Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Another Look at The Gambia...

In many ways, The Gambia is a very unique country. It is a tiny country in West Africa, yet it hosts a wide variety of climate zones. For example, you can find well forested, lush areas in the south western corner, yet the north eastern section is practically a desert.

It also has a unique political system. It is a democracy whose current president took power through a coup in 1992. Since then he has been elected to continue serving as president without any great resistance or competition. As one with great interest in politics, there is much I would like to share and say about the political history and experiences of The Gambia, but I believe this short video does a fantastic job at it.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=jqFW124WYGc

The Gambia truly is a unique country, yet much of the political structures and experiences are all too common throughout much of Africa.

That's really about all I can say about this. So please take the time to watch the video linked to this page, and feel free to email me with any comments or questions.

Wishing you the best from "The Smiling Coast of Africa!"

It's Official!


So imagine this...

One sleepy morning you are driving to work, listening to music trying to get yourself fully awake before a day of sessions on bee-keeping, cashew trees, and small business development, when you glance out the window and notice that the road-side newspaper salesman is holding up the newspaper with the headlines...

"PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS NOT CIA AGENTS"

Well, that's exactly what happend one morning during our IST training. Needless to say, we were all quite intrigued by this. The article also went on to say that we are not "FIB" agents. So that's all reassuring!

Unfortunately, the combination of CIA and the Peace Corps is an all-too-common myth around the world. But now we can all rest assured, appreciating that Today has set the issue to rest.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

New Pics!

Just wanted to send out a quite public service announcement to let you all know I have a ton of new pictures uploaded if you care to check them out.

Enjoy!


Experiences I've had in The Gambia that, quite frankly, I had never considered doing before.

Here is a list to showcase some of the many new experiences and adventures I've had since arriving in The Gambia.

(Disclaimer: I don't recommend trying all of them at home. But they really are a fun experience if you do!)

*spent days, and even weeks, shelling peanuts

*hauled peanut hay via donkey cart

*ridden on a donkey cart

*driven a donkey cart

*fallen off a donkey cart

*sweat to 140 degree temperatures

*been rather comfortable in 100 degree temperatures

*felt cold in 80 degree temperatures!

*considered a mud hut with a thatched roof "home"

*learned bicycle mechanics and tube repair

*watched a ram be sacrificed, butchered, and then eaten it (Although I couldn't tell where the meat was from until they clarified... we were eating the cheeks and the brain. It was an interesting texture.)



*NOT worn deodorant or had jell in my hair, because, honestly, it doesn't really matter

*danced until 3am at the village drumming circle party

*learned to sew a rice-bag mattress

*taught someone to read and write their own name in their own language

*pounded coos

*cleaned rice

*eaten out of the same bowl as at least 4 other people at every meal

*eaten with only my hands or a spoon for each meal

*eaten bananas, oranges, mangoes, limes and papayas RIGHT OFF THE TREE

*fashioned a dog door out of duct tape and cardboard

*lived on, quite literally, $1 per day

*been issued a machete for my job

*been issued a lantern for my job

*been issued malaria medication for my job

*had to wear sunscreen on Christmas

*eaten bush pig

*developed a lifestyle without electricity or running water

*read books and written letters by candle light

*had a candle melt even though it wasn't lit...because that's how hot it is

*pumped, hauled, filtered and chemically treated my own drinking water

*live without TV (That ones's actually not very hard at all.)

*read books before watching it as a movie

*lead meetings...in a foreign language

*helped build a mud brick house


*helped assemble and put up a thatched roof (...for said brick house)

*fallen asleep to the sounds of heyenas laughing and dogs barking

*woken up to a mixture of the call to prayer, donkeys, and women already pounding coos to cook for breakfast

*eaten rice or coos for each meal... every day

*not minded having a mouse living in the ceiling

*welcomed small lizards living in the ceiling

*relied on pre-natal vitamins and malaria medication to keep me alive

*not had to receive junk or bogus adds in the mail

*learned to speak, read and write a foreign language fairly well in under 6 weeks

*been able to wear shorts and a t-shirt almost every day for about 7 months straight

*built a dog house

*gone for about 7 months without rain, snow, sleet or any other form of precipitation

*had to stop and wait on the road for the baboons to finish crossing (Because I'm not going to mess with the baboons. They are big. They have big teeth.)


