Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Things my kids said Today:

While looking at a photo of my house in winter:
Mariama: 'Does your father go and clean all of that snow off the roof?'
Me: 'No. When the sun comes out it melts it and the snow falls off.'
Mariama: 'Kono nange alaa toon.' trans- But the sun is not there.
Me: disbelief 'What?'
Mariama: laughs and returns to looking at photos.
Apparently there is no sun in America. It's still unlear as to why so many people want to go to such a dreary place.

Bobo explaining to another kid a photo we had looked at together earlier:
"This is Adama when she was a kid. She's playing in the snow. You can eat the snow. But if a dog pees there you don't eat that snow."
I wonder what other sage advice I'm passing on to the Gambian youth.

James is 3 and really likes to tell me things about his mother then ask me things about mine. For example "My mom owns this bucket. Does your mom have a bucket?" or "My mom wears a bra. Does your mom wear a bra?"
This morning: me: 'good morning James.'
James: 'morning'
me: 'how are you this morning?'
James: 'good'
me: 'everything's ok?'
James: 'yup.' 'my mom slept only a little. Did your mom sleep only a little?'
I'm not sure James i'll give her a call and ask. Susanna, his mom, looked like maybe she hadn't slept at all.

Last week James was asking if I owned everything in my house. I mean EVERYTHING.
'Do you own this book?'
'Yes James'
'Do you own this table?'
'Yes James'
'Do you own this bed?'
'Yes James'
'Do you own these plants?'
'Yes James'
I finally got tired of saying 'eeyi' and instead said 'Nope'.
'Does your mom own this?'
'haha yes James.'
So mom if anyone asks, you own the clothes line and clothes pins in my backyard in Fatoto. Consider it an early birthday present!

Fun Fact: The 10 yr old in my host family can recognize Gaddafi in a Newsweek (I had to look at the caption) but still needs help reading "If you Give a Mouse a Cookie."

My Life in National Geographic

Tonight as i pulled water from the well I was struck with a blow from pulchritude herself:
It was one of those moments of beauty that you hope can just last and last and so you stop moving except to widen your senses in the attempt to capture it all. When it passes you realize you'd stopped breathing so as not to disrupt the very air holding this beauty. But even if you could hold your breath forever, time keeps going, so it pushes you forward and out of the moment. Yet in that small eternity I will forever keep the Gambia.
I stand with the wet tattered rope in one hand and the empty bottom of the leaky bag in the other. My bucket and watering can are full, it's time to carry them inside, finish watering, and bathe. My gaze moves from the glistening water, across the sand of the compound, to the cement slab all the kids use to bathe, so their feet don't get dirty while they wash. Ousman is there, splashing water from the orange Africell bucket on his wiry 10 yrs old frame. At 10 he has enough energy to fill an elephant and make it gambol like a lamb. Energy reigned in to a scrawny yet fit kid.
The opposite edge of this scene: covered by the heavy drooping branches of a mango tree. Its progeny growing large and juicy and weighing on the limbs. Limbs that break under the pressure of a lavish bounty.
Bordering our compound is the stick fence draped with green, blue, purple, pink fabric. Bright clothes drying in the hot sun.
But the sun is setting now and the hot white of midday gradually gives way to a warm golden. Tonight a few hazy patches of cloud bounce color back on the sunset. A blissful pink. The color cotton candy strives for but only nature has mastered. This perfect pink layered over a early evening blue.
Just beyond our fence the golden pink catches on the thatch roof of the neighbors round mud-brick hut. Picture perfect lighting on a classic scene.
"Adama" time pushes me out. Breathe.
"Adama" Sama calls me again from my backyard.
"Nam" I bend, lift my buckets and the moment is gone. But not lost; remembered, noted, and not lost.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Around 9am we headed to the big mosque in town. Tobaski prayers are held in the grassy field nearby, because everyone from town can’t fit in the mosque comfortably. I prefer the outdoor setting. Binta (Sonja my new site mate), Bobo, Mariama, and I headed over together. Nene Umu had already left and the rest of the family ‘hadn’t bathed yet’ so they didn’t go. We sat with the women and girls in the back, and as Nene Umu pointed out, we couldn’t hear a word the Imam said.

