Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Every PC Volunteer should have a Spaniard who lives in their village

For the past week we’ve been showing two Spaniards around the village.  Luis was sick with malaria so we showed Maria and Oier around the village while they worked on building Luis bee boxes.  It’s really fun to have visitors because we walk around talking to the villagers, and they are impressed with our mandinka since the visitors can speak none. Neither Maria or Oier speak much English so they actually relied on us as translators because they could understand our English easier than they could understand our villagers English. 
 It was also interesting because although their English was very limited and neither of us speak Spanish, our cultures are so much more similar than Gambian culture that we  actually understood each other better even though their English is much worse than some of our Gambian villagers. For example, Maria told me that a small boy named Fabakari was like a ‘hurricane’. I laughed and later told her that our host sister Binta was ‘Hurricane Katrina’ and she understood and laughed but the Gambians that were around us, who all spoke English very well, didn’t know what we were talking about.
One night they cooked us some canned Spanish beans and chorizo! They also gave us chorizo as a going away gift. Oh, so delicious. We had a good time talking with them about our village, Spain, and America, and we were sad to see them leave.
Entrance to Luis's compound. Look carefully at the word 'beekeeper'?

A view of the interier of the compound. A niceta!

The tiles inside Luis house in our village, in Africa

Village Gossip

This is the first time Ben and I have lived in a small town - college station doesn’t count.  Even in Africa, people in small towns’ gossip.  Not sure, but it may even be worse here than in Texas.  Gossiping isn’t a good of course, but ya’ll have to promise not to tell Anyone from our village we told you. ;) Actually, I am writing about this because it’s interesting what their gossip is about – at least, I think it’s interesting because it so culturally based and so very different from gossip at home. 
 Solo has had a bit of drama this week.  There are rumors going around the village that he is dating a 16 year old girl who is married.  The whole situation is baffling to me – almost like a Mexican soap opera.  When hearing this story, I had so many questions regarding cultural differences; I could barely grasp what was going on at all.  Apparently, Solo’s mom told him the villagers are gossiping about his relationship with this girl.  Solo tells me nothing is going on; he said he was trying to help her because she married a man from a different tribe, who in the future could treat her bad.  I ask, how so? He said that these particular tribes of mandinkas are known to only give their tribe money when they have it and would forget about anyone else.  Since this girl is not part of that mandinka tribe, she would be forgotten if he ever got rich.  Now this girl, Anta, wants a divorce and the rumor is that she wants a divorce because her and Solo are dating.  But Solo says no, he is just helping her with her situation.  So Solo has been trying to help her by talking to her parents because according to him, “they are sleeping” – translation, they are doing nothing about this situation. 
All I do in these conversations is listen, and try to determine what the heck is going on.  These problems are so culturally different; I am more interested in the problem than giving any advice. The obvious thing to us is yes, that is why 16 year old girls shouldn’t get married.  After it’s already been done, I don’t know what to tell ya.  Now Solo says that he feels sorry for her and that they are now ‘used to one another’ and he can’t say that he loves her but he can’t say that he will never love her. 
Every story like this helps us understand our village and their culture.  For example, when I explained to solo how Americans often date for some time before deciding to get married because most people don’t want to rush into marriage.  His response was ‘Oh, how civilized’. Now, I understand that response, but at the time, I didn’t understand what he meant.  Now, we hear that a lot – civilized or uncivilized. She’s not civilized, he is civilized, etc. It makes us smile because it’s just not used too much in our American vocabulary – calling someone uncivilized would be a pretty lame insult in Texas.  It may even be a compliment, but here - Oh it is not good.  Another bad insult is to tell someone they are ‘born for nothing’.
Our host moms also have some gossip.  Apparently wife number 1, isatou, is talking about Sibou behind her back because Sibou isn’t going out into the rice fields yet.  Sibou came last year when they had already started working in the fields so she didn’t go and now she has a month old baby so she has been staying home. Apparently, Isatou is talking about Sibou to a lot of women in the village, all except for Sibou. I asked Sibou why it is bad for her not to go to the fields (never in her life has she grown rice), and she says its bad to not help out if you eat the rice.  I ask her how long last years rice harvest lasted the family, she said – one month.  One month of food for 5 months of work. The rest of the year they eat rice imported from Thailand or America. 

