Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bringing out my inner green thumb

Posted by Rachel

So I started a garden! It is so thrilling to find my inner green thumb! I went with Aja to help her water and asked her if there was an empty plot I could use. She first couldn't believe that I wanted to and then she showed me Aja Mama Swareh's plot. Now that Aja Mama went to Mecca she will rest for the entire year. Good for me, bad for Aja who needs all the help she can get at home. So I walk to the garden every evening at five with my bucket, rope, and a spade. Aja found me some horse manure and I bought some local fertilizar at the market. So here I am getting my soil ready, watering it, in the middle of this huge community garden amongst the women and girls of Kerewan. It is so peaceful and beautiful. Everyone of course stops and stares at the white woman attempting to garden, but when they realize that I sort of know what I am doing, they greet me, ask what I am planting, come and help, give some advice... I show them my blisters from weeding and turning over the soil with the locally made spade. We talk about how difficult it is to fetch water and how easy it is to slip and fall on the wet dirt. I am planting lettuce, carrots, basil, and tomatoes. I am starting a nursery in our backyard for my lettuce and tomatoe plants to hopefully transplant later on.

This new activity is proving to be fulfilling. I have more time with the women and Aja. I think of my mom everytime I go to the garden. I think about her tomatoe garden year after year and how I never liked tomatoes until now. I think about her in her yellow plastic garden shoes, spending the afternoons weeding and watering and just enjoying the peacefulness of it all. Then I look at these women and see my mother in them. I see many other strong and beautiful women I know from back home. I feel safe in the women's garden. I feel that I am with my mothers, my sisters, with a community of women struggling to make their lives just a little bit better each day.

So who knows if my crops will grow... I hope so! But, on my way home one evening from the gardens, I was talking with Aja. She was telling me how strong I was and I said no you are strong. She told me that she grew up going to the gardens and the feilds, and did not go school. She wishes she could go to school now, but there is nothing available for her. I asked her if there are other women who would like to learn how to read, write, and do math. She said yes of course. I know there is a literacy group here in Kerewan, but for some reason it is not as functional as it can be. So I told her I would love to start a women's group with her and teach them. So we'll see if it will happen. I need to find a counterpart, who can help me with langauge. It would just be a great and challenging learning experience. But how cool!

Doing the Chicken Dance

Posted by Rachel

So I was at the daily market picking out some tomatoes and eggplant, chatting it up with the usual women sellers, when I ran into our neighbor, N'Dai. She is a middle-aged women from Sengal. She owns a restaurant here in Kerewan. N'Dai is a character, she is funny, loud, in your face, and just a whole lotta woman! She speaks to us in French, Wollof, Pular, and Mandinka. She is trying to teach us Wollof. Her food is great and she brings home some free bees at the end of the day, like watermelon, corn, etc. N'Dai is like the crazy aunt you always wish you had. So we greated each other, chatted about how the morning was, and she asked me about the Sisewo dongo (Chicken Dance). She told me that a previous volunteer taught her the dance. I thought about it for a second or two and realized she was talking about the real chicken dance. So I started to dance it, humming the tune, doing the motions, flapping my wings, and N'Dai joined right in! It was a such a joyous and funny moment! All the women around us were laughing. So now everytime I pass by N'Dai's restaurant we break into the chicken dance!

Contributions Continued....

Posted by Rachel

Hey y'all, here's a list from a returned volunteer (Hey Adam!) of African Children's books. These would be colorful and relevant stories for the classroom. The kids light up when they can relate to what they see and read on the page. If anyone can get there hands on some of these, it would be a great contribution.
Oh No, Toto - Katrin Hyman and Louise Tchana
Handa's Surprise - Eileen Browne
Abiyoyo - Pete Seeger
Why Mosquitoes Buzz - Verna Aardema
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plan - Verna Aardema
The Adventures of Spider - Verna Aardema
Who's in the Rabbit's House - Verna Aardema
Koi and the Kola Nuts - Verna Aardema
Misoso - Verna Aardema
We All Went on a Safari - Laurie Krebs
Galimoto - Karen Lynn Williams
The Hatseller and the Monkeys - Baba Wague Diakite
The Hunterman and the Crocodile - Baba Wague Diakite
The Magic Gourd - Baba Wague Diakite
The Pot of Wisdom - Baba Wague Diakite
Jamari's Drum - Baba Wague Diakite
Anansi the Spider - Gerald McDermott
Zomo the Rabbit - Gerald McDermott
Beautiful Blackbird - Ashley Bryan
How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have - Julius Lester
Mufaro's Beautiful Daughter - John Steptoe

Many thanks!!

