Let me first say that my head exploding is currently a good thing. I have been in the Kombo area this past week for technical skills training and feel very inspired about the ideas that I can bring back into village. Because I have not been to Kombo for the past two and a half months, and because it has been a long time since my last post, so many things have happened that I know this post will be directionally scattered. I apologize in advance.
Now and for the past month have been a very busy time in the village as farmers work to clear there fields and prepare for the rainy season farming. Fires from field clearing, and the occasional bush fire that results from escaping cinders have been turning the countryside black, patch by patch. The hot wind now has smoke added to the dust as it creates mini tornadoes on the farm fields. Also in Wallalan, people have been working very hard building dry brush fences to enclose their vegetable gardens for the rainy season. I am very excited to see the the bright, growing green color that the rains will enable here. Coming to Kombo, which is right near the ocean, has been a vacation in itself just to see grass and many trees again. The water table here is 3 meters down instead of thirty. ;)
Although it is hard to see progress in the day-to-day, changes have been happening in Wallalan and the Gambia.
- Our hand pump has been fixed with loaned parts a few weeks ago so I have had access to clean water again
- My moringa bed in the backyard has been expanded and is ready for it's second harvest! The plant grows faster than a weed, with this crop i will dry the leaves and create a leaf powder that is the equivalent a protein-packed vitamin pill.
- Carlos the cat is bigger! Now that she is larger, I finally got around to looking and Carlos is a female cat. She will remain Carlos though, because she responds to it, and no one over here knows that Carlos is a masculine name.
- My language skills are slowly improving still, and learning work-related vocabulary is fun.
My job as a PC volunteer is to build peoples' capacity to help themselves sustain a better standard of living rather than just throwing money at problems, and although I assist this project by finding a $500 dollar resource, I am happy to do it. Water is required for life. Our hand pump project now has to be completed within a month, and I will write up a report describing the finished project.
This week in Kombo has been awesome because of the quality of the hands on training. This week I have put on a bee suit and opened up a top bar hive, processed beeswax and honeycomb, learned how to graft trees, learned about how to make 3 week compost and botanical pesticides, exchanged seeds of agroforestry trees with other volunteers, learned about nursery management...and got to know some really cool people better. What was especially great about this training is that our counterparts from village were also invited to come for part of the training. Buba Jawo (I need to put a picture of him up here), my counterpart from Wallaln, came down to the Kombo and for the first time in our lives, we put on bee suits and opened up multiple hives of 30,000 bees each (with a trainer telling us what to do, of course). This was great because before I had been hesitant to start beekeeping by myself. I had read the PC beekeeping manual, but it seemed like too big of a project for one person to do on paper. Now I have some experience, and a few stings which really aren't that bad, and Buba is also all about this project too. I bought a catcher box from BeeCause, a NGO over here that likes to work with PC, which promotes good ecological beekeeping and our hope is to colonize a hive before the rains come in late June. Time is getting short before the rains!
I have planted some Kola nuts in polypots in my backyard, and i will need to also plant some bitter kola so that i can graft onto a better, drought resisitant rootstock.
I feel so energized right now because I also realize that with beekeeping, I want my second project to be a complete education about all of the uses of the Moringa oleifera tree. Almost all parts of this nitrogen fixing tree are edible and very nutritious, and the use of moringa oil from pressed seeds is nonexistent in the Gambia. The resulting seed cake can be tilled back into the soil or used as animal feed (an excellent selling point of moringa to a herding Fula community). AND moringa is excellent bee fodder. I seriously hope to plant 1000 trees this rainy season and start intensive leaf beds like the one in my backyard with whoever is interested. I am brainstorming with another PC volunteer and we are going to make a seed press together in order to get a good quality oil on a reasonable scale. Moringa oil and moringa leaf powder are untapped markets here in the Gambia, and over in twobobadu (the land of the white people), people pay big money for these products. If people in the US want to try to grow some moringa, I think that is a interesting idea. Since the tree is a crop tree, i don't think it will be ecologically disastrous to plant in America (i hope). Basically the tree likes sun and heat, if you live in an area where it doesn't snow, it'll grow just fine. I'd be happy to mail seeds back.
So this is a tease, i know. I should take more pictures while I am here, and in the next post, I want to basically post a photo album. It is so dang hot here that I shaved my head. Well, actually a boy in my village shaved my head with a straight razor (I watched him shave his father first, so i knew he could do it). Long story short, the wind feels better, I found all of the lumpy spots on my head, and I see the beginnings of male pattern baldness. I look about 8 years older, and nothing like my passport picture. Oh gosh, this is a rushed message. There never seems to be enough time on the internet. Today is my opportunity to tie up as many loose ends before i head back to site tomorrow, and this one is still a little frayed. No matter, more to come. Cheers everyone!