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"The · darkest · thing · about · Africa · has · always · been · our · ignorance · of · it"


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(posted by Mom)
Bethany was out by the river this week and saw a man fishing with a fishing pole (highly inefficient--fishing is done with nets so you can catch a lot at one time.)  She stopped to talk and asked if he was fishing for his dinner -- with some disgust he informed her that he didn't need to fish for dinner -- he had just purchased a good quantity of fish for eating.  "So, why are you fishing?"  Turns out he was bored with nothing to do in his compound so he was just fishing for entertainment!  A Gambian with leisure time -- pursuing a hobby!
She asked him some questions and as a result, with the use of dental floss, a fish hook, and a raw peanut for bait, she has now successfully caught her own fish--some of which she gave to her host family and one she cooked herself with a corn meal batter -- delish!

(By the way, she'll be back in Colorado one month from today!! -- April 14)

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Major kudos (and thanks) go out to Jenn, who recently wrote me from her hospital bed. THAT is a dedicated correspondent.

I bought a duck! (Again.) Partially because my current female hasn’t done a thing since abandoning her first nest, partially because I have a little bit of birthday gift money to spend, and partially because I’m still hung up on my goal of getting at least ONE duckling before I leave this country, I decided to suck it up and spend the 150 dalasi ($7). Since I’ve had Kiling (“One,” still alive), Fula (“Two,” dead), Saba (“Three,” dead) and Naani (“Four,” still alive), it means this one’s name is Luulu (“Five”). She’s still pretty young (she has a few wing feathers still growing in), but Kiling (the male) is definitely doing his part to get her to lay eggs…

I keep a running list on my little expo board of topics to blog about, so that I remember the next time I’m on my laptop. So this post was based on my expo notes that said “monkeys,” “Jenn,” and “Luulu.” What I don’t get is why I wrote a note to blog about “duck shoulder.” Oh well. It was probably a funny story at the time…

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Check out my new userpic!
Well, tomorrow morning I head back (by land this time) to Gambia.  I'll be at a friend's house by dark, Inshallah (God willing, i.e. assuming our car doesn't explode or otherwise cease functioning), then will visit a few people and be back in village by Saturday.
I know I should post a more comprehensive post about my Senegal time, and I probably will in the near future when I figure out where Basse's last internet cafe reincarnation moved to.  But during my first long and lonely week here in Senegal, all I had was slow internet with a krazy French keyboard with all the keys moved around so half my sentences came out gibberish (and no USB port to transfer a blog post from my laptop to the cafe computer).  Then when I did finally sit down for two hours to write some exceptionally witty & moving entries, the computer was so overwhelmed with emotion that it promptly froze up and lost all my work.
On Friday, when the PCVs from the rest of West Africa showed up for our softball tournament, I moved to a cushy American expat house with wireless internet.  So since then, I've had speedy (better than anywhere in Gambia) internet, and can type on my very own laptop (with normal key layout!), but I've had no time to post.  It's been a crazily busy weekend, between softball games, eating amazing food (Dakar's WAY more developed than Kombo), shopping, dancing, and seeing the sights.  Not to mention getting to use my homestay's washer and dryer (something my clothing hasn't seen in nine months!).
So, apologies for the slacking off...  I think Mom might still have some of my pre-typed entries, so there'll still be regular updates here...  You'll just have to wait a bit longer before hearing the glorious details of Dakar (overpasses! purebred dogs! trash cans!).


Did I mention the donuts?
Current Location:
NGor, Senegal
Current Mood:
enthralled enthralled
Current Music:
the glorious hum of the clothes dryer
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Bonjour! I'm sitting here at an internet cafe in Senegal, wishing I spoke French or Wolof. Why are you in Senegal, you may ask, or perhaps, where's Senegal? Senegal is the former French colony which surrounds Gambia on all sides except for a small stretch of coast. So while former British colony Gambia has one single type of bread across the country and often mediocre cuisine, Senegal is the land of pastries, pizza, and assorted other French items starting with "p" that I never order because they don't resemble the English word closely enough for me to guess.

There are some Mandinka speakers in Senegal, and I get very excited when I run into them and can speak in complete sentences. Otherwise, I'm getting by with my guidebook French, a few Wolof phrases, a lot of gestures and the numbers 1-99 in Fula.

As to why I’m here – first, WAIST – West African Intramural Softball Tournament—a gathering of West African PCVs, and this was where I came to ship Minty direct to the U.S.  (Flying him from Gambia would have meant going through Europe--nearly impossible these days after a severe tightening of their rules for shipping animals because a cargo handler was bitten a few months back.)


