"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

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why do I have so much energy??! OH yeah, I'm in Africa!

Let me start out by requesting that you follow the blogs of other volunteers in my group (see my blogs that I follow), because I just read a few and they are doing a WAY better job of describing the same things I am seeing.  Some volunteers are up country, where I just visited and almost died from the heat (close to 115 during the day).  Some volunteers are in Kombo, the tourist capital of the Gambia, where there are Europeans flooding the streets with the witty Gambians ripping them off left and right (sooo funny by the way, but kind of annoying to be mistaken for one of these toubabs).  Some volunteers (like me) are in the middle of these two extremes, where it's pretty freaking hot, no tourists, jussssst right.  I must say, i've been away from site for one week now, and I am missing my family, my cat "Bena", the bush (which is pretty much Senegal), my drum, and yes.. even the heat. It's 78 degrees here in the city, and I'm a bit chilly.

****random note: MY BAG WAS FOUND by a young Gambian man named Lamin Touray.  He returned my bag from about 50 k up the road from Kombo, found me on facebook, sent me a message, and returned my bag WITH ALL OF THE BELONGINGS (including camera and journal yayyy), and didn't ask for a single penny from me.  By the way, it was about 550 dollars worth of stuff, which is about 15,000 delasis (could feed a family for a year).  See, guys.. not everyone in this world is a BAD guy!

I wanted to spend a few short paragraphs on some ideas running through my head for projects in my village.  Granted I have only been there for a month, and I am still getting to know the villagers and where I place among the people... but I think all of the volunteers EVEN after month are getting itchy feet... we are ready to start seeing progress :)  I mean we are Peace Corps volunteers!

So in Bati Njol, I have amazing, strong, and confident women who pretty much are behind all the work of the village this time of year.  We have a functioning women's group that I have YET to tap into, but I have met most of the women who make up the group and the "head" of the group - it's a start! We have a skills center, which I am just now discovering and will soon venture into.  We don't  have a school, but there is one in the neighboring village who's students are some of the children in Bati Njol.  We have a large population of young boys and girls who are energetic and helpful; i've seemed to have bonded with both groups (boys.. football / girls.. cooking, braiding hair, fashion, etc).  Also, I have had time over the past month to walk around, greet everyone in the mornings and at nights, and just plain "chill" with many smiliing Gambians, who really just want me to play my drum, shake my booty, and laugh.  Could I really ask for more???

How about those ideas, now? STRICTLY brainstorming.. nothing is in stone!  I want your input. Now that you have a background of my village (see above), you can understand my brilliant ideas (bolded stuffs below) BWAHAHA.

1. Find the 12-year old girl in my village who told me that she taught herself how to take recycled plastics from bags, old cassette tapes, etc. to make BAGS and stufff.  I think I can help her age group gain confidence in their creativity by exposing her mastery of this skill!  I should have her teach me how to make these bags, which are very durable and quite trendy looking ( i have one myself that i bought in the city), then we can both hold workshops for women of all ages (and boys .... hah i wish).  Maybe, over time, with a little elbow grease and trips to the dump, we can use these bags for income generation and waste management! EVERYBODY WINS!

2. Soap Making!  My family, as of now, does not use soap for bathing or washing hands before meals or after bathroom.  So I can only assume that if the family housing the toubab doesn't use soap, then most of the village is following the same trend.  All the more reason to learn how to make soap on the super cheap with natural materials (and maybe some help with scents).  Then, once we make the soap, sell it in our own village and maybe neighboring villages.  With this purchase comes a FREE demonstration on proper hand-washing!

3.  Garden much?  My village has a huge backyard, it's called "the bush".  It has also been known as "the wild", "Senegal", or "alle bi" which is "the bush" in Wolof.  Yes, my backyard is a few miles of straight bush, complete with animal carcasses, barely any trees, no water, and occassionally.. a wildfire.  One of the good things about this particular bush is a few beautiful acres of fenced in area, free from all of the above.. but there is still no water.  Here lies the problem.. a perfect area for a community garden or tree nursery, but no irrigation for anything to grow!  Solution, growing something that doesn't need alot of water, because trying to get grants and funding for an irrigation system is seriously out of my league.  I recently came across a bible of sorts, called the "Moringa tree manual".  Go to http://www.miracletrees.org/ PLEASE.  It will explain why I am crazy about this tree and will get it tattooed across my face. It will cover nutrition, water purification, fertilizer, curing illnesses, etc.

4. I've decided that it's not the most sanitary practice to throw trash "outside" the village in a huggge pile for the kids to play on and goats/sheep to poop on.  When the rains come in June, I can see the trash flooding into my compound and causing diseasssses.  Therefore, I have gotten really interested in recycling and proper waste management.  I like to go on random walks in and around the village to scope things out and try and muster up an idea or two about things I'd like to see happen differently (with consent/agreement from the village folk of course).  One thing I've thought of is trying to get people interested in reusing AS MUCH waste as we possibly can and maybe recycling some of the materials that won't decompose well.  For example, taking empty metal <tomato paste> cans and poking a dozen holes in the bottom to use for water cans in garden beds.  Simple, yet so effective.  Myyyy fav!  Recycling center anyone??  I can learn some carpentry in the process.

5. (last one i promise)  FOOTBALL FIELD!!  I always want to play soccer with the younger kids in the village, but we end up pissing off the women trying to sell vegetables in the meeting area because it kicks up too much dust and dirt onto their BEAUTIFUL vegetables!  Therefore, we should work together on clearing some bush (tee hee), clearing a field, and making some goals out of wood posts.  Hell, if these kids will get off their butts to help me with this project, I will even buy the soccer ball  - they are kind of out of price range for 5-15 year old boys... go figure.  What I want to accomplish with this field is starting a tiny little 6v6 soccer league with BOYS AND GIRLS on co-ed teams (unheard of here).  I mean.. girls can't play sports.. kidding!!!  I really think it will show the boys that girls can play soccer too.  They need confidence boosters just like any other young female in this world.  It's hard here for them to find their confidence sometimes just because of gender roles in The Gambia, but that's for a later blog.

