Sunday, March 18, 2007

Early in the morning...

As we peel ourselves from our deformed foam mattress at six in the morning, the Morning Prayer call has already begun. I stumble here and there trying to find the matches to light the candle. Carson luckily finds the flashlight that fell under the mattress amidst our tossing and turning throughout the night heat. Carson chuckles at my hair as it stands straight up to the sky and then every which way in between. I mumble, grunt, and use the moonlight to find my way to the pit latrine.

After some water and a banana, we lace up our dust and sand infused shoes, and head out hoping for dawn to come sooner than yesterday morning. We walk up to the main road, using the flashlight to navigate around the piles of sheep, donkey, and horse droppings. Morning prayer is still going. There are several mosques in ear shot, each reciting out of sync. We hear it through a loud speaker, some are cracking, some are fuzzy, some are blaring, and some are muffled. We begin our morning jog…the night still holding on. Donkeys are croaking and sauntering as we pass them. Goats are whining and scurrying away at the sounds of our footsteps. We pass an elder out for his Morning Prayer walk, we greet him “Asalaamuleekum.” We make our way to the corners of the town…. Passing the last loud speaker: Allah! Allah!….” rings on, swinging and swaying through the crisp air calling for the morning.

We make it to the bridge, the humidity from the tributary blanketing our faces…we hear the rushing of the tide below…the patter of the birds in the dry grass. Dawn creeping slowly. A tired engine of a bush taxi struggles to make it over the large over zealous speed bumps leading to the bridge….ping, ping, gurgle, splat, sounds of a dying cow and rushing stampede whiz past us… the dust flickers in the blinding headlights, a loud honk, and the chaos fades behind. On our way back to the compound, the main road has come to life with the scurry of morning travellers, women chatting at the pump, water splashing in buckets, the fish seller unloading his morning catch from the back of his one speed, teal colored bike, the elder men still on their morning walk, some with a short wave radio in hand still listening to recitations from the Koran. Women sweeping the ground inside the compound walls…swish, swash…the sand crunching underneath our sneakers as we sprint the last leg… as we enter our compound the iron door shifts and clonks…our breath subsides and another day is underway…

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Goats, Chickens and Other Random Thoughts

Posted by Carson

As I mentioned before, I came up with this list on a gele-gele. I think some of the things on my list are biased. But they are no less valid a part of our everyday life. Also, and more importantly, they are things that make me laugh. I could spend a lot of time talking about the illiteracy of my Grade 11 students or the corporal punishment (actually, I might talk about that one later) or some of my growing cynicism with development work and the prospects of West Africa in general, but I’ll spare you and myself. So, here it is: some of the finer things in life (our life anyhow)

The other day, Rachel and I were running at 6:30 in the morning, as we do most mornings before work. The first wave of gele-geles was just passing us on the main ‘highway’ taking it’s load of passengers from Farafenni. We happen to live by and run over one of the only two bridges in the country: Babili Mansa or King’s Bridge. This one is flanked by some monstrous speed bumps, presumably to keep accidents restricted to the open road on either side. As one gele passed us, piled high with luggage on the roof rack, and bottomed out on the first speed bump it screamed “Bbhhhaaaaa” at us. It certainly wasn’t a mechanical sound of a muffler on pavement or the usual wheel falling off, so we listened as it screamed “Bbhaaaa, Bhhhaaaaa, Bhwwhaaaahaaaaaa over each of the speed bumps before we realized the source: a pissed off goat tied to the roof. Now, you have to understand, we were really only surprised because it was so early and we didn't see the goat because it was laying down. It's totally commonplace to see a gele going 60 with a wide-eyed goat standing with its feet splayed like a surfer. And, talking about gelegeles, this morning on the way in, I wondered who was playing footsy with me before realizing it was a chicken nibbling at my toes. Again, not the first time it's happened. And, on the topic of chickens… the ever growing flock that belongs to our neighbor, Drammeh, keeps coming up onto our front porch to poop. It wouldn’t be any worse than just plainly disgusting if I didn’t leave my sandals out there. These are honestly some of the stupidest animals in the world. One of these days, my sandal’s gonna turn the tables and take out one of those birds. And, on that segway into household animals, I’ll steal one of Rachel’s more entertaining stories and tell you about her and Trudy (our wonderful Canadian volunteer and neighbor) trying to fill there buckets at the water pump while a crafty donkey repeatedly tried to sneek up behind them and drink the already filled buckets. Damn, crafty donkeys. Definitely smarter than the chickens. It's best to use the chain of command and get a small boy to wip the snot out of them (even the animals seem to now know that toubabs won't beat them). Ah yes, green acres is the place to be.

