"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

Friday, December 13, 2013

Top ten things I'll miss about West Africa

1. Eating out of a communal food-bowl (with hand!).  There is something so beautiful in the social aspect of eating - it's emotional, intimate & brings people together.  Everyday I sit down to eat with my host family, no T.V. or distractions; pure company.  Each handful a piece of this heaping bowl of rice or coos, a part and parcel of the family.  Love it!

Breakfast with the family - I love coos!!

Benechin - Rice and veges/meat.  A Ceremonial dish that everyone eats out of

2.  Pooping in a hole & using water to wipe.  There are 3-things that always come up during Peace Corps Volunteer conversations - food (because we miss it), poop (because it's funny), and sex (because we miss it).  Some people may not agree, but I LOVE squatting over a hole to relieve myself.  It feels natural, everything flows & I now have amazing quads and squatting abilities.  Also, no T.P= environmentally friendly solutions. I'd never would have guessed it is more pleasant, but the trees and my bottom are all singing for joy.
A little peace corps humor.  My bathroom in village.

3.  Going to the garden to get veggies for my meal.  One good thing in working to build community gardens is my intimate connection to my food-source.  I go to the garden & see fresh, organic, home-grown vegetables ready for me to pick and eat.  Women hand me eggplant, lettuce, squash, okra & corn to cook my lunch everyday.
Eggplant and Okra, fresh from the garden!

4.  Sense of security.  I have never felt safer in my life, despite what people may think about living in Africa.  I can walk in the bush without fear of anything - wild animals, mass murderers, getting lost, etc.  If I'm traveling and it gets to be late, I know I can literally walk up to any village and will be housed, fed, and tended to without any expectations.  It's the Gambian way of hospitality.  I live in one of the most peaceful countries in the world - even safer than most cities in America - personal opinion, of course.  "Peace Only" is the answer to most greetings and blessings in The Gambia.

My newborn child, "Hawa Malick" (my sisters baby is also my baby)

5.  Babies, Babies, Everywhere!  Statistically speaking, I believe there are between 5-7  living babies/children to every-one Gambian woman.  Needless to say, I am handed a baby in every direction I turn.  "Take my baby to the place where white-people are!" "Let me give you it, you can have it!"  African babies are by far the cutest kids I've ever seen, and it has helped me to be comfortable holding them while they learn to walk, talk, work & play.  I feel like I never saw or payed attention to under 5-year olds in America.  Now, I hope to always be surrounded by their light and naivety.

6.  Living in a mud-brick hut.  My previous blog described the characteristics of how I am currently living.  Simply, my hut is my sanctuary and realm of peace.  I wish I could build one to live in while State-side.

7.  Hand-washing my laundry.  Taking a few hours each week, choosing a day to rid my clothes of Gambian elements, such as dirt, poop, boogers & other particles, is meditative and helps me to sow my life down.  It's too easy to throw our clothes in a robot-machine that does my laundry for me.  When I scrub my dirt out of my clothes, it is physically and mentally beneficial.  I could go as far to say it is a spiritual-cleansing.
Taking a morning to do my laundry

8.  Slow mornings and time for myself.  I have never spent this much time for personal reflection and growth as I have here.  I wake up slow, salute the sun, warm coffee on a charcoal burner, write in my dream journal and take time to read and write everyday.  If I'm not busy, I'll stroll to the vegetable market and slow-roast a stew while listening to music.  Our fast-paced lifestyles in America rarely cater this time for ourselves, always busy with work, others, etc. etc. etc.
My reading spot in my mom's cassava garden

9.  Lying under the stars with my family at the end of every single day.  No electricity, electronics, lights or anything except genuine conversation, greetings from the neighbors, village gossip and even a beautiful silence.  The children fall asleep under the stars.  Babies stare at the moon in wonder.  Adults brew a sugary green tea and stay up late chatting.  I can not think of a more pure, familial engagement as peaceful as this.  Oh how I wish this for a family of my own.
We lie on these stone "bantabas" every night under the stars

