Tuesday, December 7, 2010

it's a christmas soapbox!!! (long post, skip to the end for important stuff)

hiiiiiii.
i will, if all goes according to plan, be heading back to my village after oyster surveys wrap up for the month and not coming back to urban civilization until, and i'm not sure this will actually be possible, January. so i'm trying to get all my holiday/christmas wishes out of the way, all the much better to get those tidings of great joy in early, before everyone else gets in the way.
so of course, merry christmas/happy jewish festival of lights to you and yours, i wish we could all spend it together, let me know what you're doing and have a good one. i'm going to spend christmas in village, something i hadn't originally planned on doing, but so many people requested that i spend christmas there that i had no choice but to concede. it's going to be interesting, for sure, they treat christmas here about like they treat Tobaski, which means that those religiously inclined (so this time, the village's Christians) have a feast of freshly slaughtered meat (pigs instead of rams for Christmas)and everyone else treats it like a normal day, until that night when the parties start. Now, Tobaski is a 2-3 day holiday, which somehow wound up meaning 6 straight nights of parties. Christmas is only one day, and a Saturday, so maybe it will only be 1 or 2 nights. There's no place like home for the holidays, so everyone gets off work and school, even though the vast majority of them aren't celebrating anything. Well, they're celebrating not having to go to work or school, so that means PARTY. the parties here are unlike ceremonies, i think they're most equivalent to concerts. what generally happens is one group of people (friends, football teams, etc) gets together and pools their money to rent a sound system. they charge a small entry fee at the door, and attempt to make back their money before the generator runs out. everyone gets all gussied up in their most risque clothing (short skirts and dresses, generally glittery with leggings that just barely, just BARELY cover the knee) and dances middle-school style, in a circle with their girlfriends/ male cohorts. these events usually start around "9 or 10 pm," which, in Gambian time, means between midnight and one. they run "until mamma calls you home," which, in Gambian time, means until the generator breaks or around 4. those that consider themselves "too old" for that sort of thing either go to concerts (drumming, kora, etc) that begin a little earlier, and end around the same time, or organize beach parties, where they brew tea on the beach and chat. sometimes there is juice.
in my nostalgia for trees and carols, i didn't really have the right "christmas:party" mindset, but i think everyone has set me straight. it's not a day to spend with your family and friends, it's a day to stay up late and listen to Jamaican music, as long as the generator doesn't break (the generator, by the way, breaks probably 4 out of every 7 times a party is thrown). and it will be fun. and what i really like is that everyone knows i'm a christian, and they know that christmas is a special day for me, and it's a good chance for me to share some of my culture with them. it's opened the door for some nice conversations about family and traditions, which helps to ease the pain of being away from loved ones and gives them something to compare to their own. it's fun.

ok. but onto my christmas soapbox. you're not gonna get away that easily. this is the season of giving, and i hope you're thinking about doing just that. i think when every day you are confronted with the after-effects of good intentions turned out badly, you really start to think about what kind of charity helps people, and what kind enables them. it's the whole "teach a man to fish vs. giving a man a fish" idea. it's not difficult to assume all kinds of charity were good. i know i haven't always known enough about where my money was going. i'm not saying that if you give to the wrong charity they're going to use your money to buy bon-bons and fur coats instead of feeding hungry children. i'm just saying if you really want your money to help, i suggest a "first do no harm" mindset.
you can take a hardline on this, or not. it's your money.
charities that give food to people, i am not enamoured with. char ties that give people animals to raise, breed, and eat, beehives and instruction, or gardening aid (ex. the heifer foundation) build their capacity for feeding themselves and reduce their reliance on handouts strike a chord with me. check yes.
i am in favor of any charitable act that helps educate people. esp. if you can send someone to technical/vocational school, because i feel these are often overlooked for more formal education opportunities. chances are, if someone wants to go to a technical or vocational school, they have identified a talent and will be able to find a job in the future in that field. also, donations to technical or vocational schools i think are another under looked avenue of giving, because that helps everyone enrolled, including those paying their own way who may not be able to afford materials. in addition, the higher quality of materials they have to learn with, the more work they will be able to do.
as far as medical charity, i don't know very much. i know that often expired drugs are donated and that makes me angry. also i think it's important, as far as health goes, for people to receive not only pills but preventative education. i don't just mean condoms. i mean handwashing, water purification practices, malaria prevention measures. there are some good ones out there. do your research.
buying products made by groups as a result of micro-finance is generally, but not always, a pretty safe way to go.
the question you should ask yourself when giving is "how will this money improve the recipients life ON A LONG TERM BASIS?" too many money-now charitable donations are squandered, or wind up going towards things that the donor would probably never imagine, or approve of. if your donation can't be measured on a long term basis for indicators of progress, and there's no one in place to do that, maybe you should give somewhere else. i know it's a little more labor intensive, but i think it's the morally responsible thing to do. you don't want to solve people's problems with charity, you want to give them the tools to solve their own problems.
all that being said, if you really want to know who i think you should donate money to this season, it's the Peace Corps. there are these grants called "peace corps partnerships" where a volunteer writes a grant, it's posted on a website, and people donate. there are a lot of different projects up there, from every country the peace corps goes to, so you can pick your passion. no, i haven't done one. i may, and i'll let everyone know and beg you to send your lunch money to the Gambia when i do. but i thought i would plug it anyways, this is the website:
http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate

You can browse the projects on your own. If you need a suggestion, one of my friends here is doing a healthy babies project i think is pretty cool. her last name is Green, search her.
another, similar website i can recommend is a little more focused: all their projects are on access to clean water and sanitation. you can also pick your own project, a lot of Peace Corps volunteers wind up posting with them:
http://www.watercharity.org/

these are just suggestions from me. you don't have to give to any of them. there are people right outside your door who probably need it. but that's what i really want for christmas, is everyone who reads this blog to do one charitable act, whilst thinking of me. even if you just donate a book to a book drive, or make a small donation to your local vocational school. tis the season, right?
thanks.
p.s. if you want to make my heart burst with joy you'll post what you did in the comments section. or tell me privately.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

this is what fly looks like


i took this one because every single one of these girls had a lovely complet (that means outfit) and prayer shawl. can you see all the glitter?

a glance at the prayer fields, the man in the middle is reading from the Koran

the boys all dressed up

some lovely girls from the hood striking a pose, or, as they call it, "making a style"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

ram season!

that's right, it's ram-mer time.
next week is Eid al-Adha, also known as Tobaski in West Africa, the Muslim celebration of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his own son to God as a sign of his obedience. luckily for Ishmael (Abraham's son) Allah was merciful and at the last moment allowed Abraham to sacrifice a ram instead. thus, every year on the 10th day of the 12th Islamic month, Muslims around the world sacrifice a ram (or a cow, or a goat, or a camel) to represent the sacrifice Abraham would have made. Each family here sacrifices, and the 1/3 of the meat is retained, 1/3 is given to relatives, and 1/3 is given to the poor.
i was here for Tobaski last year, so i know generally what will go on. here are some givens for a Gambian Tobaski celebration (or as i like to call it, ram season)...

...you WILL see gellys careening down the roadways at full speed with multiple rams and goats tied to the roof...

...you WILL see children petting and playing with the ram they will be eating hours later...

...you WILL be asked to watch everyone slaughter their rams, no matter how many times you say you don't want to see that...

...you WILL have handfuls of ram meat shoved into your face for at least 3 days...

...you WILL have to buy a fancy new outfit and accessorize it with every sparkly piece of jewelry you can lay hands on...

...you WILL not be able to do any work for the week preceding and the week following Tobaski...

...you WILL hear conflicting reports on which day Tobaski actually begins, and find that different villages celebrate on different days...

...you WILL hear at least one story about a family who's Tobaski ram gave them the slip...

and so many other things. i am very excited for Tobaski this year, partially because I'm going to be spending it with my host family and partially because i'm going to make my students dissect their ram hearts (what a perfect time to be learning the circulatory system). Tobaski is a fun holiday, despite it's seemingly somber roots, it's a very happy time. families come together, everyone goes home from the city to visit their villages, and after the prayer fields in the morning it's nothing but a party. it's the one time the ladies get to try and outshine each other without having to make sure they don't look as good as the baby's mother or bride, like at naming ceremonies or weddings. i'll try and get plenty of pictures, everyone is sure to look amazing.
also, i'm very excited to go to the prayer fields, because i missed it last year due to training activities. i might be the most excited about this, because the sight of everyone in my village praying at once is sure to be a beautiful thing. one of my favorite things about observing the Muslim community I live in is seeing how much their faith unifies them. they believe so strongly as a community, it's almost tangible. i know that it will be a very special morning.
and then we get to sit down on the brand new ram rugs and talk about who has the best new outfit.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

