Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Final Sunset

Years have passed into months, months into weeks, weeks into days, and now I am counting the hours left in Chargel. Reflecting over my time here in Chargel isn't easy, as so much has happened during my stay here it's difficult to take it all in.

I suppose I could define my time here by the work I've focused on: The women's garden that still has an uncertain future. The skills center, where I have spent so much time promoting new projects and further education opportunities. The "current events club," where I got to answer some of the most random and obscure questions...in Pulaar. Helping with sporting events at the school. Celebrating a successful bee-keeping workshop. Promoting new agriculture techniques, fuel reduction strategies, and sanitation ideas. Helping put up new houses and roofs. Promoting chicken, duck and rabbit production organizations. Helping write the "Articles of Confederation" fora Gambia-wide peanut co-op. Or traveling throughout my region of Gambia, promoting and judging tree nurseries.



I feel good knowing that my time here leaves with the community of Chargel, and indeed the surrounding area, an enhanced potential for continued education, improved nutrition, reforestation, strategies for better health, income generation, and a new degree of self-empowerment.

But the work I've done really doesn't do justice to defining my time here, as that inevitably comes down to the interactions I've had, the friendships I've enjoyed, and the relationships that have been built.

The people of Chargel have never ceased to amaze me with their immense hospitality, their level of understanding, and the way they continue to appreciate and respect this young "toubab" living among them. I will forever be in debt to my host family, Ceesay Kunda, for the generosity and care they have shown over these past two years. None of the "work" I've done can pay back such an experience as this has been.



I can never forget: The day I rode a horse cart three hours (one way) with my friends to go pick mangoes near the river. Waking up in the middle of the night to the sounds of a baby crying as it endered the world. Mourning the loss of a friend. Teaching the kids how to throw a frisbee and blow bubbles. Getting taught how to play football. (soccer) Getting caught and drenched in a rainstorm while out int he middle of the fields weeding. Being a part of the process of helping my friends find a wife. Sitting and chatting with the older men under shade trees during the heat of the day. Enjoying the local hospitality of Gambians when my bike leads me down the wrong road and I can't reach home before dark. Spending the afternoons shelling peanuts with Baladi. Or playing cards with Batch, Modi, Samba and all the guys. Learning to pound coos and cook local foods with Nyana and Fatou. Learning Arabic from Lawo. And lying under the full moon with a most gorgeous sky of stars, drilling Saikou with question after question about life in Gambia, while listening to drumming and singing from just a few compounds away.



Suffice it to say, my time here has certainly been nothing short of amazing.

But just as any season changes, my time here is coming to a close. The anxiety is intense, not wanting to say good-bye to Chargel, yet excited to see family and friends in the States. Not ready to end this chapter of my life, yet more than ready to touch down in Jordan, where an entirely new experience, full of new opportunities and friendships awaits.

While I wish I could be leaving under different circumstances, if there is one lesson my time here has reinforced, it's that life is quite unpredictable. And while we might not have much control over what happens, we do have control over how we react to it, and what we gain in the process.

I can't thank you all enough for the support and encouragement you have offered me here. Your letters, emails, calls and packages have been greatly enjoyed, and your prayers felt. My time here hasn't been easy, but it has been good.

So, as the sun sets on my experience here one last time, I can't help but realize that my years in Gambia have truly made me a different person. As the line in "Wicked" says, "I have been changed for good." And I'm excited to see you all soon; to catch up on what has been going on in your lives.



All the best, and see you soon!


NOTE:
As the ending of my time in Gambia is truly just another beginning, please follow along with me as I soon venture out to Jordan, where I will serve with Peace Corps as a "Youth Development" volunteer beginning October 22, 2009. What all does that entail? Find out at:
"The Life and Times of a PCV...Again..."
markstrohbehn.blogspot.com

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Another Update from Gambia

Hey Avid Readers

I have another bit of an update to share from Gambia.


As I have now been in Kombo for the past 10 days working on getting medical clearance for my extension to Jordan, the medical office has come across a few "snags" that are going to require me to see some specialists back in the States. It's nothing serious, but serious enough that the PC medical office wants it to be "resolved" before I begin my extension to Jordan. In order to not risk NOT going to Jordan, they prefer for me to come back to the States to get it resolved as soon as possible.

This means that after hanging out in Kombo for the past week and a half, I will FINALLY be going back to Chargel tomorrow, where I can spend my last few days hanging out with the village that has become my Gambian family, and Khiva.

Peace Corps will pick me up from Chargel in a few days and bring me back to Kombo where I will finish out some last-minute paper work and such. Then I will be on my way back!

This isn't exactly what one plans for or prepares for, but I'm glad to know that this will get taken care of sooner than later and not hold up my ability to extend.

