Friday, January 26, 2007

Funding woes and village effort.

So, as tech savvy as I like to consider myself to be, I have apparently managed to miss the fact that I have been recieving comments on my blog for the past year. Apparently my settings are such that I have to approve them before they are published or whatever and I somehow always managed to miss the fact that I had a bunch sitting there waiting to be moderated. But some new changes to the blogger dashboard interface brought this to my attention. So today I went through and read and moderated all the comments and I just want to thank all of you who have posted your words of encouragement and appreciation. It's nice to know that people enjoy reading what I post. I also want to appologize to anyone who made comments in the past to which a reply was either requested or just appropriate. My bad and I now that I know, I will be able to respond to people who contact me through my blog. in the bush...well, I have a fiddle now, thanks to my dad. I've spent a fair bit of time teaching myself to play it over the past two weeks and can almost play 16 bars of Ode to Joy nearly in tune! Go me! Aside from that, life is pretty slow as usual.

I think I've mentioned it before but not really elaborated much, but I am currently working on starting a cereal bank in my village. This would be a great help to the food security situation in my village and the villagers themselves are very keen on getting it started. I have to say I am thoroughly impressed with there display of kokari. We've already begun building the magasin and a committee of villagers is all set up to oversee it. The one catch is funding.

Peace Corps has very specific ways that we are allowed to go about looking for funding. The bad news is that the review process for proposals is very brutal and only happens once a month. This is awkward when I'm also told that I'm supposed to stay at post as much as possible because I cannot work on the proposal at post, or atleast I can't do anything with it when I'm there. So I've basically been trying to get this thing through since October and having to slog my way through bureaucracy and lack of information. It's very frustrating but I will get the money some how.

The only thing we need the money for is to cement and buy good doors and roofing for the building itself and then to buy millet to stock it with. That's the easy part. From talking to other volunteers the hard part is actually getting the villagers organized to build the thing, and to make sure that all the people who want to be a part of the project actually contribute to the work. My village has been amazing in organizing themselves without my intervention. They even had an announcement at a wedding (to my surprise) telling people that if that didn't come help make bricks they were going to be cut out of the grain bank and wouldn't benefit from the cheaper millet. I was blown away.

They are starting to get a little frustrated with the long time it's taking me to get the money. But the other day I sat down with three of them and actually carefully explained the process I have to follow and why it may not even be until next year that we are able to really get the grainbank operational. They seemed to understand. I was then floored when the next day another villager started hassling me about the money (again) and the ones I had explained it to came over and explained it to him and told him to have patience, and he left me alone. It's stuff like that that boosts my motivation to keep fighting to get my proposal through and get the money. It's awsome to see that they really do want to better their situation and are willing to help themselves and not just expect me to do everything and bring them money.

Things are looking up as I may be able to shunt my proposal into a slightly different funding funnel and get the funds quicker with less stringent guidelines. I may even get the money in time to buy millet after then next harvest (it's already to late to buy for this year). In sha Allah.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Well, I've made it a year in country. Not quite half way done with service as a whole, but it's a mental milestone none the less. If nothing else, hitting the year mark has us starting to think about what to do after peace corps. While this is more pressing now, it's something I've thought about for a good chunk of the time here. But to really explain my current thoughts on this I have to start back before peace corps.

All my life I wanted to go to veterinary school and become a vet. That was it. That was all there was for me. So I followed the necessary steps. I worked at kennels and vet clinics. I enrolled in special summer programs. Most of all I attended a university known for it's animal and life science programs and majored accordingly. Towards the end of my last year, however, I started to get burned out.

Maybe that's not the right word for it, but after almost four years of intense hard science study (I didn't really branch out into other fields until senior year), I was done. I still found it interesting, still do. I like understanding what's going on and understanding the underlying principles of things. But classroom learning was enough.

So, long story short, I joined Peace Corps. After a year of contemplating this, this is where I feel I have deviated from the proscribed path that western society has deemed appropriate for someone of my background and abilities. Whoa! That was kinda new agy rebellious anti establishment rhetoric there, but I'll try to clarify what I mean in the hopes that I don't sound too revolutionary or angst ridden.

Basically, after graduating college, I got impression that I was expected to go to graduate school. That's what most of my peers were doing. That's where most of my friends are now. Barring grad school, the other primary option was to start an entry level position in some industry relevent to my major. In my case, biological sciences being my major, I would be a lab monkey in some research firm probably. Running PCR endlessly until I begin to climb the ladder and eventually do real stuff. I have a lot of friends going down this road too. Many are already doing fun stuff already.

All of this generally coincides with the settling down with a significant other, probably some one met in college, maybe someone new. Either way, time to start thinking about family. Case in point...this seems to be wedding year for most of my friends.

If I sound bitter, I really don't mean to be. I'm very happy that my friends are successful and happy. But it does make you start to think. Where do I fall on this "getting your life together" spectrum.