10.  Gambian fashion.  I have never looked as colorful and ridiculous as I have here.  African sin can pull off any color and fashion and look amazing!  Naturally beautiful people.  Me, on the other hand, have been the ass-end of Gambian fashion since I arrived.  Google 'West African clothing/fashion', and then imagine me dressed like that - it's funny I tell you!  However, the more crazy I think I look, the more compliments and praises I get.  The more designs, patterns and colors I can fit into one outfit, the better.  Not to mention, I never have to shave, wear make-up, put on deodorant or match!  I would never survive socially in America, although I still may not shave my legs and armpits.  Rawr, baby!

Friday, October 4, 2013

AN EXCERPT from my journal

This journal entry has been censored, cut-clipped & catered to a respectable audience.  It was written a few weeks ago on a “not the greatest of my life” kind-of day.  All is well now, but I found this entry when I recently re-read my journal & couldn’t help but laugh at myself.  This has been quite the adventure.  Excuse the candor, but it is indeed a journal.  I just thought I’d share the truth of a Peace Corps Volunteer in West friggin Africa.  Not to mention, I was under the influence of Cashews.

Once again, I have no idea what time of day it is, so I’ll entertain myself by saying it is about 9:30pm on – let’s say – the 27th of September, 2013.  Who knows…? I dare say it’s not important!

I’m in a hut with walls made of blended rocks, sand, and just a hint of cement.  The ceiling – made of tied grasses from the bush and smoked sticks holding it all together.  The combination looks like a hand-made craft, of a “real African house!” (said in the most annoying of southern accents), sitting on a make-shift table in the corner of a flea market labeled “multi-cultural section.”  At least the figurine has super-glue.

I sometimes want to believe my house is safe from the elements, until a slow & steady stream of rain drip onto my naked body – like a cruel form of torture – preventing even the idea of a dream or rest from an interesting day.  Lightning hits nearby and I imagine each individual piece of gravel, which hold my walls together, shifting and reducing in it's place – wanting to return to its final state of sand and nothingness– like the rest of West Africa.

Every night, I wake up premature to the sounds of a family or brotherhood of rats that decided to make my house their usual place of worship, singing their praises and hymns in a strange  & high-pitched voice that actually sounds like demons being choked, almost eerie.  Then I remember I am even protected from their non-sense due to my “top of the line” nylon warrior net, like a web in the night, preventing a sickness that could attempt to boil my brains & put me in the grave.  I can imagine the insecticide burning the legs of the mosquitoes and causing them to land just below, where the ants await their supper.  I wish.  Then again, even if the mosquitoes attacked, by some mere chance I forgot to tuck my net in, I obediently take a prophylaxis that has been outlawed in most nooks of the world – after eating and with plenty of water – or so it goes.

I roll over on my side, sending a shooting pain through my hips.  I currently sleep on a bamboo bed frame, on a mattress made of compacted hay – shoved into sewn rice bags.  I could move into the couch, but that is also made of bamboo, held together by bamboo nails.  Did I mention what the only tiny stool in my hut is made of?  And the table… and my bookshelf.  I have a full-on war with mold every rainy season.  Nothing provides support for the natural contours of my body.  At least I still have my youth, and time is on my side to strengthen the fibers that have been stiffened & weathered here.

At night, only the moon lights my hut- and on nights where the moon is not reflecting into our village, I light a candle.  The breeze from the desert, that has consumed The Gambia, slides over my skin & brings the sweet smell of mangoes from the tree overhead my hut.  That same breeze carries the howl of the hyenas nearby & the dogs barking non-stop to keep the scavengers at bay.  Sometimes it brings a terrible storm that threatens to rip my roof off and carry it to the next village over a kilometer away.  Either way, the breeze is a much welcomed blessing to cool the walls from a normal West African day of heat and hot sand (the elements).  I sing praises that probably only go as far as my hut itself.  Or so it goes.

