By Nicki Goh, KF9 Senegal

After more than 2 months of waiting, the time has finally come for me to put into practice all that I learned back at the KF9 training week in San Francisco. As I sit here at the beginning of my second week working at Senegal Ecovillage Microfinance (SEM) I remember the nervous anticipation and excitement that I felt back in September when I embarked upon this Kiva journey – a journey which has so far included two flights and 3000 miles in a converted Army truck.

During the past 5 weeks that I have spent travelling through West Africa prior to this Fellowship, I have watched the landscape slowly evolve from Marrakech’s Atlas Mountains, through the sand dunes of the Mauritanian Sahara, on into the rolling plains of the Sahel in Mali and Burkina Faso and ending in the lush, tropical forests of Ghana’s southern regions. Quite a journey. And along the way I had small insights into the culture of my final destination – Paris-Dakar rally cars racing through the West Saharan desert; Senegal’s national dish of ceeb u jen being served everywhere in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott; snippets of Senegalese rap in the bars of Ouagadougou and the traditions of Mali’s Bambara population whose shared heritage with the Senegalese Malinke transcends the somewhat arbitrary national border dividing them. Overall, plenty to maintain the buzz from Kiva training and to give me plenty to look forward to!

And so, in Ghana I bid farewell to my English-speaking travel companions to immerse myself once again in a Francophone culture without the comfort and reassurance that fellow travellers tend to provide. I abandoned the truck, the tent and the travelling in favour of a place to settle into for a while. And what better place to call home than Senegal – the land of teranga (hospitality).

The Senegalese people make great efforts to welcome visitors into their homes and to introduce them to their language and customs. They take pride in their hospitality and their country. You can barely walk down the street without being approached by a man with an outstretched hand, willing to talk all afternoon about his country, his people and even his religion. Here it is impolite to talk to someone before going through a string of greetings, enquiring about the person’s health, how their day is going and whether their family members are well. In fact, I have already been politely ‘reminded’ of this fact when I rudely asked a taxi driver for a fare and asked a passer-by for the time without first going through the full routine. Maybe they’d find it amusing to hear that where I’m from, in London, commuters make just as much effort to avoid making eye contact or even (shock, horror!) conversation with another human being when in public!

And so I am learning my Senegalese manners and sure enough have been making new ‘friends’ everywhere I go. And if I was ever worried about leaving my travelling companions or arriving here to feel totally alone, I needn’t have been. Even during a quiet drink on the beach, I was soon joined by two women, curious to meet me and to ‘discuss’ with me the merits or otherwise of microfinance. Granted these friendly formalities and chit-chat quite often descend into a sales pitch of some kind but, as one man explained to me “Les Senegalais collent – mais c’est pas comme les moustiques!” (rough translation – thanks Josianne for the correction!: Senegalese people will stick to you like an mosquito but at least we don’t bite)!

Over the coming weeks, I hope to introduce you to the excellent work that SEM is currently doing for around 40 ecovillages scattered around the country. As part of the GENSEN network (Global Ecovillage network of Senegal) SEM is working to support the sustainable development of these villages and has benefited from the generosity of Kiva lenders for almost 4 years. In fact, it was one of the very first field partners to appear on the site. Please check out their partner page on the Kiva website and consider making a loan to one of their groups!

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