Wednesday, 30 November 2011

lulu part 2

Side note: I'm trying to keep my posts shorter and hopefully interesting so I wanted to break this one up into two.

On the cultural side of things, I've been also getting more accustomed to village life and am always learning new things.

Gambian weddings:  Still figuring out all the different traditions of the Mandinka, but I went to a 'family' wedding in Brikama (near the coast, not near my village), where the bride was moving to the husband's compound.  They were both decked out, and a lot of people were around eating a lot of food. I thought that there was going to be some dancing, but there wasn't.  So far, I like American weddings better.   The actual 'wedding' is a separate ceremony than the moving of the bride to the husband's compound.  I experienced this in my village as well.  My host 'sister' (may actually be cousin), Koota's husband would come visit in the evenings one week. I was confused as to why she still lived on my compound but they referred to him as her husband.  A few weeks later, I stayed up late for the moving process.  A lot of prayers were said on my compound, we crammed onto a gelly and went to his compound, and a lot more prayers were said and then we ate.  This time, there was some dancing... and my host moms can rock it!  However, it was less of an ordeal because it was her second wedding, and I think she is his second wife (yes as in co-wives).  I also later learned that Mariama, a young girl that lives on my compound is her daughter from the first marriage, but she still lives with us in Wurokang.  To sum it up, Family is the center of Gambian life, but keeping track of the family tree is quite complicated.

Tobaski:  I also recently celebrated a Muslim holiday, Tobaski, which celebrates Abraham's sacrifice of Ishmael. Thus, rams are slaughtered across the country and people PIG OUT.  I have lots of good pictures that are to come, with better explanations.  I enjoyed eating a lot of meat, experiencing a muslim prayer complete with covered head, and Gambian family time.


The phrase may be slowly, slowly but the past two months at site have gone quickly and I can't believe it has already been five (lulu) months in The Gambia.  At the same time, it seems that things move slowly; but, as always, such is life sometimes.  At my schools, I have gotten into the swing of things at work. I spend my time doing teacher observations and have started to co-teach and model lessons for teachers.  I have also learned to go with the flow and not count on the plan. Take Kwinella Lower Basic, where, at the beginning I thought I would be doing a lot of work in the Library teaching classes with the help of the Gambian teachers.  I spent a lot of time the first few weeks reorganizing the library so that the books were properly leveled.  I also wanted to get random sets of old American/British math textbooks off of the shelves and the children's books that were still in boxes onto the shelves so I spent a lot of time doing that.  In true Gambian fashion, the Librarian came back from a training and wanted the Math books back on the shelf.  I let him takeover, as he is employed by a different organization that supports development, and I didn't want to start off on the wrong foot.

My new goal is to work with the teachers that seek out my help. The 5th grade teacher is one example, he knows that reading is a problem and so I am going to focus on helping him with reading instruction.  I wish I were an expert, because it is going to be a challenge.  First step is attitude, and I make the students repeat the mantra "We are going to be the best readers".

Friday, 30 September 2011

domanding, domanding, part fula

Slowly, slowly: The forced motto here in The Gambia.  The past month has gone by no less than slowly, slowly.  The open date of school was pushed back for teacher training, so I had a month of waiting.  Due to the amount of time on my hands, I had goals of fetching my own water, hand washing my own clothes, and maybe even cooking my own meals.  The plan was first foiled when my kind host family brought me every meal before I even had the chance to cook it myself, and most of it tastes delicious.  A few weeks later, my host sisters saw me fetching my water for laundry and insisted that I bring them my clothes. I decided I would try to learn a better technique from them and then become independent in this venture again.  As they were doing it, I tried to help, but they mostly laughed and didn’t let me do it.  I was sold when I saw them take my brown t-shirt (from the dirt) and turn it white again. They are incredible, Tide could use them in their advertising.  I still fetch my own water, but I’ll sometimes have them help me instead of taking multiple trips.

When I wasn’t trying to be an independent, strong African woman, I filled my time with reading, running, practicing my Mandinka, and trying to help out with one of the everyday tasks of my family.  One morning, I went to the rice fields with my African sisters, and again…they found me hilarious. Not me, more my inability to distinguish rice from weeds.  I also try to help pound rice or coos into a powder that they use for breakfast porridge, but they usually only let me do it for a few seconds. Again, they are incredibly strong.

Eventually, the first week of school came.  On Monday (9/26), I went to the Kwinella Lower Basic School (grade 1-6) for my first day there.  It was overwhelmingly chaotic.  Teachers had just received their postings, and only 9 out of 15 teachers were there.  The head teacher at the school was as on it as he could be, given the disorganization that begins from the Ministry.  School starts at 8:20, but for the first hour and a half the students were on the field while my head teacher, Mr. Jarju, organized things, stressed out, and then spoke with the teachers and I.  While it would have been nice if that could have been done ahead of time, he did give encouraging words to the teachers.  He commented that people ask why he lets the best teachers leave (and that’s not up to him, the ministry does all the postings) and he said that ‘the best teachers leave and the best teachers come’ and that we are here for the students.  His attitude is encouraging.

