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Typed Saturday, April 12, 2009:

As I type this, I am sitting in an undisclosed location, currently in hiding from most of the people I know in the US.

By the time you read this post, the surprise will be out, so let's call this a play-by-play of how it happened.

You know how my Peace Corps service was officially supposed to end next week?  Well....  I got official permission from Peace Corps to let me be home for Easter on "religious grounds."

I just elected not to share the news. :)

And so, the plan was set to surprise my family (and most of you reading this) on Easter Sunday!  Please pardon the little white lies and trickery of the last several months, but with any luck, it'll be worth it to see the looks on their faces!

I arrived in the US on Wednesday the 8th, almost a week sooner than most people expected.  Stephen's fiancee Chelsea met me at the airport and then whisked me to her apartment for the next couple days.  A few hours after she picked me up, Stephen and Chelsea went to a movie in her car.  Stephen actually looked at the gas gauge and asked, "WHERE did you DRIVE today?!?!  Your gas has half emptied since we were in this car a few days ago!"  Chelsea feigned shock, and the issue was dropped.  We later rolled our eyes together at Stephen's near-thwart of our surprise.

To pass the time, I watched movies while Chelsea was at class, had a pedicure (needed the residual dirt and calluses of Africa off my feet!), and we did some shopping.  Fortunately, my body was still on Africa time, so I'd wake up between 1 and 3 am each morning (7 or 9 am Gambia time) and email my parents at the time they would expect to see stamped on my emails, since I habitually checked my email first thing each morning in Kombo.

I called Mom & Dad's pastor to finalize our plans.  (The first time I called, I had to hang up shortly thereafter as Chelsea had an incoming call which turned out to be an offer to interview for a job.  This comes up later.)  He'd asked them to do things in the service, which would ensure they were there, and he would ask them to the front of the sanctuary to announce he had a surprise for them.  The hard part was sneaking me into the church without anyone seeing.  Too early and they'd have no place to hide me.  Too late after the service started and I'd miss my cue.

Chelsea told me Mom had made brunch reservations for the four of them.  Luckily, Mom's on Facebook now and happened to mention it there.  I posted a surprised note wondering why and where they were going for brunch.  Ka-ching.  Pappy's Corner Pub.  Promptly called Pappy's and changed the reservation from 4 people to 5, while also finding out what time the reservation is.

Emailed my cousin Wendy to tell her that, despite what my parents had said, we might be dropping in on the extended Hoffman family Easter dinner after all, following brunch, if only to see people.

On Friday, it was time to give Chelsea a break from covering up for me, so she drove me to meet Karen halfway.  Karen then drove me to Fort Collins, where I stayed crouched low in the seat once within 3 miles of my house, lest we coincidentally pull up next to my parents.  We arrived at Claire's house, not a mile from mine, which became my new hiding spot.

Woke up again at 1 am and was able to do my email and blog post at the correct time, but then had to be back up in time for an 8 am video chat with my parents.  We'd had several video chats before, when I was in Kombo and could get to the one decent internet cafe, so I needed to set things up to resemble the cafe.  Internet service in Claire's house is limited to the kitchen, which severely limited my location options, but I found that if I sat on the floor and put the laptop up on a chair in front of me (so that you couldn't tell I was sitting on the floor), the dark green wood paneling that goes up to waist height would sufficiently resemble the dark walls of the internet cafe.  Fortunately, her internet had issues and froze up occasionally, just like they would have expected African internet to do.  I made sure the room was dimly lit and that Claire had a heads-up not to shout anything at me.  The unexpected problem, however, was that, since I was last here a year ago, Claire and her roommate have acquired a big black lab with a bark that shakes the foundation.  I could not a) have Xander walk in front of the camera or b) have Xander let out a bark.  So we put Xander in his crate in anticipation of the chat, covered the door with a blanket (to minimize the stimuli he might see), and opened the front door so that I could see if someone showed up and catch them before they rang the doorbell.  My back-up plan, if Xander barked or the doorbell rang, was to shut the chat down suddenly and feign technical issues.  Who knows whether it would've been convincing, but fortunately it never came to that.

