Thursday, November 12, 2009

packing it in.

the house is in quiet chaos right now. we are all trying to prioritze and cram our lives back into the bags we carried over, and make sure we can find it all after our big move tomorrow. it's so exciting and scary and everything, like the first day of college but with a language barrier to make it even crazier. my mandinka is absolutely not at the conversational level yet. but maybe my host family and i can pass the afternoon counting to ten together. we will figure something out.
today was a big day, we got a pit latrine demonstration (fully clothed) and i just had to re-examine that i'm opting to use one of those things for a very long time. but don't worry, it's cool, i'm down for this experience. i'm actually pretty excited about having my own little hut and space here, and if you have to use a pit latrine, it's pretty nice that it's a private one. so i'm not ready to complain just yet. my next post may be very different, though. we also learned about dealing with our new roommates, including bedbugs, cockroaches, mice, bush rats (larger than chiuauas) and other creepy crawlies. they say it's good to have lizards around because they eat the spiders. it's a whole food web in my own home!
after some life-in-the-village training we journeyed to the actual city of Banjul (not just the Combo) and went to the marketplace. it was pretty hectic, and we stuck together in small groups, just like you'd think. but the merchants were pretty nice and i got some good fabric to make a skirt and some curtians for my sweet new hut. they're orange and very durable and i should have plenty of privacy but in a very cheerful way. what more could a girl ask for? the fabric here is hilarious, some of it is just beatiful and some of it is covered in chickens or fans or other random patterning. it's the luck of the draw. and the haggaling! i'm going to have to learn to bargian asap. the "i'm going to walk away" trick works great. i can't even begin to imagine how savvy i'm going to be in two years. but i'm psyched to see.
so tomorrow morning i get yet another round of shots and then we're taking a bus to our respective villages. it's sad to split everybody up, but when we reunite again we'll be so much more educated about the culture. i think it will be great to see what everyone has learned. there will be 3 other volunteers in my village with me, and i'm happy to say we plan on playing plenty of card games and looking out for each other. so think of me fondly and i'll post when i can, but just know i'm learning and integrating and missing everyone and sending my love home.
and playing with adorable Gambian babies. i hope my village has lots of those.
y'all take care now. loveya.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

i just can't get enough of this whole "internet" tihng

so enjoy the constant posting while it lasts. all the feedback i've been getting says my posts are really "newsy," which i take to mean "awesome" and not boring (haha) so i'll try and keep it up. or, as the flight of the conchords say, be more constructive with your criticism.
today was a very long day, we started out with a rousing morning of language lessons and immunizations. thank god i have two arms so i can alternate sore spots. after that, we had a health session where we learned to take blood from our fingers for malaria smears. pricking my finger with a tiny lancet is not something i've ever wanted to do, but nobody fainted or anything so it was a successful morning. and i still have a finger. we also started a trainee-wide game of killer (where everyone has to shoot somebody else in the group with a rubber band with no witnesses) but i got out pretty early on. it's hard to concentrate. this afternoon we had several gardening workshops, working in the new Peace Corps volunteer garden. I planted some sage-who knows if it will actually ever sprout. it was more for practice, and to give us ideas about our own gardens. i can't wait to get a permanent location and start my very own garden. though i might actually be more excited about my very own compost pit. january can't come soon enough.
but i am le tired and tomorrow is a big day for us trainees, last day before we all spread our wings and split to our training villages. to drop a little bit of Mandinka, fo saama!
which means till tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


