"The body is the harp of the soul. It is yours to bring forth from it sweet music or confused sounds" Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A False Swollen Husk Named “Desire”

Act one: My work
I took this picture shortly before munching
 Meet the Cashew Apple.  My work for the next two years will at least vaguely orbit this strange fruit that very few people know about.  Every cashew you have ever consumed has had an apple attached to it at one point in its life.   For reasons that I don’t fully understand even as a biology major, the “cashew apple” is a false fruit and is really a swollen husk at the base of the cashew.   I in theory have been charged with writing a manual on the “best practices” of what this husk can be used for. 
 Interesting facts about the Cashew Tree that I have compiled to be affixed to napkins at a charity dinner in Washington, no joke:

The Tree
Native to Brazil, the Portuguese planted it in India in the 1600’s.
There it spread through Asia and eventually Africa.
A bark paste ground in water is used for the cure of ringworm.
The boiled leaf extract is used as a mouth wash.
The water-resistant wood is used for boats and ferries.
The resin is used as an expectorant, cough remedy and insect repellent.
Fibers from the leaves can be used to strengthen fishing lines and nets.
The Nut
In the poison ivy family, the inner shell has same allergenic phenolic resins.
 The cashew’s shell has a liquid that is an important industrial material with 200+ patents.
Obtaining the nut requires four processing steps steaming, cutting, roasting, and finally peeling.
The cashew kernel is a rich source of fat (46 percent) and protein (18 percent).
It has 1000’s of culinary uses.
It is estimated that 60% of cashews are consumed as salted nuts.
The Apple
Not a true fruit, it is really a swollen husk with the seed at its base.
The cashew apple contains five times more vitamin C than an orange.
A single glass of cashew juice meets an adult’s daily requirement of vitamin C
It is used for curing scurvy and diarrhea, and is effective in preventing cholera.
The apple contains considerable amounts calcium, iron and phosphorous.
It is also used to cure neurological pain and rheumatism.
It is a first-class source of energy.
It can also be made into jams, juices, preserves, spirits, wine and dried fruit.
Cashew wine is made in many countries; it is light yellow and contains 6-12% alcohol.
Only 6% of cashew apple production is exploited as there is currently only a market for the nut.

This was taken at a trek I did with IRD in the North Bank.  This is the house and family of some prominent cashew farmers we're hoping to help
     There are a few strange obstacles that both the apple and the nut create. Interestingly the shell and inside of the cashew has resins identical to those in the poison ivy family, and if you were to eat the nut without proper roasting you would be very sick. Most of my Peace Corps friends have had at least a small breakout from being in the village around the nut and its leaking poisonous resin. I seem to be one of the lucky 15%-30% of people who have no allergic reaction to poison ivy resin as I have handled the nut with no ill effects.  The apple if washed properly does not have the resin and is good for eating although some similar chemistry means that you may easily become allergic, and that many who are not allergic to either have a high chance of developing the allergy with exposure. 
      This presents a complex processing problem for the nut, the difficulty of getting the shell off and a need to destroy the resin, requires every nut to be steamed to soften the shell, hand shelled, roasted to destroy the chemicals on the skin, and then a final hand peeling of the skin from the nut.  Every cashew you've eaten has had to go through this labor intensive process with people hand shelling and peeling the nut!   
      The apple is strange, it is a soft juice filled sac and the flavor varies from apple to apple as there are many varieties and colors from red to yellow to orange.  Many taste like a sour warhead leaving the mouth dry and puckered.  Some though are very sweet and high in sugar.  All seem to be very healthy for you, and are so numerous during cashew season that they rot on the ground full of uneaten energy, nutrients, and vitamins. 
       This is where more problems arise; the apple is incredibly perishable and starts to ferment within a day of leaving the tree.  This means that unless you want to make wine out of it immediate refrigeration (Not possible as there isn't stable electricity even in the city) or drying is required.  Many of the non-Muslims here juice the cashew apple and let the wild yeasts already present turn it to wine in a matter of days. 
     So in my early weeks here I have been immersed in small business manuals, cashew processing equipment, and cashew apple ideas all in hopes of benefiting local associations of cashew growers here in the Gambia.  Much of the work in cashew apples is upcoming, for now I have been assisting in writing processing contracts between villages and suppliers and visiting local farmers.  Most of the purpose now is in getting cashew processing equipment distributed to some key villages in hopes that it will dramatically increase local employment and value for their cashew nuts, as most farmers just sell the unprocessed nut to Senegalese exporters.
Despite the appearance of busyness, it is all very slow, the Gambian way demands it.  In order to do business in the Gambia, you must do the following with your fellow cashew farmer or worker if you don’t you will not be respected.

Making a plan with a local mason who works for the association of cashew growers.  We have plans there for a steaming, roasting, peeling, cutting, drying, and storage room. We will give them all of this equipment once they build this processing center from mud bricks.  

