"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, July 27, 2011

Look mom, I'm a Peace Corps volunteer!!


Greetings to everyone.  All is well here in Fana Fana territory.  I am writing this blog to let you know how much I officially feel like a Peace Corps volunteer and am HAPPY at the same time!  I know you all will feel my energy in this one, because it's just about to burst out of me, along with rice and cous... because I have been consuming in them unreal amounts - HAH!
did i tell you i got purple WEAVE??

even my 5-year old daughter can farm! awww she's cute.
So, updates YES.  The project I may or may not have mentioned before has officially completed it's first stage.  In case I never wrote about it, I will brief you.  For the past month, I have been organizing with (mostly) women in my community to plant 2,300 moringa trees (see previous blog about this miracle tree) and 150 cashew trees in our women's garden.  Along side these beauties, the women have already broken ground, broken a sweat, and planted hundreds of vegetables ranging from hot peppers, sweet peppers, lettuces, cassava, okra, and the list could go on and on.  There are 100 plots of about 15 meters by 10 metes - each compound (household) getting one plot to do with as they wish.  Veges are great and all, but there are hundreds of reasons to plant trees alongside veggies, as they complement the soil and our bellies HA i'm clever!
seeeeeds! oh how i worship the moringa...

measuring for seed placement. such hard workers!

my brother sowing corn in Senegal (it's only 1k from my village)

After a few meetings, the women agreed to sweat alongside me, putting all 2,450 seeds in the ground in an orderly fashion.  We used an alley cropping (just gooogle it) method to aid in soil enrichment and erosion prevention, along with various other purposes.   We just finished the plantings a few days ago, and now we play the waiting game.... THE RAINS HAVE YET TO COME!  This is unheard of.. last year the rains came early June, and now it is heading in August.  They women have resorted to rain dances and praying to the Gods for a slight chance of rain.

a rain dance!  i didn't think they really existed - hah!
 This project is a long-term nutrition education project.  The health benefits to moringa, alongside the thousands of vegetables the women are already planting, will be an amazing chance to educate Bati Njol on the benefits of keeping the foodbowl colorful instead of selling all of them in the local Lumos!  Once the trees come up a few meters, they will be more likely to take ownership of the them, which will hopefully help this project be a success.  Anyhow, I'm super stoked about it already and I can't wait to see what happens!!!

and and and

Outside of the gardening project, I have recently had the opportunity to bring out my inner camp-counselor!  The Forum for African Women Educationalist of The Gambia (FAWEGAM) has been holding a week long camp for young women in 9th-11th grade.  This camp is intended to allow the girls to realize their potential as bright, educated, confident young women to balance having a family with having successful careers.

20 of The Gambia's most beautiful, inspired, and inspiring young women (oh yeah, and 3 PCV's!)
Our camp has been filled with field trips to visit sucessful Gambian woman who have come from the same places these girls have (mostly in traditional villages up-country), who tell their stories of determination, struggle, perseverance and success!  It's been incredibly fun and educational at the same time.  When they are not learning about gender-roles, female and male anatomy (OH MAN that was a fun session), and other life skills, we are making Gambian-style jewelry - BIN BINs (see picture below), coloring like 5-year olds, dancing and having a good ole time at camp!! 
Waist beads that MOST every Gambian woman wears (i'll explain later, remind me.. eh?)

Beads, Beads, everywhere!  I love camp.

It made me realize how much I love working at camps and being around the youth of this beautiful world.  Education is sustainable.  These girls will never forget this experience.  Some of them have NEVER been out of their regions of the country. Some of them have NEVER spoken out about issues such as careers, gender-roles, sex, marriage, etc etc... THIS IS AN AMAZING OPPORTUNITY FOR THESE GIRLS!  I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity.  Of course, they were all kinds of shy in the beginning... but I had to change that IMMEDIATELY; I made them all get up and dance haha!  Even the American Ambassador came out for the opening ceremony, and her words of advice were this "IT IS NOT OKAY TO JUST BE A HOUSEWIFE!" and she even pointed a definitive finger at the girls.  By the way she used to be a Peace Corps volunteer and helped to fund this camp (so awesome)!

I wanted to let you all know that I am busy, I'm happy, frustrated at times, but I'm being a Peace Corps volunteer - we all go on this roller-coaster ride of emotions.  I'm doing what I always knew I would... helping to educate, motivate, laugh, dance, learn, and make an impact on those who I am surrounded by.  Thank you to all of you who motivated me to do the Peace Corps.  Mangi ci kowam, ndanka ndanka (I'm on the work, slowly slowly).