*watched an "African" sunset

*watched an "African" sunrise

*observed the animals grazing at the watering hole

*had to chase monkeys away from the garden

*gotten lost in the African bush

*held a baby that was literally only just hours old

*played the roles of teacher, consultant, tree farmer, architect, committee member, organizer, gardener, mason, student and friend... all in one day!


I'm sure there is much I'm forgetting and much to add as my service here continues. But I hope this helps clue you in to some of the new day-to-day experiences quite common to my life. There is rairly a dull moment in The Gambia!

1/4th the Way Through!


So, I don't know much about life on the other side of the pond right now, but over here time seems to be flying by!

Ok, so honestly, the first few months were a bit slow. Very, very slow. It was kind of one of those experiences where each day felt like a week unto its own. Each day I found myself trying to find something to do that was worthy of journaling about, or at least just writing down on the calendar, so that I could actually feel like I was getting something done and making good use of my time here in Gambia. And I had a fairly liberal outlook on what constituted something productive. For example... sweeping the house, visiting a new compound, learning a new word, starting a book, finishing a book, learning a new name of a food, napping, not napping, visiting the school, greeting someone new, or cleaning my bike all became quite worthy of topics to write down to show a successful day. And the key was to not do much more than one of them each day, for fear of not having something "productive" to do the next day.

I know, I'm here for two years to work on community and small-business development through an agricultural context, but, quite honestly, it is not easy.

But things have changed. And for the better! Now, instead of waking up and trying to decide what to do during the day to stay busy, it just happens. And it's great! Sometimes it can even be a bit overloaded with activity! Instead of going into great detail at this point, I hope my previous blog posts do a sufficient job of filling you in with my past and current activities.

However, at this point in time, just at 7 months in, my service is just over 1/4th the way through. And if time keeps speeding up as fast as the temperature keeps rising, this next year and a half will truly fly by! At this point I'm starting to look at the many projects going on and that I would like to get started and hoping there is enough time to get them well off the ground before my time here is done!

Today is actually my group's 7 month anniversary of serving with Peace Corps, which inspired me to put in this blog entry just to touch on that fact. The time here has treated me well. I've learned a ton about many things I'd really not considered before. I have learned a ton on topics I thought I understood fairly well. I've become much healthier (oddly enough...) I've eaten some odd things. I've made some amazing friends. And I've had some truly life changing experiences.

Additionally, I have been receiving amazing support from you, my family and friends, back in paradise! I thank you very sincerely for the cards, letters, emails, packages, phone calls, thoughts and prayers. I am extremely thankful for all you do to support my time and work here. Thank you!

All in all, it's been a good 7 months and I look forward to the next 20!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

IST Training Meets a Bit of R&R


Hey Adiv Readers!

I'm just finishing up a trip to Kombo where I've been having a good mixture of in-service training and a bit of R&R. Now that my training group has successfully served about 4 full months in village, it was time for a bit of additional training for more technical projects. Some of the key topics training focused on throughout the week included:

* bee keeping, honey extraction, wax processing (working with Killer African Bees, mind you)

* small-scale enterprise development and opportunities for small-scale development loans

*tree grafting (a truly fascinating idea, no joke, but also very hard to get right!)

* the effects of carbon emissions and climate change in The Gambia

* designing wood lots and re-forestry initiatives

* different venues for grant applications

* various types of composting and fertilizing

* pest management

* small-scale irrigation techniques

* poultry projects

* rabbit projects

* and addressing various issues and experiences we have encountered at our sites


Our training was a truly unique one in that the director of Peace Corps worldwide, Mr. Ron Tschetter, happened to be vising West Africa and was in Gambia during the weekend we began our training sessions. He came to the first day of training to tell us about different projects going on around the world and fill us in with the experiences he has had visiting different sites around the world.

Interestingly enough, a few days before training started he also happened to be in Gambia for the swearing-in ceremony of the newest group of health volunteers to begin service here. I came to Kombo several days early to get to go to the ceremony and have a chance to meet Mr. Tschetter. After the ceremony was over I had the chance to chat with him for a short while and I brought up the fact that he and I are both from Huron, SD! Of all places, he and I share the same home-town! He seemed pretty excited about this and had his assistant come over and give me an interview and took some pictures together. Supposedly in the near future you should be able to read my interview and see our picture in the Huron Daily Plainsman. I'll let you know if I see it printed. So that was cool.

