Thursday, October 20, 2011


I tried to take pictures of kids playing with some things sent from America. Thanks for the care packages, we do very much appreciate it and I think the kids do too! The rest of the pictures are just random pictures of our villagers. 
Binta, Al San, Fatou J playing with 3d Chalk!

Simba and his new friend walter the baby goat



Girls braiding

The small gang of children that terrorizes the village. Boxes, plastic bags, tires - the usual toys.

Health Survey

I recently completed a women’s health survey of 15 women in my village with a counterpart for a returned peace corps volunteer who is now getting his masters at (of all places) University of Texas.  I trained Jeneba, the counterpart, to take a random survey sample of our women to analyze the correlation between women’s education levels and children’s health. 
The survey was about 25 questions ranging from age, births, deaths, and questions about education.  It was very interesting and the women were all very happy to help out.  I handed out soap at the end of the survey and other women were very eager to do the survey with us after they realized they would get free soap.  I compiled a few averages of the survey to see what they were just for our benefit and curiosity:  The average age of a woman in our village is around 35.  The average amount of children each woman has is 5 kids.  The age range that women had their first child is from 15 to 20.  5 of the 15 women surveyed have used a form of birth control – which very much surprised me.  The lowest amount of people living in one compound was 6, while the largest amount of people was 34.  12 women had delivered their children in a hospital at least once, and three had never delivered in a hospital.  One woman, Kuy, proudly told me that she delivered all her children in her home, with NO help!

Life in the Bush

Living out in the bush can be hard with limited access to resources, but right now it’s beautiful and when we aren’t doing other things, we go out to the farms.  I will go out to the bush with Sibou and our neighbor JahKaddy to pick some greens, they call kucha, and we’ll go pick ripe lemons, okra, and peppers out of the overgrown garden.  I enjoy doing that but it was nothing compared to going out to the farms these past weeks after the rice and coos had finally seeded. Oh my friends, these farms are a beautiful sight to see and a wonderful place to work.  The first time I went out to the farms after the crops had seeded, I took my camera once and everybody I saw was so happy to see me come out – it’s about a 40 minute walk from the village.  They were so proud of their crops that will be ready to harvest within the month.  Several people took me around their farms and asked me to take pictures of their crops, and I gladly obliged to document proof of their toil, skill, strength and pride of their work.
Currently, the main tasks are to sit in these locally made structures called ‘bantaba’s’ and scare away birds and monkeys.  A lot of old women and children participate in this task of live scarecrows, which also makes going out to the farms fun.  One old lady had a big old bowl she was drumming on when we came by.  She was great, drumming and dancing around while yelling at birds.   
Small boys taking their families lunch out to the farms

Nacas Colley in his Bantaba watching for monkeys

Rice fields

Host mom Isotou in our rice fields that we will be enjoying soon!

Small boy using sling shot to scare away birds

The entrance to our village

Mamou Badgie's coos fields

The End is Near

The end of the rainy season is quickly approaching.  We are eagerly anticipating the end of October because its hot and come November, Winter!  No snow is in the forecast yet however.  The past 2 weeks have been the hottest here with no rain to cool us off.  Being that it is 90 degrees plus inside our hut at night now, we have started sleeping in our tent outside.  Best decision ever.  We are both sleeping a lot better in our tent, in our backyard.  Besides bracing the heat, we are still working on the same projects that I wrote about last month.
 I have started teaching some environmental education lessons at the school and am collecting materials for a resource center the new head master is starting.  The women have started clearing the grass from the dry season garden and are preparing to start gardening again after they harvest the rice.  This time, the Spanish NGO, the Future is Our Country is bringing in a man from the city who works with a different NGO called Concern Universal to help the women plan their garden.  I will be helping out with that as well, and the Future is Our Country has asked me to write a report on how everything goes.  Our youth association group is still going well; we’ve weeded the compound, and started making the fence.  Later we will finish the fence, clean the house, and harvest the group’s rice.  We selected 4 youth members to attend a work shop at the NGO Bee Cause to learn how to make items using honey such as soap, lotion, candles, and food with honey.  We hope to get the honey from the Spanish NGO and also sell the items at Luis’s restaurant in the city. 
Women's Kafoo at the rice fields