As they prayed Nene Umu encouraged Binta and me to take photos in front of the women, but we didn’t venture up too close to the boys and men (I’m still not sure of the protocol). Though usually when I think someone is scowling at me for taking pics, they are actually making their most serious face and want me to photograph them. They burst into a full smile when I show them the pictures. So, I think I probably could have walked up next to the Imam and taken a nice portrait shot.

Samba, Abdou, and Musa slaughtered the goat with my knives (thanks for the knife set mom) and then the compound across the street borrowed my knives and id the same. Susana who’s been ‘sick’ for the past 2 months, she’s pregnant but it’s seen as bad luck to talk about it too early, luckily felt better. She’s by far the bast cook in the family. Domada and fouti for lunch!! Domada is peanut sauce and fouti is cous. Like real American style cous. Unlike what we call cous here, which is actually more like bird seed.

I was helping Susana cook when Samba handed me a bowl of meat and said this was for me to cook. WHAT?
‘Oh thanks…’ I took the meant in the back and began cleaning it. By cleaning it I mean making sure all the goat hairs were gone and removing the obvious wood splinters from the log they used as a ‘cutting board.’

Musa grilled the liver first, with oil and salt, delicious. And then Abdou grilled up some of the best meat. I went out to eat some of this, and Samba said “You’re cooking in the back?”
“Yea” (What did you expect me to do with it.)
“Oh here.” And handed me another very large handful of raw meat. Yum!

I took that back cut and cleaned it, poured soy sauce on top and let it all marinate for the rest of the day.

When I cooked it later and served it over pasta, they loved it. I can tell when they like something I make because they don’t say anything until the plate is empty. If they’re telling me “Oh Adama na welli (Oh Julia it’s sweet)” as they eat…no good.

This year I decided to treat Tobaski like Christmas and got everyone in my family presents. I’ve been with the Njie family for almost a year now, and often I bring veggies or attaya (green tea) or sometimes frozen chicken, but no individual presents. SO:
Nene Umu – Guru kola nuts
Samba – white and green stripped polo
Susana – make-up case
Ami – photo album (re-gifted from a package, thanks m&d!)
Musa Njie – attaya cups, saucer, and glasses
Musa Jawo and Abdoulie – Football (soccer ball)
Ousman – athletic shirt and shorts set
Mairama, Bobo, and Sama – matching earrings
James – oops! I’ll get you something next trip jamesy.

My House the Menagerie

Now that rainy season (ndungu) is coming to close and we are eagerly anticipating the cool dry season of Nov, Dec, and Jan everything seems to be making nests and having babies.

When I returned from travelling in Morocco my backyard took a full afternoon to weed. After that I swept away the spider webs and ant hills that had accumulated in my hut. I opened one window and startled roughly 30 crickets. Next I moved outside to remove a hornet’s nest from the other window box.

As the week progressed I enjoyed watching a pair of what looks like house sparrows, but I haven’t found them in the bird book yet, build a nest under the overhang of my grass roof. One morning when I slept in a little later I was awoken by a rooster crowing from the peak of my roof. It only stopped when I dragged myself out of bed and shot it an evil glare from my backyard.

Two days ago I heard mewing. Cats are a common pet of PCVs and a few Gambians, but quickly become a pest as they continue to reproduce. Getting them fixed is expensive and dangerous away from Kombo. The mewing was clearly close to my hut, but I decided not to investigate, because surely the mother cat would move them soon.

The next morning, yesterday, the mewing was clearly very close to my hut. I went outside to brush my teeth and get ready for the day. I looked back at my house. A kitten head poked out of the straw roof and mewed down at me.

From inside I could see it clearly had a nice little hole for itself between the thatch and the sticks. As my family came in to investigate we determined there was not one but two kittens in my roof. I decided to deal with them later and headed into town.

When I got back around 5:30p my host brother Samba was returning from the neighbors with a ladder in tow. As he leaned it against my house he informed me he’s going to get it down. He grabs a long stick and heads up the ladder.

Now, you have to understand cats eat chickens (at least the small ones) and do not have the same household pet quality they have in the States (or Morocco, Morocco has some well fed street cats!). Also, most cats are kind of scrawny and slink around at night, so Gambians are pretty wary of them.

Samba climbed the ladder with the stick and when the curious kitten poked its head out again he swung. He missed the first time but the second swing Mariama yelled “He got one”
“It fell in the yard.”
“What?!” I rushed to the backyard to check the kitten’s vitals and see how it handled the fall.