Training was fun and very rewarding. Now that we've all been at site for some time we have a much better idea of the projects that our communities are actually interested in, and also the likelihood of being able to implement a specific project. For example, I'm very excited about the different prospects of bee-keeping, but it's been difficult to get people in Chargel excited. So, unless they want to do it, I really have no place starting a project. However, I may start a small project for just me and my compound to work on, and people can see the benefits of a bee project that way. I'll keep you updated!

During another day of training we were at a demonstration farm called "Gambia Is Good," when who should show up for a walk-about than His Excellency Ahlaji Dr. Jaya A.J.J. Jammeh, President of the Republic of The Gambia. It seemed a bit odd when a caravan of armored vehicles just randomly showed up and kind of surrounded us. (armored as in soldiers with machine guns pointing in all directions atop very intense vehicles) We were in the middle of a discussion on pest management, but when he started coming our way with his entourage we got kind of distracted. We're not exactly sure why he chose to visit, but he basically just made some small talk, welcomed us to Gambia and made some jokes about who we might be voting for in the upcoming US presidential elections. That definitely made for an interestingly random day.

Training was additionally fun because our training session was opened up to volunteers from the same sector but from other countries. I was able to meet several volunteers from Senegal and Guinea Conakry. The volunteers I met are also speak Pulaar in their villages, so it was interesting to compare the lifestyles between the different countries. I was actually surprised to learn of the relatively few differences between our cultural experiences. It looks like you can draw up country boundaries wherever you want, but the cultures and traditions of the peoples who were living there before the boundaries separated them into different colonies will remain the same, or at least very similar, for quite some time. One volunteer from Senegal who I got to chat with quite a bit actually doesn't live too far away from me, so some of us are hoping to go visit him sometime soon and experience a Fula village there. I'll keep you posted!

Now training is over and I'm just spending a few extra days in Kombo to catch up with some office/paper work and to enjoy a bit of a small vacation. Plus, down here by the coast the temps stay around the 80s and 90s, which is absolutely beautiful coming from the 140s!! (I actually get really cold at night, which is sad, but I'm ok with it.)

It's been nice to have some down time to chat with friends, visit the beach, catch up on some emails, and upload more pictures. But I also miss Khiva and the compound, and I'm excited to get back to them soon. And strange as it may sound, I'm actually looking forward to the food back home (in Chargel). I guess my stomach is adjusting. But don't let that worry you. While I've been back in Kombo I've done my share of splurging on cheeseburgers, pizza, pasta, fried chicken, and of course, ice cream!

Another good thing about getting back to site is that three of the new health volunteers are placed at sites pretty close to me! I finally have a neighbour closer than a few hours away! Travis is at a site just a few kilometers away from me, and a Ruco and Kristi are just up the south-bank road. I'm excited to get back and visit them, welcoming them to the up-country heat!

Well, I that's about all I have for an update right now. While I'm in town and have access to good computers I intend to upload another round of pictures, so you can be looking forward to that very soon!

Other than that, it's hot, it's fun, it's crazy, and life is never predictable. I'm doing well and pray the same for you!

Until next time, I wish you the best!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Family Compound


I have received several questions about my host family and to explain more the logistics of living in a compound. So here it goes!

My host compound is fantastic! Towns and villages here are divided into many different compounds. The basic idea of a compound is that an extended family lives together in one common area which includes their houses, the kitchen house, their gardens, and their animals. There is generally some kind of a fence to enclose the entire property, which has probably been in the same family, and in the same location, for hundreds of years.

My compound is made up of three brothers and who live together and their families. My “guardian”, Lawo, is the head of the compound. He is in charge of the finances, settling any disputes that arise, handling any problems, making sure the fields and animals are taken care of, and representing the compound at community meetings.

During the rainy season his main projects include farming corn, sorghum, coos, rice, and peanuts. He has just recently, with the help of the Peace Corps volunteer before me, started a cashew nut orchard, which I intend to help him expand. During the dry season most of his work is focused around compound maintenance, such as repairing fences, putting up new thatched roofs, and other projects. He also raises cattle, chickens, and ducks year-round.

