Wednesday, April 15, 2009

3 months to go

I’m back in Kombo, after four very busy months upcountry. I’ll try my best to summarize my experiences. After my long holiday for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I went back to Fatoto feeling motivated and energized. The weather was pleasant and cool in January and February, which helped me get a lot of work done, but it also provided some great opportunities to spend quality time with my Gambian family. The Gambians were wearing winter jackets and lighting fires every night. I was sleeping with a sheet and a blanket at night. At times, the temperature even dropped below 50 degrees F. I spent long hours at school, then came home, worked in my garden, cooked myself dinner using fresh vegetables from my garden (lettuce, tomato, carrots, eggplant), then spent the evenings huddled around a fire with my family listening to and telling stories. Fula story-telling is delightful. The person who wants to tell the story says “Talin Talin.” Then the rest of the people sitting around say “Talin Dimas.” This roughly translates as “Story, Story” “Tell us a story.” They would ask me to tell stories too, at which point I would stumble through old stories from my childhood, with adaptations to fit my limited Pulaar vocabulary. It’s interesting to note the difference in themes between western stories and Gambian stories. I realized that many of the stories I told were teaching the values of hard work and honesty. I told the story of the little red hen, but instead of the red hen planting and harvesting wheat to make bread with, I changed it to rice and peanuts… and instead of making bread, she made gossi gerte, a sweet rice porridge with pounded peanuts. My family told me stories like the one about the clever rabbit who outsmarted the hungry crocodile.
At school, I finally began implementing some of my project ideas. Since last year, I have recognized a need to provide students with opportunities for small group and one-on-one instruction. Our school runs two shifts, so teachers teach grades 9 through 12 in the morning, then teach grades 7 and 8 in the afternoon. If a student needs help from a teacher, they have to come back to school in the evening to meet with teachers. For most of our students, this is impossible. Even for those who don’t have to walk several miles back to their villages from school, once they get home, they are given work do to from their families, and do not have the chance to return to school later. The busy schedule of the teachers creates other problems as well… the class sizes are large, and the curriculum is immense, so most teachers have little time for planning and implementing quality student-centered lessons. In an English speaking school for students with limited English abilities, it is essential to provide them with opportunities for small-group or individual instruction. Despite the disadvantageous learning environment, however, there is a small group of bright, hard-working students who still manage to excel in school. In a place where teachers are accustomed to working with limited resources, these students seem to be a resource that is often over-looked. It is these students who inspired me to begin a peer tutoring program. We chose 24 students in grades 9 through 12 and provided them with some basic tutor-training. The program has been moderately successful so far. We’re still working on changes that may make it more effective. The tutors though, have been a true inspiration. They have come up with some inventive ways to help their school. And I’ve been lucky to have an amazing counterpart for this project, my friend and fellow-teacher, Mbara Saine. His optimism is contagious. He hopes to nationalize the program, so we’re currently working on putting together a Peer Tutoring newsletter to distribute to other schools in The Gambia.

The Peer Tutoring Program has been my most time-consuming project, but I’ve also been working on a few other small projects. I’ve been holding monthly teaching and learning aid sessions for my teachers at school. We work together on finding ways to make learning a more interactive process, and actually spend time together creating teaching and learning aids. It’s been wonderfully successful because the teachers collaborate and gain ideas from each other.
Between these projects, teaching classes, holding regular science club meetings, and working in my garden work, I’ve managed to stay pretty busy through the past few months. When the weather was still nice and cool, it was easy to stay motivated, but now that the hot season has arrived, my energy has drastically decreased. Before coming down to Kombo last week, the mid-day temperature (in the shade) was above 110 degrees. The temperature here in Kombo is much colder. It has been a welcome vacation from the heat.

Some other fun events that have happened since Christmas...

Panketos weekend.
A popular sweet treat in The Gambia is the panketo. It's a small peice of sweet dough deep fried in oil. It's similar to a doughnut, but different. Panketos are cooked for weddings and naming ceremonies, and you can always find women in busy market places walking around selling them. The thing is, no matter where you go in The Gambia, panketos are always the same. There's no variety or creativity. Liza and I came up with an idea one day to make our own panketos of different varieties. And then we thought it would be interesting to go to a busy place and sell them... one of the busiest places in Basse is the car park, where all the vehicles pick up and drop passengers going to various places in The Gambia and neighboring west african countries. The Basse Car Park is always crowded and busy with people traveling and people selling goods. This seemed like our ideal place to sell panketos. And not only did we want to sell our panketos there, but we cooked them at the car park too. It was a fun social experiment to see the reaction from people when we told them we wanted to cook panketos and sell them. We made panketos filled with chocolate and peanut butter, panketos filled with banana, and panketos with an orange glaze. The entire experience was pretty hillarious. When the women walked by trying to sell us their panketos, we would try to sell them ours. Many people bought our panketos just out of curiosity of what these crazy white people were doing cooking and selling food in the dusty, crowded basse car park. But most people really liked them. They were especially confused though about having to make a choice between three different types. "What do you mean which one? I just want one panketo" While the experience was really just for fun, we are hoping that it might have inspired at least one person to get creative when it comes to selling their products.

James Njie turns one years old.
Little James turned one years old in February so I threw him a small birthday party, complete with noise makers and balloons. I made him a birthday hat that said "Hitande 1" (Hitande is "year" in Pulaar). He really didn't like wearing the hat though, so it ended up being passed between the other children. Liza and Ian both came up for the big event. We cooked black-bean chilli for my family and made a birthday cake in my solar oven.

1 comment: said...

Hey Kristy,

Long time no talk, send me an email some time, I am in the Peace Corps as well in Albania! The Servant Event lives on! Ben Stoltenberg