It was a little shaken up, but fine. The other cat ducked for cover in my roofing grass and at this point we realized there were still 2 cats in my roof. So now 2 kittens are hiding in my roof, Samba is precariously walking around on my roof, I’m holding one kitten in my backyard deciding that hitting kittens down with sticks is too much for my American, pet loving conscience; when the new education PCV Sonja arrives to cook dinner.

Sonja is my new site mate. Before my closest site mate was 15km away, now Sonja is in Fatoto with me, 5 houses away. Her first time coming over to cook dinner and here I am trying to convince my host brother to come down and maybe the mom cat will come take the other ones away. After a few more minutes with no success, Samba comes down. Sonja decides she will care for the one kitten that we’ve retrieved and I’ve decided to deal with the other kittens tomorrow.

All in all 4 kittens were in my roof. They made a lovely little hole there for themselves that I can now see the moon through at night and is a wonderful skylight during the day. I don’t think I’ll be so happy come next rainy season, but it’s still several months away.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ndugu Ari!

The rains arrived! Well, not in their full force yet, but after no rain or just little sprinkles for 7 months the 1st big storm was wonderful!

I wrote in my journal: "Rain: Amazing, started June 6th, pink sky, wind, fire in the fields, then darkness and rain! I sat on the family's porch watching with them. Clouds: Today (the morning after the storm) there were clouds in the sky, big puffy white clouds 'just like America' as one Gambian boy informed me. Bugs: hewi (a lot) of varying sizes, colors, speeds, modes of travel, abilities to infiltrate my mosquito net or frighten me in the yard, and appear from seemingly dry, dead, rock hard clay and sand. Centipedes, camel spiders, big beetles, and mites that look like red fuss from a pipe cleaner."

I biked the 42 k into Basse this past Thursday for the 1st time in awhile and the trip was actually pleasant. Everything is starting to get green, and the foliage makes some of the long stretches of the trip shaded and pretty.

The birds around now are pretty adorable. Little tweeting gray ones with bright red eye stripes or green butts, big loud squawking colorful ones, and even some green parrots in the yard of the Basse Office yesterday.

My trip to Basse this weekend was to help facilitate a workshop on implementing the peer tutoring program started by Mimuna (PCV I replaced) and one of the teachers at the Fatoto Senior school. As we started the workshop, I sat in the front of a roomful of teachers and principals preparing to explain to them how to teach their students to teach, and realized how completely unqualified I was. Luckily they didn't notice and the 2 day workshop went well. The teachers seemed excited about the idea of peer tutoring and the changes seen so far in Fatoto, with students being more engaged in their learning and staying for extra sessions. Hopefully that means they will try to train some tutors at their schools!

I can always think of things to write when I'm not near a computer, but then it's gone by the time I get here in front of the keyboard. If any of you reading this have questions or ideas of things you want me to write about let me know!

For PC I completed a 'job description' that I'll post as well. It's concise buy will give you an idea of what I'm working on/ hoping to work on in the future.

Thank you for all your letters, packages, internet conversations (infrequent), skype moments (rare), and love! I miss you all and gobble up news about you like I would a bacon cheeseburger or a kopp's special!!

Friday, May 28, 2010

May 6th Post

I actually typed this May 6th, but didn't have internet. I'll hopefully post again soon so you can have a more current update on my adventures...

Six months in country!!! Wow it doesn’t feel like I’ve been here that long, but there you go. The first two weeks of April I took my first trip down to the Banjul area, for In-service Training and then all volunteer conference. Three months up country and I needed a sweater for the ‘cold’ nights in Banjul (I would guess low 60s) and I was a little taken aback by a display of kids tricycles, something not really for sale up country.

After training I spent almost two weeks at site. It was nice to be back with my family, and mangoes are ripe now, so the heat doesn’t seem as bad. However after two busy weeks in kombo I felt a bit lazy sitting with my family on the bantaba. I was able to help with the polio vaccination treks around the Kantora district, which let me visit some new towns around and meet some new people. One compound gave me a bag of peanuts after we vaccinated their under 5 children and chatted a bit in Pulaar. Then at the lumo (weekly market) in Fatoto I ran into one of the older girls from the compound who gave me a big friendly greeting!! It’s always encouraging to be recognized and greeted by name around the area.

