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.



Lauren said...

haha. best one yet. ill have to make plans with tawny as soon as possible so we can experience this fun firsthand.

Geoffrey said...

I totally thought the name was a joke. I can't believe that is actually your name for the next couple of years... that is the greatest thing ever. And, I am totally going to have nightmares about the kankoran tonight. Love you.

Marta Thompson said...

Ah Fatty Greeeaaat post! I can imagine the waddle moment with perfect clarity - you're going to be a legend when you leave the Gam. I'm so proud of you can't wait to read more. Letter coming soon! LOVE YOU!