it's official...i'm learning Mandinka. and the village i'm moving to is near Tendeba, in a central region south of the river. so i don't have to take a ferry boat anytime we all meet up. i like Mandinka, and the LCF assigned to my learning group is very very nice. all the LCFs are great, of course. so now it's a blitz to learn as much Mandinka as i can before friday morning, when i move in with my host family and have a whole day of "bonding time" with them. it should be pretty intense immersion, apparently they love them some big families. according to the last census (which was in 2003), they constitute about 40% of the population. so i should be able to speak to most people i meet on the street. although most people here are multi-lingual anyways. but all in all, i'm very happy about this assignment and can't wait to get started. although i am sad we'll have to leave the beach.
tomorrow we're going to the marketplace to buy fabric for our new Gambian attire and perhaps small gifts for our host families. i'm excited to get some fly Gambian clothing, i hope the colorful fabrics look okay with my tubab skin. "tubab" is the Gambian word for any outsider, they call each other it playfully and just reference us. we also call each other tubabs playfully, especially when someone does something particularly un-Gambian, like shows their knees or plays american football on the beach.
there's not too much else going on today, we had a long talk this morning about what we're actually going to be doing here, and it sounds awesome. we're going to be getting more specific later, but for training at least we're going to be learning tree identification and planting gardens to get used to growing in this climate. i love all of the trees here already, even the baobab, which is called the "drowned-rat" tree because the fruit looks like drowned rats hanging off the branches. but green drowned rats. it's crazy. and who doesn't love banana trees? also, i can't wait to see the mangroves. everything here is still so new to me, i can't believe we've been here such a short time. i've really lost my concept of time, because every day seems so long.
today i got stamps, so i should be sending some letters home soon. i haven't got all the addresses i need, partially because i haven't gotten any mail yet. so the Gambian mail may be moving a little slow. if any of you missed the memo, i can def. drop my address one more time. even though pretty soon i'll only be getting mail once a month, i'd always love some letters.

Casey Donahue, PCT
US Peace Corps
78 Kairaba Ave
Banjul, The Gambia
West Africa

someone asked about the zip code, and the best answer was...there is only one Kairba Ave in the Gambia. they don't need a zip code. it's kind of like rhode island and the one area code, it makes sense but it still blows your mind. anyways, i have to study, just like college...goodnight.

Monday, November 9, 2009

everybody here is really into fitness

today was beautiful. really hot, but beautiful. we spent the entire day doing language lessons (in 3 different languages, so you're destined to be brain-fried by the end) and having interviews, so by the time we got back to the transition house there was really nothing left to do but go to the beach. which is pretty incredible, to be able to walk to paradise in just a few minutes. and the beach is hours of entertainment, not just because of the surf, but also because of the young gambian men doing their exercises on the beach. they're called "bumsters," and if you didn't know any better, they'd lead you to believe everybody here is really into fitness. they are actually trying to buddy up with the european (and i suppose american) tourists so that they can be their "tour guides" or "buddies." and their method is to exercise at the number one tourist spot, the beach, and hope that it starts a conversation. so the beach is packed with young men doing push-ups, sit-ups, provocative stretches, and jogging short distances. it looks like an aerobics video exploded. it's really funny. luckily, also, they tend to avoid peace corps groups because we don't really count as tourists, we have no money. so it's just a great show.
hopefully, as a result of today's interview, tomorrow i will learn what language i'm going to be concentrating on. we're expected to learn general greetings in the three more commonly spoken languages, Mandinka, Wolof, and Pulaar, and then we will focus on becoming "intermediate mid-level" masters of one. so we repeat greetings back and forth and try not to get confused. each lesson focuses on one language for about an hour, and then you jump right back into another one. it's pretty difficult. but the letter combinations, sounds that don't appear in the english language, are feeling more natural every day. it's a pretty daunting task, but everyone is very confident we're all going to do just fine. and it's really nice to be able to greet the locals in their own language, as most travellers probably already know.
yesterday we took a field trip to a reptile farm about 45 minutes away, where we saw a great many of the gambian's most dangerous inhabitants. the tour guide told us the most dangerous snake in the Gambia was the trouser snake, a joke which blind-sided us all but definitely got some laughs. the second-most dangerous is the puff-adder, an extremely venomous (but beautiful snake) who is pretty slow-moving, which makes them more dangerous. most snakes will avoid you and slither away, but they are so slow they rely on cameoflauge, making them much more likely to feel threatened and bite. we also saw the black spitting cobra, which can make you blind or just burn you with their spit. we saw some hooded cobras, and various other venomous and non-venomous snake. my favorite was the wolf snake, which is black with some red patterning, and if you find one in your home it means there is a magician around. the gambians have a pretty low opinion of snakes in general, probably so many here are so dangerous, so they really never signify anything good. we also saw a soft-shell terrapin (they bite) and some cute little turtles (one of which is the President's daughters pet she graciously shares with the nation). my personal favorite was the mud turtle, who the gambians keep at the bottom of their wells to eat the creatures that may want to live at the bottom of the well and dirty the water. they are adorable, and wallow in the mud all day like rocks. i took lots of pictures that someday i will have time to upload. at the farm we also held some ball pythons, and one of them wrapped itself around another trainee's neck and settled in-uncomfortably close. he was really glad his turn was over.
this post is getting a little wordy, so i'll wrap up with this paragraph (and you thought i was done!). the peace corps is working hard to get us acclimated and ready for village life, including the food. i'm sure there are so many questions about the food here. the first night we a little unexpected, but pretty good. since then, we've had a variety of gambian dishes and american dishes as understood by the gambia. all of our food is delivered, it is prepared by Omar, the owner of "The Gambian Peace Corps Kitchen." he used to own a cafe, but it was closed down and he was given some money by peace corps volunteers who enjoyed his food, and i guess he's been cooking for them ever since. he has a little ufo-shaped building on the main drag. his food is great, we have a lot of gambian-style cole slaw, salad, mac and cheese (very little cheese), chili, and potato dishes. Omar is pretty creative, and everyone is getting enough, though not everybody tried the "meat. or fish" pockets served last night. i haven't had any meat here yet but i think those days are numbered. i'm ready, i've been eating the sauces so you know that chicken broth is in my system. and-the best part-for breakfast we get fresh-baked bread, imitation nutella, and bananas from the yard (i think that's where they get them). i know my world is about to get rocked when i move to my host family, but it's nice they're spoiling us with this great food before we go.
and now, i have to go take an inventory of my first aid kit. i'll try and post again once i know what my language is!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