So kids, thanks again for reading.  I'm getting ALOT of positive feedback from all of you, and even some letters. OH MY GOD I LOVE SNAIL MAIL.  Thank you mom, dad, christoph, ray ray, laura, and many others who have written me so far!

Peace and Love.

ps. i love exclamation points.

Friday, April 8, 2011



I hope this entry finds you all in good health, sound mind and peaceful surroundings.  I am currently visiting the Basse transit house, one of most Eastern points of the Gambia that Peace Corps is occupying.  My girlfriends, Emily Jen and Meghan, decided that we should take a mental break and travel the country.  I keep in touch with them everyday - we are keeping each other sane and at peace with our surroundings.  It's inevitable to come into a new environment and develop this rollercoaster ride of emotions; every single moment can shift your energy and mindset, flowing from euphoria to misery.  I understand there has to be a balance, but it sure is exhasting mentally and physically to ride this rollercoaster. 

Each of our experiences are unique - different family and village dynamics, mostly.  However, we are each seeing some trends that are unifying our experiences, and allowing us to deal with everything.  A few quick examples, the heat is cripping and at times unbearable.  All four of my girlfriends are posted in the center of the country in the "central river region".  We are not close to any major cities, because they are mostly located at the western and eastern most points of the country.  So, we cannot get icees on demand or any form of cold drink for that matter.  It is cool (and by cool I mean between 80 and 90 degrees) in the mornings and starting at about 7pm.  From about 2pm-6pm, no work is done by anyone.  The only thing that is possible is to sit under a tree or find some form of shade, make some sugary juice mixture, braid hair, and pray to the gods that a breeze will come to brush your skin, which is usually drenched in sweat.  I believe during this time it is somewhere between 100 and 120 degrees..... I know right....unreal.

Another thing we are each learning to cope with are the many many cultural differences between Gambian culture and a more developed culture.  Another example, animals are completed extremely different here.  Yes, in most places, cattle, horses and donkeys, are used for labor.  Harmless, right?  Hardly.  These animals can be old as dirt, pregnant, sick, or in any other debilitating state, but still they are worked for most of the day for transportation, carrying ridiculous loads like carts full of firewood, rice bags, and whatever else you can think of.  If they are not moving fast enough, they are whipped or smacked with sticks and ropes.  From what I've seen in the States, animals are treated with more respect and care.  Meghan witnessed the beating of a donkey to death by it's owners, recently.  Hearing this story tore us all apart,  but then again, most Peace Corps members are bleeding hearts anyways ;)  ... 

So, the story is the donkey was being forced to do something against it's will one too many times.  There was a young boy trying to put a bridle in it's mouth, but this donkey was NOT having it.  It took a bite off this kids finger, almost to the point of him losing the tip of one of his fingers.  The kid was hysterical, so his dad came over to discipline the donkey, but was quickly kicked in the leg.  So Meghan got to see about 5 men beating the donkey with sticks, and any other tool that would "teach this donkey a lesson".  But, it didn't stop after one day.  They let the donkey wallow in physical pain over night, and returned to beat it some more the next day.  Later that night, it died from it's wounds.

Now, is it right that this donkey lost it's life for harming it's owners?  I'm not really the one to say something is right or wrong, when I am not necessarily involved in the situation.  But... Meghan was horrified by the events and once I heard the story, I was as well.  And further more, dogs and treated like SHIT here too.  Most Gambians are either scared of dogs or just have this innate hatrid for these animals.  So, all day they are running away from kids throwing rocks, cans and other objects and them and their puppies.  It's the same situation for cats, goats, sheep and chickens.

I can't say that I want to EVER get used to these types of situations, to the point of not feeling the pain for these harmless and scared creatures, but I can't help believing that over time I will become less sensitive to it.  And these are just two examples of things I am learning to cope with.. it's all I can do, because I can't change the mindset of every Gambian.  I am here to learn a little, teach a little, laugh a little, cry a little, and hopefully help develop sustainable projects that will promote healthy lifestyles for the villagers and future generations. 

That's all I can hope for.  Everything will get better with time, but I named this blog "adjusting" because it's the only word that could possibly sum up how I feel at this very moment in time.  The only constant is change.. and I'm always doing just that...  it's a beautiful thing really.  I have my ways of coping that are helping very much.  Every afternoon, when the sun starts going down, I take my jimbe (i can never spell it right), walk into the bush away from all human beings, close my eyes, and drum my little heart out.  No matter what negative energy that was surrounding me at the time, it immediately disappears with the blend of my hands on the that rough goat skin.  I always come to this amazing euphoria that reminds me that I am here, now, and that everything is on it's right course.  It's an unexplainable cosmic bliss that rejuvenates my soul.

To leave on a more positive note... I am mostly happy in Bati Njol.  The villagers see me as there own, treat me like famly, help me when I need it, and always crack a huge smile when I come to greet their compound.  Like I've described today, there are some things I am coping with, but every night I take a bucket bath,wash off the filth of the day...mind and body.  It's all I can do to stay sane!  I am taking good care of myself, staying active, keeping in touch with loved ones, and waking everyday with new eyes.

So I hope you all are happy with your own lives.  Because you have to realize that every moment is different, and whatever that may be bothering you in a single moment will eventually balance itself out in the next.  Stay healthy, live well, love much, and for shit-sake... LAUGH more.

Peace and love!