"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, November 28, 2012

Guinea, Gardens & Babies!

Salaamaleekum!  Peace be upon you ALL.

Oh man it’s been too long since I’ve written one of these things. Sorry about that – it’s not easy DEH!  I guess I have some updates, so here goes.

1.      I went to Guinea (Conakry)!  It’s beautiful.  It’s really hard to do it justice through words, but I’ll write just a few and post some pictures.  I went with another Peace Corps Volunteer, my friend Travis.  We didn’t want to travel in a large pack, which made it a very smooth ride with breathtaking views – haven’t seen a place this beautiful since I first laid eyes on the Rocky Mountains.

So the place we went to is called “Doucki”, which is a mountain/valley-town in the Labe Region of the country.  Mountains, water-falls, cliffs, valleys – Jurassic Park looking place.  Every day we were there we hiked an average of 12-15 kilometers, some were smaller (like 5k) and some were past 20k!  Every hike had waterfalls and swimming pools, in which we tore off our clothes and bathed in the rich, West African falls.  We were even able to climb a HUGE waterfall using ladders made by the locals out of tree branches and vines.  Epic.

I was also able to score fabrics that were dyed with Indigo, made out of tree bark in the mountains villages near where we stayed.  I also gathered some coffee beans, learned to roast them and pounded them to a fine powder.  Our hiking guide’s niece helped us learn, so I could bring the trade back to my hut here in The Gambia.  Too bad we don’t grow coffee here L

2.      Gardens, gardens, gardens!  These past few months have been busy, for sure.  First of all, the farming season is over – the rainy season is “parena” (finished in wolof).  This means we are harvesting coos and peanuts now, pounding the coos off the stalk, cracking groundnuts and making fresh (THE FRESHEST) peanut butter for cooking and soaps.

So now, people have time to develop their villages and gardens.  We had a horrible flood a few months back, which made over 200-houses/structures collapse.  After all, our huts are made out of mud-bricks, and are lucky if we have any cement in there.  Both of my moms’ houses collapsed, so this year we will have to work on rebuilding the village.  It will take a lot of time and resources.

However, this is also the time of year to develop gardens, dig wells, and do things that you normally can’t do in the rainy-season.  So, for the rest of my service I am hoping to be able to work on developing gardens in my village and surrounding villages.  I have started working with a few motivated souls to start community gardens in their communities.  This entails writing grants, buying materials, building fences and digging wells.    Hopefully this will take up the next 6-months, which leaves another 8-months to work on holding trainings and teaching people about different garden-practices and techniques.  In the end, all of this gardening will tie into my previous work in the health-education field, but helping people to grow a variety of vegetables and produce more food for their families and villages.  I’m super stoked that my service has evolved.  This is where my passion lies.

3.      So, in case you didn’t do any math in the last paragraph, I said I have over 12-months of service left.  That’s right – I’m extending!  I made the decision about 2-months ago that I will stay another year to continue my Peace Corps experience.  I have had an AMAZING two-years, learned so much, and have seen more than most people will in a lifetime – I’m incredibly lucky.  I have meaningful work, a beautiful village and host family, learned a tribal West African language, and am healthy and happy.  Why not stay!?  I’ve always been good at making homes wherever I go – including adopting people as my family. 

This means I will need to come home and visit “state-side” sometime eh?  I plan on coming to visit early in 2013, probably around April/May – for my golden birthday (25 on the 25th of May).  I have folks I want to visit, which may involve flying all over the country, but fuccck it’s been a long time.  I want to drinking good beer, see live music, eat good food, surround myself with loved ones and soak up as much of the States as I can in 6-weeks.  I’ll let you guys know more when I myself know more.

