Saturday, May 26, 2007

Keeping Busy

It's been a while since we've talked extensively about the work that we're doing. Lately, life has really picked up. The work's moving time along briskly and we love the community and family that we're a part of. A little over a month until we head home to catch up with the fam and, most importantly, see my Dad who's going through a pretty serious illness (just dropping that in there for any who didn't know). We're pretty comfortable here and it'll be tough to transition home for such a brief time, but the food will more make up for it. All of you back home, be wary. Rachel and I now have a secret language with which to gossip with impunity. Unless, of course, you've been brushing up on your Mandinka in our absence.

As for work, Rachel is keeping so many projects on her plate I rarely know where she is. This is especially frustrating because the number one question our friends and neighbors ask me during the extensive greeting process is, "Where's your wife?" followed by the shock and disgust that a husband has lost track of his spouse. Her number one project is the Nursery School. With a generous donation from a student group in California, as she mentioned earlier, she and her counterpart, Burama, have something to be proud of. We'll post pictures as the work continues, but it's really amazing to watch dirt floors and unpainted cinderblock be transformed into a real classroom. She's also working for a local NGO's women's rights unit. With the arrival of funding, her counterpart has moved to Kerewan and they're already planning a 5-day trek around the division for fieldwork. Most of you can imagine how happy she is doing women's empowerment work at a grassroots level. She's also scheduled a teacher-training workshop for 6 other nursery schools in the area. As Debra, an education super-volunteer, leaves the country, Rachel's going to adopt and put the finishing touches on her Teacher's Guide for Nursery Schools (with the hope of having the Dept. of State for Ed. use the ideas for an eventual curriculum). She's a little bit sad as her girls club tapers off towards the end of the school year and misses her time in the garden as the season ends (her carrots were fabulous, albeit small, but the town was very proud). But, she more than makes up for it as she spends nights tutoring every neighborhood child and their endearingly snot-nosed little sibs.

I'm still spinning my tires double shifting at the high school. Some days are more frustrating than others so you'll have to excuse any ranting like my entry "my daily frustration" (though I stand by it). I really do enjoy being in the classroom, but can't wait to dedicate more time to some of my more promising secondary projects. Now that Kerewan has electricity in the mornings, Harinder and I have set up a computer lab in the school library with some old Pentium IIs that were lying around town collecting dust. We currently have 6 up and running with plans for a few more. The students, most of whom have never set hands on a keyboard, are begging for time and instruction. Between classes I've been informally teaching as many as possible, but it gets a little crazy with 50 kids trying to push onto 6 computers. On Monday we're starting evening classes for teachers, who are also first-timers, and I'm lobbying for formal student classes during the next academic year. This makes the expansion of the lab a top priority.

Another goal that will stretch into next year is to create an assortment of science demonstrations for the other teachers to use. It's hard to find the time except on weekends (after weekend classes), but my distillation apparatus using charcoal and buckets was a success. The only question every student got right on the last test was the one about the demonstration and the middle school teachers are now asking to use it for their classes.

By far the most rewarding new project, however, is an older student to younger student reading program that we're starting. I've twice taken my grade 11 students to read to the nursery school during their free period and, with any luck, we can set up a formal weekly program for the upcoming school year. Rachel's uncovered a sizable stack of kid’s books and a few friends have sent some in the mail. Even my most disruptive students have shown a lot enthusiasm for it and of course the nursery school kids LOVE the one on one attention from role models.

We're happy and healthy with plenty to do as we approach our 1-year mark in country. Fun fact: we recently switched from a foam mattress to a grass one in a futile effort to stop sweating through the night.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Me with my Girl's Club!

More Pics


The Girl's Club Program! Way back in March... Here is Rachel leading some warm up games.

My Daily Frustration

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago during a bad day at work in the computer lab that our site-mate, Harinder, and I have built at the school. It’s a little harsh, but I stand by it. Also, it’s long so feel free to skip to the pics below.


At six in the morning, it’s up and out the door with Rachel for a run down the road, over the bridge, through the mangroves and back by seven. Then, a quick shower and some oatmeal we brought from the capital because toubabs don’t eat last night’s rice for breakfast. Then I’m out the door and to school by 8. Or 8:30. It doesn’t matter because time is an entirely relative concept when you’re in the GMT. That’s not Greenwich Mean Time, mind you, rather Gambia Maybe Time. Anyhow, I roll in and am ready to go. Time to enlighten these kids. They all will settle for nothing less than to go to America or Europe, so I might as well show them what it takes to succeed rather than just survive.

