Monday, May 30, 2011

going alpha-blogitcally

it's offical. i've hit the wall. they all told me i would, and much sooner. allegedly after a year or so of being here, you experience blog-block. everything becomes ordinary and you run out of things to blog about. it's not that i don't have a lot to say. it's just that i don't know what to notice to say it. anyways, in an effort to un-blogblock, i've decided to go through the alphabet and blog about something in the Gambia with that letter. eventually i'll either leave the country...or think of something real to say. so let's get this ball rolling....

A is for Asobi.

Asobi (that's ah-soo-bee) is one of those words that is the same in every language here. It means everyone wears the same fabric, and usually the same style, as everyone else. I understand asobi exists throughout West Africa, though it often has different names. Gambians LOVE asobi. It's very common to get it for events, either with your work colleagues (all the teachers at my school have an asobi, for example) or your friends. It's sort of the opposite of America, 2 or 3 girls will show up to a party in the same dress...on purpose. And think it's awesome. Families also get asobi, at times. My host family ( host father, his brothers, and their children. and their children's children) are getting an asobi for my cousin's naming ceremony. I am very excited, even though I specifically requested they select a fabric that doesn't look terrible on white people...and the did anyways. I will manage. Anyways, here's an example of asobi from the Peace Corps' volunteer swearing in ceremony...we got different styles, but the same idea...

and another from the Peace Corps All-Volunteer Conference

and finally, here's the asobi, american-style my parents brought for my host family when they came to visit. I would estimate my youngest host brother wears his Vandy tee-shirt 4-6 days a week.

What does asobi say about Gambian culture? I think it's a great representation of just how much community means to them. Gambia is very much a community-based society, and asobi is a representation of this. Whenever someone invites me to have an asobi with them, I am flattered because I take it as a sign I'm really a part of the group/community. It's fun. Asobi is usually made for an event, but you get really fun moments when you wear it weeks later and your friend does, too. Asobi is more then just matchy-match fabric, it's an expression of unity. It's one of my favorite things about ceremonies here.

That's it for A....B is on the way coming, soon-soon.

Monday, May 9, 2011

recycling-it's not just for aluminium.

hiiiiii everyone. i've decided, instead of writing a relavant post, to share with y'all an article i wrote for our post's gender and development newsletter. i worked hard on it, so if it sucks...don't comment. :)

Where My Girls At? Women Working In Environmental Fields

One of the most heart-swelling moments I’ve had in this country was watching an older woman address a gathering of people on the importance of mangroves. She had been living and working around these incredible trees for years and only recently learned of their ecological importance. Given the opportunity to address a tree-planting crew on why they had assembled, her voice soared confidently across the crowd, proud to be sharing her knowledge. When she sat down, bursting with pride, the whole room exploded into applause. She had said what we all needed to hear.
Even if they are just cooking the lunch for a group of men clearing a firebreak, women are working for the environment in a way they understand. This means it’s your job to ask them, do you know why we’re making this firebreak? They probably do. And they’d probably love to tell you all about it. So next time you head to your forestry camp, your agriculture extension office, to the headquarters of your nearest environmentally friendly NGO, look for the women. Thank them. Educate them. It’s your world as well as theirs.
Personally, I see the environment as an issue where men and women have an equal stake. If this planet’s health takes a nosedive, we’ll all be going down with it. This is why it’s important for everyone, not just women, not just men, to be educated on sustainable environmental practices. GAD is all about equality, and this is an easy area to address without getting into too many “responsibility” issues. Taking care of the Earth is everyone’s job. That being said, there are some pre-determined gender roles when you come down to the particulars, and that’s a great place to GAD-up any environmental work you may be doing. Empowering women isn’t just about breaking gender roles. It’s about giving them the knowledge to understand the world around them. Women in this society are more then capable of nurturing a bevy of screaming children, nurturing a planet is well within their capabilities.
How do we educate women about the environment? Start in your compound. Talk to your host sisters. Sit in on a meeting of your local women’s group. Have them think about what they’re doing to the planet every day. I’m not talking about a guilt trip. I’m talking about bringing conservation concepts into the forefront of their minds. Environmental education can be done at every level; it’s really all about awareness.
In the field, many environmental extension workers are men. OK, almost all of them. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t women out there working effectively to save the environment. True, they may not get sweet motorbikes and they may not be chatting up all the alkalos, but they’re there. And they’re working towards a greener Gambia. For example, a woman named Binta essentially runs the regional forestry department in my area. Yes, there’s a government-appointed figurehead, and yes, he does actually do effective work sometimes (gasp). But for the daily monotony of keeping that place running? Binta makes it happen. Period. And this isn’t uncommon. A large component of our up-coming girls camp (yes, this is a plug) is having women working in environmental fields speak to the girls, allowing their malleable, sponge-like brains to soak up every inspiring word about how they can work for the environment, too. We want girls who understand the environmental problems they stand to inherit, girls that are passionate about taking care of their country. We will be using women who embody these values. And what we’re finding as we look for these speakers is that women are working for the environment not only on the ground, but also behind the scenes. They’re behind desks, getting the paperwork done. They’re making sure the tractors are ready for trash collection. They’re calling Lamin over and over to make sure the seedlings will be ready for the tree-planting exercise. They’re pushing the Gambia to be a greener nation, with every small task.
Is this where women deserve to be? I’m not saying this is true. I’m saying that there are plenty of Gambians who don’t think about the environment, and I’m glad there are women out there who leave their homes every day to do just that. I am saying that they deserve to be acknowledged whether they realize it or not. -Casey