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.