Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tendaba and Tobaski

After about a week and a half living in our training villages, we traveled to Tendaba, a rustic tourist spot by the river, for Thanksgiving. We had our first language test to assess our progress, which was quite intimidating to hear about but turned out to be a casual conversation between a teacher and I - he asked questions that we had been practicing, focusing on the greetings and general stuff. I ended up with a Novice-Mid rating, which was basically how everyone else did. To swear in as Volunteers, we had to get to the Intermediate-Mid level. We also spent that time (about a week) having sessions about things like personal health, gender and development, health related topics to share with our communitites, coping strategies, malaria prevention techniques, etc, and of course spending our evenings at the lovely bar adjacent to the Gambian River.

We had compiled a shopping list and on Thanksgiving day we were able to use the Tendaba kitchen to make the side dishes for Thanksgiving Dinner (they made the turkey) and everything turned out really well. It was nice to be with everyone because it distracted us from the fact that we would usually be with our families. We even went around and said what we were thankful for... which is a lot.


The day we got back from Tendaba was the start of a three or four day holiday called Tobaski. It is probably the equivalent of our Christmas, though it differs on many different levels. Our training had prepared us for what was to come: ram sacrifice, which I knew I didn't want to see. The morning of the first day, we went out to a field beyond the village where everyone prayed (we stayed in the back to watch) and when I got back, the ram that had been tied up in the backyard area was now in the middle of the compound. I ended up seeing most of the sacrifice, and it was actually not terrible. They dug a hold in the ground, took the goat over to the hole, layed it down, and slit its throat and the blood went into the hole.

My host mom used phrases like "pity" and "sympathize" and asked if I was
going to cry, which made me realize that they do understand what they are doing and don't want the animal to suffer. Plus they ate every last bit of that goat. I made the mistake of going back into the kitchen area while one of my host moms was cleaning the body, and the first thing I saw was the skull with its eyes still in it on top of the skin, and there she was scraping away at the hoofs and bones. They offered me some of the heart, which they had cooked, but I only took a tiny piece. The other trainees told me about finding pieces of brain; luckily my fam understood I didn't want any of, so I didn't really eat any of the meat (this is before I discovered shwarmas in the city, which will be explained later).

{our Tobaski family picture with the visiting relatives - Gambians really love posed pictures, but they never smile for them - clearly noted in the picture}

Other parts of Tobaski are sallibo (giving children candy and others money or gifts when they come into your compound to visit you) dancing, and more eating. We basically went from compound to compound drinking juice and attaya, bringing and getting presents, and chatting, much like any holiday in the US. At night, they brought out the turntables / CD player / radio with speakers thing and blasted dance music in the middle of the village, which was awesome. All the kids and teenagers went out to partake and for a while it felt like a middle school dance, seeing as I didn't know how to act, when it was ok to dance, and the clear separation of boys on one side and girls on the other. But my little sister would just say "dance, dance" to get me dancing or "you're tired, sit" and I would sit, and everything was gravy. I mostly just played with the adorable little girls in the village who absolutely loved to dance with me. We held hands in a circle and they just did whatever dance move I did and laughed and laughed.

The rest of the holiday went pretty much the same way. There are so many times I wish I had my camera but didn't, not only during Tobaski but everyday. One of these times was during Tobaski, when I was leaving a compound, walking home after some late night attaya, and there in my path I see a group out dancing near the DJ table, with a full moon shining. It was so perfect I almost cried. A true Peace Corps moment (a term we use when we can't believe our own lives), when everyone was in their own little world, dancing to the beat, in rhythm to the music, from young little girls to guys my age, not a care in the world. I never in my life thought I would be lucky enough to see something like that, a small African village enjoying their holiday to the fullest, and dancing the night away under the moonlit sky.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sare Samba

First of all, please forgive me for attempting to condense 2 very intense months together. Hopefully as I get used to everything I will be better at blogging, and can flesh my posts out a little more. So after we spent the first week getting oriented in the city, we were told which language we would be focusing on and were split up into training villages. I'm a WOLOF: The best language (though I'm partial), because it's used throughout the country. It is the business and transportation language, so anytime I'm shopping or traveling, they will speak Wolof. Also, if there is a Fula and a Mandinka village next to each other (the other 2 languages my training group is learning), they will speak Wolof to each other. My language also determined my village, and myself and 6 others were assigned to Sara Samba. Each of us stayed with a different host family (including our teachers, called LCFs {language and cultural facilitators})

Brian, Beth, Jeremy, Lindsey, Mallory, and Wells were with me in Sare Samba (check facebook for more pictures). Also, my teachers Haddy and Gibril. So after driving for what seemed like miles down dusty, sandy roads, we arrived. We were swarmed by children and Haddy called out whose family was whose. Two small girls came forward when they were called and proceeded to carry my two 40 pd. bags on their heads. I was amazed. So then I followed them to my compound, and they took me to my adorable little house:

Now this may look tiny, but I lucked out and got what we called the Ritz Carlton of Sara Samba, because not only is it the cutest house you've ever seen, but it had a relatively big backyard, and was in very good shape. I totally lucked out.

