Friday, September 30, 2011

50 years of Service

Peace Corps is celebrating its 50 year anniversary this year.  We volunteers who are lucky enough to be in the middle of our service have reaped the benefits – like a tote bag, and a patch. No big deal.  Last night, we attended a live broadcast of the ‘Fatu Show’.  We heard that Fatu is the Gambian equivalent of Oprah.  The show was a lot of fun made complete with dancing and all the local languages spoken by volunteers.  Ben had visited another volunteer while I was in Basse for the camp, and that volunteers family got really excited when they saw Ben on the Fatu Show! You are supposed to be able to watch it online here:

Also, a volunteer has made some videos of our time here in Gambia. I don’t think Ben or I are included in any of the videos yet, but because Gambia is a small country, we do know everyone in them.  Here is a link to her blog:


I ventured far inland to Basse to help out with the girls camp Peace Corps put on.  The camp was a great success and everyone involved seemed to have a great time. 

Basse market

The campers learned a lot about environmental issues and life skills.  The lessons varied widely from overpopulation, air pollution, recycling, life skills, to fun activities.  The girls created projects from scraps, picture frames, made paper, and played games.  Gambian guest speakers came in and talked about different things.  A peace corps language teacher came and asked the girls what they wanted to do when they grow up, and then talked about the challenges would be in the Gambia and how could they overcome them.  These girls soaked everything up.  During their breaks, they would even copy down vocabulary into their notebooks.  It was so great to see.

Helping out with a session on making decisions

My biggest contribution to the camp was teaching the girls a song about trash:
Bio-de, Bio-de, Bio-degradable
Good garbage breaks down as it goes,
that’s why it smells bad to your nose
Bad garbage grows and grows and grows
Gar-bage, Gar-bage, Gar-bage,
Is supposed to decompose!

The song was accompanied by hand motions and I must have sung it 20 plus times throughout the week.  When I walked through the camp, girls would start singing the song to me. Sooo ya, I’d say it was a hit ;).

In action

The girls also got to go into Basse and see an aluminium can factory that recycles can into cooking pots.  And the last day we had a talent show followed by a disco. 

Volunteers performing skit; I was an old Gambian lady

Stephanie made some great visual aids using a rice bag for her background!

I’m fairly certain  that if we had eaten plain rice, played no games or songs, and only had classes that week, the girls and teachers still would’ve had a great time.  Because for one whole week these girls and teachers didn’t have to cook, clean, take care of small children or fetch water.  Everything we did the girls loved and will probably remember for a long time.  Camp GaGa was another favorite of mine, and I’m already looking forward to next year!

September Days

September went by very fast!  Our villagers have been very busy this month with weeding, transplanting and other farming activities.  Ben has managed to help to organize a womans group for a tye and dye business, and he has had several meetings regarding the village lodge.  The tye and dye group has been a success with 30 women signed up right now.

I went out to the rice fields with the women and took lots of pictures (which I forgot to bring with me to the city so you will have to wait to see them). The rice fields are very lush green and although the work was challenging and hot, I had a good time.  They worked all day, singing, laughing and weeding.  Mama Muso asked me to take her picture in the fields to show our people from America.  Mama Muso is deaf so she communicates with hand gestures and most people are able to communicate fine with her.  We are getting better at communicating with her too.  When I showed her the picture I took of her working in the rice fields, she yelled and clapped her hands very happily. Our village likes Mama Muso a lot and tells us that she is a very good worker.

Wednesdays are generally a day of rest for the villagers, a day when most people don’t go out to the fields.  One Wednesday, I decided to give some people various pictures we had taken over the past few months. I spent the whole day walking around the village greeting people and giving them pictures. They loved them!  An older man, Dodo was very happy so he gave me some fresh okra out of his garden. Yum! It was one of my favorite things I’ve done thus far in village.

Along with field work this month, we’re helping Solo and the Youth Association fix up an old building to have meetings.  Solo’s plans for the building is to make a conference room and skill center.  We are happy to help the rehabilitation of the building and are excited to see what will come of the youth group and how we can help.

School started this past week as well and we have a new head master.  The start of school is different here.  So far, half the teachers have arrived and the students created a ‘clean environment’ all week, which means they weeded the yard.  

