Monday, January 10, 2011

Salamalekum (Peace be with you)

That is a Mandinka greeting that is required when you pass by a host national.
We have arrived safe and sound in The Gambia.  Our flight in Brussels was delayed 6 hours turning our 16 hour trip into a 22 hour trip. So because of that, Ben caught a cold and I got double ear infections from the long flights. As you can imagine, our first days in country were tiresome and overwhelming but we got some medicine and are recovering slowly, slowly.
We have been extremely busy since arriving in country. On our first day we received more vaccinations, and introductions to the Peace Corps Gambia. Our second day we started training, and yesterday we did more training and took a field trip to a Reptile Farm – which is owned by an interesting Frenchman.  Our training has consisted of: basic language, basic ecology, geography, survival in the village, Gambian norms and values vs American norms and values, ethnic groups, ceremonies and religions, gardening, and bike maintenance.  We wake up at 7 and aren’t done with activities usually until 9!  Tomorrow we go to our training villages and will find out what languages we will be learning so we are excited and a little nervous. Going from the eco-lodge to the village will be a big change.  We will be in groups of 4-6 with a ‘Language and Culture Facilitator’ living in the village with us for 2 months. Our days will be very busy, and we will not have internet so we probably will not have time to update the blog.
Besides our illness, we are having a good time learning about the culture and the country as well as talking to other volunteers from different parts of the country.  Apparently, in other parts of the country they don’t have the amount of snow cone stands as we do in Texas and people were fascinating by how many stands and flavors we have. I thought that was funny because I know that when it gets really hot here, I will be craving snow cones. The weather is very nice right now, it is the dry season. In the morning and at night it is cool, probably high 60s, and during the day it feels like it heats up to the lower 80s. And the humidity feels low too.  In the shade during the day it still feels very nice, I would compare it to Austin in October.  The hottest months here are supposed to be May and April, but October is said to be the worst because it is extremely humid and still hot.
Our food at the eco-lodge consisted of bread, jam, fried eggs, tea, and a delicious purple drink that I have no idea what the name of it is. For lunch, we eat rice with meat and vegetables and fruit, and for dinner, we always start with soup and bread followed with salad, meat, potatoes, and rice.  We receive cokes in glass bottles for lunch and dinner too.  It is good food, and so far has been easy on our digestive systems. We may not have the same luck at the village.
So tomorrow, we are off for our intensive training and will not be available via internet. However, I have placed our cell phone numbers on the contact information to the side. I believe it is cheap for you to text, and you can use skype for cheap as well. We would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Goodbye America

We arrived safely in Chicago for staging a day early so we could spend the day with our friends Matt and Christie who were nice enough to show us around the city.  Chicago seems like a great place – maybe a bit cold in January though. It had me ready for the 80 degree weather in the Gambia!

Our last few weeks in Texas were filled with packing, eating, shopping, and saying goodbye to family and friends. We had such a great time those few weeks and we will miss everyone dearly.  Thanks to those of you who gave us your support, came out to see us off, and gave us departure gifts.  We really appreciate it and it makes us feel very blessed to have such wonderful people in our lives. We will miss ya’ll and cannot wait for those that are planning to come visit!

We know our decision isn't easy on everyone, but we are so thankful for your love and support.

Our first day at staging went well. We arrived at our fancy Double Tree hotel on the ‘Magnificent Mile’ around noon.  Our day consisted of filling out more paperwork, doing some ice breaker activities, and talking about logistics and what to expect in training and service.  There are about 30 volunteers in our class split equally between health/community volunteers and environmental volunteers.  The average ages seem to be in the mid-twenties, but there are two women that look to be in their sixties. One of the two ladies just finished a service in Samoa!
We are the only married couple in our group and also the only people from Texas! Everyone is very nice and interesting; we all went out for pizza last night after orientation.  This morning we checked out of our hotel at 8 and took a bus to the clinic for yellow fever vaccinations.  After our vaccinations we were driven to the airport and our flight leaves at 5 pm! We should arrive in the Gambia on January 6.  Upon arrival, we will be met by the Peace Corps staff and bussed to an Eco-Lodge where we will be staying for the week together.  We should have internet in the lodge, but after that we will be separated into small groups of 4-5 and sent to our training villages where we will live with a host family and start our language and cultural training.  Ben and I will be living with the same family in the same village. We are leaving in one hour and are very excited; our next post will be from The Gambia!