October 22, 2009

Updated package wish list!!!

*Haha, and I thought this was the end all, be all list. I took out PB, it's widely available here, not sure why I wrote that, and added tuna and chicken packets, raisins and craisins, and anything Kashi (I EAT RAISINS NOW, can you believe it?!)

This is for those of you who have been asking me what to send in a package... and also for those of you that haven't been asking. As for those of you that already have sent me letters and packages, THANK YOU SOOO MUCH!!!

This list is entirely comprehensive. You never need to send anything to me that isn’t on this list and I would like to get everything on this list all the time.

-Tuna Packets
-Chicken Packets
-Freeze dried meals/just add water-- pasta ones
-Freeze dried desserts/just add water-- not fruity ones, ha.
-Dried fruits-- apricots, mangos, peaches, raisins, craisins
-Sun-dried tomatoes
-Good nuts-- cashews, pistachios, almonds etc. (Just no peanuts!)
-Trail mix
-Fruit leather
-Salami-types that don't really need to be refrigerated
-Parmesan cheese!!!
-Teriyaki jerky
-Bacon bits, the more real the better, or even pre-cooked bacon that doesn't actually require refrigeration
-No-bake Jello pudding or cheesecake mix
-Any and all bars-- Kashi, Luna, Cliff... anything
-Drink mixes-- Crystal Light, Gatorade, etc.
-Emergen-C and Airborne
-Kashi Go-Lean cereal (not crunch)
-Anything by Kashi
-Spaghetti sauce packets, like Knorr, or Asian sauce mixes

Define normal

Entry from my journal- Oct 21, 10:30pm:

So I just smoked a clove (are they actually illegal now in the US?? I can’t believe that!). I don’t smoke often, but some nights, when the sky is particularly beautiful and I am sitting in my backyard it just feels right (don’t worry, Mom, I promise I rarely smoke). So anyway, as soon as I finished the clove, I took my fourth poo of the day. So now—worried that I might shart myself—I am starting to regret my decision to have one in the first place. Hold on, time to make it number five.

And back. Phew, it’s always bad news when I have to switch from my usual squat to the Gambian squat (feet totally flat on the ground). It means I’m in it for the long haul. Anyway, poo-ing aside, well actually, poo-ing included (I don’t poo very much here, so I welcome any and all poos), all is well now. For the first time, maybe ever, I really feel like I’d rather be living here than in America.

Let me qualify that. Do I want to be home for a week/month and see everyone and eat delicious food? Of course I do. But do I want to be living there for good, never to come back here? No.

Wanting to be here more than home is a relatively new phenomenon for me. Even a few days ago, I was still grappling with whether I could actually stay here for the entire 27 months and be happy. I don’t really know how or when this happened, because not much has changed in my life recently. Granted, the weather’s better (PRAISE ALLAH!), but nothing’s changed in my work. And it’s not like I suddenly no longer feel used by my family and fit in perfectly.

In fact, I was at Tavi’s site (another volunteer here), and her family is amazing, basically the complete opposite of mine. Totally appreciative and grateful of anything and everything Tavi and her husband, James, do. Their host sister refuses to let them fetch water and insists on doing their laundry (while my family overcharges me for mine and sometimes doesn’t thank me at all when I bring gifts). It was amazing to feel like our being here is a privilege to Gambians, that we should be appreciated, not extorted or used.

That being said, I’m starting to accept my family and my place in it, which makes it easier to not feel guilty about being gone, or reading in my house, or saying no, etc. But mostly, I think the reason I’d rather be here than America is because life here has become normal and life there now seems weird. Although some things here are still a pain in my ass—like how disgusting my house gets, having to sweep it every day, washing dishes, etc.—it’s all ok. (Well, actually, the state of my house at the moment is really stressing me out, but I realize this is not a Gambia-specific problem. I hated cleaning in America, too.)

This notion—that life here is now more normal to me than life in America—hit me when I was sitting with Adrian in Bansang, thinking back over my day, and realized that at no point did any of it seem weird to me.

The day: I left Tavi’s house at 8:15am. She lives about 1 or 2k in the bush, so we walked and got to the road around 8:30. We waited 30 minutes on the ONE north bank road (and could have waited hours), before a car showed up—a truck, that agreed to take me all the way to the Georgetown north bank ferry. The ride was pleasant enough. I only got toubab’d twice. But, surprise surprise, they didn’t take me all the way to the crossing, just to the police check point before the river.

