January 25, 2009

Here goes nothing...

I leave tomorrow to start life as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. Which means no more paninis, chinese food, ice cream bars, twix, hamburgers, movies and internet (which I've been using for almost 5 hours every other day, enough to almost make it seem like I am not in Africa). I'm actually going to be communicating through snail mail again and I'm pretty excited for it. I'm hoping to get some fun letter-writing chains started. Like I said, I vow to write back every letter I receive. So C'MON! WRITE ME A LETTER!!

Other than that, I don't have much more to say. I'm pretty excited slash secretly soooo nervous to go back. But I'm able to not think about it by not allowing myself to think about anything except the next 10 minutes. It's basically the same way I didn't allow myself to think about leaving for the Peace Corps at all before I left (maybe living life in the present is all about denial?). And that worked out pretty well, minus my nervous breakdown during the first two days. But this time I have friends to call/text and I know what to expect, so I'm not too worried.

Mostly, I'm just hoping the kankoran/male circumcision season is over by now. Because my limping around with one crutch isn't going to get me anywhere quickly if the kankoran should come while I'm, say, pumping water or washing clothes. Here's hoping he takes pity on the crippled white girl!

Here's my address again:
Marnie Florin, PCV
U.S. Peace Corps
PO Box 582
Banjul, The Gambia
West Africa

January 19, 2009

Pondering Life's Big Questions

So this was just some random writing I did in my journal. I didn't intend it to be a blog post, but I got into thoughts on being here and life here and life in general and all that. I'm a little hesitant to post it here, but I think it could be interesting for some of you. So I hope it is.

So, I just broke my foot last week and am currently on medical hold. We swore-in as official PC volunteers about 4 days ago and my entire training group went back to their respective sites 2 days ago. So I am just hanging out here in the capital at the PC house until my foot heals. I’m hoping to only be here a week, but probably it will be more like two or three. It would be really fun if I could walk around, but it’s such a pain to get anywhere—ie. crutching 100 yards to the street to get a car, crutching from where I get dropped off by the car, etc. But I’m managing way better than I thought I would be. I go out, I went dancing. It’s pretty awesome. I’m really proud of myself for going around and being able to do almost all of the things everyone else can do.

Life here other than that—well, it hasn’t really started. I finished training last week and won’t be back at site to start working as an official PC volunteer for another few weeks, until my foot heals.

So I just re-read the first sentence of that paragraph—that life hasn’t really started, or won’t start until I get to site. And I don’t know why it feels that way? Right now, I am staying in Kombo (the capital area). and like I said, I don’t really feel like this is life, like I’m doing anything meaningful. But I feel fine and happy, because I know that my time here is limited and I will be leaving in a week or so for site, where my life will start. But why is it that I feel like this isn't really life? And instead of this bothering me, it actually allows me to feel happy and stressfree. It’s the thought of going back to site for the next 2 years—starting life, actually living life—that scares me to death.

I’ve tried to figure out why the idea of going to site is so scary. Until now, during training, I had a schedule for every hour of every day—learning Mandinka, doing health stuff, etc. But in one week or two weeks or whenever I actually get back to my site, I will have absolutely NO schedule AT ALL. And when I arrive and have every hour of every day totally free for the next two years and can’t segment out my life, I think I will freak out. But, I can’t actually figure out what it is that is scary—maybe it’s just having so much free time, not knowing what on earth I am going to do with myself everyday. But would being super busy in the states really be better? Is it, in fact, easier to have a crazy schedule that includes 10 hrs a day in an office than it is to have a totally open schedule all day, everyday? I don’t know… In all honestly though, I think it probably would be/ is a lot harder to be happy in the US. And I think I will have just as many highs and lows here as I would were I living in the states for two years.

So then I try to sit and figure out why I am so afraid to have so much free time—to live without schedules and endpoints. I guess it forces you to live in the present. But I just can’t pinpoint why it is so scary or, actually, so hard to just be present, to just live in the present? I don’t know… Does everyone working some 9-5 office job with no end in sight feel this impending fear? Is that life? I don’t know. I have no idea.

And I mean, really, there is an end in sight for me. I am here for only 2 years. But after that I will leave here and then what? Maybe I will go to grad school. And then what? When does life actually start? I mean, I know this is life now, but why do we always have to be working towards something, or looking forward to something to be happy and feel alive. Why can’t you live every day for that day, and not look towards the future. Why is it so hard to feel alive or fulfilled just by living in the present—being happy, forming relationships, bettering yourself?

For the first three months at site, called three-month challenge, you’re not supposed to start any big projects or anything (in fact, some PC people advise you to wait at least a year to start a big project or to not even do one at all, and instead to focus on more grassroots activities). So for the next three months, I am expected to do nothing but fully immerse myself into my family and village. Most people get really antsy during that time and feel like they need to be doing something. But I’m really looking forward to just hanging out and I don’t think that will happen to me, because, well, I’m lazy and usually content just doing nothing.

