Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Ramadan; a time for reflection, a time for fasting, a time to take a lot of afternoon naps. In my compound, I’m up at 5:30, eating a breakfast of bread and mayonnaise with hot tea and drinking cups of water. By 6 am you better be finished, daybreak comes quick. Some mornings I’m able to fall back asleep, ignoring a full stomach, until the sounds of my compound wake me up for good. Other mornings, the book I fell asleep reading is just too good and I lay in bed, protected from the flies by my mosquito net, until I start sweating. School’s still out for the kids but usually they are nowhere to be seen- there is a monkey problem down at our garden so Ibrahima and Malick (the 8 year old and 9 year old in the family) are sent down there at sunrise to guard the garden. Every day, all day, they play in the garden, making sure to occasionally bang on a metal watering can or sing some loud song to keep those thieving monkeys away from the vegetables. My mornings are spent on my hammock, reading or as the case has been recently, studying for the GRE, on my front porch in the shade. I barely think about food until after 2 and by then I always figure that it’s only a few hours ‘til sunset. A quick bucket shower as the sky burns orange and then it’s the buffet of break-the-fast. My family usually makes two or three different dishes (Monie, Tourne, and Gosie), some spicy, others sweet. The key, I’ve learned, is not to eat too much at first because there’s a lot more food coming. After break the fast, its fresh roasted corn and peanuts followed by prayer time. I usually bring out my mat from my hut and go through the motions with them. My older brother, Amadou, leads the prayers and has his mat in front and then his wife, his younger brother, Garanke, and his wife and I all line up behind Amadou. It’s pretty incredible praying out there at night, the wind blowing and the stars so present. Often a storm is brewing and crashes of lighting and thunder punctuate the experience. You know, when they’re doing their thing, mumbling through the Arabic that they learned when they were young, it reminds me so much of praying in Hebrew. And recently, it was Yom Kippur for us Jew-balls. I’ve been doing some reminiscing about Hebrew in my hut as well since I sort of signed on to do a little something for the day of atonement at the Tambacounda Regional House. I put together a small Shacharit service full of short prayers, Bob Dylan lyrics, messages of non-violence from Gandhi in response to the situation in the middle east, and more. The night before the service, we all cooked up a storm: potato latkes, matzah ball soup, home made apple sauce, baba ganoush, tabouli… it was wonderful. At the service, everyone in the house came to participate; we had about 15 people in all and only 3 Jews. I think it was well received and I actually got feedback that some people wished it was a little longer. I figured an hour was plenty to make people listen to me chant Hebrew prayers that I only vaguely remember the tune to from summer camp, but what do I know.
I decided to stay at the Tambacounda Regional House for the Agricultural Summit, three days of meetings, field trips, and paid meals. Not to mention, I got to see a lot of friends from all over the country. I don’t usually work with the farmers in my village on their field crops but maybe next year, I can get one or two of the more adventurous farmers to try some of these new techniques for soil improvement. It’s pretty clear where the soil is degraded by the patches (sometimes large patches) of spindly corn stalks- corn is one of the best indicators of soil degradation, and my village definitely is having some problems with this issue.
And now after a few days in the village I’m heading out again. The documentary I’m working on will start shooting on the 5th or 6th. I’m giddy with excitement. I’ll let you know how it goes. Hope everything’s ok in the States and I’ll talk to you all soon.