Monday, February 14, 2011

The experience...

I’ve added more pictures to my last album, check them out at:
I’ve just passed the 3 month mark of my Peace Corps service in luxury and style. By luxury I mean I slept on a mattress (not my hard lit picot) for the first time in a month, and by style I mean that I have clothes to wear (fortunately you can still tell that the shirt I’m wearing is supposed to be white, kind of have to squint though). I miss you all and I have been responding nostalgically to your letters, but in reality I feel good.
Up till now life in village has been going pretty ‘doucement.’ I’ve been playing around with the groupement garden and my garden, taking different routes to get to the market so I can meet people, and casually gazing into the distance, uncomprehendingly, while the locals talk the local language, usually 2 or 3 hours a day. The last week however I left Anfoin to go to a village in the Centrale region. This was the first time I have left maritime in my 5 months in Africa, and it was a bit of a shock to see mountains rising in the distance. When I got to Pagala our training center, pretty much like a summer camp, was in the middle of an awesome forest and bordered on two sides by a stream and a river. Forests don’t really exist chez moi in Anfoin, unless you consider a grid of eucalyptus trees a forest.
I spent a week in this forest with the other volunteers of Natural Resource Management. We learned how to build salt licks, make container gardens, easily kill bugs with locally available materials, build basket fences to protect trees, and a million other things. We were also fed very well and, after a couple months eating pate or fufu and cooking for myself all the time, I ate each meal like I would never get an opportunity to eat again. For some reason I had lost a bit of weight: I came in weighing 175 pounds but in Pagala I found that I weighted 160. No idea why I lost the weight because I feel like I eat food like a black hole consumes matter. By the end of this training I was back up to 165, and I’m hoping to continue that trend by getting some ingredients here in Lome to ‘spice’ up my kitchen.
I feel very inspired now to go back to village and get a lot of the cool stuff I learned during training started. For example, I am going to be making container gardens to hang on my terrace when I get back home. To make a container garden, you need a sac, some rocks, a tube thing, and good soil. You scrunch up the sack and put the tube in straight up, then fill the tube with rocks. Pack soil around the sides of the tube and then slide the tube up and repeat the process. By the end you have a sack full of soil with a tunnel of rocks going through the middle. Then you plant plants on the top, poke holes in the side and put plants in the holes, and then hang it up. When you water the sac, the water seeps very easily to all parts of the sac through the rocks and it produces like crazy. I can get all this stuff in village, and it gets rid of the hardest part of gardening here: watering. Soon my terrace will be overflowing with passion fruit, grape tomatoes, and tiny peppers… if all goes well.
There are a million techniques like this that I want to teach to the people in my village. However, I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months wondering how to do this, and I feel like I found out from the other volunteers and from the trainers the best way: do strange stuff outside and get people who look on in fascination to talk and ask questions. For example, I want to start a tree nursery when I get back to grow Mahogany, some nitrogen fixing plants, and Moringa (a tree that could potentially solve malnutrition due to the vitamins in its leaves). To do this, I need to take a sac and walk around the community picking up these empty water sachets that are everywhere here. People will stare at me, and when they do that I can go up to them and explain what I’m doing and why. Most people here think that trees provide wood, fruit, and shade. The benefits for them stop there. They haven’t been told the importance of trees in the environment: preventing erosion, encouraging water to soak into the ground, bringing nutrients from deep in the earth to the surface where plants can ‘enjoy’ them, and making people happier.
If I can get myself up to do stuff like this I will have a successful service. If I can get people talking, then get them acting, I will have done my job here.
I also had a lot of fun at training in Pagala, swapping stories with other volunteers, throwing Frisbee, playing basketball and pingpong, and participating in other recreational activities I hadn’t experienced in forever. I met a new species of red ants which thought of my legs as a giant meaty chicken wing, danced in the first rains sweeping the dry season away, and had a long argument with a friend about whether unicorns (my school mascot, superior) or griffons (animals confused about what they should be) are better after some (cold!) beers and sodabi at the local ‘buvette.’ I felt at ease for the first time in a while, not pressed in by the stresses of changing cultures or being stared at all the time.
But tomorrow I’m headed back to village, excited and motivated. I’m going to be starting an environmental and English club at the high school, organizing an event for the beginning of April to teach people in my community about gardening, and planning a trip north in March to see how the different projects change as the environment changes and write an article about it in our newspaper. And I have to keep telling myself this WILL HAPPEN!
I just have to believe in the experience. Then the experience will happen.