30 December 2005

Njau Women's Center

Here's a picture that a neighbouring volunteer (Haddy Wan lives in Chamen, some 9kms away) took while visiting the Njau women's centre. As with the school, certain activities (crop harvests, Ramadan) prevented me from an undiluted view of the centre's daily undertakings, but I'm hoping to get more involved with a more active outfit after Tobaski.

Among the group's activities is weaving handbags and purses out of old plastic bags, which they then sell to create a little supplemental income and a measure of financial independence. We are looking at ways to expand the market for these goods. I'm including a picture of these items too.

28 December 2005

Al's Pizza in the Gambia!

Yesterday I went to visit the family compound of my headmaster/principal in Banjul. It was a nice visit, as we relaxed, drank ataya, watched a bad movie until the power cut off, and checked out the local gym -- the first in Banjul.

The gym wasn't bad, although a bit cramped (they're building a second floor). To be sure, it's an upgrade on the one in my old University of Ghana dorm, Commonwealth Hall. The Vandals (Commonwealth is known as Vandal City) had to rely on things like disk brakes for weights.

Anyway, Assan, my headmaster's twin brother, works at the gym. He also lived in the U.S., mainly in and around Washington, D.C., for 12 years. Assan worked mainly in restaurants, including the Armand's Pizza on Wisconsin Avenue. But he also worked for a while at my trusty Capitol Hill pizza shop, Al's Pizza. It's always fun when I get to make connections like these, and talk with people who know the places I know.

Interesting, too, is how someone who worked largely on the margins of U.S. society (i.e. in the kitchen of a pizza joint) can return to a place like Gambia and put his savings to really good use (since they're worth so much more here). Assan has also experienced the same difficulty, though, in explaining to Gambians that, just because the money goes further in West Africa, it doesn't necessarily follow that life is incredibly easier in the U.S. (although in certain ways it is).

But that is something that is very difficult to explain here -- trying to negotiate the culturally, socially, and media-driven chasm between comprehension of our different environments. I have potential visitors in the next year or so, which excites me about the opportunity to broaden perspectives of visitors and the visited (and, in turn, their friends and relatives).

26 December 2005

3 month challenge over!

Well, we've completed our "Three Month Challenge," during which we were supposed to remain in and around our sites, and avoid the temptations and amenities of Kombo, the capitol region. So, that successfully completed (aside from the fact that two of us returned to the U.S., and a couple others were too disease ridden to avoid a trip to the PC med center), my group assembled in Kombo for an education meeting and a fortnight of general carousing.

Dare I say that three months of deprivation has not turned us towards a more ascetic lifestyle. While I think we have done fairly well in difficult living and working conditions, we are enjoying the fruits of being in a big town -- electricity, running water, beer, eggs. It is a nice break, but I do miss my village and will certainly be back well before Tobaski (commemorating Ibrahim/Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son Ismael/Isaac), which should fall around January 10.

The three months in Njau were somewhat challenging, although not tremendously so. Everything at school went slowly, as classes were delayed by millet/cous harvest, Ramadan, late teacher postings (all coordinated by the central government), tardy teacher arrivals, and groundnut/peanut harvest.

So I didn't get a lot done aside from putting the school library to use, teaching some library classes, and teaching Grade 6 English for a while. I'm hoping that next term we'll get more stuck in to our actual work, during which I envision taking a consultant-like position, more in line with the aim of my job, which is to improve teachers' skills.

In the social realm, it has not been difficult making friends. I get on very well with my headmaster/principal, as well as the rest of the teachers, and we usually take lunch together after school. The only hindrance to good friendship is the frustration some cause me with their approaches to work. In the village, I spend several nights a week making the rounds, visiting compounds and practicing my Wolof (and, to a lesser extent, Fula). Juggling the social engagements can be a little daunting sometimes, so I am hoping to manage my schedule better next term.

In short the adjustment is going well. I'm coping with the diet (although I miss eggs), and sour milk is the only product that consistently upsets my stomach. Milk comes in two varieties here -- warm and fresh (right from the cow and goat), or curdled after a few days. Both are quite tasty, but I'm still not used to it.

I'll end here, but shall attempt to upload some pictures in the next day or two that my good friend from training, Lie Njie, an IT teaching volunteer here, made a CD of for us.

Happy Holidays!