Last post I swear.
I’m writing on a rainy and cold northeast morning from the café formerly known as White Rabbit in my hometown in upstate New York. I’ve been home for a week today, and amid a deluge of seeing long lost friends and family I’ve managed to maintain a measure of normalcy here.
There was a part of me that knew the transition from Senegal to Amerik wouldn’t be as jarring as it might seem. There’s actually something vaguely disquieting about how easy it was to slip back into the flow of life here.
In the weeks preceding my departure I thought a lot about the divide between the place where I had lived for the last 2 years and the one I was about to return to. It felt like the end of a relationship. I was finally conscious of how temporary my stay was, how I wouldn’t have the music, or language, or food, or sand, to jog my memories in America. Aware suddenly that my Pulaar, the language that connected me to everyone that I love there, would fall into a state of neglected disrepair. And that friendships with fellow volunteers, forged though shared suffering, would transform in the face of our old American responsibilities and relationships.
One thing that I don’t think I’ve ever really written about on here, is how incredibly lucky I was to share the past 2 years with a group of 42 of the finest PC volunteers that West Africa has ever seen. Without ya’ll I wouldn’t have made it past the first week…. literally. The photo below is a picture of most of our group during our Close of Service conference this past January.
Finally, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what my daily life was like in Senegal. It’s a tough question, but I came across this video which bears an uncanny resemblance to what my life was like there.
My days in Senegal are running down. Unless I find myself unable to resist the urge to post something up tomorrow or Saturday this will be my last. I’m not going to ramble about what it feels like to leave this place, I have no idea. Instead, I’m pushing an agenda. World Malaria day is April 25th, and to celebrate the volunteers of Peace Corps Senegal are blogging about their thoughts and reflections on Malaria. Here are some of mine:
Development is tricky. Often the ramifications of a project are not particularly well thought out, and even when they are, may not be felt for years after its completion. I’ve been watching a project come together for most of my service now, which has the capacity to transform the quality of life for the village in which I lived. The North is easily the most arid part of Senegal. Consequently, you might think that the rate of Malaria would be low, and that opportunities for agriculture would be limited. Well the former is true. I’ve only seen a couple of cases of Malaria in my time here, and generally they have been transplants, people who have emigrated from Cote d’Ivoire, Dakar, places where Malaria is prevalent.
And yet in this dry swath of land tucked under the Sahara agriculture is blooming. A project funded by the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa next to my village is set to divert some of the nearby Senegal River to irrigate 500 hectares of rice fields. Villages in my region who have undertaken similar projects have seen a dramatic shift upwards in both their income and quality of life.
The downside. To irrigate rice fields of this size you have to flood the area, which means lots of standing water. My concern with this is that it will become a breeding ground for Anopheles mosquitos (the kind that carry Malaria) and will quickly become a major health problem for people who have very little exposure to the parasite plasmodium falciparum and will therefore be particularly susceptible to Malaria.
This isn’t to say that the project won’t be a net good in the village, I think it will. But as I leave Senegal, these are the knots left untied, the things I can’t help mitigate now, because the problem doesn’t exist yet. I know it can’t be helped, but I do wish I could see the rest of this play out, since I’ve been watching the stage get set for 2 years now.
For the past 2 years my stage, that is, the group that I came in with in March 2010, has been anticipating the 2012 presidential elections. I’ll try and give a quick rundown of where things stand. The current president Abdoulaye Wade has now served two terms and has been president since 2000. He is officially 85 years old, although many believe him to be 90. During his first term as president the constitution was amended to a two term limit on presidents. Wade has argued that this restriction doesn’t apply to him because he was midway through his first term. The opposition movement in Senegal, M-23, doesn’t agree.
My village is pretty apolitical on the whole. But when Wade was rumored to be coming through on his way to campaign in Podor they mustered a demonstration to show their discontent with him. When I asked people why they were protesting they inevitably referenced the village’s lack of electricity, running water, money etc. Not one person mentioned what some critics have referred to as Wade’s bid to move Senegal away from democracy. By the way, this isn’t my position on the issue as I’m not allowed to take political stances on this sort of stuff.
Here are some photos from the protest- the color red is important here. It signifies the village’s solidarity with the opposition movement. Oh and a photo of Sinthian wearing my hat.
A week or so after the village protested I was awoken at maybe around 1 in the morning to screaming and clapping. Since this is far from unusual I went back to sleep and didn’t give it another thought. In the morning I found out that members of PDS, President Wade’s party had come to Diambo and given the village a motor pump for irrigation and the equivalent of $200 US to begin building a mosque.
A few days later there was a rally in Podor for the incumbent Wade. Packages of t-shirts and posters bearing photos of his face were delivered to the village. Suddenly everyone was wearing one and queuing up to get on cars bound for Podor. When I asked around about the sudden change of opinion, everyone responded that of course they liked Wade now, look what he did for the village!
I know this may seem hypocritical or shallow, but honestly I think this is the reality of politics in Senegal. Friends familiar with the story have commented that what happened in Diambo is just a far more transparent version of what happens in the political world of the West. While I’m not sure if I agree about that, I do think that some Senegalese people view elections based on their instrumental benefits. People in my village don’t really see a difference on an everyday basis between Wade or another candidate, but Wade has provided them with things they can use. The perception is that he has contributed directly to their development, and for that he gets their allegiance.
The more I consider this exchange the less I am bothered by it. Maybe that’s indicative of a mentality that has grown accustomed to this culture.
Today is election day. The last photo is one taken just after I had gotten off the car that took me to Ndioum. Polls close at 6 and we can’t expect results until late tonight at earliest. In the meantime we wait. A few more hours can’t hurt.