CELEBRATORY NEW LAYOUT

why, you may ask?
because i have officially been in the Gambia for a year (and a few days).
i was busy doing stuff in the village so i didn't get to do any celebration but i decided to redesign the blog. do you like? if you do, great, if you don't tooo bad.
the background looks suspiciously like a coastal village where i spend a majority of my time.
anyways i'll probably do a real post when i can form coherent thoughts.
but for now...just know i made it through my first year. YAY.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

the week doesn't end on a monday

hey everyone. i feel like, thus far, most of my postings have been upbeat and optimistic, or at least had a positive spin. this is partially because i don't want the gentle reader to think i'm having a horrible time, and partially because early on in my service i made a conscious decision to keep myself in a positive mindset, something i work at everyday, and something that has definitely made my service better.
so how do i really feel? i love it. i hate it. i want to go home tonight, i want to stay forever. some days, the only thing keeping me here is knowing that if i were anywhere else in the world, no matter what i was doing, i'd be kicking myself for not being here. and at the end of the day, that's it.
before i came here, i did the opposite of what most people do, i closed my eyes and tried not to learn about Gambia or africa in general. i wanted to be surprised, to see it all with fresh eyes. i don't regret this at all, but i was surprised to find upon arriving here that i have an unquenchable thirst for african literature. not just Gambia, but the Congo, Madagascar, South Africa, Benin, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Egypt, if it's a book set on the continent i want to read it. i thought i would be looking for an escape, but far from it. i can't fill my mind with it, with the unique cultures of the individual tribe mingled with a sameness that flows over the entire continent. it makes me hungry to see it all, far more than i was before i came.
i never really understood why people loved africa. i can't say that my love is the same as anyone else's. i know this: it can tear you down. it can rip you apart. there are days when you couldn't put another grain of rice in your mouth for the world, when it's so hot you pray to fall asleep, when your whole body is sore and your work has only begun. there are days you can't work because your body is railing against whatever you have put in it, sidelining you from all activities except (hopefully) hydrating. but you recover. you eat the rice. you sleep in the wee morning hours, you finish your work. you heal.
it can build you up, too. you can hold an infant just minutes old. you can make friends with old ladies who will tell their entire compound you're coming over to chat, and then beam sweetness on you while you stumble through a language that rolls off your tongue like peanut butter, elated that you have really come to see her. you can watch your trees grow, your gardens flourish, your friendships thrive. you can eat some of the most delicious things you will ever put in your mouth, fruits and rice puddings and fried doughballs, strange meats you don't know the origin of, rice. sometimes rice is all you need.
there are days like roller coasters. you are ecstatic, you are destroyed. you can't move for the life of you, you're ready to ride your bike for 2 hours without another thought. you are strangled by the tight-knit community you exist in, you feel cherished by every one of your "home people." i'm not saying it's just emotional. you see kids getting beaten, people felling precious trees for no reason, and later that day you're laughing at the joyful dances as the women gather in a friends compound, impromptu. you see someone sick go the clinic and get sent home with expired meds. you see mothers unable to read the dosage indications, and wonder what would happen if someone wasn't there to step in. you see failed attempts at development, hard work and infrastructure ground into the ground by natural causes, or worse, inattention. rogue cows destroy fences, fields, a whole season's worth of work gone in 10 minutes. you see the shadow of corruption, the victims of indiscretions. the family with a car and a tv living next door to the family of 8 with 1 bed, no land, no animals to bear their burdens, no well, no prospects for improvement. you see teachers striking their students, you see kids who don't go to school at all because their parents can't afford school fees, so they're faced with the workload of an adult while their peers heap knowledge into their brains, building themselves a much brighter future. or no future at all, if they can't learn because of the underpaid disdain of the teachers and the lack of needed materials, pencils, notebooks, classroom space.
but what i find most striking about africa is how completely alive it is. it is teeming, pulsing, overflowing with life. from the hundreds of crickets living behind the curtains, to the lizard living in the ceiling, to the 18 foot python crawling through the bush and the termites systematically eating everything in their path. ants are everywhere, flies are inescapable. monkeys frolic in the trees, birds shout a chorus from their perches as you pass, and small boys play beneath, or climb up for bush fruit. grasses grow like crazy, weeds busting through the most improbable places. the intensity of life magnifies every day, while making it seem like no time has passed at all since you set foot here. you feel more alive than you ever thought, and you know that it's something you will never fully explain. something you think everyone should know.
one of my favorite mandinka proverbs is the title of this post: the week doesn't end on a Monday. i take this to mean that even if a day is horrible, terrible, the worst you could imagine, don't give up because there's tomorrow. and when you have the worst day you could imagine, and it happens more than you thought possible, you have to say well, that was Tuesday.
what about Wednesday.
and you go on. and africa goes on around you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

computers are a problem.


it's blurry, but it's there. this is me and the oyster spat, they were HUGE this month. that's right, i'm on a boat. don't you ever forget.
i took some good ones that i'll put on facebook eventually, prob sometime after halloween. you know, when things calm down a little. i keep telling myself that's going to happen. anyways, love to you all!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

blue is the new white

happy 10.10.10. when does this happen? the group 350.org took the opportunity to organize a "global work party" to promote awareness amongst the youth about global climate change. we had a beach cleanup party, it was pretty sweet. dancing and raking and some of the kids did a drama about climate change...precious.
otherwise, i'm not sure if y'all heard but i have a new acquisition: a full-grown she-goat named sparkin' (my neighbor's football nickname). she big and beautiful, and i'm throwing her a naming ceremony on friday, much to the excitement of my host family. it's not going to be a real naming ceremony, which would be entirely too ironic because there are 2 types, a nyambo and a koolyio, and the distinction is that at a koolyio you slaughter a goat and a nyambo you only slaughter a chicken. but i don't really wanna slaughter anything. so we're being careful what we call it. she's huge, way bigger than all the other goats that live in my compound. the first night there was a little tussle in the goat hutch and guess who came out on top? absolutely miss sparkin'. she rules the roost.
and maybe my cat's cat is pregnant. pow was introduced to our compound by baby monkey and she eventually adopted us the way cats do, but she's a female and apparently not a lady. my host sister told me that when they don't want dogs to give birth, they give them water with blue powder, and she suggested i try that on pow. i said no. but it did make me think about the mystery that is blue powder.
see, here in the Gam there aren't a whole lot of washing machines, but that doesn't stop people from wanting to wear white. it's kind of a sign of wealth and faith, gleaming white for the most special of occasions. and also, inexplicably, most school uniforms. whites are wanted to be as white as possible, which presents quite a task to the launder-er. the solution? blue powder. they soak they're shirts in this blue powder and therefore after several washings white clothes are definitely bluish, but considered to be a shining beacon of cleanliness. this blue powder is an extreme mystery to me, i've examined the packet but it has no ingredients and it just says the name in english and arabic. what is it? how did this tradition come about, where blue is, in fact, the new white?
and if it can take care of unwanted puppy pregnancies, what else does it do? how much of it is seeping into the ground water? there's a lot of white clothes walking around. well. bluish white.
just another mystery.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

i'm not fasting, and i made a quiz.

hi blogosphere. how are things? i'm busy like the bees, Ramadan's over and I'm 24 now (i know, i know, old lady) and super-busy. our trip to Spain for mine and my grandmother's birthdays (we share one) was amazing, i'm still dreaming about gelato. i just finished a 2 day HIV/AIDs training, so i can more confidently incorporate AIDS education in my work. i've also been working on the tree nursery competition, since my regional co-coordinator and i were in the same place at the same time (a rare occurrence). i made a little quiz for the teachers, to give their students and get incorporate into their lessons about the importance of trees. i know america doesn't have the same tree crisis as over here, but i think the quiz is pretty interesting (probably cuz i made it), and it might even inspire some of you to go out there and plant trees (or at least do some recycling!) anyways, here it is, questions first, answers second so don't scroll down and cheat!

1) One tree produces ______ kg of oxygen per year.
a. 36
b. 82
c.117
d. 250

2) 0.4 hectares of trees remove _______ of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year.
a. 23 kg
b. 2.6 tons
c. 1.2 tons
d. 1 ton

3) The age of a tree can be calculated by ___________.
a. the rings in the trunk
b. the width of the roots
c. it’s height
d. the number of fruits it produces

4) A tree can store the most carbon after it has been alive for _______ - or more!
a. 3 months
b. 2 years
c. 6 years
d. 10 years

5) Trees provide food and shelter for _____________.
a. birds
b. people
c. insects
d. all of the above

6) Worldwide, more than _______ hectares of trees are lost to deforestation every year.
a. 4 million
b. 13 million
c. 12 million
d. 7 million

7) Trees prevent loss of nutrient-rich topsoil by__________.
a. their root systems preventing erosion
b. creating natural windbreaks
c. both a and b
d. none of the above

8) In Africa, out of every ___ trees cut down, only ONE tree is replanted.
a. 28
b. 45
c. 3
d.13

9) Over the past 100 years, West Africa has been stripped of ____ of its forest cover.
a. 20 %
b. 35%
c. 78%
d. 90%

10) People in the Gambia rely on trees for _________.
a. bush fruits
b. medicine
c. fuel wood
d. all of the above…and more!

ANSWERS:
1.C.
One tree produces 117 kg of oxygen per year, the oxygen that we breathe every day. Trees produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis, a process by which they take in carbon dioxide and sunlight and use it to create their food (carbohydrates), than release oxygen as a byproduct.
2.B.
Less than one hectare of trees can remove up to 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide from the air every year! Because carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, this means that trees are a major weapon against global climate change.
3.A.
The scientific process of dendrochronology allows scientists to date trees by analyzing the rings seen in the cross-section of a tree’s trunk. A tree usually adds a ring per year, unless the weather that year is irregular.
4.D.
Trees are able to store more carbon as they age, and they store the most after they have been living for ten years. Trees also remove other pollutants from the air, such as ozone (another greenhouse gas) and sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides.
5.D.
Trees are habitats for many different species of animals, and provide building materials for the homes of most humans. Trees even provide homes or shelter for marine animals, such as oysters that live on tree roots or fish that lay eggs there. Trees also provide fruits to flavor our sauces, and feed us, such as baobab and their leaves feed many mammals we live with, such as goats.
6.C.
Deforestation is a serious threat to the health of our environment. At least 12 million hectares of trees are lost every year, and the trees cut down are often not replanted, leaving animals homeless and releasing tons of carbon back into the atmosphere.
7.C.
Not only do trees clean up the air and provide homes for wildlife, they also preserve the land around them. They provide stability with their root systems that keeps soil in place, and they create natural windbreaks that prevent topsoil from being blown away.
8.A.
Only one out of every 28 trees cut down is replanted. This means that out of 100 trees cut down, only three or four new trees are planted. Make it your goal to replace EVERY tree you cut down. Trees are one of the cheapest, easiest ways to clean up our environment.
9.D.
West Africa (including the Gambia) is one of the most severely affected areas of the world. Over 90% of West Africa’s forest cover has been lost over the past century, robbing them of all the benefits of trees. Desertification, the degradation of land in climates such as West Africa has, is accelerated by loss of trees like this.
10.D.
Gambians use trees for many things, such as medicine, shade on hot days, bush tea, flavoring sauces, building houses, cooking, selling fruits to supplement income, fencing fields, and many other things. Can you think of a way not listed here that you and your family use trees?

