Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Season of Visitors

The months of December and January I hosted a total of five American guests and it was amazing! The first of my guests were none other than my mom dad and bro jack. They arrived and we enjoyed a few days of relaxation and catching up on the coast. They were very excited about seeing my village but not sure what to expect. Jack said he didnt want to have to dance or have an "over the top" welcoming. My response was, "I've made a huge mistake".

The day we arrived to Banni, after a long hectic travel day involving African men carrying each and every one of us and our bags through the ocean to a small boat, we finally reached Banni on a donkey cart. In the road the village was waiting for us, with a group of Fulani musicians I had hired (sorry jack). Everyone was chanting "Welcome, Welcome" and dancing for us and shaking my families hands. I think I saw my Dads eyes glisenting a little, it was pretty powerful. We enmjoyed a few days in village with my family going on walks, eating goat, playing soccer, and working on the garden. We also went to Baboon Island for a couple days where we saw many chimps, baboons, crocodiles, hippos, and monkeys. We headed back towards the coast were we enjoyed many cold beverages and the BEAUTIFUL ocean of Kartong. Jack and I stayed in a treehouse on the beach and my parents in a mud hut, the ladder of the treehouse was a little intense! The cab ride and saying goodbye at the airport was sad, overall it was a wonderful visit, one that I know my family and village will never forget.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


The middle-aged white woman sits comfortably on a padded chair. Her short "mom" haircut rests behind her ears which sport expensive looking silver hoops. Her delicate non-calloused hands hold a copy of Chenua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart". Just beyond the pages of her book the waves crash in on a white sand, palm tree lined beach. This is Africa-or is it? Here the comfort of the coast resembles Europe, except with more black people.

The woman, most likely, purchased the book at a comparatively pricey cost in some chain bookstore run by a multi-million dollar company. The book about Africa makes a perfect accompaniment on the trip to Africa. But will she ever see it, know it, feel it? Will she leave he comforts of a beach side tourist culture to go upcountry a few hours and see that people, Africans, are still living in the exact same manner as described in "Things Fall Apart"? Although the book was set in precolonial Africa the cultural details and living conditions are identical to life in The Gambia. Will she go and discover it, or continue sitting in her bikini drinking a beer in front of the ocean reading her book? Tourists come so close yet so far away from real Africa.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Aduna Ko Ni (the world is this)

The size of her brown eyes makes her beautiful.
Large and round.
Always intently focused on the person she is talking to.
I won't ever forget the way her eyes looked at me the morning she lost her baby.
They were still, frozen, hanging onto the words about to come from my mouth.
In those brown eyes I saw the panic and sorrow I was reflecting upon her.
Where is my baby?
Your baby is dead.
Water exploded out of the open-welled eyes.
We sobbed.
She chanted loudly, "o my mother, o my father help me now, my baby's gone, o Allah help me now."
An old woman in the corner of the hospital approaced us from the bed she sat on in observance.
"Be quiet my child, be quiet, the world is this, you are young you will have more, even I have lost many children. Be quiet now aduna ko ni."

All good things must come to an end, even Ramadan

Evening brought a starless dark. I walked to the "shop" in Banni to buy a candle for reading later. I was rushing because it was almost prayer call and time to break the days fast with tea and bread. I wished peace upon Kemo, the vendor, and headed back to the compound. What I saw as I rounded the corner stopped me as forcefully as an invisible wall. A tingle electricuted my entire body and left me smiling dumbfoundedly at the power in that moment
Everyone, all ages, was standing outside facing west. With their backs towards Mecca they pointed simultaneously at the sky. It resembled a scene from an alien invader movie or a UFO sighting. I ran up to Baba and asked, what is it?
It's the moon, was his reply.
There it was, the tiniest sliver of the moon for the first time in a month and the symbol of the end of Ramadan. Cheering broke out as children started playing bottles and bowls for drums. A light cloud of dust lingered around the excitement of shuffling feet and Alieu Jallow's voice beckoned "Allah akbaru" through the village from his place at the prayer house.
Families retreated to their compounds to break fast for the first time since before sunrise. There was a sense of relief in the air; tommorow we could eat lunch.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Farm Days

The yellow paint rusts off the hand plow as it scrapes the coffee toned earth, revealling long caterpillars and red furry spiders. The word "France" clings to the metal frame as it has, most likely, since the 1920s. Here in The Gambia nearly a century later the plow is led by the strong calloused hands of Gambian males with either cows or donkeys at the front. Saidu Jallow, a neighbor to Ney Ney plows through her farm with the payment of a pack of Busisness Royal cigarettes and attaya. Alieu, her 13-yr-old nephew cooks the tea dutifully like any good small boy, happy to take a break from farming.

The froth from the sweet tea bubbles to the surface of the teapot and splashes with the force of a wave against the rocky frontier of the burning wood. Mixing with the fire the sugary attaya lets out the aroma of cotton candy. At Alieu's back on a straw mat Ney Ney slyly pulls a large spider from her daughter's barefoot as to not scare her (me:).

The birds are actively following Saidu as he plows. The dark purple, teal and black feathers form a cloak as they flutter in the slight wind of the rainy season at his back.