Some other random things… It’s getting hot out. Really, really hot. But, it’s a dry heat which means it’s still friggin’ hot. Maybe Rachel already mentioned this, but a candle of ours melted in the shade the other week. Mid-afternoon, it surpasses 41* C which should be somewhere around 105*F. And, it’s getting hotter. May should be the worst. To help out with the heat, we got a jibida to put our drinking water in. It’s a large ceramic jar that miraculously keeps water cool (perhaps through the process of evaporation or some such thing, but you know I'm never much of one for science) and it is wonderful. Though, along with the hot season come mangoes! I’ve been promised more than I can eat when they finally ripen. Mangos are the tree of choice for most compounds and orchards. They are everywhere in every town and village. I can’t wait! 6 a day is my goal… I’ll let you know how that goes. And speaking of digestive issues… well, I’ll spare details of my random bouts with food poisoning. Suffice it to say, I’m steering clear of homemade foods in the car parks. Sheesh.

I’ll finish my rant with a mention of our hilarious Oustass, or Islamic teacher, at the school. This precious man insists on wearing a necktie over his collarless kaftan (traditional body length shirt) and it is so hilarious, I’ll post a picture before too long. He’s really a great guy. That’s enough for today. Tomorrow Rachel and I’ll post some more things. Life’s good.

It's been a while...

Posted by Carson

It's been a little short of eternity since I last posted. Sorry about that. Life's been busy though largely uneventful, lately, and I'm in Kombo for some fun in the sun on St. Patrick’s Day. Rachel's up-country with the new training group and should be coming in sometime this evening. It is, of course her birthday today (props to me for remembering, eh?) and we're looking forward to going out for some Italian food! Like I said, livin' it up.
So I caught the first ferry over and have been puttering around the Peace Corps transit house most of the day, flushing the toilet just for the sound of it and sitting in the hot shower. After watching a few movies (Cannonball Run, anyone?!) and eating my weight in snickers bars, I'm ready to be productive. So, here I am making the case that I am, contrary to speculation, still alive and, despite the usual brushes with disaster, in good health. I really can't remember enough details of the last couple months to recount it accurately, and I don't keep a journal aside from this. So, on the bush taxi in this morning, I made a short list of things worth mentioning. Also, I hope everyone's doing well. In fact, write me an email to let me know what's going on.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Carson says hi!

Carson wanted me to write a note saying hello and that he will contribute soon soon! I travel more with my work, so I can come into the PC office and use the internet. Carson is still working all week at the school. He'll have internet access in a couple of weeks. The blog has been lacking without his wonderful anecdotes. He has such great humor and observations!

Dakar!

The weekend of February 16 we traveled to Dakar for the West African Invitational Softball Tournament (WAIST). This has been a peace corps tradition for the past 34 years! Peace Corps from Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, and the Gambia participated, plus the large ex-patriot community in Dakar. It was interesting how easy it was to slip back into the American routine. Playing softball, drinking beer, going out to eat, and chatting it up.

It was a great time. Everyone has a home stay. We stayed with an amazing family. Our host works for the American Embassy. They were such welcoming and gracious hosts. We got a truly comfy bed, warm shower, and a breakfast spread with chocolate croissants, omelets, fruit, coffee, the works...It was truly so heart warming to experience their hospitality. It was also great to talk to them about their work, their lives, their life choices. Carson and I are talking about what's next. We are thinking grad school, then starting a family...but it would be fun to be a part of a big ex-pat community!

Carson and I played on the Gambian team...I played catcher, Carson outfield. We both got a couple of good hits. Our team won the division, but we didn't make it to the finals. We lost when we started to take it seriously, and consumed a little less beer on the sidelines, ah well...we made it farther than the Gambia has made it in the past!

It was wild how easy it was to go back into the American mode...all the comforts, just the lifestyle. I felt kind of guilty...

