Saturday, December 8, 2007

Seasons Greetings...I'm Now a Volunteer!

Seasons Greetings!

First of all, I would like to share that yesterday morning (Friday, the 7th of December) I officially became a Peace Corps Volunteer! I am very excited about this, not only because it means that I get to finally begin my two years of service, and move back to live with my host family for the next few years, but also because that means I passed my health, technical, and LANGUAGE requirements!

The ceremony was fun. It was hosted at the Ambassador's residence (though they are currently inbetween ambassadors to Gambia). There were several guest speakers, including the Department Secretaries of Agriculture and of Forestry. There were also a few speakers from the Embassy and Peace Corps. And my friend Alicia and I sang the National Anthem! All in all, it was a fun event, and the food following the ceremony was pretty good as well!

(There is a tradition of the male volunteers growing out a mustache for the ceremony, regardless of how bad it looks. Rest assured that I shaved it off as soon as the ceremony was over!)

This past week has been full of final trainings and seminars. One day we met representatives from many of the non-governmental organizations working in The Gambia, such as the World Food Program, United Nations Development Fund, UNICEF, Future In Our Hands (one I will be working closely with), "Gambia is Good," (an organization focused on sustainable gardening techniques), the Gambian Bee-Keepers Association, and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), to name a few. We also met with representatives from the national agriculture, forestry, and environmental departments. It was an informative time, allowing us to meet with many of the people we need to know and work with in order to get "big" projects done.

We also spent time this week visiting a wildlife preserve where we were able to test our skills at tree and plant identification, as well as learning a bit more about the wildlife here. I have had several questions about the animals I have seen. So far I have seen baboons, several other species of monkey, turtles, crocodiles, snakes (including the forest cobra), little ground animals, tons of little lizards, insects large enough to be animals, Nile Monitors, leopards, and heyenas.

Interesting apparently my host family compound lost a donkey to heyenas during the last dry season. Basically, as everything is dead and there is no growth or wildlife at the end of the dry season...the heyenas came almost into the village (the outside of my family compound) and ate a donkey. Needless to say, I will not be biking, jogging or hiking by myself between sun-set and sun-rise.

Another interesting fact is that we are close enough to the equator that the daylight hours of the day stay fairly constant all the time. The sun rises around 6:45am and sets around 7:15pm, all year. The day itself also revolves around the heat of the sune. Most of the work happens between post-breakfast (around 8) to noon. Lunch is around 2, and then it is just far too hot to actually do anything other than sit under the shade and fan yourself (although sometimes it can be too hot to actually fan yourself and you choose instead to nap). This is actually a great time for me to either do my own thing and read or work inside, or spend time sitting outside with my family and villagers, practicing the language and integrating. After all, a third of my job is focused on integrating into a new culture and the cross-cultural exchanges that come with just being a part of another community. Peace Corps works very hard to remind us of that, as our "Westernized" notions of success and progress tend to look more to progress reports and successful stats. Because quite frankly, the Peace Corps projects that fail are the ones that are developed before a volunteer has a clear understanding of the needs, expectations and ambitions of the community.

I digress...

So tomorrow morning I am headed back to my site! I will be there for a few weeks before getting together with about 10 of the closer friends I have made here to celebrage Christmas in a town near Bansang. We are calling it "up-country Christmas", since it is mainly for those of us who don't want to spend two days traveling back to the Banjul area so soon. We are already discussing the need to develop a Christmas tradition, as Christmas traditions are the tradition at Christmas in the States.

And two of the new volunteers are both getting new puppies as soon as they get back to their site, which will make our Christmas celebration that much more exciting and (traditional!)

However, in just a few weeks is one of the most important Muslim holidays of Tobaski. Tobaski is a day celebrating when the Prophet Abraham almost sacrificed his son Ishmael on top of the mountain, being stopped by the angel Gabriel. (You may find it quite similar to the story of Abraham and Isaac.) In any case, this is a day to celebrate that, and to focus on renewing their own faith. I'm not exactly sure what will all take place, but you can be sure that I will let you know! So while I will not be celebrating Christmas with my host family, there will be holiday festivities going on both in village as well as with friends! (I will be sure to get pictures from both events and post them as soon as possible. I realize my blog hasn't had any pictures yet, that is partly due to the lack of access to computers to update them, as well as my general lack of taking many pictures...yet. There are also several problems that come about when taking pictures of and around Gambians...)

