Lynne Kraskouskas - Gabon -.
Lynne was both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at http://peacecorps.mtu.edu/ .
October 4, 1998 - First Day of Peace Corps Training.
"I arrived at the Farm in Oyem yesterday, greeted by PCVs, facilitators, dancing, drumming, and good food. Will stay here 5 days, then off to family. The farm has 6 fish ponds, a garden plot, and small animals - chickens, bushrats, turkeys, and rabbits are raised pour manger. So far my arrival has been very pleasant, no jet lag. There are 20 trainees in my group. No married couples, no other Master's International students. So far, so good."
October 28, 1998 - Famous Adventures
"I'm just finishing my third week here and have settled in pretty well. Our group is fairly large - composed of 10 FISH volunteers and 10 FARM volunteers. We are trained mostly separately , but each weekend we travel to the ferme (training center) in Oyem for joint sessions on extension and what not. There are 3 (supposed to be 4) agroforestry trainees and 7 agriculture/gardening trainees, but for the most part we all do the same thing. There are no other MI [Master's International] students, but a lot of them wish they knew about the program before PC. The staff here is really great and in general I would rate this as a really great/organized/well put together PST. We received our bikes and bike training right away. We were placed in tentative language groups and afterwards given a test to determine who would live where. We moved au village Oct 10 and that's when our REAL training began.
"My mama understands French but speaks only Fang. Most people can speak French but prefer to speak Fang (largest ethnic group in Gabon, ~ 70%). My mama is teaching me Fang. My papa was gone to another village for the first few days, so I was confused. Mama and Papa have 12 kids, none live at the house - the wives of two and some of their children live here and my uncle and aunt (papa's brother and sister). So the house is fairly quiet now even though more than 12 people live here. Each day I wake up and make coffee for my Papa (I gave up the first day trying to figure out who is whom and called the men Papas, women Mamas, people my age and younger brothers and sisters, it's what everyone here does and it's easy). The first full day in the village my brother (who lives in another village) took me around. He was assigned this task b/c he speaks English well. He left the next day for school in Libreville. That night we had a meeting in the corps de garde (where the men hang out and chat all day) with the 3 chefs in the village and other important (rich) men. At this point I was at a kind of disadvantage - in the most advanced language group but two levels below one woman and one level below another - so they could communicate fairly effectively and I could sit there and smile. Amanda talked a lot and Chula some. Then one of the chefs wanted me to say something - I said I had no questions at this time. At the end he asked me Ca va? I said oui, ca va, (the only comment I could come up with) but it was apparently pretty funny to all of them. We planned a reunion with the village and (even though women are not allowed to hang out in the corps de garde) we were invited to stop by and chat any time we passed by with the latest bavarder. The was biensur b/c we are American women, Peace Corps, so it's acceptable - plus we are told times are a changing and its now OK, sometimes, for women to sit in the corps de garde (maybe for one second when she brings a feast to the guys). The women hang in the cuisine all day, and I mean all day.
"The food here is good - lots of variety if you look for it and (sometimes) willing to pay. People here farm on plantations - much like we learned about - slash in July, burn in August, plant in Sept at the beginning of la grande saison pluevie. There are four seasons, 2 wet, 2 dry, 1 grande and 1 petite of each. The plantations are hard to distinguish immediately from plain old brousse, but after seeing a plantation explained and all, one knows. They grow bananas, LOTS of manioc, maize, concombres (squash), cacao, peanuts, these fruit things with white covered seed things inside (you eat the inside but not the seeds), sugar cane, taro, coconuts, and pineapple. Things like pineapple will just be hanging out there and you can just pick it if its ripe (if not on plantation). Here in Mbolozok there is a patrilineal system of family and land is owned by men, passed down to sons, burned and debroussed by men and planted, weeded and harvested by women. Men do less work (length of time) but it is harder physical labor, more intense. Right now my papas are weaving baskets (heche ?) for fishing. Every morning they have 2-3 more made. Each family has their part of the river to fish in. Men have pirouges, the women fish too, but by building dams and using mild poison.
"At home I eat mostly mashed concombres with fuielles de manioc, peanuts, and fish-type stew, Peace Corps food (rice, chicken, pasta, tomato sauce), manioc batons, manioc tubers. I had crocodile one day in a restaurant and Folly, our T.O. bought a huge viper and made viper with broth.. I didn't have any but heard it was great. I also had pangolin, which is a small ant-eater thing. I eat a lot of fish because we live right next to the river.