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Posted by Rachel

If anyone is interested in sending materials for the nursery schools, here are some things that we recommend. We can ensure distribution and proper use of these materials. The Kerewan Nursery school is in need, as well as the six nursery schools that ADWAC has built for the communities they serve. This year I hope to do some workshops with these nursery schools. I know the school's materials are limited and the more exposure children have to books and learning games, the more successful their learning process will be. I can send pictures of the kids with the materials also!

Learning materials: crayons, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, rulers, pens, watercolor paint and brushes, scissors, glue, construction paper, letter or math flashcards, ABC matching games, ABC bingo, counters, or other educational games suitable for preschool to 2nd grade. Inflatable globes, like beach balls with the map of the world on it.
Books: easy and beginning reading books, color and shape books, ABC books, rhyming books. Early Childhood education curriculum. Read aloud books, some that would relate to West Africa would be great. The cheapest way to send books is by way of an M bag. The post office charges a dollar per pound and it usually takes about six months to arrive.

If you have any questions please email me at
Rachel Glickel, PCV
U.S. Peace Corps
P.O. Box 582
Banjul, The GambiaWest Africa

Mama'a homecoming!

Posten by Rachel

Our host mother returned on Monday January 8th! The entire family came with her. The entire day we were all ripe with anticipation. I swear all the village women were in our compound helping clean, set up the tarp, cook, pound, organize the chairs and so on. The kids came running in at 5 pm and said that she was on her way. Upon arriving into Kerewan Mama stopped by the mosque. A group of male edlers came into the compound chanting Islamic prayers, behind them came Mama Swareh dressed in white from her shawl over her head to her sandals. She looked so dignified. She was followed and surrounded by what seemed half the town. She went to sit under her canopy in a plush chair. She looked and was treated like royalty. People kneeled in front of her and gave her charity. The men prayed, she prayed. When people say a prayer everyone in ear shot, taps their right hand on their forehead and chants "Amen."

It was such a beautiful cultural and religious site. I cried a little, it was overwhelming to watch. When I went up to greet her and give her charity, I kept fumbling over my words. She thanked me, her voice was horse. YOu could tell she came from an intense journey.

The next day was the big celebration! They killed a cow. Luckily I missed that one! Carson and I went to work for the morning. We came back in the early afternoon and half the village was in the compound again! There were about 30 women cooking around five huge iron pots. There was a steady stream of visitors coming to greet Mama, who is now named Aja Musso Mama Swareh. The men and women stayed seperate for the entire celebration. I helped cook and pound with the women. Of course, they all found me quite hilarious. I also sat with the women elders. I love sitting and chatting with them, just soaking in their comradery, their struggle. They were all dressed in the brightest and most elegant Komplets.

So we just ate and ate and ate. We usually don't get so much meat. We had cow for lunch and chicken for dinner! The party went into the night and even the next day! Oh we were pooped! Welcome home Aja Mama!

Mama went to Mecca!

Posted by Rachel

The extended family is still in town. Some have returned home, but new family members have come. We are getting ready for yet another big celebration. Mama Swareh, Faabackary's mother, Aja's mother-in-law, she made the Haj or the pilgrimage to Mecca. She left about a month ago and will arrive tomorrow here in Kerewan. This is a big deal.

Immediately following Tobaski, everyone began preparations. Everyone being female elders from Kerewan, extended family members living in town, Aja, and family that is still visiting from Kombo. The compound is still bumping! They painted inside their house and cleaned floor to ceiling. They put on new sheets in her room, along with fancy new curtains. The outside of our building is being freshly painted. They replaced the glass windowpanes. The place is looking really jazzed up. Women have been pounding millet for days now. I have never seen so much coos. Men put up a tall shed over the bantaba for Mama Swareh to sit under, while visitors come for days to ask her about the pilgrimage.

Aja is working so hard. Cooking lunch and dinner for everyone staying here, cleaning, doing the laundry, all while trying to squeeze in time to go tend to her garden. Oh, funny story about going to the garden with Aja this past week. So I am getting pretty good at fetching water from the open wells. I was on a roll, pulling up buckets of water from the well and pouring them over her bitter tomatoe plants. The wells are just holes in the bare earth, so it gets pretty muddy around it. I pull up a bucket and slip and fall right onto my bottom. Oh that ground was hard. Aja was really upset, other women laughed. Aja told me to go rest, but I refused. On the way home, Aja told me not to worry and that all of those women have fallen many times in the garden. She is such a great ally. But, now it is a favorite story for everyone to talk and reminisce about.

