So now that I have finally posted a few pictures, I can talk a little about some experiences and feelings that I have had in the past few weeks at site and here in Kombo. Life in Fatoto has, overall, been pretty nice. The weather is changing now, finally. The humidity has completely vanished from the air, and it literally happened over night. One day, the bills in my wallet were a crumpeled soggy mess, the next day, they were crispy. Some of my fabrics have stiffened up too. And all of my papers and envelopes. By the way, incase anyone has recieved a letter from me lately, you may have noticed that the envelope is taped shut, and the stamps are taped on too... I forgot to put my envelopes inside of a plastic bag, and the humidity sealed them all shut, so I've had to tear them all open and tape them closed. And the stamps just won't stick any more... most likely from the humidity as well. The temperature is cooler now too. It's been in the 80's in the day (sometimes in the 90's too, but mostly the 80's), and the nights are downright chilly sometimes. Of course, my body has adjusted to the heat at this point, but there have been a few instances where the temperature actually reached below 70 F! It's funny to watch my family on these evenings or early in the morning when they are just waking up. They wear multiple layers and walk around shivering. I shouldn't laugh. That may be in two years! I am going to be such a wimp when I head back to Colorado.
So here are a few highlights from the past month. I've been making pretty regular trips to Basse, partially for work, and partially just to be able to communicate and colaborate with other Peace Corps Volunteers. And because Basse has a transit house there and it's a good place to buy goods that you cannot find in the villages, there are often other Peace Corps Volunteers there when I visit. So I'm really getting to know some of the other URD PCV's (sorry for all the acronyms... URD is Upper River Division). They are a good crew. We've gotten together a few times and cooked American style food. You can buy things like carrots and cucumber in the market here (fresh vegetables... yeah!), as well as canned chick peas, so we've made hummus a few times now and dipped veggies in it. I've also learned how to make tortillas, which are good buy themselves or with hummus.
And here's another fun food-related adventure (you'll notice that many of my fond memories have to do with food! I can't help it... with so little variety to chose from, it's always a big event to try something new) Liza and Danielle (another Basse PCV) came to Fatoto and spent the weekend with me a few weeks ago. Ever since I carved that pumpkin for Holloween, I've been wanting to try cooking pumpkin pie, so we tried it. I talked to the bread baker in Kolikunda (the small village next to Fototo), and he said I could use his brick bread-baking oven, so we set up a time for me to come on a Saturday to bake my pies. So incase you're ever wondering how to bake a pumpkin pie from scratch when you live in a hut with no electicity... here's what we did. We chopped the pumpkin into peices and began to boil them over my gas stove, but then I ran out of gas (and the closest places to re-fill gas tanks are in Senegal or Basse), so we ended up cooking them over a fire instead (this worked just fine). This makes the pumpkin nice and soft, and it's easy to cut off the outer rind (we orignally tried to cut this when the pumpkin was still raw, but it was taking a very long time, which is why we decided to boil them first). Then it was easy to smash them and add ingredients. I had been saving a box of soy milk that I bought in Kombo in August. Also, Liza brought cinnamon and I actually found nutmeg in Basse (It was an accidental find... I have no idea what Gambians would use nutmeg for, but I was thrilled to find it)... so we just added these ingredients together until it tasted good. Then we made the pie crust. First we sifted the flour to remove the bugs and worms in it. (I'm finally getting over finding insects in my food. It just happens somtimes. In the states, I would have thrown it out... here, I pick out the bug and just keep on eating, unless it's one of the smelly bugs that Fulas call "Yuka Herande," which means "spoil dinner," because they spoil your dinner if they get into your food). The directions on my pie crust recipe call for a food processor and refrigerator (ha!), and ice water (ha ha!). Obviously, those things were not an option, so I just ended up throwing together flour, sugar, and butter. It tasted more like a sugar cookie than a pie crust, but it was still good. I've discovered that a nalgeen bottle works as a pretty decent rolling pin, so I rolled the crust and lined the pie trays (small, rectangular pans I found in Basse). We showed up at the baker's compound four mintues early, but he said he thought we had "postponed" it... I'm still wondering why. We said no, in fact, we were ready to go... so he brought us to the oven and fired it up (The oven is a huge mud/cement oven that is heated with fire wood). Now usually, you would want to let the oven heat for several hours, but we did not want to wait that long, so we only heated it for about a half an hour. Because of this, our pies never really baked... they just became really warm and soft. But they were still very good. We gave some to the baker and his wife, some to my family, then ate the rest ourselves. My family really liked it. They have been amazed at what I've shown them about pumpkins lately. Not only can you carve faces in them, but you can also eat the seads and make sweet food from it too! They cook pumpkin all the time, but they cook it like they cook everything else. They put it in lots of oil and spice and serve it over rice. It's really good as well. I hope pumpkins are pretty good for me, because I've probably been eating them every day for the past 3 weeks straight!