Before I go further, let me elaborate on this whole “Greener Pastures” phenomenon. You see, everyone here wants to go to America, Canada, Toubabadoo, Babylon, Atlanta, Austria or where ever because it’s all the same place: somewhere between France and Finland. And when I say everyone, I mean 10 year olds on up to 60 year olds. The dream never dies. And when the odd 20 year-old makes it, either through sponsorship and a visa or the “back way” through the Canary Islands, they let everyone know how great it really is. It is the land of opportunity, straight out of immigrant folklore, where poverty doesn’t exist and there are no cracks to fall through. And, I really can’t argue that it isn’t. I know poverty is a large problem in America. Poor schools, broken families, crime and job insecurity keep the cycle of poverty intact and the gap between the rich and poor wide enough to keep the majority of those without guidance from taking the leap. But, take it from the perspective of a West African. Even the poorest among us typically have running water, electricity, enough calories to cause an epidemic, a mobile phone, personal transportation and, in all likely-hood, cable television.

But that doesn’t make life easy, does it? That 20 year-old West African also finds work right away. In fact, he (invariably a guy) probably finds two eight hour a day jobs leaving him with enough money to feed, clothe and transport himself and even find a place to sleep for those 4 remaining hours after all is said and done. And, with the ten bucks left at the end of the week, he saves up to buy the latest $350 mobile phone for his sister back home in the family mud-block compound so she can show it to the whole village and prove to everybody how rich and successful her big brother is now that he’s made it stateside. Because that’s what happens when you make it. So the truth-myth is perpetuated and, as Europe and the U.S. tighten their borders and scrutinise immigration policy more and more people save up their Dalasis to try the “back way”. And more boats sink on their way to the Canary Islands.

The problem from my end of things is that most students really don’t understand the power of education. Sorry for the cliché, but education is powerful. These are kids from poor, rural farming families whose parents are illiterate and don’t really care or know what grades their kids bring home at the end of the term. This, combined with a government policy of mass promotion despite a student failing every class from grade 1, English as a second language, poor distribution of resources, lack of motivated teachers, lack of motivation for the teachers and a general confusion about discipline procedures, contributes to a lowering of standards and an effectively broken system. There are certainly talented students and most of the teachers I work with exceed expectation, but they are all overwhelmed by the poor students, bad policy and bad implementation by leaders. As a result, these few promising students don’t understand that their performance related to that of their peers is still inadequate. Sure, you’re at the head of your class, but you still can’t write a coherent paragraph.

All this is coupled with the general understanding that school performance doesn’t matter anyhow, because the local economy won’t be able to employ and subsequently reward a successful graduate. Instead, kids hedge their bets on making it to Babylon where even the poor are rich and it doesn’t matter your level of education or intellectual abilities. And, when they make it and see what’s really waiting for them there, they still aim for the consolation prize, pride back home through a demonstration of wealth. Thus the mobile phone for a kid sister.

So, back to my daily drudgery and emotional roller-coaster. As I begin a new topic in class, the kids invariably shake their head “no” when I ask them if they’ve ever seen the material before. Case in point: teaching grade 10 how to add fractions…. yesterday. I usually do a few problems in front of the class, thoroughly explaining each step of the process, pointing out common mistakes and, on a good day, even answering questions from a few of the better students. Then, leaving the examples on the board, I have the class try 3 or 4 of them on their own. They struggle through them with varying success and we repeat the process. Over the course of the period we, as a class, go from complete ignorance to a pretty decent understanding. At this point, I usually feel satisfied with my accomplishments. Then, the next day, I put some more problems on the board (don’t even ask me about homework!) and they give me puzzled expressions as if to say, “We’ve never seen this before!”. So, we review, largely repeating the exercise of the day before and once again, because I don’t learn, I feel pretty good about the situation. Then comes the test. Kaaaboooom! And I’m shell shocked back into apathy and uncertainty about what it is, exactly, that I’m doing here. They usually beg for a re-test and inevitably score the same or worse because, SURPRISE, nobody actually looks over their notes or studies the night before. Laying uncertain in my own self doubt, I’m kicked in the ribs when I talk to the Upper Basic School math teacher and find out this material has been covered since grade 7.

