Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Kaddy Getuh’s Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and want to learn how to do other things good too

The new headmaster and I are making strides at the new library and resource center.  When talking to another volunteer, she informed me of a woman here in the Gambia who likes to help Gambia schools and has a long history of working with Peace Corps volunteers.  So I headed up to our school and the headmaster and I came up with a plan to turn an old building into a library and resource center.  We wrote down our ideas and I called this woman up.  She discussed our idea and told me to compile more information on the exact costs it would require for the building and resources.  The next day I went back to the headmaster and we got these details and I headed into town to meet with Sally to discuss the feasibility and funding.  The meeting went very well and Sally gave me tips and asked me to go back to the head master and hash out a couple more details we were missing.  She said to email her all the information and she was sure we’d be able to get funding from her charity in the UK.  Her charity is called ‘Friends of Gambian Schools’ and here is a link to their website:  She also told me she would help me get resources to put inside the library!  Yay!
The headmaster was very excited to hear this news on Monday when I returned, and he excitedly told me they would never forget me here and I’m guessing by the look on my face he determined that this was not enough, so he went further on to say that they would name the building after me.  Which raises some questions…..Is this the real reason we moved to Africa? It may be.  Do I deserve the honor to name a mut hut with cement plastered on the outside, fashioned in this sense, a library? Yes.  And, lastly, is the title of this blog appropriate for me to have painted above the door of the library and resource center? Absolutely.  This vision alone is what will get me through the tough times on this project, for sure. 
some students and staff in front of the school

Current building we plan on turning into the library

Current pencils the students are using


We got the opportunity to celebrate for the first time the muslim holiday of Tobaski.  The holiday consists of washing a goat/ram/cow and sacrificing it, and eating it until you run out of meat – about 5 days later.  Everyone prays, then the men and boys play football and the women and kids get dressed up and walk around town asking people for money or prayers.  I chose prayers and started getting creative by making up my own mandinka prayers.  I figured out that if you say the words Allama (may God) and then follow it with anything, pretty much the other person has to respond with Amin.  I prayed for money, wives, husbands, dogs, rice, medicine. Oh, it was well received.  The Spainards also came out to the village to celebrate Tobaski so we split our time between our family (rice and goat meat) and a Spainish BBQ (chicken, chorizo, cheese, and vegetables).  If I had to sum up this holiday in 3 ways it would be: ram slaughter, waxy fabric, and fake hair.  And of course, we took some pictures….
Tobaski, Ben is wearing his gift from President Jammeh

Musekebba lookin good!



Bees! They're Everywhere!

It is no longer the rainy season, which means we no longer have weird things growing on us, can sleep inside, and the humidity level is back down to zero!  The weather is nice now and we are very happy to have left the humid rainy season behind us.  And as the rainy season ended, it became time to clean up some bee hives and put out new boxes for this dry season.  A third year Peace Corps Volunteer and his Gambian counterpart came out to our village for 4 days to inspect hives, harvest honey, and help clean up the apiaries (bee compounds).  Luis joined us for parts of the four days and was so impressed with the training that afterwards he told Ben he wanted him to be his ‘Project Manager’ of the bee project. 
Luis, his shirt says 'Crazy white person' in mandinka


The bee's didn't like this box so they started making their hive in the tire!

Luis can somehow smoke through his suit without getting stung - talent.


