Sunday, December 30, 2012

It Only Takes One

     In the past month, I’ve spent close to two weeks away from site.  Talk to any Peace Corps Volunteer and you’ll find that any time away from site is accompanied with guilt.  You experience guilt for being away from your family, guilt for enjoying things that they don’t have the opportunity to enjoy, and guilt for being away from work.  Fortunately, the two weeks that I have been away from site are for work, so the guilt is only “small, small” as they say here.

     In the middle of December, primary teacher trainers were called to Kombo to participate in a literacy workshop.  We were told a literacy consultant would be flying in from Washington D.C. to speak with us about teaching literacy in The Gambia.  We were asked to bring a counterpart, and instructed that our counterpart should be the main person we work with in achieving literacy at our schools.  Choosing a counterpart was a no-brainer for me. 

     I had started a teachers’ book club at the beginning of the 2012 school year with the hopes that if I could get teachers reading books that they would then share them with their students.  I asked the teachers to read children’s books and then fill out reports stating what happened in the story and how they could use the book in their classrooms.  I provided incentives, set goals, and created a chart to monitor their progress.  I wanted the teachers’ book club to serve as a model for the implementation of book clubs within their own classrooms. 

     Since the start of the book club, 5 teachers have participated.  1 teacher has reported on 2 books.  3 teachers have reported on 1 book, and 1 teacher has gone above and beyond. 

     His name is Mr. Touray.  He’s a grade one teacher at Nyakoi Lower Basic and is considered a teacher trainee by the ministry of education.  He’s in his second year at The Gambia College, and will become a qualified teacher after his third year.   He is my number one participant in my teachers’ book club.  After he read 20 books, (the goal I had set), we stopped counting and continued to discuss children’s literature with the pure goal of improving the students’ knowledge and education through books.

Mr. Touray

    When I received the text from my program manager that we needed to invite a counterpart to the training, Mr. Touray was the only teacher that came to mind.  I had just had a conversation with him in the library where he was thanking me for helping him.  I cut him off saying, “No, thank you, Mr. Touray!  You make my stay here worthwhile.  You give me a purpose for being here.”  All smiles, I received the text and called Mr. Touray back in the room.

     As he walked over to the library, I asked, “Mr. Touray do you believe in God?”  He responded, “Of course,” so I told him I thought he was listening in on our conversation.  I read the text out loud to Mr. Touray, and when I got to the part about bringing our number one ally in literacy teaching I said, “That’s you, Mr. Touray!”  As he blushed, I explained that God was creating more opportunities for us to work together.

     We attended the workshop on the 13th and 14th of December.  We discussed the components of teaching literacy, ways to conduct read alouds, how to engage students in literacy through word games, and teaching literacy with limited resources.  Joanie, the literacy consultant from D.C., heard about the book club I started in Nyakoi and thought the idea should be shared, so I also presented at the workshop.  I informed the teachers and volunteers of the process in starting the book club, its goals, and was able to provide a testimonial through Mr. Touray. 

Mr. Touray using children's literature in his Grade 1 class

    The workshop was a success in more ways than one.  Volunteers and counterparts walked away with ideas and knowledge of how to get books into the classroom, words on the walls, and language in the children’s minds.  Mr. Touray and I were able to share our success story, and I was away from site without an ounce of guilt. 

    Feeling guilt free, I heard of another workshop taking place at the end of the month.  Counterparts were once again being requested to attend.  After the high that was created from the literacy training, I knew I needed to find a way to make it happen. 

    More to come about my experience attending GAD Day with Mr. Drammeh…

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


In the past ten years I’ve lived with many different people.  Some I’ve got along great with while others are on the blocked list on Facebook.  Living with people can be a challenge.  I fully accept fault in all my living scenarios where it is due.  For those of you reading who I’ve lived with and nagged at for leaving bread crumbs on the counter (Cody), or nearly ended our friendship by bringing my cat into our home (Miss), or piled loads of boxes in the entry way for long periods of time (Jess), know that I’m now receiving my pay back. 

Meet my roommates of 2012…

Rascal the Rat

He makes all sorts of noise at night and has eaten through my screen door.  Before I had the chance to see him, I tried to kill him by putting poison on peanut butter.  His brother, Wilfred, got to it first and was removed with a shovel from my backyard.  Whenever I see Rascal defenselessly huddled underneath my bed outside I feel terribly sorry for killing his brother.  I just wish there was some way I could let him know that it is not okay to eat through my door.


