Thursday, December 25, 2008

(25 December 2008) As 2008 Comes To A Close

Merry Christmas!

Only three and a half months left before I leave my home of the previous two years.  The nights are cold (high 50’s-low 60’s), but the days are still hot (100F).  I’ve made new friends and family and have already experienced the loss of some of them.  I began to share this experience with my friends when I went home in June and my family was able to experience my life here firsthand when they came to visit in November.  I helped organize a women’s group for the village and once funding is complete (almost there, but still a little left.  Go to: if you want to contribute) will assist them in the installation and management of a grain milling machine that will lessen the arduous labor that is a woman’s life in the village.

I knew from the beginning that two years here would fly by and it has.  At times I’ve lamented it; other times I’ve longed for it.  As my time in the village winds down I look forward to some things: easy access to clean vegetables parasite-free water and the internet, electricity to facilitate work after dark, better transportation, a diet free of white rice, and minimal interaction with bugs like earwigs, horse scorpions, wasps, and stinging ants.  On the flipside I can already imagine some of the things I’ll miss: all the downtime to chat with my family here, watching my tomah (namesake) and all my siblings grow up, subsistence on almost entirely local products, and a night sky darker and clearer than any other I’ve ever come across.

I’ve set as a goal for myself to return to Senegal in the next five years (if I end up in grad school that extends to ten).  I can only imagine the changes that may take place between now and then.  By then the road between Tamba and Kaolack should be fully paved and the road from Koumpentoum to Kouthia Ba might be as well.  I think running water is coming, however its reliability will always leave something to be desired.  I think electricity will reach Kouthia Ba by then, though I imagine it will take much longer to make its way to the villages.  Hopefully more students from my village are able to continue their education at the college (junior high) in Kouthia Ba.  With only a handful of adults literate in French an increased literacy rate will open doors of opportunities.  Many of these opportunities will lie outside of what the village is able to offer.  It saddens me to think of how few people may be left in Lewe in five to ten years time; already more and more people spend the non- planting/harvesting portion of the year in search of work elsewhere.  I suppose the migration from villages to towns and cities is inevitable and will bring increased access to things such as education, work, and a quicker exchange of ideas.  

Last night we cooked up a big holiday meal at the Tamba house.  We originally expected to be a small group of 4, half vegetarian half not.  However, teacher’s strikes in the neighboring region of Kedougou spread to all out riots with some gunfire, forcing the PCV’s of that region to evacuate.  Fortunately we had planned to cook enough food for a few days so we were able to accommodate the extra 6 people that came our way looking for safety and Christmas cheer.  Our menu included: roast duck (the original 2 non-veg’s thought this was a splurge, but we were glad to have it once the guests arrived), lentil soup, mashed squash, mashed sweet potatoes, green beans, chocolate chip cookies, and vegan and non-vegan squash pies.  Though our evening was more crowded than we had anticipated, it was nice to spend the holiday with friends.  Fortunately the situation in Kedougou is simmering down so the PCV’s for that region are looking forward to getting back to site.

I just finished reading both Guns Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond and Land of a Thousand Hills by Rosamond Halsey Carr.  GGS examines the paths of different civilizations and how they ended up where they are today.  I quite appreciated Diamond’s analysis of how different peoples have worked with what was available to them (good or bad soil, favorable or unfavorable climate, many or few animal possibilities for domestication) and how some groups gained advantages before others.  I also liked how he addressed the controversy of racism in his discussion.  Land of a Thousand Hills is the memoir of a woman who followed her husband to the Congo 1949, moved to Rwanda shortly after, and spent the rest of her life in that area until her death in 2006.  She lived through multiple revolts (she was evacuated during the genocide but later returned to convert her plantation into an orphanage) and was friends with Dian Fossey.  Her memoir is only a glimpse into the geography and history of Rwanda , but I’m intrigued enough to visit.  The book I’m currently reading is The White Man’s Burden by William Easterly.  After reading Sachs’ The End of Poverty and both of Stiglitz’s books on globalization, it’s quite informative to read someone with such specific objections to them. Easterly’s credentials include over 16 years at the World Bank, but rather than trying to work on a utopian one-solution-fits-all approach, which he claims Sachs advocates, he sees real development as happening through piecemeal solutions specific to different situations.  His humor leaves something to be desired, but I appreciate his attempts to liven up what can be an overwhelming subject.  We’ll see how I feel when I’ve finished the book. 

Before I forget to mention it, the girls leadership camp in Koumpentoum went off great.  We were indeed plagued by problems arising everyday for the week leading up to the camp, but it all worked out and 20 girls in total attended the two day seminar.  Check out the Picasa site for pictures (

Thank you to all of you for your continued support in thoughts, discussions, letters, packages and donations.  It really does mean a lot to both myself and my village.

Peace only,
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