The farm crew…

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In this post I’ll introduce the friends I work with at the school. I’m so thankful to have gotten posted to a position where I had other people to work with. With others, I wasn’t alone trying to do all the work and that was a big help because you really just can’t do much here alone. It’s hard enough to keep your overall health in good shape before you even start to think about helping others. Especially for garden and farming activities – I’m learning that a lot of hands is a requirement. Luckily for me I joined a team of 4 guys so we had a good small crew. These guys, including my counterpart, are very hardworking and a blast to spend time with. Really, it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ at all; it feels like hanging out with your buddies. We spend a lot of time talking in Mandinka, drinking attaya (green tea), laughing and planning future farm activities. Plus, we’re off in the corner of the schools land so there’s a feeling of separation and independence which is nice when school classrooms, offices and other personnel are getting tense. I feel like the dirty kids in the back that everyone ignores, it’s nice.

So, let me introduce you to the crew……

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This is Momodou Jatta – he’s my main counterpart/community rep and the man I work with closest. I first met ‘Jatta’ in a room full of 40 people, where Peace Corps introduced the counterparts for both the Ag/Fo and Health groups. They said, “stand up when you hear your name called.” There was much anticipation to meet who you would be working with for the next 2 years, and I looked around the room at 20 Gambians that could be my potential counterpart. I thought, “he looks cool,” “that one looks like a hard worker,” or “that person looks 15 and can’t speak English at all, hope it’s not them.” There were a bunch of thoughts like this as PCVs got placed. Anyways, I’m sure the Gambians were looking at all of us the same way, thinking “which person (or ‘baby’) will I get!?”

Momodou got called and stood up in his infamous red silk shirt, and then……’Stephen’…and I was placed. Easy. I was really excited, I liked Momodou almost immediately because he was quiet and confident – noticeably he talked sincerely and didn’t put up any fronts. We sat next to each other and completed a “get to know each other” work sheet. Next, we stood at the front of the room and introduced each other. I said that Momodou likes Manchester United football club, he’s part of the Jolla tribe and his favorite food is “Nbahala,” which is a rice, peanut powder and seasoning mix. When he introduced me he said, “This is Stephen, from Mexagan…..he….likes…….meat…..(long pause)” Actually, my favorite food was “meatloaf” but I’m really happy he just said “meat!”, it was hilarious and we still laugh about it today.

Momodou, or as I call him “Jatta,” is originally from an area called Fonyi, where his wife and children are. He speaks English, Mandinka, Jolla and Wolof. Jatta is an extremely hard worker, getting up at 6am, digging garden beds or up in a tree cutting sticks for a fence. He has been the farm manager at the school for 5 years and has experience in gardening, poultry, farming, agroforestry and beekeeping. I’m really lucky to have been matched with him because he’s very skilled and he teaches me as much as I teach him. Jatta also is really smart and excited to learn and try natural farming. He says “If it’s natural…..I think we should do it! I don’t like chemicals!” Perfect. His attitude about nature and working hard put him miles ahead of others.

Here’s a few pictures:

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Jatta is genuinely this happy whenever he’s cleaning birds. He’s the best and quickest chicken dresser on the farm. All the people ask for him to clean their birds for an extra 10 Dalasi.

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Grafting some mango trees during a Peace Corps training – Jatta really wanted to learn how to graft, he’s especially interested in fruit tree growing.

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Having returned our wayward donkey we quickly branded our schools name on it should it escape again. Anglican Mission Institute – it was a good time to tell Jatta that AMI/AMY is a girls name in the U.S, which is great for a male donkey in Africa.

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Here’s that famous red silk shirt! This was my first day to campus; I’m getting a tour of the land. Look how green it looks – this is November 2013, a month or so after the rainy season had ended.

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Next up is my other counterpart and who I’m calling my best friend out here: Modou Kassama, a Mandinka. Modou and I share the same first and last name pretty much (I’m Mohammad Gassama) so we were destined to get along. He’s my “tohma” which means “namesake,” so greetings usually are an excited “Tohma!” Modou doesn’t speak much English but is a big help to me in learning Mandinka. I’d say Modou is my best friend because we work together but also spend a lot of time away from the farm. He invites me to lunch at his house a couple times a month, we attend religious programs in surrounding villages, and I’ve been to his home village to meet his family there. We cruise around on our bikes in Farafenni, drink attaya together and chat about his future plans to do beekeeping or become a ‘gele'(small bus) driver.

Modou is genuinely a great person. He’s worked at the school for two years and lives in Farafenni with his one wife and 4 children. He’s soft-spoken, doesn’t ever seem to get upset and is very sincere in helping – the closest I’ve seen to altruism are the times Modou has stepped up and helped. One time I just saw him sneaking mangos onto my bike rack, no thanks or recognition required. Plus, he never seems to complain or try take credit for helping. He’s a good farmer and is also impressive because he’s really listening to the ideas I have and trying some of them out.

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Modou trying out Biodynamic Preparation 500 (BD500) by packing female cow horns with a lactating cows fresh manure to be buried for 4 months. He’s a good sport and always down to try something crazy with me. Especially here, I really value that he’s flexible enough to go along with these ideas. This is a simple act, but it meant a lot to me that he ‘showed up’ and participated with a good attitude and no skepticism.