The chat was funny, making plans for my flight and what food I wanted brought to the airport.  But I had to smile when Mom and Dad gave me the exciting news of Chelsea's job interview...  The call that came while I was holding the phone! :-D

Later on Saturday, I called Chelsea to let her know that, while I knew she'd been planning to wear the earrings and necklace I gave her from Gambia to church, she'd need to put the necklace in her purse and not put it on until after the surprise.  Why?  Because I remembered that a few of the necklace beads are made of fish vertebrae, a distinctly Gambian touch that my family would have recognized.  The rest of the jewelry looks African, but could easily be faked.  The fish vertebrae would have blown our cover.  Another crisis averted.

Next up was to let Chelsea and Pastor Dan know which number to reach me on in the morning, to perfectly time when I walked into church and avoid accidental run-ins.  Karen came over to Claire's and brought me Subway (I'd already done Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Noodles & Company, and Pizza Hut) and we caught up.

 

Typed Monday, April 13, 2009:

Sunday morning, after breakfast burritos and fruit salad (courtesy of Anna, Claire’s roommate), I put on my fanciest Gambian outfit, and Claire drove me to Mountain Range Church.  We timed our arrival in the parking lot for just after the service would have started at 10 am.  I hid low in the passenger seat and we awaited the call saying it was safe to come in.

Just then, we got a text message from Chelsea—she and Stephen were running late and hadn’t yet pulled into the parking lot.  We were in trouble—Stephen would have recognized Claire!  We quickly pulled out of the parking lot, barely missing them.  (Chelsea said she saw us leave.)  We pulled onto a nearby neighborhood street until Chelsea texted that they were parking.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long, or we might have missed our cue.

We pulled back up at the church just in time to see Stephen and Chelsea walk in the door.  Claire parked and I resumed my hidden position slouched down in the passenger seat.  We were just in time—not five minutes later, we got the call that it was safe for me to come in.  The church secretary, DJ, and Pastor Dan’s wife, Linda, were a coordinated team to rush me in the door and straight to the women’s restroom to hide out for a few more seconds.

Then, it was time, and DJ ushered me to the side door of the sanctuary, and I walked in.

Pastor Dan was standing facing the congregation, with Mom and Dad on his left and Stephen and Chelsea on his right.  As it turned out, Stephen and Chelsea were positioned slightly facing me, so Stephen’s eyes bugged out almost immediately, but he stayed silent.  As I walked toward Mom and Dad, who had their backs to me, Pastor Dan talked about how Easter is a time for surprises and answered prayers, and that something they were looking forward was going to happen a little sooner than they thought.

Mom & Dad were so focused on the pastor that they didn’t notice I’d walked up and was standing just behind them.  After Pastor Dan finally motioned for them to look behind them, Mom turned around.

“OH MY GOSH!!!!!!!!!!”  She started crying and grabbed me, and hugged me so long I began to feel bad for Dad, who was standing there waiting his turn.  Dad was teary and, while Mom was quite vocal, he was speechless.  They immediately harassed Stephen for helping me, and were quite surprised to learn that my co-conspirator was NOT my brother, but his fiancée!  I went to high-five Chelsea, but apparently got a little too enthusiastic and almost fell over.  Mildly embarrassing.

Once things calmed down a bit, I was given a chance to thank the church for their support and help, both with Peace Corps and this surprise, and Dad was given a chance to respond, but it took him a while to say anything.

The rest of the morning (especially at brunch) was spent straightening out things I’d told them.  Things like no, my phone wasn’t stolen—just couldn’t have you call after I left Gambia last Tuesday! :)

So, with Julie checking my email and Facebook (to delete messages from PCVs blurting things like “HEY HOW’S AMERICA??” *ahem that’s you Croc Kate :)*); Mike T setting up a secret email account that I could plan surprises through (since my Mom has checked my normal email account for me for two years); Chelsea, Karen, Claire & Anna providing rides and lodging, and Pastor Dan coordinating the surprise, we pulled it off!

Thanks for all the help!

