Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cultural Exchanges - 18 Feb 2011

During our training, we’ve been learning a lot about Gambians values, beliefs, and suspicions.  They have a lot of superstitions, as we do.  Gambians believe that if you sweep at night or whistle at night you will have bad luck. They also believe if you touch your head, you will have bad luck. If you wear scripture around your body, you will have good luck.  Gambians believe in greetings – Peace be with you, how are your people, how are the children, how is your father, how is your mother, etc.  We are not fully used to it yet, but it is the way that Gambians show they care about you.  They ask you where you’re going, where you’ve been, what you’re doing tomorrow, etc.  When ben and I are separated, it is Sana lee? (ben where?) from everyone who walks by. Gambians also believe in sharing, especially food.  Everyone asks you to eat with them, but we are being fed by the Peace Corps right now so we decline.  When our host dad goes to another town, he frequently picks up something for us – an ice-y, fanta, sweet bread.  He is a fabulous host dad. Last night, a few of the trainees in our village gathered together to eat cookies and look at the full moon (forms of nighttime entertainment are few in the village).  Our host dad told us that he would not go to sleep until we came back, and sure enough upon our return he was still sitting on the front porch waiting. J It is odd for us to have a curfew again.
We also entertain the children.  All of the volunteers have different methods for this. Some play a version of duck duck goose (baa baa sisi - english translation: goat goat chicken), some come up with insults in mandinka (?), some teach english while learning mandinka, and some just scare them all. We have come up with different methods, its challenging when you can’t fully speak the same language! It’s hard to explain red rover and simon says so I’ve stuck to ‘patty cake’ and started having our kids do races.  They love both.  Patty cake is funny because random kids will do 'air' patty cake to me from across fields, gardens, and compounds.  Racing is fun because they look so dang cute and everybody loves it.  We make them hop, jump, bear crawl, crab walk, etc. Any other ideas of things to entertain children with would be welcome!

Transportation and Clothing

Transportation in the Gambia is interesting. The most common form is a van/bus type of thing called a Gely. These come sporadically during the day and are big vans that try to fit as many people as possible inside them before departing for the destination. It is actually a really great example of the difference between our cultures.  We will be on the Gely, getting figidty, asking the driver 'when will the bus leave?'.  The african driver will say, when it is full of course!  Our views of time are Oh so different!
It is also common to see goats and chickens riding on top of the Gelys.  There are pick up spots and drop off spots around the frequently visited areas such as the big markets. Here is a description of how we get to the Peace Corps office on public transport from our training village: We take a gely from our village to the stop light (there are a total of 8 -9 stop lights in Gambia, so people know what stop light you are referring to), next we get a yellow cab that is going in the direction of the office.  You have to get cabs going in the same direction you are going or you pay 5 times the normal price. Then we get dropped off in front of the office.  To go back is trickier. You get a cab to ‘Westfield’ then you get another cab to ‘Tipa Garage’ and then you get on the Gely back to our village. Last time I was with another trainee and we saw Bah2 - a member of our peace corps staff who works with the environmental group.  He came over and helped us get to where we needed to be.  Later we saw a neighbor in the Gely who yelled for us to get in, so that was neat.  And when we tried to get out too early, she stopped us and made us get out at the right stop. Can’t say that Gambians don’t look out for us toubabs! The total cost of a trip from our training village to the Peace Corps office, about 50 dalaisi – less than 2 dollars.
People here don’t really go out and buy clothes.  There are places in the big cities where you can buy goodwill European clothes but they’re usually too expensive for villagers.  Villagers buy fabric and have clothes made by tailors.  It’s really great.  Ben is enjoying it a lot because he can get shirts that fit him well.  He also enjoys wearing pajama-like outfits all day. I really like it too, but women are expected to wear long skirts.  The tailors in the big cities are pretty good and they can make anything if you give them an example. And it’s pretty cheap too.  We both plan on taking full advantage of it once we settle into our site!  So if anybody has any old magazines with cute clothes – send them our way J.  Last night, on our way to meet up with some peace corps friends, a Gambian man starts talking to us and following us.  We are both confused and not sure what to think about this, more than sketchy situation, when the Gambian starts speaking English and says ‘Hello, it’s me, your tailor!’. He then says, “Sana (Ben), I need to talk to you about your tailoring needs”.  He had tracked us down to talk to ben about an outfit he’s getting made for our swear-in ceremony! We got it all straightened out but neither of us had ever in our lives had someone track us down for our 'tailoring needs'.