Now, as a volunteer, I’m here to identify and do sustainable work and education is, by definition, sustainable. You know the proverb, give a man a fish or teach him to fish. I am teaching him after all. But still, there’s a nagging voice in the back of my head that tells me no one’s actually behind the wheel of this ship and no matter how hard I, or anyone else paddles, we might not get to our intended destination, even if it is the Canary Islands.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Word About the Heat

Rachel's right, it is hot here. And, though the locals make no distinction between the two, the humidity is also beginning to increase. A couple of months ago I told you about our candles melting in the shade and it's only gotten worse. The rains don't come until late June, so we'll be cooking at least until then. Even the Africans are suffering, so you know it's bad.

Sitting between classes, one of the older and more befuddled Islamic teachers was talking with me about the weather, universally one of the most popular topics of conversation. He told that he can tell I'm NOT bothered by the heat. I was taken aback, but quickly asked him why he'd say that I'm not afflicted. He matter-of-factly told me that he knows that white people change color in the heat and I was still as pale as ever, so I must not be too hot. Well, I explained, it's actually the direct sun light that makes us change color which is why some tourists lay out on the beach and others, like myself, scarcely leave the shelter of the mango tree unless it's to go to the next mango tree. It's a tough job being cultural ambassador sometimes.

Rachel and Jim


Here's Rachel and Jim, taking pictures of me taking pictures of them in the jungle half way to the upper falls at Wli.

Ghana


Here's us with Jim and Becca after a hike through the dense jungle of cocao trees and coffee trees to get to yet another secluded tropical waterfall. This trip was waterfalls, mountains, monkeys and beaches. Sorry it's sideways.

Happy in Ghana


Here we are enjoying our vacation in Ghana. I think Rachel posted an really good account of the whole trip lifted from Becca's Blog. Ghana was a really great place to vacation. The people were much more relaxed and transportation was much easier. This country had itself together. Plus, it was nice to get out of the Sahel for a while and see some tropical scenery.

Princess Town Castle


Here's the view from the slaving fort overlooking the small and very remote fishing town of Princess-town. Beyond the tin and cinderblock houses are miles of deserted beachs and palm trees. We slept for 2 nights in the castle that loomed over the town as if it were strait out of Frankenstein.

Rachel and Becca at Princess-town Castle.


Here's Rachel and Becca looking good on the Castle in Princess-town. The four of us slept in this place for two nights.

Carson on School Excursion


This is a pic of me on our school excursion. The senior school saved all year, petitioning NGOs and government offices for help funding it. In the end, they pulled it off and we took 65 students all around The Gambia for 4 nights and 5 days. That's Baba Keita, grade 10; Alhagie Jobe, grade 11; Momodou Kinteh, history/gov teacher and someone whose face I can't see.

Rachel in the Garden


Here's one of the thousand amazing pics of Rachel in the Garden. That's Adama Hydara, one of her favorite local women behind her. During the dry season, the gardens are an oasis of green papaya, mango and banana trees surrounded by lettuce, tomatoes, and shallow little open wells for daily watering.

Scoarched Earth


Gotta love the dry season. Giant swaths of bush look like this right now, eagerly awaiting the rains to come and breath new life into the land. Some of the fires are intentionally lit to clear land for farming. Sometime's you see the bright glow at night right at the edge of town and wake up to a layer of ash around the pit latrine.

Garden Sunset


Sunsets during the dry season are amazing. They seem to light all of the Harmattan dust in the sky on fire. These are some of the papaya trees in the community gardens as Rachel head home after

watering her plot.

Girls Club Debate


Here's a picture of Rachel's girls club debate in action. That's Demba Sanyang, the science teacher who coached the boys team, and me standing in the background enjoying the show.

Rachel at Elmina Castle.


Here's Rachel standing on the massive slaving castle in Elmina. While the top levels of the castle were impressive and the view was amazing, touring the slave dungeons left us with a lot to process.

