Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tick Tock

Things are coming to an end. It’s a shame that it takes so long to get good at something that by the time you’re really ready, I mean really, get your teeth in there it’s time to leave. I feel like that. I’m at the top of my game with only 2 seconds left on the clock. Well, 2 months but you get the drift. I wasn’t terrible during my service so don’t get me wrong, but in hindsight I could have done even more. The end of service comes with many Schindler’s List moments. Why didn’t I know about and get the list of the 50 most used words in English to teach my host sisters last year instead of a week ago!? Why didn’t I start a Geography club? I could have been doing Life Skills lessons years ago (well, almost). There is always this huge learning curb in life, but how do you get ahead of it?

I remember seeing volunteers that were about to leave. I had only been in Gambia for a couple months and I thought “wow, they really look comfortable here. They have work, they know the language, their families love them, ect”. That isn’t something that happens in a day, and even if you know that, it’s hard to realize at the time that eventually, long long from that moment, you will be a volunteer on the verge of going home. You will know the language, you will know the answers, and your host family will love you (really love you).

New volunteers or those on your way, it’s hard, it’s awkward, it’s frustrating, but even if it takes to the 11th hour, eventually, you won’t be the odd one out, you’ll be the one their crying is on their way out.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Water, not just to brew tea with

For the longest time there was no rain. Well, there was some rain, but not really at the level that it should have been. Peanuts were wilting, corn stalks were short and easily broken, and the rice fields were just dry fields. Then, the rain came and for a week or two it was like a real August rainy season.

I often forgot how much water is vital to every day. Here, I not only know it, I feel it.

Let's take an average day.
I wake up and drink some coffee and make some Oatmeal. I use water that I filter from a bidong. To get the water I have to walk to the center of village with a big empty yellow container and my bike whilst greeting people and hoping the line is short. I use the hand pump to get water into my bidong then lift the heavy water onto my bike and walk it to my house. I have to do this every couple days.

I am slowly becoming rather strong on my right side from carrying water. Every day I get between 2-5 buckets of water for gardening, laundry, bathing, washing dishes, and cleaning. My well isn't far, it's in my compound, but it's not simple like it would be in America. I mean, laundry takes half an hour to start. I clean my buckets, haul water, buy soap (so of course greet people along the way which takes time) and by the time I finally get to scrubbing 30 minutes have gone by.

I dream of the days when water will easily come from a tap once again. Simplicity will come with dishes, laundry, and bathing, and I will once again have symmetrical arms. I'm sure Gambians dream of next year, when all the crops won't be slowly suffering through a drought, enshallah.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Burning Man of Gambia

Recently I went to a Jola circumcision ceremony. I know what doesn’t really sound like a good time but imagine a brisk in which your whole village celebrates for a week. This “program” only happens every 25 years or so, so if you miss a Jola village’s program, you have to wait basically a generation for the next one.

Here is how it goes down but I missed the first day of the party so I will only briefly report on that.

Guys ranging in ages from little kids to 25 year old men sit with their mom and they kill a chicken. The guys later eat the chicken while they are in the bush. After the chicken-cide the boys are led to the bush and they will stay there for a week. I think we all knows what physically goes on while there, it’s in the title, but this is also a time of forming unity with the other men of your village and being part of your culture.

While the guys are in the bush the village become like a Gambian Burning Man. There aren’t naked people (well...) like the dessert party of my home state is known for but there are a couple similarities.

1.There are make shift houses built for all the visiting people. Each compound bought woven fences and used then to build little row houses for the mass of family and friends arriving. Like the dessert in NV it goes from spares to flourishing with human activity.

2. Sense of sharing. This is a Gambian thing in general but I literally ate 7 lunch/dinners one day. I didn’t pay or anything, I just sat around talking and someone put a delicious bowl of food in front of me.

3. Crazy things to see. Though this wasn’t an art show in any way I think by looking at my pictures you can tell that there were some weird things to see there. Man on stilts, men in groups trying to cut themselves with knifes and failing, giant pant wearing men basically thrash dancing with machetes, and dance parties galore.

There are more but I want to get into more detail about some topics mentioned. The first being the men trying to cut themselves. The party has groups of men trying to cut themselves and why are they just trying to cut themselves instead of achieving it? Jujus. If you look at the clothes they are covered in little squares which are see all over the Gambia called Jujus. People get there for love, money, protection, ect. The men are supposedly not able to cut themselves even if they try. The cutting attempts included machete at teh stomach, razor blade against the scalp, and knife on the chest.