He is married to Nana, and they have three kids, Lamin (male, 7), Gundo (female, 5), and Taba (male, 1). Nana spends most every day, all day, cooking, caring for the kids, and taking care of odd jobs around the compound.

Lawo has an older brother, Bah-Fodi, (they actually share the same father but have different mothers, because here the men can have up to four wives). He is older, but since he is deaf the position for him to act as head of the compound was passed on to Lawo. His main role is to work with Lawo to insure the family has food and is taken care of. They work very closely together, and he is by far one of the hardest workers I have seen.

Like Lawo, he grows corn, sorghum, coos, rice and peanuts during the rainy season. He also has a mango orchard which is in full bloom right now! He also has many cattle which he grazes year round. He also makes mattresses for people in the community out of rice bags and straw. Amazingly enough, they actually last longer and are, in my opinion, of better quality than the mattresses you can buy at markets in big towns.

He is married to Fatou, and they have two children. Tida (female, 10) and Abdoulie (male, 2). Fatou works each day with Nana to prepare the meals, watch over the children, and take care of what needs done in the compound. Nana and Fatou, as sisters-in-law, spend every day, all day together working.

The compound also has Saikou, my name-sake. He is in his early 20s, but just finished with school. (That’s quite common.) He also raises peanuts and has some cattle, but his main project is the bitik (small store) he runs out of his house. He mainly sells rice, sugar, and other basics for cooking and cooking attaya (the green tea + sugar that the people here drink each day, all day).

And finally, the compound has Baladi. She is Lawo, Bah-Fodi, and Saikou’s mom. She is a spunky woman who, like her sons, works very hard. During the rainy season she mostly focuses on growing rice, and tons of it. She also has fields for peanuts and corn. She spends most of her time during the dry season shelling peanuts, which are then either turned into a peanut paste to eat with rice, or saved as seeds for the next crop. If you can imagine shelling peanuts all day, every day, for several months, that what she does. But it also provides time for good conversations and to practice Pulaar. She is also very involved with the skills center here. She is one of the officers representing her village, and she and I spend a lot of time discussing different ideas for projects and potential training activities. Currently we have been focused on a training to increase the quality of the jewelry they make so that it will be more marketable to the different tourist spots.

I get along with everyone in the compound very well, but she and I share a special bond. She is a spunky lady, and even though we can’t always communicate as well as we would like to, we always have fun and find something to laugh about. And she really likes picking on me when I do something stupid, like fall off a donkey cart or getting lost in the forest during the peak heat of the day…

And just recently Baladi’s sister moved into the compound with us also. She used to live with family near Basse, but wanted to live with us instead, I guess. Maybe she just wanted a change of scenery? I’m not quite sure. She is also a fun lady, named Sukara. And even though she has only been here a short time, she is already involved in one of the woman’s groups (the one I am helping start a community market) and she has a garden going.

So that’s the general make-up of my compound family. It’s a fun place, and crazy at times. I get along with them very well, and they look out for me very closely. During the mornings I tend to work with Lawo, Bah-Fodi, and Saikou in the fields or with other projects. And during the afternoons I get to chat a lot with the women, and they like to laugh at me when I try to pound coos (it’s hard, and you develop blisters quickly…).

And the kids are great too. Lamin tends to want to follow me wherever I go, but I always encourage him to go to school instead. And it has been fun introducing the kids to how to play with a puppy. Raising animals for domestic, fun purposes just isn’t done here, so this is a new experience for all of us.

Another aspect worth touching on in this blog is to explain that I do pay a monthly rent to the family. It covers the cost of three meals a day, laundry (hand washed) and repairs and such to my house and yard. The amount I pay is enough to cover my costs, but the family doesn't really make any monetary profit from having me live with them. I'm not exactly sure how the rest of the community takes the situation, but when my village first decided to host a Peace Corps Volunteer they had a community meeting and decided that Lawo's compound would be the best place because it is much smaller (people wise) than other compounds that have upwards of 20 to 30 people in them, it is quite private, it is close to the water pump, and it is a fairly young compound (other than Baladi and her sister, I think everyone in the compound is in their 30s or younger).

I hope this helps offer a better insight to my life here and the people around me. Of course there are many others I work with and spend time with, but this is the family I live with.

