Oumar Diédhiou: interview transcript

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Oumar Diédhiou: interview transcript

Oumar Diédhiou is a farmer living in Badiana village, Casamance province, Senegal. He was aged 22 when he was interviewed on 25 April 2010 for the Rural Poverty Report 2011. The interview was recorded in the language of Jola and carried out by a community radio resource person who had an existing relationship with the community but was not a professional researcher.

What's your name?
Oumar Diédhiou

And where do you live?
I live here, in Badiana.

How old are you?
I am 22.

Oumar, can you tell me what your childhood was like?
I can say that I had a nice childhood. There was harmony in our family. My parents had four children, three boys and one girl. I am the eldest child. Unfortunately we lost both of our parents. Since then we have lived in solidarity with my two brothers and our sister.
We have always lived on agriculture. I am not married as yet. So when the rainy season comes, I go to till our fields and my sister sows and plants. I also hire associations to help me with ploughing. Here we have these groups in the village and they will plough peanut fields as well as rice fields. We use the kadiandou (traditional tilling tool  of the Jola ethnic group).  And I also hire an association to harvest.

You said that your father had four children. Are you all living here or have some of you left to look for a better life somewhere else?
The others are not living here. One brother is learning the Koran with a marabout (religious leader and teacher), and the other brother is teaching in a primary school. Our sister is still at school away from the village. She comes back here during the rainy season holidays.

What about you, did your father take you to school?
Yes he did. I went to school here, in the primary school of the village. When I finished primary school, I had to leave the village because there was no secondary school. I went to Diouloulou (26 km north of Badiana) where I attended secondary school for three years.

Why only three years?
After three years, my mother was by then seriously ill. My father wasn't too well either. They couldn't pay school fees for my younger brothers. There was nothing in the house. Food was a daily problem. So I said that as the eldest son, it was my duty to take over and take care of our parents as well as support my younger brothers and our sister so that they could study and reach levels I was not able to reach.

Do you think going to school has been useful to you?
Yes I do. They taught me a lot of things at school. We learnt how to organize a school cooperative both at primary and secondary levels. I really learnt to lead, and also I can work out figures myself without the help of anybody, and I can write and read my letters or do whatever I need to write or read. You know when I went to primary school, there was no fee at all. They even gave you [text] books and copy books for free. When I went to secondary school my father bought all those things for me. But it wasn't easy. Sometimes, when I would come to visit my parents, I wouldn't even have transport money to go back to Diouloulou. And even when my father could give it to me, I usually walked all the distance to Diouloulou so that I could keep the money for other needs. The family where I was staying would give me meals. But when I needed something else I couldn't expect them to give me money for that.

Where you stayed in Diouloulou, you didn't have problems there? For instance did you have regular meals, or did you have a proper place to sleep? 
There were a lot of people in that house. You know there were quite a few of us coming from villages to study in Diouloulou who stayed there. That family itself had their own relatives who stayed there. So food was not always sufficient.

And what did you do when food was not sufficient?
That's where the little money given to me by father for transport was helpful. I could buy peanuts or something else to eat

What if you didn't have any money left?
Then I had to live with that.

Do you regret having cut short your studies?

I feel I have studied far enough to do a lot of things

What kind of things?
I can lead an association, I can read, I can write, I could even have a paid job. You know studying away from your parents is very difficult. You have no moral support, sometimes not enough food, you may be short of a lot of necessary things, and you do not have someone who can guide you in your studies or help with your homework. Let alone buying kerosene for the lamp to study in the evenings.

As a peasant, do you think that the fact that you have been to school will help in your activities in the fields, or in cattle breeding?
Yes it does. You understand things better.

But some young people who have studied end up believing that working the land is not for them.
That is a mistake. Working the land is a job. If you study you can improve your methods. You can change and be more efficient. For instance in cattle breeding you can understand why you need a vet. Take artificial insemination of cattle, it can help improve the breeds so that you can have a lot of milk.

