Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tabaski and the Rain

Forewarning: I wrote this at the end of October and have only just got around to uploading it (sorry!), so some of the stuff might be a little dated.

Happy peanuts season! And I am not just talking about the fact that Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin are on TV all the time.  Here in Kankan, most of the rainy season crops are being harvested, including rice, yams, beans, and yes peanuts.  For my part, people love gifting me peanuts right as they’re pulling them up from the ground, so I am always biking around with a bag full of peanuts.  Luckily, the taste of raw peanuts has grown on me (I used to think they tasted like grass), so I’m in peanut eating heaven.  Plus nothing completes a lazy afternoon of tea drinking like a bag of fresh peanuts.
            The end of rainy season crops means that dry season gardening is starting again, which is the meat and potatoes of my groupement.  Water has begun receding from the garden area and we are slowly reclaiming all of the beds.  And as everyone comes back to the garden, I’ve started my series of gardening workshops.  The first, held in the beginning of October, was about a bed preparation technique called double digging.  By removing the topsoil, working compost into the subsoil, and then replacing the first layer, you can open the soil up deeper, allowing the roots grow bigger and faster.  This is especially important for clay soils like at Fasso Demen, where the subsoil has compacted to be nearly rock solid.  Besides the workshop, I’ve also created a demonstration plot, where gardeners can see double digging and normal bed preparation side by side and judge the benefits for themselves.  Future topics will include mulching, intercropping, and organic inputs.
            When I’m not toiling away in the garden, I’ve been working on rice.  In September, my counterpart and I attended a training on a new method of rice cultivation, System of Rice Intensification (SRI), in Benin.  It was a great training, run by Peace Corps and USAID at an agriculture school/research center outside Cotonou.  We got to meet PCVs and their counterparts from other countries in West African and I even saw a friend I studied abroad with in college. The visiting volunteers got to experience Cotonou, which is an awesome city with a beachy feel to it.  It also has ice cream and Indian food!  It was also my counterpart’s first time on a plane and he returned to Kankan a minor celebrity. 
            When we got back, we immediately started planning our trainings.  Our neighbor attends a local agricultural school whose graduates become extension agents and agricultural advisors, so we decided to have our first training there.  Over 65 students showed up, and some professors too.  Once we got over the initial hurdles of my strange American accent, which way the desks should face so as to best get the slight breeze, and a generator that no one could start, the training was a success.  As it is the off season, we could only go over SRI theory, but we will return next year for the practical segment, and to set up an experimental plot.
            Fasso Demen finally got to use our Super Moneymakers! That’s a water pump, by the way.  Conde and I attached all the piping and hooked it up to the well in our compound to see if the thing even works, and it does!  So what is it? Picture a Stairmaster with two hoses attached, one in a water source, be it well or river, and the other with a spray wand on the end.  There is also one that looks like a giant bike pump in place of the Stairmaster.  The pressure from them can shoot water over 20 feet in the air, so of course the whole neighborhood came to see what was going on and we had everyone try it, from my seven year old host sister, to the wizened old lady next door.
            Kenny, one of my site mates, and I have been preparing for our Agribusiness Conference, to be held later this November.  In a nutshell, agribusiness encompasses business skills and topics specific and applied directly to agriculture.  We’ve invited members of the local gardening federation and will be covering topics such as record keeping and marketing.  Since most gardeners sell their produce themselves at the local market, business skills will help them better plan and organize their gardening and hopefully increase their profits.
            Besides work, I have been enjoying hanging out with my family and neighbors.  Since we now have semi-regular electricity, I’ve been able to watch Guinean news more often, as well as Guinean and American movies.  Usually this results in me trying to explain some plot point.  Lets just say as confusing as Inception already is, it makes even less sense when I explain it in French.  Plus we all, myself and Guineans included, agree that Leo was better in Titanic.
            We also just celebrated Tabaski, one of the biggest holidays of the year, if not the biggest.  This is the fete de sacrifice, when everyone buys a big ram to sacrifice, although goats and cows are acceptable substitutes.  It is meant to be symbolic of Abraham’s almost sacrifice of his son, who at the last minute was switched for a sheep by God.  Our sheep spent its last two weeks tied up outside my house, befriending Quinn, my cat.  I guess that they weren’t great friends, however, since she had no problems eating her share of the sacrifice.
            Tabaski is especially big in Kankan because we have the Mamaya, a traditional women’s dance that draws Guineans from as far as Europe and America to attend.  It is held every night for a week in a round point called, unsurprisingly, Mamaya.  Several associations of people, called a sere, are formed and get to host it for three nights each, which basically means they all wear matching bazin (a type of fancy wax fabric) and are official dancers.  Anyone else can dance too, but its still a big deal.  There are several dances going on during the Mamaya, all kind of spiraling together around this circle.  It is pretty cool how the lines all fit together as they move in opposite directions.  My favorite is the men, who dance with this cane in a dance that has these silly looking tiny steps and reminds me of the Mr. Peanut mascot. 
This year, we also had several big names in Guinean music give concerts in Kankan, including Sekouba Bambino and Takana Zion, who was recently named Africa’s top reggae artist.  I unsuccessfully tried to attend both these concerts, arriving too early for one and too late for the other.  After nearly a year, it is still hard to understand the timing of events in Guinea.  In my defense though, I was with Guineans and even they didn’t understand when they would start.
I also totally forgot that I wanted to continue adding little tidbits about random Stuff PCVS Like, so I am now bringing it back with a vengeance.  First on the list: mayonnaise!!!! (a favorite of Lilly Schruben)

