Sunday, November 20, 2011


Today I’m 24, celebrating my first birthday off American soil and away from my twin. To compensate some friends and I checked into a fancy hotel here in the Gambia and spent last night soaking up as much comfort as we could. I took 3 hot showers, slept like a baby on a mattress that had springs, and floated in the pool. It was amazing; tomorrow it’s back to village. In village no one will understand the concept of a birthday, the are not special or remembered.

I apologize for how long it’s taken me to post again, but it’s a good sign, I’ve been busy. Tobaski was a couple of weeks ago, it’s the big holiday in here. Tobaski celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son when God asked him to and the ram that was killed instead. Tobaski here is a big day for prayers, nice clothes, and a ram fest. In the morning I was graciously invited out to the prayer fields. The whole village gathered under a large tree field behind the village. Many people wore white, it was beautiful out in the sunshine. Afterwards I helped my host moms prepare lunch while my host father went out to slaughter the ram. We had “Sauce and Bennachin”- an oily rice with squash, potatoes, onions, eggplant, and ram. The men traveled in groups and ate a few different lunches in different compounds. The women waited until they were full and then got together, each on bringing a bowl and we ate together.

Then it was time for Salibo! For Salibo the kids and teenagers get all dressed up. Even the poorest families find a way to get their kids in new clothes, even if they have to go into debt. My host sisters went all out, especially enjoying the eye shadow I got them. After getting all dressed up they travel around in groups to the different compounds asking for “Salibo”. Salibo is kind of like trick or treating. You give out a small amount of money to a large group of kids or some candy. The kids share their money and have a party the next day with juice or sweet milk. Young married women also go out for Salibo so I went with my host moms and a bunch of other women. It was especially fun because I had an asobe, a matching outfit, with my host moms. My job was to get photos of everyone in their nice outfits. At night you relax and brew Attaya or sweet milk and go to be exhausted. We had goat for the next two days, scary due to the lack of refrigeration.

Everyone’s been spending a lot of time in the fields. A lot of the crops are in already. We harvest the corn in September. Next came the coos mid-October. Now it’s the groundnuts (peanuts). Everyone is back to eating three square meals again. I’ve been helping bring in some of the food. It’s a lot of work! For the groundnuts my host father had to plow up the plants first. After they dry for a while we picked them up and throw them into piles where they sit till they are thrown on to a bigger pile. Later a small shelter is built around them until they can be slowly, slowly brought back home. This year we ate groundnuts up until June before they ran out.

I’ve done a few things since my last blog post. In September the PCVs put on an environmental camp for 7-9th grade girls. I brought one of the teachers from the school in my village because we also had sessions on classroom management and visual aids. I team taught a few sessions on overpopulation, appropriate technology, and a fun craft section where we made bugs from recycled material. I made a fun visual aid for the overpopulation session. We wanted to relate the information to what the girls know so I made a village on a rice bag with removable parts. We added drawings of more people and subtracted trees from the forest and fish from the river. The appropriate technology session was right up my alley, but it was a hard concept to explain in an hour. We also had a drama for the girls to illustrate how they should go back to village and spread their new knowledge. I played an old man trying to put batteries in his field to energize them, It was silly. The camp was a lot of fun! We had about 30 girls from all over the Gambia. It was so cool to take girls out of the village and give them a week where they didn’t have to fetch any water or cook any meals. It was a completely new experience for most of the girls, going away to camp is a new concept in the Gambia.

In October I was part of a trek PCVs did to educate about HIV and AIDS. Four teams taught at four different schools about how HIV is acquired, prevention, medication, extra. The best part was that I had a Gambian counterpart that I taught with. Her name is Mariatou and she is an 8th grader who is part of the health club at the Bansang Middle school. Her English is great and she did a wonderful job. I was so impressed. We practiced before the trek (I went to her compound and met her family) and in the classroom she taught a good portion of the two day lesson to students in the grade ahead of her! I felt like I was working with the next Gambian minister for health.