And that is the story of how Ben and I inherited 100 bee hives in the African bush, with about 25 colonized hives.  That is to say, we have our work cut out for us now.  Our host dad, Lamin, is working with us on the project and is getting paid a very good Gambian salary of 100 dalasi a day (or about 3.5 USD’s).  We were a little nervous about this at first because Luis has a very western mentality of work and our villagers….well, they do not seem to share this mentality (weird, I know right). But Ben has done a good job of explaining to Lamin exactly what Luis expects of him and how to make Luis happy, and what would make Luis not happy.  Such as, not showing up for work for 4 days like another villager who was previously working with us on the bee project.   Not only will Lamin be getting paid here in village rather than him having to go fishing in the river or Senegal, but he will learn how to bee keep which could lead to a profitable side business now or business when we nor Luis are here.  Right now, however, his sole interest is the 100 dalasi a day, and it looks like all three of us will be busy with bee work up until the next rainy season.  We are enjoying this project and Luis is having a bee specialist from Spain come out next week for a whole month, which is fantastic – except the specialist doesn’t speak a lick of English!  So we will most likely speak to him in a nice mixture of mandinka, English, French, Spanish, and hand gestures.  We are still excited about this because he has over 500 colonized hives in Spain and we’ll learn a lot from him regardless of the language barrier.  And working with Luis is pretty fun too, he’s led an interesting life and we just can’t wait to tell ya’ll all the stories he’s told us! He’s lived in Canary Islands, Mozambique, Malawi, Costa Rica, and Spain the past 30 years and has traveled the world on ships as well.  There is rarely a dull day with Luis!  Also, he frequently blasts Pink Floyd out of his land rover coming into the village and when he gets out of the car yells ‘HEY Teacher, Leave those kids alone!’ to the Gambian children standing by in shock. 

Agroforestry practices

Occasionally, we do what our original paperwork sent from Washington D.C. said we would do.  Agroforestry Extension Agents.  We did some land, plant, tree work in our rainy season garden, we grew a tree called Moringa.  This tree has some great characteristics including vitamins, nitrogen fixing, worm extraction, and water purification.  To read more about this ‘miracle tree’ you can go to our friends Josh and Kelsy’s blog:  Josh is extremely ‘in the know’ when it comes to Moringa, and even facilitated a Moringa planting trek across the country.  That’s what good volunteers do in their spare time, organize treks.  Ben and I….don’t organize treks.  They are in the group that is about to go back home and the rest of us are all sad because we’ll miss them!!! Don’t leave guys; party’s just getting interesting ;)!
Back to the tree, it is actually interesting and when we were in Senegal traveling to Cape Verde, we met a volunteer who is trying to link growers with an American businessman who bottles the leaves and sells them as vitamin supplements in health food stores.  Not sure if that legitimizes this ‘miracle tree’ claim for you, but I’m always happy to try things for free that other people spend lots of money on.  We also heard that this process was easy and could help with villagers’ nutrition problems, and that the NGO concern universal would pay money for the pounded, dried leaves.  So we planted, harvested, dried, and pounded it and now are putting 1-2 scoops in our rice meals for nutritional supplements.  We have discussed this process with our family and villagers to try and do the same.  Luis, our Spaniard in village, and our youth association are also interested in growing Moringa as well.  So far, the process was simple, easy to do, and has kept us healthy these past couple of weeks.  We’ve given out small amounts to some people in the village and they appreciate it and we’ve found that most people do know about the tree and call it ‘boro’, mandinka for medicine.  Hopefully, they will follow our example of growing it and eating it themselves.  If nothing else it is a good reminder.
We also helped prepare the local mosquito repellant called ‘Neem Cream’ with our Youth Association.  It turned out better than expected with the organization recouping the costs of the materials within a few days of making the cream.  The villagers like it too and ask us about it frequently.  Our biggest problem was finding containers to put the cream in!
Moringa leaves heading to the drying mat

