Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I am tenatively going to continue this blog... For myself mostly, as a record, and of course for all the other thousands of regular readers. I just took a look at it for the first time in a long time and I just it- I like the way it looks, my words all layed out on top of pretty lime green background! And I like the way it reads, quick and casual, capturing my thoughts and experiences in a way that fading memories are proving to be inadequate. Now, five months after being back, I still miss my life in The Gambia in a way that springs tears to my eyes everytime! But, the memory is vague and my Woolof is fading and increasingly, what I miss is justan impression of a peaceful life... long ago in a galaxy far far away... a mud hut at night surrounded by giggling kids...

Anyway, I do miss it madly and am trying set myself up to go back, inshallah (God willing). I just got accepted to NAU's (in Flagstaff, AZ) forestry and natural resource management program, studying international forestry under a very cool professor. The stars seem to be lining up a bit for me, after months of anxious limbo. The professor that will be my advisor, Dr. Mike Wagner, does research in Ghana and has established a sustainable forestry center there in partnership with a university there. AND, he's currently seeking funding for re-forestation projects spanning all the way up through the Gambia into northern Senegal. When he told me that in an office meeting, I almost shouted at him "REALLY??? That's PERFEFCT!"

Other pluses, Karissa my fellow RPCV Gambia is moving to Flagstaff and starting the same program, and living with me!!! I need a hiking buddy so bad and I can't wait for her move. Meanwhile, I'm waiting tables, enjoying this extended vacation, meeting people, trying my hand at high altitude gardening and enjoying the first days of spring! I tried to go shorts shopping the other day, feeling so excited by the prospect of wearing short shorts and not being totally radical (in the Gambia, ankle-length is the style of the season and that's a trend that ain't goin away). Not having worn anything shorter than mid-calf in three years, I cautiously tried some on in the dressing room... and whoa, I gasped at how much skin was showing down there. I opted for below the knee "shorts" and got outta there, promising myself that I'd work into it. My whole re-adjustment experience has been like that short shorts experience, too much too fast. My desire to hold on to the theme of the past two years still dominates; "slowly slowly, you catch the baby monkey in the bush"- the slow, the peaceful, the simple things... too bad they don't really have much place in this busy busy world. So, I hold onto lessons from the past and jump into the new, which has a beauty and an energy all of its own!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I have not posted on here in forever! It is my New Years Resolution though to write more, so I shall have to start. Meanwhile... I got a message from The Fresh Air fund with a great summer job opportunity for a great cause in NYC. Anybody interested? Check it out here:

Everybody take care!


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Rainy season, 5 mos left here

All is well here, the rains have come in full, so Im trying to implement the last leg of the tree planting project which is outplanting... trying to get people organized and motivated to come get free trees and free tree guards (very valuable here, woven small fences that protect trees from the starving goats and cows that ravage vegetation in the dry season) and then to outplant them around their fields as "border planting" to benefit their soil, give them firewood, act as a wind break... It's hard because everyone is so busy on their own farms but slowly slowly, they are coming. Everything is so beautiful compared to the long dry season, when the sky was grey with dust blown down from the sahara constantly. Now there are clouds and sunsets and pure blue sky in between, ah! Also, lots of snakes too which i'm learning to love, or well, deal with. I have a small garden trying sweet melons (like cantelope) and okra, and I inter-planted squash with my family's corn. The food crisis is really hitting here, and everyone is scrambling to grow as much food as they can... cash crops are still important but now people are growing rice too, a new varitey called NERICA (New rice for africa, however that spells NERICA...) which supposedly can grow without being immersed in water. It's having mixed success in the gambia, but people are trying it more and more. Many people are not having enough to eat and I get increasignly asked to loan money or pay for small things, which... ug...I try not to do, but it can be so heart breaking. One of my friends in village, a women with 5 boys, pulled me aside the other day to ask for a loan because she had nothing to cook and no money. Typical of the women here, she's great, beautiful, proud, always laughing and smiling...I know it was hard for her to ask for money, I could hear desperation in her voice behind the pride... I've been working with her to do many things in her garden and fields to increase harvest and earn money, so I gave her a small loan (12 bucks). She took the money and started to cry, and then I did... oh life! Not always fair. But we are doing what we can to encourage composting, green manure and intercropping to help out the tired soil and I'm even starting to mention family planning and the possibility of (gasp!) not having 9 children. It's meeting mixed reactions, as is our idea to fertilize with human pee! funny stuff.