4.      I finally got a super-“toma”!  This means a baby was named after me in the village.  I have been waiting my whole service for this moment.  My brother’s wife had a beautiful baby girl this past month.  When I got back from Guinea, we had the naming ceremony (a Muslim tradition), in which the village elders named her Mariama Sowe – my Gambian name.  Everyone in the village asks me how my namesake is doing, calls her ugly and small, and says their baby is better and more beautiful than my toma; this is because they have superstitions about speaking positively about a baby, in fear that it might take sick or die because of evil spirits.  Anyways, I spoil the shit out of this baby and take care of her all of the time when the mom is cooking or on the farm.  I love her already.  “Small Mariama”

So that’s pretty much it.  Who knows when I’ll write another one of these things.  Keep in mind I LOVE SNAIL MAIL and packages.  Packages are expensive sometimes, but even just a letter means a world of difference to me so keep them coming!  All is well here, I’m happy and surrounded by beautiful souls.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Salaamaleekum!  I hope the weather is not too brutal over there, because IT IS HERE.  Waiting, waiting for the rains.  We get a rain storm once every 2-weeks.  The same thing happened last year and most of the crops failed.  DO A RAIN DANCE FOR ME!  I’m serious, try it.  Until the rains, it’s just freaking hot.  That’s what I get for living in West Africa, on the equator!

Hm.. updates.  Let me get business out of the way.  I have A LOT of projects going on right now
Most of them involve funding of some sort.  Mostly, I find grants online or through Peace Corps & charities.  For those that don’t follow the requirements of a grant, I have to ask friends and family for money.  Trust me, this is the last thing I wanted to do as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  However, all projects need funding of some sort, and “I ain’t got no money” (story of my life).  I am posting a link to a webpage of a water-charity project.  These women have busted there asses working with me, as I with them.  It’s time to help them out just a little bit more.  Check it out. Help if you have the means!

http://appropriateprojects.com/node/1205  (whoo! Meaningful work!) 

Other news. 
1. The health school is my village is complete.  We conducted final interviews to measure the success of the project in the eyes of the women and village leaders .  Our closing ceremony is on Sunday (PARTY!)  I am going to eat a lot of yummy rice, dance like a chicken with its head cut off, and hand out prizes to all the dedicated women who were involved in the project.  THANK YOU FOR YOUR EMOTIONAL SUPPORT America, I can feel your love across the Atlantic.

2. Well-projects.  Everyone needs water.  Most people here can’t just turn on a tap and out pours water.  People get their water for drinking, domestic use & gardening through wells.  Yes, like a pulley-system and (wo)man power.  I wish you all could see it.  I currently have 2-different well projects going on to get some people drinking water and water for their gardens. 

3.  Painting.  Been continuing to paint educational pictures and things at my friend’s village.  She is painting in her school, like letter sounds and associated pictures.  I love painting.  It’s quite intimidating, but the second my fingers touch that paint, it’s nothing but fun!  I swear I’ll post pictures on FaceSpace at somepoint soon.

4.  Working with trying to build gardens and whatnot.  Food is not plenty in this country.  I like to see full-bellies and healthy babies.  It takes a lot of money though, so I’ve been writing grants and such.  I’m going to be REALLY good at asking for money when I get back.  You sure you want to be my friend when I come back to America?  Peace Corps Volunteers “ain’t got no money!”

Other than like legit projects, once the rains hit, I’ll be in the field with my family.  We mostly farm cous and groundnuts, but also things like corn & a teensy bit of rice.  It’s.hard.fucking.work.  I wish everyone had to grow their own food, then maybe they would appreciate shit.  I love being so close to my food-source, growing foodstuffs and eating what I’ve grown.  The other day I went out with my family to collect Baobab leaves to put in the lunch bowl.  They are so tasty that I just ate the leaves right off the tree.  Also, bush mango = dank.  It “blocks me up”, but is so delicious – and they’re so plentiful, all over the ground and ready to fall into my stomach.  One of the women who cook in our compound climbed like 30-feet in a Baobab tree to get the leaves.  I didn’t have my camera, but it was EPIC – something I will never forget.