The next day, I went to Wurokang Nursery School (Nursery-grade 3) to meet the teachers there, knowing that things would probably be in a similar state.  The school used to be an annex to KLBS, and also under the supervision of Mr. Jarju. However, it was just decided that it would be an independent school. The only teachers that were there was the brand new head teacher and one other.  This was his first year as head teacher and he was extremely overwhelmed. He told me to ‘keep students busy’ and I did some mini lessons best I could, but it was frustrating to be the only person in any of the classrooms, especially since most students did not understand any of my English, or even the small amount of Mandinka I tried.

At least, now I have some goals and ideas in mind.  I will have to continue to ease in and then decide which ones are going to work best.

Friday, 19 August 2011

m baroo.

Today, as a training group, we completed a 15 mile walk/hike through rice fields, mangrove swamps, and a small forest.  Even though I have ran a distance close to this before, my legs still feel like jello (Sorry I'm so out of shape, Mom).  Much of the terrain was muddy and I ended up carrying my teva sandals most of the way.  We were often knee deep in water/plants/mud which made walking quite tiresome as my feet sunk further in with each step.   At one point we had the choice to swim through a deep salt water swamp or walk around it.  I went with the swimming group, and briefly raced (and beat) fellow trainees.  At the end of the day, our tired, scratched up legs were met with a change of dry clothes and a wonderful dinner at Makasutu, a gorgeous river lodge retreat on one of the tributary rivers.

The long day was an amazing way to celebrate that training is almost over, and has definitely been my favorite in Africa so far.  It's hard to believe I almost get to start working.  My schedule for the next few weeks is as follows:  8/20 and 8/21 I will be in my training village, Madianna, for more training sessions and to spend time with my host family, then 8/22-8/25 I will be visiting my permanent site of Wurokang, and will also spend some time where I will be working, in Kwinella.  After this site visit, we return to "Kombo", the main city, or where the Transit House and Office are, for sessions and to prepare for swearing in.  After a few days there, I will visit my training village family in Madianna for Koriteh, the end of Ramadan celebration and then travel back to the transit house.  September 2nd is the day I officially swear in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and commit, again, to two years of service.  After we swear in, we shop for things for our new homes, with the help of our LCFs (language and cultural facilitators), and then move into site a few days later!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Mune ke ta?

Mune ke ta?

That is my favorite question here (what’s up?) mostly because I know the answer (hanifen-nothing).  Other favorite line: Ami, I be sirring. Ha mbe sirring.  Ami, you are sitting, Yes, I am sitting.

The following is a collection of random anecdotes that have been happening over the past few weeks.

JENGA:  My parents sent Jenga in a package and I showed it to my host family.  Ever since, they have wanted to play EVERY night.  I imagine this is how my cousins felt when I always wanted to play capture the flag… It’s a trade off though:  Every time we play, I ask my new family member Binta (staying for Ramadan) to braid my hair.  I think she’s getting tired of it… but you better believe me that every time we play Jenga, I will have my hair braided.   I also will not be introducing Jenga to my permanent host family right away.

Bike Riding News:  Kudos, Mom & Dad for teaching us to ride bikes, because it’s hard! Binta wanted me to teach her, and after our first brief lesson today, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to.  On a separate occasion, I noted that cows are scary to bike through, even though they are quite possibly the calmest animals out there.

Other news in animal Hazards: I was sitting calmly one evening with my host family when a chicken landed on my back and immediately flew away.   At this point I feel that it must sound like I’m living on a crazy farm, not in Africa.

On Being Different:  While here, I’ve tried to spend free time doing things that make me happy:  Biking to the internet, going on runs, eating my M&Ms, which, FYI, do make it safe & sound in care packages, and playing with children.  There is one two year old in my host family who at first let me hold her anytime, even though she showed no emotion whatsoever.  One day I even got her to laugh, which was the best!  However, out of nowhere, she has begun being terrified of me, much like small children fear Santa at the mall.   Since then, her fear has been off and on, I’ve even gotten to hold her once, but mostly she runs away.  Her reaction breaks my heart every time, but I am starting to get used to it.  I guess I shouldn’t have put so much hope in a two year old that has never seen a white person before.   I feel your pain, Santa.

Life in the Kitchen:  Tonight (8/6) I offered to help peel ‘naambo,’ an unidentified potato-like vegetable with a mighty thick skin.   My host mother found my first few failed attempts quite hilarious. Mind you, we were cutting in the dark with no cutting board, just knife, veggie and air.  She then decided she would give me the almost peeled parts, and I would finish them, meanwhile she had done two more.   Eventually, I graduated to doing some of them completely solo.  Proud of myself? You better believe it. 

Dinner:  By now, I eat most dinners with my host family but out of my own bowl.  However, sometimes I hide in my house so that I can eat with my left hand.   Culture note:  toilet paper is not used, people wash themselves instead, with only the left hand. Therefore, it is taboo to eat left-handed.  Unfortunate to be a lefty at meal-time.

