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Sustainable Development in Senegalese Ecovillages!


The Quirks, Idiosyncracies, and Irk-doms of Sustainable (International) Development

Senegal Thiaroye, Senegal  |  Jan 07, 2009
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January 6, 2009 – evening

            We went back to the office around 5 o’clock to meet the 2 groups of women and to take their photos. Only our group of women showed up (well, one woman came for the photo of Adama’s fish-drying group), and we took their photo at the beginning. Then, Adama and El Hadj informed me that we then would talk to them about “the importance of the ecovillage,” which was news to me, especially when Adama said, “Okay, now you’ll speak, and I’ll translate,” very abruptly, as is his style. I then had to quickly come up with some impromptu points and platitudes so that I could rattle off some general statements about the aesthetics of sustainability of the ecovillage in Senegal, throwing in the interwovenness of EDE on top of it. The women nodded and responded (kind of), but then when I asked them, as Adama had asked them, how their daily activities fit in with the ecovillage as a whole, they replied only with an account of their daily activities, not with how their activities affect those of others in their community. So that was disappointing, especially with it looming over my head how Marian told us that the sign of our learning is if the ecovillagers learn. But no matter how I shifted the questions in all the simulations and actual, serious meetings this week, it didn’t seem to have any sway. The leaders and workers did not soak up the framework, the manner of conceptualizing the ecovillage. I do not know how much this was due to the translation and to the lack of sustainability coursework and familiarity on the part of the Senegalese students, but either way it is frustrating and unsatisfying. Urf.

            The women turned to me at the end, and via Adama, said that they were very happy and grateful? and had good hopes that I would help them. Dear me! I may be a “toubab,” but I do not implicitly by my toubab-ness carry all the weight and responsibility for financing their livelihoods with microcredit. Of course there are reasons they view the situation this way, reasons El Hadj repetitively prattles off about how they are wary of letting us white people take their pictures because too many have asked before to take their photos, promising to arrange aid and have only consistently succeeded in lying to them, the villagers, and failing them, in bringing them more of nothing as far as outside help is concerned. Nevertheless, it seems it should somehow be the Senegalese students’ job, as other students and as translators, to make it clear that we are only students sent out on behalf of GENSEN and SEM, sent as representatives, field workers, etc. to document the various ecovillage activities and transform them into compelling microcredit loan applications (this has also been frustrating, the Senegalese  students compounding the functions of GENSEN and SEM, so that when the villagers’ words come back translated, the words “microcredit” and “microfinance” come up when we are merely talking about the ecological and economic viability and perpetuation of ecovillages. Rarrr?).. I , by virtue of being an American and otherwise privileged person, do not somehow have more authority than the Senegalese students to judge the sustainability and virtue of the loan applications during their loan credit process (for neither of our groups of students will ultimately decide on the order in which the loans are funded), nor do they somehow have more authority to judge those merits than the villagers themselves. This is perhaps the hierarchy everyone else around me sees, but it is not how I view the situation. Even though when Marian and I were speaking she said that we don’t have time (nor training, apparently – somehow it would help if we’d taken a couple classes on international development) to really involve the villagers in the process in a fully participatory way, that we  are reduced to giving merely proscriptive –style training, advising villagers in the top-down European organizational way instead of in an egalitarian, responsibility/leadership- sharing manner. But I, in the actual heart of this course in the first half of the work so far thi s week, have not felt ther is even time for for THIS. There was enough time to scrunch in EDE(which as I discussed was only roughly discussed—even though watching the villagers in the meeting, they were clearly intrigued by the diagram (reasons I think if there were fewer and clearer images, it ocould almost speak on its own), to hear all their project purviews, to have them sort out 2 priorirty microcredit projects, and to get all the basics down for the loan. There is not, however, really time (or perhaps even a way) to get the villagers to reconceive their lifestyle, totally shift their thinking to ecovillage and sustainability thinking, to think not only of finance in terms of their own businesses and how they can be profitable for them (though of cours tey share the earning s with their families and the cooperatives) in terms of current of current endeavors. Marian has such interest in how microfinance can b used in resoundingly good/positive/ transformative developmental ways, but even a proscriptive approach cannot really get/reach this goal, and we weren’t even given enough space to be proscriptive. We had no wiggle room to shake up the villagers’ understanding (perhaps they are past the age to be affected anyway – though I’m not sure why I’m being so cynical—perhaps it was the insistence today on the lack, or, more accurately, non-existence of natural not-toxic, natural cloth dyes – but the villagers definitely demonstrate an understanding of trash problems, pollution in the air and the sea, overharvesting of fish, etc. – all kinds of major issues they have to deal with in Thiaroye and do- w/advocacy and education every time they meet people and tell them about the ecovillage-ness of Thiaroye), and to get them to shift gears in their development directionality. Oh well? It’s just very hard, tedious, unrewarding work, because it cannot actually redefine the bounds of everyday practice and lived experience, mentality and approach. But then, perhaps all this indicates is a certain infectious over-reliance and over-confidence, a self-inflation and an over-emphasis on self-importance. Perhaps the greatest thing I can learn and harness is the feeling of irrelevance, uselessness, and arbitrariness I experienced yesterday. For in many ways, the villagers’ existing successes, mentalities, meeting process, and solidarity/cooperation are overwhelmingly inspiring and beautiful as it is. Perhaps I need most to see how I am merely an observer, unnecessary as a participant but essential as an understander of the knack for so-called (“self-determination.”)


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