I try to cover the plain, deteriorating walls with materialized memories from the past & many memories to come; pictures are littered around the windows and doors.  A painting or three remind me that even the simplest of houses can be a home – baobabs, farmers and women empowered through a lifetime of carrying the load.  There’s a bird-nest in the corner, an intricate creation that I’ll never wrap my head around.  All the eggs are long gone & so is their mother.

Little mantras are strategically placed on the ways in and out of my sanctuary.  They say “why are you here?” and “let your mind start a journey through a strange new place…” (See Erich Fromm, philosopher).  Bags…scarves…and ancient garden tools hang on the walls; they could have been dug up from the beginning of the Iron Age – (again, could be on a table at a flea market “from Africa!”).  I’m surrounded by notes to myself saying “don’t forget: finish planting those trees by this/that date…”  Again, “why are you here?”… I still wonder.

A hideous, black filter - to keep the amoebas at bay – has been put in a corner; I’ve had pin-worm more than five-times – don’t ask me how I discovered them – and I even bleach!  Maybe I shouldn’t have accepted that semi-cold cup of water from that beautifully decrepit old woman – an elder in the village – as I walked home parched and exhausted.  Fuck it.  It was worth it.  Thank you Mer Hawa…
I’ll go take that de-wormer now.

Lastly, a sun-faded Gambian flag hangs from my grass-thatched roof.  In the back of my head, I can hear a handful of school-children singing the national anthem “For the Gambia…” or so it goes.

All of these things thoughtfully composed & arranged within a 4-meter by 4-meter space.  In this sanctuary, I can read, work-out, meditate, sleep, fart, eat, but mostly I lie/walk around naked.  Why?  Not only because it’s hot as Hades, but because I can.  When I’m in my four walls of adobe slabs (queue Animal Collective here), I can escape the world outside my termite-infested doors.  I can simply BE.  No matter what happens – beautiful or nerve racking – I can retire to my Darussalam (real of peace) inside my hut… inside my Self.

I’m sure the rats can still get a kick out of my shenanigans and one-woman dance parties that take place, but then again, I wouldn’t have it any other away.  My hut wouldn’t be complete without their squeaks that haunt my mepholoquine-filled dreams.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


I recently had the opportunity to visit home (THE STATES) and came back home (THE GAMBIA) about three-weeks ago.  Let me tell you... I felt like I was on VACATION the whole time!  I was gone for six weeks, but you know sometimes when you visit home it feels like work.  NOT this time!  I was actually able to soak up America in all it’s beautiful?ness?... beauty.  Let me sum it up for you:

Dad now has 9-chickens that give him at least 5 fresh eggs a day!  He is a chicken whisperer...
Gambian fashion in America

Mom = Best friend
South Carolina – I landed my 12-hour+ trip from Dakar, Senegal in the heart of the South.  I got to visit my parents, who now own 9-chickens and are gardening their tomatoes and cucumbers (they’ll never call themselves hippies.. but WE know).  We enjoyed farmers markets, making margaritas and pizzas, and getting tattoos!  Although both of them are shrinking and getting older, they still have the energy of children.
An inked family. I love you, Dad! You're so awesome with your Pink Floyd shirt.

New York – After enjoying southern comfort and porch swingin’, I moseyed up to Brooklyn to see my girlfriend.  We went out to a drag show, saw The Flaming Lips and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, went to Staten Island and saw the Statue of Liberty, roamed the Brooklyn streets at night and crept the bars, ate Bagels the size of my face, and went to ground zero.  Let me just say, I could NEVER live in New York – too fast, but damn it was fun.
all I need now is a fanny-pack

where the side-walk ends

Minnesota – SURPRISE!!! I went out to see Geoff out in Minnesota on my birthday.  Little did he know, I’d come 2-days early and surprise the SHIT out of him.  How fun!  Minnesota is beautiful, I just wish it were sunnier.  We did get to bike around the lakes and see a hip-hop show on first avenue (Soundset Afterparty).  This was only the beginning of our adventures together.

