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 nice...ie 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,