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.