Sunday, October 29, 2006
Rainy season starts at the end of June signaling the end of the school so everyone is available for planting. The men plant and look after perhaps several cash crops—coos, corn and groundnuts and the women look after the rice. Everyone is working hard and gone most of the day tending to his or her crops.
It’s also known as the hungry season. Stores are getting low and there isn't much left from the previous year's cash crops. Since everyone is out in the fields, gardens are left unattended and there are few vegetables available.
My compound becomes a giant goo of mud. The quad of my compound grows nothing—no shade trees (mangoes are the best), no grass (grass attracts snakes and other unpleasant animals), nothing so it just becomes a muddy mess. Things are more likely to get moldy although I haven't experience that in my house. Other volunteers complain of moldy clothes, shoes and everything else.
When it rains things cool off but otherwise the humidity makes everyone sweat doing the smallest task. After the rainy season ends there's a month of just the sticky humidity and constant sweating while doing nothing without the rain to cool things off. Prickly heat and heat rash are common from the constantly salty damp skin.
Because of the standing water everywhere from the rain there are plenty of mosquitoes. Some areas of the country have mosquitoes all year but I'm lucky that they are only here during the rainy season and even then they aren't bad compared to other places. Still I keep myself awake at night or wake myself up scratching if I am bitten too many times while sitting outside with my family at night before bed.
When I was first here working at my school the teachers were astonished to learn that there are indeed mosquitoes in America (Toubabodou). I explained that there are plenty but we just don't have malaria. Most of them couldn't believe that there could be a place with mosquitoes and no malaria. Only the biology teacher knew that only certain mosquitoes carry malaria. I've since learned that malaria has been nearly wiped out in the States thanks to DDT. I've also learned that there are people campaigning for a broader use of DDT in Africa to do the same here to save lives of people but this campaign is met with resistance from environmental groups. It certainly is a difficult issue.
I am in a village in the middle of the worst road in the country. I don't even know what to compare the road to—I've never seen anything like it anywhere. The rains make it worse. Drivers don't know how deep potholes are that are filled with water. Potholes grow bigger with more rain. More of the road is washed out. Detour routes become too muddy so drivers have to stick to the potholed road. Travel times double and journeys make the body sore with all the jostling and longer time spent sitting on the same position. Even the map of The Gambia says "Road conditions to Soma are poor!" The company that was working on the north bank road moved to my road at the beginning of this last rainy season and things are beginning to look better. It took them four years to get as far as they did on the north bank road and it isn't even completely paved yet though it is smooth.
One of my favorite things to do when it rains during the day is to watch the babies and kids running around and playing in the rain. It's a bath without the pesky soap and all the trouble of having to fetch water. The older kids just stand or run along the run off from the corrugate roofs. The babies and small children run around naked slipping and sliding in the mud not caring where the water comes from only that it's refreshing and that it will occupy their time for at least a few minutes. Sometimes it's not so bad having such a sloshy messy muddy compound seeing how much joy the children get from running around in it and the adults get from watching them have fun.
The rains are finished now and I won't see another drop of water from the sky until about next June. It was nice and I'll certainly enjoy the fruits of the rains literally--the watermelon here now is amazing.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Recently I had my hair braided with extentions 'Rasta style'. It was fun. I was complimented often by many Gambians. I've been here long enough that I don't think it even looked strange on me, a crazy white lady. Often the question that followed, "You are so beautiful with those braids," was, "Who braided your hair?" It's important to give credit where credit is due so I always proudly answered that Ndumbeh braided my hair. She owns her own salon which is a nice small business for a person in The Gambia to have. How do I know Ndumbeh? She is my sister's uncle's wife. So why isn't she just my aunt?
Family relations here are divided between the father's side and the mother's side. I live with a host family. The man who runs the family I call my father, his wife that lives there is my mother and the children that live there or are by these parents are my siblings. I live in an extended family compound so my father's brothers' families also live there. My father's brothers are also called my fathers. Their children are therefore called my brothers and sisters. My father's sisters on the other hand are my aunties. Their children are my cousins. On my mother's side it's similar. My mother's sisters are my mothers and their children are my brothers and sisters. Her brothers are my uncles and their children are my cousins.
