African math: What does a 7-hour trip + rainy season + broken truck equal? A 19-hour trip holding onto each other for dear life in the back of pick-up trucks having the adventure of a lifetime! If you’re going to plant trees in the remote north of Senegal, you gotta get there first. And we did, with the last group straggling in a t 5am in the morning. After a day rest, we walked about a mile from our campsite, where army sergeant Goudjabi divided us into teams of five: two carriers, one digger and two planters armed with razor blades to slice away plastic and carefully insert the precious gift into freshly dug holes.
Velvet green landscape is disorienting until you realize that in a matter of weeks it will be gone along with all traces of moisture for another 10 months. The first day, we planted 2,300 trees and favorably impressed both the project leaders and ourselves. Black clouds on the horizon, however, signaled a monsoon-class rain on the way. A great opportunity to test out our plastic ponchos or lack thereof as raindrops the size of gumballs attacked, refreshing temperatures and irrigating our newly planted trees. One guy, Jonatán from Spain, decided to hitch a ride by jumping onto the back bumper of a 4×4 until it hit a pothole and he briefly became an “A.A.O” (“African Airborne Object”) before completing six, (or was it seven?) in the dust. He’s OK, but he made a unique African memory! Each evening, teams had to literally pump their own fresh water through filters since water in Senegal has too many stomach-turning microbes to even think about. Food is mostly versions of “thieboudienne” cooked by village ladies and served Senegalese-style on large platters for diners seated on the ground. At sundown, we gathered to learn a Chinese song or an African dance and share the testimonies and challenges of the day.
After 3 1/2 days of planting our Sergeant leader and friend tallied up nearly 9,000 tress planted! He explained how important they were in these dry zones, providing firewood, medicinal extracts, material for housing…. In other words, without these trees, villagers will sooner or later pack up and leave, forsaking their ancestral homelands, creating forced de-population and cultural loss while further straining urban centers. Meanwhile, in another village called “Widou”, 3 of our Spanish team ( a gynecologist, a 5th-year medical student and a social worker) joined with local doctors and nurses to set up a mobile medical clinic. People literally came from miles around to sleep at the door of the clinic, and wait hours for medical attention, a luxury in this remote area. They treated over 600 patients in three days, including giving birth to a baby at midnight. Our gynecologist, Dr. Noel, was speechless when the parents decided to name it, “Noelia” in his honor. This is Africa!