cooks rice for lunch – the pile of wood will last about three times as long now


From here I will organize one or two more small trainings for women in my village followed by a training of trainers for exceptional women, such as Mariama. My hope is to develop their skills and ability to carry on the program without me. I am also interested in developing media such as a video guide that can be shared on mobile phones. Only by training local leaders can the mud stoves program in Ndianda have a positive impact in the long run.

Let’s Stomp Out Malaria!

Malaria is a disease I heard about in my studies of Africa. “Oh yeah” I’d think, “what a terrible disease. We should do more about that.” However, when it came down to it malaria seemed little more then a nuisance. It wasn’t until my Pece Corps medical clearance process that it hit me: malaria is a tremendous problem which touches millions of lives across Africa, and the world.

I was sitting in a small room in a public health clinic in Portland, Maine where I was getting vaccines – yellow fever, polio, pertussis, tetanus, you name it – from the wonderful staff employed by the Department of Health. Knowing I was headed to the Peace Corps the staff dispensed with most of the travel warnings and advisories – except those related to malaria.

Both arms smarting from five shots, I looked at what lay before me: a map of Senegal, nearly all of the country colored red. “These are the areas where malaria is endemic in Senegal – it’s pretty bad.” I mostly just stared back at the doctor, not understanding what she meant as she continued. “You will need to sleep under a mosquito net every night and take prophylaxis each day to ensure you don’t get malaria. I know Peace Corps will provide you prophylaxis, but here are your options.” As she produced several sheets of paper about the different chemical prophylaxis options available today, a thought dawned on me: “There is no way everyone in Senegal is able to take these medications. Most people wouldn’t be able to afford them, and it would be prohibitively expensive for the government to provide them. So how do they protect themselves?”

Fast forward to my time in Senegal, and I have an answer. Most folks sleep under a mosquito net, the government provides prophylaxis for pregnant women, malaria testing and treatment is free and available country wide, and every three years the government provides everyone in Senegal a new mosquito net. These steps have  drastically reduced malaria cases in Senegal, and some regions are almost malaria free. But there is work to be done.

Not everyone in Senegal sleeps under a net, and their nets often have holes in them. When dirty nets are laundered, the pesticide coating on them is washed away with the dirt. Water collects in discarded containers and trash, providing breeding grounds for the Anopheles mosquito which carries malaria.

This is where Peace Corps Volunteers enter the picture. In Africa, every volunteer is a malaria volunteer regardless of their project sector. Over the years Peace Corps Africa has developed a program to empower volunteers to work in malaria prevention – Stomp Out Malaria. Each May, Stomp Out Malaria holds ‘Malaria Month’, encouraging all Africa volunteers to engage in malaria prevention work and providing them ideas and resources.

As I perused the list of suggested activities one caught my eye – a market booth. The idea is simple: get a table, put your mosquito net over it, and run a game to educate folks about malaria. Such a thing is right up my alley: an impromptu road side educational game.

I set up a table and chairs covered by a mosquito net by the well, where I knew I would be able to entice players. Players would randomly select three multiple choice questions, allowing me to determine how much they know about malaria (quite a lot!) and discuss the answers they didn’t know. For their effort they all received a few pieces of candy.

I was impressed by the knowledge in my village. The women especially knew a lot about preventing, treating, and eradicating malaria. Sometimes they would sit down at the booth and simply recite everything they knew about it, a smile on their face, before heading back to their work. I also had a lot of younger folks and kids participate. They truly treated it like a game with a few even insisting I continually quiz them until they knew all the answers!

I followed the market booth two days later with a meeting geared towards women to discuss malaria, the importance of prevention, and basic care of mosquito nets. We began with an activity called “Malaria and the Farmer” which gave the group a visual of what happens when women cannot work around the house because they have malaria. We then learned how to properly wash mosquito nets and why it is important to sew up holes in them. After the training one woman confided in me that she doesn’t sleep under a mosquito net, though now she plans to purchase one now!

I hope these lessons help keep my community safe as the rainy season approaches and the mosquito population blossoms, along with all the greenery in Senegal.

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The Stomp Out Malaria Logo

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Posing under my mosquito net while running my roadside trivia game

Siminke A Njega Solo: The Greetings are Important

In Senegalese culture, one of the most important daily customs is greeting. At its base it is a simple concept: Say hello to everyone, each day. The reality is much more complex. While saying hello to someone in America may take the form of a simple head nod or a wave, many greetings in Senegal last upwards of five or ten minutes and occur repeatedly throughout the day. Indeed, the first thing I do when I leave my hut in the morning is greet my mother, Neelaan. It typically goes something like this:

 

Kaynak: Good morning!