So...one could say this has been a bit of a full week, with tests, more tests, and emotional ups and downs. But I'm glad to have some clarity of what is going to happen next. I guess, when it comes down to it, it would be a disservice to my time in Gambia to not use this time to appreciate some of the lessons I have learned here...such as taking each day as it is, one day at a time. And to appreciate how close I have become with my friends in Chargel. I guess, in the end, it's bitter sweet that it will be so hard to leave this place that has become my home.

You can be looking forward to one final blog entry from Gambia next week when I am back in town...and on my way out.

Until then, I wish you only the best!

Monday, July 27, 2009

And The Weeks Are Counting Down

Hey Everyone!

Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to get to host my aunt, uncle and cousin through what has become my life...this Gambian Peace Corps experience.

Call me lazy, but I've decided that instead of running you through a day-by-day of our adventures through Gambia, I will instead conveniently refer you to my aunt's blog...where she has already put together a day-by-day journal- with pictures!

Check it out at mmcadoo.blogspot.com

Some of the main highlights for me include:

When we went sight-see along the river, including spotting various kinds of monkeys, baboon families, tons of birds and even a hippo!

Their reactions to the heat that has become normal to me, and the humidity levels that tend to reach beyond natural.

Their comfort level in Chargel was a great comfort to me. Even though Chargel has become home to me, it's still a totally different world from the one I left behind.

I enjoyed them getting to experience the food, transportation issues, some cultural anomalies and the beautiful scenery.

But most of all I'm very thankful they were able to meet my family here, Ceesay Kunda, and my dog, Khiva.

I am fortunate to have made such a close connection with my host family here in Gambia, and it was exciting for me to get to introduce them to some of my family from the States. They were more than thrilled and did all they could to try to keep my visiting family happy, comfortable, entertained, rested, and well fed. I can't speak for my family's experience, but I know they ate well...before the chicken foot or the fish head in the food bowl decreased their appetites.

But, as you have had more than a year of my opinions and outlooks on Gambia, I'm excited for you to check out Marcia's blog and see my life here through a new lens.

What is weird for me now is that having family come visit was the last big "event" to check off my list of things to do before my service here comes to an end. After dropping my family off in Dakar and getting back to Gambia, I began my medical clearance for "close of service" from Gambia, and I am now working on my "Description of Service," which is basically like a detailed resume specific to just my activities, trainings and projects I have done here. (as in a past-tense experience)

With little less than 6 weeks left, my daunting outlook on years of service have quickly turned into months, and the months into weeks. All-too-soon the weeks will be days, and I will soon be on my way back across the big pond. Until then I look forward to living it up as much as one can with my friends in Chargel, and cherishing every passing day to its fullest. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I don't intend to let it slip away.

That said, on a personal note I am also starting to experience a mini roller-coaster of emotions. Not wanting to say goodbye to my family and friends in Chargel, yet excited to see my family and friends in the States. Ending my service here a bit earlier than was planned, yet thrilled at the opportunity to extend to Jordan.

All in all, life really is an experience full of changes, challenges and opportunities, and I suppose it's how we take on those events that determines the next changes, challenges and opportunities we encounter. That said, I hope to finish out my service here on the highest note possible, and then continue to just take my post-Gambian life one day at a time.

I can't thank my family and friends enough for all of the support and encouragement I have received during my time here, and I'm excited to see you all again soon.

Until next time...I'm headed out to Chargel.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hey Everyone!

Wow… where to even begin…
It's been a while since my last updates, but my life and experiences here continue to go well, Khiva is fine, the weather remains hot, and... THE RAINS HAVE COME!!!



It's such a relief to enjoy the coming of the rainy season. As nice as it is to have the same, predictable weather every day for 8 months (HOT and dry), a little variety is nice. And watching the clouds roll in is nothing short of gorgeous. I must say I never really took the time in the States to see if storm clouds roll in like they do here, but I encourage you to check it out some time.



This past week we had our Annual Peace Corps All-Volunteer Conference for Gambia. We had a good 4 days of meetings, seminars and small group discussions, as well as an open-mic night to celebrate the 4th of July. It was a fun and productive time!


All the volunteers from my region of Gambia had matching overalls made. It was pretty rediculous. And you won't find any PICTURES of ME wearing them.



Celebrating the 4th of July outside the US is truly a unique experience, as the general atmosphere isn't quite as excited as those of us celebrating the holiday, but it's still great to be able to celebrate the freedoms and privelages we have (and often take for granted) in our country.

Back in Chargel life has been good. As the rains have come, its back to work in the fields. Millet, corn, rice, peanuts and gardens are all well under way.




The entire mood of the village changes the day of the first rains, as the whole "hurry up and wait" aspect of prepping for planting finally comes to an end. It's a nice change of pace!


But it's kind of weird to be a part of the planting knowing that I won't be a part of the harvesting, but it's still fun and exciting to be a part of the planting process.

When not in the fields I've been "busy" hanging out with friends, spending time with my host family and just enjoying being a part of the community of Chargel. As time continues to tick away I truly appreciate this experience and the relationships with my friends here exponentially more every day.