if i were an 8th grader, this quiz would make me plant a tree. just saying.
love everybody!
casey

Friday, September 3, 2010

fasting month

hold on to your headscarves ladies and gents, it's ramadan. or as the mandinka aptly call it, sungkaro, or fasting month. and fast they do. from sun-up to sun-down, no eating. or drinking. and those rice fields aren't going to tend to themselves.
naps are very popular during ramadan.
and, as you might expect, everybody wants to talk about it. there's none of this suffering in silence nonsense that my stoic catholic upbringing may have led me to believe (ok, ok. not that stoic of an upbringing. and i'm aware of the value of a well-timed sigh. i know what catholic guilt is). no, it's more of a shout-it-from-the-rooftops kind of suffering. here's an example of a typical exchange between me and your average ramadan faster, translated from mandinka for your reading pleasure
"hello, do you have peace (a typical greeting here)?"
aisha! (my gambain name). are you fasting today?
"no. i don't fast."
you don't fast? why not? fasting is nice.
"i'm not a muslim. how is your family?"
you should be a muslim. you will fast tomorrow.
"maybe tomorrow i will fast (here, when you say maybe tomorrow i will, that's code for i'm never going to do that. it's pretty handy, unless you actually don't know whether you're going to do something tomorrow or not)"
oh aisha, you should fast. fasting is nice.
"i know. i have to go now"
wait. what time is it? i am so hungry.
"it's 4:30"
aisha, did you know i can't drink water until 7:30? i am so thirsty.
"praise allah."
ok aisha. see you later.

yes, despite being told multiple times how nice fasting is, i remain truly unconvinced. i did go without eating for a few days, more because of a sinus infection than religious conviction. but at least i could lie on the mats with everyone else and complain about how hungry i was. and i did "break fast" with the family at sunset, where you have a small meal to celebrate you can finally eat again. then they pray. a lot. the prayer has reached a new level during these last 10 days of ramadan, where it is said that one of these days (though you can't be sure which one) counts for more than 9 years of prayer and supplication, and fasting. since they don't know which one it is, every night for the last 10 days of ramadan people go to the mosque and pray from 1-4 am, sometimes standing in holy reverance for hours at a time. it's a time of exhausted worship. after praying all night, they eat very early, around 5 am, and then nap, then work in the fields, nap again, break fast, pray, eat dinner, and pray. despite how tedious this sounds, it's not. it's really a very social thing, as well as pious. they get to commiserate. they nap together. they pray together. they mock those who almost fell asleep at the mosque and those who look (ever so slightly) more hungry than the others. all in all, ramadan isn't such a bad deal. for me. because i'm not fasting.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

your questions...answered

i must say, i did not get as many as my friend did. maybe my beloved mama really IS the only one who reads this thing. hi mom! hi spammers! also i got some sassy facebook questions from my friends who are currently in the Gam, which means they are null and void (and i have some sassy friends). but enough with the intro...

Q. have you been eating meat? if so, is it as terrible as you thought it would be?

A. yes, i've been eating chicken and fish. and someone gave me lizard once. it was a sneak attack, they told me it was a bowl of beans. monitor lizard is not delicious. very stringy. i've been able to avoid beef and pork because people just don't have that here, or if they do they're above my income scale. on holidays, i have on occasion eaten goat or sheep (ram,mostly). that is difficult, the parts i get are really rubbery and it's a huge honor. plus they expect you to watch the sacrifice and subsequent gutting. it's pretty hard to swallow, on every level. i managed to miss the major sacrifice last major holiday, but the ram was in our compound for a few days before and the kids really enjoyed petting and playing with it. they also really enjoyed eating it. and blair, i don't think i could regret crazy burger. it's a great memory now.

Q. would you like me to send you one of those Honey BBQ fritos twists snacks you would always get?

A. heck yes. there's nothing like the real thing.

Q. how has your hip been holding up now that it's the rainy season?

A. my hip has been doing very well. i think all my leg muscles are becoming very strong because i walk 10-20 km on the beach each week doing turtle surveys. i am very sore the next day, but my hip doesn't hurt worse than anywhere else. AND there are basically no stairs or hills here so it's getting a nice break from those, which really disturbed it. by the way, miss blair, how is your ankle? any thoughts on a triumphant rugby return?

Q. when are you getting back and are you up for a reunion?

A. i'm scheduled to come back january 2012. i can't give an exact date because there's been talk of travelling on the way back (some people even take a cruise back and avoid that terrible long plane ride. apparently it also helps with the transition back to the "western" world). i am up for many reunions, and i really, really want to see california. ahem. or oregon.

Q. what's it like to poop in a hole everyday? (this question was asked by a fellow volunteer, but in case you're curious...)

A. fantastic. you never have to clean it.

Q. how many bathrooms does your compound have? (also from another volunteer)

A. this question is funny because outside of the lodges there are no flush toilets for miles. but if you're wondering about the basic family bathroom situation, my compound is pretty typical. they have fenced bathing areas behind each of the 3 bedrooms where all 13 of them bathe, and also urinate. to do your business, there's a family pit latrine in the far back of the backyard, with corrugate around to provide protection.

Q. what is your favorite part of the day?

A. this is a really difficult question, partially because i have many "favorite" moments of every day, and partially because every day is so different. i work on many different projects and they all demand i have a different schedule. but i really enjoy the late evening, when the sun is setting. everyone is getting their baths and they're all clean (for maybe 5 minutes) and we all sit on the porch on our mats together and wait for dinner. sometimes we play games or sing songs, sometimes we just talk. i always go home for dinner so i can get that quality family time.

Q. what's the best advice you have gotten since you've been in the Gambia?

A. this was a really difficult one to answer, because i get advice on EVERYTHING here. peace corps training broke down every tiny aspect of my life and advised me on how to live it. but i think the best advice i've gotten is relax. remember to relax.
because you can't control a damn thing that happens to you here, so you might as well go with it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

you say what.

every now and again, i say something that just makes people laugh, completely innocently and outside of my intentions. for example, one day i went to work at the school, despite a blossoming headcold and general discomfort. "oh," they said, "you are sick. go home and lay down" and i said "maybe i should. i don't want to get everybody else sick, too."
cue laugh track.
and my clumsy explanation of germ theory. because when i'm sick, everyone around me is going to be too. surrrre. in this instance, the science teacher eventually was able to substansite my claim that illness can, indeed, be passed around like a soccer ball. but there have been several other concepts that i have tried to express to people, where i get the same response:
you say what. (not a question, a statment. so incredulous they can't even make it a question. it's like they're telling me to think about what i'm saying and say it again)
if you're wondering what makes people say those three little words (you say what.)
here are some examples from MY life
-volcanos. when the volcano erupted in iceland, it interupted air travel, which in turn stranded some tourists here and forced others to be stuck there. what is a volcano, i was asked on several occasions. with some people, i didn't get past saying the center of the earth is so very, very hot that rock melts. and the concept of pressure. and an exploding mountain. clouds of ash. that funny word molten. it must have taken me hours to invent such a fantastical story. that was so much better than my little yarn about giant plates under the ground causing earthquakes.
-the mafia. this one was really fun to explain. oh, i started off with the classic example of drugs and restuarants, but that quickly became too abstract so we changed to cows and bitiks (little stores), and families and "boys." but really, is there a society that operates around, under, and over the law? probably not.
-and my personal favorite. i actually suggested that there are countries in asia other than china, and that every asian person is in fact, not chinese. this one was really funny, then incomprehensible. i was really proud of myself, though, because eventually i truly made them understand and believe. i pointed out that they can tell by looking at an african what country he or she is from, even though most people from europe or america can't, and that while africa is very big and has many countries, most people think of it all as one place. i felt so good to hear them say "asia is the same way?" and sometimes, when we see a movie with an asian character, they ask me which country in asia they're from instead of just saying "the chinese"
racial sensitivity is on a very different plane here.
-while we're talking about geography, i also have attempted to spread the word that america isn't really just the us, that the united states are one country, and canada is not a state but an independent nation. and that there's a central and a south america. and i have drawn several maps in the sand showing the almighty atlantic, and that "toubabado" (the place where the toubabs live) is actually several different continents and they are fairly far apart.
*in case you're new to the blog, toubab is the generally accepted word for white person here. the little children see you walking down the street and yell it "toubab! toubab!" then they usually ask you for a minty, which means a piece of candy. under no circumstances do i ever give them candy, or money, or whatever it is they ask for because the last thing you need to learn at such a young age is that you can get something for nothing. i (and quite a few others) become quite enraged when i see tourists throwing candy among crowds of kids. they will fight each other. there will not be enough for everyone. someone will end up crying. and they will ask every toubab they see, for the rest of their childhood days, and maybe their lives, for handouts. this concept, by the way, also does not go over so well with the gambians. "you say what. you don't give them candy because they ask. if i had money, i would give them candy"
well, my well-meaning friend, therein lies the problem. you don't have money, and if you did you would spend it on giving children candy.
this post took a philosophical turn i wasn't prepared for. i can talk about my opinions on sustaniability as it pertains to this culture, and development worldwide, until i'm blue in the face. but i want you to read this blog so you see what's going on here, not in my head. sorry. but i think it's an important concept for us all to think about, so i'm glad it came up.
in other news, my friend did this on her blog and i think it's a really cool idea. if you have questions for me about the gambia, the peace corps, my day-to-day life, i would be happy to do a little FAQ blog post. we'll make the deadline next weds, just comment with your questions, facebook me, or email me. and if i don't get any questions from toubabado, well, i'll make some up.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