Dakar is a real city, with tall buildings, a bus system, great patisseries and restaurants, paved roads. We took a bush taxi up to Dakar from here, once we crossed the border into Senegal the roads were immaculate, and there were electric lines going even to the smallest villages. Oh and we saw train tracks! The ride took about five hours, we made good time. It felt long being crunch up in the back of the car. We went up with some fellow PCVs, Becca and Brian... who are awesome. Becca and I do a lot of work together... we are doing that girls club program together! She is great to work with, hang with, talk with, create ideas with, vent with, yeah a really great friend. We are traveling to Ghana the first week of April, Carson, myself, Becca, and our friend Jim!! Sorry side note...

Luckily Carson spoke french and Becca spoke Wollof so we could get around the city....it was gritty but vibrant. We did some touristy things, like go to the Isle de Gorre... a small island off the coast of the city with beautiful colonial architecture, it was a trading port and a fort during all those wars... the french sunk a ship! But it was neat, something very different that what we have seen here in West Africa. On our trip home, we got stuck behind a presidential campaign parade, Senegal had elections last weekend. But we made it, every so slowly... we crossed the boarder back to the pot holes and toubabing... but at least i could communicate again...

Some updated care package requests...

just be creative with fiber and protein... Some ideas: TVP, Textured Vegetable Protein, protein powder shakes, jerky (for carson!), granola, oh real coffee, oh and good tea, celestial seasonings Madagascar red vanilla tea, their plum white tea, or a ginger peach black tea...we have plenty of green tea here...ooh gummie bears... also our family loves American candy, especially our host grandmother.... it is a nice opportunity to say that its something sweet from our family and friends back home... maybe throw in some sugar free candy....keep the cavities down to a minimum.
Thanks a bunch, I always feel weird about asking for stuff, but it truly keeps us going here. All our love!

Friday, March 02, 2007

The days are long, but the weeks come and go....

Gosh, time is going. Works is busy, the days are full. I am a bit overwhelmed about where to begin, what to share, what's happening. I miss family and friends, I miss being around you guys, I miss being able to process and understand my situation, my days, my interactions...but I guess that doesn't hold true even in the US. I wish I had time and energy to process stuff, so I am going to do a list format... It's been eight months, it feels like it should be longer, the days are long, but the weeks add up...

1. Karamo is making homemade flashlights. Oh this kid is going places. We are supporting his creativity, free thinking and initiative by buying him batteries. It is rare to see a child doing academic or creative work on their own, in their "spare" time. Our neighbor next door whose in grade seven, is making homemade candles. So we gave all our wax build up from candles to him. These kids are just doing this one their own, no book, no guidance....it's wonderful to watch. We also get really excited for them and make a huge deal out of their finished project...their eyes just light up.

2. cold season is gone...it's hot, the sun just fries you!!! Luckily it is still a dry heat, so it is somewhat pleasant to sleep at night. We got a fan...but Kerewan has had not power for the last two weeks. We are switching over to the national grid but of course there are delays. So who knows when everything will be hooked.

3. With this rural electrification project, which is great, but the works cut down so many trees here in Kerewan to fit the lines. Desertification is becoming a big issue here in the north bank, so cutting down huge old trees is no good. Plus, when I walk around town during the day from the school to my ngo and back, I have no shade to escape from the rath of the sun....but people need wood to cook with... so they embraced the free wood.

4. My girl's club at the middle school is going great. We have fun with drama games, voice projection, journal writing. We sing empowerment songs, they wrote a drama! I asked them what problems they and their peers face. They all said early/teenaged pregnancy albeit through rape, early marriage, unprotected sex, with sugar daddies. They came up with a story about two boys harrassing this one girl and then raping her. She was impregnated and did not tell her parents until she was finally showing. The girl, who was really smart and wanted to go to university had to drop out of school. They then thought of ways girls can protect themselves from sexualt assault and rape, how girls can support each other, how education can't be taken for granted. We are rehearsing their play now for the international women's day celebration here in Kerewan on the 22nd March.
These girls open my eyes each week, they are so mature for their age, you know with holding the weight of poverty, of their family, of their work on their shoulders, but yet they have the curiosity of young teenagers wanting to soak up, soak in new things, talk about my sunglasses, laugh at each other, play silly games... it's a neat age. They make me feel special in such the way that they give me the chance to try to relate to them, to listen to them, to joke with them, to be serious with them, to be concerned for them, to fight for them and with them. I want to show them that they are worth so much. They have a right to safety, a right to learn, a right to loving and supporting relationships with their friends, their family. They have a right to choose their partner in life. They have a right to love. That love isn't a mobile or new clothes given to them from the older men that want them for sex. That love is freedom to express your needs, desires, and wants in life. They have a right to their voice. But how do you do this in the context of a traditional and religious culture? How can I show them that they deserve this, not just girls and women in the west?

