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.