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.