5. Working with ADWAC is awesome!! I am helping plan the International Women's Day here in Kerewan, slated for 22nd of March The them is Women in Peace Building: Let's End Violence Against Women and Girls. We are going to have women from ADWAC's literacy circles talk about how education and access to information brings peace in the home. Women from the micro-credit groups talk about how financial literacy and independence brings peace to the home. We are also going to bring in an Islamic teacher and talk about the cultural misconception here in The Gambia of what the Koran says about the treatment of women and women's equality. Any way to make problem solving and discussion homegrown. This culture of illiteracy and poverty just perpetuates domestic violence, unequal gender roles, and disempowerment. So we just submitted a proposal in for funding. Hopefully it will work out!

6. My work at the Nursery School is going well. We just had a workshop last week. I taught them how to play learning games, like memory or math games. They loved it, we had a blast. When I came in to observe, both Bruama and Fana used games in their lessons!

6. Baby Alu is walking!! Oh it is just so great to watch him grow! He is so cuddly with me! Everyday I come home at around four or five. I soak in some Alu time before I head the gardens. Whenever I pick him up, he has a mouth full of red dirt and he just slobbers all over me. Oh it makes my day every time.

7. My garden is going ok. My carrots sprouted, cabbage is doing well, and my lettuce is growing. But my tomatoes are dying! I love going to the gardens, it is a great escape from the busy day of work. To just go...go see the women, the girls from my club, the ten year old named Isatou who always helps me water...in fact all the women love to help me. I only have one bed, most have fifteen. They teach me how to weed, how to water the seedlings gently, how to dig, anything! Some tease me that I only have one bed.
I dropped my bucket in the well last week. The wells are really deep now because we are towards the end of the dry season. I was helping Yassin, an 11th grade women, who is beautiful and tall and gracious... she has awesome tomatoes plants. Whenever I pass by them on my way to my bed, I admire their beauty, not one of them has died or grown wilty... just strong and green and plump! Anyways, so Yassin stopped and spent twenty minutes trying to fish out my bucket with a long stick. Of course it drew a crowd, the white women dropped her bucket. But, I embrace my role as an entertainer. I'm really glad that I did drama in high school, it has become so integral to my work, my existence here. Yassin was so gracious about it all, she retrieved my bucket and wouldn't let me continue to help her. Night was looming, the sun falling, and she has six more beds to water. I walked home in the orange dusty light laughing to myself, but upset that my help for Yassin became just another thing she had to deal with. She was probably late to get home to help with dinner and cleaning and fetching water. I walked home knowing that my husband was cooking dinner for us, I had already fetched water in the morning, and that I could just relax.
Sometimes I walk home from the garden feeling energized, maybe after having a good conversation with one of the women or a good laugh or just having been left alone, being nothing new to the women in the garden. But sometimes I walk home with this guilt, this feeling that I can't quite describe yet, that whatever I do is just not enough.... I am still the priviledged white women trying to show that she can do hard labour. But they always remind me that I have only one bed in the garden, that I can't speak the language well, that I have no kids, that I have no reason to be tired while waiting for water at the pump, that going to do "toubab" work gives me no reason to yawn at the end of the day, that I can never walk around town without children or someone yelling my name over and over again.....whatever I do or say is just not enough.... I think its this power play.... they have something over the white women.... they have something to laugh at and taunt.... they have an opportunity to feel powerful.... It makes sense, it just wears on me... But, I have my walk home every evening, when the heat is beginning to subside and I greet old women and young girls who always ask where I came from, I say the gardens and they reply, the gardens?, I nod, they chuckle. I keep on walking soaking in their laughter, embracing the humor and endearment in all of this.