Neelaan: Good morning to you! Kaynak, you are awake now?

Kaynak: Yes I woke up at 7:30.

Neelaan: Did you sleep well?

Kaynak: Yes I did, and you?

Neelaan: Yes I sleep well. Did you eat a good breakfast?

Kaynak: Yes I ate breakfast until I was full.

Neelaan: How is your morning?

Kaynak: It is fine, how is the heat?

Neelaan: It is fine because it is cold.

Kaynak: I disagree, it is hot!

Neelaan: No, it is cold today. Where are you going today?

Kaynak: I am going into the village this morning, and then I will go to the fields this afternoon.

Neelaan: That is good. Will you be home for lunch?

Kaynak: Yes I will.

Neelaan: That is good, children go greet Kaynak now.

 

This style of greeting is repeated with each of the adults and guests in my compound; it can take up to 15 minutes to greet everyone each morning. Children usually engage in one or two sentence greets with adults, or even just a respectful handshake.

Throughout the day I will be similarly greeted by visitors who come to my compound, folks I pass in the streets, and whichever neighbors are home as I pass by. I have learned to build ‘greeting time’ into my schedule. An example of this: it takes five minutes to walk from my hut to the boutique that sells eggs, but it actually takes me about 15-20 minutes to get there if I greet everyone in between my hut and the boutique properly.

Why then do I greet? Why not just pass by, say a brief hello and continue on my way? Why possibly spend hours a day doing this? If you don’t greet folks properly there are a few assumptions that can be made. First, you are assumed rude, especially if you’re failing to greet important persons such as village leaders, elders, religious leaders, or honored guests. Second, you are assumed to be ill or in a bad mood. In either case, greeting shows your friends, family and community that you are ready to begin your day be a productive member of society.

Inspiring Stories of Senegal

Lately a lot of the news coming out of West Africa has been negative – and violent. Terrorist attacks, mostly against Westerners, have featured in the news in the States and across Europe. I can assure all of you that the Senegalese people reject these violent actions in the strongest gest terms

Indeed, these stories do not define Senegal, West Africa, or Africa as a whole. Indeed, saying Africa is unsafe because of the tragic attack in Bamako, Mali is like saying it is unsafe to go to work in the States after the horrific shooting in San Bernardino, California.

This post then, is my attempt to counter these negative stories with inspiring tales of the incredible Senegalese people who I have the honor to live and work with every day. I hope you will all see the beauty that is Senegal.

 

The Spirit of Hardwork

Pépinière no tomate - Tomato Nursery

Young, strong tomatoes growing in the school garden in Ngianda

 

One of the most incredible traits of the Senegalese people is how hard they work. My aunt Yasin can routinely be found in a smoke filled kitchen roasting peanuts or frying beignets which are sold for the equivalent of 40 cents. Farmers work all day to bring land to life so they can feed their families. Farming conditions are harsh: soil in my village is either sand, or thick, heavy clay, the heat reaches up to 115 on some days, and it only rains 3 months out of the year (2 if we are unlucky).

Perhaps the most visceral example of this spirit of hard work is the laundry process. As in many parts of the world, laundry in Senegal is primarily done by hand. As you can see in the picture below, the women set up large buckets – soapy, rinse, aromatic, bleach, and another rinse. They then scrub all of their family’s clothes with a bar of soap and their hands. They will spend all morning doing this, taking only short breaks to rest their arms. I can barely do it for ten minutes, and usually give up when I try to wash my tough jeans. The afternoon is then spent folding and ironing. It is a time consuming, energy intensive process and one that’s shows me that the spirit of hardwork is alive in the Senegalese people.

Washing Laundry

My friends Hadi and Coumba washing their families laundry by hand

Drying Out

Laundry hanging out to dry – it doesn’t take very long here!

 

Celebrating Life and Friendship

Growing up at home, the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” always evoked two thoughts in my mind. The first, that aunts, uncles and grandparents would sometimes help take care of kids. The second, that somewhere in the world entire villages dedicated to themselves to raising their children. Coming to Senegal, I have realized my second thought was right: villages band together to take care of children in a way I have never seen in the United States.

Mother, daughter, and friend

My friend Seynabou, her daughter Hadi, and I at Hadi’s baptism

A week after a child is born, it is baptized and given its name. Typically it is named after a member of the family in the hope that they will grow up to be like them. This event also culminates in a huge party. The baptism ceremony in the morning is attended by neighbours, family, and friends. From there the celebration grows, men and women arriving to talk, greet the baby, find out its name, and provide support to the new mother. Folks typically give money to the mother – just one way the village helps raise the child.

