Monday, March 28, 2011

Village People

We met a Spaniard, Luis, who started an NGO – nongovernment organization that put the irrigation system in the womens garden - by irrigation system I mean tanks with solar panels that pump water to taps all over the garden – but it doesn’t work very well yet so women still haul water out of the well with buckets.  He is also starting to colonize bees in the area so Ben is interested in working with him.  He has placed over 70 bee boxes around the village and has a good building operation in his compound.  On our second day in village he showed us all around his compound, workshop, where he’s placed all the bee boxes, and also the building he is making for a future bee keeping school.  He is bringing in a honey and wax processor and is planning on teaching villagers and other Gambians how to bee keep and process honey.  We are hoping to learn a lot about bees from him.  He also has a car, a Spanish restaurant in the tourist area by the Peace Corps transit house, a house in our village, and a house in the city.  He is an interesting guy and we are looking forward to getting to know him better, and also hoping to get some rides into town. He seems to be in our village every couple days or so.
We are getting to know our family and community better as the days go on, thanks to the fact that Mariama (or Sibo) our host mom can speak a little English.  It’s been really great for me having conversations with Mariama, she’s been a huge help, and insight to Gambian women. Mariama moved here about 7 months ago and is our host dad’s 2nd wife.  A few days ago my suspensions were confirmed that she is pregnant and due in June! This means that we get to learn all about pregnancies, naming ceremonies, and child rearing in our village.  We’ll get to see this baby girl growing up for 2 years, and I get the title of ‘small mother’. Mariama did already ask if the baby could go back to America with us– ha.   So Mariama is 7 months pregnant. She cooks 2 meals a day for about 12-15 people with fire not gas, and works the garden by hauling water from the well to her beds,  and tills the soil to plant.  On her off days, she goes to the doctor miles away from our village. She wakes up at 5-6 to catch the village gely, makes it to her appointment at 11, takes a gely back to the part of the road you take to go to our village (only our village gely actually comes here) and walks 5 kilometers on that dirt road back home. Wow, These women are so strong!!!
I will convey some interesting conversations Sibo and I have had.  She was telling me all the work she does and saying how difficult it was and I agreed with her that it is very difficult. She starts talking about how much better life in America would be because you don’t have to do these things (I think Gambians think that nobody actually works in America because all they see are European tourists).  So I tell her that it’s too bad here because she gets to watch her children grow, have community with her friends and family, and work outside.  I told her how in America some women have to drop their kids off at 7 am, go to work at an office inside all day, and don’t get to see their kids again until 6 pm after dark.  And she was shocked and said that she could never do that!  
I want to add to this entry, that I realize that what I told her is a huge generalization and that a lot of American mothers don’t have to do that at all, or do that because they really like their work, or must work to provide for their families. And I think most people would rather work in an office than plant tomatoes, peppers, rice, and coos all year long. But for those of you who are reading this at work  – be proud, because an African mother of 5 who is 7 months pregnant, works the fields every day, twice a day, cooks lunch and dinner for 12 people, does the laundry, sells palm oil in her spare time, and walks at least 5 kilometers to the doctor thinks that she could not do what you do!!!
Sibo has asked me to teach her how to cook American food. And I will, but the problem is – she wants me to cook dinner for the 12 – 15 people that she normally cooks dinner for. Yikes! And I feel pretty bad at the fact that even if I cook something like spaghetti, the family could probably not afford to go buy it themselves and cook it as a meal. The ingredients are just too expensive here and you have to go to the big city for dry pasta.  For now she has asked me to teach her how to cook pancakes so she can sell them in the village to the men! She also asked me if we could cook the pancakes in a pot - ha.  So tommorrow, in an african kitchen, cooking with fire, I will be teaching my host mom Sibo how to cook American pancakes. :)
I think this coming week I will also attempt to teach Sibo how to cook spaghetti and thus cook spaghetti for 15 people; I’ll let ya’ll know how it turns out. I will also cook our family and counterparts fudgies (no bake cookies to those who aren’t familiar).  However, I know there is no way they could afford these ingredients, so I will not try to teach them and just surprise them with it. I am happy to say I have given the recipe out to several volunteers who have made them for their families, and we made some fudgies at the transit house in the city, they are a big hit in the Gambia!
Yes, it was a weird, uneasy revelation to realize in real life, not just by textbook, that Westerners eat incredibly high on the food chain. But that is not to say that in our village they do have some great food. The fish here is big and good, and we have fresh oysters! Last night we sautéed them up with some garlic and butter – delicious. There is also abundant crab which we are hoping to get a hold of soon! 

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