Current Location:
America--seriously!!
Current Mood:
mischievous mischievous
Current Music:
mp3s on my new AMERICAN cell phone
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First of all, click here for new pics!
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During my two years in Africa, with minimal supervision and only a mildly annoying amount of paperwork, I've apparently forgotten that, as a branch of the US government, the Peace Corps must kill the forests of small nations with the paperwork hoops you have to jump through.
The application process was a long, ridiculous series of forms with numbers like 423-5C instead of names ("Doctor's Exam"), followed by follow-up forms with occasionally absurd questions.  "Why didn't you tell us you had a thyroid imbalance?  We're putting your medical clearance on hold."  "Um, I didn't tell you about my thyroid imbalance because I don't HAVE one."
Leaving the PC is a similar process.  You're given a book with sections for nearly every staff member in the office to sign.  It looks easy enough, but that's a trap designed to draw you in and make you think PC actually WANTS you to return to America.  The reality looks more like this:
- Try to pick up the check for 1/3 of my resettlement allowance from Juliana.  (The other 2/3 comes in the mail after you return to the US.)  Am told I'm not allowed to do that until I've settled up financial stuff with Peace Corps
- Pick up a form from Juliana that says how much money PC owes me and a form from Fatou that says how much money I owe Peace Corps.
- Go to the cashier to try to settle up, then get her signature on the appropriate line
- Cashier tells me that the form I got from Fatou has to first be taken to Juliana to be put into the system (the first form was a typed document, too--apparently just not typed in the right format)
- Go to Juliana to get the form put into the system
- Juliana passes the form to Yaya to put in the system
- Wait for Yaya to have a chance to put it in the system
- Yaya finishes the form, but by that time (10 am-ish), Patti, who has to sign off on the form, has stepped out to meet with or show around (not sure) the new British woman on staff
- Go back to the transit house to do other things, as I am now in a deadlock until Patti returns
- Return to the office around 2 pm, haunt Yaya, who tells me that Patti is still not back
- Pester Yaya several more times, finally find out around 3:45 that Patti is back
- By 4:00, Yaya is able to get the form signed by Patti
- Return to the cashier's office to turn in the forms and finally settle up
- Cashier's office is closed.  Oh yeah.  The cashier only works til 3.
- National holiday declared the next day.  Stake out the office anyway, trying to catch any PC staff member who decides to drop by work for an hour.  End up spending 7 hours on the couch by the front door, first waiting for Juliana (who I pressure into giving me the check, b/c my financial stuff is mostly done and who knows how many more holidays there will be before I leave) and then for the country director, with whom I'm supposed to meet at noon but who forgets and thinks it was 1 pm.  Am unable to leave said couch except for rushed trips to the bathroom 2 feet away.  Desperately hungry but can't go get food, less I miss someone.  Fellow volunteer finally takes pity on me and goes to buy me food.
- Run into Patti, too, and express worry about getting all the appropriate signatures and forms done with all the holiday declaring going on.  Patti is helpful in coming up with a back-up plan, but then tells me, "that's why I tell people they should really come in and start on the whole process as soon as you get to Kombo."  Silently seethe inside and don't mention that I could have finished everything I'm stressing about if she hadn't been out of the office for 6 hours the previous day.  DO mention that I arrived in Kombo Tuesday night and then spent nearly all of Wednesday and Thursday AT the office, running up and down the two flights of stairs.
Current Mood:
determined determined
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When I sat down to watch the movie Bolt yesterday, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I'd never heard of the movie before seeing it.  Had I, I might have guessed that the plot goes something like this:

- Girl has super bond with dog, who thinks he's a superhero created to protect the girl
- Dog takes himself too seriously and is overprotective
- Girl and dog get separated
- Girl sad
- Dog wants to find his "person," but in the meantime, is learning how to be a normal dog.  This includes learning how to play with dog toys, befriending other animals, riding with his head out the window, and living in a regular house, none of which he'd done before.
- Dog doesn't understand why he was separated from his person and begins to wonder if she really loved him
- Dog and his person are dramatically reunited, girl decides to give dog a more normal life from now on

Does any of this sound like someone you know?

