Sunday, January 29, 2012

One Year In

It’s official. Over a year ago I arrived in the Gambia. I was describing to a friend how I feel like time here moves like our public transportation: either you are holding on for dear life flying down the road or you are sitting next to a broken car thinking that you will be stuck here forever.

Christmas brought an amazing present; Michael, my twin brother, came for a visit! It was so great to have a friendly face here. I got to experience a different side of the Gambia while we spent a few days at lodges relaxing and eating good food. Our favorite place was right on the beach. I made sure he also got the real Gambian experience too and took him up to my village. I’ve gotten so used to the way things work here that I forgot Michael might be uncomfortable on the slow ferri across the river or annoyed by having to wait two hours for a car to fill. But in the end we made it. My village smothered him with their overzealous welcoming and poor Michael had to greet everybody. My host family and village friends were so excited to meet him since family is so important to the culture here and they didn’t believe I actually had any.

One day we went to a weekly market which I am sure was overwhelming for Michael. New Year’s Eve we spent with my friend Samba who plays a fiddle made of horse hair and the skin of a lizard. We danced while he played and his wife sang. The village kids and women got down too. It was a great way to bring in the 2012. On New Year’s Day we took an amazing ride down the Gambian river and saw hippos and a crocodile. That was a first for me and very exciting. My close friends in village gave Michael gifts to take home, mostly for my mom as a sign of respect for my family.

Michael doesn’t know this but everyone in my village called him “Minirowo Ma” or younger [brother]. That is because in Pular there is no word for brother or sister just older or younger sibling. In Gambian culture the twin to come out first is considered the younger sibling because it is thought that the older twin sent their sibling on ahead to scope out the world for them. Michael always holds his extra five minutes over my head but here I win!

I was sad to see him fly out again and know it would be so long until we’ll meet again. I kept busy by finishing up the pump repair project that I wrote about before. I want to send my deepest thanks to those of you who helped contribute to fix it! We were able to buy new parts to replace old parts that have been worn down from decades of use. A local man from a village near ours came over and we pulled the pipe 36 meters out of the ground. All the men in my village spent a day in the sun watching was everything was taken apart and pieces got replaced. I was fascinated to watch as well. The actual pumping mechanism was so small. It was a very slow process to lower everything back in the hole but now things are working great! With two functioning pumps in the village the line for water has gotten a lot shorter. Everyone is so happy. Thanks again!

My ongoing project of helping the women’s group sell their handcrafts got more complicated today. I was so excited because I made contact with a woman who sells crafts here in the capital to the hordes of tourists that come to use the beach. She heard about our traditional jewelry and was eager to see samples and place an order. I brought some with my friend Dowda today. She thought the necklaces were very beautiful but didn’t like our prices. The problem is that a lot of what the tourist craft markets have here is actually imported from places like China or Turkey were it can be made cheaply. The markets are chuck full of identical, imported, ‘African’ crafts. We have to ask for triple or quadruple the wholesale price of most of her other items. She is going to think about buying from us but it doesn’t look good. It makes me so angry that fake, cheap things are being past off for authentic crafts and the money from the tourists isn’t staying in the Gambia where it is needed.

I’m trying to soak up what is left of the cold season. It was great for a while, some nights I needed a sweatshirt to sleep in. The heat is fast approaching as is wedding season and naming ceremonies for the babies. My host father has saved money to have a ceremony for his three youngest children and I am looking forward to celebrating, there will be some really good food.

Thanks for reading. I miss you all- send me some letters or emails please ;-)