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!