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!