Friday, January 25, 2008

N faama aning m baama (my dad and mom)

by rachel

After ten days of trekking around, eating food bowl style, being hassled by bumpsters, riding in bush taxis, motor boating down the river, using a latrine, making do with no running water and sporadic electricity, dodging the brutally hot sun, my parents took off back to the land where money grows on trees and roads are paved with gold. They were cool and tough. The went with the flow of both the chaos and the severe down time. They are rock stars!

It was a great change of pace hosting the 'rents. Everything that is home to Carson and I here, we were able to show and explain. It was surreal to have American home people here, but so eye-opening as well. Having both done the Peace Corps in the late sixties, being here reminded them so much of their experiences. They time travelled a bit, through their own experiences.

The best part of their trip was visiting Kerewan. We were floored by the hospitality. All of our good friends and co-workers came and offered food. They sat with the 'rents and talked for hours. My friend Njatu, who makes acra (fried beans), sent a huge bowl every morning. Friends brought groundnuts. The father of a girl we are sponsoring brought over a live chicken. Aja made beautiful lunches. Better than I have ever tasted. My parents and locals exchanged praises about Carson and I. Mom and dad even got local outfits! This isn't a culture that shells out compliments. I have never had a co-worker tell me if I am doing a good job or the right job even. But when the 'rents arrived to the primary school, nursery school, and upper basic school, my co-workers laid on the compliments. It was really awesome to hear, much more validating than a wall erected or a room painted.

We will post some pics later. There are some cute ones of little Liisa in a pink t-shirt with "liisanding" written on it, as well as mom and dad in African dress! Oh and also, we saw a lot of monkeys when visiting a nature reserve, so Carson was jumping with giddiness and joy.

Thanks mom and dad!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Working on the island

I had a great time taking part in the teacher training program in Jonjonbureh. JJB is an island up river. It is the capital of the Central River Division. JJB is beautiful. We stayed right on the river, where there was a constant cool breeze. The nights were crisp, clear and so chilly! The Gambia college and an outside donor put on this program for five hundred unqualified teachers in the central river division. It is a part-time three year program, that will end in participants receiving a Primary Teacher Certificate. I had a class of fifty teachers, ranging from grades one to six. For two weeks we covered how to teach students how to comprehend what they read, asking the right questions and such. Each class lasted for two hours. It was really interesting working with adults in this venue. For the most part, they were easier than some of my grade one classes. I'm hoping to do it again in March, where we'll teach writing skills.

There were some students in my class that couldn't read or write in English. They shouldn't be in the program or teaching for that matter. But with many development projects, there are quotas. The international donor has their own development markers to meet, never mind what is actually going on on the ground. People who failed the first year are supposed to be weeded out, but then the quotas would not be met. So what all the students see is that whatever grade they get, they are going to get certified. Where is the accountability in that?

I did the program with Jim, Dan, and Colleen. So we had a rad time working together and making meals together. A bunch of people were around for the new year. Carson and Becca came up. It was a nice and rousing party. We celebrated in style of course with Julbrew and cheap gin!

This is a picture from Koriteh. I love this one. Binta is carrying Alieu on her back on the way home from the mosque.

Here's the market that I go to everyday. It's right on the main road, with the drainage ditch in front. This is one of my favorite moments here, chatting it up with the women and picking through the produce.

Here's my toma! Isn't she fat for three and a half months! But so cute. Little liisa hasn't taken to the camera yet either. Here she is all dressed up for Tobaski!

Aja getting Binta ready for the evening. The kids go around and ask for what is called "salibo," or one or two dalasi coins, some times a five dalasi bill, or sweets. But all the kids and teens look just fabulous!

A little side note: That morning I helped the women cook. Aja and I cut the raw mounds of meat as the men were bringing it in from just slaughtering the ram. Jaa, Aja's sister-in-law, first grilled up the liver and kidneys, that is custom. So there I was cutting up bloody raw meat, dirty intestines, while eating grilled liver.

Binta (R) and Fatou (L). Binta is not an anrgy child, she is just super shy! And of course Fatou is such a ham, the beauty of the family, and she knows it too.

So cute!

Look how big Alieu is now! He's looking slick in his Tobaski suit.

Rams for Tobaski! The most colorful Islamic holiday, where families sacrifice rams, dress up fancy and flashy, and grill meat, organs, and testicles for two days straight. Here are some Senegalese selling rams in Kerewan on the main road. That stop sign is brand new, as the road is finally finished, three years later.

We got Fula scars…

Yes, that means tribal tattoos, and yes, they are permanent! Here in The Gambia, the scars used to mark one’s tribe, but these days they are more a symbol of beauty. Women of different ethnic groups, Mandinka, Wollof, and Fula, have them on there cheeks, on both temples, or on the forehead. They blacken the area from the bottom lip to the point on the chin. Women also blacken their gums. I am not sure of the extent men are scarred.

So we hopped on a bush taxi and rattled 100 km up river to Wassu. We trekked across the wind blown, scorched sandy roads to find Fatou. She lay in her mud brick two room home, resting her elderly body. We are not the first Peace Corps volunteers to come and “get scarred.” In fact, she is quite famous in our circle. I’m sure we bring in good income, as she charges D100 per head (about 5 bucks).

It hurt for a couple of seconds. I yelped and Carson was stoic as stone. We are marked by this experience. We felt that we earned these battle wounds living here for a year and a half. And just five and a half months to go. Call it crazy; we call it a milestone, an adventure that will be with us for life.