Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Kaddy Getuh’s Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and want to learn how to do other things good too

The new headmaster and I are making strides at the new library and resource center.  When talking to another volunteer, she informed me of a woman here in the Gambia who likes to help Gambia schools and has a long history of working with Peace Corps volunteers.  So I headed up to our school and the headmaster and I came up with a plan to turn an old building into a library and resource center.  We wrote down our ideas and I called this woman up.  She discussed our idea and told me to compile more information on the exact costs it would require for the building and resources.  The next day I went back to the headmaster and we got these details and I headed into town to meet with Sally to discuss the feasibility and funding.  The meeting went very well and Sally gave me tips and asked me to go back to the head master and hash out a couple more details we were missing.  She said to email her all the information and she was sure we’d be able to get funding from her charity in the UK.  Her charity is called ‘Friends of Gambian Schools’ and here is a link to their website:  She also told me she would help me get resources to put inside the library!  Yay!
The headmaster was very excited to hear this news on Monday when I returned, and he excitedly told me they would never forget me here and I’m guessing by the look on my face he determined that this was not enough, so he went further on to say that they would name the building after me.  Which raises some questions…..Is this the real reason we moved to Africa? It may be.  Do I deserve the honor to name a mut hut with cement plastered on the outside, fashioned in this sense, a library? Yes.  And, lastly, is the title of this blog appropriate for me to have painted above the door of the library and resource center? Absolutely.  This vision alone is what will get me through the tough times on this project, for sure. 
some students and staff in front of the school

Current building we plan on turning into the library

Current pencils the students are using


We got the opportunity to celebrate for the first time the muslim holiday of Tobaski.  The holiday consists of washing a goat/ram/cow and sacrificing it, and eating it until you run out of meat – about 5 days later.  Everyone prays, then the men and boys play football and the women and kids get dressed up and walk around town asking people for money or prayers.  I chose prayers and started getting creative by making up my own mandinka prayers.  I figured out that if you say the words Allama (may God) and then follow it with anything, pretty much the other person has to respond with Amin.  I prayed for money, wives, husbands, dogs, rice, medicine. Oh, it was well received.  The Spainards also came out to the village to celebrate Tobaski so we split our time between our family (rice and goat meat) and a Spainish BBQ (chicken, chorizo, cheese, and vegetables).  If I had to sum up this holiday in 3 ways it would be: ram slaughter, waxy fabric, and fake hair.  And of course, we took some pictures….
Tobaski, Ben is wearing his gift from President Jammeh

Musekebba lookin good!



Bees! They're Everywhere!

It is no longer the rainy season, which means we no longer have weird things growing on us, can sleep inside, and the humidity level is back down to zero!  The weather is nice now and we are very happy to have left the humid rainy season behind us.  And as the rainy season ended, it became time to clean up some bee hives and put out new boxes for this dry season.  A third year Peace Corps Volunteer and his Gambian counterpart came out to our village for 4 days to inspect hives, harvest honey, and help clean up the apiaries (bee compounds).  Luis joined us for parts of the four days and was so impressed with the training that afterwards he told Ben he wanted him to be his ‘Project Manager’ of the bee project. 
Luis, his shirt says 'Crazy white person' in mandinka


The bee's didn't like this box so they started making their hive in the tire!

Luis can somehow smoke through his suit without getting stung - talent.


And that is the story of how Ben and I inherited 100 bee hives in the African bush, with about 25 colonized hives.  That is to say, we have our work cut out for us now.  Our host dad, Lamin, is working with us on the project and is getting paid a very good Gambian salary of 100 dalasi a day (or about 3.5 USD’s).  We were a little nervous about this at first because Luis has a very western mentality of work and our villagers….well, they do not seem to share this mentality (weird, I know right). But Ben has done a good job of explaining to Lamin exactly what Luis expects of him and how to make Luis happy, and what would make Luis not happy.  Such as, not showing up for work for 4 days like another villager who was previously working with us on the bee project.   Not only will Lamin be getting paid here in village rather than him having to go fishing in the river or Senegal, but he will learn how to bee keep which could lead to a profitable side business now or business when we nor Luis are here.  Right now, however, his sole interest is the 100 dalasi a day, and it looks like all three of us will be busy with bee work up until the next rainy season.  We are enjoying this project and Luis is having a bee specialist from Spain come out next week for a whole month, which is fantastic – except the specialist doesn’t speak a lick of English!  So we will most likely speak to him in a nice mixture of mandinka, English, French, Spanish, and hand gestures.  We are still excited about this because he has over 500 colonized hives in Spain and we’ll learn a lot from him regardless of the language barrier.  And working with Luis is pretty fun too, he’s led an interesting life and we just can’t wait to tell ya’ll all the stories he’s told us! He’s lived in Canary Islands, Mozambique, Malawi, Costa Rica, and Spain the past 30 years and has traveled the world on ships as well.  There is rarely a dull day with Luis!  Also, he frequently blasts Pink Floyd out of his land rover coming into the village and when he gets out of the car yells ‘HEY Teacher, Leave those kids alone!’ to the Gambian children standing by in shock. 

