Saturday, November 17, 2012

Visiting Berefet and Ndembang

In order to finish up my food security project, I got the chance to go back to our village of Berefet and a neighboring village of Ndembang.  Another volunteer and I judged the success of the tree planting at each school, gave each child who participated a certificate, and awarded the best school with 150 exercise books.  The trees looked good for the most part.  In our village, the area was not weeded so all of the citrus plants were eaten by caterpillars! Hopefully, with maintenance, the trees will survive and the non-citrus trees all look to be doing better.  The upper basic school in Ndembang looked outstanding.  The area had been weeded and almost all the trees appeared very healthy.  The Arabic lower basic school in Ndembang looked good; however, they also had some insect infestation and a few of the trees did not have tree guards surrounding them.  We decided that this school needed the materials much more so than the upper basic school so we rigged the competition and gave the Arabic school exercise books.  Lamin, the head gardener, was very happy and ensured us he would keep taking excellent care of the trees. 

 Handing over the certificates to Lamin

On a separate occasion Ben and I went to visit Berefet for the day with our Spanish friends Luis and Maria.  It was really nice visiting our family and villagers.  We gave the children balloons and gave people some pictures which they always enjoy.  We got the latest gossip from everyone and the rice has already been harvested so people have plenty right now.  The men are still going to the farms to protect their millet, peanuts, and watermelon from the monkeys though.  In a few weeks everything will be harvested and the villagers will be enjoying what looks to be a very good harvest this year with all the rain we got.  The air is cooling down slowly as we approaching our winter so this is a really good time of year.

Baboon Island / River Gambia National Park

This past weekend, we got to take a day trip to Gambia’s best wildlife area, known as River Gambia National Park.  This park is well known for one inhabitant: wild chimpanzees!  Historically, chimps, elephants, lions were all found in Gambia but exterminated by habitat destruction and hunters.  Back in the 70s two primatologists, Janis carter and Stella (?) founded this park on 6 islands to re-introduce chimps into the wild.  The Chimps they re-introduced were previously held in captivity in Europe and the States.  One of these chimps was a famous chimp named Lucy who was taught how to use sign language.  Janis came to Gambia to help Lucy and the other chimps adapt to life in the wild.  She did this by living on the island with Lucy, alone, in a cage, teaching her how to forage for fruits and nuts – for 10 years!  Too absurd to be true? Google it!
 The river was so still inside the park
All of us in front of the cabin on the river where we ate our meals

So now Janis does chimp research and work here in Gambia, northeastern Senegal, and Guinea.  The park was awesome!  There are four tents that hold 2 people and we filled them up with all Peace Corps volunteers.  To get to the camp you take an hour long boat ride where you see birds, hippos, and monkeys.  The tents are like the ones found on safari’s in East Africa that have showers, toilets and sinks.  The food was delicious, and your tents are situated on one of the few hillsides in the Gambia that overlooks the water and the park.  We went on a 2 hour boat ride to watch the feeding of the chimps.  And we got to see a lot of them which was really cool.  The best thing we saw was a mother chimp kissing and tickling her baby, so sweet! We also saw different varieties of monkeys, birds, and hippos.  To all of us it did not feel like we were in the Gambia because it was so heavily forested and there was so much wildlife. 


 Our tent!

It took us so long to go to this park because it is at least a 7 hour travel day, and because it is expensive on our Peace Corps budget.  It was well worth it though; we are very happy to have visited it!  And even our traveling days went about as well as they could – no flat tires, the ferries were working, and we got a nice vehicle with ample leg room the whole way there. 


The holiday of Tobaski / Eid is the biggest muslim holiday celebrated here in the Gambia.  Therefore, the slaughter of millions of rams, goats, sheep, and cows is accounted for on this one day.  Gambians tell you if you are not eating meat on Tobaski, your holiday is not sweet.  This year we had Tobaski in the city in our new compound.  It was very nice and Ben helped hold the ram while it was being killed and helped Bala, another member of our compound butcher the ram.  I will spare you the gory pictures.  So the whole day we sat around and had a ram bbq in our compound which was great! We tried many different parts of the ram that day – liver, kidneys, heart, and testicles are the ones we could name.   Honestly, it wasn’t bad and we’ve eaten a lot worse here (namely cows foot, ew).  In the evening of Tobaski everyone dresses up in their newest, nicest outfits and walk around town.  This is also the time when children come around asking for ‘saliboo’.  Saliboo is directly translated to prayers; however the children are looking for money, not prayers and are quite upset if you only give them a prayer.  Tobaski lasts about 3 days, and we saw ram in our lunch food bowl for about a week!

November Update

As our time left in country has started decreasing, so have our blog entries.  I think because we’ve become busy and also accustomed to life here in Gambia so it makes it hard to come up with different things to write about.  Ben is still working with IRD; he’s currently working on a cashew processing manual while the office is in between project phases.  He has joined a city football team named ‘Culture’.  They are currently in a city tournament in the first round.  Ben goes to practices and has suited up as a goalkeeper for one game but had an injury for the game the past weekend so he couldn’t play.  The team plays in a big stadium in SerreKunda so it’s a little different from playing on the village team.  Ben didn’t get to play in the game he suited up for but he was told to start warming up in the middle of the second half and the crowd started cheering!  So again, he’s making a name for himself as the Toubab goalie in town.  

