Thursday, April 8, 2010

Boys in the Bush

Yesterday was the start of the circumcision ceremony in Bambali. I was invited to come out into the bush in the morning to where the young boys were gathered. When I arrived, they were all sitting on small stones under a mango tree with their pants off. They had been circumcized a few hours before i arrived and were trying to maintain their composure in front of the village elders. There were 26 boys ranging from around 6 years all the way up to 14. The procedure was done with a single knife and no anesthetic. Some cried while others held face. After a few hours their wounds were tied up with cloth and they were fed and dressed in womens clothing (wrap skirts and veils) and marched through the bush while the men sang the traditional right of passage songs. We stopped beneath a different mango tree and waited for what everyone knew was coming: the kankurang. Dressed in red and orange grasses and weilding two matchetes, the kankurang is believed to possess supernatural powers and will protect the boys from evil spirits during their time in the bush, usually around one month. They will be taught the history and customs of their village and the tenants of non-verbal communication with elders. They will also be taught traditonal Mandinka songs and learn what is expected of them as men. Upon returning they will be accepted as men and expected to behave as such. Women are not allowed to see the boys for the duration of the ceremony and the same is true for the female version of this ceremony. The kankurang will come into the village a few times a day and chase people into their homes. If you are caught outside you risk being beaten with matchetes, though this applies more to the women as the men are given more freedom as long as they don't approach the kankurang. Women must run into the house at the first sight of it. While there is a danger to it, most people enjoy the kankurang as it lets out high pitched screams and bangs matchetes together late into the night....

Monday, March 22, 2010

Famoo Keta (Its been awhile)

Sorry everone, I haven't posted in awhile because I haven't really left village in awhile. I've been integrating and working on my language mostly. I teach at the primary school once in awhile and hold study sessions at my compound for the school children at night, mostly English lessons. I've also been involved with the community garden, starting tomato, ocra, and sorrel plots. The garden is absolutely beautiful with lots of women growing eveything from bananas to hot peppers, but its hard work: theres only one open well with a pulley system and the water table is about 100 feet down, so to water you bed you have to pull 10-20 five-gallon buckets of water up by pulley, but still they do it every day. Yesterday was a cool day: me and some of the guys ate monkey meat and onions cooked in oil in the afternoon, then I went and drank tea with some of the married women and we ended up dancing and singing Mandinka songs, then to cool off me and my friend Buba went to the river for a swim. We swam to the mangrove swamp and climbed high into a Mangrove tree and chilled out for awhile before plummeting back in from about 20 feet. The people in Bambali are very friendly, and being the only Toubab (white person), I'm always offered food and tea and invited to every compound to chat and dance. It can get exhausting at times but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Life in village is hard though. We had a woman in our compound die a few weeks back and no one knows why. Another woman lost her child during delivery, and theres too many infections and ailments to count. Because life is so haed the people depend 100 percent on the community for survival. Sharing is a way of life and private property only applies to cows, chickens, goats, and sheep. Whenever someone harvests their rice or cous or peanut fields, they give one tenth to what Mandinkas call Jakoo (a village level charity). When a particular family is struggling someone will bring the the rice or cous or peanuts in the middle of the night and leave it by the door so its there when they wake up. Also when a family cooks they set some aside to give to other compounds and the other compounds do the same. They may not have much in terms of money or material, but we could certainly learn a lesson from them in hospitality and kindness to neighbors...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Back in Village

