Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thankful Heart

Because I'm a lists person (sorry, Emily), and because I need to be more thankful, here is my Gambian thankful list:

I, Kathryn Wright, am hereby thankful for the following after 2 months of service:

1. Quiet times with my Bible. Lots of it.
2. People who speak my native tongue.
3. Friends who I never would have met in the states.
4. Books I never would have read.
5. Good preachers: like John Piper, Pastor Bob, Pastor Tim.
6. My iPod.
7. Uncle Jamil.
8. Water filters.
9. Shorts that I can wear inside my hut.
10. Someone else doing my laundry (perfectly normal here).
11. Air conditioner.
12. Letters and care packages from America.
13. Emails that communicate everyday American life.
14. Sisters.
15. GMail chat and video chat.
16. My site mates in training village: Joe & Meg.
17. My future site mates: Catherine & Meghan.
18. Cookies.
19. Uncle Jamil. Again.
20. Rainbow flip-flops.
21. YOU!!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Geli Geli Experience

I have debated the best way to communicate this post to you, my faithful reader. First of all, only those who have participated in a geli geli ride will ever truly be able to relate. But for the vast majority of you out there, I will attempt to explain my worst public transport experience through words and pictures here.

Yesterday, we had to travel back from site visit via public transport. We all traveled with a current PCV (mine was Catherine, my site mate). The mode of transportation is called a geli and is basically a 3rd world 15-passanger van. But bigger. And with a roof rack. And it could have, any given day, up to 20+ people, small children, any array of luggage, livestock, and chickens. Plus a driver.

You can't see from this view, but there are 6 full-grown sheep up top.
 Catherine got the luck of the draw from her village and bought 4 tickets in advance for the 3 of us trainees she was picking up on the way to the city. This is a big deal because geli's don't depart until they are full. Absolutely full. Half the battle is waiting for one to fill up so you can depart. Catherine called shortly after 8am and told me to head to the main road. I waited out there with about a 12-child posse, and received a text from Catherine that they were loading sheep on top of the geli, they would be a few more minutes.

Some of the gang (some kids scatter at the camera)
 Finally she got to me, I hopped on, and we were off to Soma to pick up Kim. The drive there took about 20 minutes on paved road, no problem. After squeezing Kim in, we hit the road and heard a huge SNAP. The driver, whom Catherine has used before and says is the best one she's encountered, decided to stop and see what happened. Catherine said that normally, the driver would keep going until the car stops running. We went to the local "garage" (which was really just someone's compound who had a set-up for welding) and piled out. There was a snapped shock/spring thing on the front driver's side. It's the same part that Ted has that was squeaking for so long. Catherine, who kinda knows her way around cars, had never seen the part. I told her my dad's '91 Ford Ranger had them. The men proceeded to make the part, FROM SCRATCH, using scrap pieces of metal.

They were using a hand-turned bicycle wheel thingy to blow air onto the coals, setting the metal on it to heat hot enough to pound with a hammer. You can't see it in the picture, but the ends are all curled up into each other, too. They proceeded to pour hot tar down the middle to hold everything together. It was THE most incredible thing I've seen yet. Two hours later, we were back on the road, due west. The unpaved road.

South Bank Road due west from my village. Sorry, no pic of the unpaved portion.
The roads here are something else. The North Bank Road is completely paved, from Banjul to Basse (capital city to biggest city in the east), and the South Bank Road has yet to be completed. (Side note: my village, Donogor Ba is about 25k east of Soma.) The portion of road starting at Basse and working east was completed recently (past year), and the road is really nice. That's where I am. But the one coming from the other side is only about 1/2 way done. So when it's raining, the dirt is even worse. We still had one more girl to pick up off the dirt road and the poor thing was waiting at the police station near her village for hours because of our delay. It was raining pretty hard. We finally got to her at about 2pm and finished out the dirt road.