yes, i am still jet-lagged

in case you were wondering, the Gambia is awesome and beautiful and all those things you'd really want it to be. including hot. it's pretty hot here, even though we are entering the "cold season." i am already planning on traveling during the hotter months, if i can afford it/get away.
i'm sure many of you have questions, so i'm going to drop some of the things i've learned thus far
-"the" in the gambia is to keep it from getting confused with zambia. if you write me letters (and i hope you will), make sure you put west africa on them, or they will probably go to zambia anyways

-the Banjul airport is not actually in Banjul, but in a coastal area called "the Combos," which is a touristy area and much larger and more developed than Banjul. it is home to one of the country's 3 traffic lights.

-on the way to our staging house (we each move in with a host family next friday) we saw what may have been the President's motorcade. it was several police cars and a hummer, which apparently he enjoys riding around the Gambia in.

-the population of the Gambia is about 1.7 million-and growing.

-we have all been issued cellphones! apparently this is a new peace corps policy. it is very exciting because we get african cellphones with awesome default ringtones and cute logos you can attach to each contact. it can be confusing, though, because there are 35 of us in the staging house with identical cellphones. we are getting creative.

-the Gambia has a new country director coming in with us. he is here to work on a new food safety initiative that can hopefully be used all over the world-and we may get to help him develop it. which will be really exciting, if it all works out.

-our backyard has 2 mango trees (out of season), several lime trees, avacado trees, and banana trees. it is SO COOL.

-tomorrow we are going to a reptile reserve so we can identify dangerous snakes from the region (and hold less dangerous ones)

-i am borrowing a computer and i think the user is getting antsy.

I miss you all! I'll try and add some serious details with my next post!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Today marks the beginning of my journey (although I am still in the States). We (the new Peace Crops trainees) met today-there are about 35 volunteers in all. Everyone seems very nice and we are all so excited about setting off tomorrow evening. The staging staff said we were a very chatty group-I guess those icebreakers are working. In the morning we are all getting yellow fever shots before taking a bus to Newark. Then we will be flying pretty much straight until Thursday afternoon when we will happily arrive in Banjul and meet the Peace Corps staff there. It is so exciting, all this mystery about what we're going to see and what's going to happen next. Also, it's going to be about 90 degrees F when we get there-a stark contrast to this cold Philly weather. I am so ready for some sunshine! Tonight is all about last good (or at least American) meals, last showers, last phone calls, but it's hard to be sad when there's so much excitment in the air. I'm sure the homesickness will come later, but right now I think we are all just ready for it to be tomorrow (except for the yellow fever shot, of course). It is just so nice to be around people who have gone through the same application process, and know what it feels like to be waiting for your fate. The staging staff has so many positive things to say about The Gambian people, and west Africa in's going to be amazing. But for now, I am going to take my last hot shower and rearrange my bags one more time (weighed in 1 lb below the limit this morning, what a relief) and then sleep as much as I can before I have to get back on a plane. I miss everyone already and I can't wait to hear from you!! Take care and I love you all!