Just Another Day

Last Wednesday I decided it was a good day to head to Basse to take care of my monthly banking. As Peace Corps Volunteers in The Gambia, we have two options for our banking locations, Kombo or Basse. And as Basse is only a few hours away from me, it is where I tend to go to take care of business. Plus, you can also get ice cream, hamburgers, and other good ole’ Western favorites in town, so it’s a fun place to go with friends and hang out once in a while as a break from village life.

However, as the two friends I usually go there with were both occupied, I decided to just have a fun day trip by myself.

For me to get from my village to Basse, I first bike about 1 hour to get to the town Bansang (also where I go to use the internet at the hospital…such as right now). At Bansang you find the “car park,” and that’s when the fun begins…

The first order of business is to find a driver going the right direction and work with their “apprentice” to work out the fee. For most destinations there is a standard fee, and once I immediately start talking to them in the local language they usually don’t try to mess with the standard prices, but it’s not unheard of. Next is to arrange for the cost of any extra parcels I’m bringing along that need to be tied to the roof. For most of my excursions I only have my backpack and keep it on my lap, but it is quite common to look on top of any “gele-gele,” the cars they drive, and see sheep, goats, buckets, mattresses, suitcases, and bags of rice, corn or peanuts. It makes for quite the interesting scene.

The gele-gele is an experience quite unlike any other. The cars themselves are basically old 15-passenger vans from Europe that have been gutted and transformed into vans that transport upwards of 22 people. That is also quite a sight. There are basically 4 rows with 5 people across each, and then as many crammed into the back end as possible. It’s really not fun at all, not in the least. But the experience itself is usually most comical, with such a sight…a van loaded to the brim with people and then literally topped off with chickens, goats, bags, produce and who knows what else…it is a sight to see.

So I found the right gele-gele, secured the price and hopped on in. And it turned out to be quite an interesting day of gele-gele experiences.

The drive from Bansang to Basse should be about 2 hours, give or take. And it is generally uneventful, just a drive through a part of Gambia that is actually quite scenic with trees and wildlife. A good time.

But on the way there I kept hearing loud talking from the back of the van. This wasn’t too uncommon, as Gambians can sometimes tend to talk very loud, and very intense. But as the people around me started to look to the back of the van I realized there was a fight going on! I’m not sure who started it, what the point was, or what they were actually saying. But I could tell from the language I do know that they were not speaking pleasantries. Nope.


They got pretty roudy, and at the next police checkpoint we came to, they were not-so-kindly asked to get off. I don’t know if the issue was ever resolved. The rest of the ride was quite uneventful.

I enjoyed a nice time in Basse, taking care of banking, drinking come cold Cokes, and even indulging in some ice cream. But then it was time to head back to so I could get back to site yet that evening.

Again, I went to the car park, found the right gele-gele and made sure the prices were good to go. Oh, another point worth mentioning is that the gele drivers, quite rightly, only leave when the gele is full of passengers. This can mean, for example, that if you get to the gele just as it is filling up, the wait to leave can be very short indeed. Oh the contrary, if you are one of the first to get the car, the wait is brutal…and brutally hot, as the cars do not have air conditioning.

In any case, the gele did fill up and finally took off. But not too long down the road there was a great popping noise and the van kind of shifted. We pulled over to find that the tire was blown. Whether this was due to the heat, the wear-and-tear, the poor road conditions, or the sometimes crazy driving…I’m not to sure. But the tire was done. But these are professional drivers, so of course they had a spare tire on hand. But when they had replaced the tire and we were all climbing and clawbering back inside, I couldn’t help but notice that the new tire was a flat.

So we continued on our journey, now with a flat tire instead of a blown tire, until we came to the first town, Bakadagi, about 12 k down the road. There we pulled over and the driver worked out a deal with another gele driver to transfer us and get us back to Bansang, although with these two delays it was putting me enough behind schedule that I was debating if I would actually get back to site before dark.

So we transferred vehicles and all the supplies on the roof and headed down on our merry way. The man sitting next to me kept insisting that I needed to help him get a US Visa, something I’m quite used to by now, and I did a good job of politely explaining to him that I can’t get him a visa any more than he can get me a Gambian visa…because visas are not my job. It’s a common conversation around here, but I digress…

As I was day-dreaming out the window, trying to avoid further conversation, I sensed more problems on the horizon from people’s expressions and fast discussions. As I turned to look behind me, it was unmistakably clear… they had either forgotten to, or very poorly, tied town the items on the roof, and buckets, bags, metal rods and suit cases were flying all over the road! (Luckily no goats were on the roof for that one!)

