Saturday, December 25, 2010

Welcome Yankuba Jammeh

A few weeks ago, my host mother finally gave birth. She had a healthy baby boy, so here are some pictures of the baby and from the naming ceremony itself. Here is a picture of the baby at about 36 hours old.

The naming ceremony itself was a great day. Early in the morning, neighbors started coming over to our compound. Then, an old man shaved the baby's head, while an a neighbor lady held him. After his head was shaved, he was passed from old person to old person, as they all prayed over him. Then, someone held the baby up and announced his name to everyone "Yankuba!" (Its a Mandinka version of Yacob, which is the Muslim version of Jacob). The rest of the day was spent cooking huge vats of bennechin, and eating. My host mother looked beautiful, and changed into new beautiful outfits every few hours all day long. Later in the evening, we had a dance circle. Here are some pics from the day.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Its the final countdown

Hey folks at home!

Sorry for the long silence! Its been a busy emotion-filled, anxiety ridden, pretty fun couple of months. I guess the reason I’ve been so quiet is that it becomes difficult to write when I run out of novel experiences. Life seems pretty normal here. But since you’ve been so patient, here are some pictures of the kittens that were born in my bed!

And now on to the topic at hand. My service is almost over. I’ve got about three weeks left. So now is the time to be pulling back on work-related stuff, more just being available to offer advice rather than organizing or leading anything. Its time to start making plans back home. Its time to start saying goodbye.

Some things feel good. I enjoy watching my students plan their own activities, and make decisions as a group. I only hope they continue to carry this great momentum forward. I just celebrated Tobaski with my host family, which was a really nice day, and I felt valued and as if I belonged. My host mother is pregnant and due to give birth any minute, and its been fun to anticipate the baby along with her, and plan the naming ceremony. A big community party with all my friends would be a nice way to end things. But I’m also excited to be making plans back home. I’m ready to see my family! I’m ready to eat some burritos! I’m currently in the process of applying for M. Ed. programs around the country, and its exciting to be thinking about the next step.

This is also pretty scary. In as much as I am looking forward to being home, I don’t think its going to be an easy transition. What about jobs? Is it going to be difficult to relate to people? Will they have a difficult time relating to me? Will my friendships pick back up where they were two years ago? What if I don’t get into any Master’s programs? I think 70 degrees is COLD, what about Michigan winters!?

Also, I’m feeling sad. I have genuine friends here, and that is going to be difficult to leave. I’ve watched a number of children grow and learn over the course of two years, and it’s a bummer to think of not being here to see them continue.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, I’ll be seeing you before you know it. Eeek.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My apologies for how long its been since I've posted. Honestly, at this point its been a little hard to find things to post about. Nothing seems very novel, so why write?
Rainy season has come and gone, as has Ramadan. My service is coming to a close, so while I am still active and available in my community, I'm not trying to start anything new. School has started again, and the Peer Health Club has lots of new members and big plans for the year. My friend and I are still working on installing internet at the school, though Ramadan did delay the process.

Here is something I've wanted to post since being here. The following picture is of Omar and his Peace Corps Cafe! Omar is a talented cook who has been friends with PC for years. His little rocket ship-shaped hut is just down the street from our offices, so its a great lunch spot, plus he's open to learning new foods for volunteers, such as quasadillas or philly cheese steak sandwiches. He caters a lot of PC training events and makes a mean ginger chicken.

Thanks Omar!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

packing list

Hey everybody! As my service here comes to an end, I thought I would review what I was glad I brought with me, and what I wish I had brought instead. PC issues a suggested packing list, but we all agree that its kind of dumb. But since changing it would involve going through Washington DC (seriously, we checked), I thought I would just post one of my own(to be considered IN ADDITION to the one offered by PC) for anyone considering PC in Sub Saharan Africa.

Things I’m glad I brought
My laptop--really good for storing pics, being able to work at home, and watching movies. Wifi is increasingly available in The Gambia, you’re going to want a laptop. Also came in handy for radio project I did with my students.
An extra battery for my laptop--it was nice to be able to have an extra couple of hours of power between charging. Everyone I knew who had one of those big, expensive solar batteries that can power a laptop said that they didn’t work. Its better to rig something up here with a car battery, or make your own solar set-up once you get here. Or as I did, just have an extra battery you can charge when you ARE near power.
Ipod and speakers
Digital camera
Solio--little solar panel charger. It takes about 8 hours in the sun to get a full charge, and from it I can charge my cell phone and ipod without needing to go searching for an outlet. Some people said that their Solio broke in the rain. Mine has been rained on plenty of times and is still going strong.
My own pillow--pillows in this country are terrible.
A fleece blanket--believe it or not, January and February nights are chilly
Sturdy sandals--I prefer Keen, but lots of people seem to like Chacos. Both of these companies provide discounts to PCVs, so take advantage of that.
Toiletries--deodorant, tampons, and razors are all available here, but they are expensive. Its better to load up on that stuff at home when it goes on sale. Ten sticks of deodorant for a $1 each is going to feel WAY better than buying one every month or so for the equivalent of $4 on your PC living allowance.

