"We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open." - Jawaharlal Nehru

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sun is Shining, the weather is Sweet.

Well.. I thought I was going into the Bush, but when I got there I realized my bag full of valuables was M.I.A! So, now I reside in Kombo for another week awaiting compensation for my losses. My passport, camera (which was sweeeet), my !JOURNAL! , all of my Gambian attire including jewelry and scarves, my toiletries, and finally… the sweet backpack that everything was contained in.. is NOW somewhere on the SouthBbank Highway of The Gambia. That’s right kids, my bag flew off the top of Peace Corps transport. Am I mad? Nah.. I’m Irie. However, whoever gets a hold of this bag is in for a treat, especially if they can read! I started my journal when I left my parent’s sofa in S.C, and I have written in it every night up until it was lost. Let’s just say, the lucky owner of my journal will know everything I’ve seen and felt for the past two months. Mas… (Wolof word for “sorry”).

Peace Corps has been so kind to reimburse me for all that was lost - Thanks Washington! Good to know you guys are looking out for my best interest and wellbeing. In fact, I have had a good time since I lost my bag. I’ve been lucky enough to stay with one of my fellow PCVs and see their village. Also, I’ve been kickin’ it with my girl Meghan, who has her official SWEAR IN on Monday - congrats! Hm.. I’ve also been able to hang out with a few very generous Gambians in the Senegambia craft market this past week. They help me with my language, plus they hook me up with “black prices” as compared to “toubab prices” which are usually jacked-up for the European tourists. I bought a Djembe drum from one of the sellers in the market. I will take the next two years to get really good at playing, so when I come back to the states I can spread love through musical vibrations!

I am getting a cat (maybe two) to bring back to site on Tuesday. They are sister calico cats, straight West African street style. I met them yesterday! If Meghan does not take one, then I will take both. They are getting spayed today, and I will be given all necessary medicines for the next few months for free! All I have to do is pour affection into them, feed them some table scraps (which is usually rice, fish and all the yummy things cats love anyways), and make sure they don’t get eaten by anything bigger than themselves.

So, I guess this post shows that even out of the darkness, there is light. I got a local seller to make me two JUJUs. These are worn my Gambians, usually of the Animist faith, to ward off “evil spirits”, which I have translated as negative energy. If nothing else, they are reminders to keep it on the up-and-up at ALL TIMES. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - I’m Irie.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Every word of this blog reflects my own personal opinions and never do I speak on behalf of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

So... read on!  Thank you all for keeping in touch with me :)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Unofficially Official...

As of tomorrow, I will be an official PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER.. an advocate of peace, friendship, and sustainablility... what a responsibility!  Tomorrow is my swear in- official to the United States, The Gambia, and myself.  I cannot express excitement in words, really.. but I will try. 

For the past two months, I have had to leave everything and everyone I know to explore a new land, it's people and the culture.  I've begun to learn a new language and countless skills that I know will benefit me up the road.  Soon, I will be able to effectively explore Gambian culture, through nothing but solid connection to the land and that which it has sustained over time.  Already, I have had to break down barriers, insecurities, FEARS.... this has been the hardest.  I have had to leave all which has made me feel comfortable in my young life to venture out into that which is unknown.  I mean people do this EVERYDAY, but not on this scale, I feel.

I feel like I am reliving my childhood, with innocent and curious eyes.  From what I know back in the States, most people are completely content in their environments and routines, and I was too!  But to be thrown into a new country, a new lifestyle, with NO expectations is completely foreign.  It's EXCITING!  Half of the time, I have to find comfort in a single glance from someone, or a smile...because we don't speak the same language.  I have to seek out alternate forms of communication like dance, drumming, or even silence.  It's really wild.

Everyday I question what my purpose is here in the Peace Corps...in the Gambia.  Am I here for my own benefit or the benefit of the greater good - or is it all the same in the end?  I have this discussion quite a bit with the other volunteers.  Did I come here to help pay off my students loans, for selfish reasons... to further my own existence.  Or, was I guided here by some outside force that knows better than myself why I came in the first place.  Some people that I've talked to have said "the world is fucked, people are fucked, we're screwing ourselves, destroying the earth and all of its inhabitants."  Then, I say.. "Well then... why are we here?"  This stumps alot.. including myself.  All I can respond with is "You are here because you have faith.  You believe that you can make a positive difference, whether it be within yourself or within others (which is all the same anyways).  Something deep within yourself, whether you are aware of it or not, believes that life is sustainable, energy is sustainable and that any positive thought/action/word is vibrated into the cosmic infinite.  The fact that we are here is proof that something inside of us... innately.. thrives for the sustainability of life.  We have to believe that any change within our environment immediately and directly influences the growth and exploration of our true selves, and thus.. the purpose of our existence.