And with that, I'm more than excited that my aunt, uncle and cousin are coming to visit in less than 48 hours! I'm so excited to get to introduce them to the true way of life for the Fula and Mandinka people here in West Africa, as well as the many great friends who have made such an impact on my life and life-outlook.

I'm sure they will have great stories to share of the food, transportation, weather, and scenery. But more-so, I'm excited for them to get to share with you, from a different perspective, how incredibly hospitable, welcoming and comfortable the people of Chargel truly are. The amazing time they are about to have is truly a testament to how great of a village I live in.



So, with that, you can be looking forward to more blog posts and tons of more pictures at the end of the month.

Until then, I hope you are doing well and enjoyed a great 4th of July holiday with family and friends!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

So Guess What...

Hey Faithful Readers

I'm back in Kombo through Friday to see off a few more good friends of mine whos time here has come to an end. Life and work in Chargel is pretty much about the same as the last time I sent out updates, but I DO have an update about my future plans which I am very excited to share.

No! I'm NOT getting married...

I have been offered, and accepted, the opportunity to extend my Peace Corps service to work with "at-risk" youth in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan!



And just in case you're interested, this is how it happened:

I had an informal conversation with my Peace Corps country director about my future, long-term goals of working with "at risk" populations in the Mid-East, and within just a few days I was contacted by Peace Corps/Jordan, suggesting I apply for an extension to serve as a Youth Development Volunteer there.

I had an impromptu phone interview with the Area Peace Corps Director of Jordan, and one could say that my resume with experience as a wellness RA, working with refugees in Denmark, work with the Kossuth Teen Center, and of course the projects and experiences I've been working with in Gambia were basically a slam dunk.

Really, this is nothing less than an absolute dream come true...to say the least. I will be working with at-risk youth in a community/youth center, promoting primarily informal education and recreation activities. Basically, two years of summer camp in the Middle East working with primarily Palestinian youth. I mean really... Plus, since my long term goals are to continue working with "at risk" populations in the Mid-East, primarily in relation to Palestinian refugees, this is about as good as it can get. (and I'm guessing the Arabic language skills will be a plus in the future, also...)



Life certainly progresses in creative ways, and I can see certain aspects of why this time in Gambia may have been a necessary pre-requisite to my life before taking on this opportunity. After all, personal maturity and self-confidence is a must, and I know these years in Gambia have been a great turning point in my life.

So... This means you all actually get to see me sooner than you expected! I will head back to the States in mid September for a month of vacation before heading to Jordan mid October to begin Training...again. It will be another two years of service, but I really don't have any qualms with that since this is something I thought I would have to have an MA or something to be able to work with. Something I didn't think I would get to do for quite some time. It seems almost too good to be true.

Another upside is that Jordan is quite developed, comparatively, so access to internet and cell phone reception won't be an issue anymore. So, while I will continue to work overseas for a few more years, communication will definitely be improved!



Plus, can I just mention how exciting it will be to work in a country with mountains, a RANGE of temperatures, and ABSOLUTELY AMAZING FOOD (can we say kabob? falafel? shwarma? hummus??)



As you can tell, I'm excited to share this news with you.

Until Next Time,
Cheers!

Monday, May 18, 2009

We Have Rabbits!

Hey Everyone!

We have rabbits in Chargel! Yes, we have HAD rabbits, but they have been more of the "pest" type...eating the gardens under the cover of darkness.

THESE totally cute, adorable, fuzzy, playful rabbits, on the other hand, have a more MEANINGFUL PURPOSE - one truly for the benefit of all ... meat!

Yep, in tribute to all those 4H-ers out there, I wanted to let you know we are starting a rabbit production program in Chargel. Actually, this is a program Peace Corps has been working on for a few years, and it is finally at a level where we are able to introduce it into the community level, and Chargel gets to be one of the first communities to take on this project.

We are actually modeling it after the Heifer project, meaning that when my host compound's rabbits have babies, they need to give a pair away to someone else in the community, who will then continue the gesture. And we have a system in place for cross-community sharing, in order to keep a more appropriate gene pool.


The guys made rabbit cages out of fish crates. They were REALLY EXCITED about holding and petting the rabbits. Apparently a new thing...


The Female


The Male


Just hanging out, enjoying the comforts of home.

We've only had them for about a week, so I really don't have any update other than to let you know we have begun this brand new project.

But I look forward to giving you updates in the weeks and months to come.

ALSO:
Be looking forward to updates on a final bee-keeping training, focusing on harvesting, honey processing and candle making with bees'-wax.

A training at the Chargel's skill center with three new peddle-powered sewing machines.

A training with the teachers of area schools on how to make/work with teaching aids made from locally available materials.

And most importantly...pictures from the upcoming FIRST RAINS of the rainy season.


Until next time, I wish you only the best!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It's MANGO Season!

One of the better aspects of the hot season is that it also signals the beginning of MANGO SEASON!!!










If pictures are worth a thousand words, I think this blog is pretty self explanitory.