I am now officially a “visiting instructor” at the University of Gambia. I am co-teaching an Introduction to Agriculture course with a Gambian lecturer.  I will be teaching this course until the end of the semester, am currently writing the Agriculture departments catalog, and also writing curriculum for two environmental science courses that will start next semester.  I will also be co-teaching those courses next semester if the University has enough funding to start the program.  

Co-teaching is going really well and I’m glad that I am co-teaching because the University is different from a University in America.  Our class has approximately 45 students and is considered a large class.  There are often not enough chairs for the students so they spend the first 5 minutes finding chairs in other rooms.  There is no projector, or dry erase board, only a blackboard, and teachers are not expected to provide any materials to the students.  I type up a hand out each week to go over in class and after class give it to the students to make copies or share.  And I also make use of the blackboard, which leaves me with chalk flakes all over my clothes!  The students are generally very eager to learn and participate in class which makes it enjoyable and worthwhile.  I have also found a group of Gambians who play beach volleyball every Tuesday and Thursday so I’m having fun doing that as well!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Change of Scene

Our big news for the past month is that we officially moved out of our village.  It was sad, but after Ben’s tie & dye group got disbanded by an NGO, we decided that two Peace Corps volunteers and two NGOs are too much for a village of 200 people.  So we asked Peace Corps for a site change, and moved into a new compound in an area called Kanifang.  We took over another volunteer’s house after she left in August.  We have 3 rooms, a bathroom, kitchen, power, and a TV.  It is certainly a change from our village!  Packing up and leaving our village went really well.  The women had their final tie & dye meeting and gave us some really nice fabric they made with us in Somita.  When the Peace Corps car came, all of our neighbors came over and helped us move our things out and said good-bye.  It was easier for us to say good-bye because we knew it wasn’t for good and that we’ll come back to visit often before we leave Gambia.  It was really nice and our Host Father said a prayer and talked about how we came in peace and are leaving in peace.
Ben started working with an NGO called International Relief & Development (IRD) on their Cashew project.  He is working on the Gambia River Basin Cashew Value Chain Enhancement Project.  The project promotes local cashew production with farmers and tries to link them with local cashew processors.  It is going well for him.  I was set up with a teaching position at the University of Gambia; all the necessary procedures were approved, but the University is having problems with the department I will be working with and I haven’t been able to start work yet. Right now, I am keeping busy by working on two manuals for Peace Corps.
We are still settling in to our new place, and it is really different from our previous experience in village.  The compound we live in now is very large with four separate houses in it. 2 other volunteers live in the other houses, and our landlord and his family live in a big two-story house in the compound.  We eat lunch with the family when we are home.   On Fridays we eat a good Gambian dish called ‘benechin’ which is fried rice with vegetables.  Our compound benechin is the best we’ve tasted in the Gambia and other volunteers come over to eat it with us when they can.  We also have lots of chickens. It’s great, and we are enjoying our last few months that we have left!

Our living room

The compound entrance

hallway to our house

Our landlord sells eggs, and sometimes chicken


Village Olympics

We thought we would not be able to see the majority of the Olympics this year, so we decided to bring the Olympics to Berefet! (As it turned out we got to see a lot of the Olympics, but Berefet Olympics was fun anyhow).  The people of Berefet didn’t know what the Olympics were so they were pretty confused, but they had fun with it anyway, especially the children.  We had fun going around and getting kids to help us with our little Olympics.  Enjoy!

Sana is in lane 4

But failed to make it to the Semi's

Binta did so well on balance beam / water pump style

Samba may be my favorite weight lifter

And its up! Go Samba!

Foday on Javelin

Our shot put Ebrima didn't enjoy the games as much

Donkey equestrian anyone?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

80 Kilometer Coastline Hike

I joined three girls in an 80 km (50 mile) hike along the whole Gambia Coastline in the beginning of July.  It took us about 3 ½ days and although tough on our feet, shoes, and legs, we had a lot of fun.  And we got to see the Gambian coastline in its entirety.  We finished on the north bank in a national park called Ginak Island.  None of us had been there and we stayed with a Peace Corps employee’s family.  To get to the island you take a small canoe and it was really pretty.   Highlights of the trip included seeing the presidents new mosque which looks like a hotel, meeting a British man who claimed to have been an advisor to the president 20 years ago, seeing a washed up big turtle, the ‘cliffs of Tanji’, being chased by multiple sets of children, and being followed for 6 hours by 2 stray dogs.
Move Cows, get out the way

The Sheraton Gambia wouldn't let us in for some reason...maybe it was the stray dogs following us up to the pool?

Crossing the river to Barra


Ginak Island

The start!

A nice village outside Kartong

The Abby's

Our Triumphant Finish
Our feet were not as happy