Saturday, December 8, 2007

It's Official!

Today was finally our last day in Kombo! We swore in yesterday and everything went smoothly. Last night the other agfo volunteers threw us a party. It was great fun. It started pretty mellow and then we ended dancing at a club called Aquarius.

We spent almost all day today shopping. We went out with the LCHs and our re-adjustment money and bought all sorts of things. This includes gas stoves, mattresses, pots, bolwls, cups, blankets, chairs, radios, rope, name a few. It was a very busy day. We said goodbye to the LCHs and I have to admit, saying bye to Baabukar was really hard. That man is amazing. It took all of my will not to shed a few tears. In the early evening a few of us made it to the beach for the last time. This obviously included a stop at Gam Juice and picking up some amazingly delicious treats. I have to say, wonjo and tamarind are my favorites...I don't care what Buya says about the ginger, it's just too damn spicy. The beach was awesome, as usual. the waves are crazy, though. Yesterday was particularly wild. I had never experienced waves like that. As Alicia observed yesterday, we may be good swimmers, but the ocean is a better swimmer than us. Today was not as crazy but still a lot of fun. We watched the sun set (blaaahhh) and then went back to the PC transit house, the Stodge. After a quick shower and a few announcements we went out for our last dinner. What did we eat? Burgers! They were delicious. Afterwards we went to a pork bar for a beer. Luckily we decided earlier not to eat at the pork bar. I say luckily because we would have been disappointed; they were out of pork!

I head out in the morning for village. On the way I'll pick up some kerosene for my lamp, a sila fonda gift for my family, and a bamboo bed in Wassu. I am very excited to get back to village. Kombo is fun for some time, but it is so stressful. It is tourist season now also so people think we're all tourists. They are blown away in the market when I speak Pulaar because only people from way up-country can speak Pulaar. Then they know I'm not a tourist. When I leave tomorrow I won't be back in Kombo til March. We are spending Christmas at Alicia's site (who I mentioned earlier). We're going to smoke some rabbit and just have a dandy 'ol time. I will also have my puppy by then!

'Til next year!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Almost There!

Today is the last day of training! We had our final evaluations today and I was one level above the required language level to swear in! That's pretty exciting. Tomorrow we swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers! We'll spend the morning at the Ambassador's residence, swimming, hanging out, etc. I was chosen to give a speech in Pulaar (one of the native Gambian languages). I am a bit nervous but really just excited. Later tomorrow the other PCVs are throwing a party for the "newbies."

I head back up to site on Sunday and I am very excited. We have been in Kombo for just too long. It will also be nice to not be a trainee anymore. When I head back up-country I may not have e-mail for three months. I'll try and make it to Basse to use an internet cafe there, maybe, but who knows. The only thing I do know is that I am adopting one of the "neighbor's" puppies. I expect some comments, some e-mails, and some letters! Keep 'em coming!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

December 1, 2007

Hi Everyone!

Wow, I can not believe I actually have a blog. I don't really even know what it is but I think it will be easier to post pictures this way

(Fatou and Usufa Jallow: Jiroff)

So far life in The Gambia is like no other. I've been here for just over 2 months and already I feel like my life has been changed. After 2 years...who knows. We're almost finished with training and we'll be sworn in officially as Peace Corps volunteers in about 6 days. Training village was great. I learned a lot of Pulaar and a lot about the ins and outs of life in a Muslim country. We were picked up at training village on Thanksgiving and brought back to Kombo. That evening we had dinner at the Ambassador's residence on the beach. It was a real treat.

(Thanksgiving Day)

Last week we had site visit and I finally know where I'll be living for the next 2 years! I finally have a permanent family!

(This is the road to village)

My site, in URD, is pretty sweet. I travelled for about 8 1/2 hours to get there, but it was well worth it. The road on the north bank of The Gambia is great. However, immediately after Janjangbureh the road is not paved the whole rest of the length of the country. It is pretty bumpy. The road to my village is just, well, it's just there. There are no just veers off to a sand road. When I arrived I was pretty sick. However, the excitement of it all made me forget about the way I was feeling.