Well, I graduated college. That's a good start. Then what... oh. Right. I ran away to Africa. Well I must being doing something worthwhile here, right? I'm doing developement work! This is probably one of the most rewarding and growing industries in the new emerging global society. And so much room to progress within the industry. Great resume stuff!

Except...I don't really enjoy developement work. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy what I'm doing here, and it's great to be helping people and learning about a new culture. But I could never work in this industry for a living. So I can confidently say I'm not treating Peace Corps as the above mentioned entry level position type life route.

So...what am I doing. Well, at first I had planned grad school after this but now I think I have a better handle on what I'm after. This may just be me being a rebellious anti establishment 20 something, but I don't really want to be tied down to a career. That is to say, I don't want to be one of those people who can answer the "so what do you do?" question with something starting with "I am a..." I would much rather just do stuff.

Which leads me to my original intention for this post. Right now, my only plans for after peace corps is that whatever I do, it needs to either involve gaming and music, or atleast allow for them. Cause right now I would say those are my two biggest passions and let me tell ya, the middle of West Africa is not a great place for either.

(I seem to have lost the original thread of the post which was supposed to be about how few resources there are for adult beginners in music, but I'll just continue with this and hit that topic some other time.)

I guess my real point is that the western academic system really pushes us in a specific direction. All through high school we're told if you don't do well you won't get into a good college. And in college they push you to do well to get into a good grad school. If not that you get pushed to get high profile internships. And at the same time there is a huge cultural push to start thinking about marriage and family shortly after college. It's a lot of pressure.

And it took me a year in Africa to really see how much of that pressure I was feeling. It's still hard seeing all my friends succeeding in their various lives along those lines. Sometimes I feel like I'm falling behind a little. And I started feeling that even before I finished college cause I kept thinking to myself "what's the rush." And so I would miss deadlines for applications, or I wouldn't bother to write a thesis (shocking I know). But now I realize I just never felt quite in sync with that system. And I'm ok with that.

I'm not really sure if it's the culture here that let me see this ... though there is certainly a similar push for children to do well so they can get into the jobs that have money. Maybe I just needed to see that the world is a diverse place with my own eyes and realize that different people can follow different paths. For atleast the forseeable future, I don't really see any clear career lining up, and that's not what I really want right now anyway. Maybe sometimes I need to be reminded that I'm not actually falling behind. But a little occaisional melancholy as I watch my friends is well worth the comfort of knowing I'm not just blindly following a set course that is clearly not my own.

And this post has officially rambled on long enough, so good night everyone.

Friday, January 05, 2007


So while many of you were probably enjoying the intoxicating effects of various fermented beverages and ringing in the new year with boisterous enthusiasm... I was in bed and asleep by 10pm in a rural African village. But! That is not to say I did not enjoy my own festivities.

After a wonderful christmas spent with the other volunteers, I returned to my village to celebrate the muslim holiday of Tabaski. Tabaski is the muslim new year, which happened to coincide with the christian new year this time. Traditionally, you must sacrifice a sheep in symbolic memory of Abraham's sacrificing his son (he was stopped at the last second and told to sacrifice a sheep instead). A portion of the sheep you give to the poor, a portion to your friends, and the rest you eat yourself. It doesn't really sound terribly exciting.

You all remember the sheep I purchased several months ago. Well he was purchased with a plan. He was killed on Sunday along with my Maigari's two sheep and three goats. The six animals were all sacrificed on behalf of my Maigari's (rather large and extended) family. One sheep per family is the usual rate, I gather.

After the initial killing, we spent most of the day cleaning the carcasses. All the organs were collected, the liver and heart were skewered on sticks for roasting, the rest placed in bowls. The animal, once skinned and deprived of its vitals, was impaled on two crossed sticks. The resulting array looked like something out of a Silent Hill game (don't worry if you don't get the reference, it was spooky is what I'm trying to say). All six hunks of meat were then lined up along a rack, with a large fire built on the other side. The skewered liver and heart were placed in the ground just in front. We then spent the entire rest of the day smoking our sheep.

A couple times that evening I sat down with my villagers to feast upon the various and sundry innards that had been cooked by the women while we were prepping the carcasses. Turns out intestine is pretty tasty. The texture didn't even bother me too much. I suppose it's really all in the sauce.

On Monday all the meat was divided up. I ended up giving about half of my sheep away because well, a whole sheep is a lot for one person to eat. The other carcasses were also divided and so I had several smoked ribs for breakfast. Also liver and onions left over from the night before. I then spent about an hour deep frying all the hunks of meat that my half had been chopped into. This way, I now have half a sheep sitting in my house, but not rotting. So the last few days have mostly been spent sitting with my cat picking pieces of meat to eat. And of course taking lots of naps when our bellies are too full. All in all a good holiday.

So much meat!!!