So Mama Swareh's son, who's in Germany, Alimamey, is coming with Mama to Kerewan tomorrow. He is the one who funded her trip. We wonder how she will be received. Do we have to get all dressed up, bring out the band, who knows? The party will be on Tuesday. They will kill a goat and a cow this time. I may sit out that one. We hope she fared the trip well, she is pretty old, probably 75 or so. As a woman returning from Mecca, she is now referred to as Aja Musso Mama Swareh. She is a hard one to please, so I hope she appreciates the nice homecoming that everyone has worked so hard to give her.


Posted by Rachel

Tobaski is celebrated forty days after the end of Ramadan. This year it fell on New Year's Eve. It is rarely so close to Christmas, so it was a jam-packed holiday season.
The Samateh family living in the Kombo area (the neighborhoods around the capital) came up to celebrate. So Faabackary's (Aja's husband) brother's (who lives in Germany) wife, Jani, and their four kids, his sister Drame and her new born, his other sister Hawa and her three or four kids, plus some other kids who I never figured out who belonged to whom. All came to stay at Samateh Kunda. So the place was bumping. Jani's youngest boy, Mohammed, was a terror. He reminded me of an American kid with ADD. He never stopped running and he always called us toubab, just to get a rise out of us. So I called him "Moofingdingo" (black child) the whole time. Oh the mothers loved it!

I spent the morning cooking with the women. I chopped up onions and potatoes. They made french fries! I guess it’s a holiday food! We brought them some ketchup and the party began.

Around 11:00 or so it was time to kill the two rams that have been chilling in the compound for the past three weeks. I stood a little ways away with small children, while Carson helped the men and boys hold down the ram. Oh how to describe the sight of slaughter and butchery…It was traumatic and stomach turning, yes, but what surprised me the most was how normal this was to everyone involved.

So Faabackary and another male elder recited a prayer and then sliced opened the throat. The blood was a bright red and sprayed all over Lamin, our 11 year old host brother. Everyone laughed and kept on going with the ritual. The blood flowed steadily from the neck, then came the death throws, and the final breaking of the neck. The boys and men picked up the freshly killed carcasses and carried them to the trash pile area, placing them on a mat. During this process Carson and I were trying not to make too obvious of a face of horror.

I went on to the porch with the women and watched the butchery while Carson went with the men and the boys. If I only knew that this was ten times worse than the actual slaughter… There was the skinning of the animal, breaking off its legs, castrating it, cutting open the sack of organs, oh and our favorite was the cleaning out of the stomach and intestines. The kids, girls and boys ages 6-14, were on this job. Once the stomach and intestines were removed, they had to be cleaned out of all the shit that remained. So they cut open the stomach and dug their hands in, scooping out the fowl bile and matter. Then hhis was the kicker for us, they began to push out the stuff from the intestines into the bucket. So here are the kids sucking and pushing out the crap through meters of intestines. OH what a site! I looked back over to the carcass and saw the other kids playing with the ram's balls. So I had about enough. I went to the back to the cooking area with Aja and Jani. The first piece of organ they cooked was the liver. They put it on the grill and made a mustard and onion dressing. Faabackary handed me a cooked piece of liver to eat with his hands still bloody and fleshy from the butcher.

Everyone handled the raw meat like it was carrots or bread. The whole sanitary measures we take back in the states seemed way over done compared to the disregard by everyone here. I could only laugh and eat the meat with a smile. I am not one for sheep meat, but Carson liked it. We were weary of the organ surprise, but the muscle tissue was chewy and full of flavor. They ate every part of that ram.

Can you imagine children back in the states taking part in this ritual? We are taught to domesticate animals. We grew up seeing sheep, goats, donkeys, and chickens at the petting zoo, not just roaming around town. These days, I take part in throwing rocks at the sheep that come into the compound and eat the rice that is drying in the sun. In fact it gives me great pleasure seeing them scurry away for their dear lives. So now we only see lonely ewes and their lamb roaming around town. Where have all the rams gone? He he.

Later that afternoon, Carson was approached by 11 year old Lamin holding what appeared to be a large scallop, which he was eating like an apple. "Wo mu munne?" (What is that?), Carson asked. "A mu berekiloo. Ning abeteyataa baake, baake, baake" (It is very, very, very good), Lamin said with genuine earnest delight on his face. Carson knew full well what berekiloo meant before he looked it up in the dictionary. Mmmmm…. Ram testicle.