Wli Falls


This is the tallest waterfall in West Africa. We hiked 2 hours strait up this mountain to get to the upper falls and it was worth it. Here's Rachel and Becca standing in the plunge pool a thousand meters above the surrounding countryside with a 40 meter waterfall towering over them. It's hard to convey the scale, but it was really amazing.

Science Lab


Here we are distilling fresh water from salt water with some classware donated from Germany and charcoal, buckets and other things laying around the village. The lab space leaves a lot to be desired and some of the students are as bewildered as ever, but I'm marking it a success. Someone had to have learned something, right?!

Rachel with the Boys


Here's Rachel with some of our little brothers on our front porch. Lamin's got the goat on his shoulders and little Alieu's bigger every week.

Monkeys in Ghana


This might rank up in the top ten happiest moments in my life. It's actually the 4th and best in a series of pics that Rachel took. Half the village worshipped these monkeys as ancestors' spirits. Check out how the greedy little guy's stuffed his face and is going back for more. Monkeys!

Rachel and Her Girls Club

Rachel's girls club has been a great success. They genuinely look forward to her weekly meetings and, in this picture, just wooped the boys in a school debate on who the burden of girls empowerment falls on.

Jewish Walmart


Here we are in one of the coastal towns in Ghana picking up a few essentials at the local Jewish Walmart.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

It’s hot...

Hot like a blow dryer in your face. Hot like being trapped in the boiler room. Hot like sitting in an oven. The wind blows hot air that stings your face. You can't stand out in the sun for more than five minutes or else you will fall over. The afternoon sizzles. The sand and concrete burn your feet. The small breeze that occurs once or twice a day brings up sand, dust, and ash from the bush fires that then stick to your sweaty skin. This heat is suffocating. It's so hot that the donkeys chill under a tree all day. The town is deserted in the afternoon, no one can move. But somehow they still brew hot attaya tea in the heat of the day. We talk about the heat constantly throughout the day. It has become part of the greetings. Oh this heat, come 3 pm I feel like I'm in a frying pan. Now I understand the jubilee when the first rain comes. The rain will turn that sun down a couple notches; giving us a respite with each storm.

The night still cools off enough to sleep. Once that blistering sun goes beneath the horizon, I feel alive again. The one redeeming aspect of the hot season is that it's mango season too! Oh sweeter than sweet mangos. There are small plum sized mangos or big pineapple sized mangos or the ones in between. We eat at least three mangoes a day. Carson loves the huge ones, they are the most sweet with the most meat. I like the almost ripe medium ones, just a little tart. Oh the one joy we get from this heat.

Ghana! In Becca's words...

Ok, so here's Becca's account of our Ghana trip. I stole it from her blog. Yeah we are just lazy I guess for not getting around to it or we were swept back into our busy lives as PCVs here the minute we returned home... I prefer the latter. Becca wrote a great account of our trip, I agree and feel the same with everything that she states. Her ability to sit down and write all this atests to her "get down to business," perserving, won't let anything get in her way persona. Yeah she's pretty fabulous!

One thing that I need to emphasize is how thrilled Carson was to see monkeys. I have never seen him so passionate, so filled with enthusiasm to hang out with these litte critters. It was actually really cute and endearing (don't tell him I said that..)

So here it is, it's long, but I have faith in you...

"So we met this rasta named Steve....And other Ghana happenings

I have been looking foward to this trip to Ghana for so long that I can't believe it is finally over and I am already back in The Gambia ready to start the last term of the school year. We spent 12 whirlwind days hiking, swimming, riding, drinking, gazing in amazement, eating, laughing, and rowing our way through Ghana. It was an an amazingly packed but fun filled 12 days and while I am not necessarily well rested, I am refreshed and rejuninated and ready to plunge back in PC life here in TG. But first a quick recap of the trip....

Day 1: We arrive in Accra after a long flight that goes from Banjul to Dakar to Freetown, Sierra Leone to Monrovia, Liberia (weird to actually be on the ground in these two countries given the history. Monrovia's airport is really just one big UN camp with lots of helicopters and tents) and then finally touches down in Ghana. Despite the roundabout route, it all pays off in the end cause we get fed after each stop so we arrive in Ghana with bellies full of croisants and serious coffee buzzes. Our good luck in the traveling department starts almost immediatly as we find a hotel, figure out the bus situation and find an amazing Mexican resturant all in the span of about 2 hours. After enjoying a nice mexican dinner, which is a very rare commodity in West Africa we head back to our lovely budget hotel, enjoy some Star beer and get some sleep to prepare for the week ahead.