Rice drying in the fields

Kanali Festivities

The Gambian President, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Jammeh, threw the Peace Corps a party for its 50th anniversary in the president’s village of Kanali.  One thing is for certain about the night, that party will be a party we won’t forget for awhile.  H.E. Yaya Jammeh has built a nice hotel, safari park, and venue out near his village of origin, about an hour and half drive (if you are in military escort going 100 mph) away from the city. Per somewhat usual Gambian protocol, the event was re-scheduled once and no one had a clue as to the specific details of the party.  The specific details being things like time, accommodations, vehicles, food…you know, minor details like that.  The day of the party all the volunteers, staff, and US Embassy staff met at the Peace Corps office and were picked up by nice government owned buses and escorted by military entourage out to Kanali.  We were received by the villagers with drumming and dancing and sat in a long line of cars to enter the hotel.  Once inside, we were served a very good lunch and were walked over to the large venue where the actual program itself took place.  The villagers were invited to attend the program and there was a band playing Gambian music.  The actual venue reminded me a lot of something you would see at the Renaissance festival or Medieval times because the bleachers were all color coded, there was a huge open field of grass, and there was a section for VIPs – which we sat in – that was directly behind where the president sat on his large sofa.  The program consisted of speeches given by the Ambassador, Country Director, volunteers in local languages, and a skit performed by us volunteers who went to Camp GAGA.  I had a small part in the skit but I did manage to make the president laugh fairly hard with my impersonation of an old village woman.  My line was ‘Toubabo, Sumolu lee?’ which directly translates to ‘White person, how are the home people?’.
Later in the program, Surprise! - The president whipped out some large suitcases and gave all the volunteers and staff gifts.  The ladies received some stewardess-like pastel business suits while the guys received West African fashioned garments.  The program was concluded with H.E. Jammeh giving a speech and the band playing.  By this time it was around midnight and we walked over to the hotel area and watched a short film a volunteer had made in the Gambia and ate a delicious dinner around 1 am!  Definitely one of the best meals so far in the Gambia, even if it was at 1 am.  Then we were bussed over to our lodging for the night, which was a nice open style tiled hotel that included a mattress on the floor with no sheets, towels, mats or soap.  We got about 3 ½ hours of sleep and then woke up for breakfast.  After breakfast we piled into our Peace Corps transport and began the entourage home.  We had the entourage drop us off on the junction to our village, which as you can imagine was quite a scene for the village of Bessi located on the road.  To see 2 busses and about 10 Peace Corps cars all stop at the junction, let us off and watch us wave good-bye to the 70 or so toubabs! And then, we walked the 7-8k back to our village, ending the weekend’s festivities for us. 
Another note about the party, I decided I did not own anything appropriate enough to meet H.E. Jammeh so I asked Sibou if I could borrow a complet from her and she happily lent me a very nice hot pink outfit.  The end result being that I looked like a cross between a gypsy and a giant pink flamingo all day and night.  Luckily, I was not alone in my ridiculousness – Asoebe J !!

Kanali is not too shabby

Ya we look good!


Skit performing

Ben meeting H.E. Yaya Jammeh

Brian, Mike, and Ben with their gifts of huge African robes!

Abby, me, Shawn, and Alex!

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I tried to take pictures of kids playing with some things sent from America. Thanks for the care packages, we do very much appreciate it and I think the kids do too! The rest of the pictures are just random pictures of our villagers. 
Binta, Al San, Fatou J playing with 3d Chalk!

Simba and his new friend walter the baby goat



Girls braiding

The small gang of children that terrorizes the village. Boxes, plastic bags, tires - the usual toys.

Health Survey

I recently completed a women’s health survey of 15 women in my village with a counterpart for a returned peace corps volunteer who is now getting his masters at (of all places) University of Texas.  I trained Jeneba, the counterpart, to take a random survey sample of our women to analyze the correlation between women’s education levels and children’s health. 
The survey was about 25 questions ranging from age, births, deaths, and questions about education.  It was very interesting and the women were all very happy to help out.  I handed out soap at the end of the survey and other women were very eager to do the survey with us after they realized they would get free soap.  I compiled a few averages of the survey to see what they were just for our benefit and curiosity:  The average age of a woman in our village is around 35.  The average amount of children each woman has is 5 kids.  The age range that women had their first child is from 15 to 20.  5 of the 15 women surveyed have used a form of birth control – which very much surprised me.  The lowest amount of people living in one compound was 6, while the largest amount of people was 34.  12 women had delivered their children in a hospital at least once, and three had never delivered in a hospital.  One woman, Kuy, proudly told me that she delivered all her children in her home, with NO help!

Life in the Bush

Living out in the bush can be hard with limited access to resources, but right now it’s beautiful and when we aren’t doing other things, we go out to the farms.  I will go out to the bush with Sibou and our neighbor JahKaddy to pick some greens, they call kucha, and we’ll go pick ripe lemons, okra, and peppers out of the overgrown garden.  I enjoy doing that but it was nothing compared to going out to the farms these past weeks after the rice and coos had finally seeded. Oh my friends, these farms are a beautiful sight to see and a wonderful place to work.  The first time I went out to the farms after the crops had seeded, I took my camera once and everybody I saw was so happy to see me come out – it’s about a 40 minute walk from the village.  They were so proud of their crops that will be ready to harvest within the month.  Several people took me around their farms and asked me to take pictures of their crops, and I gladly obliged to document proof of their toil, skill, strength and pride of their work.
Currently, the main tasks are to sit in these locally made structures called ‘bantaba’s’ and scare away birds and monkeys.  A lot of old women and children participate in this task of live scarecrows, which also makes going out to the farms fun.  One old lady had a big old bowl she was drumming on when we came by.  She was great, drumming and dancing around while yelling at birds.   
Small boys taking their families lunch out to the farms