After the feasting ended around four, we put on our komplets and kaftan. We walked around town and saw all the kids dressed in their nicest holiday clothes. The girls in komplets or western style dresses. The boys in their kaftans or western style hip hop gear. We visited friends and counterparts, eating more meat wherever we stopped to extend our holiday wishes.

The kids went around asking for saliboo, just like during Koriteh. This time we starting saving our Dalasi coins early…. So we had a good amount to pass out. Asking for saliiboo reminded us of trick-or-treating.

That night music was blasting around town. The women finally stopped cooking and were able to hang out, put on their best komplets, and talk until the wee hours of the night. I was feeling under the weather, so I hit the sack early. Carson and our Peace Corps site mate hung out until midnight, ringing in the new year. Carson came back just in time to wake me up for the new year. I celebrated in my haze.

It was a great first Tobaski. Aja and her kids are so good to us. We felt a part of it all. The next day, Aja, came in to check up on me. She is a great friend.

Monkeys and Mandinka

Posted by Carson

Rachel and I are nearing the end of our 2 week Xmas vacation and it's been a great break. I didn't realize how tired we (I think I can speak for the both of us) were after the end of our first 3 1/2 months at site. It's been a wonderful experience and I think we're well on our way to a comfortable, sustainable existence here. Of course, it took a week in Kombo followed by a week of lounging around the family compound to put it all in perspective… but that's one thing we can count on as education volunteers: plenty of holidays.
Language is going especially well. We're not exactly breaking any records in learning Mandinka, but we're making steady progress in short bursts that, while elusive much of the time, occasionally becomes unexpectedly evident. Sometimes we have to look at where we were 2 or 3 months ago to really notice our improvement, but it's definitely there. Also, as we learn individual new pieces of vocabulary, they're beginning to tie together many other isolated pieces rather than stand alone. Now, with every new verb we learn, while difficult to master, we're able to quickly put it in all the tenses we like and convey a variety of new ideas. For the first time, in the majority of situations we find our selves in, we have something to say. It's such an amazing feeling to FINALLY begin to overcome the isolation of not communicating. It's all the more satisfying to be making comparable progress with each other. We both have our good days and bad with language but we're able to push each other and make progress together.
On our trip to Banjul a couple days ago we found ourselves pulled into a lengthy discussion with some of the Mandinkas selling fabric. We were there, as so many other white tourists, being pushed pretty hard to buy anything and everything around us that they knew we could afford. All it took was one or two greeting to trigger an amazing discussion that ran the spectrum of our abilities. Now, if we can only start to learn some Wollof, life will be alright. Actually, I'm still a little hung up on that. This is, by most accounts, a Mandinka country, but Wollof is prevalent at the car parks and markets. Because of the dominance of our much larger neighbor, Senegal, Wollof is far and away the language of trade. Fortunately, most of the Gambians speaking Wollof are either Mandinkas sticking with the lingua franca or Fulas who seem to know at least as much Mandinka as us. Or, they're one of the other 7 ethnic groups who invariably know Mandinka or English. Often times, they come from Senegal, Guinea Conakry etc. and only speak French. What a mess.
Anyhow, aside from Rachels cold right now, we're healthy and happy. I seem to have gained most of my weight back since training and have been successful in avoiding most of the illnesses that I told you nothing about (really, Mom, it wasn't that bad). It's amazing what powdered milk, a couple hundred pushups and a few weeks without an inexplicable fever by way of explosive … you know… can do for your health. Although, I'm sure the cold season is helping me out, by the time the rains/heat come back, I'm confident that I'll fare a little better.
Finally, and most importantly, Rachel and I have found a new running route that takes us a few kilometers into the bush. There's this rocky utility road that meanders past the community gardens to a quarry that they've been using for the road construction on top of the closest thing to a hill they have in this country. It's beautiful, there's rarely anyone around to marvel at the white people running and there's even a view of the tidal plain that borders the tributary. The best part, far and away, is that twice now, we've seen both bush-pigs and monkeys!!! I had no idea there was any real wildlife in this country aside from a few birds and the hyenas (sorry again, Mom) that you can hear at night. But, we saw a troupe of at least 30 read monkeys! Twice! And the family of 5 bushpigs that we've also startled twice are hilarious with their fat round, bodies and skinny little legs. Yet to see a spitting cobra, though (one more time, sorry Mom).