tour de gambia

so it may not come as a suprise to anyone that the tour de france is not as popular as the world cup here. i know, i know. however, as a longtime tour fan, i am itching to catch some race coverage. i've been living vicariously through another volunteer, who has seen maybe 2 stages at some taiwanese project headquarters. i also have been travelling a ridiculous amount lately, so i've been checking the versus website.
and i'm obviously upset with contador because andy schleck is by far my favorite rider these days.
but since i've been travelling so much i've been riding my bicycle more than usual. it's been pretty fantastic, especially the other day when i was riding a few villages over to do sea turtle surveys. they start really early, so i was riding my bike into the sunrise, and for once there was no one else on the road-and i mean no one. no other cyclists, no bush taxis, no donkey carts, not even a cow, goat, or sheep. and riding all by myself, in the cool of the morning, watching this incredible sunrise, i had one of those "oh my goodness i'm in africa!" moments. you just get this surge of energy and happiness and feel like maybe you can do anything. and you feel like maybe you're in one of the most beautiful places in the world. it makes everything feel so worth it, and it's exactly what i needed. i didn't have my camera with me, and i think even if i had it would have stayed in my bag. when i was joining the peace corps, everyone was talking about how you find yourself, how much of a journey it is for you. i never really thought of it that way, i viewed it more as a chance to give myself to other people, to learn how to help from the bottom-up. but watching that sunrise all alone, in a time when i hadn't really been by myself for so long, is something i never knew i needed. what i'm trying to say is, no matter where you are, sometimes you need to appreciate something completely beautiful all by yourself, and internalize that moment. the rest of the day, even though there was the normal stress (and more) and i was tired, i felt myself glowing from that golden moment. i'm not saying i'll be getting on my bike at 5:30 every morning, i'm just saying i'm not going to be complaining next time i have to.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

this explains a lot.

yikes. so i had this thing on my back that we all thought was a staph (staff?) infection, but it turns out i had a run-in with the almighty rove beetle. if you want to see what my back kind of looks like, check out the first picture and then imagine the area right below your (my) shoulderblade looking like that. if you're kind of squeamish, don't even look.
http://fadhlan89.blogspot.com/2009/11/rove-beetle-aka-charlie.html
yes, it is a little comfort that the creature had to die for all this to happen. but only a little. anyways, think good thoughts. and pray this doesn't happen again.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

the rains are here.

the rains have begun. i was really excited for the rains to come, while most of my host family was not. i thought they weren't excited because the rain means it's time to get working in the fields (nobody's lazy during rainy season). but now that we are a few weeks in, i am seeing that rainy season definitely has it's negatives as well as it's positive points. i'll list a few for you...
pro- it's not as hot. when the rain is falling and right afterwards.
con-it's super, super humid before it does rain. apparently it's been more humid than usual this year so skin infections are running rampant on our volunteer flesh. send dial soap!
pro-everything is getting really, really green. we actually have grass now! i didn't even think that was possible.
con-EVERYTHING is getting really, really green. there is so much mold popping up everywhere.
pro-i don't have to go to the well nearly as often.
con- rainy season = creepy crawly season. oh hello giant spiders, roaches, scorpions, and enormous red bugs. and other assorted beasts.
pro-trees are growing
con-stagnant water everywhere-mosquito breeding grounds
pro-opportunity for malaria education!
so overall i still think it's a win. i'll keep you posted. i haven't stepped in too many terrible puddles yet, and the sand has been nicely packed by the rain. but the puddles here are a new level of gross, you really never know what's under that murky water.
and you really can't beat raindrops on the corrugate. it's such a great sound. and the cool breeze that accompanies them is quite simply heaven. also...we have fantastic thunderstorms. you should all come see it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

naming ceremonies

so this weekend i went to a naming ceremony in a village to the north of me (actually, all of the gambia is to the north of me). naming ceremonies themselves are a site to behold. don't let the "ceremony" fool you, they're mostly parties. epic, day-long parties. this one was in Jambangjelly (pronounced jom-bon-jelly), which has a fantastic name itself if you ask me. this was a huge naming ceremony, a rager if you will. most of my family here made the trek, they had chartered gellys running back and forth.
i know that sounds convienent. but it's still trying to get roughly 20 women (men attend ceremonies, but travel and do pretty much everything else seperately) all in a car at the same time. 20 excited women, dressed to the nines, yelling over each other, and lugging tons of food. and it's hot out. but we got everyone in the car and drove approx 2k/hr through the village so the women could shout to their friends out the windows, a gambian equvialent of ron burgendy "everyone come see how good i look!" then of course we had to close the windows so nobody's hair got messed up.
the afternoon before the ceremony was spent cooking pancatos, which are kind of like doughnuts, and preparing a sauce from baobab, peanuts, and fake banana flavoring. all of this came on the gelly with us, and of course the pots and giant spoons, that make even the tallest person look like a keebler elf when she stirs the vats of sauce.
we arrived around 11, and i immediately sought out the world cup, while the glammed up women got started cooking breakfast. after the game i came back and was fed the delicious baobab sauce over rice porridge, and chatted with the ladies. my favorite thing to do at naming ceremonies is ask people what the baby's name is, and then count how many people they have to consult before they know. this one was particularly big, so we got up to 6. here, it's tradition that you don't say the baby's name (even if you've picked it out) until it's announced by an imam or other holy man at the ceremony. so it's the point of the party, but everybody gets caught up in clothes and food and i've been to probably 15 naming ceremonies in the past 2 months and seen the baby once. after breakfast it was time to cook lunch and complain about how hot it is. they also prepared a soup to eat while lunch was cooking. they were really confused when i didn't want to eat it, everytime you say you're not hungry, this is the answer you get: "here is africa. it's not about being hungry. you eat."
needless to say i watched the second world cup game of the day and ate mangos with the teenage boys.
then it was time to (you guessed it) eat. and after lunch (rice and chicken) everybody gets changed into their other super-classy outfit, re-does their make-up, and gets ready to cook dinner while the ceremony begins. i missed most of this one because i had to eat other lunch in a neighboring compound (i wasn't around for 1st lunch due to my soccer addiction), but it's basically a lot of greeting all the village elders publicially and talking about the guests. than there' about a 3-minute window where the baby is featured prominently, and then the name is whispered and shouted, and the ceremony is finished. the baby dissappears to sleep, and the mother changes her outfit for the 5th time (mothers are supposed to be the prettiest girl at the ball, so they get multiple outfits made and are photographed over and over again) and struts around, graciously accepting money. also the dancing begins. this ceremony had a dj, but the music is often interupted by the griots. griots are sort of like town criers, combined with court jesters. they sing, go around villages annoucing ceremonies, births, meetings. but then they attend the ceremonies and aggressively serenade people until they give them money. technology has been kind to the griots, nothing makes that job easier than a megaphone. one of the griots at this one would make the dj turn off the music, get on the mike, and just begin naming as many people as she could as they streamed in and out, handing her more and more small bills.
so eventually the griots run out of steam, and there's dancing and juice. juice is my favorite part, because it's delicious and not oily. it's baobab, banana (real banana), sugar, and coconut. somebody apparently leaked that i'm obsessed with this stuff because people just kept giving it to me. luckily i accumulated an entourage of small boys who had no trouble picking up my slack.
and dinner made it's appearance, and the ceremony begin to wind down. the dj packed up, the pancatos had all been distributed, and i missed the 3rd game of the day because i was in a car headed back. a car full of happy, full to the gills ceremony attendees. a car i interrogated comepletely, only to discover i was the only one who, in fact, knew the baby's name.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

trees. community. sensitize. trees.

you know how sometimes you play little games in your head? to keep yourself in a good mindset, and keep your sense of humor about things? it's one of the best things you can do here, especially when you find yourself in what could be a high-stress situation, like a meeting that-suprise-is completely in mandinka (or worse, a language you don't even know any of) or a workshop that was supposed to be over 2 hours ago but you are on item 2 of the agenda and the entire room is arguing over really nothing.
and that's when you have to sit back and watch.
i'm going to make a confession here. i love watching people here yell at each other. not all the time, of course (i almost never like seeing the kids get yelled at, or spousal disputes) but outside of the domestic arguments a good-old fashioned shouting match is a good time here. the best part is this little sound that almost everyone makes at the end of their rant. they say "eh" but it's really high-pitched and almost always makes me giggle. so when a whole room erupts in rants, raves, and "ehs" i generally have to bite my tounge with each new wave of giggles.
but i also attempt to keep a mental tally of how many times they say key buzzwords. it's almost like mental bingo. and the three best words, hands downn, in my line of work to play this tallying game with are community, sensitize, and trees. when you hear one you can just count down from ten and by the time you reach three somebody will have said one or both. it's fantastic if you're in the right mood. if you're not, you should probably drink some water and lie on the floor of your house until you're in a better mood. i recently started lying on the floor of my house on a fairly regular basis because it's without a doubt the coolest place to lie in the heat and i don't have a lot of other options because if it's hot enough to lie on my floor, it's too hot to do anything else. people further upcountry have been dealing with this level of heat and worse for months now. everyday i feel the ocean breeze and again thank my lucky stars i got a beach site.
and today i was doing the progress reports for our schools in the tree nursery competition. my co-regional coordinator and i decided it would be nice to give the schools feedback on what we saw when we visited their nurseries and ways they can improve...so i typed out those 3 words a whole lot today. and you know what? i felt really culturally integrated when i did it. and i think at my next meeting, i'm gonna see how many times i CAN work my keywords into the conversation. because they do encompass an important issue, not just here, but globally. and i want to see if i can double my numbers. :)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

uh. scientists are so selfish.