"So far I've several adventures - the most famous has raised me to super celebrity status. I was stuck en brousse for more than two hours one night. A few days earlier my brother took me to a beautiful monolith view where one can see a nice horizon complete with mountains. He told me to have someone escort me if I ever wanted to go back, but I did not heed this advice. A few days later Chula, Amanda and I riding were our bikes back from technical training in Toulon to Mbolozok with Peter (who lives in Toulon) and it was 6 o'clock sunset time and I thought it would be nice to see the sunset from there. My first mistake 6 PM gets dark FAST. 2nd mistake, no machete. 3rd mistake, non-indigenous person thinking "Oh it's easy to get there , it took 20 minutes the other day"*, * = with a guide. So, after 20 minutes of struggling to get there - turned back because it was getting dark. Well, we got all twisted around, then I basically slipped down a steep hill into a swamp and couldn't get back because of lianas and crap (the plants have HUGE thorns). My friends tried to get me to come up but I was essentially sinking in the mud and the only way to ascend was by grabbing stuff which I couldn't because of the thorns. By this time I was caked in mud, covered in scratches and perched on a branch, irritated and thinking "Oh, shit, what am I going to do." I sat there while others went to Akoume for help. 2 hours later a man triangulated my position by hearing my voice and in about 20-30 minutes macheted himself, a search party, and my friends to my rescue. He slashed through to me, stuck out his hand and said Mbolo! (hello, welcome). Never has the word Mbolo seemed so significant. After hiking 15 minutes to Akoume I realized most of Toulon, Akoume and Mbololozok was there, including my extremely stressed out family. My papa gave me a stern talking to about trying to go en brousse alone and my mama cried and talked really fast Fang. We had a big fete at the "Tue-me ce soir" where we bought beer and cokes for everyone. That night I had to scrub mud from my cuts with stingy soap. Not fun. The next day I was a celebrity as everyone wanted to ask me why my honky-ass would dare venture en brousse alone and to (painfully) grab my arms and legs, shreik and cluck. Now when they see me they comment on how well I've healed "Ca va passe, ca va fin." and tell me not to go en brousse again.
"Regab, the beer of Gabon, is not bad, but there seems to be some odd preference for Regab in the brown bottles over the Regab in green bottles.
"I acclimated myself to wearing pants and long sleeves all the time right away."
"This letter is coming to you from Mendenou - a city right on the frontier of Equatorial Guinea. It's very beautiful here, there are lots of towering rock formations,
"After site visit we have 3 weeks left au village, then one last week at the farm, then (hopefully) I'll be sworn in as a volunteer. I have achieved the required language competency even though I came down with a case of impetigo that day. I woke up with these lovely lesions on my face and decided I'd better head in to Oyem to see Fanny (nurse), but not before I took the language test. I got some antibiotics and all is normal again, but when I get back to Mbolozok I'm going to douse the room and my garments in bleach so I can try to avoid another incident of that.
"I think I have adapted fairly well to life here now that I can get my point across relatively well in French. The stage [training] is jammed full of activity and everyone complains we don't have enough free time. They respond, 'wait until you get to post.'
"Yesterday I went to the plantation with my site visit family and weeded for a few hours, then planted some manioc and ate a LOT of sugar cane. My sister-in-law kept saying, "Quand on se repose de la soleil, il faut sucer la canne de sucre. C'est bon." I agreed."
A few days later back in Mbolozok:
"My sister here in the village just walked in with a squawking chicken and said 'This if for you. We're going to kill it now and prepare it to eat OK?' I said, 'OK,' then petted the chicken and said 'sorry buddy." I can hear them sharpening the machete - going out back - can still hear squawking oh, slit neck - dead. It's my going away fete - she asked have you ever seen this? I think she was a little confused by my laughter and the look on my face because she asked, 'Is this chicken OK?'
"For Thanksgiving we're going to eat one of the turkey's
from the farm. My friend Tami wants to kill it, in fact, she wants
to kill all of them. You know you're in Gabon when you see your
assistant technical trainer/PCV look at a chicken and say, 'I
want to eat that, does anyone else want to eat that? That chicken
is making me hungry."
"Things are going well. Our swear-in date is the 16th December- So not much stage is left. I found out I will be posted in Makokou which is towards the East. Lots of wildlife, rivers + Waterfalls, and "elephant problems." More isolated and was evacuated before for- yep- Ebola."
March 5, 1999
"My latest drama is my toenail (on my big toe) coming all the way off after stubbing it on a stump. It's gone but they assure me it will be back some day. A secondary project, see how long it takes for a toenail to fully grow."
"I am posted in a small Bakota village (<75 inhabitants) 7 km from Makokou, the provincial capital. It is one day's journey to Franceville, Libreville, Oyem, and Mekambo by car. The region is densely (completely) forested and sparsely populated. Farmers practice subsistence slash and burn agriculture. The main food crops are cassava, corn, peanuts, and bananas (plantain and sweet).
In the village.
Slash agriculture in secondary forest.
