We try to make this blog positive, and will continue to do so but I will give you an idea of what are our main challenges have been/ are thus far in our service. We are still settling down in our village so most of our struggles are diminishing as the days go by and it’s interesting also to see how each of us struggle less or more with different things. For example, Ben struggles more so with the heat, ‘co-workers’, and lack of electricity. I struggle more with the food and gender issues. We both struggle equally in regards to language and the hordes of small children – or as I continue to call it ‘lord of the flies hours’.
Let me expand on these issues.
The heat – its getting hotter now….highs of upper 90s and lows of high 60s/low 70s. It’s not terrible though and compared to our friends up-river, we are lucky to still have the ability to sleep indoors.
The co-workers that ben struggles over is generally dealing with a lack of organization, planning, and facilitation. He also gets a lot of unwanted help with some of his projects. When trying to finish the chicken coup, some people would not let him he do anything so he couldn’t finish it as he wanted and got frustrated at times. Ben also misses having a light in our house and is working with our neighbor to rig up an old battery to make a light run on the battery for our house.
Ben standing next to the completed chicken coup!
I struggle with the food because I’m not used to it yet; I’ve found out that apparently all my life I’ve been accustomed to eating well! After a hard days work in the field I was accustomed to gaining all those lost calories back by indulging in bbq or Mexican food so the switch to rice, fish and coos is not an easy one. Its getting easier though; Now that its mango season – we are eating at least 2 mangos each a day. They are delicious! And the care packages help us both immensely, thanks again!!!
The gender issues hit me harder because I’m a woman, and being an African woman is a lot harder than being an African man. I get told often that I should be learning how to cook Gambian dishes. I laugh and ask them if they can cook themselves, but sometimes I don’t find it particularly funny if I’ve had the same conservation multiple times earlier that day. Or sometimes people will joke that I should be waiting on ben; while I know they are joking, it’s not funny to me because they actually expect their wives to wait on them after working the fields all day. And explaining to very educated men that ben and I are equals is something that I didn’t expect! Their rebuttal: no you’re not equal; he makes the money so how can you be equal? We laugh and say we make the same amount of money so I guess that makes us equal. I like it when the women are present and hearing these conversations.
Language issues: It’s difficult to learn a new language, and to not know what everyone is saying. Our villagers want us to learn it so bad that almost everyone takes it upon themselves to be our teacher. Our host dad tries to teach us by spouting out long, complicated phrases that we can’t decipher and then has us repeat the sentences 4-5 times and does this multiple times during the conversation; it is very trying on our nerves! Another time on my way to the garden, an old man stopped me for a lesson and says ‘you can say nakato or gardeno’ and followed it up with ‘you know, the word gardeno comes from english’ – I responded, ‘What?! You’re kidding?!’ Sarcasm is lost on a lot Gambians so he said, yes yes – which probably made him feel good about his lesson, and me feel good that I could say how I really felt yet not be seen as rude; so it was a win win.
Lord of the Flies hour: There is a time of day when the women go to the garden or bush, and the men are working that I have dubbed as Lord of the flies hour. This is generally between 5 -7, and during this time we make a point of being at the garden or doing something outside our compound because if not, we run the risk of being attacked by the hordes of small children who have taken over the village at this time. Being attacked means children peering through our windows, doors, and chanting our names relentlessly over and over. When we yell ‘Boja’ (leave it), they just laugh at us and chant Boja Boja. This is because they know we won’t beat them with a stick like other adult villagers. So, we make a point to be with an African adult, in the garden, or at the riverside during this hour.
Child rearing is SO different here. There is little to no supervision and the children are free to roam the village as they please. There is no such thing as ‘grounding’ or time out, and positive reinforcements are non-existent. Also, every adult is considered to be any childs’ parent and thus can beat the kids and would be encouraged to do so. The older children ‘watch’ the younger ones most days, and because of this there are many conflicts. It’s interesting; but hard for us because we know it’s something we can’t change, obviously its not pleasant, and not like anything you see in America.
A great ‘lord of the flies’ story is from training. A training group of 2 boys and 1 girl were eating lunch without their African trainer and the children were pounding on the door hard. The kids were extra relentless this day because a tour bus had come through and thrown all the kids candies. So after the volunteers finished lunch, instead of facing the children, they chose to jump the 6 foot cement wall over the bathroom and run back to their compounds to throw the children off! Our whole training village was laughing about that incident – we actually heard about it from our host family before we heard it from those volunteers!
Obviously these challenges are very different from challenges of our jobs in America and although sometimes very trying, we still enjoy the challenges because we know they’ll get easier, they won’t last forever, and that we’ll look back and laugh. In 2 years we’ll probably miss Lord of the Flies hour, laughing at what we’re trying to force down for lunch, and will be stronger people because of it. Talking to other volunteers, these issues seem to be very common with everyone here and also with volunteers all over the world, which is kind of neat to think about. To end on a positive note, we are still enjoying our service very much and speculate that it will only get better.
The front room of our hut