One thing I'm starting to realize is that 40 years ago, before development came, the gambia was much better off. No one was hungy, the population was small, the forests were big so they had 100% self-sustainablity- millet and "bush meat" was their diet. Now, they all grow cash crops (cashews, peannuts, seasame) in order to buy their food (oil, rice, sugar) which is somewhat subsidized for them. Artifically cheap rice allowed their population to boom, now there is not enough land to grow enouch millet to feed themselves and there is no more forest to hunt for meat in. Now rice is going up... and I'm realizing how ridiculous it is to feed the Gambia with rice imported from half a world away when they were perfectly fine feeding themselves. "Development" is only money-based, economics based, and just tries to pull developing countries into the world of import/export, and therefore dependency on fossil fuels. It's all about moeny- anytime money changes hands in the gambia, that's a good thing for the country, no matter if it destroys the environment, social and cultural structures. One of the first things I realized in the Gambia was that I wanted to be a counter-develpoment worker, and I'm sticking to that (we all are as PCVs), just daily trying to point out the values of traditional culture, food, way of life... trying to beef up their cultural self-esteem.

That's the news here, we are keeping on keepin on!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Hey guys... *ahem* it's been ahwile, I know... sorry bout that. But I'm back! In woolof they say "there was a river since i've seen you"- gej na la gis! And it's this instant guilt trip- because it's one of the pillars of society here to check in with everyone you know about every other day, let em know where the home people are(they are there only, with peace obly), where the kids are(there only, thanks be to God), and how your afternoon is (here only, with only peace, praising God, thanks be to God). There are many volunteers, and I'm gonna say particularly the guys, who get so amazingly good at these back-and-forth greeting rituals, going at acutioneer-speed, asking about the children and the health and praising Gods even when I'm pretty sure they're self-proclaimed athesists... ah but it's just impressive. I usually just rattle off a string of lazy "peace only"s.

So anyway, I just got back from Guinea! Guinea Konakary, not Guinea Bissau, since there's two of them, which I didn't know until I got here. There were seven us, leaving from the very eastern town of Basse, at around midnight. We're taking a European version of the Subaru, and we rent out the last 3 spots so that we don't have to Gambi-pack like sardines for what is to be this 28-hr-ride (granted, many hours spent outside the car, for a variety of fun reasons). They go through the elaborate ritual of shuffling our bags around on top, strapping em down with miles of rope, testing this and that, men everywhere with flashlights... and finally the driver gives us the sign and we pile into our wagon- thinking the red and silver sparkly shag covering the seats is nothing but a good omen. WRONG! There's no head lights, and even though the driver is sure that he can make it down the wretched road without them, we demand a new car. When we finally do take off again, with headlights, we are all shocked at just. how. wretched. the road is... our driver is barreling in-between, and through, the swimming pool-sized pot holes so fast though that we just gape in admiration... and wonder if he is escapeing the police? Anyway, we barrel through Gambia, then Senegal, and then sometime in the wee hours of the morning we camp on the border between Senegal and Guniea, in between huge 18-wheelers. In the morning we're off again... the car breaks, twice, which surprises us not at all considering Omar-the-driver and his mad man rally-car-driver ways. The shocks on our old car suffered, and so now we're sitting in a small Guinean village not at all stoned from the joints Omar smokes, eating mangos and staring back at the locals while we wait for... get this... the town welder to FORGE a new piece for the poor shock. OK. Eventually we do get there, into Pita, around 3 AM. Our ride was bumpy and sleepless but pretty fun, considering all the mangos (not yet ripe in the Gambia) and the ipod's bumpin through my little travel speakers. We stay the night in this semi-city at a tourist hotel for less than 4 dollars and the next morning we are OFF! to Dookie (that's right), a tiny village where a tiny man with a big nose, heart, personality, and penchant for abbreciations, meets us. "Hello!Hello Bonjour! I just got back with these two SG's (super girls!) from a K.A.H (kick ass hike)!!" He says. Everything he says comes with abbreviations and exclamation marks. The two SG's are cool girls working in Guinea, one from America and one from France, but they leave the next day and the week is ours to be led around by the man, Hassan Bah. He gives us bananas, rice with leaf sauce and palm oil, eucalyputs tea or nescafe with local honey... and more bananas, many more. He gives us 3 round beautiful Guinean-style huts with grass roofs, and he gives us hiking tours of his paradaise with a whole lotta love. Turns out a Peace Corps volunteer helped Hassan get this little tourist lodge together back in the 90's and it's been going well ever since... his guest book shows hundreds of PCV's and European tourists who have discovered this sweet getaway. The seven of us have a booze-free (Ok, well. the 2 boxes of wine that Karissa brought don't last long) and waterfall-soaked 4 days in the canyons and forests of the Fouta D'Jalan (that's the big raised plateau that we're on, the one that broke Omar's car to climb up). It's the dry season, the very end of the dry season, but still the place is lush. We, coming from the parched and scorched Gambia, are baffled and we commence Gambia-bashing and Guniea-PCV-envying from the minute we arrive. There are coffee trees, cola nut trees, banana trees, just TREES! And waterfalls, seemingly around every bend. There are baboons, and green mambas, and bush pigs (like wart hogs), and we are told there are deer and mountain cats... We're all led up and down this plateau by Hassan, often just bushwhacking (I taught him that word one morning as I was sliding and stumbling over his choice of "trail"). And we're trailed by Ebrima (arabic for Abraham), Hassan's super-cool aprentis. Of the 7 of us, Cam and Alex are the only ones who speak Fula, the primary language in Guinea. I speak Woolof and Karissa, Rob and Beth speak Mandika, the least popular language here. Ebrima speaks Pular and Woolof, and French, of course, of which very few of us speak very little. Ebrima is sweet tho, he just hangs back as we hike and we chat with him in woolof and fula and when we say something true or good he says "Thank YOU!." His other English word he says, when we get to a sketchy part of the non-trail, is "TRY!." In those difficult moments climbing a boulder or downed log, Hassan favors "PRESS!" PRESS and TRY and EASY EASY! All very good advice, and good as a combo. As we laugh and joke around in English, we hear Ebrima giggling along too, just from the contagiousness of laughing cuz he's just a good dude like that. He's fun, and he takes us to meet his mom and dad one day on the way back from a hike, and brings us 7 avacados on our last day. Yay for cool people, really. Hassan's wife is another one of those, she cooks amazingly and does our laundry. His brother is another, he offers to go to the Wed. market and set up a car for us all the way back to the Gambia. His kids too, a handful of 5 year olds trying so hard to stay out of the guests' way but unable to resist greeting us 100 times a day in French and Fula. At Hassan's promting, we all take billions of pictures at this overlook or atop that random arch-shaped rock, and we will post them all on facebook for you who want to see. At night we hang out, conversing and debating, predicting each other's life paths and the future of our world... One night we camp out on flat rocks overlooking a great canyon. Hassan leads us out there, sits down and does not roll a joint of not marijuana and not out of brown paper bag paper. He thanks us and walks away "to sit still for 20 minutes before HBH (heading back home)" We thank him for the amazing spot and sit chatting about how the moon orbits the sun and how exactly does it pull on the tides again? and other important things. We sleep out on sleeping bags and I get up early the next morning morning and find a secluded perch on a flat grey rock... ahh... it's overlooking green green forests and I can hear a rushing waterfall below... oh man.