When did your parents die?
Both my parents died the same year. It was two years ago. We are now left alone. Both of them died of illness. My mother was the first to fall ill. In fact she had been ill for seven or eight years. We tried what we could. But she didn't recover. I myself was the one who was taking her to the health care centre. She died on February 12, 2008. When she died, my father also fell ill. I took him to the health care centre and to traditional healers. He too died a few months later. Now I am the head of the family.

How is life organized here, now that your parents are gone?
I know that in former times, when children lost their parents, they went to their uncles and grew up there. But nowadays things have changed. It seems that everyone fends for himself. Life is so hard now. You cannot take care of your family and add, to your burden, the family of your deceased brother. So it's up to orphan children to stick together and help each other. But when we have a big problem we do go to our uncles so that they can help us find a solution. And also they have given us the land our father used to plough.

You said that your brothers and your sister do not live here, and that you need to support them. What do you do exactly?
When I started supporting them my father was still alive. I left school to be in charge of the house. When rain starts, I clear the bushes in our fields and grow millet, peanuts, and tobacco. I also grow vegetables and rice and today I have fruit trees. This is what I used to do for the family to survive and I still do it.

Do you sometimes think that it is better that you go and look for another job instead of remaining a peasant?
Leaving to go and look for another job is the normal thing. But in my situation I cannot do that. I can only hope to get help to improve what I do and support my brothers and my sister better.

So you think that the fact you went to school is helpful enough for you to stay here?
Yes it is. I understand the logic behind whatever activity I carry out. And I am more efficient. I know how to use fertilizers, for instance. I can make projections and set objectives for myself.

Do you think you still need some kind of technical training?
Yes I need training in tree growing. I'd like to have a better command of tree transplanting.

If you develop the technical skills you say you need, will you continue working here, or will you go somewhere else, for instance Spain, as some young people are doing?
I'll stay here. It's here where I have land.

Do you see yourself doing this kind of work in the next 10 to 20 years?
Yes, I am convinced I'll be doing this. Because the most difficult thing is to have land. And here I have space. I may simply need help in terms of equipment to be more effective in my work.

What kind of difficulties do you encounter that don't allow you to be effective?
You know the rain cycle is now very short. That gives you little time to grow peanuts, for instance. If I had the proper equipment I could work faster and adapt to the rain cycle. Same situation for rice. Associations you hire to come and help are not readily available and they may come too late. Ploughing with the kadiandou is very hard, very slow; it is outdated because it's been used for over a century. It should be changed.  We need to have the appropriate equipment to work faster. That way we can make an adequate living. It's the only way peasants can have the courage to stay in agriculture. Otherwise it's too hard and it hardly feeds you. So any of us who can have a better job will leave.

What kind of job are you thinking of?
A salaried job in a company. At least it won't be so tiring and you can have a decent life with what you earn.

Have you heard of climate change?
Yes, the climate has changed indeed. Before, the rain span was long. Now it is very short. The bushes dry up and catch fire every year. The shortage of rain has also some influence on fruit trees. If you take mangos for instance, they all get ripe at the same time and are wasted. Yes I am aware that our environment has changed because of climate change.

What about the consequences of climate change in the rest of the world: do you know anything about it?

Why? You don't have a radio set to follow what they say about it?
I do a have radio set. But I just don't have time to follow that type of news.

Apart from agriculture, what do you do to earn some money? For instance, do you sell anything at all?
No; I don't. To start a trade you need a minimum of funds.

What do you think would get you out of poverty?
I need help to acquire agricultural equipment. It's impossible to continue with the way our ancestors used to work. I also need good seeds and fertilizers. We also need small dams to retain water when it rains. Otherwise it all goes to the river. Because of the running water, sand is invading the rice fields and they will soon be useless.

Apart from ploughing, what can a peasant do to improve his living conditions?
He can start a petty trade. Here for instance you can sell dried fish, or get wild fruits to sell.

What about what you grow in your fields, can you sell any of your produce?
Yes I do sell most of my market gardening produce. That helps pay for school fees and improve the diet here at home. Of course my biggest revenue comes from selling peanuts.

