Monday, August 3, 2009

if it is in the news then it is true!...?

Nos étudiants

Deux étudiants de l’Institut s’investissent dans des projets de développement en Afrique.

Doctorants au sein de l’unité d’économie internationale, Natascha Wagner et Dany Jaimovich participent, avec le soutien et l’encadrement du Professeur Jean-Louis Arcand, à différentes évaluations d’impact de projets que ce dernier dirige en Afrique subsaharienne. Il s’agit en effet d’évaluer les changements dans le bien-être des communautés après la mise en œuvre d’un projet ou d’un programme en particulier. L’idée centrale demeure ainsi la comparaison entre les groupes de personnes qui reçoivent l’aide et ceux qui ne la reçoivent pas afin d’observer si le programme en vigueur est efficace ou non.

A travers le Community Driven Development Program (CCDP) de la Banque mondiale, Dany Jaimovich a quand à lui décidé de mener ses recherches en Gambie afin de construire une série de matrices d’interaction sociale. Plus concrètement, D. Jaimovich veut voir si la cohésion sociale et le capital social varient en fonction de la mise en œuvre du CCDP. L’analyse des relations socio-économiques permettent ainsi de compiler des informations sur les interactions sur le marché de la terre, du travail, du crédit, des outils de production, du mariage et des relations de sang. D’ailleurs, D. Jaimovich n’hésite pas à souligner que l’un des objectifs du CCDP est de faciliter l’intégration de la communauté.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Noce de campagne

« Certaines coutumes sont si étranges, si curieuses, que j’espère t’amuser encore un instant, cher lecteur, si tu permets que je te raconte en détail une noce de campagne… »

Geoge Sand, « la mare au diable »


PS: The woman is dancing with the 25 Dalasis bill that toubab gave to the new couple

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Spoon Roots

For my recent second trip to Gambia, to coordinate a new round of the social network surveys, we start working in the West part of the North Bank and we were sleeping in Albreda-Jufureh, the location were the most famous best seller related to Gambia is situated.

I was watching "ROOTS" the TV mini-series based on the novel of Alex Haley tracing his origins in XVIII century when Kunta Kinte, supposedly his far ancestor, was capture as slave in Jufureh and brought to the new world. The movie is not bad, but the characterization of Mandinka villages is too stereotypical and, in my view, completely inaccurate.

For example, look at the first part of this extract:

It's ridiculous!! even nowadays, 250 years after, is very difficult to find a spoon in a village (forget about a fork) and no individual bowls exists, everyone share in the same pot. This is the real way:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Field work is a lot of work

OK, if from the last posts you are thinking that this kind of data collecting job means free tickets for vacations in exotic places, let me tell that you can not be more wrong. Maybe some famous researchers can use the trip to stay in nice hotels and have dinner with local intellectuals, but field work is a lot of work. Now I feel like the studies and academic work I have been doing the last four years were light, somehow unreal.

After the arrival to Banjul the tasks were multiple.

Our first mission was to hire the enumerators to conduct the survey. In the Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBoS, a semi-autonomous public institution) they helped us to contact people that usually work as external surveyors with them. We had to select 2 to 4 out of 10 candidates. Difficult task! fortunately for us, all of them were great, very experienced in this kind of job. All the people we contacted were available to go to the field for 1 month or more if necessary. Job opportunities are not particularly abundant.

Finally just some criterion like written English level (I don't know if I would pass this one), knowledge of minoritarian local languages (like Fula and Jola, because Mandinka and Wolof almost all speak), computer skills (not easy to find) and relevant previous experience defined the 4 selected (in the picture together with Mame Cheikh and Lamin Cham, the driver).

A fifty something ex-journalist ex-English teacher, a forty something accounting apprentice and agriculture technician, a thirty something entrepreneur (cafe internet and "video club", the Gambian informal cinemas), a twenty something business student. Professions in Gambia are a bit instable, seems like you always have to be ready to jump from one technical knowledge to another, but at least know how to farm or cook (I mean survival cooking). In the "industrialized" countries they would have been doctors, engineers, CEOs or bohemian rebel artists... ..... Which "world" is better? I cannot answer ... ...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It’s a long way to Banjul if you wanna leave Dakar

Yeah is a long way, such a long way! Well, the naïve idea that from Dakar to Banjul should take 4 to 5 hours, first prediction of Mame Cheikh, was completely wrong. If fact took us around 24 hours. First of all, to leave Dakar is like trying to kill Clint Eastwood in a spaghettii western. The bus system is absolutely chaotic and the adrenalinic experience to bargain one of the transports is very stressing, with herds approaching you to sell any imaginable thing, even if you are under the protection of a Mouride. We took a “sept places”, one of the several Peugeot 505 station-wagons that have been adapted to the extreme conditions of Senegalese highways. The big crazy open urban market that constitutes the outskirts of the city is never ending. Everyone moves from one place to another, but no one seems to be doing anything productive.

The sept places was not the most comfortable way to travel, and we just had one stop when Mame Cheikh asked to stop the car in order to go to pray. Nevertheless when he told me this in French (prier) I understood that he wanted to go to the bathroom, and was weird that all men in the car followed him… Whatever, I’m getting use to the pray times: early in the morning (around 6:30), at 14:00, 17:30, 19:30 and 22:00, more or less… really mark the day here and makes you to structure your time in a different way.

I never realized when we left Dakar, because there is a continuous of small cities that extends the urban unproductive trade market, but at some point we abandoned the urban area and entering in the completely plane Senegalese rural landscape, very dry and quite death, with the exception of the honorable presence of the emblem of the nation, the creature that blows up Saint-Exupery’s imagination: “I pointed out to the little prince that baobabs were not little bushes, but, on the contrary, trees as big as castles” yes…. The Baobab!!! : ) This surreal inhabitant is all over the place, like performing a frenetic dance that follows rhythms out of the human’s time perception.