Steps to Making Business Partnerships in the Gambia
Say you’ll arrive at 9 and arrive at 10
10am: Talk for an hour about how the family is and things vaguely related to business
11am: Go in the field and do “work” for perhaps two hours or until someone says “The sun is too hot”
1pm: Sit around for an hour waiting for lunch to be cooked over an open flame
2pm: Everyone, farmers and IRD staff eats lunch out of one giant bowl
2:30pm: Finish lunch, start brewing tea.
2:30-3: Discuss business
3-5pm: Drink tea in the shade of a large mango tree and joke about almost nothing in particular.  Large portions of time are spent in silence, and great humor is achieved from tricking the new guy (Me) with peculiar and fast Wolof slang.
5pm: Go back to hut or lodge for the night

Total work for an 8hr day = 2hrs or less

         This pace of work is very frustrating to someone fresh from America and is finally starting to instill in me the belief of altered time expectations.  Here Gambian days = American hours and American days = Gambian weeks.  So I may be doing interesting work, but I am spending much time sitting… and sitting…and waiting for the Gambia to catch up with me.  Occasionally I will pick up a juicy swollen husk and imbibe my daily allotment of vitamin C and then continue to wait for the green tea to brew in a small kettle.  

Act 2: “It is Nice to be Nice”
Well roaming the streets of the Gambia, I often see strange wild creatures:  The feral dog, the feral cat, the trash eating goats, the “zombie sheep” with tattered wool hanging off in frizzing lumps, the city vultures, and finally the most fearsome predator… the Bumpster.  In case you do not know here is the definition of a bumpster.

Palm wine, created by the  Christian population in the villages
of The Gambia.  Sealed in used motor oil jugs as a timeless
indicator of quality.  I let this concoction enter my mouth only to
 confirm it tastes like it was brewed in a hyena gut.
Bumpster:  Native to the Gambia, the Bumpster is a young Gambian man who makes his living feeding off tourists.  Bumpsters come out during the European tourist months of December-May and spend exorbitant amounts of time working out on the beach in hopes of attracting attention, they often take on the looks of Rastafarians with dreds and a love of reggae.  With perfectly chiseled bodies, two full grown bumpster (its own plural or its alternate a rasta of bumpsteri) can take down small families of seasonally nesting tourists with their friendly advances such as “Hey boss lady how are you?” and “It’s nice to be nice.”

 If you see a bumpster do not make eye contact.  Mumble appropriate responses as silence will anger them, but and do not engage. 

A bumpster serves two purposes, to either be your personal tour guide in return for money, food, hotel stays, and promises of a trip back to Europe. OR He will provide sexual services to aging European women who have arrived in Gambia to exploit the young men for the equivalent of pennies of European currency.   Interestingly, here is one of the few places in the world were the sex trade is reversed in the favor of female sex tourism.  It is a huge industry here, and everywhere you go you see aging or elderly European women arm in arm on the beach with well built 25 year old Gambian men.   This is just one of the more direct and obscene ways that the local people and culture is exploited by the first world.

 Bumpsters come out mostly just during tourist season and then go back to the village to work the farm or visit with their families.  They are however an intense annoyance to us Peace Corps volunteers as they are incredibly aggressive in trying to make “friends” with both men and women and there is no way they have of knowing we are often as broke as they are.
Unknowingly, tourists come and may pay these men maybe 10 Euros to help them.  They do not realize that even this in an astronomical sum in Gambia and keeps the beaches thick with hopeful tour guide or nighttime suitors.  A good description of Bumpsters and their commonly heard pick up lines can be found on the blog post below.

Baby stares at chicken
On a previous post I commented about how I was text stalked by a girl who was to be my host sister in a family that I was visiting, until she starting texting me things like (exact quote)  “cant stand my filling to u am dying inside” Eventually when her sirens cries went unengaged she sent me a nasty “dont worry I will never tell you that again ok bye” and then stopped all together.  I have since avoided her with the knowledge of impending doom that tells me my suburb village is way too small to not run into her someday soon. I believe so much of the immediate “I love you”s have their roots in a few things   
 1.  The fact that people are starved for personal contact in a society where you don’t hug and a hand shake consisted of applying the pressure you would lift a used diaper with. 
2. Men and women do not interact in a meaningful way.  Men stay with men and women with women. 
3. The biggest of them.  Some of them have the dreaded disease called TV in their house.  Here they believe from a horrible concoction of rebroadcast soap operas that saying “I love you” and lets have intimate physical contact right after meeting is the proper course of action if you actually engage in meaningful conversation with the opposite sex.

This is very frustrating.  It is interesting how this society functions, out in the open, no physical contact and modest dress.  Behind closed doors the starvation for physical contact leads some (still unclear how many) to desire or engage in constant meaningless sexual intimacy. This has been related to me by other volunteers who live in these homes.  One even said, there is a belief among many men here, that if they do not have constant access to sex, that they will die.  This has been justified as one of the reasons for needing more than one wife that if one is sick, gone, very pregnant, etc. that another one is needed to satisfy a man’s constant desire.  Once again let me reiterate that due their skewed view of globalized culture and the reason some Europeans come here (sex trade” as mentioned above) there is a view that us foreigners are way more sexually charged than the men here and the false assumptions are walling me off from an entire gender in many ways. 
* A father offered me his daughter today for marriage sight unseen and then mentioned that I could still have one back in America if I wanted. 