Friday morning we leave in our pre-arranged car, which takes us to Labe. Here, Rob, Alex, and Beth leave me, Cam and Karissa cuz they're Peace Corps vacation days have run out. But first we wander around the maze of a market and buy stuff, like Guinean rocks. I ask the lady what they're for and she responds by picking up a large chunk of slate and biting into like its a bar of dark chocolate. Sold! I buy three little bags of rocks for my pregnant village friends to eat(it's the Guinean calcium vitamin!). The 4 of us get off ok, and it's sad to see them go, and then there are 3 and we find a little hotel to stay in and eat really good pizza. The next morning, the 3 of us head to a bordertown, Maliville, and precede to HIKE to Senegal! That's right, we hike! We have no guide book, but Cam remembers an ex-Gambian PCV telling him this was not only a possible border crossing, but also way faster than in a car, and pretty. Cam thinks he can promise me and Karissa that's it's all down hill, and Guineans enthusiastically confirm these ideas.... so ok, we say. A man in Mali-ville leads us to a little shop where some thin women with big bags are sort of fluttering around, preparing for the same trek. They are porters, paid to trek the 21 miles down this plateu (3500 ft down, by cam-estimate) carrying heavy stuff on their heads and backs and everyone wants us to wait for them and go with them but we are impatient so we go ahead... we camp that night after just two hours of the hike and the next day we catch up with them. They are wisely sitting out the hot part of the day (it's around 105- 110 F)and smiling at us as we gulp down the water at this kind compound. We move on (we win by the way, beating those little women down the mountain, but only cuz we're stupid whities willing to dehydrate ourselves and hike in the heat of the day). All in all, its a fun hike and we end up in Senegal, with dark colored pee but a nice memory of Guinea. Now we go see our friend Sara Lee, an ex-Gambian PCV who extended for a year to Senegal. She lives in a big town now, with electricity and 4 kinds of beer and 2 other volunteers and everyone speaks French... compared to her old village just a 15 k from mine, where there was no water much less electricity. She's my hero... Here Cam departs (another one fallen to finished PC vacation days) and Karissa and I hang out, eating lots of amazing food (wart hog sandwiches anyone?), watching grey's anatomy (could that show be any better? i cry twice per episode, maybe just because I miss it), drinking cold water and sleeping with a fan. Finally we leave Senegal to go home, with Sara too, whose going back to her old Gambian village for a wedding ceremony. We travel all day, packed into the back of a covered pick up truck. The three of us white girls argue with the 3 Sengalese women as to whose big butts are taking up more of the really uncomfortable bench. We see so many baboons, and some wart hogs, sorry bout the sandwiches... 3 kilometers from our Gambian stop, our car breaks for good and we allhave to walk. We get swooped up by a Gambian driver/white knight and his big white van... and finally we are home.

