So here are the pictures that I posted from Dakar last month. Dakar is the capital of Senegal (the country which surrounds The Gambia). The event I attended is called WAIST (West African International Softball Tournament). It is a softball tournament for whoever would like to particiapte, but Peace Corps volunteers make up most of the participating teams. It's a great opportunity for Peace Corps Volunteers from different West African countries to gather and let loose, or just relax. Some people are there to play serious softball. Some people are there to meet with volunteers from other countries and share ideas for projects and plans in their communities. Some people go just for fun. I was there for a little of all it all, I think. It was my first opportunity to take a trip out of the country since I came to Africa, and that, in itself, was a good enough reason for me to be there. I played on the "social" team for The Gambia (we also had a competitive team, but due to my lack of talent and experience in softball, the social team was just fine for me). Here is our group picture. Our "uniforms" are mesh shirts in the colors of the Gambian flag. The mesh shirts are supposed to mimick what we call "bumsters." These are the guys you can find on the beaches of The Gambia. They wear these tank-tops and lots of large, glittery necklaces. They are there to meet tourists with the hope that they may either get some money from them or, if they are very lucky, trick them into marrying them and bringing them to the UK or the States. Bumsters are one of the things almost all of us volunteers hate about The Gambia since we are all mistaken for tourists and therefore prime bumster targets. Since it feels good to laugh about it instead of getting too irritated, this year, we were the Gambian bumsters.
I also had the opportunity to do a bit of site seeing. Dakar is huge and historic. We took a boat trip out to an island that was originally a major hub in the slave-trade. It was an interesting trip and the island quite peaceful. Here are some pictures....
Dakar is a huge, bustling city (about the size of Washington D.C.), so it was quite a change from village life. In many ways, it was culture shock all over again. I've become so accustomed to my life as a peace corps volunteer that it was a little disorienting to be reminded of the life I lived before I came here... citys with tall buildings, highways, houses with mowed lawns, inernational foods, etc. Housing accomadations for all of the Peace Corps Volunteers were provided by the staff members of the US embassy. They were kind enough to open their homes to a burly group like us. The man I stayed with, Craig, not only opened up his home to us, but also allowed us to use his internet, washer and dryer, and anything else we needed... he even treated us to several delicious meals! He was interested to hear our stories. He seemed amazed that anyone would willingly live for two years without electricity or running water (especially air-conditioning). He certainly made me feel welcome and gave me a different perspective of life in an African country... so if you are reading this Craig... thanks again for everything! It was a wonderful experience!
Since I've been back in The Gambia, I've been very busy with school and family events. I believe I mentioned the birth of Samba and Susana's son in one of my last blogs. (Samba is my brother and the head of our compound). The baby was born before my trip to Dakar, and it tradition to hold a naming ceremony one week after the child's birth... but my family delayed the ceremony until after I returned to Fatoto. The new baby is named James, after my father, and in honor of my family. The naming ceremony was quite an experience. It was held on Saturday, March 8th, but the preparations for it began two days earlier. After school one day, I was taking a nap to escape the heat when I was woken up by the sound of pounding. This is not an unusual sound since all families use large morals and pestals to pound their food, but this was A LOT of pounding all at once. I left my house to find a group of at least 40 women gathered around, taking turns pounding the grains needed for the ceremony. This was just the start of the preparations... for the next two days, my compound was full of people helping with various tasks. It's incredible and inspiring to see how the whole community contibutes time and resources to an event like this. There were hundreds of people at the ceremony. I had a wonderful time. There was traditional Fula music and a DJ (equipped with a generator to power his huge speakers and system) providing entertainment. My family slaughtered 3 goats and dozens of women sat around all day cooking for for the mass of people gathered. I socailized and danced all day. All of the staff from school came, as well as many of my students and two of my toubab friends from Basse (Liza and Sarah, a VSO). I have many pictures, some of which I hope to post next month from Kombo.
The other thing that's kept me so busy has been school. I helped teach at a teacher workshop in Fatoto on March 1st, which I found to be fairly successful and very rewarding. I did a session on lesson planning and another on teaching and learning aids. Thanks to Bess Adcock, my old mentor teacher from the states, I was equipped with a bunch of useful materials for creating teaching aids. Thanks Bess! There are 3 school terms in The Gambia, and we just finished the 2nd term. The end of the term was supposed to be April 4th, but, at the last minute, they decided to change the end of term date to be March 20th, so that the break could fall over the easter holiday (once again, Gambians and their holidays). The best part of that decision was that we were notified with about 2 weeks left in the term, and all of us had to change our teaching plans, schedule last minute tests and make-up work, and deal with all of the usual things that come along with the end of a school term. In addition, I've still been teaching extra classes after school, and trying to continue science club events.
And on top of all of this, the hot season has begun. For the sake of curiosity, I put my thermometer directly in the sun the other day... the highest reading is 124 degrees F, and after only a few minutes, it soared above that mark. It's too hot to sleep in my hut, so I've been sleeping outside in my back yard. I had a special "bed" made and I just bought a sponge to put on it. It's quite nice, really. the mornings have still been cool enough to go running, so I have still been able to exercise, but I'm starting to get worried that they won't be cool enough for long. The true heat hasn't even come yet.
The good news is, mangos are on the way. They are getting bigger and bigger on the trees... they should be ripe in just a few more weeks! I'm very excited.
Well, that's it for now, I'm going to finish before I get kicked off this machine... more to come later!