come on people. can't we share some knowledge here.
my village, being on the southern coast, is allegedly a green turtle nesting site. we're talking about sea turtles. some of the cutest, most threatened animals around.
so i'm looking for someone to start a dialogue with.
but i can't read any of the articles because i don't belong to those online journals.
people get so worked up about music streaming and file-sharing. i've always been one to say, let's pay for music. they're trying to make a living. but this isn't music i'm trying to enjoy. i just want to read some papers. i know they worked hard for their publications. but i also know that i just want to find out who's monitoring the sea turtles in this country and that info's not exactly on google.
but i did find some contacts. i'm just all worked up because abstracts are so tantalizing, but contain little to no information. they just taunt you with how helpful they could be but aren't until you pay and register and have a monthly subscription to a journal you aren't actually interested in.
i miss the system from uri where i could actually read them. who would ever think you'd miss reading scientific articles?
other than my momentary setbacks, things are fantastic. i'm doing more teaching at the school, which i LOVE. the kids are mostly great and even when they misbehave it's funny and i can't really be mad at them. and i'm teaching biology but i keep talking about environmental issues, digressing and all. but they don't mind and neither do i. and we get to play learning games, what could be better? there's a lot of talk about coastal protection going on, which is also, of course, really exciting. and the forrestry department is thinking about resurrecting our community forrest. that's one bright ray of sunshine. i don't know how much of this will actually happen, but at least people are thinking about it. last time i was at the forrestry dept they sort of told me they had given up on my village. i'm glad that sentiment didn't last.
but my rant is over and i've got to start actually doing things. have an excellent.

Friday, May 21, 2010

barack. obama.

as i'm sure you can imagine, obama's kind of a big deal in these parts. the man is kind of a big deal everywhere, but here he's really achieved another level of popularity. he is ubiqutious. his face is everywhere here. and i really mean everywhere. people have holographic obama belt buckles. his face stares up at me from the wristwatch of the man sitting next to me on the gelly. his love for michelle is celebrated in tee-shirts of all shapes and sizes. you can get clothes made from fabric with his face printed on it over and over, a banner of obama adoration to be worn on the most special of occasions. even the beloved green tea that people guzzle here like americans and their starbucks comes in obama brand. for a slight price hike, but a small price to pay i'm sure.
and then, of course, there's the song.
ba-rack. obama.
ba-rack. obama.
there aren't really any other lyrics. but it really is a song here, and we sing it to baby Omar all the time. then we clap his little hands together for him and he laughs.
and of course, being an american, i'm clearly on speaking terms with him. i think some people even suspect i have his mobile number and am keeping to selfishly secret for some unfathomable reason. i have actually had arguments with people where they acccused me of lying when i said i didn't know him.
"but you work for the government. you have met him at least."
"no. my country is very big. many people work for the government. he can not meet them all."
"yes, but you work for him. he is your president. you know him"
and so on. it's not everyone, but i have been asked to greet him more times than i can count. now i just say okay, knowing full well that if i ever do get the chance to meet one of the most popular political leaders of our time i will be greeting him on behalf of an entire west african nation.
and of course i expect this to happen immediately after my return to the u.s., where i will fly into d.c. through an arch made of balloons with a floating banner that welcomes me personally back.
because that's what happens when you arrive in america.
we should be flattered, really, that our country has been percieved to have such a great and welcoming reputation. it's difficult to explain to people that america is great, and there are many opportunites there, but we also have many problems. that we have poor and even homeless people. and our doctors can't cure everything. that not everyone has a mansion and 3 cars and a fat white wife. and that the incredible culuture they have here, where everyone knows everyone, and welcomes strangers as you would a long-lost friend, is often lost in the day-to-day stresses that make up american life. i wish i could instill the friendliness and sense of community that comes so naturally to everyone here to the more uptight, isolated, distrusting nature that comes to americans almost by necessity. i wish we were a little less of an individualist culture, less reluctant to celebrate things we have in common, things that make us feel united, instead of competing through status symbols and constant one-upmanship. i'm not saying gambian culture is perfect, i'm not saying any culture is perfect. i'm just saying we could learn from them, just as they can learn from us.
but mostly i wish some one would greet obama for me because my host brother was playing with my cellphone the other night and deleted his number. i know he's waiting for my call.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

maybe i'll never leave site again.

and not just because things are going really well there. which they are. it's been a really good few weeks, and when it came time to come back here (i'm doing some oyster work) i was really dragging my feet about leaving. but leave i did. and it's nice to be here, with a fan on, sitting in a chair that has a back and a cushion, with the feel of cool tile on my feet. but i think the real reason it's so nice to be here is because the process of getting here was comically drawn-out and convoluted. i'll try and be concise, but get comfy, cuz that's not exactly my style...
i set out from home later than i intended, which was my first mistake because it was sunday and nobody likes to do anything on sunday (or friday, of course). but i was helping with the laundry and lost track of time, and then was heavily pressured to stay for lunch, which typically happens around 3 here. after lunch, i headed to drop off some seeds at a friend's compound. she was out, which was fortunate because she missed seeing me spill my bag of Moringa seeds all over the sand. luckily, i managed to corral some kids to help me collect them. then one of her sisters asked me to save her a seat on the gelly (the typical transport method, a van that is stuffed to the brim with people, luggage, and various other items such as chickens, gas cans, buckets of fish, photos of the gelly driver and the gelly,etc) so i went to the carpark and boarded the waiting gelly, taking care to save a seat for my friend. in due time (we'll say 30-45 minutes) enough people came and after some shouting and searching for the driver and apprentice, we set off, stopping at my friend's compound (it's by the one road running through my village), horn blaring, as she calmly strolled over and boarded. yes, the driver honked the horn the whole time. no, it did not quicken her pace. her 2 year old daughter chased the gelly crying as we rolled slowly away, with one last horn blast for emphasis.
and then my water bottle leaked through my bag and all over my pants. yes, it was unpleasant, but i am fortunate to be in such a climate that it dries rather quickly.and i managed to extract my mobile and wallet from the bag so my documents were safe. the rest of the trip was uneventful.
so i arrived at the first carpark and boarded yet another gelly to continue my journey, trying to ignore the wet spot on my leg and the confused glances it invited. this gelly also filled up slowly (who wants to go anywhere sunday afternoon?), but luckily i had a book with me, which served the dual purpose of giving me something to do and giving me an excuse not to talk to the man sitting next to me, who immediately upon taking his seat asked me which country i was from and if i was married. as we rolled along, two men in the front of the gelly started having a conversation about how we should all live like the prophet and how Allah is the only way, but only one felt that way. i suppose their "argument" was really about religious freedom, but it was a lot of back-and-forth and clearly no conclusion was going to be reached. everyone in the car noticed, we were all exchanging looks and chuckling to ourselves, except for one older man who listened quietly for about 10 minutes, and then could no longer restrain himself. he began yelling at the two men in the front, saying that they were distracting the driver, which they may have been. however, he did not seem happy with their response (silent), so he got to his feet and yelled more and more. apparently he used to drive for the embassy in Dakar for 22 years. and he doesn't want to hear anyone's thoughts on Allah. at this point, other passengers were trying to reason with him, which caused him to lash out at them, which made him even angrier. at all times about 3 people were standing and shouting at each other, ostensibly over how this man didn't want anyone to distract the driver. those of us who weren't yelling were laughing, but more in the "this is really uncomfortable and i'm nervous" sort of way. and one lady in front of me was recording the angry man's impassioned tirade on her cellphone. but i guess the still-shouting man had a point, because the driver was indeed distracted, and we got a flat tire. so we pulled over and moved the shouting match to the road side, with one very angry "i told you so" addressing the whole group. somehow everyone calmed themselves by the time the tire was changed (maybe 30 minutes) and we all piled back in, ready to get going. lesson learned?
no.
they started fighting again. and this time, they tried to bring me into it. "let's ask our white sister here" they would say, and the whole gelly would look at me, and fall silent. and i would tell them in english and mandinka that i wasn't going to comment on their arguments. they wanted me to take sides on religious freedom. and then on who was responsible for environmental degradtion. and then, to ice the cake, the man sitting next to me asked if i had a boyfriend, and if i could tell him my pet name for him. i have never been so happy to get out of a car.
but now i am here, and ready to get to work. ready to forget that in a few days time i'll be back on the road. ready to believe that it was a fluke and that many people willing to argue for that long will never be on the same gelly with me also present, and that if this happens again it will be an hour ride, not 2 and a half. ready for action.

