Rainy season, 5 mos left here
All is well here, the rains have come in full, so Im trying to implement the last leg of the tree planting project which is outplanting... trying to get people organized and motivated to come get free trees and free tree guards (very valuable here, woven small fences that protect trees from the starving goats and cows that ravage vegetation in the dry season) and then to outplant them around their fields as "border planting" to benefit their soil, give them firewood, act as a wind break... It's hard because everyone is so busy on their own farms but slowly slowly, they are coming. Everything is so beautiful compared to the long dry season, when the sky was grey with dust blown down from the sahara constantly. Now there are clouds and sunsets and pure blue sky in between, ah! Also, lots of snakes too which i'm learning to love, or well, deal with. I have a small garden trying sweet melons (like cantelope) and okra, and I inter-planted squash with my family's corn. The food crisis is really hitting here, and everyone is scrambling to grow as much food as they can... cash crops are still important but now people are growing rice too, a new varitey called NERICA (New rice for africa, however that spells NERICA...) which supposedly can grow without being immersed in water. It's having mixed success in the gambia, but people are trying it more and more. Many people are not having enough to eat and I get increasignly asked to loan money or pay for small things, which... ug...I try not to do, but it can be so heart breaking. One of my friends in village, a women with 5 boys, pulled me aside the other day to ask for a loan because she had nothing to cook and no money. Typical of the women here, she's great, beautiful, proud, always laughing and smiling...I know it was hard for her to ask for money, I could hear desperation in her voice behind the pride... I've been working with her to do many things in her garden and fields to increase harvest and earn money, so I gave her a small loan (12 bucks). She took the money and started to cry, and then I did... oh life! Not always fair. But we are doing what we can to encourage composting, green manure and intercropping to help out the tired soil and I'm even starting to mention family planning and the possibility of (gasp!) not having 9 children. It's meeting mixed reactions, as is our idea to fertilize with human pee! funny stuff.
One thing I'm starting to realize is that 40 years ago, before development came, the gambia was much better off. No one was hungy, the population was small, the forests were big so they had 100% self-sustainablity- millet and "bush meat" was their diet. Now, they all grow cash crops (cashews, peannuts, seasame) in order to buy their food (oil, rice, sugar) which is somewhat subsidized for them. Artifically cheap rice allowed their population to boom, now there is not enough land to grow enouch millet to feed themselves and there is no more forest to hunt for meat in. Now rice is going up... and I'm realizing how ridiculous it is to feed the Gambia with rice imported from half a world away when they were perfectly fine feeding themselves. "Development" is only money-based, economics based, and just tries to pull developing countries into the world of import/export, and therefore dependency on fossil fuels. It's all about moeny- anytime money changes hands in the gambia, that's a good thing for the country, no matter if it destroys the environment, social and cultural structures. One of the first things I realized in the Gambia was that I wanted to be a counter-develpoment worker, and I'm sticking to that (we all are as PCVs), just daily trying to point out the values of traditional culture, food, way of life... trying to beef up their cultural self-esteem.
That's the news here, we are keeping on keepin on!