I have about 8-months left and still go back and forth every single day about whether or not I want to extend.  I could live like this for a long time to come, but I have to consider students loans, friends, family and love interests.  I just don’t know if I left that I’d ever have the means to come back, probably cuz “I ain’t got no money.”  Ha, I love sayin that in the way my brother says it (ghetto & southern).

Take care guys.  And for real, check out that link up there ;)  Help a sister out.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Hope all is well in the States. It’s april, should be rainy there right? Well we have another 2-months until we see even a dew drop.  Man I miss playing in the rain, splashing in puddles; this year I have rain boots!  It’s really hot here right now, it was 91 today and that was the coolest it’s been in a few weeks now.  From 2pm-5pm, I sit in tree eating ripe mangoes and writing in my journal and/or reading books.  It’s JUST too hot to do anything during the day.  People are starting to prepare their fields for the farming season which will last from june-october.

my new toubab baby
The health school just finished its 4th month, completing Reproductive & Child Health month!  We even painted a whole health mural on the village clinic – it’s beautiful!  Now we move onto Environmental Sanitation, talking about open defecation in the bush, pit latrine maintenance/sanitation, waste water, trash dumping, etc.  It’ll be a dirty dirty topic but oh so necessary!  The last month will be on Malaria in June.  After that, I’ll have to make some more work. 
Time is flying by.

completed health mural in my village
i got a place in the mural! check out the pit hair haha
Every month for the rest of my time here, there is something planned.  I cannot believe in the blink of an eye that my time here will be finished, or will it be ;) I might try to stay here for some time.  I love the simple village life and can’t imagine my life otherwise right now.  A new group of Peace Corps health/environment came into the Gambia just this month, and I want to help them out with adjusting, learning language and creating work.  They spent the last 2-months training in Senegal, and are now officially Gambian volunteers!  With this group coming, it is not only a significant time for THEM, but also for me.  I remember this time last year I was doing the same thing as them – swearing into the United States Peace Corps, with my right hand raised, reciting lines that promise to promote peace and prosperity among Gambians in the hopes of progress and positive change (there’s a lot of P’s in that sentence).  It’s beautiful to take this time to reflect on the last year and look to my future.  I am very happy right now with my service I am just radiating energy.  All of those around me will feel these vibrations – it’s inevitable!
i wish i could look as fly as her! wedding day
I am in a significant time in my life right now, living abroad.  I now have a solid grasp of the Wolof language (well… I’m trying anyways).  I feel COMFORTABLE in my environment. I absolutely love my village and family – I have FRIENDS here and people to infect me with happiness.  I have meaningful work and hopes for more in the near future.  I feel like I am growing a lot, learning as much as possible in my Peace Corps experience.  This is also a personal experience.  I’m taking time to try new things, like crocheting, farming, etc.  I’m happy.
the village painter and a good friend of mine

Well I’ll keep this one short.  Just know, all is well on the smiling coast of West Africa.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Busy Busy is the Working Bee!

Salaamaleekum! Peace be upon you all.
Apologies for the time it takes to write these things.  There’s always much to be said, but when I sit down, I feel like a blog just can’t do this experience justice; but as I always say, I’ll try my best!
Updates:1. Geoff came and went.  Most visitors don’t stay more than 2-weeks – Geoff stayed for a month in West Africa.  Granted 2-weeks were spent travelling to Cape Verde, but there were 2-more awesome weeks spent in my village.  He’ll be the first to tell you that he fell in love with the slow, village life; it’s easy to do when your biggest worries are “I wonder if I’ll have diarrhea today”.  LOL!  Geoff cracked groundnuts, took bucket baths, explored the Gambian bush, and much much more.  OH YEAH, we had a wedding!  It was a playground wedding, filled with drummers and asobes (matching outfits with Geoff and my family).   It was an amazing learning experience to have a guest from America, for him and myself.  I hope it’s not the only time I’ll have a visitor.  I’ll post just a few pictures here:
Geoff running down the side of an ACTIVE VOLCANO!
On FOGO, one of the islands in Cape Verde off the coast of W. Africa

Wedding day matching tye-dye outfits! How Peace Corps lol

My Gambian family and our "asobe"s (matching outfits) for the wedding!