After the HIV bike trek most of the Peace Corps went to Kanili where the President had a program to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps and 45 years of service in the Gambia. The President feed us two good meals and there were a bunch of speeches. It was an interesting evening. I got to shake his hand twice and he gave all of us new outfits. We preformed our silly camp drama. So I’ve cross dressed in front of a head of state now. By 2 am we had been properly thanked and feed. It was very, very interesting…

Otherwise village life has been the same. I’m really enjoying spending time with my host family. My baby host sister calls me mom, it’s so cute. I’ve been tutoring a lot lately. A teacher at the school wanted to start a health club so we have our first meeting next week on Malaria. I’m continuing the saga on how to help my womens group sell their beaded jewelry. I'm also raising money to fix a water pump in my village(click to donate). I'll try to write again soon!

Friday, August 19, 2011

a spoonful weighs a ton

One night while I was lying out with my host family after dinner, looking at the stars, one of my host moms went into her house and came back with a jar. She began to smear Neem cream all over her sleeping baby. A few minutes later my other host mom went and got her jar of the mosquito repellent and slathered up her sleeping kids. My host father asked for some and his wife asked me to get her back. I just laid there and watched, grinning ear to ear. They listened to me! They were making a change, working to reduce their chances of getting malaria. The next day my host mom hung up mosquito nets outside on poles so they could sleep outside protected. I am so proud.

My campaign to get people to use Neem cream and fight against malaria is going pretty well I think, I have made some believers. I’ve done a lot more demos with women who have heard about it and want to learn. One woman got really interested and started making batches and selling them. That led to some lessons about basic business concepts. She is loving her profits. Other women are trying to break into the market as well.

Moringa is growing tall all over my area. Back in July three friends of mine came to my village for a Moringa Trek. We planted Moringa for three days and got almost two thousand trees in the ground at seven different sites. And it is growing like a weed, up to my hip already. I held a nutritional talk about it with my village that went great. I drew up illustrations about all the benefits you can get from the leaves; a muscular woman for protein, a skeleton and teeth for calcium, and the hardest of all a happy mother and child sort of glowing with sick people around them for vitamins. The images went over great and people said they were really happy to understand why it was so good for them. Seems like maybe I should do more nutrition talks in the future. We also discussed how best to cook with the Moringa leaves. I showed them how to dry the leaves and make a powder that can be sprinkled on every meal (virtually tasteless) to add nutrients all day long. Three spoon fulls a day provides almost all the daily requirements a person needs.

I’ve got other irons in the fire: trying to find a better market for my women’s group to sell their traditional beaded jewelry; writing a grant to repair one of our handpumps; and writing lesson plans for an environmental girls camp in September that I will be helping with. I’ve really enjoyed working with my women’s group more and more. They make really beautiful multistringed beaded pieces. These are traditionally worn by a Fula bride who might have a headpiece, choker, necklaces, bracelets, bin bins (for the waist), and multiple anklets. They make really elaborate pieces were some appear almost woven.

With August we are in the middle of raining season, malaria season, hungry season, and Ramadan. Food is harder to come by as the stores from last year dwindle. People work hard to get next year’s crop planted. The rains have been really light this year. The crops are still small in the fields and for a long time people were worried they wouldn’t grow at all. People don’t remember seeing this little rain for thirty years. It’s a problem, especially when everyone is a subsistence farmer. A harsh draught would be a disaster, much like what eastern Africa is going through. I’ve been going out and helping my host family with their fields. We leave early in the morning and walk forty minutes out to their fields. Then its hours bent at the waist over the rows with a hoe hacking the weeds. Man is it hard work! My hands keep getting blisters and I couldn’t sweat any more. But the Gambians are significantly more hard core as they are working while fasting, no food or drink during the daylight hours. I tried it once on a day where I didn’t help in the fields. It was so tough. All I could do was lay around. Since then I’ve just skipped lunch and drank like a fish.

Over seven months in and I'm a quarter way through my service! Its hard to believe, time is starting to move really fast. I'll be home before you know it but in the mean time I miss you all so much! Send me an email or letter, I'd like some news from my friends.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Six Months In

The idea that I left America six months ago baffles me, I don’t really believe it. Part of me feels like I’ve only been here a short time, another part of me feels like I’ve been here forever. I’ve never been away from home this long.

This week is my In Service Training. It’s a week of technical training and the last official Peace Corps event I have on my calendar until next year’s all volunteer conference. For the next 21 months it is up to me to decide what to do with my time and my village.

