Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tying and Dying

I thought it would be a good time to write a Ben post and let those of you who are anxiously waiting know how my work with the women’s tie-dye (henceforth known as tie and dye) group is going.  As you might have expected from a genius of my caliber, we have had a 400% increase in our assets since we started about 8 months ago.  After simply helping a few women last fall figure out how much money they actually make from doing tie and dye work they came to me and wanted to form a Kafo (group).  We sat down and figured out how many women wanted to be in the group, figured out how much our first job would cost and split that up evenly and got started.  Our first three jobs just involved dying fabrics and solid colors and selling those.  Our last job was our first batik job.  The best I can and will explain batik is that you go through a slow process involving a lot of dye and wax and make up designs and multi-colored fabrics.  Those are the fancy ones and cost a little more. 

finished batik

Last week three of the women, as well as Kate and myself, went over to a neighboring village to figure out this batik.  Two of the women had previously had training so knew what they were doing.  Nya Nya, Kate and I didn’t really know so we did a good deal of “helping”/watching.  The village we went to is home of the district training center (fancy name for phone charging compound) and they have a really good community development coordinator named Seedey Sey.  Seedey and a few women from that village really know what they were doing in terms of making batik so they definitely took the lead.  It was a pretty productive two days for sure.  We got all the work done and gained a good deal of knowledge as to what we can do with our little Kafoo.  I said Seedey is really good for one main reason at this point.  I talked to him when we were there less than a week ago about registering our Kafo.  He explained to me the details and the process and said he would help do everything.  Generally speaking here in Gambia, that would mean he may help eventually if at all. 

Within a week, and without any effort on my part he scheduled a meeting to come out to our village and go through the entire constitution writing process to get things going.  So we had that meeting, which took a good few hours.  We worked out the goals of the Kafo, the rules of the Kafo and the women have been assigned to discuss who they want to make the officers.  In the mean time we are finishing up those batik fabrics and they should be sold off here in a few days.  The biggest hassle of this project is collecting money.  Everyone here buys everything on “credit”…I will take it now and you can hunt me down for the money later.  It’s like America.  I think I have somewhat become the enforcer, which means I am constantly reminding people to pay.  The women take the request well and sometimes reminding them actually gets a few to pay here or there.  Once we have a little more cash we will move on to the next job and make some more fabrics.  Soon enough we will be registered, have a bank account, have cash to expand the work we do and be eligible for women in the group to get trained through the community training center in other things, including business management.    That’s pretty much it.  Hopefully a few pictures of batik fabric accompany this blog and more importantly.  I have some fabric for sale…batik is 800D, plain is 600D, everything comes as a 5 meter piece.  We accept no major credit cards or checks and shipping is not included (no guarantee item will successfully ship).  Email with orders and allow up to two weeks for reply. Thanks.

dyeing the fabric

working under the mango tree

Library and Resource Center

The work on Berefet’s newest and only library is almost complete.  We received the money from FROGS and started work before I left for Senegal.  Upon my return, the mason work was completed!  The project went extremely well, with receipts and all money accounted for.  There are horror stories of working with Gambian contractors and village workers to complete building projects and I was extremely happy that it went so well.  FROGS executive director, Sally Reader, came out to see the work on Thursday and she was very pleased too.  The teachers and students made several signs and held them up for her and her husband upon their arrival.  They all chanted ‘welcome, welcome’ and it was a lot of fun for everyone.
 The next phase will be to replace the roofing, paint, build shelves and desks, and buy large mats to put on the floor.  And then my real work will begin of managing, and teaching a Gambian how to manage a small library.  And thanks again to those who have sent or are sending us books! They are often the best ones the school has, and people here really do enjoy looking at / reading them.  And know that people here do enjoy your gifts and your generosity is appreciated.

Fixing the House

Mason work completed, its Nice!

Thank you!

Taking the books out of the closets

Waiting for Sally outside the gate

Welcoming Sally

Another unanticipated activity I’ve been doing at the school recently has been helping the kitchen ladies fix some food sent to us from America!  My friend Lauren Grayson, and her middle school students from Irving Texas, sent our school a large box full of mac & cheese, ramen, and other food they raised together at their school.  We had days where I would help prepare the food for the school.  They were all happy to eat food from America! It was a lot of fun and some of the kids really liked the food while others…not so much.  Thanks again Lauren!

Eating Mac n Cheese

Biggest pot of Ramen noodles I've ever seen

She liked it.