And you thought YOU get dirty on the dance floor!
Wolof women do it right.
"Malick Ceesay" dancing with my wife Jamma Ceesay!
The slow village life, cracking groundnuts - beautiful!

2. HEALTH SCHOOL is more than I could have ever imagined!  We are officially halfway complete, and the women are just getting warmed up.  This past month we focused on nutrition, filled with: weaning foods, cooking demonstrations, dramas, and fun activities.  This past month and next month are dedicated to RCH – Reproductive and Child Health.  March had 2-classes: the importance of RCH & female anatomy (see pictures below).  This next month (April), we are holding 2-more classes on RCH: pregnancy and menstruation & family planning.  In some villages, these would be considered “taboo” to teach, but the women have shown a great interest in these subjects, which make the lessons that much more wonderful.  Lastly, in two weeks, a few of my Peace Corps co-volunteers, as well as the women enrolled in the health school, will paint HEALTH MURALS on the hospital!  We got permission from the village leader to paint, so no need to hesitate.  I will post pictures later!

My host mom showing off her anatomy apron and model!

Teaching about exclusive breastfeeding!
It looks like I'm doing it haha!

weening foods cooking demonstration

"and here is the PENIS"
Anatomy lesson in a muslim country #score

      I got to watch my first Gambian tattoo be done by a woman in my village.  So allow me to explain!  The pictures below are somehow disturbing, but they’re for “cultural purposes” haha, or my sick infatuation with body alterations.  Anyhow, getting your gums (yes, in your mouth) tattooed is seen as a sign of beauty.  I don’t know when they chose that place, of all places, but it is done pretty regularly here.  The only other kind of “tattooing” that is done is called “fula scarring”.  FULA is a tribe here in the Gambia, but the scarring is done by all tribes.  I have done this type of tattooing (see picture below), and it is very common for Peace Corps Volunteers to get these done before they return to America.  Have a look!
she was a bleeder.

stayyyy still, squueeze my hand!
One of my family members doing a "touch-up" on her gum-tattoos

Well, that’s pretty much it.  I’ve been busy busy busy these past few months, with Geoff visiting, travelling, the health school and a few other side-projects.  The time is flying by too fast, which makes me want to stay longer; we’ll have to see if I’m allowed!  Oh, by the way, it’s officially the HOT SEASON.  This means I spend most of my afternoons sitting under a tree, usually doing one of the following: WRITING LETTERS HOME, learning wolof, reading, braiding hair/getting my hair braided, panting like a dog, sipping attaya and juice, and napping.  I would love love love some letters.  It seems people (including myself) have begun to slack off, but please remember that I really really look forward to handwritten love.  You don’t have to write about anything of importance, but write me darnit!  The address is somewhere on the side of this blog.

I miss you all, but I’ve made this place a second home.  I have a family here, friends, and meaningful work.  Peace Corps has been an amazing, life-changing experience for me, and I hope this blog has inspired some of you to go off and explore, have adventures of your own, even if into the woods of your backyard or into a local state park.  This earth was created for exploring and appreciating all the beauty it has to offer.  NOW GO!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Salaamaleekum! I hope all is well, and each and every one of you rang in the New Year surrounded by positive energy, friends and family.  I missed celebrating the holidays with everyone back home, but this year was still spent in good company.Updates:
1. GEOFF IS COMING IN LIKE 20-SOMETHING DAYS!  I’m in “prepare” mode, cleaning everything, buying stuff, etc.  I’m so excited he is making this trip.  He also will visit my family in SC before he flies East to West Africa!  I will pick him up from the airport, here in Banjul, on February 3rd.  I’ve been waiting for this moment since I got here.  It will be here before I know it.  It will be over before I can say “Hey, babe, I’ve missed you...”  It’s the way of the world.