I feel like I’ve gotten to know my area pretty well. Since my last post I made in effort to explore the villages around mine as well. My counterpart and I visited the a few a day. Surrounding my village there are seven other Jamalli villages and four more with other names. Most of them are pretty small, Jamalli Kabajo is only has one compound (one family). Most of the villages speak Pular but a few only speak Wolof so I can’t communicate and need a translator for everything. Visiting Jamalli Tamsir was especially fun. I sat down with most of the adults in the village and discussed possible projects that we might do together over the next two years (this was the same conversation that I’ve been having in all the villages). We talked about gardens and the need for a more reliable water source. People were very excited and they gave me a live chicken as a welcome gift. That felt good.

Going around to other villages also gave me the opportunity to invite the women to a Neem cream demonstration that my counterpart and I held a few days later. Neem cream is a lotion that can be made from the leaves of a local tree (Neem) that repels mosquitos and decreases the chances for catching malaria. Only three ingredients are needed, soap, neem leaves, and oil and a batch can be made in about an hour for roughly two U.S. dollars. I’ve wore the cream before and have to say I like it better than DET repellent from back home. The demonstration went really well. Forty five women showed up from eight different villages. We made two batches, I cooked one and the women cooked the other. Along with a batch my counterpart and I made the night before we were able to let every woman take some home to their families. Along with cooking the cream we made lunch, drank juice, and had a dance party. I worked with some women in my village known for their singing abilities to write a song about Neem cream. In Pular we sang “ We can reduce Malaria” “With Neem Cream we can fight Malaria”, “Cook Neem leaves, soap, and oil”, “Apply every night after prayers!” and “ Don’t eat it because it is poison!”. The women brought metal bowls and bidongs to drum on and we danced and danced. The Wolof women translated it into their own language too. Now two weeks later I still catch women singing our song around village.

The last few weeks I’ve also been trying to get as much Moringa trees in the ground as I can before the rains come. We’ve had a few storms already at night but they are late in coming consistently. I think I’ve written about Moringa already but just in case… Moringa trees are AMAZING. The Moringa tree, in its various parts, is chuck full of good nutrients; vitamins, calcium, and even protein. The leaves are especially good because you can harvest them so often for consumption and leaf sauce is already a popular dish in the Gambia. The leaves can also be dried and pounded into a powder that can be sprinkled on every meal. Lots of Moringa could do a lot for malnutrition here. So far I’ve planted 250 trees in leaf intensity bed in our Women’s Garden and another 200 in the school with the help of the fourth graders. A leaf Intensity bed is where the trees are planted very close to each other, the trees are kept very short and the leaves can be collected every nine weeks. Right after the fourth of July some of my PC friends are going to come to my village and we are going to trek around and plant a bunch more in the surrounding villages.

It hasn’t been all work in the last few weeks. I had some volunteer friends come and visit. We had a great time walking around and speaking English. Training in the capital is going well. Tomorrow is gardening!

Miss you all. Send me a letter!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

waydi debbo na danni

Back in the capital again… this time for business.

The last few days have been a much needed break from the stress of village life. I am coming to feel very comfortable and happy in my village but it is nice to eat some American food and speak in English for a while. Luckily this trip came at the same time as the training for a group of my friends and it has been SO nice to see everyone again. After months in village everyone is looking very different. It is so great to talk with everyone, and compare notes. We are all enjoying some good food, drinks, and the beach.

I’ve still been taking a lot of time to get to know my village. I’ve been to all the compounds and met everyone. With my counterpart I have been conducting interviews to find out what projects people feel the village needs most. I’ve also held some meeting in the village to find out the same thing. These along with my observations has pointed out a few areas to focus work in:

1) Improving water availability. With the pumps out of commission so often fetching water can take anywhere from a half hour to three every day. No woman should have to do this.

2) Combating malaria. With Neem cream, bed nets, and environmental cleanup.

3) Improving crop yields in both the farms and gardens. So composting, natural pesticides, fences…

4) Education, especially jolly phonics.

5) Improving nutrition, especially with children. I want to plant as many Moringa trees as possible.

So I’m at the beginning of this two years… you’ll have to wait and see what I get done.

