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.