(My house: Front, Back, Inside)

My house is awesome! We're talking round with a thatched roof. My compound has a lot of people! In training village I had all boys and in this one, it's almost all girls. It's going to be quite a change from what I've ever been used to. When I arrived I had an LCH with me to help negotiate the cost of rent and such. That first night was great. We ate leceri with moringa sauce and afterwards I sat on the ground with my sister cracking peanuts under a full moon. The following day, the LCH left to head to the next closest trainee, about 50 km away. Then I was left there on my own. After breakfast I walked around the whole village and greeted all the compounds. It turns out the village is pretty big...something like 37 compounds. The last compound I hit up was the neighbors where the children (I had attracted a group of about 30 to bring me around to each comoiound) showed me something awesome! The dog in that comound had given birth to 7 puppies about a week prior. They are so cute and little. I told them that I want one and they agreed. That's right...I'm getting a dog, a puppy. And I just found out the Department of Livestock Services spays/neuters animals for free for PCVs! When I headed back home I tried to make my house feel like home a little bit even though I have absolutely no furniture or anything. The following few days were very similar. I went out to the fields with the Alkalo (the head of the village). He absolutley loves me. He showed me his potatoes, beans, and the groundnut fields. I think this village is a good match for me.

Now here comes the best part. I had to be back in Kombo on Wednesday by local transport. I was supposed to leave on Monday to get to Brian's site and then head down on Wednesday morning with him, but the people in village said I could get a vehicle on Tuesday. I figured one more day in village would be a good thing. So, Tuesday morning comes and I woke up early so I could get myself all packed and be ready to go whenever. Around 9am I am told that it is time to go. I had packed a sleeping bag because Brian's house was not yet complete and I didn't know where I'd be sleeping. I also had some things that were not coming back to village with me. I had packed my big bag with hopes of leaving my sleeping bag at Brian's and just picking it on the way back with Peace Corps transport. Well, when I got to the compound with the vehicle, it turned out to be a motor bike. I was a little wary because I remembered that it is against peace corps policy to ride motor bikes. Then the guy told me he wanted 600 dalasi plus the cost of fuel to take me to Janjangbureh. PC had given me 300 to get from site to Kombo. I was pissed. I didn't know how I was going to get to Brian's. What did I do? I started walking. I walked about 30 km that day. About halfway through I started to go a little crazy and sang every song under the sun. I sang Disney tunes, Christmas songs, the hokey pokey, and even "this old man, he played 1..." It was pretty funny. Luckily I had a cell phone and PC knew I was walking. A volunteer on the island got word of this and had one of his counterparts, who has a car, come pick me up. We travelled 23 more km to get to the island...and my feet hurt!

I laughed, though. All I could think to myself was, "Crap, after 2 years here, I am going to have some crazy stories to tell my grandchildren!" I made it to Kombo! I'm here and it feels like vacation. Each evening a few of us have gone to the beach to watch the sunset. It is pretty sweet. We get in the water and sometimes we spot "dolphins".

The other night there was a mustache party...all the boys are growing mustaches for swearing in. Pretty sweet. We've also found some good, cheap places to eat so far.

(Brian and John: The Two Toubob Mammadou Bah Jam Tan Jam Band)

The other night a guy named Dan asked if I wanted to get a drink because he is about 20 km from me, on the other side of the river. Mark and I had dinner and then met up with him later. Let me just say, these next 2 years are going to be AWESOME! Apparently the people in URD are a lot of fun. He told me of just a few things they like to do together. Between my site and another girl's site, there are some cliffs where they like to go camping! They also enjoy getting together for barbeques of bushpig, rafting down the river, getting their dogs together (2 people up there have dogs already!), kayaking, and playing on the rope swing! They also all thoroughly enjoy biking! I feel so lucky to be near them all. It was also great to meet him because he verified that my site is one of the hardest to get to and from. There are just no vehicles that way. I can bike to the river, cross with a local, and then continue biking to someone's site on the southbank to get a vehicle back to Kombo. I can also use other PCV's houses as stopping points when I need to go to Basse to get paid or go shopping. There is a weekly market only about 7km away so that will be easy to get to to get some good veggies.

We head back to village in a week. PC is taking us back because this is a big shopping week. I will buy a bamboo bed on the way back in a place called Wassu. It would be very difficult to transport mattresses, stoves, trunks, chairs...things like that all the way back up country on a gele gele.

One last piece. I worked yesterday at a place called Gambia is Good. It's a big farm basically where they try new crops and new techniques and then try to educate local farmers of these practices. The woman who manages it is Dutch and was a VSO for a few years up country. She told me that where I am posted is the real Gambia. She has been in this country for over 7 years now. She said in the Kombo area people may work with NGOs and may have big markets to go to and may find some cool necklaces and things like that, but she said, "That is not The Gambia." She said having laughed and cried with the people in her villages and learning their language just by living with them, that's what life is all about. So far, my experience is exactly what I signed up for!