Fatoto also hosted a wrestling competition this past Monday and Tuesday. Wrestling is a more traditional sport in the Gambia, more so than football at least, which is the most popular. They fenced off a huge area of one field, strung a line of carnival style lights, attached it to a generator and charged D25 for admission. The event was planned to start at 9pm. It didn’t actually get started until about 10:30pm and when I left at 1:30a I was informed it would go until about 3a but I was catching a gele to Basse at 6:30a so I had to get a bit of sleep.

The wrestling was amazing to see. Spectators were either seated in chairs (kids on the ground) or standing behind the chairs all along the fenced area. There were typically two matches going at the same time. There didn’t seem to be a referee, the two men competing decided when to start, take a break if they wanted to move under the lights better, and who ultimately won. They wore brightly colored mini skirt like wraps of colored tassels, which seem to be the traditional outfit, with modern spandex shorts and leggings underneath. Some fancier skirt/wraps had bells that jingled on the fringe.

Overall I’m really enjoying life in the Gam, though I do miss all of you, and love getting little updates either via mom, the limited time I have to facebook ‘research’, and best of all when you send letters!!! Work is sporadic, like for example last week I was just sitting with my family for several days enjoying their company and working with the kids on their homework. This week I went to the Forestry and Education offices to work on coordinating an annual tree nursery competition among the schools that PCTG helps support, I’m going back tonight to join the Kantora Bee Keepers Association with harvesting and building a new honey processing house for them, and I’m hopefully building another mud stove for Susana, and maybe getting some of the other women in town to come learn how to make one for themselves!!

Love to you all!!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Yay for the Interwebs!

Hello all!!

It's been awhile, sorry. We just put internet into the transit house up in Basse so now I have a little bit more access to the rest of the world. I'm also trying to post some photos right now, so hopefully that will work and you will at least get to see some of what my life is like here!

We swore-in as real volunteers in January and then heading off to our different parts of the country. I the furthest east volunteer in country, and I love it! My town is amazing and my host family is even better. I might still be in the 'honeymoon' stage as they call it, but my goal is for that to last for two years!

Family: I have a youngish host dad and his wife live in the compound, along with his mom, sister (and sometimes her new husband), 19 yr old brother, and 17 yr old brother (in the loose sense). Samba (my 'dad/bro') has three kids and his sister Ami also has three living in the compound.

Story about family: Susana, whose name is actually Fanta but no one calls her that, came out for dinner one night wearing some very sassy skinny jeans and a tight white tee. Very different from her typical wrap skirt. She asked if I liked the jeans and I said of course yes! they're great. Then she announced 'Samba doesn't like it when I wear these' mind you Samba was sitting about 2m from me.

After dinner, Susana asked if I wanted to talk a walk over to her family's compound. I agreed and went inside to get a wrap for my hair (i like to wear it when I'm out around town.) We headed out of the compound me in my long skirt and head wrap, Susana in her skinny jeans, tight white tee, and saucy american style hair do. It was great!! As we walked through town Susana got WAY more attention that me... a first I think.

Work(ish): I've started a girls football (soccer) club at the high school in my town, mostly because the girls came and requested one. After the first meeting it had become a football, volleyball, basketball club. To think 5 yrs ago i was calling my brother to ask the rules of basketball and now I'm coaching a team!

Two weeks ago I went on trek with the forestry department of the gambia and another pc volunteer, to survey the land of the gambia and how communities use their natural resources. It was very similar to working with US gov in that it took a long time and there were way more people than necessary. I did make some good contacts with new forestry people, and will be able to work with them in the future. Hopefully with helping communities set up community forests and helping them manage their resources.

Women’s gardens are the big thing to work with in the ENRM sector, and there are several around. All need wells and fencing of some sort, but for now I’m just trying to help water, exchange seeds, and give pointers that I learned 2 months ago in training. This does however get me good access to vegetables, which are delicious.

Visitors: Please come!! It’s getting hotter now and the rains won’t come until June, but then it is supposedly very green, but difficult to get around on the roads. After the rains end in August and September it’s muggy but still green and apparently feels hotter than now. Then it starts to get cool. So the prime time to visit is beginning of Oct through Feb. I have nothing on my schedule yet, so let me know!!!

I miss and love you all and think of your often! Send me letters, it only takes about two months for mail to travel, but I love hearing about christmas in Feb!