I now live in a small, northern village called Goudoude Diobe, which resides nestled 10k off the beaten path in the northeast region of Matam, Senegal. The ecosystem here is called the Sahel- a phonetically appropriate name for the driest, most arid and desert-like region of Senegal with the hottest recorded temperatures on record in country. This northern stretch of Senegal is referred to as the Fouta and includes the somewhat fertile Senegal River Valley and parts of the Ferlo, the rangeland. The Pulaar people dominate these lands and practice mainly agriculture, herding, and fishing. I am slowly but surely learning to speak Pulaar du Nord, one of many Pulaar dialects spoken across much of Africa. Pulaar is not a dominant culture in any one African country but maintains the only dialects here in Senegal spoken elsewhere in Africa. Pulaar society is a highly conservative, Islamic society marked by incredible peace and mixed with traditional Senegalese cultural hospitality.
Goudoude Diobe – “Goo-doo-day Jo-bay” …Kind of…
I live with my neene Aisatta (“nay-nay” = mom), two of my four brothers- Abou, 27, and Amadou, 30, aka ‘Boula’, my sister-in-law- Houley, my nieces Wuuri, Jowli, and baby Aisatta, and my cousin Coumba. If these are the actual “western” definitions of the their relationships to me, I can’t say for sure, but I consider them all to be my brothers and my sisters. Relationships are impossibly fluid here; there are almost no lines. My borther Doro lives in Dakar and my brother Bocar runs a store in Gabon. I’ve never met them. Amadou attends to our family’s cows. He just left with them, helping herd them down into the Ferlo to the village of Liou where they will stay for the next five-six months until Ndungu, the rainy season, arrives at the desert. Abou cares for our family’s lone white horse. We have a sarette and this is how we travel out of town to get things we need. Houley and Coumba do all the cooking, dish-washing, laundry, and other chores, as this is Senegalese women’s culture. My neene has two fields, one in the Jeeri and one in the Wallo where we grow crops. Right now, my family has packed up all of their things and moved to their encampment in the Wallo. And I am alone at our house.
UNDERSTANDING ECOSYSTEMS & LIFESTYLES
The Fouta is divided into three main ecosystem subzones- Fallo, Wallo, and Jeeri. To fully understand and appreciate the lifestyle of Pulaar people, you must understand the functions of each. When Ndungu arrives, the Senegal River swells with water, fish and life. As the water retreats beneath the sands, the sides of the riverbed are exposed. This embankment is called the Fallo. Farmers take advantage of these water-permeated soils to plant corn, beans, and rice. With the onset of the rains comes the seasonal flooding of the Wallo, the land adjacent to the riverbank. This zone is characterized by the highest diversity of tree species that can survive everlasting periods of significant heat and drought. Here farmers companion plant millet and beans as soon as the floodwaters recede. The area even further removed from the river is called the Jeeri. Fields here are planted with peanuts, hibiscus, millet, and some other vegetables, however the growing season only lasts as long as the rains, which is usually about three months or less. Right now, millet and beans are maturing in the fields of the Wallo and people are picking up and making their settlements there in droves to prepare for harvest. Its an exciting and anxious time for farmers hoping to maximize their haul.
I am an Agroforestry Extension Agent. My responsibility is to work with local farmers and villagers to help teach and train interested farmers improved agricultural techniques using knowledge and research from data gathered by the Peace Corps in Senegal and volunteers such as myself. A bit more specifically, my job is to find the best uses for trees to enhance farming and crop yields. For example trees can be planted and pruned to create livefences that protect fields from livestock or windbreaks to prevent plants from desiccating in this harsh environment. Many trees fix nitrogen and help stabilize soils and can be planted directly within fields in a manner called alley cropping. Other benefits of trees include creating shade and beneficial microclimates as well as fruit, animal fodder, and fuelwood production. Right now, my focus is on learning as much as possible about my village, the way people farm, and mastering my language skills.
PIONEERS & POSSIBILITIES
I will be working to help establish a Master Farm in Goudoude. This is a demonstration farm, part of a series of farms established across Senegal by the Peace Corps to help study, teach, and train farmers what techniques thrive or dive in their local environments. My master farmer’s name is Amadou Si. He lives in Goudoude Ndouetbe, the sister village to mine, and our master farm exists out in the bush (Jeeri) in between the two. Chain-link fencing was set-up around this one hectare plot just last year and our deep-bore well is approaching completion. Of the 300+ PC volunteers in Senegal, I am one of three ‘Agfo’ volunteers pioneering the Agfo program in the Fouta and there is tremendous opportunity for exploration as Peace Corps Senegal transitions north.
My family’s compound has two small houses- one where my family all sleeps, and the other vacant, where I sleep. I have the end room with my own outdoor shower space/bathroom. It may be a hole in the ground but it’s a very glamorous hole in the ground. I don’t have a bed or a mattress. I sleep on a leeso (‘laay-zo’ = plastic floor mat) directly on the concrete. It’s like sleeping on one million plastic coffee stirrer straws perfectly laid out. I bought a trunk in Ourossogui in which I keep my Peace Corps manuals and my electronics. I keep a gas stove behind my screen door and my clothes and a few miscellaneous other tools and things rest in my suitcase and duffel. My bike stays in my room- otherwise it would disappear and be destroyed. Although EVERYONE still tries to play with it. In fact, everything in my room has to be kept in HIDING. There is no sense of private space, no concept of privacy even. People freely enter my room as they please. When I’m standing there blocking the screen door closed, they try to push it open with confused looks as to why I’m not letting them in. Nothing is safe. When people see something- they must touch it, manhandle it until obliteration. The intrinsic fragility of all tangible objects here is overlooked, or invisible rather. The mindset is that ‘things go bad quickly anyway.’ This also explains my lack of pictures. You don’t want to know what happens to a camera here… I am lucky to have a nice space. Although kids creep up to my curtainless window, peer in at me, and proceed to ask me for money. I pride myself on minimalism and self-sufficiency. The only extra work I will allow my sisters to do for me is cook. I wash all my own clothes in my shower space where I hang them on a wooden beam. Otherwise, all my clothes would fast be destroyed being hung on sharp fence posts after being unnecessarily scrubbed to death by energetic hands. My work tools I keep in the corner over by the door- nobody touches them anymore- or my bike since I covered it. Amazing what a piece of cloth can do. I keep my water filter outside in my bathroom space propped up on an old cinder block. I have a clay pot, which exists mainly just for beauty. Beauty, another concept people here see very differently. My family stared at me as if I had three heads when I salvaged two antique lanterns from being thrown out into the trash heaps. How does one explain ‘antiques’ or ‘collecting’ as a hobby in Pulaar?
I only have access to the internet when I go to my Regional House in Ourossogui. My village does not have electricity, although some houses have solar panels and this is how I charge my PC issued work phone. To get out of village, I have to find or wait for a sarette to pass my way and catch a ride for 250 CFA, which is approximately 50 US cents. I hitch a ride to one of three road towns- Thilogne (Chee-lone), Kobilo (Ko-be-low), or Boki Diave (bo-kee-jai) where I get on an overly packed van to the city for about 500 – 800 CFA. After about two hours of travel I arrive at Ourossogui. Making it home is a different story. Last time my brother picked me up in Kobilo. Tomorrow, no one is home to come pick me up. Its all a waiting game.
Until next time…