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From Mom:  God Does Stuff.  Then He Chuckles.  Repeated attempts to make advance arrangements to ship Minty to the States had accomplished nothing.  We were left with the belief that Bethany wouldn't know until she showed up at the shipping terminal in Dakar, Senegal, whether she would be able to ship Minty to Atlanta by Delta, or have to use South African Airways and ship to Dulles Airport in Washington, DC.  Her Dad and I prepared to hit the road Friday night, planning to drive straight through to Atlanta (hopefully not DC) arriving Sat. evening, finding a place to sleep, and picking Minty up at 8:30 Sunday morning-- then hitting the road again, planning to arrive back in Colorado sometime Monday (and expecting to be pretty exhausted.)
Then Bethany gets to Dakar, and learns that Delta has turned over its cargo operations to DHL.  The DHL agent is filling out the paperwork and asks for the address of the people receiving the dog.  She says, "Well they don't live in Atlanta, so can't they just pick him up at the airport?" 
He asks, "Where do they live?" 
"Colorado." 
To which he replies, "Why aren't you just shipping him all the way to Colorado?"
Call Mom and Dad: " How about just driving to DIA rather than Atlanta?"
Bottom line, while Delta's domestic pet shipping service wouldn't "speak" with their international shipping (so we would have had to pay a service to receive him in Atlanta and put him on a plane to Denver--for which we were quoted $1800!) shipping cargo is DHL's business.  Minty still flew on Delta planes, but DHL staff handled the transfer process in Atlanta--all for less than what we expected to pay!
Cut to Sunday--we're planning to pick him up at 3:30--phone rings at 11:30.  Call from Delta Cargo in Denver: "There's a dog coming in here, but you can't pick him up.  U.S. Customs doesn't clear cargo on Sundays--someone should have told you not to ship a dog on the weekend."  (Maybe if someone at Delta had actually tried to be helpful on one of my many calls... rather than just saying, 'you have to deal with the people in Senegal,' who surprisingly enough, don't know that U.S. Customs in Denver is closed on Sunday!)  But I keep talking to this man and he takes pity and tells me we could try showing up at the cargo office, picking up the paperwork that comes in with the dog, then going to the airport terminal and asking a Customs Agent (who's checking in people) to please stamp the paperwork so we can go back to cargo and take the dog.
We do that-- Custom Agent isn't happy however, says Delta knows they aren't supposed to ask for Cargo to be cleared after hours or on weekends, but I'm there--he checks the computer -- Minty was actually cleared through Customs in Atlanta!  He stamps our paperwork to satisfy the Delta cargo staff and we go back to retrieve Minty. 
So after many months of planning and trying to consider everything that could possibly go wrong, the Lord looks down, chuckles, and says, "I had it handled all along."
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Recently, while visiting a fellow PCV, I noted the collages all over her house.  That led to some impromptu craft time, when we decided to collage about COS'ing.  (Turns out it's good for closure!)
Unfortunately, LiveJournal massively shrinks the size and quality of images when you upload them, so this is as big as I can get it without it being totally blurry.  Also, the scanner was too small to scan it all at once, hence the line down the middle.  Oh, and it cut off the top inch.
But you get the idea.


P.S. I just got a very satisfying score on my Close Of Service language test for PC!  (Peace Corps language tests remain in official government records and go a long way if you ever apply for a job requiring language-learning ability.)
Current Mood:
artistic artistic
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This picture is from Tobaski, taken by Bala, Sutukonding's official photographer.  (Since my camera was broken.)  Yes, the plastic chair, cracked linoleum and rapper posters are his professional "studio."  He took two shots, but the other one didn't turn out because the flash reflected off the rapper posters.  Seriously.  This single sheet cost me 25D ($1.)  Hope he didn't charge extra for the off-centeredness.  Oh, and Aja's grin?  I'm tickling her back -- Gambians don't like to smile in pictures.  My Tobaski get up (fake hair--weaved in, jewelry, embroidered outfit, sandals, and black hennaed feet) ran me about 1000D ($50) --major splurge!  Aja's outfit is new too, but her extensions are made of yarn (cheaper than fake hair.)  So cute!
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Bootleg DVDs here come in all sorts of great combinations and titles (like “The Female Heroine Does Battle With The Action Film” and “Jennifer Lopez vs. Kate Winslet”), which is why my “DISNEY CARTOON THEATER WONDERFUI” (yes, that last letter is actually an “I” on the package) is one of my favs. Did you know there’s a Lion King 3? And that Fox and The Hound 2 is voiced by stars like Reba McEntire? But the biggest surprise came when I watched Beauty and the Beast, an old fav. Does ANYONE out there remember a song in that movie called “Human Again?” Because none of the PCVs here had ever seen that part of the movie. But it’s in this DVD’s version of the movie. Sort of odd to watch a movie you’ve seen a hundred times only to suddenly discover a new scene…