At this point my little sister offered me attaya, which is green tea loaded with sugar, given in tiny glasses, served hot. I proceeded to drink 3, as it is very delicious. Then my moms came home from the farm (peanut fields behind the village, where they harvest groundnuts to sell) and at first I was extremely intimidated, not knowing anything in Wolof except 'peace be with you' and 'how is the afternoon' but we did enough gesturing to where we understood one another, and we warmed up quite fast. I say 'moms' because I had 2. The Gambia is polygamous, so a man can have as many as 4 wives at a time. My moms were named Ramatta Mbay and Maram Seka. I also had 2 little sisters (Haddy, 10 and Sohona,12) and a little brother (Lye, 13). My host dad was named Babu and I also had 2 cousins living in the compound with us, Alaji and Fafa Fal (best name ever). The whole family was amazing, and I came to really adore them before we had to leave. (We only stayed in the training villages for about 6 weeks, and traveled to other places while we were there, so essentially we were only in village with them for about 1 month or less).

Some highlights from Sara Samba:

Our naming ceremony (Ngente in Wolof):

This is a ceremony we had so we could get Gambian names. This is a good idea because although I love listening to Gambians try and pronounce 'Devin' (sounds like Deweben or some version thereof), it is much easier on the ears to have a Gambian name, and it also helps with our integration into the communities. When small children see white people, they shout "toubab"- not necessarily an insult, but having a Gambian name helps to avoid the practice. Usually we are named after someone in our host family. I got the name Xadi Njaay (pronouced Haddy- after my littlest sister). Beth was Fana Touray (Gambians call each other by their full name, because they are all named after each other, so in a village you will have 20 Fanas and 12 Haddys), Mallory was Adam Sinyaan, Lindsey - Ramatta Ngalan, Wells - Ali Seesay, Jeremy - Mohammed Seesay, and Brian - Katim Touray). There was dancing and drumming and the night before we had made benyays (pankettas, basically flour and sugar balls dropped in oil- delicious). All in all, a great time. Other people from the village came to watch, and from then on, anywhere you went in the village, everyone knew your name.

My Birthday!!:

About a week and a half after arriving in Sara Samba, it was my birthday. I realized that both Fana (Beth) and Mohammed (Jeremy) had both brought guitars, so I invited them over to play for my family. All of the other trainees came with their families, and I set up my headlamp as a spotlight in the middle of my compound. We all gathered around to watch Fana and Mohammed play, only to realize that Fana only plays classical, and Mohammed brought a ukalaley, and neither knew how to tune a guitar. So then I pulled out my radio, which did nothing for the excitement factor. Not a good start to my party. Haddy was there, so I asked her what we could do to liven things up - we were getting desperate. So she talked to my moms and next thing I know, out come the buckets. We got Adam's sisters to be drummers, and started up the most kick ass dancing circle ever (atleast that we had seen at this point - they only got more intense after that). Followed by more pankettas and juice, it turned out to be a splendid evening.

As you can tell by Ali's (Wells') dancing. They ate this up!

Monday, January 4, 2010

I'm a blogger now

Hello hello! Greetings from the beautiful city of Banjul in the Gambia, West Africa. I will attempt to fill you in on what's been going on for the past few months, which is not an easy task given all that we have been doing. Here are some highlights: (I wrote this a while back and emailed it out, but it is a good starting place to explain everything else)

Starting with our group - there are 35 of us. avg age around 25, I am on the younger side. There are 3 married couples (a lot for this number of people) but the Gambia is very welcoming to couples. There is another Devin, which has led to She Devin and He Devin. There is also a Hokie! who transferred from Guinea, and she is awesome. We also have a grandma, and a max of 2 people from each state, so we are from all over the country....cali, nashville, chicago, and they all seemed to have waited just as long if not longer to get here ( and have been transferred many times like I was between countries and programs). They say we are a very happy, mature group and are adjusting very well (or maybe they just tell that to everyone! ahha) Everyone is really cool and great.

We are staying at the Peace Corps lodge...down the street from the medical office, the PC office, the training house in Kombo (city area,outside of Bajul, which is the main gov't city) we bunk about 10 to a room with malaria nets. There are compounds here (haven't gotten to see the villages yet, so this is all city info), which consist of several small houses or 1 giant house and other small houses surrounded by concrete gates and ours is guarded 24/7 by 2 guards.

Right now are in week 0 and 1, so preliminary stuff, like shots, language and culture intro, group activities, walks around (the beach is nearby) and an intro to the food (rice, peanut sauce, chicken,fish, juice, and since we're in training the cook has been making us American stuff like mac and cheese and spaghetti.

We are focusing on 3 languages, mandinka, pulaar, and wolof, and have to learn the greeting in all , because greetings are very improtant here (if you want to ask a question, you have to greet, peace be with you, peace be with you too, how is your family? my family is great how is your work? my work is here, slowly slowly. salaamalekuum /malekuumsalaam is the standard to say to everyone as a greeting.

We have excellent, highly educated trainers who are gambian natives who speak all languages but will focus on one. On friday we will be going to training villages with them to stay with host families, in order to really get the language down and learn about the culture. (I will tell you all about that when it comes)

It is winter here and the beginning of tourist season (the city is def. a popular tourist attraction) so it is sunny,74 - 80 degrees, with minimal bugs. The humidity will come with the rainy season later, but right now we are being spoiled with springlike days. (still hot around 3 30 through)...we are 5 hrs ahead, so I am writing this at 5:30 pm after a day of training (they interviewed us to see which training villages we will be in, which language we will focus on)
In the city, there are a couple of paved roads surrounded by dark sand.The architecture is very european, cement, concrete, balconies,tile compounds surrounded by concrete walls, (atleast in the city)...palm trees, donkeys, goats, lots of cars...