Remember that it's raining. And those sheep on top? There were also 2 baby sheep inside that were crying the entire time for their mama who was on top. It was deafening, between the crying sheep, rain, and dirt road. Then we got a flat tire. Since it was raining, the geli driver's apprentice changed the flat. With everyone and everything still in the vehicle. I was impressed that it took him only 20 minutes. At this point, I figured things couldn't get much worse. Boy, was I wrong. Remember, this is a developing country. The main door was hanging on by a thread, and there was a gap with no seal. Which let rain water in. That wasn't so bad. I was the 2nd person in from the window. But when the livestock up top decided to relieve themselves, we had the rain water washing their pee and poo in on us. It was THE MOST DISGUSTING thing I've ever experienced. Poor Catherine and Kim who were sitting behind me and the guy sitting next to me got the worst of it all. It was gross. And it lasted for another 2 hours. We finally ended up in the city and stopped for dinner at about 5:30pm. Ironically enough, the other volunteers who were twice as far arrived at the exact time, and it was providence that we all ended up at the same restaurant for dinner. Washing my hands and arm has never been more of a relief.

I spent the night in the medical unit again. I was supposed to have made it back early enough to see a shoulder surgeon to get a specialist opinion on my left shoulder. Obviously, I did not. So he was going to be back in the morning, and the PC doctor said I could spend the night in the med unit (which is like heaven here) if I wanted since it was an early appointment (9am). Of course I took him up on it. He said there was another girl staying (there's 2 beds), and when I got there, she was a girl I had been in contact with but had not yet met. Her name is Kate, too, and she and her husband are in the western region. It was so sweet to spend the night with her. After chatting and showering (with hot running water!), and her finishing dinner, we watched 1/2 of the movie 10 Things I Hate About You because the rest was scratched & wouldn't play. Then we watched Becoming Jane and fell asleep.

I woke up and had 2 hours of quiet bliss on the couch (sound like heaven yet?) with my Bible and a handful of style magazines. I saw the specialist shortly after 9, and I really like him. He's an old doctor who said he had planned on retiring years ago, but the duty keeps calling him back. He's Gambian, but his vocational calling reminded me a lot of my dad's mentor, Alan Casebolt. He's here for the need. He said that I'm experiencing tendonitis and does not really think there's anything severely wrong. He ordered an x-ray to rule out bone spurs and a couple of different blood tests for things I can't remember. He wants to check some levels that measure inflammatory properties that might be irritating the inflamed joint. I will get those tests done on Monday.

Friday is our swear-in date, and so far, everything is still on schedule. I go back to training village for a couple of days this week to celebrate the end of Ramadan with my training village host family. I never thought I'd be saying this, but I'm glad to be going back. I miss the people there. It encourages me to think that I will, perhaps, feeling this way about my site family, too.

My House. In the Middle of the Street.

View standing in front door, looking out back door.
My new house is (local) brick, plastered, painted white, with a thatch roof. The thatch keeps the place really cool, but encourages critters to live in there. It's probably a 10'x10' single room with 2 windows and 2 doors. There are screens on the windows and the doors have a screen door and I have really good cross-ventilation. My backyard is rather large, with plenty of room for a garden. There is a metal corrugate fence that gives me complete privacy. I have a pit latrine, which I really don't mind. I MUCH prefer it to a mediocre flush toilet. Because you never know if the water is working with a flush toilet here. Gross. Yes, there really are 3 wives, a dad, and a grandma. It's hard to tell which kids are the 10 of the family's 10 because so many people hang out in each others compounds all day. I have figured out at least 4 of the kids. And 3 of them are too young to even talk. It's going to be really different living with infants. Especially coming from training village with older kids. My new host father speaks good enough English, and the neighbor across the way, Hawa, speaks excellent English. She will probably be my go-to for now. I haven't busted the camera out at site yet, so be looking for pictures in the future!

More Pictures

I have tons of words floating around in my head (and in emails) that need to be organized into thoughts. Until then, here are some more pictures for your enjoyment. (Disclaimer: None of these are different than the ones I uploaded to FaceBook. You can view even more through my profile there.)

Carrying Water Home

My Favorite Tree

Looking over the fence in my new home

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Slowly, Slowly

If Africa had a motto, it would be "Slowly, slowly." It's pretty much the answer for anything here in The Gambia. So in perfect spirits, here's a little more information you might be interested to know:

Since the last post I realized how few pictures I'm actually taking. I'll have to step that one up in the future. Part of it has to do with that I don't want to bust out all my electronics right know, stay low profile and all.

