Thursday, June 21, 2007

This little toubab went to market...

...and the crocodile pool, and the Saint Theresa Upper and Lower Basic School, and the Come Inn (favored PCV hangout) for a genuine Gambian lager - JulBrew, to call it by its brand name. Our group is out of control with the self-chronicling, so you may have read it all already elsewhere, but yes. I was there too.
Yesterday was a busy day, with Saint Theresa's, more lessons in gastrointestinal upset (both in and out of the classroom!)*, a water-filtration how-to, and a tour of the local hot spots of peril with our Safety and Security coordinator. If all goes according to plan, I will never go out on my own, ever, and will never leave my compound after dark, period. So mom and dad, put your minds at ease. I will be well cloistered.
We're leaving tomorrow for our training villages, and I don't think I'll have much (or any) email access for the next 10 weeks, so if you want to hear of my adventures by the village well, learn my Gambian name, and find out the current bush-rat death toll, please do send a regular letter (address at right).
I was going to try for a grand summing up of my First Week in Africa, Ever, but...what can I say? It's strange. Things look very dreamlike here sometimes. Half a block of tourist-strip restaurants gives way suddenly and completely to pockmarked concrete, sand, and little kids playing soccer. The light is different, especially with a storm coming on. All the dogs look kind of the same. Things like that. Plus, every single interaction here is slightly different from how it would be back home - whether you're talking to a shopkeeper or a random adorable little kid or another American. We're learning the rules, but it's all just different.
Anyway. I'll get back to you once I learn some of the rules. Hope you, my home people, are all there. And all well, too.

*don't worry - I don't have "bad diarrhea," according to the medical officer. But if you have some extra Emergen-C...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Now I am here (behind the camera)

Welcome to Club Peace Corps, eh? These are some of my fellow Education trainees trying to remember where we're supposed to go next/how to say "How are the home people?" in Mandinka/shooting the breeze.

My roommate in our room at Gambia Pastoral institute - check out all the indoor plumbing! Personally, I like how they put us in the kiddie pool for a week before sending us out to village-based training. It's surprisingly reassuring to be able to brush your teeth from the tap.
Our feet, on the other hand, get washed in the bucket (bottom left). No rains yet, and there's lots of dust. Mmm, gritty toes.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I am here (see below)

Us on the bus from the airport -with bags of water (tasty!)

From the airplane yesterday...the outskirts of Banjul, with The Gambia's eponymous and large river.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Staging Event

That's what they call it - 2 days (more or less) in Washington, D.C. to meet our group, get our shots, and learn juust enough about the PC and our role therein to get on the plane. So far, I count 3 pillars of success, a triangle of support related to our VSSS (which has 5 components), and a wedge (within a Venn diagram) where we will do our most productive work.
I'm sure I'm leaving something out, but right now I'm focused on repacking--it's probably not such a hot idea to put all my toiletries in my carry-on--and gearing up for departure. Tomorrow! Yowza!
That's not til the evening, though. In the morning we have vaccinations. Which are exciting too, in their way.

Anyway, there are 20 of us, about evenly split between secondary math and science teachers, IT trainers, and primary teacher trainers like me. To give you an idea: 14 women, 6 men; 1 married couple; some kids fresh out of college, a couple of middle-aged types, and the rest of us somewhere in between. My roommate Kristy brought her mandolin, which came in handy for our final presentation - a song about The Importance of Integrating into One's Host Community. Sounds cumbersome, but know that another group was assigned an interpretive dance that expresses the Peace Corps Approach to Development. No kidding. Herewith, the lyrics:

To the tune of "Rocky Top," best sung high and lonesome

Integrate into your community
Do as the Gambians do
Eat their food and belch politely
If that's what they say you should do

Gambia, you may not be
Home sweet home to me
But we will integrate
Into your community
[note the clever/thrifty line recycling! I think we're going to take this on the road.]

You may find the customs surprising
The heat really hard to bear
Just remember to dress professional
Bring something cool to wear

Gambia, some day you'll be
Home sweet home to me
Good ole Gambia
Be our community
Good ole Gambia...
Be our community.
Words to live by.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Peace Corps Fashion Show

"Dress modestly," they tell you in the welcome book. What does that even mean? Can I show my arms? Ankles? Do I need to invest in a burquini? Thankfully, returned PC volunteer and classmate Ingrid gave me more specifics:
  • Collarbone okay; cleavage, no.
  • Sleeveless okay; spaghetti straps, no.
  • Anything above mid-calf = whorish.
Please note how well the dress at left adheres to those guidelines! It is, in fact, my favorite thrift-store teacher-lady purchase. I'm a little worried about the length--will they be able to see the"Western Slut" tattoo on my upper calf?--but too pleased with its other qualities to leave it at home. Besides concealing at least 4 cumulative inches of neck-to-shoulder skin, it is also:
  • Breathable
  • Patterned (good for hiding stains!)
  • Generally shapeless (good for hiding other things, including my bike shorts)
Those of you with eagle eyes have no doubt already spotted the coordinating Sensible Sandals. Hey, I just want to be in with the in crowd.

Monday, June 4, 2007

I dream in lists

Some things I am concerned about:
  1. Packing too much
  2. Packing too much and still leaving out some crucial thing
  3. Packing too much and then losing it
  4. Losing it
  5. Bush rats
  6. Gastrointestinal illness
  7. Hollow and aching loneliness
  8. General incompetence
  9. Not being able to handle the above
On the other hand, I am far less concerned about:
  1. Parking tickets
  2. Whether it's okay to eat cheese fries
  3. Whether it's okay to use the last remaining cheese fry to try to scoop up all the remaining cheez in the container, and if this does not work, to use a fork and/or fingers
  4. Shaving
All in all, I think it's a wash. Stay tuned for the thrilling resumes of: Things I Ate on the East Coast, and: Personal-Care Items Recently Acquired (Or, How Many Kinds of Soap Can I Bring to the Developing World?)