I'm hungry...it's Ramadan

Trip Start Aug 30, 2009
Trip End Apr 28, 2011

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Flag of Senegal  , Tambacounda,
Sunday, August 30, 2009

   IST is over! While I was initially ecstatic that I was done with Peace Corps "formations" (at least for the time being), upon my return trip home to the village I received a phone call from my neighboring volunteer Melissa.  Usually I'm excited to get her phone calls however this call was certainly one I could have done without. My host mother tracked her down at the weekly market with some not so good news about my village.  My ancienne (the volunteer before me) had installed a hand-pump on one of our wells in an effort to increase water safety and accessibility for the village; however, this pump has turned out to be a pain-in-the-you know what.  The pump broke almost right after I initially installed in my village in April (about one month after the installation of the pump) and had broken again for the 2nd time in 4 months. Now, in order to get water we must venture to another well, about 1/4 mile from my compound, and haul it all the way back, on my head (blah).  It's okay because my family helps me pull water with their donkeys so I don't have to solicit help from neighbors. Yes, the well is so deep that you cannot physically pull water by hand, you have to use a donkey or a horse; it's ridiculous. 
   My biggest issue with the pump situation is its tendency to break.  Our village is very far off the road and consequently it is difficult to get people to come out and fix things.  Additionally, this is the second time the pump has broken and I really don't want to have the Dept. of Defense people who paid for the pump, and paid for it to be fixed the first time it broke, to pay to fix it again.  Obviously we have a sustainability issue here or the pump would not be having so many problems.  More to come on this later once I have figured out how to reasonably solve the situation.
    It wouldn't be Senegal if there were not multiple problems for a volunteer to deal with at site. Not only is the water pump broken but so is the millet pounding machine. My ancienne also worked to bring a millet pounding machine to Lewe, which is a machine sent from Allah for the women of my village.  Without a machine, the women can spend up to three hours a day pounding millet like people used to pound 1500 years ago, with a large wooden mortar and pestle.  The millet makes their version of couscous which I now love because without that we eat white rice, which I cannot stand. I have no idea why this machine is broken because it's huge and I don't understand it.  The major problem here is that my host father tells me there is no money to fix the millet machine, a statement I will be forced to reconcile with soon.  The problem is, people pay to use the millet machine and the money they pay is supposed to be used to cover operating expenses, oil and gas, and the rest is to be saved to repair the machine when it breaks.  Now, according to him the money was all used on gas and oil, but I don't believe that is possible so I am going to have to deal with the fact that he might be stealing the money.  I don't know that he is stealing anything for a fact at the moment; however, it is highly suspect given the nature of bookkeeping he and my ancienne set up.  He is the only one with access to the money and is the secretary for the machine records because he is the only literate man in the village (and he's the chief so it's natural for him to be placed in positions of responsibility).  I am scared as heck to ask for the books so I can look over them and see what happened, but as of now that's about all I can do...wish me luck.
    On a brighter note, life is amazingly more pleasant now that the rains are here.  It is still hot but not sweltering as it was before.  And it is gorgeous, green fields, trees, and grasses everywhere...amazing.  I am also now partaking in the family business: farming.  I go out every morning with the fam, or other families in the village, to help farm in their fields.  I am an awesome "weeder".  They love that I go out because I think they really appreciate the help, and I think they like the idea of their volunteer suffering with them through the hardship that is their lives.  I do it out of solidarity and a desire to give back and prove to them that I am strong and capable of working just as hard as they do.  They still kick my butt at weeding, they can move so much faster done the rows, but I do my best.
      In the village, they will have these days were a majority of the younger crowd in the village will go out to one person's field and farm on it for the day.  After they're done, the owner of the field provides lunch for all of the farmers that helped on their field that day.  It's really fun because there will be like 12-20 people out in one field working and keeping each other company.  There was one that took place on the field of a man in the village whose family I am pretty close with; I didn't farm that day because I had some pretty crazy blisters from farming the day before but I helped cook with the women.  It was exhausting, but a ton of fun.
     And as of August 21, Ramadan has begun.  Ramadan is a traditional month of fasting for Muslims, and has become a favorite topic of theirs to discuss, "Penda, are you fasting?" I am actually trying to fast with them because I feel guilty not doing it; however, I still drink water because I am too scared not to.  They do not eat or drink water from 5am - 715pm; it sucks.  And they still go out to the fields...how they don't die I will never now.  They are amazingly committed and strong. They totally think my no food, yes water version of fasting is cheating, but I don't care.
   I am now working on writing a grant to bring latrines to the village, and hopefully I will be able to start in November/December Inshallah ("god-willing" - a favorite phrase here given that most things you want to happen don't, it is all in Allah's hands).  Time to go, but more to come...with any luck good things. 
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