So, I hope that during these next three months, and next two years, I will learn that I can keep myself happy here even if I’m not working towards some big goal—that I can live in the present, enjoying each day, without having to constantly look towards the future. I hope to accept that I’m not going to change the world or end poverty or anything like that in two years and that’s ok. That just by learning about this culture and how to live a different way of life I am working towards something. And if I spend each day here working to be a less judgmental person, trying to gain a deeper appreciation of life and a making new friends— then, my time here and life as a whole will be a success.

January 14, 2009


These first pictures are from the swear-in ceremony today at the ambassador's house

Ida, me, Adam and Haddy (who I just call hottie). They are a few of the language teachers we had and just generally amazing people

My entire training group. The health people had matching fabric and the Ag-fos also had matching fabric.

Adrian, erin, me and jes... check the cast

Another fantastic shot of me in the cast withCass

My health group in our matching outfits

Now some more pictures from training village that forgot about:
Me with a baby goat. They're the cutest. Also, note the bandage on my arm...

...From when i fell bike riding. it has since healed nicely

In front of my house at training village

They like to write phone numbers on the walls of houses, if you look under that smear you can see my phone number

Kasey, me and Lizzy Lizzy

Me and 1/3 of the tiny man crew with... MY NALGENE

January 12, 2009


Yo, so the latest development here is that I fell Saturday night, fractured my foot and am getting a cast tomorrow. Which means I will most likely be stuck in the capital for 3 more weeks, when everyone else is going back to site on Friday. The good: I can eat delicious food, get internet, watch movies and take a shower these next few weeks. The bad: all that doesn't really matter since I am immobile and can't get anywhere. At least until I can crutch out to the street and take cabs... so yeah.
But I still swear in on Wednesday. Karaoke on crutches should be interesting, haha. Oh, and I took my final Mandinka test on Saturday and, along with one other person, got the highest score of the group- Advanced low. So I was pretty happy. That's all, I gotta run so I can get a ride home and not crutch back. LOVE YOU ALL!! Thanks for all the comments, letters, calls, everything. You guys are really making things so great for me! THANK YOU!!

After being here a few months, I've re-evaluated my package list. I JUST WANT FOOD!! Here goes:
Kashi Bars (chocolate caramel karma)
Kraft Parmesan Cheese
Chewy Chips Ahoy
Flaming Hot Cheetos
Pringles (sour cream and onion, pizza)
Baking mix (pancake mix, chocolate chip mix, anything like that)

**I vow to write letters back to everyone that writes me one. So write me a letter.

January 9, 2009



I had my site visit this week, which means I left training village (as training ends this week and I get sworn in as an official peace corps volunteer on Wednesday) and moved to the village that I will live in for the next 2 years- Bantanto. I really love it. It’s a few kilometers away from Bansang, which is a relatively legit city with a big hospital and internet that run on the electricity that’s there from 6pm to noon. In village, I’m replacing another volunteer, so the house is fabulous. There’s a bed outside (for the hot season) and a hammock. And it’s painted really nicely and is pretty spacious. The family also seems great. I haven’t met my host mother or a few of my brothers, but my brother that was there, Kemesen, who is basically the head of the family, and his wife Meeta, are amazing. He speaks really good English and is helping me a lot with my Mandinka. His daughter and two younger sisters are also really great. So I’m really excited to get back to site and become part of the family.

Some funny things about site visit:
1-10: My last name is Fatty. I am Mahana Fatty.
10- Infinity: It is now male circumcision season, which means the kankoran (actually there are four of them) is out and about every night wrecking havoc. The kankoran is this semi-mythical/mystical figure in Mandinka tradition, which is said to have powers to scare away devils and protect the circumcised boys. In practice though, it’s some guy, most likely on drugs, who dresses up in this insanely scary costume, carries machetes and runs around beating them on the ground and screaming. And, here’s the best part, if he sees/catches any women he can beat them. I’m still not quite sure what that entails and if it ever actually happens, but it’s enough of a threat that fully grown women will sprint into their houses if they see him approaching.

So, it’s my first day in village, and I’m getting water at the pump and I see a group of women running towards me, telling me to run. I’m not really sure if they’re serious and didn’t want to be laughed at for running/over reacting. But they were really serious, so I had to leave my bucket at the pump and run to my house. Then, the next evening, as I’m taking my bucket bath in my backyard, I hear him screaming and slamming his machete on the ground RIGHT outside my backyard fence. I’m naked, covered in soap, I can’t go anywhere, so I just try to sit there silently hoping he doesn’t hear me and start shaking the fence or something. It’s mostly just for fun, and I’ve been assured that he won’t hurt tubaabs (foreigners/white people). But still, I was pretty annoyed to learn that this goes on, not for 2 days, but for 2 months…. Ughh. Oh, and Mom, don’t worry, I’m not in any real danger, I promise.