Okay, this isn’t actually something PCVS especially like, but he myriad uses of this condiment never ceases to amaze me.  There is the café francais, coffee or tea with a lot of sugar and a dollop of mayo floating on top.  The first time I regrettably mistook this for some type of sweet cream and ate it in one bite.  Every sandwich comes with a layer of two of mayo.  And of course there ist he plain mayonnaise sandwich, a local favorite.  Recently I had bouille, a type of rice or corn pudding, with mayonnaise stirred in (this was actually pretty good).  Perhaps the strangest thing about the mayonnaise phenomenon is the fact that, because practically no one here owns a refrigerator, it is never refrigerated.  As someone who worked in a restaurant where the temperature of the mayo was serious business, this shocked me.  Now, after using mayo that has sat opened on my table for three months and living to tell the tale, I still don’t understand how this works.  It seems to have the same ingredients as American mayo (oil, eggs, salt) and the brand I buy, BAMA, is even found in Publix across the southern US.  So what keeps it fresh after months of desert heat?  I guess it is just another miracle of Guinea.

Daytime Television
Unless you have a satellite dish, the only channel you can get on a normal antenna is Radiodiffusion Televsion Guinee (RTG).  At night, it basically only plays the news and tons and tons of commercials.  During the day however, there is usually at least one afternoon movie.  Sometimes, if there is nothing going on for them to talk about, we even get a double feature.  Any café or gas station worth its name usually has a TV tuned to this and it is a great place to relax during the heat of the day in which it is really too hot to leave the shade.  The best part about this, however, is the variety of films that get shown on RTG.  I’ve seen Scorpion King 3 (straight to DVD), The Full Monty (I have no idea how this was approved by RTG), and Hard Rain (Morgan Freeman was in this, so it is pretty legitimate I guess).  I don’t know who is choosing RTG’s afternoon line-up, but we would definitely be friends.

The Dead Toubab Market
The Dead Toubab Market is the used clothing area of the market in Kankan.  It’s not actually called that, but a volunteer started calling it that (toubab being the Malinke word for ‘white person) and it stuck.  It is where nearly my whole wardrobe is from at this point, as the combination of intense UV rays and washboards has ripped several of my garments to shreds.  Everything can be found in the Dead Toubab market, and I do mean everything.  If you’ve ever donated a shirt, pair of slightly (or very) used shoes, or even American Flag patterned leggings, it may have ended up in Guinea.  The day after the new shipment comes in, I always try to go and spend a bit looking through the piles of pre-worn clothes, searching for that long lost St. Louis Cardinals jersey or original Backstreet Boys 1998 Concert Tour shirt.  Even better than finding gems is when non-anglophone Guineans walk around in what turns out to be some very ironic shirts.  Some of our favorites are:

-       I <3 Vaginas
-       THE SPERMINATOR (with “I’ll be back” written below)
-       middle-aged men wearing Dora the Explorer or Hello Kitty shirts
-       “I love poopies!” with a brontosaurus on top (this one was finally gone from the stall last week which means someone bought it!)
-       I <3 Consensual Sex, although I guess this is a nice message?

Also, I have recently uploaded pictures to my flickr account.  Hopefully I’ll get to add some captions while I’m in Conakry next week helping with training.

Hope everyone has a great thanksgiving! I’ll be thinking of you and all the delicious food you’ll be eating!

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