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)