Like Wilfred, Pidge is now in a better place, but I didn’t murder her.  In fact, I did all I could to make her last moments more comfortable.  I stepped out in my backyard to find her on my porch.  I was within two feet of her and she didn’t fly away, which instantly led me to believe something was wrong with her.  I brought out a plate of water and as I stepped inside she hopped slowly over, soaked her feet, and took a drink.  I watched as she blinked slowly at me in what seemed to be a thank you.  As the day went on I continued to check on her and found she had settled in her resting place.  Her neck dropped, and soon she laid completely on her side.  I asked for the shovel once again and handed her over to my father.  May her sweet little soul rest in peace.

Those Who Shall Not Be Named

My hatred for my following roommates matches Harry Potter’s hatred for He Who Shall Not Be Named.  These things attack by the millions at night and burrow in dark places.  They crossed the line when they started entering into my bed net.  I’ve been at war with them for the past month and am hoping they move out for good when cold season comes.


Teddy the Toad was cute and I liked him.  He was fighting the good fight by eating Those Who Shall Not Be Named.  Unfortunately, Teddy got caught in crossfire.  He was in the wrong place at the wrong time when BOP insecticide filled the room and his lungs.  I’ll admit that it was my finger that released the spray, but I’d like Teddy and all of his loved ones to know that I had no intentions of hurting him.  Had I known he was there, I would have saved him.


Batty isn’t pictured, however I do have his voice on video.  Batty enjoys waking me up with shrill sounds at 2:30 in the morning.  He’s the least favorite of my roommates, but I find his shrill noises only happen when his home has been disturbed.  Thus, he does his thing and I do mine.  However, he does throw in an occasional dive bomb in the backyard every now and then to let me know who is boss.  I usually let out a curse word or two and retreat inside, acknowledging the hierarchy.

The Brat Pack

The Brat Pack is a group of lizards that don’t receive individual names because there are far too many of them.  They think they own my backyard, yet run every time I come anywhere near them.  They pull pranks now and then by jumping down to my feet from the roof and scattering about.  This, I don’t believe is payback for encounters with previous roommates, but for the time when I was 8 or so and my mom brought her boyfriend over for the 4th.  I threw snaps at his feet instructing him to dance.  When the brat pack pulls their pranks, I dance just like he did and let out a tune as well.  Guess they’re not the only brats…

Saturday, September 29, 2012

I Had a Dream

     I’ve always been one to have dreams in my sleep.  I’ll remember some dreams the next morning and try to interpret them in search for meaning, others I will forget shortly after waking up, and every once in a while I’ll have a dream that I simply can’t forget.

     Recently, I had a dream that I can’t stop thinking about.  I can’t remember where I was, when it was, or who was there, but I can recall a simple scene and how I felt. 

     There was a butterfly flying at me.  I knew that this butterfly had power from God and without any invitation on my part or hesitation on its part; it flew inside of me, through my chest, transferring its power to me.  I remember my chest expanding and it was almost as if I could explode with this power.  It was as if God himself had entered inside of me. 

     When I awoke, I started thinking of the power that I have being here.  In deciding to come to Africa, blog, and share pictures with those of you back in the states, I’ve gained a power that allows me to show a different side to what you can see on CNN or any other news channel.  I’ve also become a representative of our country, and have the ability to influence how Gambians perceive America and the people within our nation. 

     So what’s the point in me saying all of this?  Many times, I’ve found myself in predicaments when I want to share information or stories about The Gambia, but I become conflicted because I don’t want the story to come off wrong, give false impressions, or my readers the wrong idea about The Gambia, West Africa, or the people here.

     With that said, I have a story that I must tell, because it’s too good not to, but I ask that as you read it that you please do so with an open mind.

Little Squirt

     Mo Lamin is his name, running around causing trouble is his game. 

     The little man pictured above is obviously adorable, but sit around a compound with him for 10 minutes and you’ll find that he is quite the handful.  He’s always on the run, and screams anytime his mom or sisters try to contain him.  He wants to be free.  He wants to explore.  He wants to keep up with his brothers and sisters, and if something is going on he most certainly wants to be a part of it.

     Hawa, his 30 year old mother, not only sees that Mo Lamin’s needs are met, but she also tends to the 7 other children in the compound, 2 that are hers, and 5 that belong to her co-wife, who has been away getting her teaching degree.  Hawa cleans the compound, does the laundry and the dishes, fetches water, cooks, and looks after the children amongst many other duties, and she does it all with a smile on her face.  She truly is amazing.

