Friday, June 24, 2011

Six Months In

The idea that I left America six months ago baffles me, I don’t really believe it. Part of me feels like I’ve only been here a short time, another part of me feels like I’ve been here forever. I’ve never been away from home this long.

This week is my In Service Training. It’s a week of technical training and the last official Peace Corps event I have on my calendar until next year’s all volunteer conference. For the next 21 months it is up to me to decide what to do with my time and my village.

I feel like I’ve gotten to know my area pretty well. Since my last post I made in effort to explore the villages around mine as well. My counterpart and I visited the a few a day. Surrounding my village there are seven other Jamalli villages and four more with other names. Most of them are pretty small, Jamalli Kabajo is only has one compound (one family). Most of the villages speak Pular but a few only speak Wolof so I can’t communicate and need a translator for everything. Visiting Jamalli Tamsir was especially fun. I sat down with most of the adults in the village and discussed possible projects that we might do together over the next two years (this was the same conversation that I’ve been having in all the villages). We talked about gardens and the need for a more reliable water source. People were very excited and they gave me a live chicken as a welcome gift. That felt good.

Going around to other villages also gave me the opportunity to invite the women to a Neem cream demonstration that my counterpart and I held a few days later. Neem cream is a lotion that can be made from the leaves of a local tree (Neem) that repels mosquitos and decreases the chances for catching malaria. Only three ingredients are needed, soap, neem leaves, and oil and a batch can be made in about an hour for roughly two U.S. dollars. I’ve wore the cream before and have to say I like it better than DET repellent from back home. The demonstration went really well. Forty five women showed up from eight different villages. We made two batches, I cooked one and the women cooked the other. Along with a batch my counterpart and I made the night before we were able to let every woman take some home to their families. Along with cooking the cream we made lunch, drank juice, and had a dance party. I worked with some women in my village known for their singing abilities to write a song about Neem cream. In Pular we sang “ We can reduce Malaria” “With Neem Cream we can fight Malaria”, “Cook Neem leaves, soap, and oil”, “Apply every night after prayers!” and “ Don’t eat it because it is poison!”. The women brought metal bowls and bidongs to drum on and we danced and danced. The Wolof women translated it into their own language too. Now two weeks later I still catch women singing our song around village.

The last few weeks I’ve also been trying to get as much Moringa trees in the ground as I can before the rains come. We’ve had a few storms already at night but they are late in coming consistently. I think I’ve written about Moringa already but just in case… Moringa trees are AMAZING. The Moringa tree, in its various parts, is chuck full of good nutrients; vitamins, calcium, and even protein. The leaves are especially good because you can harvest them so often for consumption and leaf sauce is already a popular dish in the Gambia. The leaves can also be dried and pounded into a powder that can be sprinkled on every meal. Lots of Moringa could do a lot for malnutrition here. So far I’ve planted 250 trees in leaf intensity bed in our Women’s Garden and another 200 in the school with the help of the fourth graders. A leaf Intensity bed is where the trees are planted very close to each other, the trees are kept very short and the leaves can be collected every nine weeks. Right after the fourth of July some of my PC friends are going to come to my village and we are going to trek around and plant a bunch more in the surrounding villages.

It hasn’t been all work in the last few weeks. I had some volunteer friends come and visit. We had a great time walking around and speaking English. Training in the capital is going well. Tomorrow is gardening!

Miss you all. Send me a letter!