This is not a good movie to watch if you've been in a situation where your safety and mental health hinged on your overprotective dog for two years but now you're separated and your dog is off learning how to be a normal dog.

Let me just say, it's embarrassing to cry while watching a Disney cartoon.  Especially in the first five minutes.

Current Mood:
embarrassed embarrassed
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It's frightening how often my blog entries seem to need an introduction of "I swear, I am not making this up."

On that note, I swear I am not making this up:
I have one pair of tennis shoes that I brought to The Gambia with me two years ago.  As it turns out, PCVs here live in flip-flops, the $1 pair you can buy anywhere in the village, and just throw away when they're worn down.  So my tennis shoes have sat basically unused except when I was flying somewhere (England, home, Senegal) or when I was playing softball at WAIST in February.
Kombo is a little more tolerable temperature-wise than my site, though, so yesterday, I decided to don tennis shoes.
The following is a blow-by-blow account:
Me *talking to the other Beth, picks shoe up and gets a whiff of it*: Whoa!
Beth J: What?
Me *picks shoe up and smells it gingerly*
Beth J: What are you doing?
Me: It smells bad!
Beth J: So why are you smelling it?
Me: I'm trying to figure out what the deal is... *begins examining the shoe*
Beth J *jokes*: What, something died in there?
Me *pulls shoe open and looks inside*: A MOUSE!!! A MOUSE DIED IN THERE!  AAAA!  GROSS!
Beth J: Wait, you're serious?
Me: Yes!  It died in there and it's been decomposing since then!  EW!
I then had to extract said decomposing mouse from my shoe, and after seeing how many bits of decomposed mouse were left even after I'd pulled the body out, I realized two things:
a) There was no way I could get my shoe clean enough (not to mention deodorized enough) to wear again, without a washing machine, something I haven't used in two years except when traveling outside Gambia
b) I'm not sure even a machine could've saved that shoe.  Remember, the most recent time I can vouch for that shoe NOT having a dead mouse was two months ago!

This left me with no choice but to throw my tennis shoes away.  End result?  I'll be flying through freezing cold (to me) New York and Denver wearing flip-flops.
I'm going to freeze.
Current Mood:
worried wary of hidden hazards
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I woke up before 6 am today, and couldn't sleep, so I decided I'd just come to the PC office for a while.
Waking up that early wasn't ALL bad, though.
Why?
Because I got to buy some of Jammeh's bread.  Jammeh's Gambia's president of 13 years or something now.  Or, "Dr. J," as I heard someone refer to him the other day.
Why, you ask, did I buy bread from the president?
Because a few months back, a bread bakery opened on Kairaba, one of the main roads in Kombo and the place with the highest real estate values in the country (so I've heard).  Apparently, the big guy himself owns it.
It took me a long time to realize it was a bakery.  The lines were always so long and the front door so jam-packed that I used to think they played football games on a TV there.
Turns out, people just think the bread is so amazing (because it's Jammeh's bread or because they really like the recipe, I don't know) that they're willing to stand in long lines in the hot sun to buy a 20 cent loaf of bread (shaped like a small baguette).
Anyway, as it happens, the bakery is open and not crowded at 6 am.  So after walking by that ridiculous line dozens of time, I was able to stroll in when no one was around and easily buy a loaf.  It's good, but it's not that good.  It's basically just regular French bread.
But then, I suppose eating a loaf of Jammeh's bread is one of those things every PCV should do before leaving the Gambia.  Right up there with being waved at by the president in his passing motorcade (been there) or even meeting the big guy himself (done that).  So, I guess that means I can go home like, today, right?

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^Sometimes I do this when I don't have a good transition and have overused "Anyway" and "In other news."

When you COS (Close Of Service), as part of the medical clearing process, you are allowed to photocopy and take any part of your PC medical record you wish.  Incidentally, this is also the first chance you get to actually see firsthand what was written about you.

