Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Believe

     Bruised but liberated, I entered Bansang to meet Seth, an environment volunteer that has been serving in The Gambia since January of 2011.  Seth has been placed in the village of Dobong Kunda, approximately 3k outside of Bansang, where he works with the community on developing agriculture.  We walked along a dirt road next to the Gambia River to his village where I was able to meet his host father, Abu Jaiteh.

     Abu mainly speaks Mandinka, and only “small” Sarahule, but despite the communication barrier, we clicked.  I had come to meet Abu because he is a marabout, a religious leader and teacher of the Qur’an, who has been practicing since 1993.  He makes special jujus for people seeking things such as fertility, good health, and protection.  He is so well known for his talent that he was flown to the Ivory Coast in August of 2011 to help Alassane Outtara gain power when Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down.  I was lucky enough to sit down with Abu and see what he does firsthand.
Abu Jaiteh
      After eating lunch that Abu’s wife had prepared, Seth, Bully (my translator), and I entered the backroom to Abu’s recently opened bitik (shop).  Abu took a seat on the ground on top of his mat, while we sat on the bed in front of him.  He pulled out his tattered papers that had obviously been used for many years, as he explained that this skill had been passed down to him through many generations.
Bully, my translator
     It was soon my turn to do the talking, as I explained to Abu why I had come to him.  As Abu kept secrets from me in his process of making a juju, I must keep a few secrets from you.  I didn’t go to Abu for myself, but for others.  I have not been able to give my jujus to them yet, so I don’t want to ruin the surprise.  However, I can share what I learned.

     When making the juju, Abu first listens to the person’s problem or what she is seeking.  He then decides upon a passage/prayer from the Qur’an that fits her needs.  He writes this prayer on a piece of paper and then has the recipient, or in my case the one who has come for the juju, to face east on her knees as he reads the prayer.  Although, I had no idea what he was saying because it was all in Arabic, I was asked to repeat “Amen” as he read his prayer.  I did this, as I silently recited my own prayer for those who will be receiving the jujus.  When he was finished he did a spitting motion over the paper I was holding in my hands making a “phh, phh, phh” noise and then took his two hands down his face as an indicator he had completed his work.

     Next, he folded the paper into a tiny square, and for the juju to work correctly, I was asked to exchange my money with him in one hand while receiving the juju in the other.  I then gave the juju back so it could go on to its final stage. 

     Abu “small boyed” a young man to deliver the juju to Lamin Fatty, the leather worker who binds the jujus.  I was told that we could visit him at night to continue watching the making of the juju.  I kicked myself many times for not bringing my camera to our first meeting.

     When we showed up to Mr. Fatty’s compound he was dripping wet and wearing nothing but a towel.  He placed himself in front of me as he finished his work with the leather.  I held my mag light to watch as he adjusted the size to fit on the recipient’s arm.  He spoke in Mandinka about the “niceness” of my light as I marveled at his creation.  I was so pleased with how the juju had turned out that I stayed in Dobong Kunda a second night to have a another one made.
Abu Jaiteh and Lamin Fatty
     Reading this, I’m sure some are questioning my religious beliefs because I participated in an Islamic tradition, so I’ll go ahead and address that…

     Many times in the past five months I’ve had Gambians tell me, “We are all the same.”  My response is always, “I couldn’t agree more.” Whether we are Muslim, Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus I think we are all praying to the same God despite the different names we may use to refer to him.  When asked about my religious affiliation, I simply say, “I believe.”  

Friday, November 25, 2011

I’m a Big Girl Now

     Continuing with my firsts, I recently put on my big girl pants and traveled by myself to the city of Bansang.  Bansang is a two-hour gelli ride from Basse, and is just outside of the village of Dobong Kunda, where Seth and his host father, Abu Jaiteh, live.  Abu Jaiteh is a marabout and was the reason for my travel.

     Excited to meet a marabout, I woke up at the crack of dawn to get ready for my adventure.  I arrived at the car park in Basse around 9, ready to go, but instead began the process of waiting, which is a norm in this culture.  50 minutes later, the gelli to Bansang was filled with Gambians and one toubab (me), and with a running push start, we were off.