The food at this thing was AMAZING. There wasn’t a lot of food to be found in the morning but around 4pm you suddenly find yourself presented with bowls of Jola food I had never tried before and the normal Domada and Benechin.

At night there would be different dance parties. Normally when the sun goes down I am at my compound but for this week it was expected that you roam around going to different dance parties. I love dancing and this Jola dancing was my thing. There was also a smaller tribe semi related to the Jolas that was there and I really enjoyed their dance circle. There was a guitar and singer that were really chill but then there was this fast clapping of bamboo sticks for a rhythm so people could dance.

The music never stopped. We would wake up at 7am and there would be a party going on somewhere. It was literally a week of partying.

I missed the end but the day after I left the boys came out of the bush. They had their own dance party and everyone celebrated the healthy return of all the guys. The village slowly fell back into its normal state of sleepy town with another 25 years to wait till its next big party.

Blow are pictures of the biggest ram I have ever seen and a rice drink that may or may not have been slightly alcoholic. Men were drinking this by the mouthful.

Friday, June 24, 2011


The pictures edition! I am slowly getting more pictures than I can keep up with. Here are a few. The first are of the world map mural I am painting at the school. The last picture is 2 week worth of work.
There is a odd really bitter fruit that grows by the river.
Then is the building of the school pump. It happened fast and now my village has a regular pump and this one that they can use on weekend when school is out.
Then are some teaching aides. The house scene is from a translation of The Boy Who Cried Wolf and the Africa Map is from a game I am making to teach the kids a little bit about geography.
There is a picture of Casey and I who people often confuse. Which one is which?! Guess and maybe you will win a prize.
Then there is my host aunt's baby naming ceremony. Everyone gets dressed to the nines.
Last is a public bathroom. Not even the worst I have seen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

You say tomato I say it is there only

One culture can’t trump other. What is rude in one culture is the norm in another. When people have cultural conflicts who is right? No one? The majority? Here is an example of what I mean.

A husband and wife get into an argument in my village about the wife going to another village without asking the husband if it’s ok first. In my culture a wife wouldn’t have to “ask permission” for something like this but in this culture it is the norm. The argument persists until the husband is threatening to beat his wife. Everyone is standing around watching the debate with a hint of awe. Finally it becomes physical with the husband grabbing a rope and beating (aka whipping) his wife. In my culture we would be personally upset to watch this happened and a coward not to stop it. People would demonize the husband and tend to the wife. Domestic violence is so taboo in our culture that even witnessing it has a strong impact for a viewer. This personal affront is not felt in this culture. Beatings are literally a daily occurrence here whether it be children to children, people to animals, adults to children, or husbands to wives. But who’s right? Being American, when I see a fight or physical confrontation I want to stop it but here it’s culturally inappropriate for me to do so. Either I look like a rude meddler to their culture or feel like an cowardly bystander in my own.

Another example is greetings. Gambians can’t get enough greeting. Well, they can, but they are extremely offended if you don’t greet them. This means that I spend a lot of my time asking people where their whole family is, how work is, if they slept in peace, and if there “was no trouble there?” It all comes down to time. In the West it’s rude to waste some ones time. If I don’t know you, and I am in a hurry, why do I HAVE to talk to you? It’s rude to demand that I talk to someone that I don’t even know and will never see again. At least, for my culture. Now, I like to say hi to people. Even in the states I would say hi to people I passed on the street because it was just awkward not to. This is the best part of wearing sunglasses, no eye contact, no need to say hello. But here, it takes me 30 minutes just to get soap at a shop less than a football fields length away because I have to shoot the shit with everyone.

Ok, back to time. Everyone here says “toubob time” meaning on time. Everyone knows that us Westerners like to be on time, or at least not hours late to sometimes. We all know the phrase “5 minutes early is on time” but in Gambia 45 minutes late is early. Here it’s not a huge problem for me because I’m not often really busy with a lot of time constraint things to do. But sometimes there is stuff I want to do and I get mad when I show up to something at my rough estimate of when it will actually start and I end up waiting an extra hour to make any progress. Here, it’s rude to rush people but in the West it’s rude to waste sometimes time.

You just can’t win! The one time I saw Gambians in a hurry was Setsetal. This is always the morning of the last Saturday of the month when no cars are allowed to run, most businesses are closed, and everyone is supposed to “clean the land” (aka sweep everything into a pile and burn it). There is a small window of time in the morning for people to get from one area to another that is from about 6am till 9. I was trying to get from a place on the coast to the main capital area. I knew I would make it but by 8:15 the Gambians in the car with me were getting worried that they wouldn’t be making it to Banjul. I bet they never made it. Every time the geli would stop to let people off and the driver dawdled or apperante was bantering people would click their tongue and tell them to hurry up. The driver got mad about it and started yelling at the passengers “don’t try to condition me! This is my car, we are going. You will not condition me”.

