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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Benin and Back

Peace Corps has been one amazing opportunity after another. In the list of Awesome Things Thanks to Peace Corps, #1 is my trip to attend a rice training in Benin last week. For three days I hung out at an educational farm with Peace Corps Volunteers and their counterparts from Senegal, Benin, Togo, and Guinea. The training consisted of discussing details of SRI (the rice growing method we learned), breaking down regional differences in methods, and getting our hands dirty in the fields to learn how it really works. 
Learning how to sort seeds using salty water and an egg.
Now, as cool as learning something to keep you occupied professionally for the next year or so may be, there were definitely other perks to this Benin trip. For one, I GOT TO RIDE A PLANE. And they fed us FOOD. It's a testament to how different life is in Guinea that myself and the 2 other volunteers I went with FLIPPED our LIDS when we got served butter packets and rolls of bread. I even pocketed the pepper packets (pepper is hard to find, yo). Then we arrived in Cotonou and the awe just kept coming. Granted, we were in the nicest district of the capitol city. But there were cobblestone roads, trash cans, light pollution at night from all the electricity... I felt like someone's poor country cousin come in to the big city for the first time. Drew's Georgian accent added to the effect.
Planting the nursery
As for the training itself, I can't stress enough what a great opportunity it was. My counterpart, Abou Camara, is a professor at ENAE, one of four national Agriculture and Animal Husbandry schools in Guinea. I might have mentioned ENAE before - it's the school where I give my Youth Entrepreneurship class. Mr. Camara is my contact within the school for keeping the class going, and during one of our talks he took me on a tour of the school to show off his compost pits (he teaches a course on soil composition) and experimental rice fields (another class, where they track organic vs. modified seed growth). A couple weeks later I heard about the SRI training in Benin, and knew I had to get on board. I hadn't written about the application process or waiting or hopes and build-up because, like Guineans, I don't like to give credit to things before the results have come in. Too many times you plan and organize, only to have the project fall through, whether it's a day of soap-making with a friend or a nation-wide electricity campaign. Yes, it's skeptical and pessimistic, but until I attended the training and got my hands in the dirt, I didn't want to say too much about it. But now it's done! Mr. Camara and I are working on an action plan to get the method into the curriculum for the coming year. The goal is to disseminate the method to as many people and groups as possible, and honestly we're perfectly suited for introducing this method to Koba. Koba is a huge, gigantic rice growing community, with producers from all levels - individual family plots to large-scale industrial cultivation. The school already has connections with local groupements and the larger factories. And we have a captive audience and free labor for maintaining our demonstration fields - hello students! When I think of all the possibilities and opportunities that might come up in the next year, it's almost overwhelming. For now, our first step is a presentation at aPeace Corps Regional Training at the end of the month, where we'll get to tell volunteers and their counterparts about what we learned and stir up interest.

The path to our training site
As for non-rice news, I just got some sweet new clothes from the tailor. In a bout of boredom about a month ago, I gave myself an unfortunate haircut that's reminiscent of The Bangs from summer 2005. I might be getting motorcycle clearance to help do credit collection and sensibilizations with my microfinance organization, and if so, I'm definitely using the PC-issued helmet to be a storm trooper for Halloween. September is the month of weddings back home - congrats to Chris and Mackenzie, and Lauren and Dan! And we finally got a copy of the Hunger Games in Guinea. Holy shit that was a good movie.
SRI-grown rice, one month old
Miss you all! Hope you're doing well, hope you're satisfied with your life and career, hope your loved ones are happy and healthy as well, hope your reading materials are fascinating, and hope you don't have Call Me Maybe stuck in your head at all times. Because that is a catchy song, but there are better ones.
All photos from this post were taken by this guy.

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