As I will be moving into my house tomorrow, today was full of shopping and prepping. (Kind of like Christmas shopping, only all for myself, and in crazily-hectic-yet-hilariously-fun markets. Mostly they are so fun because of the expression on their faces when I speak to them in their own languages.) For those interested, some of my purchses included a mattress for my bed (my site already has a bed frame, though a bit different from what you are all used to), a gas stove with a single burner (enough to boil water for coffee in the morning and make soups and such once in a while), a large mat for my floor, some kitchen supplies such as a pot, pan, silverwear, a bowl and plate, and tons of groceries. I sincerely love the food my family cooks for me, but I can't explain enough how low in nutrition their meals are. Most of my groceries are focused on protein, and soups for the next round of "gastro-intestinal discomfort." I also got a blanket, sheets, a propane lantern, candles, and string...because you just never know what you might need it for.

Oh yes, and in good fashion, a few of my friends and I spent our last evening here in town at the beach to remember just how amazing the sun set over the ocean is. We have gone swimming almost every day since we've been here, and it's been greatly rewarding. Unfortunately, yesterday the tide was a bit too strong and I was a bit too ambitious and got a bit too far out. While I consider myself a good swimmer, the ocean did a better job of controling my actions. A few of us ended up literally getting picked up and thrown by the waves...and some of us onto some rocks (sorry mom!). Fortunately, noone was seriously injured!! I came away with a hurting foot, some bruised toes, and a fair share of scratches, some cuts on my legs and fatigue. Lucklily, as it happened in the ocean, the salt water disinfected my cuts almost instantly! It could have been worse, and we all learned a valuable lesson...the ocean is a good swimmer.

In any case, while this email hasn't necessarily been my most excting letter home, you can rest assured that I am on cloud 9 right now, greatly appreciating finally being a volunteer and, slowly slowly, (seeda, seeda) mastering the Pulaar language. You can be looking for another email from me around Christmas, when I will be in a town large enough to have an internet cafe.

Until then I want to let you know that I am thinking of you all this holiday season, wondering what the weather is like for you back in the States, and praying for a peaceful and Spirit-filled holiday season. It has actually been quite refreshing for me to think about the Christmas holiday without being inundated with ads, commercials, and SUPER SATURDAY SAVINGS SALES. In all honesty, thinking of Chrismas here, where none of that matters because it's not even an option at this time, is quite refreshing.

I pray this year is able to be the same for you...That you are able to think of Christmas for the ever-beautiful holiday that it is, a celebration of everlasting life. Ever-beautiful because of the family and friends we with, and everlasting because of the gift of eternal life offered through the Savior, Jesus.

Thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, letters and packages! Until next time, I wish you the best.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Almost a PCV!

I am back in Banjul again for the next week to complete training and officially swear in as a PCV. It's an exciting but full week...kind of. I have been here since last Wednesday working on trainings and such. There is a big house here owned by the PC called the "stodge" where the volunteers stay when they are in town. It's basically like a big hostel for just Peace Corps.

Our trainings have been going well, but we are all realy excited to just get to be an actual volunteer by the time we head back to our sites next weekend.

This past week I visited the site I will be at for the next two years. I don't know how it happened, but I am placed in what I think of as the "Decorah" of the Gambia. I am surrounded by gorgeous hills and forests, and I'm very close to the river. I was only there for a few days, to get to meet the family and introduce myself to the community, but I will be headed back next Sunday. My host compund is set up something like this: the head of the compound is my host father. He is probably around 30 and is married with three children (my host siblings). I am guessing they are around 8, 5, and 1 years old. My host father has two brothers and a sister who live in the compound as well. One of his brothers is married with one child, and the other brother and sister is not married yet. I think his youngest brother and his sister are probably just a few years older than me. (They don't really keep track of age here, so it's always kind of a guess.) Also, their mother lives in the compound, but their father has passed away. Typically the oldest man is the head of the compound, which is why my father is the head at such a young age.