Remember when we lived in Africa and…

For the rest of our lives we’ll have stories that begin that way. That automatically makes any story cool, even if it is a story about our cat.
Simba looking ferocious

Over the past month different various, little things have happened that are worth retelling (I think at least). As I was walking to meet up with Ben at Luis’s an old women greeted me, her name is Mama Muso Keta.  We go through the greetings which can take a few minutes because she is hard of hearing and most elders have some problems deciphering our mandinka, as we do with theirs as well.  Then she asks me where my father is. Confused, I say ‘he is there’ – that is the standard mandinka answer.  And I tell her I am going to Luis’s.  She insists on coming along to greet ‘my father’, and at this point, I realize she is calling Ben my father.  She follows me into Luis’s compound and other villagers ask her where she is going and she responds with me to greet my father.  I’m laughing at this point as Mama Muso Keta follows me through three different gates to see Ben.  I come in and tell ben that she has followed me through the village to greet him and that she is calling him my father.  Ben doesn’t see her at first and thinks I’m talking about a small child which would be fairly normal.  She comes in, greets Ben and leaves, all the while calling him my father.  The Gambians who were there also thought it was pretty funny. Gambian old ladies are the best!
One night we were talking with Lamin, Sibou, and Isatou and all of a sudden 7 villagers loudly enter our compound and present us with a grocery bag.  They ask us to tell them what these items from ‘Toubabadu’ are used for.  We ask where they got this and they said that ‘so and so’ has a sister who works at a hotel in the city.  Inside the bag of toubab goodies included: tartar sauce, mustard, satay sauce, rose flavored extract, and rose flavored water.  Our dad took the mustard to put on his dinner of rice, and they left feeling very excited about their loot and happy to have knowledge of how toubabs use these strange items.
Another evening,  I walked into the compound and our host siblings and other kids are surrounding something in our compound. I walk up and they part ways to show me what they are looking at – a giant crab. I say ‘Whoa, where did you get that and when are we going to eat it?!’ then try to translate that into mandinka. They excitedly tell me that it’s Sana’s crab (ben). And then Sibou tells me ‘yes Kaddy, Sana owns it so take it inside your house’! I look at her like she’s crazy and say ‘O Hani deh! (O no way!)’. I said we should wait for Sana to come home to decide what to do with the crab. Sana comes home shortly to explain that yes I want to eat this, and tells us how kids at the pump were poking at it and asked him if he wanted it, so he said sure. So until we had time to cook the crab, Lamin made a leash for the little guy and tied it to the laundry post (which is a mangrove stick). 
Sherifo with the crab
Sibou and our host dad lamin both claimed they didn’t know cook it (even though I’ve seen Sibou cook smaller crabs but she apparently didn’t think that she could cook a big one). So Lamboy our 12 year old host brother was deemed the appropriate chef.  Lamboy, Sana, Sherifo, and Alpha all huddled around a small charcoal grill and lamboy tore off limbs of the crab and put it on the charcoal.  It was too dark to get a picture but I absolutely loved the small bbq.  That’s the Africa we’ll remember, somehow attaining giant crabs and cooking it over a grill with small boys.  It was delicious.
 The small bbq made me laugh because of course I could’ve cooked the crab that way – just pulling off body parts and putting it on the fire, but when I thought about cooking the crab I complicated it too much. I thought about boiling it, cooking it with garlic and butter and a dipping sauce; I didn't know how to do that without instructions.  The simplest way of doing it completely escaped me. But luckily, I had some African boys there to remind me.   
Sana holding his crab on the leash while Lamboy, our chef, poked at it with a stick.

American Independence Festivities

We celebrated the 4th of July by getting together with other volunteers and crying over the fact that we weren’t at home shooting fireworks or consuming large quantities of hamburgers, hot dogs, and watermelon. Only kidding – We rented a boat and took it out on the Gambia River! Although we may not have eaten any of those things we did have an ‘American Legends’ theme and lots of Gambia’s finest – Julbrew. It was a lot of fun.

Me (aka Jackie O) and Jen (aka Martha Stewart) infront of a restaurant called Omars that loves Peace Corps Volunteers

Boarding the boat!
We also did a split triathalon. I swam, ben rode the bike portion, and Jessica our site mate ran.  Jessica grew up in Houston and lived in Dallas after graduating and now lives a mere 7k away from our village, small world. Our team name was team Texas and we did not win but all of us completed our respective portions so we were happy. 
Living in Africa, makes you feel very proud to be an American.  One night, we were talking with Solo and he started talking about the recent riots around the world.  He said something like O when will Africa be united? When will we stop the stupid fights and join together? And I asked him what he meant by that, the riots are fighting for a better government not for no reason at all.  He said, Oh so you agree with riots and fighting? And I said no, peaceful protests are always better than violence.  Then I asked him if he knew how America came to be a country. He did not, so I fulfilled my patriotic duty for the month and briefly explained how we got our Independence.  Afterwards, I explained how as an American I could never tell someone not to fight for what they believe in. It is inherent to our cultural beliefs, like McDonalds or Starbucks ;).

