In-Country Training

Trip Start Sep 08, 2006
Trip End ??? ??, 2007

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Flag of Gambia  ,
Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Apologies for the lateness of this entry, I'm now officially on Gambian Time. Well the good news is I'm still alive. No one is more surprised than myself. With the possible of exception of my landlord who has so far had to rescue me from a number of 'emergencies' including but not limited to the following: a swarm of locusts, a near gas explosion (I haven't yet completely figured out my new hob) and the jamming of my shower door (of course whilst I was on the wrong side of it, sans clothing).

These episodes of merriment aside, I am seriously in love with this place. I'm now settled into my house, the novelty of living by myself for the first time ever in my life has not yet worn off (although neither has my recurring disappointment each and every morning that my washing up has failed to disappear in the manner I have been accustomed to in previous lives - ex-housemates I appreciate you now more than ever). The national election has passed relatively peacefully and life has settled back to normal with an endless round of powercuts and watershortages.

I have finished my in-country training. The highlight unmentioned so far was traveling up country and meeting various high powered leaders ranging from the religious Imans to village chiefs to traditional healers.
Being a mere woman (hmph) I was only permitted to observe rather than engage in many of these meetings, but they were memorable nonetheless. Village life up-country is a complicated mesh of human relations, nothing is done without community consent and there are endless visible and invisible links between the various sources of local power.  It's one of the reasons that greetings are so important here, each individual has a place and it's important to establish where you fit with everyone else. I could live here for a hundred years and never fully get to grips with it.

My other unforgettable (if not finest) moment was being taken to my language teacher's compound to meet his family and see another side of life. The area in which he lives is one uninhabited and rarely visited by fair-skinned 'Toubab' people like myself and I was a subject of great interest to people as I walked through the neighbourhood, particularly amongst the children. By the time I reached his front gate I had a following of about 40 young whippersnappers surging forward intrigued to see what I might do. Anxious not to disappoint my curious audience I opted for the element of surprise, spun on my heel, dropped to the floor and roared like a lion. As intended, the majority of my audience, though momentarily taken aback, found this hilarious. One poor little mite however, who couldn't have been more than three, was terrified and ran howling to his mother. He didn't stop screaming for the two hours I stayed there. Through my frantic apologies the mother explained that the only other Toubab the child had ever met was the doctor who had administered his innoculations. Thus the child had learned the valuable lessons that Toubabs were not only holders of torturous metal devices to puncture his skin, but that they were also capable of turning into ferocious wild animals when provoked. He will probably be scarred for life by the experience. Not the impact on race-relations I had hoped for whilst here.

Onto other things, it's Ramadan in the Gambia at the moment. Due to the religious makeup of the country 90% of the population is currently fasting between dawn and dusk.
For those involved, this means that everyone appreciates the hunger and tiredness associated with getting up at 5am to eat before abstaining for the rest of the day and no one is expected to do much work in the afternoons. For the heathens like myself however it means any eating has to be done shamefully out of sight or else receive murderous looks from dozens of pairs of hungry eyes. It also means developing a quick reflex to avoid getting in the line of fire from people emptying their mouths of saliva (they take the "no liquids" rule pretty seriously here). Roll on the new moon.

Anyway here I must bid you adieu as I have only 15 mins remaining on this computer and that is how long it will take to send this email. I shall write again soon where if you are lucky I may even get around to actually mentioning the WORK I am in theory here to do...
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