15 September 2005

Riding the sareti fas!

Recounting events of August 25, 2005, one of my favourite days of training...

On our day off, we rented a horse cart and rode it from Saresamba to Soma, the nearest "big" town (14kms journey, 11kms as the crow flies). My host brother Assan drove, using the family horse, Pegasus (we named him on our previous venture a few weeks ago). Laye Njie (nee Craig N.), Aram Sinaan, Fatou Ngaalan and Yuusufa Touray (formerly Nancy, Sarah and Taylor) joined us for the trip. The extra two people (Aram and Fatou), plus the muddy conditions (we're in the middle of the rainy season), made for a slow journey.

In Soma we bought eggs, butter and flour, as we plan to bake some peanut butter cookies for our host families (this is our last week in Saresamba). On the way back home, our cart foundered in the mud, so we had to dismount and push it through. Laye brought along an MP3 player and speaksers, so we listened to 80's hits on both legs. A little while after the mud, Laye started shouting "Stop! Stop!" and after a few seconds I remembered the Wolof command ("Taxawal") and Assan reined in Pegasus.

Now we were all looking at Laye, and I for one thought that it was time for an emergency bathroom break (these are not uncommon). Instead, Laye pointed to the front, while frantically turning on his camera. We turned forward to see the remainder of a pack of baboons crossing the path. Once we started moving again, we saw a few stragglers pass through the bush. I saw about a dozen of them, but Laye reckoned there were perhaps 40 baboons.

By this time it was getting dark, making the bumps less predictable -- but none of the eggs broke! So we trotted along in fits and starts (Pegasus was getting tired) and, in the echo of the sunset (which shone orange, red, then purple through the clouds) and the haze of the moon, listened to "Carmina Burana" as we negotiated the route. It seemed quite fitting and portentous (there were lightning flashes in the distance), plus it reminded me of my friend Adrian, who was a voice major in college.

Little adventures like this spice up our days. While on the cart, I got to practice Wolof with Assan. He's getting married in the dry season, to Mena, a girl who lives in Senegal. In a week he's going to visit her family there. People tend to marry in the dry season, because crops have been harvested -- so people have lots of food, and some money from the sale of surplus crops. Few people marry in the rainy season (also known as the "hungry season") as food runs out, and harvest is a few months away. I also spoke Wolof in the market (many traders are Wolof). Great fun, really.

11 September 2005

Katchikally Crocodile Pond, The Gambia

This was at a visit to the Katchikally Crocodile pond. Crocodiles (unlike other reptiles) are venerated and it's believed that the water of the pool can help women become pregnant.

Other reptiles are roundly reviled, however. All snakes that are encountered are killed on the assumption that they are poisonous and want to attack people. My host family in Saresamba upset me one night by killing a gecko -- the story there is that the geckos spit in the grain in compound food stores, and this makes people sick.

In my broken Wolof I told them that I volunteered at the reptile house in the DC zoo, and that the animals are largely harmless (especially the geckos). They were dubious about this, but they did promise not to kill any more geckos (I'm sure that promise is void now that I've moved out).

In other reptile news, I hope to acquire a chameleon for a pet. The geckos here are too fast, and all the dogs and cats are disease-ridden, or very soon will be upon encountering their brethren.

10 September 2005

Finishing Training!

My 10 weeks of training are virtually over, with only this week in the capitol remaining, with the following tasks: shopping for provisions not available upcountry, attending swearing-in ceremony at the ambassador's residence (which reportedly has a great buffet featuring food we will never again encounter in The Gambia), swimming at the beach, and drinking away our paltry salaries at the bars.

I am very excited to be starting work at the Njau Lower Basic School (grades 1-6) on the north side of the Central River Division (40kms east from Farafenni along the main road, 1km from the northern border with Senegal). There's some excitement as there's a by-election for an open parliamentary seat, so I already saw a lot of activity and heard lots of conversation in my first few days in Njau (I moved into my new compound last week).

My school looks like a good place to get lots of work done, particularly in the library, which will be my primary focus at first. The room is not too bad, but we are extremely short of books, shelving, and other materials. There is a lot of potential! My headmaster/principal, Oussainou Touray, is rather eclectic but very interested in helping improve the school, and is quite proactive. Among our upcoming weekend activities: visiting the feeder villages to try and drum up enrolment, and having the police join us on a friendly sweep of Njau to collect benches, desks and chairs "borrowed" for various naming ceremonies and weddings. And I'm certain we'll be drinking plenty of ataaya (green tea with oodles of sugar).

I'm definitely going to miss my host family from my training village of Saresamba. My family there, the Tourays, had 18 members in the compound, 13 of them girls or women. By contrast, the Ceesays have only four people in their family, and the only female is the mother. So it's quite a different dynamic.

The good news is that Njau is a manageable size (350-400 people) so I should be able to know just about everyone, and find some social outlets. The village is about half Wolof (they are a bit wealthier), and half Fula. I'm in the Wolof side, but expect to learn some Pulaar -- at least the (elaborate) greetings. For a village without electricity and running water, I was pleased to still find some treats -- sour milk (tastes like yoghurt and is plentiful in the rainy season) and fresh bread (baked every two days).

Dinner at our hostel beckons so I must end here, but will try to add more in the future.

The Gambia

I composed this during our staging in Philadelphia, PA, on July 5:

To the tune of 50 Cent's Candy Shop --

I'll take you to The Gambia
Won't let you get malaria
Here comes the cotton swab
Wait till you get your shots


I'll take you to The Gambia
No, not Zambia
You'll eat from a communal pot
Hope it's not too hot