Nacas Colley in his Bantaba watching for monkeys

Rice fields

Host mom Isotou in our rice fields that we will be enjoying soon!

Small boy using sling shot to scare away birds

The entrance to our village

Mamou Badgie's coos fields

The End is Near

The end of the rainy season is quickly approaching.  We are eagerly anticipating the end of October because its hot and come November, Winter!  No snow is in the forecast yet however.  The past 2 weeks have been the hottest here with no rain to cool us off.  Being that it is 90 degrees plus inside our hut at night now, we have started sleeping in our tent outside.  Best decision ever.  We are both sleeping a lot better in our tent, in our backyard.  Besides bracing the heat, we are still working on the same projects that I wrote about last month.
 I have started teaching some environmental education lessons at the school and am collecting materials for a resource center the new head master is starting.  The women have started clearing the grass from the dry season garden and are preparing to start gardening again after they harvest the rice.  This time, the Spanish NGO, the Future is Our Country is bringing in a man from the city who works with a different NGO called Concern Universal to help the women plan their garden.  I will be helping out with that as well, and the Future is Our Country has asked me to write a report on how everything goes.  Our youth association group is still going well; we’ve weeded the compound, and started making the fence.  Later we will finish the fence, clean the house, and harvest the group’s rice.  We selected 4 youth members to attend a work shop at the NGO Bee Cause to learn how to make items using honey such as soap, lotion, candles, and food with honey.  We hope to get the honey from the Spanish NGO and also sell the items at Luis’s restaurant in the city. 
Women's Kafoo at the rice fields

Our host grandma - Mama Musa

My Adoring Fans,

This is what is commonly known across the United States as a “Ben Blog”.  Kate has diligently been keeping everyone updated on whats been going on with us here in The Gambia.  I will just give you an update on a few various things.  First of all, things here are HOT! I know you people in Texas have been dealing with some heat yourself.  Now imagine that for weeks at a time you had no available Air Conditioned room to retreat to and no cold beverages.  Kate handles it a little better than me.  The result for me has been some weird skin things and a complete lack of energy throughout the day.  We are right at the end of hot season so hopefully things will be cooling off very soon.  Many people told us that October was the worst month for the heat and, at least in my opinion, that has proven true.  The last few months have been quite hot but rain storms would help to cool things off a bit.  The rain trails off in October so we went for almost two weeks with no rain.  The result was hot and humid.  We’re now in the city for a few days, where we can find air conditioned refuge in some places and I am hoping when we head back out to village we’ll start to experience some of that cool air that people say is on the way.
Work wise, things are going slow in some areas and picking up in others.  We have a youth association forming in our village that we are working with and that’s going well.  The head of the organization is our friend Ebrima.  The group is quite motivated and we are starting various village development and income generating projects.  My work with our village lodge seems to be stalled by the universal staller of politics!  Nope, its not just an American problem.  The detail isn’t important but the project isn’t really moving forward.  With tourist season coming on very soon I don’t know what will happen.  I’ve made a number of people aware that it is not my job to push a project people aren’t going to do so I guess they will either get things together (and I will help them) or they wont (and I will find other stuff to do).  Right now, my biggest success has been…you guessed it…a women’s tie- dye group, however they call it tie and dye.  We now have 32 women.  We collect money from the group and I went shopping with the head of the group this morning for the necessary materials to dye a bunch of fabric, which we will hope to sell very quickly so we can repeat the process.  The project pretty much started when I helped two women who already know how to do tie and dye sit down and figure out exactly how much profit they made from the last job they did.  They don’t generally do any profit analysis, mostly because they can’t.  They just do it, get some money and go on their way.  We were pretty easily able to say, hey you made x amount of Delasi from this job.  After that they talked to me about wanting to start a group (groups here are known as “Kafoos”).  So now we have our tie and dye Kafoo of a little over 30 women, we pooled our money, we have the materials and they are going to dye them in a few days and we will work to sell them.  I think with some focus, only limited input from me on the record keeping and a little marketing we can get some cash coming in.  Not to mention I get to fulfill my life dream of making tie-dye products.  You’ll find our stuff on a street corner in Austin soon enough!
I have something else to share with you all - something that some might find disturbing, something that some might find interesting, something that some might not care about at all.  You might assume that something bad has happened. Depending on whose point of view you take you might say this event was bad.  For instance, from the point of view of the monkey it was bad.  It was bad to be shot and then eaten.  From the point of view of those of us who ate the lil’ guy it wasn’t bad.  It tasted like eating goat, which is good.  If you haven’t figured it out yet – we ate monkey.  It wasn’t a monkey head sliced open so we could eat the brains, Indiana Jones style, or anything crazy.  It was prepared regular Gambia style and had a pretty normal flavor.  Kate went out to the fields with some women and learned when a monkey head was shown to her that they killed a monkey attacking the crops that day and cooked it.  She called me and I quickly made my way out where we had a few bites.  As one person told us, monkeys love to eat the crops but they don’t actually do any farming themselves.  These days, many people spend their days in the field chasing of monkeys, baboons and birds.  A lot of people have dogs to help and I guess this particular monkey decided to stay and fight with a dog so the owner of the farm proceeded to shoot it.  So don’t think of it as eating a cute little monkey at the zoo that knows how to wave at everyone or Marcel from Friends, think of it as killing and then eating a wild hog that was attacking your farm in America.  Point is, we ate a monkey.
Well,  I guess that’s enough for this Ben Blog.  Women’s work and monkey eating.  That’s whats up here in Africa. Fo naato, Ben