I visited another URR volunteer recently, and spent some time chatting with her friend, Alieu. He started in on me with the whole Gambian “take me to America” routine, but since he was her friend, I tried to reason with him instead of blowing him off. But after explaining why I couldn’t afford to get him there, and why that didn’t matter anyway because he’d have to get a visa and that’s nearly impossible here, we’d gotten nowhere. So I decided to explain to him why he wouldn’t want to live in Colorado anyway. Gambians don’t really grasp just how cold weather outside Africa can be, or what snow is really like, so, not surprisingly, Alieu didn’t find this to be much of a deterrent anyway. So then I began talking to him in terms of mol keme wo keme (every one hundred people, the Gambian phrasing for percentages). When I told him that in my village in Colorado, for mol keme wo keme, 95 of those people are white, he was shocked. “So for mol keme wo keme, only 5 people are black???” No, I explained. Those 5 people out of mol keme wo keme have to include the “Asia people,” the “Mexico people,” and the “Arab people,” in addition to the “Africa people.” So I told him maybe, maybe, 1 or 2 of mol keme wo keme is a mo fingo (black person). He didn’t seem so interested in Colorado after that.


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Julie wrote about her recent visit here in Gambia, so click here to read it and see pics!
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Since, as you can tell by now, I spend a lot of time playing with my host siblings, I thought it would be fun to have a game I could play with them that would be educational as well. So I put it on my wishlist, and pretty soon, my grandma had sent me Chutes & Ladders. (Thanks Grandma!) Shortly after receiving it, I informed Mama (age 11ish), the unofficial head of the kids, that I had a new toy when they were ready to try it out. So Mama, Aja (age 3), Ajandi (age 9ish), and Mohammodou (age 7ish) came in my house and I pulled it out. Each piece was in the shape of a child, so I told them the little Asian girl was Aja Demba (my Taiwanese-American PCV sitemate, who they know well), the little blond girl was me, the little red-haired boy was Ansoumana Dembale (another PCV sitemate in the area), and the little black boy was Mohammodou. Then I let them each pick a person. Aja, the youngest, quickly got bored and confused, so she left and I took over her piece. But as we played, I could not believe how complicated Chutes & Ladders is! I honestly don’t remember it being this complicated growing up, but our first game was fraught with difficulties: they couldn’t flick the spinner properly to get it to spin, they couldn’t understand why you didn’t climb up chutes or fall down ladders, they could never figure out which direction to move their piece, and they were always knocking each other’s pieces over when they counted out their move. They did, however, quickly master counting to 6! After the first tiring, agonizingly long round was over and they left, I rethought the game. I’ve found that some things that we take for granted in child development must actually be a by-product of culture. Hand an American child a crayon and tell them to draw something and they’re off and running. Even if it’s a bunch of indistinguishable scribbles, they’ll tell you it’s a family portrait. Gambian children do not do that. I’ve never succeeded in getting a kid here to draw anything—they’ll only color in coloring books, where the picture is already there (unless they are so young that they just sort of scribble randomly on anything you hand them, which still isn’t deliberate drawing). I guess board games are similar, which is why a game suitable for a 3-year-old American child totally confounds an 11-year-old Gambian.

But I was determined not to give up, so I gave Chutes and Ladders a makeover. First, I outlined all the squares in permanent black marker—the faint lines between white and light blue squares didn’t register with my host siblings, who were forever setting their pieces right on the lines between 2 or 4 squares and then leaving me to try to remember which of the squares they were actually on. (Now I can tell them, “don’t leave your piece there on the line.”) Then I circled all the bottoms of ladders and tops of chutes, in attempt to say “DO SOMETHING FROM THIS SQUARE”. Then I drew arrows to indicate what direction to move, since the path zigzags up the rows from bottom to top and it’s easy to forget (especially in my dimly lit hut where it’s hard to see the numbers in the squares) which direction to move in which row. I drew attention-getting lines all around the final square, to indicate it as the big exciting place that determines the winner. Finally, I nixed the big cardboard multi-racial children pieces, substituting instead some small “learn to count” plastic farm animal pieces Grandma had sent in the same package. The pieces are smaller and easier to jump over when counting, eliminating the knocking-each-other-over and two-pieces-sharing-one-square problems. The next day, we tried Chutes and Ladders again.

My host siblings (minus Aja, who I’d decided was too young for the game, age 3 or not, which is fine because she wasn’t interested anymore) first remarked at all the changes. They wanted the other pieces back so they could be one of the characters again, but they were excited when they saw the farm animals. For the next several games, I was always the dog (though Gambian tolerance for dogs falls way outside fundamental Islam, there is a hesitance still), while their favorites were the horse and chicken. Over the next several games, with the help of my drawn-on additions, they caught on quickly and began helping each other when there was a problem. Now, we play Chutes and Ladders almost daily (always with the farm animals), they flick that spinner with ease, and I often end up being the pig or the rooster, since the dog’s usually taken. :)


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