Day 2: Our bus to Hohoe in the eastern part of the country near Lake Volta doesn't leave until 3:00 so we putz around Accra for the first part of the day, not really having enough time to do anything to cool since the city is so sprawling. We do manage to check out Independence Sqaure which is pretty much just a massive amount of brown concrete with a statue and flags but Jim and I do meet some charmingly polite Ghanaian school girls. When they first greeted us we were a little defensive because we are a bit used to be assaulted with outlandish requests and questions but these girls were delightful and set the tone for the rest of the trip as we continued to meet exceedingly polite and friendly Ghanians almost across the board. We chill at the bus station for awhile and eat delicious street food (the variety and tastiness is amazing!) while we plan our attack for getting a seat on the bus. We are so accustomed to the crazy and somewhat desperate rules of public transport in The Gambia that we are suprised but pleased to find that people in Ghana can actually queue half way decently. The only decidedly West African thing about the bus trip to Hohoe was that it took forever and half the bus was filled with an array of plastic furniture (there has just got to be a better way to transport goods then buying half the seats on a bus!). I enjoyed the good 3 hours of the 5 hour bus trip as it provided our first glimpses of the beautiful, green countryside of Ghana, but not before you got through the sprawling suburbs of Accra. The infrastructure and highway system was almost as beautiful as the countryside after 9 months in The Gambia with its nearly absent level of infrastructure.After a very long bus ride we arrive in Hohoe, nab a hotel and head to bed early to prepare for a big day of hiking the next day.

Day 3: We wake up early and grab a tros-tros (Ghanaian name for bush taxi, I find it funny that all the WA countries give somewhat silly double names to their bush taxis) to Wli to start our whirlwind tour of eco-tourism in Ghana. We arrive in the very friendly and immaculatly clean village of Wli nestled in the moutains of the Volta Region along the Togo border and head to the tourist office to arrange for a hike. Despite it being Palm Sunday in a very Christian nation, we find a guide to take us on the hour and half hike up to the upper falls. The hike was great, albiet strenous and very steep, and well worth the effort when we got to the top and took in the awesome views and pristine waterfall from a fresh water spring at the summit of the mountain. We spent some time relaxing and swimming in the upper falls, drank the icy water (we did think giardia at first but our hearty stomachs pulled through and none of us got sick), and splashed in the falls. After the lovely isolation of the upper falls we checked out the lower falls that was very crowded with Ghanians enjoying the weekend. The majority of them also happened to be very drunk which lead to groping which lead to slapping and then we headed back to finish the hike. Exhausted after our steep hike, well above see level in very humid weather, we came back to the hotel with high hopes of a shower, beer and food. We had sucess with the beer and food but didn't get water for a while. But being smelly didn't stop us from enjoying the spicy fufu and the multiple varieties of cold beer.

Day 4: After spending the night in Hohoe we set off semi-early to head to do a hike at Mt Adafajato, which is said to be the highest mountain in West Africa. We were all pretty drained from the hike the day before and the mountain didn't really look all that much higher then then the mountain the previous day so we opted for a shorter hike through cocoa and coffee fields to an enchanted waterfall tucked deep inside the understory of a decidious rainforest. The hike was really cool cause it was just the four of us and a guide and the trail was really overgrown because not many people take it so it felt a bit more adventurous and it as just cool to see such a dense, thriving understory. After the hike we spent the majority of the day trying to get transport out of the backwater village where the hike started from. We ended having to walk a bit and then found some awesome beans at another tiny village where we managed to find a ride our to the main rode. Unfortunalty that ride, which at the time seemed heaven sent, ended up getting our driver arrested when we got to a police check point because the care was "overloaded". Anyone who has traveled in a developing country knows that there is just no such thing as overloading a vehicle, so I think the police were just bored and looking to pick on people. The whole arresting fiasco ultimatly led to the cabbie bribeing his way out of an expensive fine with Carson there as moral/financial support but it also led to us finding really cheap transport to our next destination thanks to a rambling drunk man on the side of the street who kept ruining the scams of the other drivers who were trying to give us toubab prices and gave us the real prices and telling us in detail how to get to our next destination the cheapest possible way. We arrive at our next destination very easily and are even lucky and hit a market day and thus avoid a 5k walk. Next up is Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary, and we are all excited to check out this site and have fun with the monkeys. Especially Carson.