Friday, April 16, 2010

wrap. it. up.

wrap it up is something i've been saying a lot lately, at least in my head. we're headed into our last day of all-vol, a conference where all the volunteers in the country get together and we have a big meeting where we talk about...policy. and policy. and policy. and sometimes people complain. about policy. it's a long, painful, nessecary process that can not be avoided but is absolutely exhausting. exhausting.
but it's the last day! by this afternoon, whether they're done or not, they have to wrap it up!! and then i'm finally free to go home for the first time in more than 2 weeks. actually, i'm going to Abuko nature reserve to help make a firebreak tomorrow-but after that i'm going home! it's more than time. i think my school probably thinks i've left the country. they had spring break for one of the weeks i was gone, so it won't seem AS long to them. but i want to make sure they're going full-tilt on their tree nursery. i'm one of the regional coordinators for the all-school tree nursery competition, so i have to work extra hard to make sure my school isn't slacking. i'm also trying to get them to plant more native species instead of invasives, and any tree other than a fruit trees, but even fruit trees absorb carbon so i can't complain.
and i just need to readjust to village life. there's been a lot of toilets, electricity, reliable phone service, and delicious western food in my life lately (they actually have Nutella here) and i'm headed back to rice, a pit, and flashlights. but i'm not really complaining. i'm just psyched to see my host family and ride my bike again. also, tourist season is winding down so i think i will be less and less confused with the tourists that come through my village because there's no one to confuse me with around.
this is not to say the last two weeks haven't been worth it. IST taught us some amazing things, and it was great to see everyone from my training group (and everyone in the country). i would have to say the major highlights of in-service training for me were 1) the demonstration glass hive and 2)advanced composting techniques. more on that later, i promise, but i'm offically obsessed. but i have to wrap this up because our transport is here. love ya, mean it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

hope you like the new pic

i thought this lovely picture of the beach was a little more "Gambia" than the old one (me in America making a face). i've spent the better part of the evening watching the internet come and go as i try and upload photos. so enjoy them, because they were quite an effort to get up on the old facebook. i named the album after my favorite Gambian joke. if you ask someone how they are doing, they will say "oh i am just managing." but one day (at a police checkpoint, of all places) the police officer, when he heard that we were managing, said "i guess we are all managers, because we are all managing." it made me giggle.
the festival was pretty great, some of MY favorite acts from around the region showed up. and the bumster-boss lady population was through the roof, which always makes for some excellent people-watching. it was some late nights though, and i'm glad it won't be back for a year. i need more sleep than that lifestyle requires.
but anyways, things are good here. we've had some in-service training going on, where we learn more intensive skills like bee-keeping (i've already got most of that covered, but it's nice to hear from someone other than my counterpart, i suppose) and tree-grafting. today we practiced on real trees. i don't know how well i did, but i do know that grafting trees feels like playing god. but you need a really, really sharp knife. we're also going to be doing some advanced composting (yay) and other gardening stuff. i'm pretty psyched to get back to site, of course. they keep giving us all these good ideas but i have to wait another week at least until i get back to try them. ay yi yi. in-service training itself is pretty exhausting, but it has been nice to see other volunteers for awhile. there's just something about being with someone who knows what it's like to be toubab-ed on daily basis that's just...therapeutic. also we've some really intense discussions about sustainability. it's something that comes up all the time here, and it's amazing how a small group of people working towards the same cause can have so many different opinions. but it's really important for us to keep talking about it, to keep that dialogue open, because otherwise who knows what we'd wind up doing. it reminds you why you're here and makes you re-think what you've done so far and what you want to do again. we've also been talking a lot about food security, which i'm sure you can imagine is a huge issue here. it goes really to every aspect of life here, you can't look at one issue plaguing this place without tracing it back to food security. so i guess it's good we're trying to focus more on that now.
speaking of food security, apparently it's socially acceptable now to post things on your blog that you want people to send you in care packages. i had no idea this was okay, but when in rome, you write your wishlist on your blog.

granola/luna/protein bars
peanut butter m&ms (the candy-coating keeps them from melting)
plain m&ms are also appreciated :)
TRAIL MIX!!
DRIED FRUIT!!!
sour punch straws ( i loove the strawberry ones)
any seeds you want to see if they can grow in a hot climate (apparently this is ok)
fun mix cds (or cds in general)
LOVE
this is going to sound a little silly, but please remove all excess packaging (otherwise i have to deal with where to put my plastic waste, which is not easy) but put everything in ziplock bags. counter-intuitive, i know. but while i am okay with no excess wrappings, the rats and bugs that live both in the Peace Corps mailroom and the Banjul post office have other ideas. and they are not to be trifled with. anyways, don't worry about this list too much because if you take the time to send me a package i'll be so grateful to you that it could probably be a dirty sock and some sugar packets and i'd still be psyched. and i have a pretty barren backyard right now (baby monkey's a digger and chewer of most things green) but rainy seasons a'comin and i'd like to get some stuff planted out there so if you've got some seeds lying around and you've ever wondered how they would grow in africa, apparently there's no overregulation of what you can plant here. i know the volunteer before me tried for a pecan tree and it was too hot, but that's only the beginning. people have grown pomegrante here before, and pineapple (yummy) and all kinds of things. so send 'em on if you wanna know and i'll give you a full report. because my tomatoes and basil are doing great, but i'm looking to expand to other gardening endeavors.
and trees! i got so many seeds today, i can't wait to get some trees in the ground.
anyways, i'm around the internet for a hot minute, so i'll probably post again soon. check hourly!
or maybe every few days.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Baby Monkey was adopted.

you would think that being saved from the life of a typical Gambian cat-the beatings, the parasites, the hunger-would make him grateful. but no. despite the steady diet of fish and powder milk (and cheese if he's been particularly sweet lately), despite the petting, the protective flea collar, the baths, and the love, despite the fact that he has a perfect life, he still insists on waking me up at 5am. every morning. this is a new trend. he used to sleep through the night (and most of the day). but i guess since it's hot hot hot his nap schedule got rearranged and now "be really obnoxious and cry loudly until casey lets me out" happens from 5 until5:30 every morning, instead of the middle of the day when it used to happen. and yes, he has been reminded that he was adopted. it didn't help.
otherwise things have been pretty good. my cold is little more than a pesky cough now, and it actually has been cooler these last few days. i can breathe even at the hottest part of the day (through my mouth, but i'm still breathing). we're all getting geared up for the big festival this weekend, i'm actually getting excited. there's going to be so much music. i love watching the Senegalese dancers that are going to be coming, as well. they're just impressive people. i'm on the "hospitality" committee, which basically means they want me to keep the tourists attending happy. i think it should be a pretty manageable job, i just hope there are no drunken scenes. the soldiers are coming to help control the crowd, but i don't know how they will feel about disciplining tourists. which is where i come on. i'll use some of my american moxy to keep them in line. or just tell the soldiers not to worry, they're people just like the rest of us. last year the soldiers locked up all the overly intoxicated rastas, cut off their dreads, and made them work in their garden. i don't think they're allowed to go that far this year, but i hope the boys are thinking of their dreads and behave.
after the festival i'm headed back up north for a girl's leadership camp. it's pretty exciting. i can't wait to see girls from all over the country working together. it even involves a "bridge-building" activity. who doesn't love a well-placed metaphor? i'm doing the icebreakers, which is in my opinion the most important part. just kidding. but i think it could be the most fun. the girls are at a really fun age, so hopefully nobody will be too shy and we'll be able to get them to bond. i think they're all going to love it. after a week together, how could they not?
so i'm off to search for lunch

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

you better believe i'm tan.

against my best efforts (sunscreen, sleeves, hats, avoiding the sun) i am a toasty brown (at least for me, being so fair-skinned). people in my village joke that soon i will look like one of them, and be a lovely chocolate color. i'm not sure about that. i'm still holding back.also, due to the culture here (lenient muslim, i suppose) i am actually only tan from my mid-calves down, on my arms, and my face. the rest of me never sees the sun.
international women's day went reasonably well, we actually had to do our activities the day after because monday was commonwealth day also, which included traditional dress, girls with candy braided into their hair, and a parade. the parade went to the military camp, where the commander treated us to a speech about student-on-teacher violence and teenage pregnancy. in celebration of the commonwealth, i guess. it was a great day though, and there was dancing in the afternoon. "traditional dancing" here is fun to watch and imitate, but it's a little awkward because everyone wants to see what the white girl is going to do. yeesh. it's worth it, though, to see what everyone else does. they get really into it. i love how they try and one-up each other. it's all a dance-off.
today i went to most of the upper school classes to talk about a tree nursery competition the school is participating in. the teacher i am working with is a little overenthusiastic (a problem i prefer to the alternative) and is having trouble letting the students take control of the nursery. he really wants to win, i guess. i just want to make sure the students learn how to raise trees. i really like this competition because it gives me lots of chances to talk about how important trees are, something you can't do enough here. as it gets hotter, there are more and more bush fires in my area. we passed 4 on the way here. it's such a sad site, and there's no real fire department to take care of it. people lose their farms and homes all the time.
the solution is firebreaks, but people are reluctant to build those, and often do not get around to it until later in the hot season. i suppose bush fires have been going on so long here they are almost viewed as inevitable, the way people see floods and tornados. hopefully they can be educated and encouraged otherwise. it's a long process. i know people know about firebreaks, but getting them to make them is another story.
so i am busy busy, when i'm not working i'm sitting around complaining about how hot it is. it's getting hotter, and i feel completely justified in complaining simply because i'm doing it with gambians. if the host country nationals say it's too hot, it's too hot. it's nice to commiserate. my mandinka is far from advanced, but my weather-based complaints are excellent.
while we're on the topic, i've been making a list of things i thought needed to be refridgerated before i came here. here's a brief version
1)eggs (cooked or raw)
2)milk
3)mayonaise
4)yogurt/cheese
5)fish
6)butter
7)leftover food from meals

i can't believe people here don't have all sorts of bacterial infections. or maybe they do...
anyways, i have some emails to reply to. i've hooked up with this NGO that does some really great work, but the majority of people there have computers and want me to be keeping in touch with them via email. it's not an option for me, so i have to cram before each of our meetings. my brain is a little fried, but at least they get stuff done.
fo waati do (till another time)
casey