Is there a specific time when market gardening produce sells better?
Yes there is. Every product has its time. Let's take lemons. They get ripe before mangos, and then we get to sell produce from our market garden

What do you sell the most in this village?
Wild fruits, palm oil, mangos…

What difficulties do you encounter in selling that produce?
Buyers are not easy to find. And fruits get rotten fast. So you have to agree with other people in the village to have a large enough quantity to convince buyers to come to the village. The problem is when you get them to come here, they impose their prices. If you don't sell, your products can go bad and you lose. If we had somebody in the village who could buy from us and take the goods to sell them in town, that would have been good. But no one is doing it.

So what do you think should be done about it?
Villagers should organize themselves. That way we can designate people who can buy our goods and take them to cities.

As the situation is, are you part of the people who go to town to say that the village has goods to sell?
Actually, we don't really like telling people that we have goods to sell. That is like telling them that you have a problem of money. Whoever comes to buy will believe you are ready to sell at any price in order to have money to solve your problem. So we wait for someone to turn up. But if no one turns up, we form a delegation and send it to town to look for a buyer.

Have you ever travelled out of Badiana and been to a city, apart from when you were at secondary school?  Dakar, for instance.
I have never been to Dakar. In fact since I left school I have never travelled to a town. 

What about the rest of your family; has anybody travelled to a big city or even outside Senegal.
No. No member of our family has ever been to a big city, let alone gone outside Senegal.

You must have heard of young Senegalese people who take dugout boats to go to Spain or other European countries. What do you think about that?
Yes I have heard about them. I believe they cannot find ways to travel legally and in a safer way. The consequences are sometimes tragic. The boats can capsize in the middle of the ocean. And you die. Even when you get to the country where you want to go, the police there can catch you and send you back home. You will have lost the savings you have invested in that kind of travel. That's why I will never attempt to do it.

So you've never been tempted to try to get out of the country like other young people?
Whenever you see someone who comes from a European country, you can only dream of going there; because they have well paid jobs. You can build a good house, buy a nice car, or anything good you like. So it's true, I sometimes think that if I have the means to travel to European countries, I will go so that I can improve the lives of my people.

You really believe that it will help improve your lives?
Oh yes, it will! Most of those who go there are visibly better off. When God helps you to go there, when you come back you forget about poverty.

How do you see that people who go to European countries and come back have escaped poverty?
It is obvious. They sometimes build a beautiful house, drive a nice car. They can even start a business here and employ people like us.

You talked about the village getting organized; do you belong to an association of any sort?
Yes I belong to the village association.

And what do you do there?
I am one of the leaders of that association. Thank God we've managed to get a rice mill. And that is of great help to women.

How many associations are there in the village?
We have one for the whole village, our district has one. I also belong to an association of tobacco growers. And, finally there is an umbrella association based in Diouloulou. 

Are they associations of women, men, adults, or young people?
It is usually mixed. If you take the tobacco growers association, only one woman is a member. But for the rest it is men, women, young people.

How do you get information from outside the village, or even outside the area?
We get it from community radio stations. There are three of them based in the area.

You are the head of the family since you are the elder child. When you have difficulties, who do you confide in?
I discuss with my brothers in difficult times as well as in happy times

Apart from your work, do you have time for any leisure?
When I finish my work, I rest. Unless the village is organizing an event.

What kind of event?
We can have a dancing party, a kumpo (masked dancing), or sacred woods dances.

Which one will you go to even when you are very tired?
Parties at night. When I hear the music I just go.

When they talk about poor people, who do you think of as poor people in this part of the world?
For me it's peasants. Especially nowadays, peasants don't get much out of the land.

Are there people who are poorer than others?
Yes there are. Those who work hard are better off. But those who are lazy are poor. You also have handicapped people. For instance those who don't see rely on help from others.

What about your compound, are you poorer than the others or are there people who are worse off?
I thank God.  We are not at the bottom of the ladder.

In what way are you better off than others?
Well, there are things we can get and others can't. For instance when somebody is selling fish in the village, I can buy.

