Peanuts and Proverbs

As I approach four months of living in Senegal the daily life is starting to feel routine. I spend time with my host family and travel around to look at fields and gardens. Despite the growing familiarity there are constant reminders of the cultural differences. My work partner Elaji came across a puppy and decided it would be good for guarding his field. When I saw the puppy a few days later we had an interesting conversation, after I finished rubbing the puppy’s belly:

Me: Mino yiddi sehel maa kesso! hono mbo wiete? (I like your new friend! What do you call her?)

Him: ko mbo rowandu. A andaa rowandu? (It is a dog. You don’t know dogs??)

Me: mi andii ko mbo rowandu kono inde makko? (I know it’s a dog but what is it’s name?)

Him: mbo jogakki inde. Ko mbo rowandu. (It doesn’t have a name. It is a dog)

Me: min foti okkude mbo inde nde. (We should give it a name)

Him: mi jabaani. Mi sikki ko mbo rowandu tan. (I disagree. I think it is only a dog)

Me: Mi sikki aan ko kalibante mawro! (I think you are a real troublemaker sir!)

Him: Gonga kay (facts)

*bit of a loose translation at times

We like to joke around. Its conversations like this that both make me laugh and show the cultural differences I will always face with my new friends and family. Some countries just aren’t as obsessed with dogs as America I guess.

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting three other volunteers and an instructor for a four day language seminar. I introduced them to people in the village and we discussed language and culture. The teacher gave us some Pulaar proverbs. One has given me a lot to think about these last few days:

Baasal warataa kono no tampinaa

Translation: poverty doesn’t kill, but it is tiring

Living on the margin of poverty forces one to always work for the short term. It is tiring constantly having to hustle to make ends meet. There is no focus on investing for the future. People don’t have the luxury of thinking long term. I see examples all around the village.

For instance at first I was surprised by how many peanuts the community grew in the surrounding fields. They even recognize that peanut farming is bad for soil fertility, draining the area of nutrients until the peanuts are exported. Burning crop waste to clear fields for more peanuts also kills microorganisms in the soil. So why do the villagers do it? After discussing the proverb with my colleagues I think I now understand why they have been degrading the soil for years. Peanuts are a cash crop, and people need the cash. No one cares about soil fertility when a child needs medicine. You can’t see nutrients in the soil, but you can see a sick child. They should make that a proverb.

It is a difficult task I face in helping people strive for environmental sustainability and resiliency. Incorporating trees into the farming system will in fact decrease short term crop yields, a tough pill to swallow while on the cusp of poverty. It will not be until years after I leave Senegal that the community realizes the benefits of a diverse, resilient, multi-yield agricultural system. My job therefore is not just about planting trees, but encouraging the mindset of investment in the future.

The Western world has the luxury of being able to think about and work for the long term. We could strive to make our food systems diverse and resilient, yet often times we too focus solely on the short term. The excessive burning of fossil fuels, widespread use of pesticides, and obsession on short term profits and pleasure are the first world equivalent of my community’s peanut obsession. Living here has shown me what a privilege it is to be in a position to care about environmental degradation. We could face the drop in short term yields while building a sustainable system without slipping into poverty. We shouldn’t waste the opportunity to act while we have the means.

At the end of this month I return to the Peace Corps training center for a two week in-service training. We will learn valuable agroforestry techniques to introduce into our communities. I am excited to see all my fellow volunteers and share stories of our first months of service. I will miss my new friends however, like Ibrahima and his horses…


2 thoughts on “Peanuts and Proverbs

  1. Hi Adam,
    We are so proud to call you our neighbor! Learning that new language is VERY impressive; actually, just your living there and adjusting so well is totally awesome! We all wish you the best and we are enjoying your blogs. Your mom came over the other day so I was able to catch up on your activities there too. In our news, Peter has accepted an offer at Bloomberg in San Francisco when he graduates in the spring (if you haven’t already heard that from your mom). Again, wishing you continued success while in Senegal and also please stay healthy! With love from Mrs. Hogan and family


  2. Hi Adam
    This is dr meisheid, I know you thought you were rid of me and here I pop up on your blog, your mother sent me the link, I think what you are doing is just amazing, I hope you stay well and I look forward to hearing about more of your adventures!


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