Training isn't actually in Banjul. I'm living in a training village called Yuna (or Youna), which is about an hour and a half drive south of Banjul. I went to Banjul once to get a government ID card. Yup, I'm an official, legal alien here. Let's see. I will do my best to describe to you what's been going on since we've been here.

To learn the language, we all have Language & Culture Facilitators, or LCFs. We had class in the morning, break, lunch together, and more class most afternoons. They're teaching us language with some cultural things intermixed. It's the practical street vocabulary, like how to ask for help, how to get something made at the tailor, how to bargain, etc. We also have sessions as a whole team (where we ride our bikes to congregate to one village for the day or afternoon) about the actual job part of PC. And last week we had a big week where we preformed Model School. Basically PC asked the school in my village to pick the two 25 students from grades 5-8 to attend a week's worth of mornings of school. Each of the trainees were assigned classes to lesson plan for and teach. I taught 7th grade math 4 times and 8th grade PE once. It was a blast, and the point was to familiarize us with the Gambian school system. We had a few local teachers there to give feedback and portray a typical teacher, too. We all learned A LOT. But it felt good to be doing something purposeful. Up until now, it's been all about leaning the language and culture. No projects.

That's the 2nd biggest thing I've been struggling with. (The first being missing my family.) I have learned in this past week that sitting around doing nothing, or even reading a good book, brings zero satisfaction. What I've found to be much more effective is to sit and do things with the girls in my host family. I will just sit by them when they cook or do laundry. The everyday things to us take all day here: cooking over an open fire (kinda like cooking gourmet while camping) and doing laundry by hand in buckets. I think of my grandfather often and wonder if his life in pioneer AK was similar in any way, shape, or form.

Swear-in is still scheduled for September 2nd, though the actual plans have gone back and forth. Because it's the 50th year anniversary of PC, a lot of people at headquarters are making a big deal about the current programs. We get a special party just because we're the 50th anniversary swear-in group. And they've been doing a lot of video taping, which I'm hoping will be available for people at home to see. I'll let you know what I hear when I hear it.

Next week we go for site visit Monday through Thursday. We're being transported to our sites and left with our new host families for the 4 days. The point is to kinda give us a taste of site, to meet the new host family, and to take inventory of what might be there. There have been 4 volunteers in my new house previously, so my hopes are high that they've left some major stuff for me. All I know about my future host family is that there are 15 people in the compound: 10 kids, 1 grandma, 1 dad, and 3 wives. One of the previous volunteers was so close to the family that they've already been back to visit. I have high hopes for a good relationship with them. That's all I know so far.

My future site's area's capital city is called Soma, which is about 25k from my site. My computer friend, Kim, will be there, and the folks from my area bike there usually every Saturday to use the internet and drink a cold drink. It's hopeful that I'll have internet access about once every week or two. We'll see once we get there. Though I'm ready to cross that bridge, that bridge isn't ready for me.

I hurt my left shoulder while sleeping the first week in training village, coming up on 6 weeks now. Our post's medical doctor did some basic motor tests the other day and said that I'd have to see the specialist. It's definitely not the same that I had with my right shoulder in high school. The good news was that the specialist was going to be in the office the next day to see someone else. But the specialist didn't show. Typical. It hurts to move it in certain ways, but not debilitating. I just have to make sure to keep on the doctor to keep me posted on the specialist. It's the waiting game now.

If a Picture is Worth 1000 Words...

Yes, that is a boy following a dog. On top of an 8-foot wall.
Sunset from inland

Helping to roast cashew nuts. It's a lengthy process!

Beautiful girl

At our African Naming Ceremony: Joe, Meg, & me

Team (minus 2) bike ride to the beach!

My training village host mother, Hawa, at the naming ceremony

Tang, Jon Pray. In baggies. Must I say more?

The gang at the naming ceremony.

My new best friend.

Helping to make rolled coos at a marriage ceremony.

My host sister, Gibbeh, during the first major rainstorm.

Ida Problem (named by her mother), carrying her monkey like a little mother.