The family then prepares lunch for all who are present. In smaller villages, this can be the entire village. In larger ones like mine it is still a meal for upwards of several hundred people. As evening wears on, tea is made and soda distributed and as night falls the music begins. Often a drum circle, electric guitar, a live singer, and a DJ are all brought in for the dancing – they all play at once. By now there may be nearly a thousand people present! The dancing continues almost until morning, with the music ending between 2 and 4 am. All to celebrate the new life in the village.

 

Family is Everything

Perhaps nothing is more important here than family. Families are quite large: my host parents have eight kids (plus me!), no an unusual number in my village. Families grow even larger when you add in a second, third, or fourth wife. Sometimes men father upwards of 30 children. Families then live together in compounds made up of at least several family units.

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Family here will do anything for you. My host father routinely calls me if I’m late for lunch, my host mother will bring me around the village and purchase vegetables from the market for me, and my siblings help me locate materials and people in the village while helping me practice my Seereer.

I recently returned to Tassette, my training site, for a visit. There I was greeted by my youngest host sister who ran to me and threw her arms around me screaming my name. Each time a member of my Tassette host family came home they entered the compound chanting my name, “Idi! Idi! Idi! Idi!”

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My host brother Mor from Tassette excited to see me during my visit

At one point I left to say hello to other members of the village and my host siblings and friends used my smartphone to take about 40 photos and record two music videos – just in case I might forget who they are. They pulled out all the stops during my visit – a large lunch, copious amounts of tea, pillows and mats to rest on, chilled yogurt, and a plea to stay the night. Here in Senegal, family is everything and family is forever.

Jegaam ngoor: I am grateful

I had a difficult time deciding on a topic for this post, spending the last two weeks reflecting on my last month and a half in Senegal. It made me realize that, more than anything I am grateful. I am thankful for the kindness of the Senegalese people, the care shown by my village, and the acceptance of my host family. This post features a three short stories that highlight my gratefulness.

 

Simple Kindness

About a month ago I was walking down a street in Dakar when an elderly man caught up with me. He greeted me in French, but quickly spoke English when I told him I only know English and Seereer. “Ah, you must be a Peace Corps Volunteer!” he exclaimed, a warm smile spreading over his face. I told him that I am indeed a PCV and we had a conversation about my work in Senegal, and my village. He asked me several questions, trying to understand why I had come and how I thought I could his country. At the end of the street he shook my hand saying, “thank you for helping us. Welcome to Senegal”, and turned down a side street.

Dakar on High

A view of Dakar from a rooftop

This man is an incredible representation of all the kind people I have met in Senegal. Everyone is always excited to talk with me, I am constantly invited over for tea, and often invited to share meals with families. I am grateful for their kindness and friendship, both so easily given and similarly treasured.

 

Take Life by the Wings

The Seereer language group got together for a week long language seminar with a Peace Corps Language and Cultural Facilitator in my village. The morning found us in class, reviewing vocabulary and learning new grammar. The afternoons were reserved for field trips to friends homes, the fields, and my counterparts home.

One day we visited my counterpart, Oumi Ndour. She was selected by the community to work closely with me during my service. She supports me by helping me learn Seereer, providing invaluable advice and showing me around the village and its environs. On this day, myself and the Seereer language group were speaking with her, her family and her neighbors to practice the language. After several hours of chatter and tea making we rose to return home for dinner. To my surprise we were asked to wait for a moment: Oumi needed to bring us something. She went behind a hut and returned holding a chicken by its wings. She presented the chicken to me. “For your dinner, have your mother cook it.”

 

A gift

A chicken gifted to me by my counterpart for dinner

 

In my village a chicken is a tremendous gift. A chicken here is sold for 2,500 Central African Francs (CFA), which is about 5 or 6 dollars. While that may not sound like much, let me put it in perspective. A typical lunch at my house for 15 people costs 2,000 CFA ($4), including leftovers for an evening snack! I am grateful that Oumi values myself and Peace Corps enough to give us such a tremendous gift, in addition to all of her advice and patient Seereer help.

 

Visiting my Counterpary, Oumi

Seereer language group visiting with Oumi and her family

 

Gentle Acceptance

In January, I attended a baptism for a young baby in my neighborhood. Senegalese baptisms are incredible events, and oftentimes hundreds of people are in attendance. They include a special lunch and often dinner for all of the guests, copious amounts of tea, dancing, and lots of music. Further, it is tradition to give a gift to the mother to help support herself and the new baby. This day however I forgot my gift. After the communal lunch, my host mom needed to drop off my youngest siblings at home for the afternoon. I told her I would accompany her, as I needed to get my money from my hut for the mother. She smiled kindly saying, “I already gave money.” Flustered by my forgetfulness, I explained that I forgot mine and she smiled again, “The money is for the whole family. You are my son, so it counts for you. You do not need to give anything.”