So we stopped, we backtracked, and everything was gathered back up and, this time, tied down well. It was another one of those moments where laughter really is the best way to respond, because any other response would just lead down a bad road.

And by the time we got back into Bansang, ride that should have taken just a few hours had taken up the latter part of the day. So I ended up hanging out with my friend Alicia and spending the night there. Today I’m finishing my way back to site, making a stop here at the hospital for a few blog and email updates.

So, the point of the story? This is normal life. It’s funny. It’s odd. And it’s very unpredictable. But this is life in Gambia, and my regular life in Africa. It’s not always safe. It’s not always funny. And it’s not always pleasant. But it’s fun. And it’s an experience quite unlike any other!

Update...

A big “Thank You” to all of you who responded with suggestions for names for the mouse that may or may not exist in my ceiling. I took all the suggestions to heart, but in the end decided to go with naming it… drum roll please…

Larium

Thursday, April 3, 2008

An Update on Life and Work


Life here certainly is, well, different. I am able to come to a hospital about an hour bike ride away from my village about once a week or so to check email and keep up with the news. I am able to listen to BBC news each morning, but sometimes I just want to know a bit more about what's actually going on in the US and throughout the world.

And it's getting very hot here! During the peak of the day, in the sun, it will reach around 130F, but be a cool 110F or so in the shade... It's hot, but there's nothing I can do about it other than sweat like everyone else and just keep on keeping on, and drinking water! Most people work during the morning hours and during the evening, but NEVER during the day. It's just not wise. It's actually a nice break during the day, giving me a chance to practice speaking Pulaar, write letters, or read. I have a good list of books down that I've already been able to read through, and I'm excited to be able to continue my "liberal arts education" through vast amounts of reading over the next few years.

On a more serious note, I am truly noticing first hand that in terms of global warming and other factors, it truly is the "developing world" who is suffering, and will continue to suffer the most. A few examples: Gambia is located basically on the 15th degree latitude. It's right at the border between the Sahara and the jungles of the southern parts of Africa, typically referred to as the Sahel. Unfortunately, with just enough medical improvements to allow a new baby boom, but not enough infrastructure or agriculture improvements to feed this new baby boom, more and more land is being slashed and burned by desperate farmers trying to either graze their cattle or feed their families. I can't blame the farmers for wanting to feed their families, but the constant deforestation is quite literally devestating. Over the past 60 or so years, upwards of 90 percent of Gambia has become deforested. I am fortunate enough to live in an area that hasn't been as affected as others, but it's not good. So, as the land is becoming deforested and erosion is setting in, the Sahara is all too happy to find its way further and further south in Africa. Needless to say, unless something happens to drastically reverse the deforestation going on, a few generations from now people will not be farming or grazing because the land will be desert.

Which leads to another issue, tribal separation. Gambia, peaceful as it is, isn't immune from strong biases from one tribal group to another. For example, my village is made of up people who are primarily Fula and Mandinka. They get along and they are friends. But they rarely work together. When I help out with different women's groups I quickly realize that there are several different groups doing the same things because the different tribal groups want to work independently from each other. I'm not exactly sure how deep this separation goes, but it is there. This leads me to think that as resources become more scarce, land dries up and food becomes even more dependent on outside aid, tribal differences could flare out unexpectedly, similar to Kenya, over seemingly small or unrelated events.

And the women and children truly are the most marginalized. The women spend all day at home working: cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and taking care of the kids. Yet the men don't refer to the work the women do as work because it doesn't bring in an income. (Hence my strong desire to work with women's groups for income generation projects.) In many ways the gender roles are very devided and specific. And while men control local politics and family budgets, the needs of women are most usually overlooked and the needs of children tend to be sidelined as well. For example, a man may typically find it more beneficial to him to invest in purchasing another cow to graze than to buy more food for the family or send his daughter to school. Indeed, the men are often excited to marry their daughters off as soon as possible, many times taking them out of school and halting their educational opportunities.

