Monday, August 28, 2006

Relatively Speaking

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 Africa.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Getting around to things

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.