My name is Laurenne Poli. I am soon to be 27 years old, and I am of Corsican origin. I have been wonderfully fortunate enough to spend two weeks in the ecocommune of Guede Chantier during the month of June 2017, from the 15th to the 29th.
After having finished my studies in Human Resources Management (At the Institut d’études politiques de Paris in 2013), I went on to work for a year as a Human Resources Assistant at Ipsos (A French market research firm) where I had finished my education as a master. Having been able to save up enough money, I decided to go to Australia under a WHV (working holiday visa), so as to improve my level of English and as well so as to experience a new facet of life. I worked there for six months as a food preparation assistant in a restaurant at Perth so as to save up money for purchasing a car, with which I would be able to visit the rest of the country and to be able to live on the farm for 3 months. This would ensure my acquisition of a second year of my visa. Pursuing this, I passed several months “Wwoofing”, with the World-Wide Opportunities on Organic ( Farmwwoofinternational.org ), living with different families, in different states, and on different types of farms. This was my first real contact with “life on the farm”, and organic agriculture. For me, it was a rich and nourishing experience, where I learned much about the rewards of organic agricultural, and above all else I have become conscious of the long and laborious process for producing our food, of the chain of work which stretches from the soil to our plates.
After having spent a year in Australia I decided to return to France : for me, I felt that I had done my time in Australia and I was not starstruck culture of that country. Very soon after my return, I found employment in Ethiopia as a project coordinator for Systra (a French enterprise involved in engineering consultation for a project of constructing the 2nd railroad line in their country) in their accounting. It was once again a new experience which was rich with lessons that I learned, but my position offered me little pleasure beyond this. Thus, I decided to not renew my contract. With the money that I had earned during my year in Ethiopia, I once again voyaged beyond France some two months later, and this time travelled across the world (to the Philippes, New Caledonia, Japan, Colombia, Cuba, Jamaica, and Senegal). I chose to finish this long voyage with Senegal, a country which has drawn me towards it since long ago, and which I have often heard many good and positive things. It was in this context and thanks to the help of an Ethiopian friend that I made the acquaintance of Ousmane Pame, gaining the opportunity to spend, more as an eager eyed observer than a volunteer, two weeks in his village, at the ecommune of Guede Chantier.
It took me almost two days to reach Guedge Chantier, but the this journey can be undertaken much more quickly than that, as I had done in coming back. When I left Dakar, I became aware that I was leaving a metropolis so as to voyage into remote, hot, and arid lands. When I arrived, Assane Diop, the right-hand man of Ousmane at Guede, had been waiting for me and led me from the crossroads of the national autoroute to the village. The short ride from the autoroute to the village was in a horse-drawn carriage, and thus I truly entered into the village in a special ambiance! I was warmly welcomed by two of Ousmane’s sisters, Jadija and Astel, in their large family house where a large part of the Pame family lives (around 20 people). I was welcomed as if I was part of their family, a bedchamber had been prepared for me, everybody came to greet me, the children were excited about having a stranger visit and everybody wanted to take care of my every need. I already knew that my stay there would be marvellous!
The day after, and until the end of my stay there, I spent most of my time with Assane. He brought me to visit the village and the surrounding communities, to visit many people, showed me the installations and the various projects put in place thanks to Ousmane (such as multi-functional environmental houses, garbage dumps, schools, community gardens). There is a peaceful ambiance exuded in Guede Chantier, one which the inhabitants reflect in their warmth and welcoming nature.
My role as a volunteer had been, I must confess, very limited. I was more of a tourist-observer than a helper. In light of this “inactivity” I found my inability to do more to aid in the development of the ecocommunity far harder to cope with than any boredom! And despite all activities being leisurely conducted due to the heat and Ramadan, time passed quickly and I could hardly see the days flashing by. That being said, I hope that I will be able to return to Guede Chantier at a time which is more propitious, where I can work on a project in need of manpower where I can make a difference.
As I mentioned above, during this period of the year it is very hot in the north of Senegal. And in the month of Ramadan, people do their best to respect the rules of this religious time of fasting and purification. For my part, I had tried to fast, and if hunger was not something I found vexing, I had only succeeded in the challenge of going without water for a single day when the climate had been mercifully forgiving. Nevertheless, I do not regret having made the effort because in doing so I gained a better understanding of the spirit and the physical state which the inhabitants found themselves in, and it enabled me to share with them the sense of celebration when the fast is broken daily with the Korité (Eid al-Fitr). Since I am not a Muslim, I had discovered with vivid interest the nature of the fasting during Ramada : the state of quasi lethargy which afflicts the body during the day, the intense anticipation preceding the moment of fast-breaking, the peerless pleasure when one can rehydrate oneself to excess and the satisfaction that arrives as soon as one begins to eat. The ritualized time of the fast-breaking was for me always a source of joy and I am very happy to have been able to experience, in my way and in my own context, the Muslim fast.
Among the cultural aspects, that which was the most pleasing for me is what I would call the style of living “communally”. One of the most striking things in arriving at Guede Chantier, is that everybody greets each other, everywhere and always. Notions like solidarity, sharing, respect for elders, and mutual help seem to assume greater importance, or at least are more perceptible and visible in daily life. Beyond this, what had been the most surprising for me and was the most exotic to my Western way of life and culture, is the family model, and the way in which people live in family. Even if I think that the family is a universal value, shared across the world independently of origins, religions, social level, etc. it is with astonishment, rapture, curiosity, and enthusiasm that I had discovered the vitalic and different signification of this value in Senegal. Being more habituated to nuclear family models (revolving around parents and children), for me the fact that in an extended family everyone (grand parents, parents, children, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, cousins and nieces) live together and in a house which is always open : well, for me that had been the most fascinating and enriching thing of all during my stay! Family, marriage, sharing, intimacy, intergenerationality, these are all values and social dimensions which have meanings that are completely different in Guede Chantier than what I had been used to in the culture in which I had grown up in. There is no judgement which I pass upon these values, I believe that each system presents advantages and constraints, and general correspond best to their own local ways of life. In every way looking back on it, I feel extremely fortunate to have experienced during an all too brief period of time this way of life and above all to have been able to been at the heart of the Pame family and alongside Assane. All of these people welcomed with a remarkable hospitality, generosity, and openness.
I do not have the words to sufficiently express all of my gratitude towards Dr. Pame, his family and Assane, who took such wonderful care of me during my stay. I truly hope to have the chance to return one day, inshallah, to Senegal and to Guede, or even to have the visit of one of them in France! And I hope qually that this recollection will give you the desire to discover as well this beautiful commune with its magnificent inhabitants, and to contribute in accordance with your own means and possibilities to the numerous inspiring development projects which are found there.