Overwhelmed, shocked, confused, alone, curious, lacking, humbled, content. Welcome to my emotional rollercoaster of my site visit to Demba Kunda.
It all started with a seven and half hour drive in a Toyota Land Cruiser. There were a couple of points where I was sure we wouldn’t make it. Jon, our driver, was blazing through potholes the size of Sudan at 80 kmph, each one feeling as though it was part landmine. I was sure we would lose a tire and end up stranded on the side of the road, but I’m guessing there’s a reason land cruisers are always featured roughing the terrains through the unknown. Closing in on my village (aka the middle of nowhere), I came to find that Jon didn’t know where he was going when he asked me to call my supervisor and get directions. Mr. Manneh didn’t answer, so we went the old fashioned route asking community members along the way where the Sahoneh’s compound was located.
Pulling up, children swarmed the car, as the women and men sized me up from the side of the road. School committee members were seated and ready to greet me, but Mr. Manneh was rushed through introductions by my LCF, who was ready to be on her way.
The town paraded to my compound, where they showed me where I’ll be living for the next two years, a round mud hut with a thatch roof. Not quite what I envisioned myself in when I pictured my home at the age of 30, but it will do. 15 elders filled my hut, ignoring American culture and privacy, as the idea of my own space slipped away. Refusing Mr. Manneh’s requests to sit down, (I had been sitting knees embedded into the seat in front of me for half the day), I expressed my desire to relax and the need to relieve myself. (Who wants to go in the bush when you don’t have to?)
He said his goodbyes, and left me to my hut and business. You would think I would have rushed back to my hole in the ground, but instead I rushed to my phone and texted, “Can you call?” to my go-to, my mama. Aware of the dangers of taking objects to the pit, I waited, but heard no word. Hmph, “just me,” I thought.
Luckily, the day before I had received the most wonderful gift ever filled with encouraging letters from 5th grade students at Central Elementary (THANK YOU, ANGELA GAVIGAN!), so I was prepared for this. Joana comforted me by saying, “Don’t give up. You're the best. You can do this. Central believes in you.” Laysha encouraged me with, “You can make it, accomplish it!” Milot wrote, “I heard you got homesick, but we will always be with you,” and Luz stated, “I will follow your example.” Straight to a girl’s heart, I tell ya! Tears flowed as I read through the children’s comments. Their sincerity struck my soul. I wiped away my much-needed tears, and followed Laysha’s advice by saying, “I can do it. I can do it.” Angela had inquired about the arrival of the package a week or so earlier, and I really think the big man held on to it a bit longer knowing exactly when it should come.
With eleven year olds belief empowering me, I began the climb on the emotional rollercoaster. I wish I could go through all of my emotions and what sparked them, but that would turn this post into a novel. With so much to take in, I thought it’d be better to simply make a list of observations, and then you can begin to picture my village and how I might feel in it.
- My hut is located in the center of the village.
- My window is located next to where the horses and donkeys are kept. There is a pile of manure directly below it.
- My bathroom is next to the main street of the village.
- Crickets live in thatch roofs, so do spiders, and who knows what else.
- 6 houses and families make up my compound.
- There are too many people in the compound to count. It is somewhere between 60 and 100.
- Intermarriage is present. (Cousins are married.)
- I make children, under the age of two, cry hysterically.
- There is a tap next to my compound.
- The market is across the street. They sell bananas!
- The school is on the edge of the village.
- There is a clinic near the school.
- The mosque (which means loud speakers that call for prayer 5 times a day) is located behind my compound.
- The compound across the main street has current! (Electricity!)
Sorry for the lack of detail, but that’s just me adjusting to The Gambia. Things are much simpler here. J
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