Anyway, the family structure here is a bit different from what we are used to, but I will explain more of that later, and in more detail.

My house is a one room mud hut with a thatched roof. It's awesome! And it stay's pretty cool. (which will be very important when the temps get around 120F around May) It is probably about 4 meters by 4 meters. My backyard is big and has a lemon tree, several moringa trees, a pomogranite tree, and watermellons growing up my wall and onto my roof. I will get pictures to you soon.

The area I'm in is Fula, which means they are mostly cattle herders. It is also one of the poorest districts of Gambia. (And Gambia was recently listed as the 8th poorest country in the world.) Needless to say, while the natural scenery is gorgeous, my work is certainly cut out for me. Much of the year the meals consist of only rice or coos. The World Food Programme is quite active in my area, and provides all the meals for the local school, so I will probably work with them a bit.

An NGO called "Future In Our Hands" from Sweden recently built a skills center in my village, so I will also be working there a bit helping develop small-income generatine projects and special skills training, specifically to help generate sustainable income for women.

There is also a large women's community garden that the volunteer before me helped them establish. He wrote a grant to get 2 wells established for the garden, so now I will work with the women to help them realize the importance of diversification of foods and crops, and also use it as a tool to teach a bit about nutrition and sustainable soil management.

And my host father wants to turn his ground nut (peanut) field into a cashew orchard. Peanuts are the country's main export, and the prices are dropping. The last PC volunteer here tried to teach the importance of other crops, such as cashews, and my host father is one of the men in the village interested in switching over. So during my first few months at site I intend to work with him on that, planting somewhere around 500 cashew trees. It will be a good chance to get to know the family and work on my language before I start leading community sessions or skills training.

Needless to say, I am very excited to finally be a PCV and head back to my village. They were very excited to meet me, and even cooked a rooster in my honor to welcome me to their family. I feel very comfortable there, and very safe.

My closest site mates are about 5-10k away from me. I am a ways off the paved roads, so to get to me you have to either bike or take a donkey cart. I'm excited to be off the beaten path, but may reduce my number of visitors.

I got a chance to meet a few of the volunteers from my area and they got me very excited about living up-country. Their tends to be random camping, biking and canoing trips, as well as spontaneous bush-pig barbeques. (Muslims do not eat pork, so whenever a village kills a bush pig they give it to their PCV to share with the rest of us.) I'm really excited about the work, projects and experiences of these next few years!

I wish I could say more, cause I definately can, but I just don't have the time to go into as much detail as some of these stories deserve.

On another note, I found out that most of the time packages come through to The Gambia without being opened or having things stolen. It is recommended to use large envelopes or small boxes. Packages are not expected by an means, but greatly enjoyed!

Speaking of which, I have heard from several people that they would like a list of things to send my way. I wasn't planning to publish a "wish-list" but it seems to be necessary by popular demand. Here is what I could come up with:

-powdered drink mixes (ex. Gatorade)
-magazines and/or books
-newspaper articles (especially about the presidential race)
-a jump rope
-duct tape
-powdered sauces or spices (such as chilli pepper, garlic salt, or barbeque salts)
-soup and pasta bags (such as the Lipton soups and serving-size pasta dishes)
-the cheese packets from Mac&Cheese and/or Velveeta and Cheese
-M&Ms (one of the few chocolate items that won't melt in transit)
-Earl Grey and green tea
-small coffee bags (such as instant Nescafe)
-beef jerkey
-body and facial soap (unscented, as to not attract any one of the many millions of mosquitoes that bite me each night)
-medicated Gold Bond (for heat rash...hey, it happens when the hot season tops 120 degrees Fahrenheit!)
-journaling paper
-pictures of family and friends

With that, I should bring this posting to a close. I hope this finds you all doing well. I will be headed to the beach again this afternoon (for the 4th day in a row) to enjoy the sunset with friends, before heading out for dinner. I know life in the PC is tough, but I'm willing to endure!

Hopefully I will get a post out after swearing in and before going to my site!

Take care and best wishes!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy (late) Thanksgiving!