Lynne (seated right) at the bridge.
Pounding manioc to make batons.
Making ngoss, corn wine. "Strong as hell, but I like it (not too much)"
Joseph the sculptor.
Life has definitely been interesting. So much has happened. Emotionally - I have been like a roller coaster. So much of what I learned while @ Tech is just sinking in now - like how long everything takes - what being patient REALLY means, etc.
I went to Lop in May. I saw monkeys and elephants and lots of stuff. I got to hold a live baby chimpanzee - it was so beautiful but sad - mom was eaten - baby cannot go back to wild. I don't think Ecotourism works too well here b/c it's so hard to see animals b/c of the jungle and its so damned expensive. It was fun though. Lop is the next rain stop after Booue - which is where I get on and off. The other volunteer I was with and I slept in the Lop train station and took the merchandise train the next morning to Booue. I felt like a hobo, it was an exhausting experience. We scored a ride from some health big-wigs in Booue but we sat in the back - where I got to MKK I was covered in orange-maroon dust from head to toe and exhausted. Not my finest hour.
I also took an awesome bike trip. Caleb, Brad, and Faith (FishV, HealthV, HealthV) and I rode from Caleb's village (Ebe Messe (a tree home) to Booue on an abandoned logging road. We camped out en brousse and ate cuisine sauvage. It was scary at times because we saw so much elephant shit - we could see their entry holes into the jungle and could her them. I saw so many monkeys, antelopes, beautiful birds, a HUGE spider web and spider. Caleb was a little ahead and he came upon a gorilla on the side of the road munching with a baby on its back. He's just said he thought the one thing he'd never seen here was a gorilla - plus it was his birthday. The 2nd day I could really sense the climate change. Ebe Messe/Ovan is in the forest - Booue is mountainous savannah and it got butt hot and sunny. Right now where I'm posted it's the dry season and cool and overcast everyday. It can be depressing but I love it because its not hot nor humid at night. I snuggle under my mosquito net with my fleece blanket and book and am in heaven. Soon, the rainy season will be here and I'll get some good violent storms. Maybe my toilet roof will blow off like my post mates did.
I also attended my first retrait dieul. They have a lot of those in the summer. A three day party. In our cuisine (Gastons) there were nine three-stone fires going at once, women cooked all day - then everyone ate- then dancing till the sun came up. Old mamas were getting down - it was so interesting to see. Even I made a plate - beans - plus I popped popcorn for the mamas for a little snack treat. They loved it. Gaston tried to take some and they shooed him away and said "Lynn made that for us, the women who cook."
A German Guppy researcher came to Ebe-Messe and asked Caleb in broken English, "Do you know Lynn Kraskoookooo?" Caleb said - "she lives down the road 30 km ." He said, "She's on the web - Regab we saw Regab". Isn't that something?
Some photos from Lynne in Early 2000 are on a separate page. If you have a slow modem it will take time to bring up the photos. Scroll to right to see some of the pictures.
I hope you're getting my quarterly reports by now. Strangely enough, I'm getting the gist. I'm finding I fit into this Gabonese mentality- or African or Agrarian Society- whatever you'd call it- but I mean mostly there's no rush (except the one I may create). This doesn't exactly fit in with everyone's schedule in US, and I am reminded of it when I talk on the phone or read letters.
Anyway. I am rambling. So- First- thanks for the books and the tape. I am overwhelmed. I read The Mandarins a while back and really enjoyed it. I started Neuromancer but haven't had quite time to read lately (except waiting for cars in my village and usually I attract a cloud of kids).
So- Physically- I am not sick (except a cold). (Knock on wood)
Work-wise. Things are starting (have started) to really take form. I feel like my schedule is becoming a monthly series of "meetings" with the ides of teaching a topic and doing Q & A things. We just had IST and did a really fun avocado raising part where we each (PCV's) invited a farmer. I invited Ivon and Denis- twins from my village and it was great. It was run by VSF. I asked for $1000 or $700 from the US/Canadian Embassy self-help fund to start these guys off. If that falls through I'll go for SPA. It's a huge pain-in-the-ass type deal out here so I'm going for easy money first and if I get it* (which there is a decent chance as the guy said there weren't many great entries this year, and they want to get into the interior but lack ways and there's a PCV "supervising" use of the funds)* we'll be breaking ground soon.
We did two seminars on gardening. Pam did "Le Compost" which was interesting (these farmers here were somewhat confused - but okay when they saw a compostier). I did "The Big 4": Basic Garden Management. Weeds and weeding; Maladies and Treating Soil before planting with NEEM or letting sun kill off fungi, etc. plus Crop rotation; Animals/ Ravequers why build a barrier and Insects- Natural Pest Control. It was really fun and we were invited back to do more so I said monthly- So I'll go Ovan, one weekend and MKK the MéKambo another. The rest of the time will be spent in village with garden and farmer visits. School garden not likely at this time as school is not in session, but possible.