The community health nurse and I working in the garden!
So, just a reminder that I LOVE snail mail.  My address is right over -------> thurr.  Write me some darn mail, don't be lazy. 

You all inspire me.  Peace & Love.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hello, my name is Toubab.

Definition of "Toubab" - outsider, foreigner (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toubab)

Can be used as:

1. Noun - someone of lighter skin color, a european.. or someone seen as "whiter"
2. Verb - to toubab someone, or "do toubab".
** example: I am given a price that is higher when I'm in the market ONLY because my skin color - this is known as being "toubabed".
3. Adjective - a toubab price, especially seen in the larger cities, where the tourists roam.  During tourist season, all prices are jacked up unless it's a set price, which is only seen in larger stores, also known as "toubab stores".

Sometimes it is used as a way to get my attention, and it works.  When I go to the local market (Luumo), I am usually the only person with white skin, so when I hear "TOUBAB!!!" being yelled out, I know it's for me.  As for kids, it is their first word they learn after birth.  Why?  In the areas where tourists come, Toubabs give mintis (candy).  And in the case of my training village, they may receive books, prescription reading glasses, cookies, etc etc by the tourists who have come to do their good deeds for the year by riding around in large busses and throwing these items out to "the starving african children".  But that's a reason for another blog... handouts - these make my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer very challenging.

So why am I writing a blog on this term? It's because I absolutely loathe it - it's implications, it's literal definition, the sound of it, everything about it.

Other than it being used as an attention getter, I see this term as being extremely degrading - comparable to "The N word" back home.  The concept of "outsider", in my mind is the thing that disconnects us from each other, and thus stunting any hope for progress and integration.  WE ARE ALL OF THE SAME SOUL, THE SAME MATTER, THE SAME PLACE IN THIS UNIVERSE.  When I hear this word, I cringe, and sometimes even shut down.  This is because often it is accompanied with "give me money" or "take me to America".  I mean LITERALLY people say "TOUBAB, GIVE ME MONEY!" and is screamed at me by tens of kids at one time "TOUBAB, MINTIIIII!".

Just like the person calling me Toubab, I have a name.  I have 2 names actually - Shawn Reed and Mariama Sowe.  Granted, the may not KNOW my name, but they don't yell out "HEY BLACK PERSON" to their fellow Gambians to get their attention (okay sometimes they say "boy!").  Even if the person doesn't know my name, I expect to be greeted just like every other person in this county, with "Salaamaleekum" - meaning " Peace be upon you ".  Before you approach anyone, the first thing you say here is Salaamaleekum.  If they will not take time to greet me like every other person they come in contact with, then I will not give them my time or attention. 

My coworkers and I have sacrificed 2 years of our lives of comfort, left behind friends, family and loved ones, and are living halfway across the world in a new culture, language and for most a new religion.  We have come to help one of the most underdeveloped counties in the world, and the smallest country in Africa... At least give us a proper greeting!!

Sadly, being called a Toubab every single day, by 2-year olds and 82-year olds alike, in and outside of my village (ESPECIALLY outside of my own village), sometimes makes me not want to be here.  YES - I am a foreigner.  I glow at night and you can see me from a mile away.  I will NEVER blend in, no matter how culturally appropriate I dress or how well I master the local languages; I am not a Gambian, I AM AN AMERICAN.

However, underneath my skin, I am the same as every human being.  If you really want to get into it, I am the same as every single THING, living & non-living, in this entire universe.  But, I digress.

This has been a problem for every PCV I know.  Sometimes, I feel like even the birds call me "toubab" ( I swear I heard it once.. or maybe that's the mephloquine) when I'm strolling in the bush.  When I hear it, I am reminded how far away from home I really am.  Imagine, hearing this about 20 times a day or 200 if in the city. 

So how am I coping?  I'm learning to shake it off.  Maybe I should just embrace it?!  I AM TOUBAB, HEAR ME...laugh?" ,because it's all I can do.  I cannot escape the wrath of the Toubab.  Maybe there will be  a day when I am called "sister" by everyone.  I like to consider every human being to be my family.  Things will change, but the Gambia has a phrase I like to remind myself of frequently.  You will see this many times in the life of this blog... "slowly slowly".

Thank you for hearing my rant, and by ALL means - leave a comment.