Big Naming Ceremony

We had a big naming ceremony in our village.  This one was ‘big’ because people from outside the village attended and a goat was killed, drummers came, women wore asoebes, and women danced until late.  Sibou made sure I was dressed in the proper asoebe; It was a big deal – getting the fabric and having it tailored to Sibou’s taste. Now, I officially have a modern African complet that our villagers say is nice – 'A Niceta'! I hope to never have to spend money on one of these complets again, but that most likely will not be possible.
Another interesting part of the day was the fact that we needed to be in the city early the next day for a Peace Corps meeting.  We did this by getting a ride with some firewood collectors to the main road and getting picked up by a nice woman who attended the naming ceremony.  We rode with them until they turned off the main road to their house and then we got a taxi to the Peace Corps transit house.
We took lots of pictures of the big ceremony as well:
Ushering the drummers into the compound

Amie looking pretty and having a great time

One of the drummers, gambians love the whistling

The Kora or as our host dad calls it 'black mans guitar'

The women dancing

Jeneba Sidebeh

As I mentioned, I am doing a study with a counterpart on women’s health.  The counterparts name is Jeneba, and how she became my counterpart was somewhat by accident.  I was going to ask the village health worker but he is man so I was really hoping to find a woman interested in medicine since it is a study for women.  One day we went over to Luis’s compound for Nescafe (those Spaniards love the Nescafe), and Jeneba was working there – she cleans his compound for him.  I started chatting with her and through our conversation discovered she is a Red Cross volunteer who goes for training in Brikama and returns to our village to ‘sensitize’ the women on what she has learned in training. (Gambians love the phrase ‘sensitize’, and love doing ‘sensitizations’) I was so happy to hear this and asked her if she was interested in medicine.  She said she was very interested and wants to be a nurse.  She told me if she had money she would be in nursing school right now, and she excitedly told me that she had 7 certifications from the Red Cross trainings and that people come to her when they are injured.
I asked her more about school and she said at one point a European lady visited our lodge and told Jeneba that she wanted to help her with her school.  She sent the money to the company that helped our village run the lodge and Jeneba never saw any of it.  After hearing this, I printed out a list of available scholarships in Gambia from our Peace Corps office. She called the numbers, had no luck, and returned to me saying ‘Here is Gambia, if you don’t know someone, they will not help you’.  I asked Solo, our friend/counterpart about it, and he said that yes that is true.
Jeneba is one of few hard working, educated, non-married women in our village.  Actually, after writing that – she is the Only educated, working, non-married women in our village at the age of 27. I asked Sibou once why Jeneba wasn’t married and Sibou responded that Jeneba is ‘enjoying life’. Which I guess means trying to go to school and earning money for herself rather than having 5 kids at this time.  So, those of you reading this who have some ideas or knowledge of organizations that grant loans or aid to international students, please let me know and we can try to get Jeneba in nursing school.
Jeneba and me at the big naming ceremony

Did I mention, Jeneba loves to dance?

What would you say ya do here?