Hi everyone! I'm been back in village for a week now but came to Farafeni for the weekend. Its a bigger town with an internet cafe and cold sodas. My host father lives here with his second wife so I always have a place to stay if I need it. There are other volunteers in the region and we want to meet up here in Farafeni a couple times a month. There's a bar here and a huge open market that goes late into the night. It's really beautiful at dark because all the little shops and food stands are lit up by kerosine lanterns and then the dust settles down and it looks like fog. We checked out a Gambian brothel the other night which was easily the seediest l've place I've ever. I need to buy a table at the market today and hop on the bush taxi home before dark. This has been easily the coolest week of my life, meeting all kinds of new people and learning about my village. I didn't speak English for a week. There was a naming ceremony and they named the little boy after me (Bubaccar). I also walked to the rice fields where the women work long hours. Its about 2km from village on a rough path and they walk back with huge loads of rice on their heads. Other women go to the abandoned refuee camp to use the pump their to wash clothes. It's an eerie place all delapidated and over grown with tall grass. My village health worker used to teach an adult literacy class in Mandinak but had to stop after the money dried up. I would like to get that going again...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Swear In

Yesterday we were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers in a really nice ceremony at the ambassadors house right on the beach. We all bought the same fabric and had clothes made at our local tailors. The whole event was broadcast on Gambian national television and was quite the spectacle. The next two days are free days in the capital for us to do all our shopping and preparation before we go to village for good. The city is nice because there is cold beer and cheeseburgers, but I'm ready to head back to village and begin integrating...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Kombo Update


We are now in the Kombo area for swear in on Friday and are staying at the Peace Corps transit house. Kombo is the name for the metropolitan area surrounding the capital, Banjul, and encompasses the coastal cities. It is the only place in country where you can get cold gatorade, ice cream, and pizza. Not surprisingly, after two months in rural villages eating rice and drinking well water, a cold drink goes a long way. Today we had our final assessment and will be sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers in two days. After our assessment, me and a couple other volunteers headed to the beach for some amazing body surfing and sun. The beach is spectacular and the waves are huge, upwards of ten feet right off shore. The weather is perfect right now, in the 90s during the day and not too humid. In a few months it is supposed to reach 125 degrees daily. I had a crazy encounter with local wildlife a few weeks back. I was walking in the bush in the evening to get some alone time and happened upon what I thought were monkeys. I decided to follow them through the bush to get a closer look. All of a sudden I had stumbled upon about 30 baboons and they all started screaming and going nuts. I was all alone and far from help. A large male came out in front of me and began posturing as if to charge. I just backed my way out and was followed for awhile but managed to get back to village before dark. It was scary but exhilarating. After swear in I will begin shopping for home furnishings and anything I may need in village. It's all very exciting....

Monday, January 4, 2010

First Week in Bambali

Hello Everyone!
I've decided to start a blog of my time here in The Gambia as it is the easiest way to communicate. The title is a Mandinka phrase loosely meaning "There is nothing like love". We are almost finished training and I will be moving to my permanent site in a little over a week. It's a village right on the river called Bambali. I spent last week there living with my family and meeting with the village chief, traditional birth attendant, village health worker, imam, and others. There are roughly 1,500 residents, all Muslim, making it fairly large as far as villages go. The primary means of subsistence are fishing and rice farming. There is no electricity or running water and every family lives day to day on what they can grow and the little money they may be able to generate. My home is a two room row house made of mud brick with corrugate roofing. My backyard fence hasn't been built yet so everyone can see my pit-latrine during the day. All my water I fetch from a well and use for taking bucket baths and drinking. I have four moms, seven brothers, and one sister, and our family is fairly small by Gambian standards. All the men work in cities, so I am now the resident man in the family. During the day, my moms sweep the compound, wash clothes and dishes, pound rice and millet, cook meals, and brew ataaya (black tea). From the village there is a beautiful path down to the riverside flanked by rice fields dotted with palm trees. During the day, the women go to the river side and wash clothes while the fisherman prepare to push off in their dugout canoes. There is a lower basic school (grades 1-6) but it has low attendance and is generally lacking, though the teachers are great. The nearest health center is 10 kilometers away through rough bush and is difficult for villagers to get to. I am learning Mandinka quicker than expected and can't wait to be communicating fluidly. I will try to blog consistently, but the closest internet is a few hours away and only works sometimes. I can't even begin to do this justice, its has been mind blowing on a daily basis and Gambians are very warm people. At night there is usually singing, dancing, prayer, and ataaya. The world is a magical place...