Family Goodbye: Language Seminar

A quick pic snapped as the Seereer language group prepares to leave Ngianda after our 5 day Language Seminar.

I am grateful for the support and acceptance of my family. They are immeasurably helpful: they practice Seereer with me, assist with water carrying, show me around the village, cook delicious lunches, and make sure I am happy, healthy and comfortable.

 

Looking Forward

These stories, and many more like them, make me excited for the next phase of my service. Currently, I am back in Thies for In Service Training. We are learning to write grants, polishing our project management skills, and learning advanced agriculture techniques. With this new knowledge and my improving Seereer, I am excited to engage more deeply than ever with my community.

 

P.S. You can access my Image Gallery from the top left menu button to view additional images!

New Years Resolutions

I have had the fortune to spend the holidays settling into my hut in the village of Ngianda. There has been so much to do: cleaning, greeting, exploring, practicing language and homemaking to name a few activities. On top of these I have been landscaping my backyard to create a verdant area around my kitchen and bathroom. Already cucumbers, green peppers and carrots are sprouting in my garden, shaded by banana and papaya trees.

There is also much to see. I have been recently exploring the streets of Ngianda, where I always meet new and interesting people. Each day, I aim to go down a street I haven’t visited before. Everyone is eager find out who I am, where I live, and to teach me the names of everything in sight. My family and neighbors in particular have been incredible. They correct my poor speech, tour me around the village and even adjust my water basin on my head.

After a calm News Years spent talking to my family, I have decided on three New Years Resolutions to guide my first year of service. They are to be at home, to learn Seereer, and be the best I can.

Resolution 1: Be at Home

First, I want to be at home in my community. I will make my hut to be a place where I am excited to live by decorating it and growing foods that I love to eat. I will become a part of my family by spending time with them and attending events, such as wrestling matches, with them. Finally, I will become a part of my community by greeting folks and talking to them while going about my day.

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Complete with mat and study are on the front porch

Resolution 2: Learn Seereer

Second, I want to gain basic mastery of the Seereer language. To me, this means I will be able to converse with anyone I speak to and understand nearly everything that is being said to me.

To accomplish this, I will hire a tutor and work with them to improve my skills. Each day I will talk with my family and friends, asking them to correct me and learning from my mistakes. Finally, I will put in at least 30 minutes of dedicated study time each day to practice.

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My Seereer notebook

Resolution 3: Be the Best I Can

Finally, I want to push myself to be the best I can. For me this means exercising regularly, making healthy food choices, and pushing myself to be the Volunteer my village hopes I will be.

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A selfie I snapped carrying water from the well. Precarious!

An Island in a Sea of Shells

Recently, I had the opportunity to head to the village of Ndianda, where I will be living for the next two years. It is located outside of the city of Mbur in the Petite Côte region, south of Dakar and Thies. While there I spent time with my family, possible work partners, and explored my large village of 6000 people. I spent my days with Dellie and Gary, the couple currently serving in Ndianda who I will be replacing. They did a wonderful job of making me feel right at home and showing me all the cool sites in the area.

During the trip, I had the fortune to spend a few hours exploring the Island of Fadiouth. From the city of Joal, myself, Dellie and Gary walked on a long wooden bridge to Fadiouth. Glancing over the water, I noticed a strange sight: pigs. Stunned, I watched as twelve large pigs and six little piglets meandered through the calm waters off Joal. As the tide went out, the pigs dug their snouts into the mud flats searching for delicious bivalves and other tasty treats. Indeed, the pigs were some of the biggest, healthiest looking ones I have seen in Senegal.

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Pigs in the low tide off the island of Fadiouth

Arriving on the island, I stepped onto a pathway made entirely from loose clam shells. Looking around, I saw that all the pathways were made of the same, small, white shells. Even much of the concrete used in the buildings contained the same shells. The island itself is made out of shells that have accumulated over the years. Leading theories suggest the island was primarily built up by people eating clams and leaving their shells on the island.

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The bridge crossing from Joal to the island

Continuing through the winding seashell streets, we came to a large Church. Senegal has long been known for its tolerance of religion, and Fadiouth is a great example of this tolerance. While about 95% of Senegal is Muslim, about 90% of the residents of the island are Christian. The Church exists alongside a Mosque. Crossing to a second bridge brought me to the Fadiouth cemetery, also built on an island of seashells. It is shared by the two faiths. The beauty was stunning: shells everywhere, religious iconography intermingling, caretakers repairing burial sites, and the surrounding mangroves stretching out into the distance.

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The burial grounds of Fadiouth

I can’t wait to return in December to my village and, what I think, is the most beautiful place in Senegal.