Act 3: My House
This is where I get to my house, it is in a poorer suburb of the city and is really like the fourth part of a quadplex building of which I get three rooms.  I have finally almost finished making it homey.  I have hung an indoor clothes line for shirts, built a book shelf, table and clothes cubby with a cheap saw, concrete blocks and plywood, and taken a door off its hinges and put it up on blocks for a large “food table” I have three rooms, and am finally starting to make it livable.

Main room, I have a small backyard on the left and a front door on the right. I made the book shelf and there is a comfy chair off the picture to the left. There are two rooms on either side.
My kitchen.  The table or right is my door put up on blocks and the other I made with blocks and plywood. The fridge is ancient and decrepit and found for 40 dollars.  

Bedroom, foam block on the floor and dressing shelves on right. (also made)

1000 Things that must be seen to believed:  10 things hurting the culture in the Gambia

10. Tourists, with English that just gets louder if the person does not understand, their limitless funds and complete apathy towards culture continually bitters many in the city towards the presence of foreigners.

9. Bob Marley:  I am still trying to figure this one out.  His music is everywhere, and many teens have abandoned culture and religion to go “Rasta” I don’t know if it is for better or for worse, but there is little creativity in this movement and it seems to be a tape replaying from decades ago (Literally, they use old tape players here and CDs are just becoming affordable).  It feels more like culture left behind then culture being reborn.

8.  Knock offs.  There are Armani tee shirts here and plastic Rolex watches.  I can’t think of a worse way to be introduced to global consumerism.

7. Our used stuff: When we donate it, it does not get given away many times as we expect, it ends up getting sold.  Almost as sad as knock offs is that there are heaps of cloths in piles based on quality in the streets, you rummage through them and the pay 50 cents to 3 dollars based on how ripped or stained the shirt is, but it is sad and intense to see.

6. Cheap Nigerian films: “Passionate Envy”, “Sexy Game”, and “Forbidden Powder” are three titles that I saw at random today. These borderline home videos that mimic western values of money and sexuality are everywhere, and further mindless and pointless drama.  I will write more on this and get a picture of some of the ridiculous posters.

5. Bumpsters, (see above) both exploiting tourists and being exploited by them, with little work this is becoming a legitimate profession when very few people have work.

4. TV in all forms, as mentioned I love when the power goes out (about 50% of the time it’s off) because I can actually talk to people. If not, I go into a house, sit, and watch with everyone these horrible soap operas.

3. “India a Love Story”  Everyone watches it, and all I have to do is ask “Tonight, the television has Maya (the main character)?” in Wolof and people will excitedly tell me when it is coming on.   It is a Brazilian soap that mimics Indian bollywood (Indian soap opera) done in Portuguese, dubbed in bad English, and broadcast in Gambia.   The language barrier means someone is usually there translating what is happening but it is the worst soap to plague the land.

2. The internet, across the street is the “Global Midia Café” (YES they misspelled it in big painted letters on the sign, for the most part when one is used to a phonetic language, spelling in English does not matter).  People sit here day after day discovering dating sites and facebook on ancient used computers.  Many people come here and having never used a keyboard peck away for hours at these sites.

1.  Arnold Schwarzenegger:  Large muscles and a taste for action, his movies are everywhere on the street for roughly 25 cents and the other day I saw him staring at me from a box containing a DVD player.  His smiling face obviously approved of the cheap knock off electronics located within.  He is destroying this culture with bazookas and the buzzing 20 dollar DVD players on which he is watched.

I want to clarify want may come off.  What still remains here in the city is much happiness.  The problems of poverty and disease must be solved but not at the price of consumerism.  The people here work less as mentioned above, but seem to be happier due to keeping in contact with friends and family constantly.  They are always welcoming for the most part and seem very relaxed.  So much of my resistance to culture is in the city, I see how their attempt at mimicry is destroying their cultural roots, and from my time in the village, they seem much happier with less.  I am afraid that convincing them they need more in the ways listed above really is less.

Spend the day in peace

A man makes a bowl for pounding coos with his son. I took this on the same trek.

*this is now my favorite parting Wolof phrase: Nyu endoo chi jaama

1 comment:

  1. xander! even though we are in the same country with the same organization, we are having such incredibly different experiences. I'm almost glad you got placed in the city, just because you're doing such an amazing job describing what we all see when we are also in the city.

    please keep writing about your experiences, even though i know they hurt even to just write out what your feeling about these challenging issues.

    i love and respect you very much. you are a great friend, xaaaaanderkent. thanks!