Happy (late) Thanksgiving!

I am finally back to an area with internet access, and have just a bit of time to send out an update before I must be on the road again.

First of all, I am having the time of my life right now, and greatly enjoying this experience I am able to have! We are now about 2 months into training and only have about 2 weeks left. I spent the first two months spending time off-and-on between my training village, where my learning focused on the language and cultural immersion, and technical training sessions where we covered the actual training for the work we may be doing, as well as covering mandatory sessions such as health, mental wellness, nutrition, working with grants, religious understandings, understanding the Gambian calendar...the list truly does go on for several pages, and when I have an opportunity to go into more detail I probably will.

This past Thursday (Thanksgiving) I left my host village and headed with the rest of my training group to Banjul. Yesterday was a big celebration for the 40th year anniversary of Peace Corps working in The Gambia, so all the current PCVs as well as us trainees were in town to celebrate the event. Thursday we were able to celebrate Thanksgiving at the US Ambassador's residence, to an impressive array of American foods! (Oh, and the residence is also along the coast, so I HAD to watch a gorgeous sunset over the ocean and do a bit of swimming to also help bring in the Thanksgiving holiday. It's no Macy's Parade, I realize...but fun none-the-less.)

Friday morning was the 40th anniversary party, which was fun and was followed by a reception with great food! Many of us spent the rest of the afternoon lounging at the beach...reading, playing cards and swimming.

But now these past 48 hours of luxury are over and I'm headed out in just a few hours to finally visit my permanent site! I will be traveling with one of our language instructors to spend the next three days or so at my site for the next 2 years. It is located on the south bank (aka, south of the river) and about 2/3 of the way upcountry (aka, east). I will have several other PCVs around me in my area, and my closest neighbor is about 15 kilometers away. I can't tell you much about it yet, but after my site visit I will. I do know that it is in the country director's favorite part of the Gambia, and that the volunteer there before me helped start many new projects, and they are kind of counting on me to help the Gambians keep them going sustainably and productively. Again, not exactly sure what all that entails, but I will be able to let you know soon.

As you look at the map you may forget that while Gambia is tiny, transportation is...well, unique. I will be taken to my site by Peace Corps, but THE road was built around 1970 and hasn't been improved much you can imagine the comfort of the 8 hour ride ahead. Yes, the small trek that it is will take about 8 hours because of the lack of good roads. Translate that to something more important, to say...trying to get emergency medical help, or starting a new business that requires you to travel to a village to sell your products...and MANY problems of the Gambia become much more clear.

I will be visiting my site for several days, and then will be back in Banjul next Wednesday for the last week and a half of training before I officially swear in on the 7th of December!

To answer a few questions:
My language is coming along quite well. One of the most difficult parts has been learning it in village for a week or so, and then leaving for technical training and only speaking English again. But, seeda seeda, (slowly, slowly) my ability to converse in Pulaar is coming along. I know that in my village there will only be about one Gambian in village who can speak English, so my ability to speak Pulaar will be a key tool to a successful and productive two years. I'm thinking that once I'm finally in village, with just Pulaar, the language will sink in much more. I have to score an Intermediate Mid. on my final language exam in a week (kind of comparable to 3 semesters of studying language at college...only in about 10 weeks). I'm not concerned.

The weather here is...well...great! We are now in the cold season, so during the day it is around 85F and during the night it gets down to about 78. It is just the beginning of the cold season, so soon it will get down to the 60s or so at night, but will remain quite nice during the day. (Remember, during the hot season it will get up to around 120F, and down to about 90) My first couple of weeks here were brutally hot, but it's better now. I get chilly when it gets down to the 70s and put on pants and long-sleeves.

My projects will probably be centered around women projects, such as sustainable gardening practices, tie-dyeing cloth, honey production (with the killer African bees...mind you), and more.

I have remained quite healthy! I heave eaten rice and fish about 3 times a day since I've been here, but it is definately growing on me. I actually prefer it many times to the food we eat when we are at hotels for technical training.