...then multiple pictures must leave you speechless.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Keep Your Chin Up & Walk Slowly

I have learned these are the first two rules of carrying a bucket of water on your head. The third and fourth: leave 3-4 inches from the brim, and use a barrier to pad the crown of your head. Forsaking these rules results in water down your back, a bruised head (which you won't discover until the next time you try), or a sloppy mess all over the place. The last, and perhaps most important, rule is: know your limit. Personally, my limit is the 5-gallon bucket. I cannot carry anything more. I think about these rules every day on my way back and forth to the tap. These rules cross over into rules for life in Africa, too. 

Keeping my chin up during the first month here was a constant reminder to look to Christ. Literally, I stare at the stars and the moon every night. Some months before I left, my mama wrote an extensive email that answered my question of how she felt about me leaving for two years. At the end of it, she wrote that I could look up at the stars every night and know that she was looking up at the same stars. We're still serving the same God, in different times zones, on opposite sides of the world. I look at the stars for what seems like hours every night. And I think of my mama. The pain of missing my family trumps everything. I have never experienced or even imagined such emotional pain. Page after page of my journal is filled with empathy to the Psalmist as he cries to God for comfort. God is faithful, and though the pain of missing my family will probably never leave, I have found a deeper affection for the Lord and His Word. God is my sustainer.

My host sister and I left the compound with buckets swinging in hand. I felt the scorching sun burn the back of my neck and was ready to spend at least 15 minutes greeting the women and gossiping at the tap (modern-day well). The big day had arrived. I was finally going to learn how to carry a bucket of water on my head. The notion used to seem so other-world, but now it's a matter of economics. Busso, my host sitter (whom I have been named after), let me fill my meager bucket first. After hers was washed and filled we set off, buckets balanced carefully. I took off on a running start and promptly sloshed a good gallon out of my bucket. Fortunately, it landed only on my feet. She laughed at me and told me that I walk too fast. Walking slowly is one of my pet peeves in America. Perhaps because my father has legs the length of California, perhaps it was always my competition to be in the front. Either way, I've learned to walk slowly here. Sometimes it still bothers me, especially when I think of all the time that's being wasted. But relationships tend to run deeper when you walk slowly. It allows time for conversation, for kids to run to tag along, for stops along the way to greet someone and ask how their day is. The heat practically demands it of you, anyway. (I get it now, Heather. I get it all.) I have a lot to learn from walking slowly.

Before coming to Africa, I thought I knew my limits. I thought I knew myself. That completely changed the morning I left my parents and little sister standing at the bottom of the terminal in the Sacramento airport. Emotions have rarely been difficult for me to handle. Until Africa. I cried every day the first five weeks of leaving home. Even meeting someone named Awa sprung tears to my eyes, because in the early years of language development I called my big sister Sarah by Awa. I thought I knew my limits of being around people. Our team of 13 is small but strong. Not only is there great talent, wisdom, and experience among us, but we are a tightly knit group. We spent the first week of culture shock together, then were separated into training villages according to our individual language assignments. I am studying Pulaar with two others, and I have never felt the need to be around my village and teammates like I have recently. My two village mates have seen all the sides of me I didn't even know existed. One afternoon I bolted from my house and showed up at Joe's with tears in my eyes. Five simple words escaped my lips, "I have to get out." After taking one look at me he replied, "Wanna go for a walk?" I was (and still am) so thankful for him. I move to permanent site in about 2 weeks. My closest site mates are 2k and 5k away. I am most anxious about being more than 300 yards away from another toubob (two-bob; white person).

There is no one in Africa who knows me. I mean, really knows me. At this point, they mostly know what I want them to know. But that will change. That is changing. I've heard that working for the Peace Corps is the "hardest job you'll ever love," and that the people here will know you inside and out by the time service is over. Yes, this is already the hardest job I've encountered. I have yet to love it. God is constantly peeling away the layers of my pride and my independence from Him. He has provided a small network of believers, with only our faith and our cell phones to connect us.

I apologize for the lack of communication thus far. I had no idea how difficult it would be to stay in touch. Again, I am being stripped. In the meantime, I am holding my chin up and walking slowly. Onward.