I told Dan, who is one of the URD PCV's I see in Basse sometimes, about our Pumpkin pie experience, so he asked for help making pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving at the Embassador's house. So on Thanksgiving, I helped make over 30 pumpkin pies from scratch for all of the Peace Corps Volunteers and other invited guests. All of my clothes from that day are still covered in pumpkin. It took hours, but it was fun! (And the pies were really good too). Thanksgiving was fun. We ate chicken (no turkey's here in the Gambia), and mashed potatoes and stuffing... we even had cranberry sauce (mailed from the states, of course). And of course, pumpkin pie.
Ok, that's enough talk of food... The thought occurred to me the other day that when I get together with other PCV's, we always seem focused on cooking and eating. Sorry, it's what we do for fun, I guess.
The past week here in Kombo has been good but busy, as usual. Yesterday was the Peace Corps' 40th anniversary celebration. It was a very formal event at a very nice 5 star hotel in the area of the Kombo called Senegambia. It's strange to go from village to a place like that. I start to forget that places like that actually exist here. In the evening, Julebrew, the Gambia's brewery, threw the volunteers a party with free beer. It's one of the few times all of the volunteers in the country will see each other at once, so, without going into details... the evening last night was very fun and very, very late. This morning was an all-volunteer meeting (we all showed up but were very tired), which I found to be incredibly informative and extremely helpful. Each sector (Education, Health, and Environment) met seperately... then we met together as one large group. We were able to discuss and exchage ideas and frustrations, learn about who's projects were working or not working, get our hands on a few teaching resources (like paper for a 3-ring binder! Yeah!), and meet several guests from different NGO's and Gambian development organizations. I hear they used to do these meetings twice a year, but they may be switching them to once a year. If they are all as helpful as this one, I hope they keep it to twice a year! It's also been really nice just to meet all of the other volunteers and some of the PC staff members that I've met only once or twice because they stay here in Kombo. Our administrative officer, Tim, saw me in the Peace Corps office the other day and stopped to talk to me because he didn't recognize me. Then a look of realization came across his face and he said "Oh yeah! You're the one at the very end of the map"... you see, there's a large map of The Gambia in the office, and they put a picture of every PCV in the country on the map with a peice of string leading to their posted village or town. My picture is waaaay off to the right of the map. It's kind of my claim to fame here. And not only am I the farthest, but I'm also the only one in my disctrict, the Kantora district. But as far as Fatoto seems, it's not unaccesable... I just won't be doing this trip to Kombo very often. It's quite tiring.
Tomorrow morning, I head back up-country. I'm leaving at about 6 am, and I'm really hoping to make it all the way back to Fatoto by the evening so that I can teach on Monday. We'll see... I think I can do it if I run into favorable traveling conditions. It's really just the role of the dice though. Between the poor roads, vehicles that break down constantly (we had to push the vehicle we rode in on our way to Kombo at least 3 times to get it running again), and ferry crossings (you would think that a country split in half by a large river would use bridges instead of old ferries that only take a few vehicles at a time and often break down themselves... but oh well). Time can be either for or against me. So until next time!