*As I mentioned before, Georgetown is an island in the middle of the Gambia River, a river which divides the Gambia in half. So to cross from the north side of Gambia, where Tavi lives, to the south side, where I live, I have to take a ferry across the river on the north side of the island, go across the island in a car, and then take another ferry across the river on the south side of the island. (Make sense? No? Map it on Google.)

So I walked another k to the ferry crossing, sweating balls and sunburned. Even though people and cars were waiting to cross, the ferry was parked on the other side, appearing like it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. No problem, clearly the government transport system never operates in a timely fashion. So I hopped in one of the small boats and went across, pleasantly surprised that the engine started on the second try. Then I got in a gele-gele to take me across the island to the south ferry. But first, we sat in the car for several minutes while bags of rice and a goat were loaded on the top of the vehicle, totally normal. We got to the ferry crossing and because the ferry has no working engine, we had to pull ourselves across the river. There were so few people so the women pulled, too. “How great,” I thought to myself. “And look at that girl in pants!!” There were no cars on the south side going to Bansang, so I snagged a ride to the next police checkpoint, where I waited for a car. I was again pleasantly surprised when one came 15 minutes later. I arrived at Bansang around 10:30.

To sum it up: A 35k trip (about 21 miles) took over 2 hours, 3 cars, and 2 boats. That seemed fairly reasonable to me.

I met Adrian in Bansang and she wanted coffee, so we went to a restaurant near the car park (one room, a couple of bunches, tons of flies, lots of mayo and MSG). We sat outside on a bench that had one side missing the leg and so was propped up on a bidong (a 20 liter jug formerly used to carrying cooking oil, but now used to carry fuel, honey and, in my case, drinking water). Adrian drank her coffee. As we sat, we watched the town crazy walking around, harassing people. I was surprised to see him in Bansang since last time I saw him, he was in Basse (a town about 55k away) and was asking me for money to get to Bansang. No way I’m paying for you to come back to Bansang so you can yell, “It’s the German!” at me whenever I walk by, I thought. I got thirsty and we tried to figure out which boy I could send to get me a bag of water. But then Adrian noticed that the ‘shop’ behind us had a fridge. So I woke its owner up, the guy sleeping in the chair behind me, and he got me a bag. Then I busted out the salami Tavi gave me. Neither of us had a knife, so we proceeded to take a few bites straight from the salami.

At some point, I looked around and thought about my day and realized, “Oh, this is actually not normal at all.” But up to that point, I hadn’t even noticed. Had I left Tavi’s, gotten on a bus or in a taxi and gotten to Bansang in 30 minutes, THAT would have been really weird. Or, if I walked into a restaurant with no flies and A/C and ordered a cold soda and a burger, THAT would have been really weird. But pulling myself across a river on a broken ferry, sitting in a car with a goat strapped on top, eating straight from a chunk of salami and drinking water from a bag all seemed totally normal. And I’ve only been here a year. I started to understand why it’s so hard and scary for people who have been here for two years to go home: This life truly does become more normal than the one in America.

But until that point comes for me to start freaking out and wonder how on Earth I’m going to adjust back to life in America, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the fact that I’ve somewhat adjusted to life here and no longer want so badly to go home.

October 15, 2009

A day in the life (October 14, 2009)

6:30- I'm sleeping outside (way too hot to sleep inside) and wake up to my cat meowing outside my mosquito net (I got a cat! Well, a kitten, and mainly for mice control. He's orange, so I named him Sake, after the Japanese word for salmon, not the alcohol). I lift up a corner of my net and let it in my bed and go back to sleep.

7:00- Wake up for real to the sound of rice being pounded, donkeys making noises and roosters crowing. My village is a farm. I get up, drink my daily cup of water with Airborne. Wash some dirty dishes, using a bucket of water and cup to rinse. Sweep the debris from my roof, mice poop and dirt from my house. Open my door and greet my family.

7:30- I talk to my friend Adrian, a fellow volunteer, who is currently biking from her village to our Central River Region Meeting on Georgetown Island at noon. It's not nearly as official as it sounds, it just means all PC volunteers in the CRR are convening at a bar on the island to talk about our work and drink. I would bike all the way there (about 15k), but I have a bad infection on my foot so I will be taking a gele-gele instead.