Training Continued - 13 Feb 2011

Hello friends, we have internet connection….for a day at least! We are in the city area for a workshop tomorrow and a long hike (20 km), known as Marathon March.  
We are still busy with training, and over the past few weeks our training has consisted of interesting things like tree nurseries, orchards, integrated pest management, bee keeping, and mud stove building.  One day we got to visit a random Gambians house who had a pretty nice orchard consisting of a variety of citrus (lime, grapefruit, oranges, and sweet lemons), mangos, bananas, and cashews.  This is very unique for the Gambia, most people have a few mangos and oranges but don’t maintain them much.  This guy lived in France for awhile and brought back practices he saw there.  He had different varieties of citrus that have different harvest times than the rest of the citrus trees here so he makes a pretty penny.  And, of course, the fruit was amazing!  He also raised pigs, chickens, and had a small garden started.   It was great to see this type of small scale, polycluture type of agriculture being used here. I don’t think any of us wanted to leave; the free oranges were too delicious!
Last week, our training group split up into environmental and health sections and went on separate field trips.  The environmental group took a trip east, up the river to an island called Georgetown.  We stayed in a nice lodging with toilets and a shower – after you live in a small village in Africa for a while your definition of what is nice is altered a bit.  All of us trainees are starting to feel our definition of nice and ‘good food’ being completely changed!   On our field trip, we visited an aquaculture facility and a horse & donkey trust run by some nice British folks.  The aquaculture facility was very large and offers free tilapia fingerlings to pc volunteers.  This is good and it may be something our community will want to pursue since we are right on the river.  The horse & donkey trust takes in injured animals and nurses them back to health; they also teach locals how to properly treat their animals.  Now Ben wants to purchase a horse, but I’m not convinced. Too expensive – even in Africa!
The landscape of the ‘central river region’ of Gambia looked a whole lot like parts of central Texas – semiarid grassland. The climate was drier and hotter than our training village which is in the western region (the same region our permanent site will be). This was the part of the country where lions used to roam, but not anymore. We saw some beautiful birds, more lizards, and probably everyone’s favorite part of the trip….monkeys.  The first monkey we saw was by himself walking along the road, and that was cool but then a few hours later we saw a ‘herd’ of baboons (there had to be about 50) being chased by an African with a machete and a dog! The whole bus erupted with monkey sounds too, it was pretty great. I even got a picture!  Apparently this region has a baboon problem.  They eat their crops and are mean monkeys! They beat up dogs and such. Gambians have a proverb for that (and a whole lot of other things) – The monkey and the dog will never get along.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

One Month Mark - 2 Feb 2011

We are approaching our month mark in the Gambia and things are going really well. We are finally starting to feel adapted physically and mentally.  And we are enjoying getting to know our fellow trainees; everybody has great stories, I’ll have to write a post about some of our trainee friends and teachers!  Our training is coming along, we both received ‘novice medium’ on our first language tests so we are happy about that. Our schedule remains full and busy with language and culture classes; we have about 6 weeks left of training before we are officially sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers! Training is good, but tiresome so we are excited to settle into our site.  Speaking of our site, we finally found out where we’ll be living the next 2 years!! A place where the bush is thick, the fish are plentiful, avocados flow like palm wine, and dolphins can be seen from the bank of the river – I’m talking about a little place called…… Foni, Gambia.
 All of these things we have heard about our site, there are even rumors of electricity – but I’m not holding my breath. The peace corps is its normal elusive self on our actual accommodations. All we know at this time is that we are being housed by a non-government organization (ngo) forestry group. We hope this means our house will be okay when we arrive; I expect….nothing but a good story.  We will find out what this entails on February 27 when we go on a site visit – survivor style. I say survivor style because we will not have had the opportunity to shop for our site yet.  So we will be staying in our site for 4 nights with no bed, no cooking utensils, etc! We are glad we brought sleeping pads and sleeping bags.
Our job descipitons include all of the following opportunities: bee keeping, working with the women's community garden, the NGO's community forest, Eco-tourism (there is an eco-lodge that ben will be working with most likely), soap making, and environmental education.  We probably won't have set, structured hours so that will be nice.  As of now, Ben really wants to pursue beekeeping and eco-tourism, and I would like to work with the womens garden, community forest, and environmental education.
A couple nights ago, all the trainees went to see a famous Gambian musician at a fundraiser a Volunteer held.  While the musician was great, the best part of the night was our fellow volunteer’s west African dance skills. We also experienced a televised football game. It showed us how average Gambians watch Television.  A man buys a generator, then a tv, than satellite. Then he fixes his home with benches made from ply wood and bidongs (bucket like items used for storing oil and water), and charges everyone 5 dalasi to enter and watch the program. It got pretty crowded!  I’m sure that will not be the last time we attend something like that.
Since we’ve been here a month, I thought I would make a list of our current Likes and Dislikes. It should be funny to see how these lists change throughout our time here.
Local fruit – currently oranges, lemons, bananas, grapefruit. Yum.
Local food – we watched our host brother kill a chicken last night for supper. It’s hard to get more free-range, all natural than that and it was delicious!
Trees -  they’re plentiful, pretty, and people use them for things.
Freely roaming farm animals: chickens, goats, donkeys, dogs, and sheep are everywhere!
The people are so nice!  
The Weather – right now, its almost perfect.
Mandenglish – example: Mapo, Penno, Post Officeoo. 
Safeway – it has tortilla chips and taco shells and ice cream. Amazing!!
Time (Gambian Maybe Time is alright with me)
Attaya – a special kind of tea, made a special way. Its fun to watch and makes us want to open up an Attaya shop when we come home! People sit and brew it for hours; it is really great – although the taste could use a little work.
Stars – the stars at night are big and bright
Donkey carts
Living by the seasons