     Inside the gelli, personal space became non-existent.  I began the ride with a woman sitting on my right leg, squished next to the metal frame of the seat in front of me.  We shared our two person seat with two others, one of course being the man that screams as loud as he can into his “mobile.” 

     Half way through the ride, our gelli stopped at a police checkpoint.  I’m never quite sure what the police are looking for, but at most checkpoints they will ask to see identification from the passengers.  There were a handful of Gambians that were asked to get off because they didn't have an id or papers to show, and I realized I needed to make myself comfortable on the steel bar that was driving into the back of my legs.  It was going to be a while.

     As the police officer escorted the Gambians lacking ids off to who knows where, a man with a motorcycle approached the gelli wanting to join in on the fun.  Only problem was that he wanted to put his motorcycle on top of the gelli, which proved to be a difficult task.  The men looked as though they knew what they were doing.  They tied rope around the front end of the motorcycle, a few men got on top of the gelli, while others were positioned below and it seemed as though they were trying to wheel it up the side.  I watched three men try to show their strength by lifting the motorcycle, but defeat quickly set in, as they realized it wasn’t going anywhere. 

     About 10 minutes of this nonsense and the Gambians that were still on the gelli started to get furious.  They were shouting things I couldn’t understand, but were obviously fed up and threatening to find another ride as they filed out the back.  The driver, seeing money slip away, quickly made peace with his passengers, and had the motorcycle man put an end to the shenanigans.

     As the passengers boarded back onto the gelli, I heard bits and pieces about the police trying to get money out of them.  I guess it was a “give me money and I won’t waste your time” type of situation.
The one good thing about everyone filing off the gelli is that people gave up their seats.  No longer did I have the screaming man and woman sitting on my lap next to me.  Instead, I now had a 60 to 70 year old man on my side with his arm around me, touching my shoulder with his hand, his cane tucked between his legs, looking rather pimpish. 

     The screaming man became the laughing man as the ride continued.  He had moved to the seat positioned across from mine and was watching my face with every bump we hit.  I went airborne a few times, banged down on the steel rod seat, and winced with pain.  He found this hilarious, but would kindly ask after laughing, “You okay, man?”

     Despite the discomforts, I couldn’t help but to smile the entire way.  Not once was I frustrated by our stop at the police station, the old man touching me, the whiplash I encountered from the poor condition of the road, or the woman sitting on top of me.  I was traveling by myself in The Gambia for the first time, and loving every minute of it.  However, my journey had only begun.   Stayed tuned for my meeting with a marabout…

Thursday, November 10, 2011

There's a First Time for Everything

     October and November have provided a number of first time experiences for me.  I would love to be able to write about each experience individually, but instead I've decided to compile a list of firsts to keep you up-to-date with my adventures.

In somewhat of chronological order:

I dodged dive-bombing bats, and slept on the floor of a classroom for 3 nights in Badari.
I taught about HIV/AIDS prevention to a group of 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, in which I mentioned words like vaginal fluid and semen more than I have in my entire life.
I modeled my first lesson for a teacher.

I was tested with how I'd handle witnessing corporal punishment, and realized I'm not one to just stand by.  I stopped it, immediately.

I traveled across the country in a gelli.

I learned why you don't stand next to animals while waiting to get off the ferry.

I shook hands with the president of The Gambia, and then topped that by dancing with him.
After much debate back and forth with myself, I decided to watch the sacrifice of the ram on Tobaski.  Little did I know that I would get to witness not one, but ten rams meet Jesus.

I tried liver for the first time, which wouldn't be such a big deal had the ram's dead body not been lying in front of me as I ate a piece of its liver.

I was flashed by a crazy man while walking down the main road in Basse, and couldn't think straight for the rest of the day.

That pretty much catches you up on what has been going on in my world.  The past two months have been a bit of a roller coaster with highs of celebrating our 50th anniversary and lows of dealing with corporal punishment.  If you'd like to hear about any event/first in more detail, please feel free to write and I'll gladly tell you everything.  I hope this post finds all of you well and making many firsts of your own.