Hi, again, I’ve been here in Dakar and Pikine, Sn for two weeks now, and here’s what’s been happening. Thank your for your interest and support! ❤
So, why am I here in the first place?…
I’ve interviewed ten urban farmers in Pikine who are all a part of a small farmers organization called Provania. Provania is a group of abut 150 farmers in Pikine (and it’s not the only one) who have come together to support each other as a community – whether that be for solving big problems like machinery problems, funding, partnerships, and water, or more simpler things like trading crops with each other so their families can have all sorts of veggies. This group has rave reviews from all of its members, and the beauty of it is their honest cooperation and familial love for one another. Every month they have a meeting, which can last around 5 to 6 hours because everyone talks. That’s right. All of the farmers I have talked to feel like their voices are heard, and don’t hesitate to say they’re satisfied with the decisions and outcomes of the group because they talk it all out. No matter how many people, they have a discussion about something until they reach an agreement, without even voting. It’s amazing for me to here about such ideal group communication and satisfaction because typically, only a few voices take up the majority of space in a group, especially one so large. Even if the decisions weren’t what one farmer wanted, they consistently said that they were on board with it because they understood why; “c’est comme ça.” I’m on hold with interviews with them during Ramadan, but afterwards, I’ll be attending one of the Provania meetings myself, and I’m super excited!
All of the farmers I talked to feel they are able to support their families (farms are in a different part of Pikine than their houses, which are more in the city are) with their farms, but they do face a lot of
hardships. One of the main things that I hope to investigate more is that of communication and inclusion with local and state governments. A lot of land for ag. has been taken away and is now beneath buildings and homes, and farmers are constantly worried about losing more land. Moods drop instantly when I ask about local or government support. The farmers are left out completely, and although they have reached out to the cities and states and institutions numerous times, they don’t receive responses. Urban ag. isn’t paid attention to – it’s not an interest of the local government – the “development” of buildings and homes is their focus, and so, politicians do nothing for them.
Coincidentally, while at a house of the family I’m staying with, I’ve met a man who works at the Ministry of the Environment (a state institution). He and I got into a conversations about agriculture, sustainability, compost, etc., and he would like to show me around the Ministry and labs and show me their projects! It’s pretty freaking cool that I happened to meet this guy because I would like to see the other side of this seemingly one-way relationship between farmers and government/institutions, and I think it could lead to a more well-rounded perspective of what’s going on. I’m on hold right now with going to the Ministry, also, because as a formality attached to my funding, I have to amend my protocol to add a new group of subjects, and get that approved by the CPHS review board. But, I have hope that will pull through soon!
Tehe, just a side note: for me, an interesting part of this research thing is seeing myself as a researcher, a funded one at that. I have to get my protocol approved by a review board, I have to have my subjects read a consent form and sign Media Release forms for videos and photos, I have a digital audio recorder and a smart pen thingy. There’s so many formalities because my research is official. It’s amazing that as an undergraduate I have this opportunity to conduct a project completely designed by myself. I know it’s legitimate, and I know I can do it professionally, but apart of me is still chuckles and thinks: “Woah, you, little, normal Asia, are doing this. When the freak did I venture into research and how am I a funded scholar?” I’m so grateful, and I have to say that, even though I am a hard worker, I am also just very lucky. SO very lucky.
Local Elections in Senegal!
This past Sunday were the local elections for Mayors in Senegal, which happens once every five years (good timing for me), and it was really cool to see politics take action in a different country and culture. I think it was very interesting me this past week to spend a lot of time with the farmers, and then, through personal ties, also be spending a lot of time with politics because one of the brothers of the family hosting me ran for Mayor! Lol, I mean, come on, that’s seems too much of a coincident that I just talked to farmers about their grim relationship with the government, and then I was having dinner and tea, and watching the FIFA World Cup, with a man who works at the Ministry and a man who was running for Mayor of HLM.
I do have to say that I cannot generalize all politicians, nor do I know enough about the farmer-politics relationship to draw conclusions. And the brother that ran is extremely kind, a really good guy, and himself, was not on the winning side of politics either. As I accompanied them in watching news broadcasts of updates throughout voting day, I overheard passionate discussions about politics from women and men, alike (I will probably talk about gender in a different blog, but it was great to hear women here be just as passionate and integral in the discussion as the men, and quite a few women were candidates and are on boards). I also experienced a unique situation in which some behind-the-scenes things were explained to me. One being money. Unlike other candidates, their campaign didn’t have as much money, and unfortunately a big climatic point of the night was when they were talking about how a lot of people on their list to vote for the brother didn’t vote for him, (most likely) because of being paid off by the other candidates. “C’est comme ça, ça c’est politiques.” It was kind of disheartening to hear that politics is like that here in Senegal, too. By “too” I’m including politics in the US where people are also bought out, in much bigger numbers, through advertisements, insane campaigning, lobbying, etc. Although it seems to be direct payment to individual voters here, and is much less extreme as the US (I think), the sentiment seems to be the same: Money is Politics. And while I know that that’s not all it is, and that clean politics are out there somewhere, I also just don’t know how to feel about it.