And to answer a great question from a very close friend, (to paraphrase the question) As one of the main purposes of the Peace Corps is cross-cultural exchange, working as an official U.S. employee (I even get a badge and special passport) how am I taught to share the American political and social culture with the local Gambians, or what kind of picture am I supposed to paint?
*The long and short of it is, the Peace Corps, while officially a US agency, is a non-political agency. So for example, I am not allowed to to go political rallys or protests. I am not allowed to wear blatantly political clothing. And I am not allowed to be overly critical of the political structure here. All in all, I'm mostly supposed to keep my mouth shut about politics in general, unless I am helping dispell misunderstandings. For example, many of the people here (especially in rural areas) don't realize the difference between Europe and the US. To them all white people are the same and come from the same place. People who I know well still ask me how the UK, Spain or Germany is...not realizing that the US is different. Here white people are called "toubabs" and all white people come from that place called "Toubabadou" a long ways away. Helping teaching geography, in this sense, is more of an important lesson than what I think of Bush. But I'm not really taught at all what to say about America. For the most part people here think all Americans are very rich, live amazingly comfortable lives, and don't need to work at all. Those are the kind of myths I help dispell. In any case, most people here love America (or at least Toubabadou and love Peace Corps.) I have always felt extremely safe, especially when in village. It's kind of like being a super-star.

Well, with that I must be going. I will be back in town in about a week and will have another exciting update then. Thanks for the emails and letters, they really do make my day!!

I love you all and wish you the best with life back in Toubabadou!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dodging the Dysentary

Hey again family, friends and various blog readers!

My first week of training is now coming to a close and tomorrow we will be moving out to our training villages. As I mentioned before, I will be living within a host family compound in a village near a larger town called Tendaba. There will be 5 of us volunteers there together, but we will all be in different compounds (except for the married couple). I am very excited for this! The comforts of the camp we have been at have been glorified summer camp conditions...but I am excited and ready to get a good taste of what my living conditions will be like for the next few years.

As I mentioned before, the main purpose for this training village will be for me to become quite fluent in my language, Pulaar, as well as learn the Fula customs and traditions. (Pulaar is the language spoken by the Fula ethnic people.) I have had several questions on my diet. At training our meals have been full of rice, cooked vegetables and fish. However, we have been told to expect something quite different at training village. I don't know what we will be eating, but I will let you know. Apparently there will be less variety, and the vegetables will be over-cooked. A big staple for the diet here is a sauce made of ground nuts. It is comparable in texture to a real soft version of peanut butter, and is quite oily. Additionally this is where I will get to finally eat coos, goat cheese and goat! However, since this is the time of Rhammadan (a holy Muslim month that requrires not eating from sun up to sun down), the meal schedules and food options will be a bit different than during the rest of the year.

AND, I dodged the dysentary! True true. We have only been here about a week, and already about half of our group has come down with serious gastro-intestinal problems, including dysentary. That isn't to say I haven't had my own bout of intense discomfort (that requried visits to the Peace Corps medical office)...but the point is...I dodged the dysentary!...although not much else. We actually joke about it now in the sense that very few applicants to jobs actually specify that they are more than happy to deal with gastro-intestinal problems as a regular aspect of their job.

As an interesting side note, were were told during our training time in Philly that we would soon become quite open with eachother about almost every aspect of our lives, especially our gastro-intestinal schedules and discomforts. I'm not quite sure why, but it is most definately true. I don't know if it's a desperate way of bonding, lack of other conversation topics, or most likely an ability to cope in good spirits, but the conversation topics that happen here on a regular basis are most definately entertaining, though not "dinner appropriate." I share this because of how completely true it is. And that's really all I have to say about that.