Friday, September 30, 2011

50 years of Service

Peace Corps is celebrating its 50 year anniversary this year.  We volunteers who are lucky enough to be in the middle of our service have reaped the benefits – like a tote bag, and a patch. No big deal.  Last night, we attended a live broadcast of the ‘Fatu Show’.  We heard that Fatu is the Gambian equivalent of Oprah.  The show was a lot of fun made complete with dancing and all the local languages spoken by volunteers.  Ben had visited another volunteer while I was in Basse for the camp, and that volunteers family got really excited when they saw Ben on the Fatu Show! You are supposed to be able to watch it online here:

Also, a volunteer has made some videos of our time here in Gambia. I don’t think Ben or I are included in any of the videos yet, but because Gambia is a small country, we do know everyone in them.  Here is a link to her blog:


I ventured far inland to Basse to help out with the girls camp Peace Corps put on.  The camp was a great success and everyone involved seemed to have a great time. 

Basse market

The campers learned a lot about environmental issues and life skills.  The lessons varied widely from overpopulation, air pollution, recycling, life skills, to fun activities.  The girls created projects from scraps, picture frames, made paper, and played games.  Gambian guest speakers came in and talked about different things.  A peace corps language teacher came and asked the girls what they wanted to do when they grow up, and then talked about the challenges would be in the Gambia and how could they overcome them.  These girls soaked everything up.  During their breaks, they would even copy down vocabulary into their notebooks.  It was so great to see.

Helping out with a session on making decisions

My biggest contribution to the camp was teaching the girls a song about trash:
Bio-de, Bio-de, Bio-degradable
Good garbage breaks down as it goes,
that’s why it smells bad to your nose
Bad garbage grows and grows and grows
Gar-bage, Gar-bage, Gar-bage,
Is supposed to decompose!

The song was accompanied by hand motions and I must have sung it 20 plus times throughout the week.  When I walked through the camp, girls would start singing the song to me. Sooo ya, I’d say it was a hit ;).

In action

The girls also got to go into Basse and see an aluminium can factory that recycles can into cooking pots.  And the last day we had a talent show followed by a disco. 

Volunteers performing skit; I was an old Gambian lady

Stephanie made some great visual aids using a rice bag for her background!