Day 5: After a night of relaxing at the guest lodge and a glorious rainstorm (you never imagine that you would miss precipitation till you go 6 months without it) we wake with the sun in order to go feed the monkeys while there nearby the village forging for food. It was really cool to just stand there and hold out a bananna and have these little human-like hands and eyes come within inches of your face, staring at you right in the eye and peeling the bananna one peel at a time, till success and the little critter snatches the prized fruit and scampers up to the treetops to enjoy his reward. The consensus at the end of the feeding session was that a) opposable thumbs are kick ass b)monkeys make grown men giggle like school girls and c) science is cool. But we just didn't get to fufill every Westerners fascination of monkeys we also learning a lot too. In all the monkey sanctuary has close to 400 Mono monkeys and the village started the sanctuary in partnership with Peace Corps and other divisions of the Ghanaian government to protect the monkeys from getting hunted for food. Like most West African villagers, the people of Tafi Atome were orginally animist and worshipped the monkeys as protectors of the village and the people. After Chrisitianity was introduced, many people converted but about 30% of the village population remains animist. And if Ghana is anything like Gambia, a lot of animist traditions and beliefs get meshed with the introduced religion to form a hybrid version of Islam or Christianity that is uniquely West African. After our early morning nature and monkey walk we make the 5k trek out of Tafi Atome to the main road to start our marathon travel day to Cape Coast. Luckily for us public transport in Ghana is a delight and we enjoy the beautiful ride and tasty street food on the way. We make it to Cape Coast just before night fall and navigate our way through gritty and touristy-leechy Cape Coast which is a bit of a rude awakening compared to the peaceful friendliness of the East. Eventually with my uncanny nack for navigating through unknown cities we fend off the bumsters and make our way to the lovely Sammosa Hotel. We arrive dirty, smelly and hungry and collectivly suffer until we finally manage to have a very late but very delicious dinner.

Day 6: We wake up semi-early and very eagerly head out of the tourist trap of Cape Coast and head north to Kankum National Park to do some more hiking and do the famed canopy walk through the top of the rainforest. After eating some really funky fufu at a road side stand we head up to the park and our pleasantly suprised to see an American like national park with a great informational exhibit and reception area. We set off for the hike through the canopy walk with a small group. I must admit while the canopy walk was cool I was a little underwhelmed but the two adorable biracial East Londoner children who were in our group that kept declaring they are "braver then superman" made the experience. After the canopy walk we headed back to Cape Coast to get transport further down the coast. Rachel and I found a really cool fair trade women's co-op called Global Mama's (www.globalmams.com) (how very hippy-Peace Corpy of us) and did some shopping before grabbing a taxi to Elmina. The taxi ride was really short so we got to check into the hotel and the go tour Elmina Castle that afternoon. Elmina Castle is the biggest former slaving post on the West African coast and was the export point for over 300,000 slaves during it history. We got a very informative an extensive tour including, the holding rooms, the room of no return and the officers rooms on the upper floors. The overall experience was a very strange mixed up jumble of feelings and reactions from appalled, shame, and sadness to being defensive. I was also a bit suprised to find out that among the 30 or so people in our tour group from all different countries, the four Americans were the most well informed on the history and consequences of slavery. I guess our education system has gotten one thing right. Following the tour we did some exploring of our own and enjoyed the sunset from the top of the castle which was very picturesque. A dance troupe at the resturant below us started warming up for a nightly performance and we busted out some of our pathetic African dance moves on the top of Elmina Castle which may have been slightly culturally insensitive but we needed to blow of steam after a heavy experience and let loose. Plus no one could see us so we figured we were safe.