Lack of variety in meals – also the lack of dairy products and adult beverages
Not having backyard hens – I didn’t realize how much we enjoyed our chicken eggs in Austin; they don’t keep chickens eggs here so they import eggs from Holland and they’re expensive (no, it makes no sense – they let the chickens roam free to eat them but not their eggs). When we get them, they’re boiled and taste old. Ew.  Life without chicken eggs is no fun!
Sickness – adapting to new food, new allergies, and a new climate takes time and has taken its toll on our immune systems.
Feeling privileged to be able to buy things like ice cream.
Snakes – we haven’t seen any, but we know they’re there and that is enough to dislike them!
Language beginners
Frequently comparing our lives to ‘Lord of the Flies’
The fact that I would pay over $100 for each of the following: Torchy’s tacos, Conans Pizza, and a hamburger.

We will be in the city area with access to internet for a whole week next month.... March 5 - March 13 after our training is over. If anyone wants to try to set up a time to skype, email us and let us know! We'd love to talk to ya'll! Thanks so much for the prayers and support!

Garden Building – 22 Jan 2011

We built a garden for our training group this week, and I thought the process was humorous and quite different from starting a garden in Austin. So I will list the steps we took to create our garden:
1.       Find an old fishing net with a myriad of holes through it and tie it around decaying wooden posts for a fence (a fence is a necessity here to keep the goats, sheep, chickens, and donkeys out)
2.       Find dried palm leaves to weave through the holes in the net
3.       Dig new fence posts with machete
4.       Cut down entire tree (probably 8 – 10 inches in diameter) with machete
5.       Have the random 10 kids watching, help pick up the branches and haul back to the garden area
6.       Secure the fence with the tree branches
7.       Make a door with the sticks, nails, and flour/rice sacs.
8.       Watch as the goats eat the branches, and the chickens find a way inside the fence.
9.       Listen to a Gambian women tell you she could’ve built the fence in 30 minutes.
Eyooo eyoo (okay okay)! Also, recently we had a naming ceremony for all the volunteers in our village. Bens new name is Sana Camara and my new name is Kaddy Gitteh!! So now, on our walks through the village we hear: Kaddy Gitteh! Sanna Camera!!! And most of the time, followed by questions we can’t understand.  Domanding Domanding (slowly slowly).

I Saamma (Good morning)!!

