Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Time for Crying in Sadness and Happiness

My time in The Gambia is coming to an end. A lot has happened in the last few months. The most exciting news by far is the birth of Maimuna. I could not help but worry about the health of Banna, her mother, and of the baby herself especially just before she was born. What if there were complications? What if the baby was breech or had the cord wrapped around her little neck? Happily no such problems occurred and mother and baby are both very healthy.

While there had been much talk of Banna naming the baby after me if she was a girl I didn’t know if I should take such talk very seriously. It turned out that I should have. A week after the baby girl was delivered the traditional naming ceremony took place in my compound. Her delicate baby curls were shaved off, a chicken was slaughtered (a goat was too expensive) and after paying a man something like D5 or D10 to remember baby’s name, he came up with Maimuna, my Gambian name I was given when I first came in country. I don’t know if I’m a little over excited but now I’m a toma. I really couldn’t be happier. I can only say it’s something like being a godparent.

Maimuna will be two months old when I finally leave The Gambia. In so many ways I wish she had born sooner so that I could see her so all the things that babies do—sit up, crawl, stand, walk. But then again I would want to see her at all the other stages of her life as well. I am lucky that Hawa, my father’s fourth and youngest wife, and Banna, my father’s younger brother’s wife, came to live with us last summer. It was a great relief to me to have these two women close to my age living in my house. Neither has been to school and they have only picked up a small amount of English in their lives but they have really brightened my life in my village and in my compound. When they came I remember hearing, “Effo, cut!” so many times I thought cut (stop it) was Effo’s last name. It turned out that she was just the willful three-year-old daughter of Hawa. She is now a willful four-year-old. I also remember hearing the screechy crying baby that wouldn’t let me near her or hold her because she feared my white skin. Nyanya is now a rambunctious two-year-old, the youngest daughter of Hawa. Mariatou is still a little quiet and shy but is very happy to be a big sister to baby Maimuna. Though I have numerous nieces and nephews at home I have never lived with any of them or any other babies until Hawa and Banna brought their babies to my compound. I know I will miss many people when I leave but it will be difficult to say I won’t miss the babies the most.

The Jola people are just one of the tribes of people living in The Gambia. I was lucky enough to be living with them. Gambians know how to have a good time for sure but you can ask anyone—the Jolas, they know how to dance. As a parting celebration and thank you to my family, my compound and my village I paid for a nice party, or program as they call it here. For about $200 I had food and entertainment for maybe 200 or so people in my village. The women spent all day cooking the food in two of the largest cooking pots I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a lot of work for them but it’s also a great social event as well. I was allowed to peel potatoes and onions but that’s about all. It was some of the best food I’ve eaten. It reminded me a lot of a kind of Thanksgiving. I ate food all day. My friends that came ate all day as well. As good as the food and the company were, my favorite part of the day was the drumming and dancing. I paid a drummer to come. I have a hard time believing that after all the hard work the women do all day (I was exhausted just doing the small number of things I had to do which was not cooking over hot open flames all day) they still have the energy to dance the was they do.

The women love to dance or like me, watch the other women dance. After we are all full and happy from the excellent lunch, the women and I bathe and put on our esobees (outfits of matching fabric). The clapping sticks are passed out; the drummer is beating hard and the women fly into the circle with an unbelievable energy. It is so loud all one can think about it the beat of the sticks and the drums. It’s tiring just watching. After it is dark, it is time to eat again. The small children fall asleep, I feel as though I easily could, my tired friends from nearby villages go home and though the compound and the village seem quiet, shortly the drummer begins again and dancing goes well into the night. Anyone who was too shy to dance in the daylight might now be brave enough to enter the circle and dance now. I can only watch for a short time before retiring to my house. I fall asleep around 12:30 am to the sound of the drums just outside my compound.

There have been many difficult times here. There have also been many happy moments. I’m glad I had the opportunity to come here and meet the people, Gambian and volunteers, that I did. I have plans for when I am home but they really feel more like dreams now. For instance, I plan on going to at least one World Series game that the Royals are in. I think for now I will just do what I think will make me happy knowing that doing so has had good results in the past.