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.