About 80% of Senegalese people identify as Muslim, which is wayyy different than in America. I never grew up with religion, and was kind of bitter towards the idea of a “God” until I came to college, and got a lot more curious. So, I was excited to see something like Ramadan in a Muslim country.
Day 1, I woke up with a tummy ache that also coincided with the 5am loudspeaker chants from the Mosque. Wide-eyed, since I’ve only heard loudspeaker things in the US for emergencies, I went up to the roof to observe. Peoples’ lights coming on, people walking in the streets, it’s prayer time and Ramadan is starting. Throughout the next month many people will be fasting (no food OR drink) during the daytime as a practice of focus, discipline, dedication to their God/religion, and compassion. The purposes of discipline and compassion (for those who actually don’t have food) are inspiring to me, and I decided to fast, on my own, for one day. I have low blood sugar and got loopy, so I decided to wait to fast again until I was home sometime. For now, I need my strength all day. However, many members of the family hosting me are fasting, and have invited me to break the fast with them in the evenings around 7-8pm. We eat a tuna or butter sandwich with tea and dates, and then after around 30min-hour we eat a bigger, traditional meal, such as thieboudienne (rice and fish and veggies). Then, we have watched the futball games, and after, Doudou and I return home at around 11-12am. People wake up at around 4-5am when they eat once more before sunrise and for prayers. Compared to a lot of other Muslim countries, Ramadan in Senegal is really chill. I was expecting the city to turn nocturnal – families going out and staying up talking, drinking tea, and eating desserts, then sleeping throughout the day while all the businesses are closed – but its a lot less extreme. I hear people up and at it by 10 am, so while I really don’t know enough yet about the culture of Ramadan here in Dakar, I do know that everyone does continue to go to work or do their daily things, just a little bit later and slowly since fasting makes it hard.
So, I feel the need to also be unforgiving about myself right now… after the first two nights, I felt somewhat disappointed in the lack of grandeur/the chillness of Ramadan here, which is completely selfish and ignorant of myself. Very soon after feeling that, I checked myself because their religion is not for my entertainment, and I felt upset with myself that I even was disappointed. Their culture, their religion is for them, not me or any other spectator. I can’t help but think that my experience speaks to a greater issue in the way that American culture has, and does, frame the “other” cultures (typically in non-Western, non-white countries) as exotic, and something for our pleasure or consumption. Which, by the way is not OK. At all.
In fact, after getting over my preconceived notion of Ramadan, I was able to observe it much more honestly tonight. People practicing here are just as devoted. At around 10:30pm, I walked outside and sat on the street curb so I could listen to a group of men singing the Qur’an on a roof, so passionately that I could feel their hearts in it. As I listened I watched families come together and enjoy their nights after a hard day of fasting. At that moment, the simplicity of Ramadan here became humbling, and peoples’ intentions behind it, so honest and pure.
My Productive Takeaway
Alright, this post seems to be super long already, but I want to just end on a positive note. One of my goals coming here was to bring back a productive trait or attitude that’s unique to this place and the people I meet… something here I find admirable or inspirational. This week it’s the phrase:
“C’est comme ça.” – It’s like that.
That doesn’t seem like much, lol, but wait… So I first heard this a lot from the farmers as they answered questions about Provania like: “Do you always agree with the decisions made?” or “Do you trust all the board members?” They answered with the phrase, not in a hopeless way of giving up, but in a way of understanding and acceptance. Understanding that in a big group/community, you’re not always going to get your way, but that’s ok if the majority believes it’s best, even after hearing you out. It’s understanding the nature of people/life, too – you’re not going to trust everyone, that’s not realistic, but that doesn’t mean that all the other people you do trust don’t matter, or that the organization is bad. I don’t know, for me I feel like a lot of people, including myself, fixate on negatives – sh*t talking on people we don’t agree with, complaining about things that don’t go our way, arguing with each other even though we know we will never agree. And that’s ok. It’s all ok. It’s life, and the faster we can accept that, the faster we can learn to move on and work for other things, or move on and just be happy and satisfied. I mean granted, there are times to fight and push for things you believe in, by all means. But there are also moments to just make peace.
So, I’m going to try to channel into that kind of peaceful understanding that I am just a little piece of this bigger thing I call life; and life… happens. C’est comme ça.
Talk to you next week,