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 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.