Once, Modou and I were waiting for a donkey cart to transport some chicken feed back to the school. After 15 minutes waiting Modou said “Let’s go,” picked up the 100lb bag, placed it on his head, and walked the 1 mile to school without using his hands. I don’t know how old he is, he really doesn’t know either he says :), but for a 50-60y.o. to huff that bag all the way there was really impressive. Side note: when he went to get the key for the farm house I tried to put the bag on my head and walk 20 feet. Yeah, I got a headache, hurt my neck and almost fell over. Modou is a beast and a great role model for me in every way. I want to be more like this guy.

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Modou pushing in some of our mango harvest for the day.

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Modou and I rode to Ballengho – his mother’s village – about 8 kilometers away from Farafenni. His brother is the Imam (religious leader) there and we spent the day eating, relaxing and drinking attaya. I never see myself due to lack of mirrors etc. out here but it’s a trip for me to look at this picture. I’m thinking “wow, that’s really me, I’m hanging out with friends in Africa.” It probably seems strange to you guys too – son, little brother, friend, etc. is really here doing this. Surreal for me but the picture makes it more easy to visualize, although it still doesn’t feel like that’s really me.

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This is Ablay Ka. “Ka” or “Pabi” as we call him is a Fula. Local lore says older Fula men always carry bags – thats true for him. Ablay is originally from Senegal and has been working at the school for about 1 year. Ablay speaks French easily and uses Wolof language to communicate around the farm. He’s really funny and a good guy to have around. Often times i’ll just hear Ka laughing loudly at something, and turn to see him 20′ up in a tree cutting branches or trash talking someone on the ground. Ka and I can’t communicate that well – we say “bon soo, tre bien, sa vaa?” but we do a good job communicating physically – pretending to punch each other, racing to fill our water buckets and doing jumping jacks. Ablay will do 10 jumping jacks, put his hands up like he’s going to punch and yell “Physique!” He also smokes tobacco out of an old, hollowed out, sheep bone. He can sleep anywhere too – yesterday he climbed up a 20′ scaffolding to sleep on top of it. I think he likes sleeping and hiding from the school headmaster.

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Ka always shows up in great outfits to work. I think he had on soccer cleats this day too.

April 15 - garden
This is a photo of Ka cutting down sticks way up in a neem tree. This impressed me at how nobody thinks anything of this – “you need sticks?” Before you know it, there’s Ka up in a tree seemingly ignoring all safety precautions. Maybe growing up in the bush makes this stuff second nature, regardless of age.

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Finally, we’ve got Momodou Bah – You can see what “attaya” is here – a small pot of sugar’d up green tea brewing. Momodou is the man that brews for us – although it’s stopped for Ramadan.

Momodou is our shepherd; a Fula with 1 wife and four children. His nicknames include Moroo Baa (Big Knife) and Denano (baby). He’s small and probably weighs around 100lbs but he’s a good worker. He takes care or our 11 cows and brews attaya for all of us. A good guy that busts out some awesome English once in a while.

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Momodou comes over to help us process bees wax. Although he usually sticks with his cows out in the bush he is getting interested in our farming and beekeeping activities. It was really cool to teach him how to do this and he had never seen it done.

And the new guy….Peace Corps Volunteer that’s been working at the school for about 7 months. This is an early picture with me looking really green here with a new compost pile and a sun hat from REI – ready to help with organic matter :)! O, how things would change in the next 7 months, for the better, unknown to me at the time I’d start to really work, understand the land, and, ultimately, help. It’s what I came here to try and do so now that I’m up to my elbows in dirt I like to look at this photo – in such a short time my perspective and skills have changed so much. A farmer on big island told me, with farming, you just gotta go for it, like surfing. “You just gotta put your head down and paddle into that wave one day” he said. Here’s to walking the walk and going for it, even with a cheesy sunhat 🙂

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Ok, that’s the people. Post comments or questions about these great guys below and i’ll answer them. Thanks for reading.

3 thoughts on “The farm crew…

  1. Faama

    Grasshopper, you really seem to be “on the ball” here with the activity and effort. We especially like to hear about your friends and the relationships with your fellow workers. Your English is good too! Looking forward to your vacation time with the “Familia” back in Mexagan soon. Be careful about bringing home any of that ebola stuff because we plan to run ya’ thru the sheep dip and sterilize you before you come into the house …. just in case. Peace and Love from Camp Cass Lake!

  2. Yo, Like the name :). Thank you for the comment, i’m definitely gonna try to keep posting here and sharing the experience. My family out here is like your extended family so it’s nice for me to introduce you to each other a little bit. I’m home in one week! Crazy, but yeah i think i’ll need a good detox after a whopper and a coke.

  3. Redtown

    “He’s a good sport and always down to try something crazy with me. Especially here, I really value that he’s flexible enough to go along with these ideas. This is a simple act, but it meant a lot to me that he ‘showed up’ and participated with a good attitude and no skepticism.” A good friend… also, this is exactly how I talk about Oxley. 🙂

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