I’m fairly certain  that if we had eaten plain rice, played no games or songs, and only had classes that week, the girls and teachers still would’ve had a great time.  Because for one whole week these girls and teachers didn’t have to cook, clean, take care of small children or fetch water.  Everything we did the girls loved and will probably remember for a long time.  Camp GaGa was another favorite of mine, and I’m already looking forward to next year!

September Days

September went by very fast!  Our villagers have been very busy this month with weeding, transplanting and other farming activities.  Ben has managed to help to organize a womans group for a tye and dye business, and he has had several meetings regarding the village lodge.  The tye and dye group has been a success with 30 women signed up right now.

I went out to the rice fields with the women and took lots of pictures (which I forgot to bring with me to the city so you will have to wait to see them). The rice fields are very lush green and although the work was challenging and hot, I had a good time.  They worked all day, singing, laughing and weeding.  Mama Muso asked me to take her picture in the fields to show our people from America.  Mama Muso is deaf so she communicates with hand gestures and most people are able to communicate fine with her.  We are getting better at communicating with her too.  When I showed her the picture I took of her working in the rice fields, she yelled and clapped her hands very happily. Our village likes Mama Muso a lot and tells us that she is a very good worker.

Wednesdays are generally a day of rest for the villagers, a day when most people don’t go out to the fields.  One Wednesday, I decided to give some people various pictures we had taken over the past few months. I spent the whole day walking around the village greeting people and giving them pictures. They loved them!  An older man, Dodo was very happy so he gave me some fresh okra out of his garden. Yum! It was one of my favorite things I’ve done thus far in village.

Along with field work this month, we’re helping Solo and the Youth Association fix up an old building to have meetings.  Solo’s plans for the building is to make a conference room and skill center.  We are happy to help the rehabilitation of the building and are excited to see what will come of the youth group and how we can help.

School started this past week as well and we have a new head master.  The start of school is different here.  So far, half the teachers have arrived and the students created a ‘clean environment’ all week, which means they weeded the yard.  

Questions from Texas

We are blessed to have 7 very cute nieces and nephews. Two of our nephews wrote us some questions that I thought I would answer publicly so that others could read and enjoy as well. 
Bryce wants to know all about the kids in our village. He asked:

  • What do the kids play? The kids in our village have all kinds of games, although most of the games we don’t understand very well.  There is a type of game where they use cashews; they throw the cashews against the wall and try to get their cashews as close as possible without actually hitting the wall.  The boys go hunting and searching for things in the bush a lot.  The girls help their mothers with cooking, cleaning, and washing; they have less time to get into trouble like the boys.  Our littlest kids in the compound like to go out in the village and find friends to play with a lot.  That made us laugh at first when we arrived.  Our conversation would go: Al San lee? response - A taata satewo kono.  Translation: Where is Al San? He went inside the village. The little ones make up their own games using tin cans, bags, mangos, really anything they can find. They do have a fun song they sing when a plane goes over our village – ‘Plano taata Senegal, Mama Jola kontong’ (Plane went to Senegal, Greet Mama Jola).  We don’t know where or how they learned that song!
  • Where do they go to school? Our village has an elementary school with about 80 students that attend.  It’s called a Lower Basic School here and it goes up until 6th grade.  After 6th grade the kids have to bike or walk 8 kilometer (about 5 miles) to another village to attend secondary school.  The kids here really like learning and going to school. Often, kids will leave their families in our village to go to school in the city because they want to learn so much.
  • Do they wear shoes (He apparently noted that if the kids don’t have to wear shoes, he wants to come live here)?  Yes, most kids wear shoes.  Sometimes if a kid isn’t wearing shoes, a parent will punish them.  It’s important to wear shoes here because there are goats, sheep, dogs, and chickens around.  Those animals may poop on the ground and if you aren’t wearing shoes and step in the poop, you could get sick from the invisible germs – and also, it’s not fun to have poop on your foot!  When the women and girls go to the garden or the rice fields, they take off their shoes to work because there are no animals in the garden.
Logan asked the following:

