hello hello. i'm back, in one piece and not all that worse for wear. maybe my pockets are a little lighter, but hey, travel will do that to you. now that i have been to 4, count 'em, 4 west African countries i feel my perspective has grown enough to present you, gentle reader, with this list.
THINGS THAT ARE EXTREMELY HELPFUL TO LIKE WHEN LIVING/TRAVELLING IN WEST AFRICA.
1. WAITING. for transport. for someone to call you back. for your phone to have service. for your visa. for the immigration guy to come back with your passport. for your food. for your check. for your laundry to dry. for water. for the airport to get power back so you can check in. for prayers. just waiting.
2. MAYONNAISE. on anything. and while we're on the topic of food...
3. BREAD ON PASTA. carbs can only be improved, clearly, by the addition of more carbs. sold.
4. PALM OIL. yumm.
5. AKON. this one is probably the least negotiable.
6. CELINE DION. this one is much more important if you are a male.
7. SPEAKING LANGUAGES IMPERFECTLY. if you're not mixing your french with your wolof with your english with your malinkee with your pulaar with your krio, what are you doing? just use your hands a lot and point.
8. GREETING. this will be 95% of your interactions. just follow the format.
9. LAYERS. it doesn't matter if the patterns match, just throw on some more fabric!
10. MAN LOVE. there's a lot of hand-holding, lap-sitting, leg-touching, male friendship. it's ok, you have 3 wives. you can be as comfortable as you want in your masculinity.
11. CHECKING FOR QUALITY BEFORE YOU BUY, THEN SAYING IT'S NOT THAT QUALITY FOR A LOWER PRICE. do it.
12. SHOUTING/ LOUD NOISE. it's the only true way to be excited/talk on your phone in a crowded car. or a house. or anywhere.
13. TALKING ON YOUR PHONE IN FRONT OF EVERYONE ABOUT ANYTHING. privacy? pshaw.
14. MARRIAGE PROPOSALS AFTER ANY INTERVAL POST MEETING YOU. but your walk is SO smart!
15. PEOPLE KEEPING THEIR PET MONKEYS ON SHORT TETHERS. i guess it is protecting you from rabies.
16. THE CALL TO PRAYER. you haven't heard it till you've heard it echoing around the mountains. amazing.
17. BOOBIES. you're going to see them. breast-feeding is beautiful and natural. so is taking your shirt off when it's really hot out and you're a 50 year old woman.
18. TAKING ANY FREE RIDE YOU CAN GET. this one is especially important when you've been waiting on the side of the road for several hours.
19. CONSERVING OR FINDING ALTERNATIVES TO TOILET PAPER. the more you travel, the better you'll get.
20. MAKING LOTS AND LOTS OF FRIENDS, SEEING NEW AND BEAUTIFUL SIGHTS, ENCOUNTERING CRAZY ANIMALS, AND NEVER SLEEPING ENOUGH. just do it.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
i guess i should begin with an apology. sorry. i mean to update more, but the Internet has been really slow lately...and i've been both really busy and really lazy. what have i done since i last posted? counted oyster spat, taught about endangered species, endured a week-long administrative conference, gone on a trek around the entire Gambia (it's hot upcountry), ridden my bike, taught some more kids about HIV, attended some meetings, written some grants, celebrated some birthdays, tickled some host siblings, andddd planned a trip to Sierra Leone and Guinea. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i leave friday. it's going to be awesome. i can barely concentrate. but i just wanted to tell a little story illustrating how much my perspective has shifted since i got here. this actually isn't much of a story, but it proves it's point. last night, my host sister and i were leaving a naming ceremony-the last part of the ceremony, where you just run out the last of the generator fuel by having a dance party with everyone under the age of 8-and we stopped in the shop to chat with our friend, the shop-keeper's wife. there was a man from Senegal there who spoke French. and only French. he didn't speak mandinka, pulaar, wolof, jola...just french. my host sister and i were fascinated. we pooled together our meager french to ply him with questions. where did he come from? what tribe were his parents? how did he get to the gambia? what language did his mother speak? what did they say in his compound? who was he staying with? before i came here, i wouldn't have been surprised by someone speaking only the official language of their home country. most americans only speak english. but living here has given me a new perspective on "official language." in a way, they have helped developing nations-allowing them to communicate on global level, making them more relevant members of the international community. at the same time, though, it's amazing how people manage without them. i would say you could absolutely spend your entire life in the gambia and never have to speak a word of english (the official language). but to spend your whole life in the gambia never using dialect? you wouldn't be able to talk to your age-mates, really talk to them, until around 8th grade. you wouldn't be able to talk to the shop-keepers, all idle chatter would be impossible. it would almost be impossible not to acquire local language skills, living here your whole life. i never thought mono-linguism would be so alarming. but it was a false alarm. this man really just wanted to command the attention of two young ladies. hours later, after we'd been dissecting and discussing (who did he play with as a child? what if he had a travelling emergency) a mutual friend informed us that the man in fact spoke fula and was joking with us. very convincingly, but still, joking. and he gave me so much to reflect on! so that was it. a typical night. a typical situation. a typical west african man, lying to the ladies for a little attention. typical.