Agroforestry practices

Occasionally, we do what our original paperwork sent from Washington D.C. said we would do.  Agroforestry Extension Agents.  We did some land, plant, tree work in our rainy season garden, we grew a tree called Moringa.  This tree has some great characteristics including vitamins, nitrogen fixing, worm extraction, and water purification.  To read more about this ‘miracle tree’ you can go to our friends Josh and Kelsy’s blog:  Josh is extremely ‘in the know’ when it comes to Moringa, and even facilitated a Moringa planting trek across the country.  That’s what good volunteers do in their spare time, organize treks.  Ben and I….don’t organize treks.  They are in the group that is about to go back home and the rest of us are all sad because we’ll miss them!!! Don’t leave guys; party’s just getting interesting ;)!
Back to the tree, it is actually interesting and when we were in Senegal traveling to Cape Verde, we met a volunteer who is trying to link growers with an American businessman who bottles the leaves and sells them as vitamin supplements in health food stores.  Not sure if that legitimizes this ‘miracle tree’ claim for you, but I’m always happy to try things for free that other people spend lots of money on.  We also heard that this process was easy and could help with villagers’ nutrition problems, and that the NGO concern universal would pay money for the pounded, dried leaves.  So we planted, harvested, dried, and pounded it and now are putting 1-2 scoops in our rice meals for nutritional supplements.  We have discussed this process with our family and villagers to try and do the same.  Luis, our Spaniard in village, and our youth association are also interested in growing Moringa as well.  So far, the process was simple, easy to do, and has kept us healthy these past couple of weeks.  We’ve given out small amounts to some people in the village and they appreciate it and we’ve found that most people do know about the tree and call it ‘boro’, mandinka for medicine.  Hopefully, they will follow our example of growing it and eating it themselves.  If nothing else it is a good reminder.
We also helped prepare the local mosquito repellant called ‘Neem Cream’ with our Youth Association.  It turned out better than expected with the organization recouping the costs of the materials within a few days of making the cream.  The villagers like it too and ask us about it frequently.  Our biggest problem was finding containers to put the cream in!
Moringa leaves heading to the drying mat

Rice drying in the fields

Kanali Festivities

The Gambian President, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Jammeh, threw the Peace Corps a party for its 50th anniversary in the president’s village of Kanali.  One thing is for certain about the night, that party will be a party we won’t forget for awhile.  H.E. Yaya Jammeh has built a nice hotel, safari park, and venue out near his village of origin, about an hour and half drive (if you are in military escort going 100 mph) away from the city. Per somewhat usual Gambian protocol, the event was re-scheduled once and no one had a clue as to the specific details of the party.  The specific details being things like time, accommodations, vehicles, food…you know, minor details like that.  The day of the party all the volunteers, staff, and US Embassy staff met at the Peace Corps office and were picked up by nice government owned buses and escorted by military entourage out to Kanali.  We were received by the villagers with drumming and dancing and sat in a long line of cars to enter the hotel.  Once inside, we were served a very good lunch and were walked over to the large venue where the actual program itself took place.  The villagers were invited to attend the program and there was a band playing Gambian music.  The actual venue reminded me a lot of something you would see at the Renaissance festival or Medieval times because the bleachers were all color coded, there was a huge open field of grass, and there was a section for VIPs – which we sat in – that was directly behind where the president sat on his large sofa.  The program consisted of speeches given by the Ambassador, Country Director, volunteers in local languages, and a skit performed by us volunteers who went to Camp GAGA.  I had a small part in the skit but I did manage to make the president laugh fairly hard with my impersonation of an old village woman.  My line was ‘Toubabo, Sumolu lee?’ which directly translates to ‘White person, how are the home people?’.
Later in the program, Surprise! - The president whipped out some large suitcases and gave all the volunteers and staff gifts.  The ladies received some stewardess-like pastel business suits while the guys received West African fashioned garments.  The program was concluded with H.E. Jammeh giving a speech and the band playing.  By this time it was around midnight and we walked over to the hotel area and watched a short film a volunteer had made in the Gambia and ate a delicious dinner around 1 am!  Definitely one of the best meals so far in the Gambia, even if it was at 1 am.  Then we were bussed over to our lodging for the night, which was a nice open style tiled hotel that included a mattress on the floor with no sheets, towels, mats or soap.  We got about 3 ½ hours of sleep and then woke up for breakfast.  After breakfast we piled into our Peace Corps transport and began the entourage home.  We had the entourage drop us off on the junction to our village, which as you can imagine was quite a scene for the village of Bessi located on the road.  To see 2 busses and about 10 Peace Corps cars all stop at the junction, let us off and watch us wave good-bye to the 70 or so toubabs! And then, we walked the 7-8k back to our village, ending the weekend’s festivities for us. 
Another note about the party, I decided I did not own anything appropriate enough to meet H.E. Jammeh so I asked Sibou if I could borrow a complet from her and she happily lent me a very nice hot pink outfit.  The end result being that I looked like a cross between a gypsy and a giant pink flamingo all day and night.  Luckily, I was not alone in my ridiculousness – Asoebe J !!

Kanali is not too shabby

Ya we look good!


Skit performing

Ben meeting H.E. Yaya Jammeh

Brian, Mike, and Ben with their gifts of huge African robes!

Abby, me, Shawn, and Alex!