It was quite the experience reading what's been written about me.  The best entry was when they were looking to switch me off of the malaria prevention med that has psychological side effects.  They were trying to determine how badly the meds were screwing with my head, so the entry's full of stuff like:
- "Seems rational"
- "Makes eye contact"
- "Dressed neatly"
- "Started crying"
- "Can converse coherently"

Then I happened to look at the notes for my most recent exam, the COS physical.  Most of the notes were familiar, since she was copying down what I was saying.  But then I got to the very end, where she'd decided to add just ooooooooonnnnee more thing:

"Mild facial acne"

Ouch.

Current Mood:
sleepy sleepy
Current Music:
Songbirds -- it's dawn
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I hereby challenge you all to a Mancala tournament upon my return to the States.
What's Mancala, you ask?
It's that game that everyone's seen but most people don't know how to play:


I learned how to play it about a month ago, and sat there with a few other volunteers who'd gotten equally hooked, wistfully discussing how cool it would be to get a mancala board hand-carved here.
Then yesterday, I was at the Fajara Craft Market (which my parents and I found when they were here) and discovered one.  I like the Fajara Craft Market, because it has mostly the same stuff as the other craft markets here, but is less well known, so people are more pressed to make a sale and I can get much lower prices there.  (A tourist can't, and sometimes when I hear the prices they're bargaining at, I have to resist the impulse to jump in and tell them they're being charged triple.  But hey, it's the price you pay for coming to a country without any grasp of the language or culture.  End soapbox.)
It started at 800 dalasi (over $30), but I got it down to half that.  I'm really excited because Mancala's a great game (easy to learn but lots of strategy), plus the set makes a cool looking souvenir.  I bought the really big one that'd make a cool display piece in the middle of the room or something.  Probably my favorite souvenir from Gambia (and I've bought a lot of them).  It's a good thing I have a bit of wiggle room in my luggage.
So, starting next week, I'm going to teach you all how to play!
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In other news, last night was Peace Corps' third open mic.  I did a couple things, but they had to be a capella as, alas, I've sorta set the guitar aside during my PC service.  (I brought my guitar, but I'd get it out to play when I was feeling stressed out by Gambia, only every time I played my front door would be mobbed, which just stressed me out more.)  It was cool though.  PCV's are, seemingly by definition, a very artsy and musical bunch.  (Intimidatingly so!)  Cass usually reads a poem or two about PC life, and they always make me teary.  In November she read one called "Touch," about how as PCV's we get almost no physical contact and so are constantly wrestling our host siblings for SOME human touch, though it's still not enough.  Last night she read one about how we're leaving the people who understand our stories and what we've gone through the past two years for people who are just going to nod and look at us blankly.  (Nothing personal to people back home!  That's just how it is.)
And finally, as of approximately this week, the new must have fashion item in Kombo iiiiiiisssssss *drumroll please*...........
The propeller hat.
I know, I know, you have that picture in your head of what I mean by propeller hat, but you're telling yourself "that can't be what she means..."  Allow me to clear up the confusion:

Yes.  You are correct.
It's so bad that I was late getting somewhere because I'd gotten in a taxi whose driver decided to interrupt the route to drive in circles trying to go around to different vendors for the best deal on a propeller hat.  I eventually got so mad I yelled at him in Mandinka, got out of the car, and walked the rest of the way, even after the driver pulled back up in his propeller hat and tried to get me back in the car.
I will NOT be bringing home a souvenir propeller hat.  So don't even ask.
Current Location:
Far away from you in space but not in time
Current Mood:
quixotic watching the propellers spin
Current Music:
The traffic of Kairaba Avenue outside the PC office
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Quick!  When was the last time you took a sledgehammer to something?
My answer: Thursday.
Backstory: In Kombo (the urban coastal area), Peace Corps has a transit house, where volunteers can stay while they're in town to go to the PC office or the bank... or the beach.  We call it the stodge.
Inside the stodge's walled compound is a small house in the back.  Currently, that house is being used for a few PCVs working in the Kombo area to live in permanently.
It hasn't previously been used for volunteer housing, so it's only recently been remodeled and brought up to PC housing code.  This means that some of the bugs haven't exactly been worked out.
The house is sort of fortress like, with bars on all the windows and metal doors riveted to the house.  Even the lock is super heavy-duty.  Which wouldn't be a problem if it worked correctly.
As it turns out, there have been occasions where the lock has jammed and people have been locked in the house.  They had to jimmy the lock around quite a bit before getting out.  Not a huge problem, so long as the house isn't, say, on fire.
However, Thursday night, Beth J (the other Beth) tried to get into her locked house and failed.  She called a few other PCVs over for help, and we all took turns jimmying and jiggling and jerking.  No luck.  It was late at night, so we decided not to call the hard-working Gambian PC staff member whose job it is to fix these things.  Instead, we took things into our own hands.
Someone found a hammer, and we decided we were going to just bang the lock out of the door.  One by one, Alicia, Buya (real name Amy, but we all call her by her Gambian name, Buya, pronounced "Boo-yah"... great, huh?), Pete, Beth J and I pounded at the lock -- great stress relief!  Alicia was looking wistfully through the window into the house, where the fridge held her precious stash of Thin Mints cookies.  She was perhaps a little more motivated than the rest of us to get inside...
We continued making progress, having thoroughly mangled the lock and loosened it a bit.  But Buya went for reinforcements and returned with a sledgehammer.  Yes!
It was right about then that Ellie came home and found us destroying her front door.  "Umm, guys...?  I have the key...."
More banging.
Finally, we decided to ask the guards for help.  Gambians are great at inventive solutions to the weirdest situations.  Also, they're stronger than the mostly female group we had.
When they came over and we explained the situation, their first question was, "well do you have the key?"  They (like Ellie, apparently) were pretty sure that these stupid toubabs had lost the key, and decided to bang the door down rather than wait for the spare.  We explained (in both English and Mandinka) that yes, we had the key, but the lock was jammed and the key didn't work, so we were just knocking the lock out of the door.
Still in doubt, the guards asked for the key, which we handed over, then watched as they tried to open the door.  It was difficult to hold back the snickers when one of the guards informed us, "well, the lock is bent.  That's why the key's not working."
Ok, yes, the lock is bent now...
But that's because we've been at it with a sledgehammer for the past half hour, making a ruckus that the guards couldn't possibly not have heard!
So we explained, again, that the lock was bent by our sledgehammer after the key didn't work.  Eventually, we convinced the guards to just start swinging, and they successfully busted the door apart and voila!  We were in!
As for the girls living in the house, they're relieved to have that lock off the door, and are requesting a fire escape be made if PC admin wants to put another industrial strength lock on there.  A wise decision.
Current Mood:
hungry hungry
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I feel differently about Gambia different days.
Today is a "punch Gambia in the face" day.
Why?
Our president is a Jola, that's why.
See, Gambians identify more strongly with their tribe (Mandinka, Wolof, Jola, etc.) than with their nationality as Gambians.  As such, most still fall into predictable stereotypes about their tribe.  The Serahules are businessmen, the Fulas are the most humble (having been everyone else's slaves a few generations back)... and the Jolas?  They like to party.
I don't just mean once in a while.  I mean that Jolas will party it up at the slightest provocation.  So what happens when you put a Jola in the most powerful seat in the country?
He declares national holidays at the drop of a hat.
This is great for Gambians with office jobs, who often find out late at night that they don't have to work the next morning.  It's a problem for anyone who ever wants to accomplish anything.  Peace Corps volunteers are constantly trekking into Basse or Kombo to withdraw their monthly living allowance, only to discover a holiday's been declared so, surprise!  The bank's closed!
This is an especially huge problem if you arrive in Basse or Kombo without enough leftover cash to feed yourself or get back to site.  Because then you're stranded... and hungry.
I once biked all the way to Basse to go to the bank, only to discover that a holiday had been declared because Senegal and Gambia had played each other in a football game and Gambia had... won, you say?  No, no, no, silly...  It was a draw.  So yes.  Our eminent prez shut down the country to celebrate Gambia's draw in a football game.
So back to why I want to punch Gambia in the face today.
Gambia's under-17 team is off somewhere for a football game that was yesterday.  (I don't care enough to know who or where they were playing.)  They actually won, this time, so last night, a national holiday was declared.  It's for today through possibly as long as Sunday.  But then Monday is when they return to Gambia.  The last time this happened, the day the team returned was also declared a holiday.  Oh!  And next Friday through Monday is declared one long holiday for Good Friday through the day after Easter.  (Did I mention this is a Muslim country?)
So, in short, despite the fact that I still have A WEEK AND A HALF left, I have a grand total of THREE DAYS in which to do ALL of my medical checks and Close Of Service paperwork.  Because even the PC office is forced to close for every last ridiculous Gambian holiday.
This is a problem.
And yet... I've been here for two years...  I should've been able to foresee this type of thing by now.
*punches Gambia in the face*
Current Mood:
aggravated slightly violent
Current Music:
quiet--no one in the office since it's a HOLIDAY
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In a miraculous turn of events, the Basse internet cafe is actually working today! This is doubly miraculous, because a) I've been here at least five times this month, sometimes waiting up to 45 minutes, before finding out the internet doesn't feel like cooperating that day, and b) the Basse government powers-that-be have decided they can no longer afford the fuel that powers the generators that produce Basse's intermittent electricity. They have resolved the problem by randomly leaving sections of Basse powerless occasionally. Makes it hard to use a computer...

