At some point during this afternoon, we crossed back into Senegal. All but our driver jostled between conscious and unconscious states of West African transportation-induced nausea as the sun above and the black tarmac below baked our bodies from the inside out while the dust collected over the salt crystals, remnants of our bodies’ sweat that was meant to cool our core, however, evaporated from our skin, before such cooling could be experienced.
Up until this point, the reason for this sojourn was for me to visit with my host family and for the others to experience village life and the Pulaar culture indigenous to the southern most reaches of Senegal, which stretched into northern Guinea and Guinea Bissau. Now that we were in the Foundjoune region of Senegal which is characterized by mangroves and a high water nap making it easier to cultivate larger crops, we had the intimate opportunity of seeing AYWA projects in action, and practices and technologies being employed by fishermen, cash-crop farmers, and women tending to their family’s small-plot vegetable gardens.
The following day we boarded a large pirogue that was capable of taking all of us ‘boys’ out and across a large and fairly desolate bay to the west that is protected by an expanse of marshy, quicksand-like muddy inlets whose tidal action drained and fed the mangroves as far as one could see. At some point we beached our craft that was powered by an AYWA adjusted motor capable of consuming biofuel that includes Jatropha, and set out by foot through this great expanse. And, in this experience, I found myself for perhaps the first time in all my time in Senegal, alone with my thoughts as my mates went on ahead and I breathed in the tranquility this serene environment bestowed on me, a unique experience in a country that is communal and social in nearly every aspect of daily life.
That afternoon we headed to a village that Dany had been working with for many seasons. In this village we were greeted with drums and screaming children feeding off the energy that only visitors can evoke. As our van drove through the millet stalk-lined compounds, and out to the fields beyond, an energy of dance, song and noise led this procession until at last we stopped our van at the women’s dry season garden. After we greeted each woman who was laboriously pulling water from the well and then lifting the large bucket on to her head with the aid of the others, they would walk a short distance to where they would dump the water onto their garden, splashing water and soil, not to mention seedlings in some cases all about. Although this was a Mandinka village, I spotted a Pulaar woman with whom I could communicate. I asked her about garden, her family and the difficult nature of the work that was required to tend to her garden’s needs. She made it clear that the task of watering her garden was the most laborious.
As I was chatting with this woman, the Malika Monkeys were pulling the generator and pump down from the roof of the van and assembling it near the well. They added gas and primer, attached a large plastic hose while sinking the other end into the well water below and with a few pulls of the ignition chord, the generator violently came alive and in an instant, water was being sucked from the well and splashing into over a dozen multi-colored buckets on the ground. As fast as the water rushed forth, the women grabbed their buckets and sped to their garden plots to dump their water, and returned even faster in order to take advantage of the free-flowing water that did not to need to be hand-drawn from the well. With the women singing and helping one another transport the water in pairs to their respective plots, the children danced, screamed, and got so wound up that many would find themselves slipping in the mud forming around the buckets and then getting yelled at by the women whose feet were busy rushing water to and fro.
For maybe 15 minutes the women raced and as it appeared that all the plots were sufficiently watered and the buckets were not being poured on their gardens, but being transported back to their compounds, the pump was shut off, and the air that was just filled with the pump’s noise was replaced by a dance of gratitude and clapping as the women thanked us for not only making this day better, but for testing this technology at their village with the prospect of buying a pump of their own at some future date.
When we finally made it back to Malika, we were exhausted, but all were more familiar with this great country, its beautiful multi-faceted ecosystems and with the varied projects AYWA had cultivated throughout the peanut basin area of Senegal.
Once I was stateside after this whirlwind tour of several regions of Senegal, I was motivated to get more involved with AYWA. And although I have a lofty title within this Organization, the success is due to Dany and his staff, the Malika Monkeys, who manipulate technologies to work in rural village settings and most importantly, the women and men in these villages who are willing and trusting enough to embrace new ideas and share their experiences with neighboring villages so that innovation can spread. To all of these individuals, I thank you for your efforts as development work becomes ever more challenging if the implementation at this grass roots level is not successful.