Sunday, February 27, 2011

As of Feb 27th

(Remember this blog just reflects my views and does not in anyways reflect those of the US government or the Peace Corps)

Things would be great except about half us came down with food poisoning and we are stuck in the med office. On the plus side I’ve got internet today. Its weird but the trends seem to be if we have access to the internet or a tv somehow I lose interest. Its very strange.

This week was packed. On Thursday we had our marathon march. We hiked 25 km through the Gambian bush. It was a really fun day and we got to see a lot of different landscapes. We hiked through lush community gardens, dry salt flats, muddy mangroves, arid desert like areas with spiny plants. The best part of the day was the ‘walk’ through the mangroves. It started out as a walk through the mud but in the end we all ended up swimming in the river trying to keep our bags above our heads. It felt amazing after the hot hiking. Somewhere in the distance we could hear drumming, it was very surreal. We also walked through a village that had a bunch of murals on buildings and people’s homes. I guess some British NGO brought over famous artists who did some pro bono work. It was like finding a secret art museum hidden in the bush.

Other than the march and the food poisoning we’ve just had a lot of sessions lately. We had a language session this week and I did really well, I got the score that would allow me to move out to site- woot!!!


I’m behind on this blog so here are some highlights of things I’ve done:

Naming Ceremony: My name ceremony happened the first week I was in village. Gambian babies are named 7 days after they are born so this was probably one of the first times adults have had a naming ceremony. PCV are given Gambian names to better fit into the culture and so that people can pronouns our names.

For the ceremony we dressed up in borrowed OGambian clothes, including headwraps for Emily and I. Scott wore a huge green robe that made him look like some kind of prophet. The ceremony was at the Akaluos (head of the village) compound. Our host families came along with half the village. There were drummers so we had some great music and dancing. We each sat on the mat and they pretended to shave our heads, as is tradition for babies. Then our host fathers whispered our names into the announcers ear. I became Fatumata after my host sister. She is now my tokaran (same name).

The Kankuran: The first month I was here the KanKuran was coming around morning and evening. The Kankuran is a man from the village who dresses up in a fringed red outfit and walks around town banging machettes together and yelling Hiiaaaaayaaaa!!!!. He protects the children in the circumcision camp from evil spirits. Children who are being circumcised live away from their families for a month while they learn about growing up. At the end of the month they are brought back to their families with a huge celebration. There is lots of drumming, dancing, and food. We got to attend and ended up dancing in the streets till 1 am.

Zimba: Zimba was nuts. Zimba is a performance that originated in Senegal and is used to raise money, in my village it was for the local elementary school. There was a drum circle that played continuously for hours while the Zimbas danced. There was some sort of plot about a man slaying a lion but it was hard to follow, partly because the performers were so distracting. The lion had on layer after layer of frayed clothes and a horned wig on his head. The Zimbas were men in bright, fringy stirrup pants and shirts. They were all heavily face painted and hardly looked human. Their pelvic areas were also heavily decorated, one had a bunch of flowers there. These guys were amazing dancers, although they were super suggestive. They did flips and rolls for hours. One climbed straight up a tree with lightning speed.

The Maribo:

One night my host sister took me to a Maribo. A Maribo is a fortune teller of sorts that has religious element. He was an old man with a leathered face heavily lined from smiling. His eyes twinkled in the candle light as he threw shells and told us what he saw. I couldn’t understand a word but was instructed to pat the shells and touch my head every once and while when a good reading came up for luck. My sister said that he saw that I was good, that I had no trouble, and that my home people in the US were alright. My sister was told to give out charity to help her body pains.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

1) dressed up for naming ceremony
2) my house
3) My host mom and I
4) My host dad and brother
5) A Zimba!


I’ve got just over a week until we move out of our training villages. I’m going to miss Yuna, the village I’ve been living in. It took a while but I feel pretty comfortable here now and I enjoy spending time with my host family. Last night they taught me to brew Ataaya. To truly fit into the Gambian culture it is an important skill to have.