Things I wish I had brought
A French press--Nescafe is yucky.
More solid colored plain t-shirts
Knife sharpener
One pair of nice heals. Oh wait, I did bring that. And when my bag was too big, they were one of the first things to be ditched. I still think about them all lonely next to the airport trash can.
More food from home--seriously, this is what you should fill your bags with. Food for training, and other stuff you can’t get here. Chai tea, drink/soup/sauce mixes, real coffee, real chocolate, dried fruit. Etc.

Things that I didn’t need
Don’t bring so many clothes, you can just have things made here, or go shopping in the “dead white man’s clothes” (clothes donated to Goodwill, then sold to developing countries).

DON’T bring so many professional clothes, no matter what the stupid packing list says. I still have some nice slacks and button-down shirts that I haven’t worn yet. Its just too hot. Most of us just don’t work in offices, so why feel uncomfortable all the time? For women, conservative sun dresses are better, or I’m sure you’ll have things tailored. For men, a few pairs of khakis and a couple of button-downs will be fine.

Hiking boots/sturdy shoes--I can only think of 2 times that I wore sturdy shoes. The rest of the time I wore flip-flops. It’s just too hot for closed-toed shoes. And if you’re going in and out of people’s houses, you’re going to be lacing them up and off all the time.

Cell phone--yes, you can bring an unlocked phone from the states to use here, but I don’t think that it was worth it. The internet capabilities on my phone weren’t compatible with the internet offerings here, and it wasn’t as sturdy. The nokia phones here are cheap($35-$40), durable, and come with a handy-dandy flashlight function that you will use every single day.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dead Aid

Hey everybody.

So this past week the president of our country, His Excellency the Honorable Gen. Dr. Prof. Sheik Alagie A. J. J. Jammeh traveled around the country giving money to schools to host end-of-year parties. Awesome. He gave the high school where I work D40, 000 (roughly $1,600), with the stipulation that it be used in one day to give a party for students and staff. So we bought 2 cows for slaughter, probably 150 kilos of rice, 60 litres of oil, onions, potatoes, plus all the spices to make yassa and bennechin. Plus boxes and boxes of green tea for attaya, and cans of sweetened condensed milk, which they re-hydrate a little, and serve hot. And we hired a DJ.
Here is my problem. This is a school that can’t get its ducks in a row to keep itself in good working order. We may be in better shape than some because we are German-sponsored, but we still don’t have any science equipment, our art supplies are few and are bad quality, and the library is full of outdated books which no one cares for or organizes (I’ve been trying to guess whether the West just donated a bunch of junk, or whether they sent good learning materials, and all the nice stuff has been stolen by now). In each grade, about one third of the students performed well enough to be promoted to the next grade. In short, when the money is clearly available, is a party really what we need most?
I struggled with how to have this discussion with people. I didn’t want to lecture or impose my American practicalities on people, especially since its not my school’s fault. They didn’t ask for a party, someone just handed them some money and told them to buy some cows. Of course they agreed. The best I could do was ask questions to try and facilitate discussion (“Wow! D40,000? To use all in one day? Think what that money could buy that we could enjoy all year long!”)I could have boycotted, but that really wouldn’t have made much of a dent either. I went, cooked with my friends, ate beef and was glad for the protein.

I’ve mentioned this anecdote as an introduction to a discussion on Dead Aid a book I’ve read on the history of aid sent to the developing world, and whether or not the habit has outlived its purpose. In short, the book makes the argument that by continuing to send money, the developed world is only enabling the developing world in keeping bad habits, or that the trend of giving has outlived the need for it. More and more, the citizens of these developing countries (and their governments) HAVE the money to meet many of their own needs, but know very well what the donors will pay for, so they use their own money on (forgive me) dumb stuff. The developed world will pay for ARVs for HIV/AIDS patients, so local governments can spend their own money on big sports stadiums. The developed world LOVES to support schools buy building them, furnishing them, buying supplies, and paying fees, so local governments feel free to buy parties, parents feel free to buy fancy clothes. Our aid has many other negative effects as well, often by being open to our “aid” a country must also be open to trade with us, and by having our imports their own economy can’t sustain its own production. To close itself off from trade with us might be the best thing for the local economy, but they would lose donations and no one wants that. Its been noted that many countries are poorer now than they were 20 years ago. Where has our money been going?