Well, we’ve been in country about a month now and although we haven’t had internet access during this time we were able to charge our laptop so I was able to journal about our training thus far. I’ll post them in separate blogs so it’s easier to read. We hope ya’ll are doing well and LOVE hearing from you.  Thanks for the comments and emails!! If ya’ll have any questions for us, feel free to post a comment or shoot us some emails.  For the next month we still won't have internet access but after our swear in March 12 we will actually have free time again. We are all so ready!
09 Jan 2011
We have been in our training villages about a week and a half now and things are going well. We are still very busy with training so we don’t have much free time. We have learned so much in the last week that our heads are spinning but I will try to give a good summary of our time so far.
Daily routine: We wake up at  to open our door and greet our host family – greeting is extremely important to Gambians and it normally consists of several questions: Salaamalamalkeum (peace be with you) Malekumsalam (Peace be with you, Kori sinnota (did you sleep in peace) Ha, I sinnota (yes, I slept in peace), etc. Then I try to sweep our hut as is custom, but I can’t say I do that every morning.  Then we get to our trainers house at 8 and have language sessions until lunch at 2. After lunch we will continue language class or work on our ‘technical directed activities’ – which includes anything from gardening, composting, answering cultural questions, or reading cultural books.  We normally arrive back at our home by 6, hang out with our family, take a bucket bath, study, read, and eat dinner at .  Normally by we call it a day and announce – n Ka ta laa lee (I am going to bed).
Host family: As expected, families in the Gambia are different from ours in America. Our host family consists of: Faa (father) Musa, his two wives: Kaddy Gitteh and My Camera, and an assortment of children that we’re not entirely sure who belongs to who. There are about 7 of them, and they are very fun but can be a bit overwhelming at times.  Last night, we tried to hang out with our family and about 20 kids ran over to play with the ‘toubabs’ (white people).  Our family is very sweet, and we like them very much.  
House:  We live in a large house and occupy one room of the house, while our family occupies the other 2 rooms.  Our ‘room’ is divided by a wall, and is about 150 sq feet. We also have an outdoor bathing/pit latrine area. What is a pit latrine, you ask? J Well, it is a 20 foot hole in the ground covered by cement. Rumors have circulated that on more than one occasion a volunteer’s cement broke and they fell into the latrine – one was naked! (think Slum dog millionaire) Yikes. I am going to attempt to have a compost toilet at our permanent site – If anyone would want to send us some information on how to build one, that would be much appreciated! We have screens on all the windows and doors and the house looks to be made out of a mixture of cement and mud with a tin roof.  We will post pictures when we have time – so that may not be until March when we are winding down our training. Sorry!  In our house we have one table, a double bed, two chairs, and two trunks. We have no electricity or running water, but it’s not bad.  We have some great headlamps and a lantern that they sell here. There are several pumps around the village. We collect water about every 1-2 days. Children are very eager to help you collect water so that is nice.
Food: For breakfast, we are normally given tea and 2 french baguettes each from our host family. Sometimes we will get boiled eggs and potatoes, and on occasion we have received cokes and fanta J. We get breakfast at about 8, but I think most Gambians eat breakfast around 9 or . For lunch, we eat with our peace corps group (ben and me, Lina, Sharon, and our trainer Ibramaba) a meal that Lina’s host mom prepared. It is normally rice, meat, and vegetables. We eat out of a big bowl together – as is Gambia standard. However, we eat with spoons, while Gambians eat with their hands.  We did eat with our hands the first time as training, but ben and I prefer to use spoons. Eating rice with your hands is not easy! Lunch is served around 2 and is the biggest meal Gambians eat. For dinner, we have received a variety of things including: cooked spam, rice porridge, corn mush, and potatoes/eggs/bread.  Luckily, we are so full from lunch we don’t eat much for dinner ever. I will admit I struggle with meals sometimes, and find it funny when Ben can so readily put back some corn mush. I am extremely ready to have a gas stove to cook things on! We are served in our room alone so we don’t eat with our family.
Cross cultural:  Gambia is 85% muslim and our village is big so it can afford to have prayer call blasted on speakers 5 times a day. We live far away from the missiroo so we don’t hear it, but other volunteers are woken up at daily. Men drink a tea called Attaya, which is boiled in a very specific way and is made up of mostly sugar. It is good but I can’t drink it after 5 or I wouldn’t be able to sleep. It is really great to watch them make it though, the process can take hours and men like to hang out and boil it throughout the day. The best thing I have seen so far in Gambia has been the womens’ garden. It is huge, and it is beautiful. It has to be 10-20 acres filled with greens called sorrel right now, and African women with colorful skirts and ticos (head wraps) working away together.  I will take a picture before we leave, but I know it won’t do it justice! I went, one evening, with a neighbor girl to help water her plot. The old ladies working their fields had me come help till; they laughed so hard at my attempt!! I didn’t care, I loved it anyway.