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?

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.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Day

hello, friends. i am sitting in the peace corps transit house, in a very un-Gambian situation. there's a tv blasting super troopers in the backround, a fan is going off, and i'm on the internet. it's pretty different from what i'm used to. but very nice. we are all here for a week and three days, after which we are scattering back across the country to settle in to our new sites and undertake the "3 months challenge," where essentially we are expected to try projects and fail, and try again, until we find something that works. after the 3 months we have what is called in-service training, where we learn a LOT more technical skills. i think we are all excited and nervous for our 3 months challenge, but it's really time for us to try out all the cool things we learned over the past two months.
in between then and now, however, we have a LOT to do. we have another language test, some technical tests, and a swearing-in ceremony that will take place at the US ambassdor's private residence but be televised all over the Gambia. it may sound like a big deal, but there's really only one tv station here and it's not fully scheduled, so it's a nice way to fill the time slot. it does add a little pressure to us, though, because our swearing-in ceremony is supposed to include skits. yikes. the peace corps has given us the day off to sleep off the party of last night, and then our slew of tests and presentations begins in earnest bright and early tomorrow. yahoo.
but i am now going to write a little update on some things i've done that i feel are worth posting
-celebrated Christmas with 35 of my closest friends and some European tourists
-taken a long walk to the river with 5 young boys to see Senegal. i taught them to skip shells and they took a boat across. then, upon the boat's owner discovering they did not have fare, came directly back to the Gambia with a little arguing and splashing. on the way home they taught me the Mandinka word for "fart," a key part of their vocabulary
-met a traditional birthing attendent, who showed me her tools and her delivery area. the tools were quite a hodgepodge, including string and a rubber stopper like the one on the end of a turkey baster. she explained to me some of the process, but in Mandinka so unfortunately it was entirely lost on me
-rang in the New Year on an estimated time with a wonderfully crafted ball-drop consisting of a soccer ball wrapped in tinsel. Julia is truly a genius. there were also balloons.
-listened to the popular Gambian song "A Fo Die" up to 15 times in one night at one of the parties in Kaiaf. these affairs are quite the experience, everyone gets very excited when the generator switches on and the music starts, and then it quickly turns into a middle school dance. there are small clumps of girls and boys, segregated by age as well as gender, all over the party and they almost never mix. i have not seen a single Gambian couple dance together, and i probably never will. despite the cliques, everyone stays at the party until the fuel for the generator runs out, which sometimes doesn't happen until 3 or 4 in the morning. and they all wake up the next day to pray. impressive.
-cooked a tradtional dessert, pancatos, with a bevy of Gambain ladies. yes, there was lots of input from outside parties. but they were delicious.
-gone on a 30 k (18 mile) walk. it was originally supposed to be a 26 k walk the peace corps trainees do every year, but our guide got lost and we spent 3 hours bush-whacking before turning back. we were walking for 11 hours. but it was pretty fun. it definitely famalizrized me with the flora of the rural Gambia. i was not too worse for wear the next day, but some other people had some fairly alarming blisters. all in all, it was a good experience, though maybe not recommended for all.
-started a compost heap in my backyard! i am really into compost here, since the Gambia does not have a trash pickup-all the garbage here winds up in heaps behind compounds or in roads. i am hoping that i can use the tourism angle to get my village interested in more aetheistically-pleasing waste dispoasl practices. it is possible to compost paper, food scraps, cloth, and lots of other trash that ordinarly winds up in their compost heaps. they may be doing it so more tourists will come, but they will also be making richer soil for their gardens (they have awesome commmunity gardens there) and protecting their future. so hopefully i can get them on the compost bandwagon. i think about that a lot. but i'm starting small, and thinking big.
-deepened my opinion on how important international aid is. with that, i have also been feeling more and more strongly that it is irresponsible not to research the charity you may choose. after seeing wells go unused because the women in the village can not operate them, or machines that would change everyone's life for the better remain broken because there are no resources to repair them, it becomes much more real. i think i have written about this before, but i want to urge everyone again to check out the charities they are contributing to. are they getting results? are they on the ground, following up with the people they are helping and adapting their help as time progresses? there are some great NGOs around, but there are also some that simply have the best intentions and but just don't fit the communities needs. an example i have been thinking about recently-one of my friends is living in a village by the riverside, and they have recently been hooked up with a charity, who is going to purchase them 3 big items if they raise 10% of the funds. one of the items they were considering is a fishing boat with a motor, which on the surface sounds reasonable: they live near fish, and that's a great way to make money. however, after a few minutes of conversation my friend learned that no one in the village can fish, or in fact swim, and they are all afraid of the river. a seemingly good request can easily end up as a boat that sits on shore until the bottom falls out.
but despite my soapbox moment, there are good stories here too. you can see people's lives being improved, by taps installed by british ngos, by community gardens, by health clinics and education outreach. NGOs do make a difference, and sometimes just by showing people they are there to help, they give them the hope they need to make a change. so don't think it's all bad, because there are a lot of good things going on.
and now that i've preached i'm going to find some lunch and go to the beach. it's a holiday. eat some black-eyed peas and think about the year to come. 2010 has so much promise, and i'm excited to see what each day will bring.