Attaya is a tea that most Gambians brew a few times a day. It was brought into this country by Arabic traders and it stuck. The tea is an extremely bitter green tea from China that is chuck full of caffeine. To counteract the bitterness a shot glass of sugar is added to every brew. The sugar is mixed in by a series of pours where the tea is moved between two small glasses Ataaya brewing is a process that takes about 45mins. The tea is brewed and served three times per session. A small shot of Ataaya jump starts your heart and almost replaces the Roos Roast that I am sorely missing. Ataaya brewing is a social thing, something men typically do throughout the day.

My fellow trainees and I are learning so much about the Gambian way of life. Everything will hopefully help us to integrate into our communities and build strong relationships. The food bowl is something we’ve focused on. The Gambians eat all their meals from a common food bowl. The entire family will gather around a large bowl of rice and sauce, unless the family is too big and then more bowls will be added the group will divide by age and gender. Food is eaten with the right hand from the part of the bowl directly in front of you. I’ve gotten pretty good at eating with my hand but my style is properly seen as undignified.

Gambians are very generous with food. No one has to be invited to a meal to be able to eat it. If you are around when food is served you are expected to at least take a bite. The more you eat the happier your host will be. When I walk around the village around a meal time I hear shouts from multiple compounds asking me to eat with them. It’s amazing how many people can fit around a food bowl. The hospitality and friendliness of the Gambians surprises me every day. Everyone greets. A chair is always found for a guest. And everyone wants you to join them for a meal or Ataaya.

It’s hard to believe training is almost over. I’ve learned a lot of cool things. Neem Cream is a mosquito repellent that can be made with leaves from a local tree and a few cheap ingredients. Yesterday I learned to cook some baby foods with local ingredients. We’ve also built tippy taps from local bedongs (large recycled plastic containers). They are a way to create a stream of water for handwashing. Most of the technical training will be after swear in.

Friday, February 11, 2011

This blog reflects ONLY my views and thoughts not Peace Corps or the United States government.

First post from the Gambia, Sorry it is such a long time coming. The internet and electricity are hard to come by! I’ve been in training for about 5 weeks. It’s exhausting with very little personal time but I’ve learned a ton. We focus a lot on culture and language to help get us integrated into our communities. The idea is that with if you can integrate into your community and gain their trust it will be possible to gain trust and create lasting change.
The Gambians have a very rich culture. There are many things all that are practiced throughout Gambia and others that are unique to each tribe. Despite being such a small country there are over 7 tribes here each with their own language. These tribes have lived together and intermarried for a long time but still have managed to keep their own language and customs. Since most villages have a mix of tribes in them people communicate with each other by learning the other languages. The Gambians are AMAZING at languages. Most speak at least 3 local languages and many are very good at English too. The Peace Corps is training me in just one but I will be able to speak it all over the country. Gambians take a lot of pride in their tribe, and their last names. They joke between themselves and tease each other about their tribes. Usually the jokes are about how the other tribe eats too much or are lazy.
I am learning Pular the language of the Fula tribe. They are one of the smaller tribes here but they have a very rich culture. There are Fulas all over West Africa so I am excited about being able to use my language skills in other countries too. Fulas are traditional cow herders but do everything now. They are also known for their jewelery and tattoos. Only two other volunteers are learning Pular with me.
To learn the language we moved into a training village and live with host families. These families mostly only speak Pular to us so we have to practice all the time. I cannot believe how much I know after a month. My host family is great, they are very kind to me. My host father, Mamadou, is a gardener and takes care of 3 gardens by himself. He has brought me a watermelon and some beans that were very delicious! (I cooked some American style and he said he liked them). My host father has one wife and 3 young kids. This is rare in the Gambia. Families are huge here. Polygamy is widely practiced and having children is very important. Everyone lives in compounds, which are groups of small houses sometimes walled off, with an open area between them. My compound is still full because my host fathers mother and other family members live there too. My host mother, Jarry, lets me help her cook which is fun. I was named after my host sister Fatu Mata who is around my age. I really enjoy spending time with her and her younger cousin Rabbie. My host brothers Mums, Samba, and Alfa all help me practice Pular. I will miss all off them when I move to my permanet site in a few weeks.
I've been posted in the Central River Region on the north side of the river in a village about JanJanbury. The job title is pretty open but there is a skill center there where they are working on appropreate technology which is exciting! I hope to get invloved there. So far there has been no technical training, that will come 3 months after swear in. I ended up getting placed in the health sector so I am learning a lot for the few sessions we've had.