Day 3: Koussan, Belly-Simbara & Toumbara
We started off the day as we ended the last, with an interview. The previous night, we asked the son of the only salaried guard of the reserve what he wanted for the future. He gave us the standard camera answer – ‘I want to forever live in the Boundou.’ The very second we clicked off the camera, Gabriel, who has a relationship with the boy’s family, brought up that he had previously said he wanted to live in France, to which he replied, ‘yes!’ Again, we see the answers we illicit failing to capture the true interests of the people. Perhaps his answers were tempered by the fact that his father, who was the subject of our morning interview, was integral to the creation and continuation of the reserve. But it does seem to be a reoccurring theme.
Later in the day, we made our way to Belly-Simbara, a village nestled on the banks of one of the larger dams. The water had shrunk, and land that was flooded mere months ago was bustling with women and children, washing clothes and tending to their small plots of crops. The people were clamoring to showcase their lettuce and cabbage seedlings, proudly dousing the delicate vegetables in dam water. We later realized their enthusiasm stemmed from the fact that these five meter plots were all these people had. As shocking as a realization it was to be truly confronted with the impoverishment of the area, the brightly colored buckets carried by lively dressed women through the dry, monotone landscape dotted with the verdant fruits (or shall I say vegetables) of their labor was a sight to behold.
As the day marinated in my mind, a glaring contradiction in how the Senegalese people live surfaced. The streets and villages are littered with goats and cows, and yet they drink imported powdered milk. Apparently, they don’t even harvest the milk from these animals, thereby squandering a vital source of vitamins, protein, and potential profits in favor of packaged, processed, imported sachets of flavorless dairy for which they must pay, despite having little income. Someone should show them the exorbitant price people in the US and Europe shell out for a scant brick of goat’s cheese… What’s more is the fact that the animals are not even eventually eaten, but exist only to be sheparded around as an emblem of wealth. Utterly wasted.
This is a photo of a baby goat. (Photo credit Jono Gilbert)
Its not just the meat and dairy that are frittered away, but also the fertile land. The staple of the Senegalese diet is rice. And when I say staple, I mean it is the backbone of nearly every meal they eat, with the rare exception of vermicelli or couscous. Turns out, this mainstay food isn’t even grown in Senegal, but rather imported from China! As is the tea, which is prepared ritually and continually by the Senegalese throughout the day. But Senegal isn’t an agricultural wasteland. It is suitable for growing a variety of vital grains, such as millet, wheat, sorghum, and corn, as well as the tea they love so much. And yet, they choose to import an environmentally costly and insufficiently nutritious grain instead! Even after three weeks of mostly subsisting on rice I feel weakened. I can only imagine what a lifetime of it does to you.
Let’s be honest. The blatant disregard and misuse of such readily available means of sustenance in a country so desperately indigent is a bit appalling, isn’t it? But overcoming deeply entrenched cultural traditions and their desire to emulate Western modernity (in the case of the powdered milk) is a task fraught with obstacles. It does, however, point out a critical sustainability gap, one we should seek to fill as soon as possible.
For now, I will just have to watch Jono sip on his powdered-milk infused coffee as the clip-clop of cows and the bleats of goats sound off in the distance.