Can you tell I woke in a contemplative mood today?  Gratefully, I have been able to practice Yoga almost everyday for the past two weeks - a rarity considering my hectic ass schedule for these past two months.  It has allowed me to go inward and focus on how/why I have ended up HERE, NOW.  I thrive on these thoughts.  I live for these thoughts.  It's called being conscious.  I can only hope that through this blog, through my interaction with the people of this country and through my own meditation, I can raise consciousness on the beauty of life. 

For those who will hear it, peace and love ONLY.  Namaste.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cous. Rice. Cous. Digest. Repeat.


My 'swear-in' is in 5 days! It is so incredibly hard for me to believe that I have been in The Gambia now for over two months.  I am doing really well in my language - Olaf (of the Wolof ethnic group) and now that I am completely submersed in my permanent village, I'm sure to be fluent within six months. I just hit intermediate-mid on my last language test. Yayyyy for learning new languages!

One week ago, I moved from my training village in Mariama Kunda into my permanent site in the central river region - BATTI NJOL.  It is a "fana fana" (traditional) bush village on the south side of the Gambian River.  It is about 80 k from the nearest city and about 2k from the main highway.  It is as traditional as you could imagine.  I fetch all of my water for bathing, gardening, laundry.. everything!  I am learning some wild skills, such as pounding cous, gardening, cooking from scratch, etc.  Every morning I wake up to the call to the Islamic call-to-prayer blaring over the speak of the village mosque; it has become a sweet music to my ears and a calming vibration in my yogic practice. 

My new village has about 1,800 people, 78 compounds.  My father, Matar Sowe is my compound head, with two beautiful wives - Sohna Ceesay and Gas Ceesay.  Each of these women have 5+ kids, and each of those kids have 2-3 kids.  Needless to say I have a large family, something I am not used to in the States!  I have to get used to babies, little kiddies running around, motherS, father's brother's wives, sister's husband's sisters... you get it.  It's like a puzzle everyday trying to figure out who is related to who and how they relate back to my father.  I'm coming to realize that it is all one or two LARGE families throughout the entire village.  In the end, we're all one family anyways RIGHT?!

For the next three months after swear in, I will spend every day soaking in the rich, beautiful Gambian culture, diving deeper into Olaf, and figuring out why I am really here with the Peace Corps.  I will meet counterparts who will guide me to other important figures, such as the Alikaloo (village leader),the Imam (religious leader), traditional healers and birth attendants, heads of women's groups, skilled tradesman (breadmakers, carpenters,etc), and many many many others that will aid me on this journey.  Peace Corps specifically told us not to start any projects at this time, but rather to take the entire three months to gain the trust and respect of the villagers; with these two things I can successfully implement sustainable projects led BY the villagers and FOR the community.  My goals... become fluent and functional in the language, start a few garden beds, dance my pants off at a few ceremonies (naming, weddings, drumming), learn how to carry a bidong (40 pound) water can on my head, become comfortable with myself in this new life and to keep a huge smile on my face.

Any complaints?  I can honestly say that I've kept a level, positive head here.  Alot of people stress over language barriers, significant differences in culture, lack of structure, the absence of intimacy and that connection we are so familiar with back home and many other issues.  I've learned to dance and laugh everything off.  I have become numb to feeling embarassed, insecure and shy.  I see myself six months, 9 months, a year, two years up the road and I see a beautiful connection to the African land and my new Gambian family.  Sure, there are things that I do not agree with here, but hell - there are more things I don't agree with in the States than here.  The simplicity of the people here, and almost the naievity in some cases, is BEAUTIFUL.  Most people here are not exposed to any electricity, major politics, or anything outside of the needs of their family and their community.  Here, people place the needs of their family and village above the needs of themselves. 

Oh how I have LONGED for that sense of community and social togetherness... that connection, this quilt of souls blended into a comforting cover of infinite bliss.  Words cannot describe this experience, really.  Or, I cannot effectively put into words how this adventure has/is/will affect me.  Life really is a blessing and I plan on soaking it up to the fullest.

BY THE WAY.. why have I not received letters yet!!? You slackers!  Here I am STARVING for a single written word from my friends and family.  After this week in the city, I will not hear even a blip of English. No wait, maybe I will here "yangi cool?" which is "are you cool?".  I don't know how that word slipped into the vocab of my village, but I get it everyday.  Gambia is funny that way.  Well, I'm out for now.  Sorry for the lack of pictures, I have over 500 beautiful photos full of culture, but no way to put them on the computer. For today, I will use my friend's pictures to give you a visual ?tease? of what I see everyday.
Jamma ak Jamma. Peace for you and Peace for me. Aamin.