To answer a few more questions:
  • No, Kristin, I haven't joined a drumming circle yet, but as soon as I do I will let you know.
  • Once I get to the training village I will still have my meals provided for me. However, this is a "great opporunity" for me to become familiar with the food options I will have and how to prepare them.
  • Once I get to my permanent village (in December) I will be able to make an arrangement with my host family regarding meals and such. Most volunteers pay to have 1 or 2 meals provided for them each day, and take care of the third on their own. Most volunteers prefer taking care of breakfast on their own, but enjoy spending dinner time and the evening with their extended host family.
  • No, Kristin, I don't need to hunt for my own meat. :) It is actually strictly forbidden within the Muslim culture here for me to kill or clean my own animal product. This means that it is fine for me to help out my host family by providing them with a chicken, duck, or even a goat to thank them for all they do for me and for letting me live with them, but I am not allowed to kill or clean the animal. (oh darn...)
  • The reason so many other languages are spoken even though the national language is English is because English became the national language during the time that The Gambia was controleld as an English colony. The tribal languages spoken here have been spoken by their own respective tribes for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Most people in the urban areas can speak an extent of English, but a few decades of control by the UK was not enough influence to actually get the people to adopt new languages. It is actually quite common for the people to understand, if not speak, several other tribal languages. However, the importance of speaking English never really moved beyond the business centers and trading posts occupied by the colonial rulers
  • The reason my language proficiency is so important is because of the lack of the use of English beyond the capital city of Banjul. Our safety, success, and ultimately our job is dependent on how well we are able to integrate into our own respective communities. And obviously, the ability to communicate is a key aspect for successful integration.
  • Our training classes have focused on issues such as: How HIV/AIDS affects the agro-forestry sectre in Gambia, language, safety and security issues, personal health, language, mental health, malaria education and awareness, how to properly take a bucket bath, language, cultural norms and values, how to care for and treat mosquito nets, language, different ways to integrate into our host communities, and language...among many other topics. I am very excited for the trainings we will have at our training village, where we will get to learn projects such as establishing a bee hive and fruit tree propogation. I am also quite excited to be come as fluent as possible in Pulaar as soon as possible. I am also hoping that once I get to my final destination I can hire a local religious leader from the area to tutor me in Arabic. (I say religious leader because the Koran must always be read and recited in Arabic, so I am hoping that someone near me will know it well enough to teach me some of the basics...for future travels and experiences...)

As I am headed out to training village tomorrow I will probably not have access to update my blog for a few weeks. Everything here happens seeda, seeda (slowly, slowly) and my access to the internet in the coming weeks, months and years will be no different.

Until next time,
Best wishes!

Monday, October 1, 2007

I Made It!

Hello Family and Friends!!

I finally have a free moment...after going non-stop for the past week, so I wanted to take this opportunity to let you all know I am safe, healthy, and having the time of my life! (according to some definition...somewhere...) Yes, training was fun and entertaining. It was a great time to meet the 23 other people I will be working with for the next few years. The people I am working with are most definately amazing! Our crew includes people who have volunteered and worked all over the world.

The flights to The Gambia both went smooth and safe. We have been at our first "training" sight until this coming Friday. Already we have learned basics of the culture, our safety and security procedures, spent some time at the beach (of course), visited a reptile farm to get acquainted with the life around us, toured different parts of the city, and even been assigned the language to learn. I am in the group learning to speak Pulaar. This is a good indication that I will be in a very rural sight, as opposed to a sight located closer to any of the major cities. It is also a good indication that many of my projects will be focused on fruit tree propogation and animal husbandry.

I have already learned morning, afternoon and evening greetings, as well as the appropriate phrases to get around in various types of transportation. And I'm getting pretty familiar with how to speak Pulaar on the streets and in the markets. This Friday our group will be split apart according to the different languages we are learning and placed in different training villages. I will live with a host family for the next six weeks or so in order to truly become as fluent in Pulaar, learn the cultural norms, and learn to adjust to this new life. I am so incredibly excited...and tired. It is truly the most amazing experience. The sights, sounds, smells, creatures, and animals are all so very different and beautiful.

I guess in order to answer a few questions you may have:

Yes, it has been very hot and humid. It's not actually that worse than Iowa was in July, there is just never any air conditioning.

We do have rice at two meals each day, as well as lots of sea food.

I have not gotten sick yet....yet.

I have already gone way beyond my comfort zone and held several kinds of snakes, rodents, pet a crocodile (sorry mom...but it really was safe...) and enjoyed watching the little lizards move around the camp we are at currently.

And yes , there are bats...with the wingspan the size of an eagle.

