Diarra Pont

Diarra Pont
Diarra Pont: My village in southeastern Senegal, 75km west of Kedougou.
"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.

But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."

-John F. Kennedy

Friday, May 31, 2013

Tragedy emphasizes communal nature of Senegalese

I have long heard that one of the most distinguishing factors between Eastern & Western cultures are their communal and individualistic natures. Although this has been apparent to me in many different ways, not only in my travels in college and noticing differences between my character and life in America and with where I was, but often in my Peace Corps experience here in Senegal (i.e. eating out of a single bowl for meals, sharing the smallest proportion of food between many so everyone gets a little, etc). Nevertheless, it is amazing to see the fundamental nature of a community come out in full force, although generally this takes a horrific event as a catalyst. The catalyst in the Bow Pellu neighborhood of Diara Pont was the destruction of two family compounds consisting of seven huts.

Although there is a lot to be said about the burning of fields, everyone here does it. The occasional result in the destruction of homes, does not stop people from doing it. In Kedougou, we are still in the midst of the dry season, temperatures are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit daily, with it cooling into the 80s in the middle of the night. However, the rainy season, simultaneously farming season, is approaching. There have been a handful of rains and it prompts people to start thinking of preparing their fields. This is the reasoning as to why a field was left burning, unattended- normal practice- on Saturday May 18. It may have been left because of the approaching dark clouds (bringing rain) visible in the distance, and the increasing winds, telltale of an incoming storm. Then again, it may not have been; the farmer may have started the burn and normal and left. Nevertheless, the winds that afternoon were horrendous. I was biking to a nearby village and had to stop several times against the head wind because I simply could not pedal against it . I struggled to stand over my bike & even when I could move, I was afraid that the wind would knock me over before I got to the protection of trees or a turn that would get me out of the wind. As I said, I left my village the afternoon the households burned. I was told the next day upon returning that the flames were meters upon meters in the air, larger than any fires people had seen before. Fortunately, all the villagers who lived in the houses ran away to safety nearby. In the comfort of neighbors and villagers who came running to see what was going on, together, they watched everything the families own, besides the clothes they were wearing- clothes, buckets, furniture, money, food stores for the upcoming months, EVERYTHING, turn to ash.

In America, this would result in an insurance claim as a means of recovering things. Here, the cash savings of these families burned because they did not have a bank account, the nearest bank being nearly 50 miles away. By the time I returned the next morning and heard the news, people of my community had been visiting through the day, offering food and clothing to the families while the elders worked out a schedule for the upcoming week with the heads of households to get what was remaining of the structures livable before the rains inevitable become more consistent. Although some outer walls were knocked down and some of the hut walls structurally unsound, five huts in the upcoming week were reinforced with manure painted walls by women over two days, and roofed the following day by men from surrounding villages thanks to a radio announcement made earlier in the week. I am shocked at the transformation within such a short amount of time thanks to the community effort of so many in cutting and collecting bamboo and grasses, collecting manure, fetching water, not to mention the time and labor to get the work done as well as cooking for those who came to help. It is amazing. I am heartbroken for the losses of the family but am touched to see how many contributed to the beginning of the restoration of their livelihoods. I can only imagine the seeds that will be donated so they can farm this year, although they will undoubtedly have a more challenging year than most as they rebuild their lives from essentially nothing.

A view of most of the huts the day after

Alfa Oumar Kante showing the remains of his hut

Burned bikes

Burnt corn

The difference after painting!

Painting the walls with a manure mixture

Making the roof

Mens work day for roofing

1 comment:

  1. As Americans we are so clueless about how other cultures do what they need to in order to survive. Thanks for all your work on behalf of our country and the good will it imparts.