  • Have you seen any rare animals that you cannot see in North America?  Yes, we have seen a lot monkeys, baboons, mongoose, snakes, and lizards!  Those are just in our village.  When we go to a national park in a different part of the country, we expect to see Chimpanzees, hippos and crocodiles too!
  • What is the Peace Corps?  The Peace Corps was established by the American President John F Kennedy to promote peace and friendship abroad. Peace Corps has 3 goals: To help interested countries to meet their need of trained men and women, To help promote a better understanding of Americans abroad, To help promote a better understanding of host countries to Americans back home.
  • What does the Gambia look like? Gambia looks different depending on the season and where you are at in the country, just like Texas.  Right now it’s the rainy season and everything is very green and beautiful.  By January, things will be browner except the trees.  In our area, there are lots of nice big trees and we are working with our community to make sure our villagers don’t cut them all down.  If you go further east in Gambia, it gets browner and more like a desert.  Our friends up there say it’s really really hot too.
  • How are the people in the Gambia doing?  The people are doing well.  Gambians are generally very nice, happy, peaceful people who enjoy their lives.   Gambians are very giving. If you walk through our village around meal time people will insist you come in and share their food with you.  We have received gifts from people just for being their friend: eggs, bread, mangos, cashews, peanuts, tea, vegetables, a knitted pot holder, and one woman even made me a tie dye shirt! 
  • Is there enough food and water?  There are currently plenty of both. We get our water from pumps that are 800 meters away from our hut and have to bring it back to drink, bath, and wash!  Because our village is very close to the river, we will most likely never run out of water.  We grow and import food.  Rice and coos, which is a grain crop, is grown in our village and are the main staple foods.  Our village also grows vegetables during the dry season (okra, peppers, tomatoes, bitter tomatoes, egg plant, and cucumbers), watermelon, avocados, mangos, cashews (you can eat the seed and the fruit – delicious!), and peanuts are all grown in our village.  There are also a lot of native fruits that grow wild in our forests.  Right now everything is growing with the rains so nothing is in season in our village which means we eat a lot of imported rice.  But we’re looking forward to November when the watermelon will be ready!
  • Have you heard about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan?  We did hear about that and were very sad.  A lot of Gambians have radios that they can listen to for news and programs.
  • What do you and the people do for fun?  Men and boys like to watch and play football (which is soccer in America), women like to chat, brew tea, and braid each others hair.  Everybody likes to listen to the radio and if a village has electricity or generators, people like to watch TV.  Many times there are parties for different occasions where people get together to eat and chat.  And everyone also likes to play games such as card games or board games.  We do all these things with our villagers for fun but we also like to listen to our American music, read books, and meet up with other Peace Corps Volunteers for fun.

I hope we answered your questions and thanks for the care package and writing to us!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On an Island in the Sun

We left the Gambia for the first time since January last week! To the islands off the West African coast called Cape Verde.  It was really beautiful, with good food, beaches, and mountains.  We went with two other volunteers and had a great time.  We traveled to Dakar, Senegal by car, spent the night at the Peace Corps transit house in Dakar, woke up the next morning and flew out of Senegal to Cape Verde.  Dakar was very similar to Gambia’s city area, except Dakar is huge and has things like over passes, a downtown, and a mall. We met some Senegal volunteers staying at the transit house and our experiences sound very similar. 
We also met a Cape Verde volunteer at the Dakar airport and figured out we were all on the same flight.  So when we got off the plane, he helped us get a taxi to the Peace Corps office and took us around town for awhile. Later he helped us find a ride to the village where we met up with another volunteer who we stayed with that first night. It was great, the village was right on the beach where people were swimming and there was a restaurant that over looked the water. 

It was fun to talk about our Peace Corps service with volunteers from Cape Verde.  They all have electricity, running water, refrigerators, flush toilets, nobody lives with a host family, etc.  Totally different experiences! The next day we flew to Sao Vicente where we went to a music festival called Bahia Das Gatas. We hung out with some Cape Verde volunteers there, went to the beach, attended the music festival, and walked around the cute little Europea- like town.  We were all impressed with Cape Verde, it’s much more like Europe than like Africa. 

Next we took a ferry to Santo Antao which is a mountainous island.  We stayed with married volunteers on top of the mountain and then made our way around the island to a small village where another volunteer lives. There, we stayed in hotels that cost roughly 20 USD per night (and they were nice too!).