And one final example. Trash is everywhere. Gambia doesn't have any special system for trash disposal, so it all just sits. I'm convinced that plastic bags are one of the worst things that could have happened for these people, because even out in the bush...out amongst the wilderness of African wildlife...you can find plastic bags. It truly is a global phenomenon and a global problem.

But I'm enjoying my work here and (most days) find it rewarding. Not every day is as smooth as others, but that's just life. Several of my bigger current projects include: Helping the school raise funds to build a library. The children are supposed to be learning all of their classes in English, but as I have yet to come across someone in the village who actually speaks English very well, I highly doubt that is the case. I'm hoping that this new library will help provide some new opportunities for the children and for the teachers as well. And I'm helping a women's group organize a community market area. A major problem for the women is the lack of a market to sell their goods or produce. The closest markets are several hours away in various directions by donkey cart. But, recognizing that my village itself is surrounded by many smaller villages, we decided that this is a perfect place to begin a new market for the area to gather and conduct commerce. The women are very excited about this, and I'm hoping it provides some much needed income for the women.

And I've been helping my host, Lawo, out with work around the compound. Lately we have been working to replace the thatched roof for Baladi, my host grandmother. It's an interesting and fun process, and I'll have step-by-step pictures posted the next time I get a chance. (most likely mid-April, so stay tuned!)

So here's a summary of some of my observations and experiences thus far. By no means do I consider myself an expert on development initiatives or cultural understanding, but these are a few main things that I've witnessed and been involved with. And since one of the main Peace Corps objectives is to bring my cross-cultural understanding back to the States, I wanted to share this with you.

Until next time, best wishes!

A New Love in My Life



So to my family and friends back home, it finally happened, there is a new girl in my life. We met, we cuddled, and it was good. Yes, indeed, I have a new love. Her name is Khiva, and she is a 6 week old puppy.

My friend Alicia has a dog who happened to have puppies. So for about 6 weeks I debated on and off if it would be a good decision to take one of the puppies back to my compound. You see, Gambians aren't really all that friendly twords dogs, or most animals in general, so the idea of bringing a dog back meant both raising the puppy and protecting the puppy. But my compound has a dog, and the feed it each day after the meals. Origianlly, the compound had two dogs but one of them died from an illness a few months ago, shortly after I arrived. So the other dog has just seemed lonely, at least to me. It's not really trained in the sense of being able to play with the dog or pet the dog, but my family is unique in that at least the care for her, feed her, and don't beat her. So that was a promising sign.

I talked it over with Lawo, and he was very excited at the prospect of having another dog around...the more dogs the less heyenas...

So I brought her home and named her Khiva. She is something of a border-collie mix, but basically a Gambian mut. But she is cute.

We built her a thatched roof dog house in my back yard so that she can have some shade and shelter, and she has been adjusting very well. Basically, I get the fun of having a puppy and teaching the kids that dogs can be good, and can be fun to play with. It's a new concept to them, but hey, this is all about cross-cultural exchange!

She is already potty-trained, too! With a one-room hut, it only took a few days of monitoring to work out the kinks in that issue. She barks at the back door when she has to go. But her favorite place to sleep during the day is on the concrete under my table. It's probably the coolest place, temp wise, she can find both indoors and out! And she likes to burrow.

But she is also getting used to sleeping outside during the evenings, and that it isn't productive to start barking at 5am, because she still can't come inside until the afternoon when the work is finished and I'm around to supervise.

The compound as a whole has taken a real liking to her. It's probably a good thing to move in as a cute puppy before becoming a big dog. And her diet? Well, it's not exactly Purina. She eats what we eat... coos, rice, peanut sauce and moringa sauce. But each day I add some powdered milk to her food to make sure she is getting protein and calcium.

So that is the latest update of my life. I'm now a dog owner, although the whole point of this is for the compound to have another dog. I have no intention of bringing her back to the States. But I'm trying to help educate the family about how "toubabs" take care of dogs so that she has a good life here.

And she has become somewhat of a celebrity in town! Both kids and adults are very curious about this "toubab" dog. People often tell me that she is "a very good dog." And that she will be "very strong." But then I politely remind them that she is a Gambian dog, no different from the other dogs around. And that the reason she is friendly and obedient is because I don't beat her.

So Khiva is the new woman in my life. I'm excited to get some pictures of her posted when I get to Kombo in just a few weeks!

Until then, best wishes!