Good vacation. At the end, we have a list of what the Gambia IS good at, and what it DOES have, compared to the snazzy, developed countries of Guinea and Senegal. We can better bean sandwiches. We have more mahoghanys. We have cuter grade 1-6 school uniforms. We have a better APCD (our boss). More baobob trees, more donkeys, more desert, more little kids screaming Tou-BAAAWWWWBBB!!!" Their little kids just politely call us Portuguese, and don't even demand that we give them candy or our bikes. And their young men don't hiss at us like in the Gambia. And the Gambia only packs 12 people into a 7-seater subaru, Guinea puts 14 and two on the roof. Pshaw. Although, when I call her Sengalese posting "Posh Corps" not "Peace Corps" Sara Lee snorts "Here?" She says, looking around, past the street lights to the barefoot begging boys and the way-too-thin young men sitting around because they have no work.. "OK. Not posh. But still..."

The best news? I still have 15 vacation days left!!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Girls soccer day, grades 7 and 8

Abli, just a rotund little ball of joy! Favorite kid ever.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas everyone- hope all is peaceful over there!

Well, here we just had the Muslim Big Holiday of Tobaski, where they sacrifice a ram and just cook the hell out of the poor thing- they cook every. single. part and then, with the ram testicles, which are schockingly large, they make purses out of them! In the morning, the old people and most males go under a big tree and pray, and then the imam (spiritual leader) goes around and kills the rams of those who were able to get one. The first goat meal is "sauce"- a bowl full of fried potatos, onion, other tubors, oil, and hacked up ram, including heart, lougs, stomach and plenty of splintered bone so that the marrow doesn't go to waste. Then they tear up bread and sop up the goo... it was glutinous and so good. Then they roast the hoofs and legs, head, ect and throw it all in a cauldron with water to stew... the deliciousness that results is served on top of cere (the millet) or rice for the next 6, maybe 7 meals in a row. For me, I can grab a Fast Ali's extra burger every now and then... but for them, it's the only meat they'll get all year so you see why they make the most of it. Last year, Tobaski fell on my second day in village. I didn't eat with the family but got a bowl of my own... I remember opening the bowl, looking and the "meat" parts and thinking it looked like a diagram of a cell (golgi apparatus here, endoplasmic reticulum there...). But this year when my host mom poked a crinkly piece of what could have been an aorta to my section of the food bowl I just said Bisimilah and chowed down... heh heh are you guys grossed out?

In the afternoon of Tobaski and the day after, everyone dresses up in their new clothes (the only ones they get all year usually) and goes from door to door around the village with their age mates in a group, asking for "Salibo!" That means the compound should give them a dalasi or 50 bututs, or some coos or peanuts that they can sell to the bitik... and then in return, the group prays for them and everyone asks each other to forgive them and to meet the new year in peace (ah-meen!). Then at night, my host brother the bitik owner (bitik- small store selling the basics) and the other twenty-somethings bring out the music and attaya and they have a little dance party... all night, for 2 nights in a row! Everyone really goes all out, esp. the young girls during Tobaski, getting elaborate outfits sown with bright colored sequinced-splashed frilly fabrics, and matching gaudy earrings and necklaces, Barbie-esque shiny shoes and hair decorations... the hair braiding gets extremely elaborate with different colored fake hair woven in (blonde, red) and the tighest little braids covering their heads in rows and swirls. Henna too, on the feet and one hand is a must. I "asobe"ed (dressed alike) with all the women in my compound, all of us wearing the same style outfit in different day-glo colors. Mine was Get your Groove on Green, and pictures are on their way! Aw, it was so much fun. And I have ear plugs so I got some sleep too.

So, now we are making the most of a warm Christmas here, with a baby banana tree for a Christmas tree and the beach instead of sledding... Merry Christmas from Africa!