Karan bugo

These past few weeks I have been spending a lot of time at ‘karanbungo’ or, direct translation ‘learning house’.   Our ‘classes’ include extensive sessions on medical awareness and prevention, safety and security, education in The Gambia, as well as many language sessions. 

My favorite sessions are learning about the education system in the country, because it reminds me why I am here.   To say the American Education system has flaws would be an understatement, but that is another topic entirely.  Comparatively, as a future American educator, I will (hopefully) never complain again about lack of resources among other issues that will be faced.  Don’t quote me on that, as it is easier to say from outside the system than within it.

Fast Facts About Education in The Gambia:
  • The official language of the schools is English.  However, I’ve heard that even many teachers need help in their English.
  • Averaging two years, only approximately 18% of 3rd and 5th graders passed their English exams.
  • There is one teacher-training program at the Gambia College, with a lot of applicants and limited space.  The program is free for students that have passed their 12th grade English and math exams, and they are expected to serve in the public schools for 3-4 years after.  Graduates of the program are ‘sent’, or assigned to their posts.  That means many have to travel far away from their families and homes and go to a new community, which may even speak a different native language, without any choice. Some teachers find private school jobs on their own, which isn’t fair to the government that has invested in their education/training program. 
  • Not all teachers at the schools have gone through the training program, and many schools have a significant amount of untrained teachers.
  • The government subsidizes’ girls’ education fees in order to promote girl’s education.  Girls still have to be able to purchase their uniform in order to go to school.

I don’t yet know the backgrounds of the teachers I will be working with, but I hope they are receptive to learning new skills or developing their current skills.  

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Mbe sabatiring Kwinella.

Translation: I am residing in Kwinella.  More accurately, starting in September, I will be living in the village Wurokong and working 2 km away in Kwinella, at the Lower Basic School, a school for grades 1-8.   In Wurokong, I will also be working in the nursery extension school (equivalent to pre-school/kindergarten) affiliated with the LB School in Kwinella.   The villages are in biking distance to the river, but 3-4 hours inland of the main, though not quite metropolitan area.  From what I can tell based on my semi-reliable map skills, the village is near Kiang National Park, and I’m definitely pumped to try to get some outdoor adventure in my life again!  Wurokong also used to be a PC training village, and there is a place called Tendaba Camp, where I can possibly take a staycation and swim in a swimming pool if I desire; pending how well I do at making friends with the staff…

I am extremely grateful to have found out where I will be working. It has put new perspective into why I am here and reinstalled motivation to keep working on my language skills as well as other skills throughout training.  I can’t wait for site visit, where I will stay in the village and get acquainted before moving in permanently.

Until next time, Kayira doron (peace only)!

Monday, 4 July 2011

ndanka, ndanka. domanding, domanding.

Slowly, slowly:  My first lesson from the Gambians and one of their favorite phrases.  Greetings are a major part of the culture here, and it is rude to not even take the time to say ‘salaam aleikum / peace be with you,’ even to strangers.  We have begun to learn these extensive greetings, and it gets extremely confusing!  One common question in the greeting conversation is “How is the work?” and the answer is typically “I am on it slowly, slowly”.  The pace of life is much slower and I am about to move into a village and begin to experience this firsthand.  While in this training village, Madianna, I will be expected to make a connection with locals as well as achieve midlevel proficiency in Mandinka; often learning many variations of the same phrase.  Learning language is always a struggle for me, but I have to remember that it will come slowly, slowly.
I move to Madianna this Wednesday, and Sunday I will have a ‘welcoming ceremony’, which is an adaptation of the naming ceremony for newborns ~ I will be given my first African outfit (to borrow) and my own African name!  During this training period, I most likely won’t have internet so I wanted to update you all on what is to come.  After 8 weeks of intensive language and culture training, all of us trainees will go on a muddy marathon march, a long hike across our new home for the next two years.  I can’t wait to hike and get muddy!!!  Finally, once all that is finished, we get to swear in and make our official commitment as volunteers.  We all wear matching African outfits and swear in at the President’s home/Statehouse in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps.  Until next time, salaam aleikum!

Friday, 1 July 2011

First Thoughts

First thing, I’m going to admit that I have an anti-blog bone in my body but after talking to several people, decided to ‘turn over a new leaf’, ‘flip the page’, ‘change my tude’…and all that.  I decided to start this blog as an easy way to share stories, thoughts, and adventures with anyone who may be interested.   Throughout service, I will try to update with interesting posts.   Staging in Chicago already seems like years ago even though I have been here for only a couple of days.   The first day was overwhelming, but it was great to meet everyone with the same thoughts, fears, and aspirations as myself.  
         After a long day of travel, we arrived at the Peace Corps transit house and were able to just relax and go to sleep, which was much needed.   During these first days of training, we’ve been learning more about health, safety and all those tools we will need during service.  As for now, that’s all I’ve got to say about that.