Colorado – After our short trip in MN, we flew out to Denver and stayed in Boulder for a little while.  WE SAW BASSNECTAR AND A-TRAK in true cosmic fashion – I have never been to a better concert.  Oh, did I mention.. it was at Red Rocks!  We did a lot of camping and hiking after that, roaming and discovering beautiful mountain towns throughout the state.  I also got to visit the place where we met, 9,000 ft. up in Winterpark AND had a miniature snowball fight; it’s quite the change from the desert of The Gambia.
Snow! I threw a snowball at the camera-man right after this!
Forever Nomadic
Bassnectar. A cosmic experience.  Rosaline Sunshine is the name.

North Carolina – Asheville is the shit.  In case you haven’t been there, it’s like a miniature “Boulder, CO”.  I got to visit my best friend and go zip-lining, zooming through the BEAUTIFUL, lush mountains of North Carolina!  We dressed up and roamed the town, meeting generous strangers and some strangely… close folks who were unique in every positive-sense of the word.  I ALSO sat in a baby pool while eating chips and drinking beer – epic.
Only she understand me. Her name is sub-zero

Zipping through the mountains at HIGH SPEEDS

Overall, I did EVERYTHING I wanted to do while I was in the States (starting each day with a Bloody Mary), and got to see all of my favorite people!  However, I did miss my Gambian family and friends a lot.  I feel refreshed after being back and got the “break” I needed to.  I now feel like I have the energy and creative fire to complete my projects here.  I realize now that 10-months is A BLIP ON THE RADAR of time and that I need to soak this place up as much as possible.
My "gift from the road" to my Gambian family.  AMERICAN FABRIC!
 So since I’ve been back, I’ve jumped back into work and have decided to do all the things I said I should’ve done in my first two-years of service.  These include: go fishing (check), buy a pet goat (check), learn how to drum, bike the country, and so-forth-and-so-on.  It’s farming season now, and the rain is in full force.  Oh how I missed the CRACK of the thunder less than one-kilometer away and the light-show I get every day, either thunderstorms or heat-lightening.  I missed COOS, eating with my hand, wiping with my other hand, prayer calls, greeting people every day, eating mangoes as they fall off the tree, gardening… the list could go on forever.  I love this place and I’ve had a great freaking time here.  I am going to make the best of this year and radiate my light all over the place.
Sunset in The Gambia

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I'm Coming Home!

Only one-month ago, I celebrated my two-year mark in village.  It was a time to reflect on what I’ve seen and done here as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) and as a wandering soul.  Most people who I came here with said “Peace Out, Gambia!” and a handful of people will remain with me here for another year.  In one-month, I will be able to come home!  Peace Corps is helping me to come visit “the home people” before I dive into my third and final year in The Gambia.
My Reading Hammock in My Mom's Cassava Garden

One-year ago, if you mentioned to me “going back to America,” I’d feel anxious, stressed and hesitant.  I couldn’t even fathom leaving this simple, slow life to be thrown back into American culture, where life is fast, work is 9-5 and everyone owns a motor vehicle of some sort (well… mostly).  If you mentioned a grocery store, I would die a little inside.  I was terrified.

Needless to say, I’ve come a long way here and don’t necessarily feel the same way these days.  In fact, all I can think about is Mexican food, micro-breweries, live music and loved ones.  I’m still anxious to come visit, but it is in a more positive way.  I have the jitters.
My Little America - DAKAR, SENEGAL (with more mosques and less cars)

Recently I took a trip to Dakar, Senegal with a few other PCVs.  If you don’t know, it’s one of the most developed cities in Africa, definitely the most developed in West Africa.  I might be exaggerating when I say it felt like “little America;”  it had coffee shops, bars, giant hotels, grocery stores and a mall with a bowling alley in it.  When I heard of the mall, once again I became nervous… For the past two-years, I’ve had to either:
1. Buy fabric at the weekly market and go to the tailor to have clothes made
2. Grab something out of the Peace Corps “free pile”
3. Dig through piles of “donated clothes” sent from Toubabado (white-people land) on the side of the road.
In Dakar, I was window shopping at clothes on hangers and racks, organized by color and size – none of which I could afford, nor did I need it.
Always a Kid