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

this one's for the ladies

but fellas, listen close.
march 8th (monday)is international women's day. it even has it's own website:
http://www.internationalwomensday.com/. it's a little heavy.
i am planning on going to the basic cycle school and doing some activities with the girls there. then i want to go to the skills center and repeat. but i'm on the hunt for activities to do with them, if you know of any good ones, please call/email/facebook me with suggestions! i'm working with a student who is staying in my village, and the two of us want to really bring home the point that women can work and have a family, and of course that education is the key to everything. so let me know if you have any ideas!
right now we are going to have a discussion on setting goals and doing an activity called "pat on the back," where everyone stands in a circle and writes something nice about the person in front of them on their back. it's cute. but it's not enough.
otherwise, things here are good. it's been hot hot hot but not so bad today.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

today i am a spoiled girl

Two posts in two days? this is unprecendented, to say the least. today i am being more spoiled than i ever have been before. i travelled for a meeting this morning with the owner of the ecolodge in my village and now i have seen how the other half lives here. a car instead of a bush taxi. they gave me pomegrante/cranberry tea. after the meeting, we went to their house where they have 3 week old PUPPIES and had lunch at one of their other hotels. and the meeting...it was amazing. people stayed on topic, no one was breastfeeding, and there was a clear agenda which we followed (reasonably, they were still human). and then we went out for real honest-to-goodness ice cream.
and now i'm in the PC office checking my email in THE AIR CONDITIONING.
this could quite possibly be the best day of my life. at the meeting they even gave me a tree seedling. what could possibly top this?
a fully charged cellphone, i suppose. but after a day like this, one really can't be greedy. i'm killing some time, waiting to see if i can't wrangle a ride back to the lodge (my bike is parked there, waiting) or just not have to ride the gelly in the heat of the day. morning and evening are prime travel times here, it's just much more bearable. i learned that my peace corps visit isn't for another few weeks, as well, so i have a lot more freedom to plan my days. today is absolutely a glass-is-half-full kind of day.
good news. as for village life...
my village is great. like every third world village, it has a lot of problems that you can't even begin to address, but it's a nice place and the people there are very welcoming, and willing to listen. persuading them to act is harder, but they're open. my family is wonderful, i am still really enjoying getting to know them, and they give me a home-like feeling that probably could not be created any other way. baby monkey is trouble, but the good kind of minor distraction trouble. for example, besides eating anything i plant in my backyard, he got some sort of insect/parasite from the chickens, and we had to put palm oil on him to kill them. he is a white cat, and the palm oil dyed his fur so he looks like he's been rolling in iodine. it took several applications, and after the first one he was so angry with me he would not even come into the house. but now he owns it, he will at least come inside and scratch up the rug like normal. yesterday the goats somehow snuck into my garden. they ignored my plants, but destroyed my fence. i can't decide if that's good or bad. my plants are still alive, but for how long?
and as far as work goes, i really am starting to feel satisfied with what i'm doing. it's been touch and go for awhile, but i think that i'm making good connections around the village and even on a larger scale, and that i will be able to be (somewhat) effective when i pick a real project to settle down and focus on. i also think that everything is touch and go here, so getting used to that isn't such a bad thing, either. i am also really enjoying some of the smaller projects i've been engaged in. i have a lot of freedom right now, concerning what i do and who i work with, and some of this is because my program currently does not have a director. sometimes i think it would be nice to have a little more guidence, but i think i am pretty lucky in the sense that i have found plenty to do more or less on my own. the day we do have a new program director will be a very happy one, but for now i am okay with a little bit of freedom. at least, when i'm not sulking about missed meetings and late appointments.
so to give a quick rundown of what i'm doing, in case you ask yourself, what is casey doing over there...
1) i'm acting on a commitee to plan an annual music festival in my village. this festival is 4 or 5 years old, and the backers are british. they are trying to get villagers more involved, and this is proving to be somewhat of a headache. this may be my least favorite project, it is not very sustainable and the others on the commitee are very prone to procrastination. but it's important to the village, so i'm doing my best to motivate them and get it off the ground

2) i spend generally 2 days a week at the school. we have dug a compost pit and i do lessons with some classes on compost and why it's important. i also meet with some of the teachers and try and involve them with educating the village outside of the school, environmentally and otherwise. i really like going to the school, the kids are awesome, espeically the nursery school kids, who are just precious in their little uniforms.

3) i did some what i think would be consulting work with a NGO here called stay green, helping to write a manual for environmental education trainers on coastal wetlands protection. mostly i helped them to define scientific terms more precisely, and then re-word them so they would be in layman's terms, things the average villager could understand.

4) i am co-regional coordinator for the all-school tree nursery competition, which is exactly what it's name implies. this will be kicking into higher gear in march, when it's time to get the nurseies started

5) i am working with a women's group to make neem cream, a mosquito repellant made solely out of local ingredients. this group also makes soap, and has a shop that they are trying to open. they are working on a project proposal to get a sewing machine, furniture for their shop, and supplies to get labels. i really, really enjoy working with this group, they are very driven and, of course, friendly.

6)i am, at some point, doing more with the national cashew tree farmer's association. we are mostly doing record-keeping right now, but they want to come and have a 5-day training with the assoication in my village. and while 5 days is a long time to talk about cashew trees, i think it will be altogether worthwhile.

7) i try and drop by the skills center. i also have taught them to make neem cream, they are having a malaria education day. i am somewhat involved in the planning of that, and i want to do more work with them in the future. the students there, also, are really delightful people, and i sometimes just come over to chat with them and see what they're working on.

8) finally, today i attended a meeting for a committee of environmentally-concerned people. they are a subgroup of ASSET, association of small-scale eco tourism (or something similar), which applies to me only in the sense that my village includes a lot of eco tourists. but this group is more concerned with outreach, they do massive tree-plantings and other sorts of small, locally based projects. i can't say too much because i just met most of them today, but i think we could at least get some trees planted with them in the future, which is something i will never say no too.

so i have some other things on the backburner, the NEA, who apparently is trying to pass out desk jobs, does quite a bit of work with coastal monitoring, which i hope will become more of my focus here. like any governmental organization, things over there move slowly, but hopefully i will get to actually sit down and talk to someone at some point next week (keep your fingers crossed!) also i've been hearing more and more about a community forest in my village, which has been both celebrated and ignored, depending on the year. so i'm looking into that, as well. i hope you made it all the way through this post, and i promise the next one will be just as info-packed, maybe i will write some about gambian culture, or linguistic idiosynchrosies, something which personally fascinates me.
till next time!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

West African International Time

yes that spells wait. and that's kind of what i'm learning to do.
it's harder than it sounds. i have been frustrated lately. the office is sending someone to visit me at some point this week. can i sit at my house all week? no. can they tell me when they are coming? no. and will they come when they say they are going to? no. i will see them sometime, or they will come and i will be out, and there will be a problem, i suppose. it's been a lot of run-around this week, unfortunately, a lot of "i will call you at this time and we will meet where i tell you" and then my phone does not ring, and i get more "where were you?"
we are none of us mind-readers. so i'm taking it in stride, or trying. and i've still acomplished more than i thought this week, including meeting the owner of my village's art gallery, which is absolutely beautiful. all this waiting is giving me a chance to explore the village more, and work on my language, of course. and ride my bike! i've been doing much more of that recently, and it really is the only way to travel. i'm going to get a sweet biker's tan. i can only hope.
and maybe soon i will climb on my bike, go to a meeting, and come home to a peace corps office worker waiting on me, for once.
it's a nice thought.

Friday, February 19, 2010

some people really know how to blog

i am not referring to myself. i have been checking my fellow volunteer's blogs, and some of them are really quite good at it. they regularly post pictures. they keep notebooks. they describe their projects. the give in-depth descriptions of the culture. i don't think i've done any of those things.
and i'm not going to start with this post. suckers.
today i am heading home. i spent 4 1/2 hours of the ferry yesterday, but my meeting was great and i got to see the fabled house of ill repute on the north bank. it was not what i expected, but in the Gambia, what is? i really wouldn't have known if i hadn't been informed "this is it. no there. that one."
and yesterday was a national holiday. the Gambia has been independent for 45 years. there was no school and they fired the cannons. i think there were other celebrations, but i spent the whole day happily talking about wetlands and conservation practices so i missed them. i have another meeting with the same NGO tomorrow, in my village because, as my "bad muslim" counterpart puts it, "they have palm wine there." i don't drink in village and definitely wouldn't drink during a meeting, but if he wants to drive everyone down and i don't have to sit on the ferry again, i am not going to complain whatsoever. i am also going to be cooking lunch for the meeting, it's going to be a gumbo experiement. everyone thinks we should have shrimp but i'm fairly certain there's no shrimp to be had in my village. it's probably going to be more like a chili. you can't exactly ask a vegetarian to cook shrimp gumbo and except it to be properly prepared.
but i have to run, this always seems to be my last stop in kombo. next time, i will blog earlier in my visit, before my brain races ahead to the next step.

