I awoke this morning in my Bug Hut on the porch just outside my room. It's been so hot lately, that by the evening hours, my room heats up to oven-like temperatures and my fan, instead of improving the situation, just makes it feel like a convection oven. So I've taken to sleeping outdoors. Even before I opened my eyes, I heard the familiar call of the Beautiful Sunbird who visits the bushes next to my patio every morning, and therefore I woke up smiling, knowing that the first thing I would see would be breathtaking. I was surprised to discover, however, when I did open my eyes, that this regal bird was joined by two other spectular birds who make their home in Senegal, both equally stunning and much larger. There they all were, just two feet from me, and there I lay--without my camera. I knew that as soon as I moved and unzipped my tent they would fly off, so I just lay there quietly for 10 minutes or so and enjoyed their beauty as they cooed and preened themselves in the morning light. Soon, nature called and I was forced to get up and sure enough, they flew off, one right after the other. Here are pictures I've captured of these same birds over the past month from a much greater distance. Tonight, you can be bet I'll be sleeping with my camera at the ready.
|The Beautiful Sunbird|
After breakfast, Ibou and I met with an agency that's writing a paper on our Paper Briquette Project, in hopes of providing us with some funding. They came by to discuss the project and collect some of the pictures I've taken. The agency supports sustainable development projects in Diourbel and after interviewing many groups and their projects, they've decided to put our project forward and present it in their proposal for grant money. I couldn't be more pleased. This is how our project came to life. Back in December, I attended an Appropriate Technology Seminar at the Peace Corps Training Center. Peace Corps Volunteers from thoughout West Africa came together to present technologies that they'd discovered and used successfully in their communities. The Paper Briquette Press was presented by my friend Stephanie, who lives just 25km south of me. It's basically a small three-piece metal contraction that presses wet paper pulp into a brick-like form. The brick is then dried and used in place of wood, gas, or charcoal for cooking. Recyclable paper is used to make the pulp, thus providing a means of reducing trash while decreasing the cost of fuel and minimizing the unhealthy smoke normally created during the cooking process. A "win-win-win" situation, you might say. The project never really took off at Steph's site, because she lives in a small village where there's a scarcity of paper. We both agreed that Diourbel was a perfect location to try it as there are many government offices and schools with bins full of waste paper to use and recycle. So, Steph visited us in early January and brought the press for a demonstration. Ibou loved the idea, we got buy-in from our association, and we quickly found a metal worker to replicate the press. Since then, Ibou, our friend Lamine, and I have done lots of testing and have now incorporated it into our Eco-Ecole project, using it to teach 4th graders about their environment. It's been so much fun and I'm glad the project is getting some attention.
A Step-By-Step Guide for Using the Paper Briquette Press
|Step 1 - Make paper pulp.|
|Step 2 - Place pulp in press.|
|Step 3 - Place top plate on press.|
|Step 4 - Apply pressure to press.|
|Step 5 - Voila! A paper briquette.|
|One teacher on the cutting edge of social advancement, or not.|
On our way out of the school, I stopped to take a picture of some girls playing "Elastique." They tie pieces of elastic fabric together into a large loop (one group was actually playing with one made entirely of torn-up old leopard print underwear), two girls hold the loop open, and one or two girls hop in the middle and kicks her leg up and over the band, interlacing herself in and out of the band, kind of like "Cat's Cradle", but with legs instead of fingers. It looked fun. As soon as the camera came out, however, I got rushed by half the school who all wanted to be in the picture. After that, Ibou and I stopped to gaze upon and pass judgment at the big pile of trash and plastic that was burning in the middle of the school yard. Tsk tsk! Hopefully, our Eco-Ecole program will put an end to unhealthy practices like that. We also plan to plant a plethera of much-needed shade trees. While the kids were out in the bright midday sun playing during recess, all of the teachers were lined up under the awning of one of the classrooms where there was a single strip of shade. Trees will make a world of difference in this school yard and in all of the others that we're working with, as well. Hopefully, we can get that message across. Just last week while I was in Dakar, I picked up 1,000 tree seedling sacks so we can get our tree nursery project started with the kids.
|Fun with Elastique!|
|Everyone wants to be in the picture.|
|Kids are breathing the fumes of burning plastic at school.|
At lunch, I joined the Gueye family across the street, as I always do. It was a typical day at the lunch bowl, although instead of Thieboudienne, we had Yassa (a yummy sauteed onion sauce served over white rice with a couple of pieces of fish and potatoes thrown in the middle.) I love Yassa and Yassa Poulet (the version with chicken) is even better. Today we had 12 people around the womens' bowl, although we were a good mix of women and children (both male and female). I have to admit that twelve is a bit crowded for the bowl and overcrowding has a negative effect on the entire culinary experience. Let me describe the scene for you. We're all siting around the bowl, with sweaty legs touching and overlapping so we can all fit. Only me and the small boys have spoons, all the women and young girls eat with their hands. We should all be focused on the portion of food directly in front of us, but with three toddlers at the bowl, that's hard to manage, so there were hands, arms and spoons every which way today. Cheikh, a 2 year-old, was sitting on his mom's lap to my right and his great Aunt Marame, was sitting to my left. At one point Cheikh had run out of onion sauce on his portion of rice so he reached over with both hands (a double no-no) and took some of mine. His Aunt saw this and slapped his hands (they teach bowl manners early here), and to my surprise, he slapped her back. She was astonished and slapped his hand again. He was none too pleased, and returned the blow. This continued (right over my portion of the bowl, mind you) until everyone broke out in laughter. Then, as if that weren't exciting enough, a visiting 3 year old started choking on a piece of potato. His mom made him cough if up into her hand, dumped it on the ground, wiped her hand on her skirt, and then kept on eating. Then, the midday heat must have gotten to Fallou (a 9 year old boy), so he got up, puked in the courtyard, covered it with a handful of sand and then came back to the bowl to finish eating. After that, Cheikh sneezed, spraying his mouthful of half-chewed rice into the bowl. I seem to always sit next to Cheikh these days, which means that I leave every meal with a lap full of greasy rice and other items he's taken from the bowl and dropped on me. He's also developed a bad habit of resting his greasy hand on my thigh, so all of my clothes now have a grease splotch just above the knee on that side. I've given some thought lately about "firing" my lunch family. I pay them about $30/month to eat lunch with them, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it takes a chunk out of my monthly stipend (and I seem to be the only person paying it, but that's beside the point.) Also, I've just about reached my rice threshold and am not sure how much longer it will be before I can no longer put one more bite of it in my mouth. But, it's days like today, when a new dish appears out of the blue and everyone around the table laughs all at once at the slapstick antics around the bowl, that make me want to stick it out, even if I come home and make myself something else to eat an hour later.