During the rains,farming occupies the life of Banni's inhabitants. Men, women and children all have their roles and they carry them out from sunrise to sunset. The men plow, the women plant and the children pick weeds and chase away baboons if they come. All work is done by hand or with small hand tools. This leaves the hands of the villagers blistered and calloused and their backs sore. With incredible flexibility they bend at the waist, straight-legged, to work with the soil. This is repeated every day,weather permitting for three months, Ramadan included. They don't get paid for their labor, they dont take their crops to the market and profit from it. They can't afford to. Everything is used to feed themselves. They work everyday, all ages, to live hand to mouth.

Afternoon came and things slowed down at the Jallow's farm, the hottest part of the day rapidly approaching. The children skip home for the first time since sunrise. Their rice breakfast was taken at the farm but today they will have lunch at the compound before returning. Saidu finished his job and led the cows to graze and fertilize a nearby field. The long green grass next to the freshly plowed field swallowed their legs and noses all the way up to their rib-filled bellies. Ney Ney went home to finish cooking lunch while Alieu finished off the attaya and rest under a large tree to keep a sharp eye out for any animals that may hungirly wnater in from the bush.

Frequently Asked Questions

I thought a good way to give you all insight on life here in the Gambia would be to answer some questions that I seem to get a lot or that I thought you might have... Hope all is well in the states :)

Best thing
My host family, they are amazing and treat me like family...literally

Hardest thing
The heat and "hungry season" (whic is as awful as it sounds)

My closests friend
Egudou Jallow, a hard core Fula woman who lived in our compound for the dry season

Weirdest thing I ate
Goat brain scooped out of the skull with my hosts moms 8 am

Best thing I ate
Bread sugar and sour milk mixed together and attaya

My favorite project
Girls soccer team

Biggest Challenge
attempting to meet EVERYONE in the villages needs..and everyone assuming I am rich and asking for things

Moments that make me Real Happy
When my host siblings call me Jaja (big sis) and run to me when I come home to the compound. Seeing wildlife, swimming in the ocean, everything really!

Scariest moment
When my host mother was sick

Funniest moment
when my host mother helped me bathe by literally scrubbing blue dye from my bare butt

Its about nine and a half months in and life here feels really normal, which is strange. I am really comfortable in my village with all my family and friends there and just do day to day tasks while speaking pulaar as if it were normal! I am really enjoying my service and have so many stories to tell, its hard to online! I will try again (having problems with my camera) to post pictures on my snapfish because I think it will make things more clear, pictures speak a thousand words! I think of you all constantly and love the little emails and messages you all send me! love and miss ya! peace!

Aunt Julie (aka Julde Jallow) visits The Gambia!

Last month I hosted my first visitor, Aunt Julie! I was so excited for someone from my world back home to actually experience my world here and, of course, it was amazing!

I met her at the airport in Banjul and we had a lovely dinner and time to relax, however we pretty quickly went to my village.

After a long travel day upcountry we arrived down by the river where you cross to get to my village. My host father stod at the river waiting to greet us. Julie was so excited and thought Baba was quite stunning in his long light blue robe :). As we crossed the river we marvelled at the birds and vegetation looking for monkeys and other wildlife. Although it is INSANELY hot, the rainy season is a gorgeous time to visit. Everything is so green and overflowing with life and vibrance. Juma (host bro) was waiting for us with Rose the family donkey and a cart.

We rode through the jungle and as we approached my village we heard the banging of drums (or empty plastic jugs) and people shouting and clapping. As we got closer we saw the whole village waiting for us in the road singing and dancing. A welcoming that still gives Julie the goosebumps and almost moved me to tears. Everyone was so happy to have a "stranger" come to the village. Julie, besides me, was the first white person to stay in the village.

We danced, at chicken, drank attaya, chatted with women, Julie sang and played endlessly with the children and danced around in the rain. We went on a long hike with Baba, went to the market where we found some gorgeous fabric, at some local foods, and spent time at each compound in the village. We also watched the Ghana v America world cup game outside during a storm, the village went NUTS when Ghana scored, although they looked at me nervously but I was clapping too :)

For two days we had a getaway at Baboon Island, a national park reserve about 4 k from my site. We biked in the afternoon heat (sorry julie poor planning) and arrived at the camp. The rooms there are gorgeous and they have a really nice waterhouse on the river with hammocks. Its the only "building" in the area so you are surrounded entirely by jungle. Monkeys, baboons, snakes, crocodiles, endleess birds, insects, flowers, trees just to name a few. Around the clock you can hear chimpanzees howling from the islands. They park protects and rehabilitates the few remaining chimps in the Gambia, there is even a chimp recovering from alcoholism and smoking! (he was rescued from some shady european circus) We took a boat tour around the islands and saw SO many chimps, HIPPOS, and baboons as well as smaller monkey speces. It was truly unforgettable.

For her last few days we headed to the coast and stayed in treehouses on the white sandy beaches of Kartong, right near the southern Sengeal border. Devin came and met us and we swam and read and ate and just relaxed-it was wonderful and much needed. Then Julie took Devin and I out for what will go down in history as "the best dinner we ever had in the peace corps" at a resturaunt called La Romantica. Julie took pity on our malnurished souls and you name it we ate it...i still day dream about that night julie!! :)

So needless to say her visit was wonderful and she is very missed by the whole village and then some!! The village near mine had a baby while she was here and they named it after her! ( i dint realize this and they scolded me for not visiting my aunts name sake..whoops!)