Questions from Texas

We are blessed to have 7 very cute nieces and nephews. Two of our nephews wrote us some questions that I thought I would answer publicly so that others could read and enjoy as well. 
Bryce wants to know all about the kids in our village. He asked:

  • What do the kids play? The kids in our village have all kinds of games, although most of the games we don’t understand very well.  There is a type of game where they use cashews; they throw the cashews against the wall and try to get their cashews as close as possible without actually hitting the wall.  The boys go hunting and searching for things in the bush a lot.  The girls help their mothers with cooking, cleaning, and washing; they have less time to get into trouble like the boys.  Our littlest kids in the compound like to go out in the village and find friends to play with a lot.  That made us laugh at first when we arrived.  Our conversation would go: Al San lee? response - A taata satewo kono.  Translation: Where is Al San? He went inside the village. The little ones make up their own games using tin cans, bags, mangos, really anything they can find. They do have a fun song they sing when a plane goes over our village – ‘Plano taata Senegal, Mama Jola kontong’ (Plane went to Senegal, Greet Mama Jola).  We don’t know where or how they learned that song!
  • Where do they go to school? Our village has an elementary school with about 80 students that attend.  It’s called a Lower Basic School here and it goes up until 6th grade.  After 6th grade the kids have to bike or walk 8 kilometer (about 5 miles) to another village to attend secondary school.  The kids here really like learning and going to school. Often, kids will leave their families in our village to go to school in the city because they want to learn so much.
  • Do they wear shoes (He apparently noted that if the kids don’t have to wear shoes, he wants to come live here)?  Yes, most kids wear shoes.  Sometimes if a kid isn’t wearing shoes, a parent will punish them.  It’s important to wear shoes here because there are goats, sheep, dogs, and chickens around.  Those animals may poop on the ground and if you aren’t wearing shoes and step in the poop, you could get sick from the invisible germs – and also, it’s not fun to have poop on your foot!  When the women and girls go to the garden or the rice fields, they take off their shoes to work because there are no animals in the garden.
Logan asked the following:

  • Have you seen any rare animals that you cannot see in North America?  Yes, we have seen a lot monkeys, baboons, mongoose, snakes, and lizards!  Those are just in our village.  When we go to a national park in a different part of the country, we expect to see Chimpanzees, hippos and crocodiles too!
  • What is the Peace Corps?  The Peace Corps was established by the American President John F Kennedy to promote peace and friendship abroad. Peace Corps has 3 goals: To help interested countries to meet their need of trained men and women, To help promote a better understanding of Americans abroad, To help promote a better understanding of host countries to Americans back home.
  • What does the Gambia look like? Gambia looks different depending on the season and where you are at in the country, just like Texas.  Right now it’s the rainy season and everything is very green and beautiful.  By January, things will be browner except the trees.  In our area, there are lots of nice big trees and we are working with our community to make sure our villagers don’t cut them all down.  If you go further east in Gambia, it gets browner and more like a desert.  Our friends up there say it’s really really hot too.
  • How are the people in the Gambia doing?  The people are doing well.  Gambians are generally very nice, happy, peaceful people who enjoy their lives.   Gambians are very giving. If you walk through our village around meal time people will insist you come in and share their food with you.  We have received gifts from people just for being their friend: eggs, bread, mangos, cashews, peanuts, tea, vegetables, a knitted pot holder, and one woman even made me a tie dye shirt! 
  • Is there enough food and water?  There are currently plenty of both. We get our water from pumps that are 800 meters away from our hut and have to bring it back to drink, bath, and wash!  Because our village is very close to the river, we will most likely never run out of water.  We grow and import food.  Rice and coos, which is a grain crop, is grown in our village and are the main staple foods.  Our village also grows vegetables during the dry season (okra, peppers, tomatoes, bitter tomatoes, egg plant, and cucumbers), watermelon, avocados, mangos, cashews (you can eat the seed and the fruit – delicious!), and peanuts are all grown in our village.  There are also a lot of native fruits that grow wild in our forests.  Right now everything is growing with the rains so nothing is in season in our village which means we eat a lot of imported rice.  But we’re looking forward to November when the watermelon will be ready!
  • Have you heard about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan?  We did hear about that and were very sad.  A lot of Gambians have radios that they can listen to for news and programs.
  • What do you and the people do for fun?  Men and boys like to watch and play football (which is soccer in America), women like to chat, brew tea, and braid each others hair.  Everybody likes to listen to the radio and if a village has electricity or generators, people like to watch TV.  Many times there are parties for different occasions where people get together to eat and chat.  And everyone also likes to play games such as card games or board games.  We do all these things with our villagers for fun but we also like to listen to our American music, read books, and meet up with other Peace Corps Volunteers for fun.

I hope we answered your questions and thanks for the care package and writing to us!