June 13, 2010

Gambia: A brief look

I just sent an email to a friend doing PC in El Salvador, which sort of explained PC The Gambia in a nutshell, so I thought I'd post an excerpt of it here. Please excuse any grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization errors, this is a direct copy/paste.

this country is super small, maybe the size of delaware, the smallest country in continental africa. but it's long and divided in the middle by a river. it takes about.... 10-12ish hours (barring no car or immigration checkpoint trouble), to get from one end of the country to the other because the roads are so shitty and there are no bridges across the river. i'm about 8 hours upriver/inland from the capital (which is located on the atlantic ocean coast) and there's maybe 80 volunteers here, which means that at any point you're prob within 30k from another volunteer. i live right outside a biggish town, and have 3 other volunteers within 10k of my site, so thats really nice. and i see my closest friend here at least once a week.

probably about 10-15 volunteers live in the capital (banjul) and they all have their own 'apartment' or house. the rest of us live in family compounds and have our own room or grass hut, in my case. i would guess that none of the upcountry (in this case meaning not-in-Banjul) volunteers has running water in his/her compound, a few maybe have taps (communal faucets) in the village, and few have sporadic electricity (only the capital has 24 hr electricity, the other 4 towns with current, as they call it here, have it from 9am-2pm, and 7pm-2am). my village has pumps and no electricity, but my family has a generator which they use to watch football or movies maybe once a week.

the food here is mainly rice with a peanut or leaf sauce and oil and msg, hahah. theres also millet, which i greatly prefer to rice, mostly because there is less oil in its sauces. but i cook all my meals for myself (i'm one of the few volunteers living in a family that does that), bec my family's cooking is awful and they put this disgusting dried fish in everything. a typical day of eating for me is bread for breakfast, maybe toasted with cin and sugar, rice with a can of kidney beans for lunch, and maybe some more bread or a protein bar for dinner, and maybe some oatmeal during the day. the vegetables available year round are potato, onion, hot peppers.... and then seasonally-- carrots, cabbage, eggplant, peppers..... and mangos, bananas, oranges, watermelon (also seasonally). there's very little chicken or meat consumed here, only in wealthier families.

ummm.... our 3 sectors are: ag/forestry, health/comm dev, and edu. most of our adminstrative staff is gambian. and its a muslim country in that everyone is muslim, but its not an islamic state, ie. no islamic courts, judges, etc. but my family prays everyday 5x's/day, everyone fasts for ramadan. many men have 1-4 wives. women are definitely given less rights than men and in general considered less important, less strong, less intelligent, and just less respected. but they are so amazing and smart and wonderful. they work all day while the men basically sit around and brew tea. my brother might go to the fields (peanut) for a couple hours in the am, and then will spend the rest of the day in the compound reading the koran and chanting arabic. yes it gets annoying.

and there are a ton of local languages spoken here, but there are 3 main ones (mandinka, wolof and fula) that are spoken and taught to us here. english is that national language, but it is mainly spoken in the capital and in bigger towns, not in the village, unless there is a school nearby. i speak/was taught mandinka. but my friend that lives very close to me speaks wolof, so i can i sorta get by in wolof, and can very minimally greet in fula.