So what to we do now? Quitting aid cold turkey is bound to lead to problems, and probably violence. But continuing, I honestly believe, is throwing money down a hole. My friend, who was a PCV in The Gambia in 1979, and now is a college professor, argues that the best thing would be to create laws which would make it easier for people to legally immigrate to the US and Europe for work. These people then send remittance checks home to their families, thereby stimulating development. I’m not so sure. Yes, the good thing would be that (in this case) this would be Africans working to support Africans, not some faceless donor sending money to faceless recipients. It would be a personal interaction. And I’m all for culture exchange on both sides, we could all stand to learn a little more about each other. But with the current economic situation in the States, I’m not sure it’s the job of my government to ensure jobs to foreigners. I want to know that there will be a job for me and my family when I get home. Also, from my own observations, I’m not convinced that remittance checks automatically equally school fees. More often I see them spent on fancy fabric and cell phones. Most communities have people abroad sending money home, but in my opinion its not very well spent, and I have a hard time believing that more of the same would improve things.

So that’s that. Only questions, no answers.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Seven months

Hey everybody,

Summer is here, and the rains are in full force. Recently, it really feels like my close of service has been fast approaching. Seven months isn’t a long time at all. Some days this can seem exciting, other times scary. I’m in no hurry to leave, but some days I do get tired of being a woman in a Muslim country, and I do get tired of being a white person in an African country. Some anonymity and privacy will be a welcome break. I also look forward to having more control over what I eat and when (Mexican food and cheesecake are high on the list).
But I also get sad about the thought of leaving. As much as I ache for privacy, nothing beats the feeling of coming home from time away and my family and neighbors all welcoming me back. My host family are wonderful people. My mother has helped me through every awkward social interaction where I blurted out the absolute wrong thing, and she did it all with grace and understanding. When work hasn’t gone so well, I’ve gotten a great amount of amusement and comfort from playing with and watching the kids in the compound. Their antics never disappoint. Its been a really neat experience to watch my youngest host brother grow. He learned to walk and talk since I’ve been here and its been neat to watch him turn into a real human being. Also, my host mother is pregnant. She should deliver before I leave, so that’s an exciting thing to anticipate, but sad that I won’t be here for more of it.
When I DO get back to the states, what am I supposed to do? Where am I going back to? I know I want to go into teaching, but is it better to just be certified and start working, or better to go for the Master’s now? Where? To teach which age group? Mainstream or special needs?

Eek. So that’s whats on my mind these days.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fula scars

Hey all!
So here's a new adventure!

Near the beginning of my service I posted an article about women, and the many things they do for beauty. One of those things is decorative scarring at the outside corners of the eyes, or just below the eyes on the apples of the cheeks. The fula tribe does this most, but women from other tribes do it too. PCVs in The Gambia have taken to getting the scars as well, as a memento of their service here, body adornment, and general proof of being a baddass.
Well, the time has come for me to get my scars. Luckily, my friend Lisa came along to cheer me on, and to take pictures. Enjoy!

So here's how the day went. We traveled from Lisa's site in Soma, to Wassu, to the home of a woman named Fatou Ceesay. She has been the lady to go to for PCVs getting scars. After greeting for awhile, we went into her house, and got down to business. We washed our feet (where we were both to be scarred), and then she very gently sliced with a (brand new, straight from the package, i bought it myself) razor. The wound barely bled, and only stung a little. She then rubbed it with charred peanut powder. We then bandaged it, and were instructed not to remove the bandage or get it wet for three days.
I was worried about what my neighbors would think. Would they be flattered that I found one of their traditions so beautiful that I chose to permanently alter my body with it? Would they find it to be a bit of a farce because I didn't put it on my face? It turns out they seemed flattered, and when I explained that it would be difficult to get a job with black scars on my face, they understood. The universal response has been to ask why I didn't get them on my breasts. Some have even whipped them out to show me. No good answer for that, ladies. Maybe next time.