It’s not that I want Gambia to become America. I can’t assume that Gambians will change their entire lifestyle to please me, but I can’t change my entire lifestyle to please them. This is the point. There is no correct way. Or maybe I say this because I am the minority, a Gambian might just say “you are in Gambia, here our way is the correct way”. There is a terrific Gambian proverb that goes with this though.
“Yiri kuntoo si mee baa kono naa wo naa a buka ke noo bamboo ti.” If you cut a tree and throw it into the river it will never become a crocodile. It basically means that you can go into another culture, but no matter how long you are there you can’t become something you aren’t.

The pictures are the progress of how fish balls are made, Yes, I eat them. Then birds, my really prego host mom, and the garden. Including 1 of my 4 bell peppers that I am very proud of.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hola, donde es la enfermidad?

I recently got to see what going to the doctor is like for a Gambian. My host sister Musakuta fell off a motorcycle about a month ago and at the time of the incident everyone came by to see that she was alive but no one talked about medical care in any way. At the time she didn’t seem that bad off. Her leg was swollen and sore but nothing looked broken or out of place. I like to think that I mentioned that she should go to a hospital but most people in my village only go if someone is obviously dying and everyone seemed content to keep her home and let her rest.

Time went by and her hobble slowly became a normal walk. She went to school, did chores, ran around like all the other 12 year olds.

Before the Easter Break I noticed that she missed school a couple times. I asked why and everyone said that her leg was hurting. The pain lasted and last week her ankle swelled until I would find her in the morning with tears in her eyes from the waves of pain.

Last night as I was talking with another person in my compound Musakuta went from her normal cheerful sitting self, to wincing and holding her ankle. How long would my host family wait to take her to a doctor? Since she was given to my compound but her dad still provides some things for her who’s responsibility is it to get her medical care? I asked her if I could take her to the hospital would she be game then asked her father and my host grandma. All 3 were in support. Musakuta, almost never getting to go to the “big city” of Basse was thrilled to get to go.

The morning of the trip the first thing my host dad said to me was “My car is going to the river then will come back and get you guys”. We got a ride directly to the hospital and after a quick breakfast walked around looking for where to go.

At first I was told to go to the Dressing Ward. She didn’t need a bandage but through asking multiple name tagged people I got to a area to buy a “ticket”. I had assumed there would be a line (You’d think that after a year and a half of living her I would know that buying a ticket for anything never involved a line) but instead was met with a lump of people, much like the Barra Ferry Terminal, vying for some attention from the ticket giver. I got my ticket and after another series of questioning found the line(a real line this time) and took a seat.

This line was funny because if you assigned someone to watch your ticket, and left it there, you could leave for a while. At one point I was watching the lady in front and behind me’s ticket. When a couple tried to cut in front of my the lady who’s ticket I watched came to my rescue and defended me. Any future PVC’s reading? Watch people’s spots for them, it pays off. Then an attendant came to me and told me and Musakuta to come. We basically got to skip line and go into the room with the 3 working Cuban doctors. I felt bad skipping ahead but I did it regardless.

In there a young doctor about my age looked at Musakuta as I translated. I had been worried about this part but Musakuta has always been able to understand me and it went smoothly enough. I had to take her to go get an x-ray, which I didn’t even know was an option (that’s great!), which turned out cool because I was able to show her what is in the chest because of other people’s x-rays. She was excited to see her foot bones too.

Upon return to the doctors they were able to see that it wasn’t broke. The muscles are the cause and rest, anti-inflammatories, and cold compresses would help.

Originally when I got there I was worried I would be told to go from department to department without anything getting done. I worried about the care, that they would just look at it, prescribe vitamins, and send us home. Once I got in the line I was happy with the care. It’s free(unless you get an x-ray which is $4), doesn’t take too long (even if I had waited in that line), and the doctors are pretty nice. It could be worse, there could be no hospital, or it could be terribly expensive.

Below are pictures from my odd life. The first is a picture of my 1 dalasi salad I got in Farafeni. That is about the same amount as 4 cents. Then is a sete plus that crossed on the ferry. It was rather top heavy but you see cars like that all the time over here. Next is Momalamin. He is my host brother and is always falling down and getting scrapes. I used soap, duct tape, water, and bandages to clean him up. The next is a picture at Ian's going away party. Next is a shot from the back of a sete plus. Last is a door that I saw in a renters compound in Bansang.