     It was a night that I was watching Hawa prepare dinner that has inspired me to write.  I had just returned from Basse with fresh vegetables to add to the nightly rice and sauce, a treat for the family and myself.  Hawa had the vegetables soaking in a large basin as she was stirring the sauce boiling over the fire.  Mo Lamin, naked as usual, was running/stumbling around and found himself standing in front of the soaking vegetables.  I’m not sure if it was the sight of the water, or if it was just that time, but that little man bellied up to the bowl, arched his little back and let it all out.  I squawked out Mo Lamin’s name, and with only a little left in his stream Hawa pulled him away from his target. 
I wasn’t too surprised at the fact that Mo Lamin took a leak on the vegetables, after all, I’ve seen movies with babies, apparently they pee in people’s faces all of the time.  More of my surprise was what happened after, which wasn’t much.

     Hawa scooped up Mo Lamin, laughing at her son, shaking her head at what she had to put up with, and plopped him on her lap so he could nurse.  The nursing continued for a good 5 minutes before he was full, which gave me plenty of time to think of what I’d be making as my alternative for lunch as well as a game plan for dinner.  Urine marinated vegetables wasn’t going to do the trick.  Hawa eventually emptied the pee water mixture from the vegetables, and I’m sure she cooked them to the point that no one would know the secret ingredient.

     I started wondering about the food I’ve been eating and the possible secret ingredients it could have contained, and then thought further to what exactly is the moral of this story.  Sanitation is an issue?  Don’t sweat the small stuff?  Boys will be boys?  A little pee never killed anyone?  You see there are many angles one could take when revisiting the situation.  What was important for me was to remember my dream about the power that not only I have, but that each of us has.  We have the power to influence others.  We have the power to decide how conditions affect us, and we have the power to decide whether a story about pee soaked vegetables makes us disgusted or smile.  I hope you choose the latter.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Movin' on up

I’m movin’ on up
movin’ on up
to a bigger mud hut
I gotta a corrugate roof
above my heeeee-ead.
I’m movin’ on up
movin’ on up…

My hut is on the left

     Today, I received word from Mustafa, the man who works on Peace Corps houses, that my new home is finally finished!  I’ll be moving on Thursday, the 16th.  I can’t begin to tell you how ready I am for this.

     A few weeks ago, I was able to visit Nyakoi to meet my host family and the staff at Nyakoi Lower Basic School.  Abby, Nyakoi's previous volunteer, was still in village and able to show me all the hot spots.  We took a trip to the river, found the perfect place to watch the sunrise and set, and located a common monkey hideout.  After introducing myself to the alkalo, the head of the village, I had fallen in love with my new home.  

     Having previously lived in the very center of a village in a compound of seventy people, being in Nyakoi was like a dream come true.  My new compound is set on the outside of the village, and has a family of ten.  Although, the village is Mandinka, which means I’ve been trying to learn a new language for the past few weeks, my host father, Law (pronounced l-ow, as in that hurts) speaks English brilliantly.  I was only able to speak to him for a few minutes upon our meeting, but found that he has lived in both Germany and France, and that he chose to move his immediate family to the outside of the village because he wanted to spend more quality time with his children.  Sounds like my kind of Dad!  I can’t wait to pick his brain, and feel like my learning this year is going to be exponential compared to the last just because I’ll be able to communicate in English. 

     Now that I’m back on track with why I came here and what it is that I want to be doing, you’ll be hearing a lot more from me.  Looking forward to sharing this next year with you all.  Peace and love.

The view from the front of the compound.  Pure Bliss.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Letter to My Mother

     Yesterday, I returned to my village to pack my hut.  I shoved all my belongings into metal trunks while my host mom sat opposite the room in a plastic lawn chair watching.   Many times her eyes glossed over and tears fell making it impossible for mine not to do the same.

     At one point, I had sent the driver to return a bookcase and table to the school, which left my mother and I alone in my hut.  I sat on my bed and she sat in the chair, both crying as we avoided glances from the other because we knew it would only make us cry harder.

     As I sat, I couldn’t help but reflect and think of how I had gotten to this point.  Here I was crying with a woman and I couldn’t even explain to her how I was feeling because I didn’t know how to say it in a language she’d understand. 
Peter captured this.  It's all in her eyes.
Here’s what I would have said if I could have…

Ma Chao,
     Thank you for all you have done.  Thank you for accepting my ways and thank you for taking me as one of your own.  Thank you for the spoon you gave me on the day I arrived in Demba Kunda.  That day was such a whirlwind that I didn’t realize the meaning of that spoon until much later.