So how exactly am I related to Ndumbeh? She is my father's brother's daughter's mother's brother's wife. Easy enough. I understand it but you might want to draw a picture.
Good news! I'm not a refugee anymore! After two weeks of living in Kombo and eating more diary than my body can handle I'm being allowed to go back to my village. I miss my family so I'm looking forward to getting back. I'll miss the food in Kombo--the variety anyway--but there are so many other things I'm looking forward to in my village including my kamo (pit latrine) which believe it or not is much cleaner than just about any toilet here.
So how is the food here? Most of the time I think it's good but very monotonous. I try to help out my family by buying vegetables when I can. Right now is the hungry season which means that since everyone is working in the fields--the women in the rice fields and the men in the groundnut, corn, and/or coos fields--there is no one (no women anyway) to work in the gardens so there are not many vegetables. Most of the work of the gardens is watering them but even though it rains nearly everyday now, no one has time to weed or look after them so we'll have to wait until the dry season before we have much vegetable variety. Shrimp is in season in my village now but it's a little expensive on my budget. I'm definitely going to treat my family when I can--maybe once a week or so. There is always some kind of wonderful fruit in season here. Mangos are at their end but guavas are coming soon as well as the sweetest watermelon I've ever had. There really are some great things in the smallest country in
Sunday, August 20, 2006
I've decided (again) to have a blog for people to read while I'm here in The Gambia. I'm really going to try to update this thing this time. I would like to keep it up to date as well as add stories from my first year here from time to time.
It's the 'summer' here--at least the kids are out of school and so am I. Since I'm an education volunteer I pretty much live by the school calendar. I've kept busy this summer though making board games like checkers for the kids in my compound and making teaching and learning aids for math to tutor two of my host sisters (grades 6 and 7). I'm not too sure what I'll be doing this school year but I'll figure it out soon enough. I have a lot of things planned but will only write about the things that work out.
A little news here: I was evacuated from my village to Kombo yesterday. Rebel activity in the area to the south of where I live in Senegal (the Cassumance) had been on the increase. I really think my village is pretty safe but other volunteers who were also evacuated could feel their houses shaking from the mortar fire. I could only hear it from the distance like thunder.
I helped a health volunteer weigh babies the other day. I think we weighed something like 140 babies in 4 hours. There was weighing them and then comparing their weight to a height chart to see if they were healthy. Most of them were but it was sad to see the ones who weren't. We worked with a Gambian health worker who allowed babies to be weighed even if the mothers didn't have the health card. It at least allowed the mothers to know if their babies were healthy and it got the babies a dose of vitamin A. It was truly a Gambian (or African) experience. The mothers or sometimes the older sisters came with all these babies and placed the health cards on a table. Rather than cuing there was just a mass of women and children. We tried to be systematic about the process starting with the cards that were turned in first but still some mothers were very pushy. It was a good experience to see what some volunteers in the other sectors (health is one, agro-forestry is the other) do.
Life here is always an adventure. My ride to this health volunteer's village was I suppose not anything I wouldn't expect. He lives off the main road but in a large-ish village that has a gele (a public transport van) that lives there. It leaves early in the morning about 6 am to go to the Barra ferry crossing two hours away for those going to Banjul or Kombo and then waits to fill there (an hour or two or so) and returns to the village. I was visiting another volunteer who lives between his village and Barra so I was really hoping there would be room for me when it passed. There wasn't legally. So while the other Gambians sat like sardines in the hot overcrowded gele, I stood between two rows balanced on a crossbar and the back of one of the seats. Other Gambians (men) were standing outside the gele on the ladder to the top rack or the back step. Luckily I only had to stand (not totally erect) for about 20 minutes when about half the people dropped in a village before our stop. Whew! I was so glad to get a ride! My other option would have been to drop somewhere on the main road, walk a few kilometers to a nearby village where another volunteer lives, borrow her bike and bike the 5 or 6 km the rest of the way. I think sometimes that experiences like this are the reason I came here. This would certainly not happen in the US.