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 had...pizza. 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!