Babble On, Babylon

“Research is a human behavior that requires critical thinking, objectivity, intelligent design, and passion. A true researcher seeks knowledge not for the self but for the interest of mankind as a whole and perhaps for the sake of the world at large and all of its inhabitants.”

Learn Pulaar

Wiitude = to research

Look at the arabic script scrawled artfully across the wooden tablet. Do you know what it says? Neither do I. Just know that as you stare at the foreign symbols, full of confusion and wonder at all the possible meanings, the farmers I interview are experiencing similar sensations with each bizarre question I ask. I have seen blank stares, jaws gone slack, stuttering, talking in circles, and just plain silence… In every interview, we speak many more languages than just Pulaar. We speak body language, we speak facial expression, we speak intonation, we speak farmer. But even with all these forms of communication, we still happen upon misunderstandings. Struggle is an affliction that accompanies all research projects. My struggles takes many forms in Senegal- the heat, public transportation, cultural practices, etc. But my biggest struggles now are related to language barriers.



I learned very quickly how specific I need to be when speaking about my project and the necessity of being able to explain everything I need to communicate in various ways with different words and metaphors. When I first started out my research, I met with a village chief who was going to help me call some farmers together. I explained my project to him and told him I was specifically looking for Doers of live fencing. The farmers showed up. We started the interviews and discussions. And I am sitting there, interviewing non-doer after Nondoer, thinking to myself, Ok this wiseguy just called a bunch of farmers; he must not have specified Doers… Later on I figured out he called for Doers, but his interpretation was people who would do live fencing. And these farmers are all staring me down waiting for me to hand out seeds I never promised. #MyBad. I learned I have to specify with utmost clarity the audience I’m looking for- Folks who have already planted live fencing or at least tried it.

Wadoobe = Doers


When I explain my project to a group of folks here, there is usually the token individual who understands perfectly everything I attempted to convey and has to step up and clarify to the rest of the babbling group exactly what I meant. At times its hilarious and simultaneously fascinating to listen to their interpretations of my work. Most people are so used to NGO handouts, they’re usually expecting something from me, products or a service. Nope! How about a training! Other times my frustration gets the better of me. But then I think to myself- these misinterpretations don’t just happen to me. I catch locals re-explaining themselves to each other pretty often. It happens to us all.

kalasal ledde guurde = fence of living trees

Fence of living trees– this is another big trickster. It can go one of two ways:

Oh, have you ever made a fence of living trees around your field?


What tree species did you use?

Desert date and umbrella thorn tree branches

How did you plant them?

I cut down the branches and piled them up

So you didn’t plant them?


So the trees are actually dead… What you have is a dead fence…


So that’s not a live fence…

No. I used live trees

Commence Scenario 2


Have you ever made a fence of living trees around your field?


What do have around your field to protect it?

I have a dead fence. Thorny branches

I’ve seen your field. There’s euphorbia in the fence. That’s alive. Did you plant those cuttings?

Oh yes those are living. I planted them six years ago. Around 2004.

6 to 10 years. They’ve been there a while. But so you have a partial live fence?


When you ask yes or no questions, you can never expect to get the most accurate answer. Sometimes, it takes a lot of discussion and probing to get to the truth of things. This is why we use the Designing for Behavior Change tools when we look to bring change to the habits and actions of our target audience. I want to help farmers better understand agroforestry principles and help them bring these techniques into practice. My barrier analysis is helping me to understand farmers so that I can be the best prepared to help them. There’s just a lot of babbling in the process. Soon I’ll be leading my trainings and babbling on even more to them about all the incredible things I learned in the process and what I think can help solve some of their problems.





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