You mean there are others who can't buy?
Yes there are some who most of the time cannot buy. You also have old people who cannot go up the trees to get fruits. In this area you have a lot of palm trees. If you are handicapped or old, you cannot climb to get palm nuts. Some women have lost their husbands. They really have a hard time fending for themselves.

Why, do you think, can't we get out of poverty in this part of the world?
There are a lot of reasons. For us peasants, if it doesn't rain enough, we cannot produce. And also salt is gaining on our rice fields. Diseases also prevent us from producing. And another reason is some people are now too old to work efficiently.

What do you do in cases of emergency? For instance somebody may fall ill, how do you find the means to take care of that person?
In cases of emergency, whether it is a happy or difficult event, you go borrow money from somebody who has managed to save some or from the funds of an association, and you pay back later.

Do those who borrow really pay back?
They should. Because if they don't they will never be able to borrow again in times of need. In fact when for instance you lose somebody in the family, the rest of the village will help and each member will give whatever he can. If still you need more, you can go and borrow from someone else. If that person sees that you really cannot pay back, they sometimes forgive you. I have never heard of someone being taken to court in this village because of debt.

Are there people who cannot borrow because of their reputation of not paying back?
They exist in the village. And when one of their family members falls seriously ill, it is really difficult for them. They may lose that family member for lack of care.

Why do you think, they don't pay back their debts?
Some are like that. They borrow here for this time and don't pay back; and next time they move on to another person. In the end they get a bad reputation. Others refuse to take part in the work of associations. So the rest of the community is not keen to show any solidarity with them.

What time of the year is the most difficult for food here?
There are times when food is really difficult in the village. You may see a small bowl of rice for a big number of people and you know it is far from enough for them. It is usually in the months from October to December. There are no fruits and rice is not ripe yet. Families here go through really difficult moments.

What do people do during those difficult times: do they cut out one or two meals in the day?
We rarely have three meals here. We have lunch and dinner. So in some families they will do everything to have lunch. In the evening they will try and look for something to give to the really young ones. If they can't everyone goes to bed with an empty belly. And they will not want anyone outside the house to know. The problem is lunch. If they don't have it, children will go to other houses and ask for food. But if it is in the evening that they don't have food, you can give them water and they will sleep.

Can we come back again to your own future? Where do you think you will stand in ten years: will you be better off or will you be poorer?
I have great hope that I will be better off.

What makes you say that?
I believe some things will improve. For instance they may come up with better and shorter cycle seeds or something that makes you produce better and faster. So that when the rain is not enough it won't affect your production too much. And maybe there will be companies here that will employ people who will buy your produce.

Do you think government action is useful for villages?
Yes. Government has built schools and they will be useful for future generations. There are also football grounds and maybe some youngsters from the village will be leaders tomorrow or renowned footballers.

You are young and hopefully you will have children. Do you think they will have a better life than you or not?
We all hope and pray that our children have a better life than us. And I believe they will indeed have a better life. The world is moving and they will have better means to make a living. Who would have thought that there would be a radio station in this area? There are even people who have television sets in the village.

Do you think they will work the land like you?
No. I hope they will be doing something else. They will have a much higher education than I've had.

As the head of the family, what advice do you have for the younger ones?
I am telling them to take school very seriously. And they must not be lazy. That way they can have a good future.

If you were chosen as the leader of villages in the area, what would you do to develop them?
I will first call people from villages and discuss the best course of action to take. I will explain to people that development depends on us. We have first to work hard. Then we will need help from outside partners in terms of better seeds, or infrastructure such as small dams to save the rice fields from salt. You know partners do help. But peasants don't always see that help. Because we are not always represented by the right people. But if it is a peasant like me who is leading, things will go the right way. I will not neglect health care. We lack proper equipment here, and health centres often send you to the neighbouring town of Bignona. In fact if I was to be the leader, I would put all my strength into health. You cannot work if you are not in good health.

In the area, are there people with wealth? If so, how did they get their wealth?
Yes there are. Some of them really worked hard for it. Others got help from family members who are working abroad. For the rest we can say that it is God who has given them their wealth.

Do you believe work can give you wealth?
Yes I believe that hard work can give you wealth.

Thank you very much Oumar.