The point is – I didn’t freak out.  I simply acknowledged the experience as different than I currently know, but not unfamiliar.  Before I came here, it was a family outing to go shopping on the weekends; it’s what I grew up doing.  I may have a slightly new perspective on the way of the world since being here, but the past two-years doesn’t rule out all that I knew twenty-three years before coming here.  I’m ready to come home…
Men on the Garden Development Committee - Matching Hats on Training Day!

BUT, only for six-weeks!  I still have plenty of work to do here.  I still have some things I need to learn while I’m here, about myself and about Gambian culture.  The good thing about being able to come home is that I’ll be able to step out of my Peace Corps bubble, reflect on my experiences from the outside of West Africa, and be able to appreciate even more the experience I’ve been given.  When I come back to The Gambia, I’ll know what I want to accomplish with a year left.  My motivation and creative energy will be rejuvenated.  I’ll be filled with enough love from friends and family back home to last another year. 

What I get to come back to for another year!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Remy's Inspiration

Salaamaleekum!  As always, Peace Be Upon You

I just wanted to make a quick post about the inspiration one of my friends and co-Peace Corps Volunteers has found in his service.  Like me, he is extending for a third-year of service here in The Gambia.  I have not been able to thoroughly express why I want to stay for another year, but I feel like he hit the nail on the head and I wanted to share his outlook on volunteering.


[From Remy]

To my fellow third year volunteers,
"Only a crisis --- actual or perceived --- produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around."
-Milton Friedman
 In my time in The Gambia, I have lamented about its people more than I have helped them. I have said many times that these people are lazy and unwilling to change. I have attributed my failures here to both sides lacking in understanding of one another. But, if i had spent half as much time trying to be a better volunteer as I did lamenting, I would have been a hell of a lot more useful in my first two years. I wanted you all, my good friends, to know why I'm staying on for a third year here, and why I believe in our work.
I arrived here and saw nothing but crisis --- some of it actual, some perceived. I saw malnourished children, unequipped hospitals, and schools without order or even chalk --- what I know understand to be 'actual' crisis. Then I saw men sitting under trees all day adding nothing to the progress of their country, families spending more money on cigarettes, sugar and fancy clothes than on vegetables, medical care, small enterprise development or education --- what I now understand to be 'perceived' crisis.
It may be awful to regard such things as 'perceived' crisis, yet it bears truth. It is not the truth because of how I see it, it is the truth because of how they see it. The Gambian people do not identify my 'perceived' crisis to be a crisis at all. Their reasoning is complex in its history, yet very simple in cause:
Where there has been 'actual' crisis --- food shortages, need for medical supplies, renovations of essential facilities, etc. --- foreign aid has time and again been there to keep the country from feeling the actuality of their crisis. If foreign aid remains their safety net, they will never fall. The trickle down and corruption of foreign aid money keeps everyone fed, medicated and educated just enough to let none of the people want to develop those systems for themselves. They perceive no crisis they have never felt one.
This said, let me clarify two points: One, I am against foreign aid --- that is, foreign monetary aid. Second, I am in full support of aid in the form of skill-sharing, capacity building and education. This is Peace Corps' stronghold in the foreign aid world. No one else is working with the people and for the people like us. We bring ideas, we bring solutions --- whether those ideas or solutions are utilized in our time here depends on the Gambian people's understanding of their crisis.
"When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around." We, my friends, lay ideas. We lay them everywhere. That is our service. When these people finally recognize their crisis, we will have left them with their greatest asset: the idea. While all the other foreign aid money dwindles, and the heaping projects of foreign titans fall, only ideas will be left. That is what we do.