December 16, 2008

TIA - THIS IS AFRICA

So Africa is a lot like some of you would imagine in. I live in a house with a corrugated tin roof, with no running water, and no electricity. I fetch water from the pump and carry it on my head. I'm getting rather good at it. I take bucket baths and shit in a hole in the ground in my backyard. But it's wonderful. I love it because I can wear the most ridiculous outfits such as Amy's Christmas pajama pants and any random t-shirt and it's considered a relatively fashionable outfit. It's also A-okay to go bra-less which I take advantage of pretty often. Everyone here is beautiful.

I have an African name: Mahana-Davo. Davo is my family's last name. In one month my last name will be Fatty. So my name will be Mahana-Fatty. So right now I'm living in Davo Compound. My father has three wives and approximately 20 kids, give or take a few. However, only 6 kids currently live in the compound. The food is outrageously good. I learned how to say "I'm so full but this food is too sweet," which comes in handy almost every night when I can't stop eating. The Gambian people are jokesters by nature. You can say the most ridiculous things and people love it. A favorite is to tell you that your father or mother is not hard working. To which you are expected to respond, "No that's not true. They are very hard working." And everyone laughs. Or if you are sitting, someone will say "You are sitting" to which you reply "Yes, I am sitting." We make fun of each other a lot, like when I wore my shirt inside out yesterday. Learning the Mandika word for "crazy" has been clutch. My family is amazing and I am really sad that I have to leave them in a month. They told me that they would miss me while I was going to be away for training for a week. And I miss them because the food when we're away is never as good as my family's cooking. I'm gonna force my sister to move with me to my next compound so that she can keep cooking for me. But I'm really excited to finally get to site and start working.

In terms of what I'm actually doing for the Peace Corps, it's not a whole lot yet. Almost every day is spent learning Mandika, which I'm getting pretty good at. (In fact my mom here has told me that I'm the best Mandika speaker in the village.) We do have technical training and we're learning ways to increase nutritional intake from local vegetation. We're also starting a large campaign to encourage breast feeding in the first 6 months. We're teaching them how to make mosquito repellant using items that are found in the village naturally. I've also been helping with wound care and how to keep cuts clean. My biggest achievement to date, however, has been the hand washing station that I set up in my compound. The people here don't use soap. They handle raw meat, then may rinse with water alone and then dig their hands into the food bowl. It's a problem. So I bought a bar of soap and this sleeve, then nailed the soap-in-a-sleeve to a post. I've been showing them how to wash their hands and encourage them to wash before they eat and after they go to the bathroom. They actually bring the soap in every night and put it out every morning which I find touching. I guess it's because they don't want someone to steal the soap. But I feel unbelievably safe in my village.

There's definitely ups and downs and times when I freak out. But for the most part, I'm very happy and I've made some great friends. And I'm very excited about the possibilities for the next two years here. Once I get to site, I should be able to get internet a few times a month so expect more posts in 2009. Happy Holidays! I love and miss you all! All the phone calls, letters and packages have been so amazing - you have no idea. Keep them coming. Love you guys!!

~ transcribed by Whitney

* Try pingo.com - it's a really easy way to get a hold of Marnie.

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