After passing my house, Adrian will stop in Bansang to get some water (There is only ONE road, and since both my village and Bansang are on the road and between her village and the island, she HAS to pass by them). Because I have no electricity, it’s always difficult to keep my phone charged. Luckily, there is electricity in Bansang. Since I'm not heading into Bansang for a few more hours, Adrian agrees to drop my phone battery and charger off at a store in Bansang so it can start charging as early as possible(current is on from 9am-2pm and 7pm-2am).

7:45- I need to go meet Adrian on the road to give her my charger and battery, but I decide I have enough time to fetch some water first. I head to the pump. Fill up my bidong (A yellow 20 liter container of water, previously used to hold oil). I leave it at the pump (I'll carry it home after I see Adrian) and head to the road. I'm hungry so I buy a 4 dalasis (20 cents) loaf of bread and munch on it while I wait for her.

8:00- Adrian comes, we chat for few minutes, I give her my stuff, wish her luck on the ride. On my way back to the pump, I stop and visit my Gambian friend that just found out she's pregnant (this will be her 10th child, she is not yet 40, needless to say, she's not pleased at all). Then I carry my bidong home on my head (which is so painful because I got my hair braided, with fake hair, so sort of like a weave).

8:30-10:30- I make breakfast-- cinnamon/sugar toast. I butter the bread, toast it face down in my skillet and then put cin and sugar on it. DELISH! Then I sit around in my back yard, play with my cat and finish my book, Vinegar Hill, not amazing by any means. After that, I pack my bag and get ready for our meeting.

10:30- I ride my bike into Bansang (where I will get a car to the island) and stop at Pa Fouad’s, the store where Adrian dropped off my battery to charge. I learn it is not fully charged yet, so I tell them I’ll get it on my way back. I leave my bike in the back of their store, buy a bag of water and walk to the car park.

11:00- The car (actually it's a huge 14-person van) that's going to the island is only half way full (it will not leave until it is completely full). I strategically put my bag down in the car to secure a window seat for myself. Then I head to wait in the shade, dreading the long wait ahead, wondering if I should just go wait on the road for a private car that is heading in my same direction. Like I said, only one road. I am pretty far East up-country. So every single car that passes my village traveling West will definitely be passing by the island. Luckily, the driver starts to gather people into the car. Turns out a lot of the passengers were sitting under the shade, like me, and not in the car, so the car is actually full.

11:30- We’re off! I’m wearing an over-sized mallard duck tank-top, given to me by another volunteer, no bra, some local pants, and a huge fula hat (think pointy asian man hat) that I am bringing for one of the volunteers at the meeting. And this is a TOTALLY normal outfit.

12:00- After stopping at three different checkpoints (either Police, Customs or Immigrations), we reach the ferry crossing. There are no bridges in this country and this ferry has had a broken engine for months so it has to be pulled across. Mind you its very small, holds only 2 cars and the distance to cross is about 100 ft, but it still takes a long time. I could swim across sooooo much more quickly but the water is disgusting. I make my way to the front of the ferry because I know the car waiting on the other side to take people across the island will get full fast. The man working the ferry asks me for my hat--typical--I tell him it's not mine, sorry. We reach the other side and I run to the car and I nab another window seat, what luck!

12:30-4:30- At the bar, about 10 other volunteers there. Drinking. Eating. We talk about work. I get the owner of the bar to bring out a huge boom box and I play the Paula Abdul and BFF mix-tape (Thank you Lindsay and Lizzy) that my mom mailed me. Everyone loves it. I am rocking out. Several times while speaking, a new song starts, and I have to pause and clutch at my heart, ie. Keith Sweat- Nobody, Take My Breath Away.

4:30- The meeting adjourns. Those who have bikes proceed to bike back to the ferry, those of us who don’t head to the car back to catch another car back across the island. No cars there, we decide to walk (the island is about 1 or 2k wide). On our way, we see our bike friends stopping to buy things. They pass us about half way to the ferry and as a joke, I yell “N samba! N samba!” which translates to, “Me take!” and is yelled at us by children anytiem we’re on our bikes. Alicia stops and says she’ll take me. So I climb up on the back of her bike. I’m pretty high up and every move I make shakes the bike. I feel a little bad for the other 3 people I left to keep walking, but we’re almost to the other end, and more than likely I’m going to fall anyway.

5:00- I can see the ferry ahead when I hear a car coming. I’m holding on for dear life because Alicia almost goes off the road. It is a truck, in which the friends I left walking are now sitting, waving. I no longer feel bad for them at all. It is a military car, which like the police cars, rarely ever gives PC volunteers rides. Several men in full-on military gear get out of the car and are talking to me. One starts hitting on me. I say my husband is living in Banjul (the story I tell everyone), but sense that I might get a free ride from them to Bansang, so I keep chatting. But like I said, the military guys are usually pretty mean, so I wasn’t getting my hopes up.