The other reason why the trip was too long was because to cross the Gambia River is necessary to take a ferry after the Senegalese border, and the last one was at 18hrs, so was impossible for us to even try to take it. Then, we needed to stop in the middle of the road, in a charmless place called Kaolack. Mame Cheikh knew the owner of the local pharmacy, so our stay was free, and he invites us to dinner with him. Everyone was laughing that my only talk was about baobabs…

When we came back to sleep, I looked myself in the mirror and found something strange, almost terrifying… at the beginning I do not quite understood but later I got it. I was just with black people the whole day, and a lot of people! And it was weird to see a white person, even the well known myself…

The day after, we woke up on time for the first pray and depart to KaoSlack bus station… bus station… another apocalyptic collection of sept places, street vendors, goats, garbage, unproductive zombies, etc… In the way from Kaolack to Karang, the border, I saw the real deep Senegal: a collection of small villages with rows of girls going to take water in the wells, kids taking care of the skeletal cattle and guys fixing their huts. Sounds stereotypical and stigmatized, but was like this. Even I had seen things like that in my travels for Latin-American, here the reality was so different, and my own trip had gone so far, that the emotion of the discoverer arose in my, I felt burning from the inside the flame that fueled the imagination of pasts generations and compensated the suffers of the big travelers… and all the epiphany was interrupted at the arrival to the border.

One of those wild borders. In both sides they were amaze of my passport, first time a Chilean appear in this part of earth, at least in the memories of the migration officers (that have been there for a while). They search in the list the requirements for this weird country, that they called Kili in wolof. In the Gambian side any attempt to extract money from me was dismissed when I mentioned the Gambian Bureau of Statistics and the World Bank as my employers. The last stage of the trip was to take the ferry close to the border and cross the broad River Gambia. One hour and we were in Banjul… the real trip had just started…

Friday, March 13, 2009

Just 4 me

Yesterday I was lucky. I was trying to reach a little bar called Mississippi in the area of the Cheikh Anta Diop University where I was told professors go to get drunk but my instructions and poor French were not enough for the taxi driver. He just left me in the front door of the university, and started looking for the bar in the not too safe streets around... when I found a decent bar (in Senegalese standards) I just went in and asked for a Flag and realised that it was a little stage...

- y at-il de musique aujourd'hui??
- bien sûr monsieur...

The beer was expensive, so I was expecting a good show, and it was amazing!!! Just when I came back to my room at la maison de l'universite and read my West Africa Lonely Planet I realised that I was in just4you, the best live music place in Dakar! and the artist was Cheikh Lo (seems like everyone is called Cheikh here...), one of the most popular Senegalese artists. Look this (see how this rich guys dance with CFA bills in their mouth, that afterwards give to the musicians):

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

back to the cradle?

The last days have been intensive. Just one month ago, and under a full moon in Amsterdam I started the forth decade, a moment that I took as a checkpoint to project me in the future, review the past 3 decades, see what have I learned in 30 years walking the non-straight line of life and use past as a guide to start this new stage. I’m grateful to life that at this point I have the opportunity to ask me: what would you like to do in the next decade? and be able to perceive plenty of unexplored exciting paths.

And in this transcendent period of my life the dance of reality has decided to play one of its delightful movements. I have been transported from the mansion of ultra-rationality in Switzerland to the cradle of human foundations in Africa. Of course logic thought make essential part of the human definition, but there is a lot more: feelings, spirituality, animality, etc, to be explored and developed, and I’m decided to take this trip as a return to the source.

What am I doing here? I came to implement a survey study of network interactions among households in villages of The Gambia, as a parallel research project related with the evaluation of a Community Driven Development Project of the World Bank (we work as an external and independent counterpart - I hope so... -). Why me? The place where I’m studying my PhD has recently merged with a development institute of Geneva, and now the Economic Section has started working in issues related with the field, primarily with the hire of Jean-Louis Arcand. He has implemented several studies related with impact evaluation, mainly in West Africa, and I planning to work with this professor for the reminder two papers of my PhD.

I arrive yesterday to Dakar (Senegal), where I will stay until the Saturday preparing some necessary stuff for the trip to Banjul (Gambia's capital city). Here I met Mame Cheikh, a Senegalese PhD student of the University of Saint Louis that will be part of the project. He is a Murid, the main Islamic brotherhood of Senegal (90% of the population follow some kind of sufi order, and they are very religious, as the difficulties to find a beer can tell!!), which started in the late XIX century and is known for the fight against colonialism, the cult of work and the openness to other belief. Mame Cheikh, as most of the people in Senegal, speaks Wolof, the local main language, a skill that will be very useful in our field work, even though people in the Gambian villages speak mainly Mandinka, but most can understand Wolof as well.

OK, this is just the begining of a long, long friendship....I hope that I will have time in the future to keep this blog updated, since I feel the need to keep track of the evolution of this new adventure for myself and to share it with some of you that might be interested... a bientôt !!

Para mi gente de Chile.... perdón que me puse a escribir este blog en ingles, pero hay varios amigos con los que quiero compartir impresiones del viaje y que no podrían seguirlo en español. Para mí también es un webeo escribir en ingles y hace las cosas mucho más lentas, pero espero lo tomen como una oportunidad para practicar la lengua de Shakespeare, ya que para mí también es un desafío intentar expresar mis ideas en esa idioma… Un abrazo desde la cuna de la humanidad!

In the picture: For first time in my life someone went to take me at the airport with my name written in a sign!!!... Thanks Samba