Day 7: After a good and informative day at Elmina we headed to our next destination further down the coast, Princess Town. On the way to Princess Town we made one of the most important discoveries of our 12 day journey. They sell ice cream in a bag for the equivilant of 20 cents! We were appalled that it took us till day 7 to find out this very pertinent information but we tried our best to make up for lost days the rest of the trip. Living in a ridiculously dry and hot area with no electricity causes one to become a glutton for anything below the freezing point. Ice cream (even bad ice cream) no longer becomes a treat it becomes the reward that gets you through a month of sweaty frustration at site...I really can't stress the importance enough in the life of African Peace Corps Volunteers. So after the ice cream in a bag rocks our collective worlds we continue to Princess Town which is a small village on the coast, 18 k in from the main road. There is a really old German slave fort there but it isn't all that important in the grand scheme of hisotry and has gotten a bit rundown. I thought it was delightly rundown compared the pristine whitewashed walls of Elmina. Since PT is off the main road a bit it dosent' get the huge influx of visitors like Elmina or Cape Coast gets so it is more quiet and relaxing. Since I am getting tired of writing and you of reading, I am going to give a quick rundown of the 2 days we spend in the village. We meet Joseph and Grace the ultimate caretakeing duo of the fort, explore the pristine beaches (some of the most beautiful I have ever seen), the guys despertly try to prove which one is more evoluntionary fit by trying to crack open coconuts for juice - interestingly the gay boy wins, we eat delicious red-red, sleep at the fort and tell lots of ghost stories over warm Castle stout to make the experience of sleeping in a former slave fort even creepier.

Day 8: Jospeh the forts caretaker helps us arrange a canoe trip up the river with Rasta Steve and we spend the morning paddeling up river in a dugout canoe to a couple of moonshine palm wine stills in the bush. The stills were really cool and very West Virgina like. Carson was super excited to see the stills cause like the Chemistry dork he is, he used to make his own homemade beer back in the States. While at the stills we also get to taste some of the palm liqour straight out of the distiller. It was the 95% proof and to drink it people cut it with water but it still is some of the strongest liquor I have ever had. Rasta Steve insisted that the four of us must finish the cup before we could leave so we pony up and get it done. We also got to taste a drop each of the 95% proof stuff before it got cut with water and even just one drop was enough to take your breath away. And all this boozing at 9 am! Needless to say the dugout canoe ride back was interesting. After our canoe trip we chill at the fort for a bit and rest while we avoid the mid-day sun. Later in the day we head to the beach and brave the walk across the mouth of river at the ocean to the deserted side of the beach and hike to the point and discover even more pristine, empty beaches and marvel at the beautifulness all around us, splash in the waves for a bit and then head back to cook dinner. That night we pull the beds outside and sleep under the stars listening to the waves crash on the rocks below us. Good stuff indeed!

Day 9: The happy troupe becomes one less as Jim leaves to go visit his friend from home who is a Peace Corps Vol in Ghana while myself and the marrieds (which would be weird if they weren't such cool people) head further West down the coast to Axim for some more beach fun. Since we have been staying in budget accomodations the whole trip we have been flying under the radar of the Easter vacationers but when we get to the beach front hotel in Axim that we are treating ourselves to for the Easter weekend, we find that it is all booked up. But like the resourceful PCV's we are we convince the staff to let us squat in the internet cafe of their somewhat fancy beach resort. Super ghetto I admit, but we get to enjoy all the amenities of fancy resort with good food and bumster free beaches and still convince ourselves that we are not sellouts cause we aren't paying full price. We spend two nights at the beach, relaxing and I also manage to break a body board and slice a huge cash in my finger on a massive wave while trying to show Carson my wicked boogie boarding skills and Rach has a near death expierence in the gigantic surf. We also meet a really great woman named Lori who is traveling through West Africa and end up having great, life and career changing converstions with her throughout our stay. And we also have lots of time for books and coffee which makes us all happy.