We’ve started to do more work activities and it’s interesting, frustrating, and enjoyable all at the same time.  Interesting because cultural differences are huge; frustrating because work is slow, and enjoyable because it’s different and our aim is to help Gambians rather than to only help our bank account.
Ben is starting to become more involved with the lodge, which is proving tricky because the villagers are divided on what to do.  He is working with two women who have a small tie and dye business, working with marketing and accounting.  Ben is also working with Luis, the Spaniard, on harvesting and selling 200 liters of honey from 18 hives. With our help, Luis found someone to pay him cash for the 200 liters of honey.  We traveled with Luis and Mamou, a beekeeper in our village, to the NGO Bee Cause.  This meeting went better than we had even hoped and led to Luis excitedly talking about how we will make a great team.  We even planned a BBQ but had to postpone it on account of Luis getting malaria. It’s been rescheduled for the end of the month, and wow are we looking forward to a Spanish BBQ in village!
Ben is also planting lots of trees now during the rains.  He’s making a live fence around our garden area with moringa, Lucena, Pigeon Peas, and Cashews.  He’s helped plant 500 seeds of native trees as well in the neighboring village.  I’m helping out with the bee-keeping, tree plantings, and lodge but I have different things going on too. I have started our rainy season vegetable garden consisting of: peppers, cherry tomatoes, sunflowers, calendas, okra, basil, okra, and eggplant.  One great thing about the rainy season is that you don’t have to water as frequently.  However, apparently bugs, weeds, fungus, and mold also grow well in the rains so it seems like gardening in the rains will be just as challenging, if not more so.
I have taught women how to make neem cream. Neem cream is made with local soap, leaves of a tree, and local oil.  The cream is cheap, available and acts as a bug repellant.  We weren’t sure how the villagers would like it, but we’ve had requests for more cream and lessons.  The last session there was about 10 -15 women who attended.
I have signed up to help out with a girl’s camp run by Peace Corps Volunteers.  So far, I’ve only attended meetings, talked to girls and a female teacher in village about going to the camp.  The actual camp is September 12 – 18 in the up-river city of Basse.  The camp is called ‘Camp GaGa’ and Peace Corps even has a link to it if you’d like to read more about it or donate: Camp Gaga (Country: Gambia, last name: Donahue, project #: 635-072).
It’s an environmental education and life skills camp for 30 Gambian 8th and 9th grade girls, and 8 nominated female teachers as well.  If you’re reading this, you probably know just how important it is to educate girls in developing countries – it makes a huge difference.  It’s no coincidence that places where women are suppressed are doing poorly.
I am helping a former volunteer who is now working on his masters in public health.  He is collecting data in Gambia to analyze how women’s education level and children’s health are correlated in Gambia and Haiti. I’ve trained a women in our village on how to collect data, and our aim is to interview at random, 15 women in our village and our neighboring village.  The survey is about 15 questions and my counterpart is so excited to help that my part will be just reviewing, and handing out soap that the women get for completing the survey. 
 I have signed up to help facilitate teacher trainings in the fall for next school year, which should be interesting – as the schools here are very different from schools back home.  I have an orientation at the Gambian College next week for 3 days. We are also attending meetings with the NGO KOMEFORA, working on setting up tree nurseries and planting native trees in the community forests surrounding our village.

Public Transportation Gambia

Public transportation sucks anywhere, unless you live in Europe or Japan.  Here, public transportation is similar to Gambian culture – controlled chaos that makes absolutely no sense to outsiders, but all Gambians seem to completely understand, and accept the system. I think I’ve touched on traveling to and from our village to the city area but haven’t gone into too much detail. To get from our site to the city is not terrible, but it’s not easy either. The biggest problem is consistency. Shortest time is about 3 hours; longest travel time yet has been 7 hours.  Depending on why we’re going depends on our method of departure.  Our village is 6k of the main paved road and we have a village gely (bush taxi) that goes to the closest big city – Brikama.  In the morning the car leaves anywhere from 4 am to 7 am, and can return anywhere from 6 pm to 10 pm.  So if we are leaving for a day, we normally wake up at 7 am and ride our bikes to another village directly situated on the paved road.  Our village and this other village all know each other; Malang, a fine tailor, keeps our bikes in his storage closet until we return.  But if we plan on spending more than a day in the city, we wake up at 5 am to catch the gely.  The worst part is waking up at 5 am and not leaving until 6:30 am.  On those days we normally arrive in the city by noon, but we’re exhausted and hungry. Our other option is to walk the 6k, which we have done, and it wasn’t terrible, but now the rains are here so that makes walking 6k more difficult.  It also means herds of baboons are more common to meet on the road.  We think that baboons, like most Gambian children, probably aren’t afraid of toubabs but we’d rather not test it.  
One good experience about living in a small village and only having one gely is that we know everyone in that one gely.  One time when I was traveling by myself I was walking around the car park looking to see if our gely was there yet while simultaneously trying not to get hassled by everyone in sight, when I hear someone yelling ‘Kaddy Kaddy’. I look around and see a woman from our village, she ushers me to the area where she and 5 other women from our village are waiting for our village gely and I sit and wait with them for 2 hours until it arrives.  It was nice to not have to sit alone fighting off venders for that one time.
Pictures of the brikama car park while we waited in our village gely last week:
Typical Gely Gely

Typical day in Brikama car park