Our host grandma - Mama Musa

My Adoring Fans,

This is what is commonly known across the United States as a “Ben Blog”.  Kate has diligently been keeping everyone updated on whats been going on with us here in The Gambia.  I will just give you an update on a few various things.  First of all, things here are HOT! I know you people in Texas have been dealing with some heat yourself.  Now imagine that for weeks at a time you had no available Air Conditioned room to retreat to and no cold beverages.  Kate handles it a little better than me.  The result for me has been some weird skin things and a complete lack of energy throughout the day.  We are right at the end of hot season so hopefully things will be cooling off very soon.  Many people told us that October was the worst month for the heat and, at least in my opinion, that has proven true.  The last few months have been quite hot but rain storms would help to cool things off a bit.  The rain trails off in October so we went for almost two weeks with no rain.  The result was hot and humid.  We’re now in the city for a few days, where we can find air conditioned refuge in some places and I am hoping when we head back out to village we’ll start to experience some of that cool air that people say is on the way.
Work wise, things are going slow in some areas and picking up in others.  We have a youth association forming in our village that we are working with and that’s going well.  The head of the organization is our friend Ebrima.  The group is quite motivated and we are starting various village development and income generating projects.  My work with our village lodge seems to be stalled by the universal staller of politics!  Nope, its not just an American problem.  The detail isn’t important but the project isn’t really moving forward.  With tourist season coming on very soon I don’t know what will happen.  I’ve made a number of people aware that it is not my job to push a project people aren’t going to do so I guess they will either get things together (and I will help them) or they wont (and I will find other stuff to do).  Right now, my biggest success has been…you guessed it…a women’s tie- dye group, however they call it tie and dye.  We now have 32 women.  We collect money from the group and I went shopping with the head of the group this morning for the necessary materials to dye a bunch of fabric, which we will hope to sell very quickly so we can repeat the process.  The project pretty much started when I helped two women who already know how to do tie and dye sit down and figure out exactly how much profit they made from the last job they did.  They don’t generally do any profit analysis, mostly because they can’t.  They just do it, get some money and go on their way.  We were pretty easily able to say, hey you made x amount of Delasi from this job.  After that they talked to me about wanting to start a group (groups here are known as “Kafoos”).  So now we have our tie and dye Kafoo of a little over 30 women, we pooled our money, we have the materials and they are going to dye them in a few days and we will work to sell them.  I think with some focus, only limited input from me on the record keeping and a little marketing we can get some cash coming in.  Not to mention I get to fulfill my life dream of making tie-dye products.  You’ll find our stuff on a street corner in Austin soon enough!
I have something else to share with you all - something that some might find disturbing, something that some might find interesting, something that some might not care about at all.  You might assume that something bad has happened. Depending on whose point of view you take you might say this event was bad.  For instance, from the point of view of the monkey it was bad.  It was bad to be shot and then eaten.  From the point of view of those of us who ate the lil’ guy it wasn’t bad.  It tasted like eating goat, which is good.  If you haven’t figured it out yet – we ate monkey.  It wasn’t a monkey head sliced open so we could eat the brains, Indiana Jones style, or anything crazy.  It was prepared regular Gambia style and had a pretty normal flavor.  Kate went out to the fields with some women and learned when a monkey head was shown to her that they killed a monkey attacking the crops that day and cooked it.  She called me and I quickly made my way out where we had a few bites.  As one person told us, monkeys love to eat the crops but they don’t actually do any farming themselves.  These days, many people spend their days in the field chasing of monkeys, baboons and birds.  A lot of people have dogs to help and I guess this particular monkey decided to stay and fight with a dog so the owner of the farm proceeded to shoot it.  So don’t think of it as eating a cute little monkey at the zoo that knows how to wave at everyone or Marcel from Friends, think of it as killing and then eating a wild hog that was attacking your farm in America.  Point is, we ate a monkey.
Well,  I guess that’s enough for this Ben Blog.  Women’s work and monkey eating.  That’s whats up here in Africa. Fo naato, Ben