I'm not even sure I know how to start this post! The last time I had a chance to sit down, without people breathing down my neck for internet time, was over a month ago at staging in Chicago! I will try and keep this short, but I want you all to get a detailed picture of life in the Gambia.
I am still a Peace Corps trainee until March 11, so this past month has been language lesson after workshop after shot in the arm. Out of the 8 major ethnic groups in the Gambia, I have been chosen as a Wolof! Our naming ceremony happened after the first week in Mariama Kunda (training village), and I was given a Gambian name, which is Yama Sarr, after my host mother! I am living with a host family, consisting of my mom, her two kids, and her two sisters. This is a super small compound compared to most trainees who have 10 screaming kids under the age of 10 running around with snotty noses! I consider myself super lucky. I have gotten really close with this family and am pretty sad about having to leave them in a few weeks after swear in.
So I am living the good life.. a simple one. My compound has not water or electricity. There is a water pump located not far from my compound, where I get all the water I need for laundry, bathing, drinking... etc. For a while, the tap was broken so I had to muscle up some water from a nearby well. I don't ever need to workout here, because doing daily domestic chores takes enough energy out of me! My family has a BOMB garden, fenced in so the goats and sheep don't eat all of our vegetables. Since I've been here, my friends and I have started four more beds, filled with eggplant, cucumber, tomatoes, carrot and okra. I've never gardened in the States, so it is really exciting to be learning these skills. It will be amazing to start a few gardens when I get back.
On a typical day, my diet consists of : bread and potatoes or mayo/butter for breakfast, AMAZING lunches filled with veggies, beans, salaaaad, rice, etc, and boney/small fish with rice and questionable sauces for dinner. Our language coordinator and facilitators have cooked amazing dishes, catering to my vegetarian diet. However, when I get to site I'm sure I will finally have to learn to cook for myself! I've been treating myself to fruits (apple, oranges, bananas) EVERY chance I get to go into town for the markets. So I've been staying very healthy here and am also keeping up on my yoga.
I won't go into gender roles and culture here TOO much, just because it would take me a few hours to explain the differences between American and Gambian culture. But, over time and through more posts, I think you all can pick up on how great those differences are!
There are 29 other volunteers that came from America with me this season. We are split into the environment and health sectors. There are only 11 health volunteers and 18 environment volunteers. We have separate workshops, specific to what we will be doing here for the next two years. It seems that our main focus it the health sector will be Malaria and HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, food safety and security, working in the school systems, helping out in the Reproductive and Child Health Clinics, working with women's groups (drama, soap-making, neem-creem production, life skills, etc) and the list goes on. I have found that once we get to site, we will have PLENTY of room for creativity in our projects. As long as we are aiding in the wellbeing and sustainability of this country, pretty much anything goes.
My permanent site will be in the central river region of The Gambia, on the South Bank. The name of the village is Batti Njol, a bush Wolof village about 2k off the main highway. I'm pretty amped about moving in, so I can finally UNPACK everything for the next two years. I have kept everything packed up because we've been staying in different places throughout the month. I will be able to make the hut a home, with furniture, curtains, a super awesome bed, and decorations! I must say, I have fallen in love with bucket baths, reading by candlelight, watering my garden, fetching water, laying in the sun and biking in the sand.
It has only been a month and I can see myself learning to love this place. However, it has been very had to leave my family, friends, and love of my life. Luckily, I can come into town a few times a month, write letters, and even TEXT/CALL them when I am absolutely need to hear their voices. I really really enjoy snail mail, so I will be posting my address onto my facebook here shortly. This has been an AMAZING start to what will be an adventure of a lifetime. I hope that one day I will be considered a Gambian, but for now I am a TOUBAB... and no.. I do not have mintis!
With Peace, Love and Open Eyes!