So anyway, I can't promise that my luck will hold out much longer, so I'll make this quick and give you the highlights of my life right now:

- I'm pretty sure I have worms. The faint-of-heart won't want to know how I know, so I'll skip that part. Let's just say I had to send some interesting "samples" to the PC med unit with the PC mailrun car on Sunday. PC screens and treats all that kind of stuff when you finish service anyway. I probably have schistostomiasis too, which is kinda fun because I remember discussing it as this rarely heard of disease in my college biology courses. I get to go home and be the person who's had every exotic disease ever. If I were a girl scout, I'd have earned my "weird disease" badge several times over. (No, such a badge does not actually exist, to my knowledge.)

- I shipped out half my belongings on mailrun to other volunteers in-country. I sold it all to make a few hundred bucks, which I'll put toward paying back Minty's shipping. So now my house is so empty it practically echoes. I can't help thinking though, that the wide open floor would be great for a dance party.

- I get picked up in a PC car on Monday! That's when I'll say my goodbyes to my host fam, probably crying so much that it'll scare the children and they won't want to hug me. Then Monday night will be in Basse for a farewell party, at which we'll make smoothies with the new PC Basse house blender. That is, if the government deigns to grant us electricity that night.

- By now, due to Gambian gossip circles (the only thing which outdoes the Peace Corps gossip circle), pretty much the entire country knows I shipped my dog to America. The image I've tried to convey is that I put him in a box and shipped him as luggage on top of the plane. (Ask any Gambian where luggage goes--on top of the vehicle!) I make sure to reiterate to them that I did not have to buy him a plane ticket because he's luggage, so no I will not buy you a ticket to America either. And no, he will not die in the box. Yes, I'm sure.

Despite having shipped Minty almost two months ago, most people seem to envision him still floating out in the middle of the Atlantic on a boat, being smuggled illegally into the US. They are shocked to hear he's already at my parents' house.

Just yesterday, my host father (who I swear I've told eight times already) gave me the "what?!? He entered there already??" To prove it (because he was clearly in doubt), I started regaling him with tales of Minty's new life. "So, I have this chair in America, right? [I don't know the Mandinka word for couch.] And it's my chair, but it's at my parents' house. And even I never let my dog on that chair! Even my America dog! But now, my parents call, and they tell me 'your dog sleeps on your chair', and I say 'bii lai wo lai tii lai'!" [That translates to some cross between "WHAT?!?!" and "Oh no you didn't!"]

Host fam: "He sleeps on your chair?!?!"

Me: "On my CHAIR!! Even here, I did not let him on my chair! And even my America dog, I did not allow her on my chair! I tell them 'no, I do not want dogs on my chair,' but they say, 'but he likes your chair TOO much--and he is sleeping.' Bii lai!!"

Host fam: "On your CHAIR?!?"

Me: "On my chair!"


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