     Thank you for taking me to the garden and letting me sit underneath the mango tree to take it all in; that place was pure peace.  I hope you understood when I breathed in heavily and let out a long happy sigh that I loved it there. 
My mom in the garden
     Please know that my favorite place to be was by your side.  The nights I enjoyed most were the ones I spent sitting next to you under the stars.   Whether we were cracking peanuts, you were painting your feet, or I was listening as you chatted with the other women, when I was by your side, I felt at home.

     Thank you for all the motherly things you did like telling that man not to visit me after dark again.  Thank you for wiping off my face when it was dirty.  Thank you for cooking me tiga sombi, and thank you for yelling my name through my door in the morning to wake me up to fetch my water for the day.  I may have grumbled then, but the thought of it now makes me smile.

     Thank you for your patience and thank you for all the effort you put forth to understand.  I’m not sure when I’ll see you again, but I promise to return. 

With love and gratitude…
Your Daughter,
I love this woman.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thinking in Songs

     When I sit down and try to articulate what has been happening here in The Gambia, songs tend to pop into my head.  Steve Miller singing, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future… doo, doo, doo, doo…” comes to the forefront of my mind as I ponder now having lived here for 10 months.

     While each month has been full of activity, April seemed to pass by faster than the rest.  At the beginning of the month, I took off to Kedougou, Senegal with 5 others to celebrate spring break.  We hiked through the bush, bathed in waterfalls, camped in the wilderness, swam in the river, and saw more monkeys than I can count.  When I think of my time spent exploring with other PCVs my mind takes it up a few notches with some Mariah Carey.  “It’s a sweet sweet fantasy baby.” 

     My fantasy life continued when our group was called down to Kombo in the middle of the month for our reconnect.  “Reunited and it feels so good” sang by Peaches and Herb floated through my head as I watched a weeks worth of sunsets, went for late nights to star gaze on the beach, and attended training sessions where free breakfasts and lunches were provided.

     I’d love to say that it continued from there, but when I returned to village Mariah Carey left and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers singing, “Don’t do me like that,” took the stage.  For months now, I’ve been in a battle with my host family to remove the animal pen they have created next to my hut.  It’s a Peace Corps housing requirement that a volunteer is not placed next to an animal pen for obvious reasons, however I’ve been sharing a fence and window with 5 donkeys, a horse, and 3 cows.  Peace Corps has gone through 4 steps of trying to get my family to relocate the animals, first sending my headmaster to speak with my family, calling themselves, and then on two separate occasions sending out representatives to tell them to fix the problem.  When I left my village for reconnect, Peace Corps gave my family the ultimatum that it’s your volunteer or the animals, one of us was going to have to go.
The animals sharing my fence
     Still on cloud nine from the week I had spent in Kombo, I wasn’t prepared to see that my hairy neighbors hadn’t gotten their eviction notice.  After greeting everyone, I stepped inside my hut to call Alpha, the safety and security officer and the man who is in charge of housing.  He asked to speak with Chima, a village elder in my community, and the same thing that had been happening the past 2 months was happening again.  My family was again saying they would move the animals, but again, nothing was happening.  Soul Coughing’s “I don’t need to walk around in circles, walk around in circles, walk around in circles, walk around in…” started playing on the jukebox, as heat and my emotions took over.  Tears were shed as reality surfaced.  Speaking to my program manager, she informed me that there wasn’t much more they could do, and that she thought it was time that I move to another village.

     I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning packing my bags to wake up at 6 to undistinguishable noises taking place outside.  Curious, I opened my door earlier than I ever have before to find the men shoveling piles of manure onto the back of a donkey cart.  The Backstreet Boys serenaded me with “Quit playing games with my heart,” and confusion hit me like a brick in the face. 

     Although my family was finally starting to show progress towards moving the animals, I stuck with the plans I had made with my program manager on the previous day.  I’m now in Kombo and will be working on a Sarahule workbook for the education trainees coming at the end of June.  In the weeks prior to their arrival, I’ll be helping Joe, the new PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader) plan their training and then I’ll be leading sessions when they do arrive.  For now, things are up in the air as to where I will go when the workbook and training is finished.  It’s a possibility that I could return to my family, if they do indeed move the animals, or I can also choose to be relocated.

