Saturday, April 21, 2007

Some thoughts and updates...

Posted by Rachel

Hello! We have settled back into our routine here in Kerewan after an amazing trip to Ghana. We will post accounts and pictures sometime soon. Ghana has infrastructure, fast bush taxis that don't pack people in like sardines, welcoming and polite communities, great eco tourist sites, and beaches that are paradise on the western coast. We hiked mountains, swam in spill pools below spectacular waterfalls, hiked through coco and coffee fields, through jungle, visited colonial slave castle, enjoyed a ride in a dug out canoe with a Rasta named Steve to visit palm liquor distillaries tucked away in the mangroves. We hiked with monkeys and fed them bananas. We has an awesome time with our travel mates Becca and Jim.

Before we left for Ghana, I had two great successes with Girl's Club. The sleepover at Becca's school was a blast. Fifty girls participated. We talked about setting career goals, relationships, the right to having personal needs, HIV/AIDS. We sang songs, did some group games, and presented dramas at a campfire come night time. My girls did great! There was drumming and I have never seen them dance so fast, they were flying! More on this later... I still need to write a report for the local NGO, Soul Talk, that funded the weekend. Also we had a debate at the middle school: girls vs. boys. The topic was "Can girls empower themselves?" Adama, Sally, and Isatou were phenomenal. They worked on their speeches before hand, practiced reciting them. They were so strong and empowered up there! We won and I have never been so proud. They all came around me and laughed and hugged each other afterwards.

We are shaken by the tragedy back in the states; feeling the injustices throughout the world. We are angry. We are tired of hearing excuses from those in power. College campuses are supposed to be safe... they are the home of future leaders. How did this happen?

Alu just said my name this past week! He calls me close to Liisa, right?! He is walking and animated.

Carson just returned from a week long excursion around the country with his high school. Not much sleep or relaxation traveling with 65 high school students, eh?

Under Attack

20/04/07 Posted by Rachel

I came home last night, fuming. I’ve had enough. It has been stewing; growing inside me…I can’t contain it any longer. I throw my watering bucket on the ground as I enter the compound. I storm into my house and burst into tears.

Enough already of the constant screaming of “TOUBAB!!” or “LIISANDING” or “HEY, WHAT IS YOUR NAME!” or “GIVE ME MINTY!!” wherever I go, whenever I step outside my compound. The kids, the teenage girls, the twenty or thirty something men patronize me, mock me, laugh at me, ask me to take them to America, find them a white wife.

I have tried everything: ignoring it, stopping and saying my name is not “toubab” it’s “liisanding;” telling them that I am their elder and they should great me not scream at me; picking up a stick and pretend that I am about to hit them; joking with them; asking them their name and which compound they live; smiling and nodding; waving; or just keep on walking.

Every evening when I walk to the gardens, I have some kid in my face or one hundred meters away screaming something. I can’t just walk, they can’t just leave me be. I am sympathetic to where they come from, it is exciting to see a white person, because after all a white person means money. So they have the chance to meet me or talk to me or in most cases have a chance to be in the position of power because I am on their home turf.

Yesterday evening, I had a great time in the gardens. Fetching water from the well, pouring water over my carrots and cabbage. (My carrots are getting tall, they are almost ready to harvest!) Talking to the “regulars.” I love talking and being in the garden with these women while the sun falls through the mango and papaya trees. Water pounds the leaves of the crops, feet pound the ground, buckets pound the water in the wells, and spades pound the weeds.

As I stepped out of the gardens I was hit with a wall of flames. There was a huge bush fire right across the road. I stood there, mesmerized by the dancing bright orange flames, scorching the brush, leaving nothing but black ash in its wake. No one seemed concerned that the fire was inching towards the village and the garden. There was not much wind, so maybe people thought it would die out. I never heard anything the next day about the fire causing serious damage to anything or anyone.

As I was standing there, three girls about age 12 or 13 came and surrounded me. They asked if I came from the garden and so on. They then began to laugh at me because I was watching the bush fire along with several others. But they chose to laugh at me. Mocking me saying that I am afraid and so on. I wanted to stand there and watch the sunset into the bush fire. The different colors of orange from the sky to the ground. But they would not let me enjoy the moment. I told them to go on home, leave me be, to stop bothering me. But they repeat everything I say, patronize me, and just laugh. I yell and tell them I am their elder to leave me be. They laugh and mock. I start walking leaving this amazing show of dusk burning. They run after me, laughing maliciously. I stop again and explain to them that if I were a black married woman my age they would not be rude to me. I tried to explain it the best I could in Mandinka. They said oh ok, I’m sorry. I was relieved; it would have been a long walk home. So I asked them their names, where they live, what they have in their gardens. We joke. They ask about my girl’s club. But of course it’s too good to be true. I say something that sets them off again. They start laughing and acting crazy. Screaming my name in my face. As I turn off to my road that goes to my compound. They stand there and watch me go, laughing, patronizing, screaming “Liisanding, toubabo!!!” I can’t find the peace inside me anymore to let it go. I am mad and I storm home, trying not to burst into angry tears in front of the whole community.

Yeah teenage girls are horrible everywhere…but it wears on me…everyday. They know that we don’t beat children. So they can walk all over me, do whatever they please. It is the only time they have the upper hand with an elder in this society. They don’t have to respect me; they don’t have to greet me, because honestly, as an outsider, what am I going to do about it.

I feel that this treatment of white people goes back to the half-assed colonization of the Gambia by the British. They didn’t even want The Gambia after they created the ridiculous borders. What a waste of cannons that was. They tried to give it to the French, but the French didn’t want it. So the British discarded, so to speak, this tiny little country with no natural resources. They left no infrastructure, functioning economy, or government. So the locals only learned how to beg. Toubab comes from kids asking the colonizers to give them two bututs (what everything less thaN a Dalasi is called here, like cents versus dollars). This turned into two buts and eventually toubab…so a culture of begging is born. White people are not seen as counterparts, but a people who have disregard for The Gambia and who have money.

I come out from my house, still fuming. My Senegalese neighbor, N’Dai, is out on the porch getting ready to go to a party. We chat, I tell her about these rude kids bothering me and I can’t hold back my tears. She grabs me, hugs me, and pats my back. “Enough, enough,” she pleads. “It’s over stop crying.” She calls for Aja, one by one comes Aja, Mama Suwareh, and Dabo. The women of the compound surrounded me. I explain that it has been building up and I have had enough. They are upset that I am upset. They plead for me to stop crying. I realize that I have never seen an adult cry here, only children, so I stop. They erupt in dialogue. They see it; they see it everyday. They know it is rude and disrespectful, but they never knew how much it upset me. Aja says she will take care of it. She will go to the gardens in the morning and tell everyone. She will tell the kids that if they disturb me or disrespect me, she will take them to the police. I laugh, but she is serious.

I walk inside and out to my back area. I light a candle and fill up a bucket for bathing. I let the water warmed from the blistering afternoon sun wash over me, wash the day away. I look up at the crisp, clear night sky and gaze at the big dipper as I towel off. I wrap my faano (piece of cloth) around my body. Aja knocks on my door. We sit and talk for a while. She is angry, her body bouncing and shaking as she talks. I look at Alu, asleep tied to her back, as his head nods from side to side while his mother animates her feelings. I thank her for helping me, for supporting me, for being my friend.

We decide its time for sleep. As I hear the flop of her sandals grow faint, I realize that this is the first time I truly felt part of the family. I threw it all up in the air and four women, four sisters, caught me.