Demba handing out health cards to the women! The whole village came out!
2.  The Bati Njol Health School for Women is in full swing!!  The opening ceremony was at the end of December.  The women danced, did some health dramas, ate plenty of food, drank attaya, milk & juice, and ate watermelon.  I just sat in a corner most of the time, trying to take it all in.  This was planned by the women of Bati, and I was witnessing a “Peace Corps Project” in full view.  As I blended into the wall, the women were laughing, joking, dancing, with not a negative vibe in the world.  For one afternoon they could forget about fetching water, cooking all day, wiping snotty noses, etc. etc. etc.  This day was a day to celebrate.  These women were elected by their families to spend the next 6-months learning about essential health topics.  We even took a class photo and the women were given their health cards with a huge self-portrait on each one.  
Enjoying Attaya at the party with the ladies!

Our class photo (I'm there, just taking the picture)..
I cannot even explain how beautiful it was!  At the end of the day, I was full of love & compassion for these women, and I couldn’t wait for the first class...
Grubbin on some local Wolof dish, called "benechin" meaning "one dish"
Dancing the day away.. CRAZY wolof women!
3.  We had our first class!  Of course I was a worry-wart before hand thinking “nobody will show up,” blah blah blah, spiraling pessimism.  I had reason to believe that nobody would come because all the men were telling me so.  On this day, a huge naming ceremony was going on – one of my family members had a baby the week before.  So, naturally, as I am setting up for class, everyone says, “Mariama, today is Ami’s naming ceremony, and it is sweet/nice.”  Some were saying “this ceremony is more important than learning/class.”  My blood was boiling!  This goes back to one of my first blogs about balancing culture and progress... it’s not easy DEH!
So after I say “yes, well, the women know class is today, and they can go to both the ceremony and class.”  Still, I got the ::psh, yeah right, toubab... we’ll see about that:: looks  Not to mention, I was working my butt off to set up so the first class would be ballin!  I told myself, “I’ve done ALL I possibly can, now I wait and see...”
2:30pm rolls around and I ring the village gong.  BONG. BONG. BONG. The men lazed around the Bantaba (meeting place) – their looks said ::we’ll see NOW how many women come::  I kept myself busy sweeping, hanging things up, pacing.

Demba teaching about preventing illnesses!

One woman shows, then a group of three, then ten more.  I collected their health cards, anxiously saying “THANK YOU for coming,” and I really, truly meant it.  I wanted to stick my tongue out to everyone who doubted me or these women!  39 out of 40 women came, and the 1 woman had a legit excuse; she was delivering a baby... wow.

The students learning about hand washing!

Jay Sowe receiving her kettle and soap!

Donated by Sally Reader of FR.O.G.S (google it)

The class went so well.  The teacher (Community Health Nurse), was so easy to follow and kept the enthusiasm high.  Once again, I sat, like one of the women in class, in awe of what was happening in that moment.  They were asking questions, engaging.  They were so excited to be there.  They’ve never been to school and now they were students in health school!  They also had activities and group works like learning how to hand wash, setting up hand washing stations, and making an oral rehydration drink for “runny tummies.”  At the end of class, each women (who represents each compound) was able to take home a brand new kettle and soap to set up a hand washing station.  You can imagine the smiles stretched wide across their faces.
This morning I was on my way to the next village on my bike.  A woman says to me, “Mariama!  Ah sa ligeey bi rafet na.”  This means “your work is beautiful.”  Then, she told me that this morning, her family all washed their hands before breakfast, and she put her hands together in a sign of appreciation and happiness.   I’d like to think I have a check on my ego, but I could feel it swelling up as I strolled away on my bike, a huge smile stretched across my face, saying “thank you... thank you Jainaba!”
THIS IS WHY I AM HERE. Aum. Peace. Amin.