In MéKambo the seminar had half Cacao farmers and the New Chef du Sector of Agriculture and the SOCAGAB (Cacao planters) Chef du Sector. They are going to assist the seminars and help me work with Cacao plantations. I have thought about (somewhat fleetingly although a possibility) staying a third year to live in MéKambo and do extension work- concentrating in MéKambo as they are the most organized group of Cacao farmers- and doing monthly things in Ovan and MKK (but more Ovan). Also working on non-cacao extension as this is a great area for farming (sandy soils). The only problem is transporting to markets- but Cacao is taken care of and most of the other products will be sold locally, so probably not a big deal.
One of the farmers I invited was Sam a Ghanaian farmer who started out as a taxi driver and saved money then marries a Gabonise and started planting pimens. He now has two 2½ hectare plantations of pimenet plus 400 chickens for egg production and is planting a Cacao plantation and starting a banana plantation. We all went out to his farm an our Gabonise farmers were dumbstruck . My #1 farmer Nzebilongi said "Je suis malade. J'ai trop des idées dans la tête!" ("I am sick. I have too many ideas in my head!") He is a small version of Sam with a garden, small chicken project, a new banannerie going up and dreams to do Cacao- his wife does peanuts (also maize, manioc, foulou and pimeret.) He is my favorite person to work with. He sold veggies from his garden and was so fired up he made me a dish with palm-nut sauce, cabbage and meat. It was so good. When he gave me two heads of lettuce all his kids followed him and shouted "La Salad, La Salad, La Salad. . .".
So I am working on a series of Cacao seminars from basic to more advanced topics (more advanced in time) like "How to start a Cacao plantation": choose site, how to prepare it, how much work etc., why grow Cacao, improved fermentation, improved drying techniques, how to improve production, how to store it, what are associations and why we have them and how to make a pépinière (nursery) and pépinière vs. direct sowing. I have my work cut out for me as these SOAGAB and Caisse Cacao guys are desperate for anything they can get. They showed me the data- the industry just bombed out- they are producing 10% of what they were in 1970. But I heard at the beginning it was forced so no one wanted to really do it. Now I push not forcing but showing money that can be made- two times each year (that's part of the why grow Cacao seminar).
My petite copine (little friend), Omo, whom I babysat when Grandma went to the plantation and kids were in school died. I found out she had sickle-cell anemia. Her mom had just given birth to a boy three weeks earlier. Quel tristesse (what sadness). Death here is taken/accepted so completely different. A conversation I had many times when I was leaving to go to the States: Lynne: "So, see you in a month". Papa: "Okay, well, if I don't die." Anyway- it was the first person close to me here that died.
Lynne with a friend.
A report from February that showed up in August, the mail isn't always that fast.
I. The realm of gardening seems to be taking off in my area. The things stopping most people are 1) lack of seeds, 2) fear of doing it wrong. I feel there was a big response to the one gardener's results. He sold out of tomatoes, cabbage and lettuce in a short time. He would like to expand but is afraid to put his garden away from the house because of theft. He has also been helping others start gardens by showing how to plant and giving/selling extra plants from his nursery that he doesn't have space for. I went from 1 gardener to 4 or 5 at this point.
II. Caisse Cacao/Socagab - Makokou/ovan
Last November while visiting a new gardener (Nethazme Jean-Pierre), I was able to visit his cacao plantation. He showed me he'd made almost 200,000 CFA (.$400) in one harvest. He is a good planter for Oran - but could drastically improve his operation with a few minor adjustments. So I decided to visit the Caisse Cacao to see if they had any ideas for a sechoir. They told me yes, and they were trying to introduce it in the villages.
The Ovan regions used to produce a lot of Cacao 20 or so years ago, but since then production has dropped to almost 1/10 of what it used to be. Most plantations were abandoned and no longer give well. Original planters are too old to farm any longer and in the 80's the younger folks weren't interested. There is not a very strong connection between the farmers and that the higher-ups (buyers, etc). The farmers complain that there are no products (insecticides) nor tools for them to grow cacao well.
What farmers want:
2. Saplings/seedlings to rejuvenate plantations
3. Better connection between Makokoun and planters
5. For the work to be easier.
What Caisse Cacao/ Socoyals want
1. Improved production
2. Extension work to improve harvests
3. Co-operative to make distribution of products and collection of cacao easier.
4. A date with a white woman extension agent
5. A nursery in the Ovan region
What Lynne wants:
1. Agroforestry work
2. A master's project
Kai (right) in 2005.
Kai in 2006. Starts kindergarten this year.
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Updated : 15 August 2006.