I’ve been in village for a while so I’ll just describe some of my favorite moments:

- Working with the women to heat up nails and put holes into irrigation pipes for the drip irrigation system in our garden

- Making them a jolly phonics visual aids for the nursery class on rice bags (because they were cheap and available). Dropping them off in the school with the kids was so much fun. They sang for me. I’ve been spending more and more time at the school. I really enjoy hanging out there; the teachers speak English really well and are passionate about teaching. I showed up one day when the 4th grade teacher was out sick. So I took over the afternoon class and we worked on using the present progressive tense by acting out charades of different English verbs. It was so much fun.

- Translating Sleeping Beauty (waydi debbo na danni- pretty woman sleeping) into the best Pular I could for my little sister and her friends. I didn’t know how to say things like fairy or spindle but it went rather well.

- Taking short trips to Basse, Chamin, and Bansang. I biked to Bansang about 35k away to see a friend and go to the market. Getting to see different parts of the country has been great. Its surprisingly diverse despite being such a small country. Chamin is beautiful, full of palm trees and right by the river. Basse is super hot but has a great pc hangout and a large market.

- Dropping the bride off at her new village with a large number of women from my village. It is the third day in a series of celebrations. A car left stuffed with people all singing and with piles of gifts the new bride will use to make her home. We arrived in the morning a feasted on Gambian dishes: sweet milk tea, benachin, juice. We stuffed ourselves. There was lots of dancing. The traditional style is to form a circle around one person dancing in the middle. There is lots of drumming and clapping and booty shaking. Always I got pulled into the center much to the enjoyment of everyone present. We celebrated until late into the night and slept on whatever surface we could find.

I’m heading back to village soon, I’ll be back in a few weeks for my in service training. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

failed 3 month challenge

Well I didn't make it to three months. Three weeks in and I had to come back to the capital to see a doctor. I'm fine now and I got a few days online! Being out at village is going pretty good. I've been working hard to get to know the people I will be living with for the next three years. Its a fairly small village with only 30 compounds. I'm trying to learn everyone’s name, well at least the adults. I am working with a leader in the village to take a census of the village and writing down everyone’s name and age. Its going to be a good Segway into working on my village assessment assignment. This assignment is a report on the village that analysis the villages current state and looks for areas that could be improved. Hopefully it will identify what projects I will be spending the next two years on. I have a few ideas already. I know I'd like to tutor some of the village children, especially my host sister who’s in the third grade here. We've been spending the hot afternoons under our mango tree reviewing the alphabet. And man have there been a lot of those hot days, some have been saying that it got up to 130F recently. My village shuts down around from noon till about 4pm when the heat is at its worst.

Most days I've been waking up early and going to fetch water. My village has three hand pumps, and they have been breaking a lot. So now my entire village is using just one pump, this makes for a long line and a long walk home. I can balance a smallish bucket on my head, which is actually makes it easier. After the water fetching I do a few chores, sometimes laundry. Then I find my counterpart and we start working on the census. We work until its too hot and then go relax. I eat with my family out of the common bowl and lunch is usually very good. In the late afternoon I go to the women’s garden. I've planted some squash, okra, and cucumbers because they all like this hot season. These are the things I do every day. There is also a lot of sitting a chatting in peoples compounds, drinking attaya. I am also looking after my new kitten, Bowie (in Space). I hope he/she will grow up to kill a lot of rodents around my house. Twice so far I've gone to the weekly market, lumo, up the road a half an hour. Its a crazy place where I am happy to say it seems you can find just about anything. Including Peace Corps volunteers from neighboring villages, which is a nice treat.

I've been going to a lot of ceremonies lately. My village has had three naming ceremonies since I've been there. I also have been to a wedding ceremony now. They are intense and last for days. First you have a celebration for the bride in her village. She gets so decked out in Pular bling. Hana Anklets, bracelets, necklaces and even elaborate hair beads. The confusing part is after all of this she says hidden under a veil the entire time. I only know what she looked like because they let me peak. Tons of people gather for dancing, drumming, and eating. The party continues the next night when the bride is brought to her new husband’s village. I still am unclear about all different traditions and what the actually ceremony consists of. But this is wedding season so maybe I will figure it out soon.

Two more months of three month challenge! Tomorrow its back to village again…