5:20- We cross and they agree to give me a ride!! I’m sitting in the back seat in the middle. They’re listening to music and, with a secret laugh to myself, I tell them I have some American tapes, do they want to hear? Yes. So I give them the Paula Abdul tape and they put it in and blast it. And are all rocking out and I am just cracking up, wishing there was someone else there to appreciate this scene—big, bad military guys blasting Paula Abdul. They love the tape and ask me to leave them with the tape, but I refuse. I promise to make a copy of it and bring it to their barracks next time I’m in Basse. When I get to Pa Fouad's, I almost forget my tape. They all admit they were hoping I wouldn’t remember to ask for it back. The whole thing is hilarious and makes my day.

5:45- I pick up my bike, phone battery, bag of water and grab some stuff for dinner and breakfast, pasta, tin of tomato paste--Adrian is sleeping over and we're going to cook. I pack up my bike and head home.

6:30- I’m super sweaty and dirty when I get home, but I sit outside with my family to wait for Adrian (who is biking back), but I decide to go fetch another bidong of water, for cooking and in case Adrian uses a lot in her bucket baths (which she does). I get back and Meeta goes to bathe, so I help stir their dinner which is churro—-pounded rice and peanut, boiled with sugar, usually for breakfast-—my favorite. I’m sad that I already bought the stuff to make dinner with Adrian and won't be eating it.

6:45- My mother starts to pray, which Meeta’s baby, Hawa, strapped to her back. Meeta comes back out and yells at me in Mandinka to stop stirring and, “Go take Hawa, Mom is praying.” So I stand next to my mom—not sure if you’ve ever seen Muslims pray, it’s really intense, they don’t break their concentration for anything, and don’t acknowledge anything else going on around them. My brother’s daughter could be crawling all over him while praying and he wouldn’t even react. So I’m standing there, not really sure if I’m supposed to say something, if she even heard Meeta, or what. But she does some hand movement that I think means go away, but actually means come get Hawa, so I stand behind her, careful not to stand on the prayer mat and hold Hawa while she unties the fabric in the front. Then I just sit and hold her until she’s done praying. By which point Adrian has arrived.

7:00- Adrian and I cook, eat, sit around. By that, I mean, while Adrian is bathing, I cook the pasta and start cooking the sauce. She finishes bathing and helps me stir the sauce. We eat. I rub some Gold Bond on her back where she has severe heat rash.

7:45- Exhausted from the bike ride, Adrian goes to lie down. I go and sit out with my family. My hair is itching soo much so I have my sister, Mamatida help me take them out. We're all talking and because I say, in Mandinka, “I swear to God,” about not hearing my name being called earlier in the night, Meeta starts interrogating me about whether I know what that means, who do I think made me, etc. Discussing religion is never a favorite topic for me. I tell her my mother and father made me, which elicits laughs. And she asks again, who made me, and I answer God. The way I can say this and not feel like I’m lying (I don’t really believe in ‘God’) is by telling myself that when I say God I just mean the energy of the everything. I tell them, I say God, you say Allah, but it’s the same. They ask me if I pray, and I tell them, Yes, but my praying is different than your’s. They question me more about that, whether I believe in prophets, in Mohammad, etc. Then Kemeseng, my brother says, It is all the same god, just a different religion, which I feel sums it up perfectly and is an extremely thoughtful statement. The mosquitos become unbearable so I head into bed, with half my braids still in.

8:30- My friend Amie comes to visit, which, by Gambian terms means, she sits in my house with me. After greeting, we don’t really talk. Then after about 15 minutes, she says, Ok, thank you, I am going now. And I say, Ok, thank you.

8:45- Adrian and I get into my bed outside. We chat for awhile, my braids are still itching me unbelievable and I start pulling them out. The last one is stuck in really good and hurts so much, but I finally get it out. Then we chat some more, send some text messages. I read a bit and we go to sleep.

And then it starts all over again. Hoping to post some pictures soon soon. THANKS EVERYONE! LOVE YOU ALL!

October 1, 2009


All the money has been raised! Thank you so much to each and every one of you that donated and/or spread the word. Thanks again!!

And keep an eye out for the best post ever, coming soon!