I arrived in Kombo (the area in and around Banjul, the capital) today for my last week of training. Getting here was, not so easy. **I was going to try and make this not-so-detailed and kind of short, but I feel like a without a detailed account of the trip, its hard to really understand what traveling in the Gambia is like** Bantanto is kind of far east up-country and Kombo is right on the water, both on the south side of the river. There are two roads in Gambia: the north road and the south road. What should be a straight, easy shot on the south bank road is made complicated by the fact that the south bank road is terrible and filled with pot holes. Cars often drive with one set of tires on the road and the other off the road in the dirt, because it’s better than the road. And on certain really bad stretches, there are side dirt paths parallel to the road.
It’s so bad that the preferred way to get to Kombo from my area is to cross the river, take the north road all the way to Barra, and then cross again to Kombo. Instead of doing this all in one day, myself and two other volunteers spent the night on Georgetown island.

If you count ferries, it took 8 different vehicles and 12 hours over two days to go some 200 miles. To get to the island, we had to get a car at the Bansang car park. The car parks, ha… ok. It’s so hard to adequately describe the carparks and jelejeles (pronounced gelie gelie). Jelejeles are vans/buses, usually in awful condition that travel between big cities. In each city there is a car park, where tons of jelejeles wait to pick up people and start their route. Usually they won’t leave until the car is full (meaning 6 people shoved into an area that could comfortably fit 3 or 4 people) and it could take 10 minutes or it could take an hour. And often after the car is full, you could sit in the parking lot for another hour for no reason at all. Then, they will pick up people on the side of the road. Often they break down or get flats, so you really can’t expect to arrive anywhere on time if you take a jelejele. Oh, and they load the top of it soooo high, its insane. Sometimes there are maybe 10 goats along with 10 ft high piles of who knows what on the top of these vans. Its ridiculously unsafe, for the animals, that is.

So I flagged down a jelejele in Bantanto to get to Bansang. It stopped at the Bansang car park where I met the two other volunteers and we got in a van to go to Georgetown island. It took a really long time, and about 20 tries and lots of pushing, to get our van to start. Then once it did, our driver had to stop to get some rope to tie his door shut… fabulous. The road is pretty good though and we got to the ferry crossing in one piece. SIDE NOTE: We went to a roadside shack-thing that was making omelet sandwiches and my friends got one. I asked if they knew how to make French toast and proceeded to step into their “kitchen” and cook it for them. The ferry to the island arrived soon after, so I didn’t get to taste it, but it looked delicious and I plan to stop by on my way back for a second attempt.

The next day we take another ferry from the island to the north side of the river. There we catch a bus that will take us all the way Barra (the city opposite the river from the capital). The bus ride was relatively easy, albeit about 6 or 7 hrs. We stopped somewhere for lunch/breakfast. I got a steak and onion sandwich, which was delicious once I picked out the pieces of organ and gristle. Then when I finished, we just threw the paper it was wrapped in out the bus window because… hey, there’s no trashcans in Gambia so you just throw trash wherever you want (it’s actually still really hard for me to do that and I normally make other people do it for me).
There were several chickens on the bus, namely, the woman standing next to my seat had one that flapped on my arm. At first, I thought someone was fanning themselves and that the fan was hitting my arm. And I didn’t tell them to stop because, well, it was so damn hot on the bus that it actually felt really good. But then I realized, no, that’s a chicken flapping its wings on your arm and I kind of flipped out.

Then a few hours later there was another woman with another chicken, and I had the urge to flick its waddle (don’t ask). So I looked at the woman holding it and she wasn’t looking so I flicked it. And then I looked up at the other woman standing behind me and she was just starring at me with this face like, why did you just do that are you insane. Then I died laughing, and the other woman kind of pushed the chicken in my face as a joke. It was fun.

Our last farmlife adventure was on the ferry to Kombo, where there was a herd of cattle (with horns! my friend would like me to add that the horns were probably 2 ft long each) boarding. But for some reason, a few of them decided they wanted out and started running at full speed down the corridor I was walking up. It was really scary and I thought one of them was going to run right into me. (I wonder though: did their owner have to purchase a ticket for each of them??) After the ferry, we had to take two cars to get to the Peace Corps house. I was so exhausted when we finally arrived and couldn’t remember why I was looking forward to coming at all.
BUT!!! all was redeemed because we got Chinese food. (my other friend would like me to add that she cooked pad thai for us, actually I got my own separate veggie-free sauce, which was really nice, and it was delicious!!) It was AMAZING! I got bbq pork, sweet and sour chicken and a beer! Afterwards, I got a crunchy ice cream bar. It was glorious!!! I was immediately reminded why I love being in the capital. And going to karaoke on Wednesday will truly seal the deal- I hope Gambia is prepared to see 50 Cent performed at its finest.