     Until then, I’m going to take comfort in The Five Stairsteps' “Ooh Child,” and know that things will get easier.  On the up side of things, it is the hottest month of the year and I’m one block from the beach.  Things are already getting brighter. J

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wrestling in Nyakoi

     It’s been 8 months that I’ve been living in The Gambia, and I’ve been having a hard time coming up with things to write about because everything is becoming normal to me.  That is, until I received a text from Abby inquiring of those who had interest in attending a wrestling match in her village.  Ummm… half naked men wrestling each other to the ground?  I’m THERE! 
     Joe decided to make the 45 minute trek to Abby’s village with me.  Abby lives in Nyakoi, a small village on the north bank, so we had to cross the river on a ferry to get there.  As I pedaled my heart out to keep up with Joe, I had that dog out a window look on my face, excited to be doing something new.
     We got directions to slow down at the first sign of civilization and stop at the half painted mosque. (Road signs are virtually non-existent in this place.)  There, we found Abby waiting for us in the shade of a mango tree.
     She walked us to her compound and I was instantly jealous of the serenity of her home.  She lives with two grandmas and that’s it!  Two compared to the seventy I live with.  You do the math.  It was like pure bliss.
Abby and neighbor girl in front of her hut
     We were told the wrestling would start at 4, but we’ve all been around here long enough to know better.  NOTHING starts when it is suppose to.  We killed time playing Banana Grams (you’re reading from a two-time winner, woot woot) and talking about school, then called Modou closer to 5.  Modou is a village tailor that Abby tutors in English, and was our guide to Gambian wrestling as the night wore on.
     Modou gave us the go-ahead to start walking toward the event grounds.  Stepping outside, drumming and the sounds of whistles filled the air.  The beat did its job.  I was instantly pumped and ready to see some action.
A wrestler and his entourage
     Reaching the main road, we saw mobs of people surrounding wrestlers.  They slowly danced their way to the event hoisting banners above their heads and making as much noise as possible.  My favorite banner, or rather piece of fabric connected with two sticks, was pink and filled with gold and silver hearts.  There’s nothing like coming in with hearts over your head to intimidate your opponent.
Waiting to enter the arena
Multiple matches going on at once
     We purchased tickets feeling good that the proceeds would benefit a recently built clinic in Nyakoi, and entered the arena, a rectangle shaped plot of land enclosed by a grass fence.  It was hard to know where to look.  Bedazzled leggings sparkled in the setting sun.  Neon spandex blinded us.  Men were wrestling while others were dancing around the outside of the ring that had been formed by the viewers.  There didn’t seem to be much order to any of it.  We couldn’t tell who was recording wins and according to Modou, there was no ref.  With so many things going on at once, oh and I mustn’t forget the crowd control that we had to be cautious of (men with sticks and bats), it was a bit of a stimulation overload, but in the best way possible.

     As the sun made its way over the horizon my gittiness started to wear off, and a bit of fear came over me.  Fires were being lit to the right and left of us, and I started surveying the grounds.  Grass fence = dangerous.  No exits = I could die here.
      With fires surrounding us and the crowd making their way in front of us so that we could no longer view the men slamming each other to the ground, we decided we had enough fun for one night and it was time to leave.  We went to where we had been let in but it was now closed off.  The only way to describe it is with Abby Adam’s words… we fought so hard to get out of that place it was like “being birthed.”  Gambians who hadn’t paid were fighting to get in as we were fighting to get out of an opening maybe 2 feet wide.  Modou was doing his best to help us, but there was nothing he could do.  We simply had to push with all of our might against others to make it to the other side.  Getting through the opening you couldn’t help but feel victorious.
     Although I felt like a winner, I have no idea which wrestlers came out on top.  I received text messages from Abby on the following day saying that the improvements they made for the second night of wrestling were monumental.  There were ropes to mark off an arena, people were seated and nicely waiting, and there were two exit slash entrances instead of the one.  Her text ended with, “What a difference a day can make,” but then was followed by, “Guess what?  The thing we all feared happened, and the fence caught fire.  We left as the flames were climbing… Epic.”
     Going into the experience I had no idea what to expect.  I ended up seeing a lot of disorganization and a bit of chaos, but many people having fun and loving life.  Guess it was pretty normal for The Gambia after all. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dear Donkey

*This is what happens when I get bored in my hut.*

Dear Donkey,

When I look into your eyes
I see past the flies
I can tell your soul is sweet
even in this awful heat
I listen to your horrid screams
and know you’re just blowing of steam

Donkey, I want to tell you how sorry I am
That your owners load you up as if you were a tram
And that the children beat you
And often mistreat you

If you were mine
I’d tell you how good you are all of the time
I’d feed you carrots
and teach you to talk like a parrot

I’d rub your sore back
and never give you a whack
I’d sing you songs
in hope that you would hum along

I’d untie your feet
and let you step to your own beat
I’d clean up your pin
and wouldn’t let it get messy like that again

I’d teach you to say excuse me
because those farts of yours are quite a doozy
and then I’d read you a bed-time story
so you’d know there’d be no need to worry

If you were my donkey…