While I was in Senegal, a couple of changes occurred for us in village.  First, our host mom, Mariama-Sibou, moved back to the city taking Yaya, her baby, and Al San, our favorite kid in the compound.  Her sister moved to Spain and asked Sibou to take care of the compound in her absence (which could be for the rest of her life).  Sibou told me before I left for Senegal but I was hoping to be back before she officially left.  Although strange for American culture, this is a fairly normal thing here.  While this is very sad for us, Sibou is much happier living there as she is not expected to work the farm, garden, fetch water, and cook three meals a day at the same time.  Her tasks now include cooking meals and cleaning.  She also is selling a local tea called Wonjo.  We visited her new compound last weekend and found her very happy and quite well off  by Gambian standards.  She made us a delicious chicken benechin lunch and we drank cold wonjo afterwards! That type of lunch was impossible for her to provide in village, so it was really nice for us to be able to do that with her.  The worst part was when we were leaving, she and the children walked us to the road and I carried Al San on my back.  When they had to stop, I put Al San down and he started bawling.  Although there are still lots of children in our village and compound, we will miss the little guy too.
The other change is similar. Our counterpart who helped us with anything in the village, Ebrima-Solo, also moved out of the village while I was in Senegal. He too had been planning to move to the city to find a job, but a large village fight set him off and he decided to move quicker than he had planned.   This is what happened:  Ebrima and I had been working on a food security grant for a village tree nursery and to cap the open well adjacent to the future nursery spot.  The tree nursery was going to be on the compound designated as the Youth Association building that we cleaned up last October.  However, while I was in Senegal, the Imam who lives in the neighboring compound built a 7 foot cement wall around the area, taking the Youth building and land as his own and cutting down the trees there (that did not belong to him either).  Ben saw this and told Ebrima that if the Imam owns this land then our grant will be canceled.  There was a village meeting in which everyone yelled at each other and blamed Ebrima for not telling the village our plans.  Ebrima had asked the village leader (the Alkalo) twice about the nursery plans and gotten the OK both times.  Likewise, the whole village saw the Youth Association working on the compound last October and previous months and were acutely aware of the nice lock Ben and I had donated to lock the door of the Youth building.  Never less, the fight caused Ebrima to move sooner than later before I came back from Senegal.  We also visited him, and it was evident that he was still quite stressed about the fight.  He told us that the forestry department had come to our village and reprimanded the Imam for cutting the trees and said the Imam does not own this land that it is in fact the governments land, but Ebrima did not know if any actions would be taken against the Imam.  Now, Ebrima is focusing his efforts to get a job in order to pay for his schooling.  Another friend we are sad to see leave the village, but happy he is trying hard to go back to school.   As Gambians say “It’s not easy, man” but “we are managing, you know” J.

Excuses why we haven’t blogged in awhile…

This past month we have been going up and down again.  We joined our site mate Jessica on a bike ride from our sites in Foni to the coast as south as you can go to Kartong.  Kartong is a really pretty little beach town where we met up with other volunteers and spent a couple nights at a lodge on the beach.  The bike ride took us 7 hours and was not easy, but fun.  We made some stops along the way, one involved getting ice from a random compound and another involved someone using a local toilet which is a story you’d rather not hear about.  As usual we had fun hanging out with friends and eating delicious (non rice based) food.  The lodge we stayed at is known as a ‘tree house’ lodge.  This name is misleading as the ‘tree houses’ are really just huts on stilts consisting of concrete blocks so I wouldn’t necessarily think of them as tree houses per say, but you are not sleeping  directly on the ground which is more like a tree, and also a lot scarier.  And the real clench is that it only costs 10 USD a night to stay in a tree house, which does not make it any less scary but does fall within our Peace Corps budget.

Our Tree House

A couple weeks back, we went to another volunteer’s site up country to help her paint a health mural on her women’s clinic building.  Her village is a wolof village and very different from our mandinka/jola village.  To us, they seem much more relaxed, have horses, grass roofs, and most importantly they eat coos more than rice.  And coos is good! It is hotter there but while we were there we had a fluke rain which made it awesome.

Walking through Shawn's village

Painting the health mural with an audience

Shawn painted herself in the mural

Road to Shawn's village

 However, rain in March is a strange phenomenon that hasn’t happened for at least 7 years we were told.  Inshallah, this means we will have a strong rainy season this year.  Last year’s rain was not enough causing harvest yields across the country to be down about 50 percent from the year before.  Department of Agriculture is asking the international community for food aid this year because of last year’s poor harvest. 
I also volunteered to help lead sessions for new trainees who arrived in March.  This year they merged our Gambia training with Senegal’s training so I went up to Thies, Senegal to help teach sessions on advanced gardening, vegetative propagation, and cultural sessions.  Thies is a really nice city (as far as West African cities go) and I enjoyed being there and helping out with training.  Peace Corps Senegal has a really nice training center that we Gambian volunteers are jealous of.  The food was delicious and they have amenities like wireless internet, bathrooms, and showers.  Completely different from our training experience.

New volunteers finding out their sites

Thies, Senegal

Ice Cream!


Entrance to the training center