I will leave you with the thought that despite how tiring, crazy or mind boggling our training is, today we were able to wander around the city for a bit and the sights and heartache that came with what we came across make me all the more confident that this is where I am to be at this time in my life. Well, there is a bit of a line behind me of my new friends who also want to contact their family and friends back home, so I should get going.

Thank you all for your notes, prayers and support!

Till next time. Sallaamaleekum (Peace be with you)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Gambia or Bust!

Hello good family and friends!

I must admit right off the bat that I am hesitantly excited to be posting this first of many blogs. I am excited because, hey!, I'm moving to Africa! Hesitant because, hey!, I'm moving to Africa!

Monday the 24th of September I will be flying to Philadelphia for "pre-staging" before heading to Banjul, The Gambia, on Wednesday the 27th of September.

I have received many questions from family and friends about my service in the Peace Corps, and would like to take the opportunity of this first blog to answer as many questions as possible as effectively as possible.

So to be brutally honest, I'm sure that a good many of my family and friends were quite surprised to learn of my wanting to serve in the Peace Corps. Let's face it, I'm not exactly one who has been known to enjoy "roughing it," let alone living without air conditioning, constant access to American luxuries, or even hair gel. Fortunately, serving in the Peace Corps isn't about me. My outlook on service in the Peace Corps is a true dedication towards wanting to work within a small niche of that sector of society which has been largely marginalized by the world today. My service in the Peace Corps is about dedication, service and hard work; helping others help themselves build a more sustainable way of life for themselves, their families and ultimately the community as a whole.

Throughout the past several years I have felt a strong calling to service for others. A combination of many life events, including the time I spent teaching classes at the Danish Red Cross to asylum seekers, as well as a revelation of how much has been handed to me on a silver platter solely because of my status of growing up as a privileged U.S. citizen in the safety-net of the Midwest, have left a significant calling to service tugging at my heart, mind and conscience. Long story short, at this time in my life, with no real strings attached or major commitments to others, the opportunity to serve working and living in The Gambia, West Africa, is quite literally a dream come true!

Additionally, I believe we all have a social responsibility to promote socio-economic justice, as well as expose ourselves to the harsh realities of what is happening to others in the world. We are called to do what we can, in our own way, style and according to our own ability, to serve the poor, help those in need and love our neighbor as ourself. This is one small and responsible way I am able to answer that call.

So, beginning Monday, the 27th of September, I will be serving with the Peace Corps for 27 months. My first 10 weeks or so will be training. During this time I will learn whatever it is the Peace Corps thinks is necessary for me to be able to serve with great potential, including foreign languages, technical working skills and suggestions for safety and survival. Once my service officially begins in December, I will be living and working in rural Gambia. At this point, the most I can tell is that I will be living within a host-family compound. Additionally, my work will be centered on agro-forestry projects. This could be anything from re-forestry projects to teaching environmental conservation in schools, and from helping start community gardens to promoting bee hive projects and/or other micro-business development possibilities.

When it comes to technical questions about the Peace Corps or The Gambia, I highly suggest you check out the links at the side of the page, as they will offer better insight than I am able to at this time. Feel free to send me emails, but please be patient as I may not be able to respond for several weeks. In the meantime, the best way to communicate is via "snail mail" with the address provided at the side of this blog. (And don't forget to use an international Gambian stamp!)

At the time of this writing I am basically packed and ready to go. Having started my application process to the Peace Corps last September, I am most definitely ready to set my feet on Gambian soil!

Finally, I would like to thank all of my family and friends who have been so greatly supportive! You have all remained very polite throughout this past year during my constant rambling ons of my upcoming service. Additionally, your words, actions and prayers of support are appreciated far beyond what can be expressed through a blog.

As I sign off from this first post (of what will hopefully be many more to come...although with very sporadic times between each posting), I would like to leave you with two verses which have been comforting, challenging and motivational to me these past months:

"Out of the stump of David's family will grow a shoot- and the Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him. ..the Spirit of wisdom and understanding...He will not judge by appearance nor make decisions based on hearsay. He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited." (Isaiah 11: 1-4)

"The Lord has told you what is good. and that is what is
required of you: to do what is right, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God." (Micah 6:8)

Until next time, I wish you the best!