Day 11: We head back to Accra and do some last minute shopping for yobal (traveling gift that is required whenever you return from even a short trip, you have to bring something for the people of your compoud. Its considered really bad form if you don't) for the peeps back in TG, eat delicious Mexican food and crash early. The last day in country we make a mad dash downtown to find some authentic woven Kinteh cloth that is the hallmark of Ghanian Asanti culture since a lot of stalls were closed the previous day because of Easter Monday. We find some fairly quickly and have a good time haggling with the lady. In Ghana, people name their children after the day of the week on which they were born. Apparently the name for females born on Monday is Ajua. It is a joke in Ghana that people born on Mondays are cheap. Now lets put that togather, Ajuas are cheap (says the name out loud, it will help) it matches up with an ethnic sterotype we have in the West. The lady doing the selling is joking with us as we try to get a lower price and says to Rachel: "What are you, Ajua? That price is to low." The three of us stand there with a look of baffled shock and all the sudden Rachel just busts out with "Are you calling me a Jew?" (which she is). The woman looks at us, equally as baffled and starts to apologize. The akward moment is quickly lost in the haggling but the three of us found it quite funny that a Ghanian lady called Rach a cheap Jew. Maybe it was a little "had to be there funny", but oh well. So we buy our Kinteh cloth and happy with our purchases then head to the airport to catch our flight only to find that they sell kinteh cloth at the airport for roughly the same price we paid. We had a more authentic experience though....haha, right?

So that is the very long rundown of the Ghana trip and if you have gotten through this whole post I am impressed. The trip was great, and just the refresher that I need to dive back into work here in Gambia. It was great to see how far Ghana has come and that development in West Africa is possible with good leadership and citizens that take pride in their country. Maybe someday Gambia can be where Ghana is now. Inshalla, inshalla ("God willing" in arabic and the standard response for everything in this very fatalistic culture)."

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Painting, collaborating, free speech and pancakes.

Posted by Rachel

Carson and I have been painting the school. Tomorrow we will paint and our site mate, Harinder, will help us. It is a fun project for all of us. Carson also started a program, where his high school students come and read aloud to the nursery students. It is a great success, the kids loved it! Carson also got the computer lab at his school up and running. And, he performed a distillation experiment for both grades 10 and 11!

I am hoping to implement a nursery school curriculum with the nursery schools here in the region. This is an ambitious project, but might as well give it a go, eh? I have one more year. A fellow PCV who is about to end her service wrote a draft of a curriculum, and I will hopefully finish it up for her. So this summer I may be meeting with professors at the Gambia College's Education School to pick their brains. I welcome your ideas!

I went to a meeting last week with the Director of ADWAC. We met with the heads of all the development and government agencies here in Kerewan. I was the only woman. The topic: Women and Poverty. It was a neat conversation. We asked them to define poverty, who are the poor, how their agency is addressing poverty, what are the limits, how can people collaborate. Many stated more than once that women need to be in the decision making roles. There is only one woman on the council representing the entire North Bank Division. I looked around the table once again. So where are they? I hope I wasn't the only one who saw the irony of it all.

Today is Freedom of Press Day. We heard on the BBC this morning that the Gambia is one of the top five countries in Africa that stifle freedom of press. We were so proud.... (joking of course). I am glad that this was publicized. People live in a culture of fear when it comes to talking about their political opinions. People do "disappear." I try not to talk about politics in public here.

We made chocolate chip pancakes a couple of weekends ago! Enough said.

Thank you to GRO!

I want to express my deepest thanks to the Global Relief Outreach club at Stanely Middle School in Lafayette, CA. These students raised a hefty amount for the Kerewan Nursery School. We have already started buying materials to build a cement wall around the perimeter of the school compound, complete the toilet area, and paint learning and teaching aids on the walls of the classroom. Everyone in the community is thrilled about this project. I have had elders come to me thanking me for this generous donation. So I want to extend their thanks to you. You are heroes.

My Peace Garden

My walk to the gardens is peaceful now. After I let out my frustrations, Aja went to the gardens the next morning and told everyone to stop harassing me, young and old. Dabo told everyone at her gardens and at the market that if they disturb me, she will take them to the police. When I walk with Aja Mama Suwareh, she slaps kids on the head if they say toubab. It means the world to me how they take care of me. How they provide a comfortable, safe space for Carson and I to live here. I wish I knew how to translate that to them. I don't know why I thought I could have handled this myself. In this society, you use an intermediary every time there is conflict. Confrontation does not exist.

So now I walk every evening as the sun falls and a cool breeze finally picks up to blow away the stifling heat of the afternoon. I walk greeting women going to and from the gardens. I greet the cute old Fula man milking his cows. Everyone asks about my carrots. I tell them soon they will be ready to harvest. I think next week! They tell me that I need to have my own rice field. I cringe at the idea. The women work seven hours a day during the rainy season, in the hot humid sun. I say I will go for one day, maybe two.