Monday, February 15, 2010

in the black hole of the city

Hello, friends.
I hope you all had a happy Valentine's day full of love and chocolates and flowers and all those hallmark-holiday moments Cupid would wish. Mine was good, I wound up in the city to see off a friend who unfortunately has been medically seperated, meaning that she was sent home and excused from the remainder of her service. It was hard to see her go, she had a lot to offer and we will all miss her very much. But we packed her off to Idaho and the snow. But she is a great girl and I know she will do great with whatever her next adventure may be.
It was surreal going to the airport to see her off, I had forgotten what the building looked like. Walking in gave me a rush of memories. And then, on the drive home, we saw the President's motorcade (and the President himself). He throws cookies from his car, but all the cookies he threw were run over by the rest of his convoy. It was actually pretty funny. But a great sight to see. Quite an experience. They drive really, really fast.
My trip to the city has proved very productive, I was informed about a project I am very interested in working on (involving coastal education-and this one has funding!). I really hope this new project pans out, I've got several irons in the fire right now, but most of them are short-term and the few long-term ones are near to my heart, but mostly tentative. I have also noticed that the Kombos are sort of a black hole, once I get here it becomes difficult to leave. I am going to attempt an escape after I finish this post, but I will be coming back before the week is over for meetings and social engaments (i'm multi-tasking, what can I say). I want to spend as much time as I can in village, especially in these early days when I am trying to establish a routine and a rapport. I feel like it's going well, I am working with a women's group that I really like. The women here have to work so hard, and it's amazing how much education can change a woman's life, especially. The women who have finished school have such an advantage, the difference in their quality of life is astounding. Education is no joke here, it's really expensive and a huge commitment, but it makes all the difference. The women's group I've been working with has some educated and some who did not complete school, but they are all very focused and goal-oriented, which is very refreshing here. And none of them have asked me to marry them and take them to America, which is the number one advantage of working with women.
I am starved for updates on the Olympics if anyone has free time. I've been looking at news websites, but slow internet makes it a frustrating endeavor. Anyone who wants to email or facebook (or even snail-mail me articles with pictures!) is more than welcome. I have heard about the tragedy on the luge track, and that Apollo is still really, really fast. Thanks, Jena. You know exactly what I like to hear.
And while we're on personal shout-outs, Lauren Wert I stalked your office on PeaceCorps wiki and mailed you a letter. it'll be there in 3-5 weeks. Hi Mom.
And now I am headed home to start my garden (I finally have a fence!) and enjoy being away from the city for a few days before I get sucked back in to the hustle and bustle. I'm going to the north bank towards the end of the week-i'll swing by Kombo and hit the internet up then too. Take care and take a break from shoveling all that snow.

Monday, February 1, 2010

i'm not good at internet

hello friends.
it seems that i am no good at webpages and other such things, so i am going to say my pictures are on facebook, if you have not yet seen them please friend me or find a friend with facebook to friend me. i would love for everyone to see them through this blog, but today i am not able to make this happen. in the future, perhaps i will find someone savvy and get them linked up.
things are slowly taking shape at my site, i am getting to know the village and the people. i am working on some small things right now, at the school and with some societies that are already established. i am fortunate to be living in such a beautiful place, the tourists who come here appreciate it so much they keep coming back to help it. i am about to spend my first night away from site since swear-in, and, away from my new roomate, a 2 month old cat named baby monkey.
my family called him baby monkey after another cat who used to come around, and there was really no arguing with it. i am not a cat person as such, but this one needed a home and i suppose if he keeps the mice away, we can work something out. he is not exactly cute, he has a very small head and his third eyelid protrudes a little too much, but he is endearing all the same. he is also really, really vocal. he talks all the time. my family is looking after him, my host father is quite fond of him, which is good because left to his own devices, baby monkey sleeps on my father's bed or plays under the banana tree in his private bathing area. luckily they are friends, and my host father really enjoys draping his prayer beads around baby monkey's neck and watching him paw his way free. then they meow at each other. i think he may be more of a part of the family than i am when i return.
but these days i am taking it slow, talking to lots of people and just trying to figure my village out. i think i am going to learn bee-keeping, which is fascinating but a little scary, considering all the bad press african bees get. i will have to wear layers. i also got to visit the folonko, which is a holy place on the edge of my village where people come from all over to pray. it is a sacred pool where crocodiles are said to live. it is very picturesque, with lily pads and low-hanging tree branches dipping into the water on all sides. the crocodiles are believed to be a link to the God, you pray to them about your problems and they speak to the all-knowing on your behalf. then you wash your hands and feet with water from the pool. i did this, and it was a little unnerving, dipping a can into a pool of crocs. but they did not stir. later i heard that they (the crocs)are rumored to have left the pool to move to the pits where the sand-mining (a horrible, illegal practice) had taken place, where there is more food for them. so maybe the prayers fall to the frogs, who frolic on the banks of the pool oblivious to the sacredness of their home. either way, it is a beautiful place and i'm glad to live so near to it.
i can not believe it's already february, i feel like time is slipping by almost without my noticing. i just woke up one day and my house was a home, my cat was pawing at the back door, and my brothers were all ready to walk to school with me. i feel the settling in sometimes, when my language trips me up or i find myself wandering down the wrong village path, but overall the sun is shining, the moon is waxing and waning, the stars are many, and i am learning how to live here on my own.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

but, seriously, this is a big change

this whole being a Peace Corps Volunteer vs. Peace Corps Trainee, it's a pretty dramatic shift. you go from being this coddled, guided entity to a person fully expected to think and act on your own accord, to fulfill assignments and carry out projects and generally take care of yourself in a way you haven't in two months. to give an example, before swearing-in we were not supposed to leave the Peace Corps compound by ourselves, and it was strongly recommended we take a current volunteer there. less than a week later, we will be dropped off in villages hours away from other volunteers and told to show up in Kombo in three months, and basically just don't die inbetween. it's a little like a pre-schooler graduating college...and it feels that way especially because of the language barrier. but we will all get used to our new independence soon and, i'm sure, flourish in our new homes. that's the plan, anyways.
the ceremony was lovely, as far as ceremonies go (i really could do without them). the ambassador's backyard (we never actually went in the house) was covered in lush grass, something you really NEVER see here, and had a perfect overlook of the beach. the speeches were great, the Minister of Health did an awesome job, as did the United States ambassador, who's name is Barry (though you I would call him ambassador Wells or something equally distinguished were I to cross paths with him again). anyways, Barry gave an awesome speech and after the ceremony i got to talk with his wife, who is really, really cool. she was a Peace Corps volunteer once, too. so she is okay with us all invading her backyard in our matching outfits twice a year. a very gracious lady.
but i am very tired, so i am going to attempt to wrap this up. we had a party last night that went on well into the wee hours of the morning, and today was a full day of shopping-buying mattresses and stoves and other things i may need over the next two years. i'm sure i will be posting again soon, if not before i leave than definitely after i've been at site for awhile and start to get crrrazy and ride a gelly for a few hours to the internet. so look out for that one!

i've never thought about being a volunteer like this



i finally procured a computer and some free time, and my camera batteries died. so i attempted to steal these two from facebook. we had our swearing-in (ahhhhh!) ceremony at the U.S. ambassador's house, and this is the view from his backyard. note the pool and the ocean. woooooo. nice digs.
and this is just myself and two other volunteers being silly. so you can know that still happens.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

someday my pictures will come

hello hello
i'm working on the pictures situation. i have some really good ones, of friends in training village and the awesome mural in my house, but uploading them is a little bit of an issue. but i am on it slowly slowly, and, inshallah, they will be posted this evening or tomorrow. so cross your fingers and check back soon!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

swine who?

hello.
we are rounding on the swearing-in date (it's friday, big day, big deal!) and it's one final push through policy workshops, tests, and more policy sessions. by the time i'm a full-fledged PCV i might not know everything there is about agriculture practices in the Gambia, but i will be throughly versed on the IT policies and procedures. which is more important? we may never really know.
today was kind of an important day, we had our big tree id test (no results yet, i may have a problem here if i didn't do well) and we got the results of our language tests. i scored intermediate high, meaning i get to stay! and that i speak a little bit of Mandinka, i suppose. i have no idea how they graded it because i've heard part of my tape and you can't make out any words, it's just me and the instructor giggling as we act out the scenario designed to test my skillz. we were supposed to be negoitating rent for a theoretical apartment, but we were just yelling numbers at each other and laughing. i wish real haggling were this much fun. and yesterday we took "second-language lessons" (as if any of us have gained a first here!) and i chose Wolof, a language commonly spoken in the more urban areas. it is also very common in Senegal, and due to my proximity to the Gambia's only neighbor, i decided i should be able to throw a few phrases around. also, all of the fishermen are Senegalese, so if i want to know anything about fishing here (and i am damn curious about how much overfishing is occuring, etc) i need some Wolof under my belt. and a good counterpart. i really like Wolof, it's different than Mandinka, but that really just means i won't get them confused. also they have more than 90 pronouns, because they don't conjugate verbs, just pronouns. the way languages develop is really fascinating to me. i had never really pondered it much before coming here. but when you live in a place where you hear different languages spoken every day, and most of your friends are multi-lingual, you have no choice really but to wonder. in my village, i have been greeted in Mandinka, Wolof, Pulaar, Jola, French, and English. and i've heard other languages spoken around me, small tribal dialects that strongly mirror some of the more common languages but have their own accents and inflections that make them nearly indeciphrable to my untrained ears.
and really, we're all starting to divide english into 2 languages, english and "gambian english." you definitely speak different english to your american friends than you do to a Gambian, no matter how good their english is. it's actually very helpful to be learning a language, because if i don't know a word in Mandinka, i don't use it in english when conversing with someone who has english as their 3rd or 4th language. it's suprisngly effective, keeping communication simple for both of us. but you have to be careful, otherwise you'll catch yourself speaking Gambian english all the time and then you'll lose your vocabulary. even for this blog post, i'm digging deep.
but i should go. i titled this post as such because i got my H1N1 shot today, which cracks me up, being in a Muslim country where there is no swine save for a few rouge bush pigs. i know, i know, it's not really SWINE flu, but i still think it's almost as funny as when we visited the health clinic in training village and saw the "breaking the pork-worm cycle" posters hanging in the waiting room.
there is no pork in this country. if someone tells you they are serving you pork, it's flavored chicken. but no matter, breaking that cycle is important.
i'll let y'all know if i get thru swear in or they send me home.
but i don't think they're going to buy me a plane ticket anytime soon. i'm here to stay.

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