Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Kwanza!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! or as they say here in the Gambia, Merry Christmas. This will be my first Christmas not spent with my family. So today I will be spending it with my new extended family, that is my amazing fellow Peace Corp volunteers. Honestly I cannot say enough about these people, they are some of the most remarkable individuals I have ever met. With that being said I do miss my peeps back home, I have been here for almost a year (Jan 6th marks one year). All is well over on my side of the ocean, the weather is amazing. It is cold season now, so it is now freezing over here. The lows are around 60 in the night and highs of 95 during the day. Seriously I get REALLY cold during the nights and the days are some of the most comfortable and enjoyable days I have experienced in this country thus far. Work is good, been doing some work with the women's gardens as well as work in the cashew field in preparation for dry season. Also been doing a lot of brainstorming about projects for next year, its going to be a very busy year. So I am moving, yep thats right moving...nope not back to America. My friends I am heading to the city. In about two months I will finish my service in the city of Serekundna where I will work for an organization named IRD that does large scale cashew promotion in the Gambia. The main reason for the move however is for my basketball project, which I believe I discussed in a previous post. I am really excited about the move mainly for the reason that I get to do something I am incredibly passionate about. Basketball Baby! However this does mean I will be leaving my village and host family. This was a really difficult decision to make. The people of Dobong Kunda and the Jaiteh family have been the most welcoming, kind, and hospitable people during my stay there. I made friends for life and have come to love these people. I will of course get to visit, monthly if I so choose. However I am excited to get a new experience and some amazing work. Oh ya, this does mean I get to experience amenities again. There is something pretty hardcore and awesome about living in the bush with no amenities, it definitely makes me prideful and its something I will brag about for like a year once I get back. With that being said, I am looking forward to a toilet, electricity, and daily internet access. Anyways ya, um quick recap of life over the last couple months. Tobaski was celebrated, which meant rams were sacrificed in mass. Elections happened, Jamme is still president and if I were not a peace corp volunteer I would gladly write a long post about my opinions on that. HIV Bike trek happened, taught the finer points of HIV/AIDS to over 200 kids out in the bush. Loved that! Lets see what is coming up.....Going to Dakar, Senegal in January for a Peace Corps Conference that will be followed with an International Softball Tourney I will be participating in. New group of volunteers coming in, moving, hot season.................but ill have a fan this year!!!! Anyways peeps Merry Christmas, Happy New Years, keep me updated on life and TILL NEXT TIME!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Its Been A Long Time Since I Left You, Left You, Left You.................

Hello old friends it has been a couple months hasn't it? I am sure you have all been semi kept in touch with my activities here. I mean you know I am still alive and have not come down with any major sicknesses. Which really is all you need to know. The last couple of months have just flown by. Rainy season came and went and now I have 100 healthy cashews waiting to become massive cash generating machines. I have also formed a close relationship with the Bansang Youth Development Association. Its a group of about twenty highly motivated people around my age running around doing various projects for the community. Like malaria sensitization, AIDS/HIV work and tree planting projects. They are a highly intelligent group of people and I have really enjoyed working with them.

So one really cool thing that happened over the last couple of months was the 2nd annual HIV/AIDS Bike Trek. This was a project started by volunteers last year where about 30-40 volunteers bike from school to school in these rural villages teaching young students about HIV/AIDS. Last year they went through North Bank. This year they chose to start in Bansang and then continue on up country. Being the only volunteer within spitting distance of Bansang I was responsible for developing the school in that area and getting everything ready for about 12 volunteers to come and stay for four days. It was a lot of work and a lot of stress, but it paid off in the most rewarding way. I worked with a Gambian teacher Mr. Modou S. Bah. This man was amazing to work with and Him and I as well as two other volunteers Meg and Kim taught a class of about 45 for two days about HIV/AIDS. As sight developer and team leader I was expected to do most of the teaching in the class. I have never taught before, coaching is the closest thing but even then I was not standing up in front of 45 kids who speak poor English trying to convey the finer details of HIV/AIDS. There were some bumps in the road. I spoke too fast at times, I lost patience with the kids in back falling asleep, and during an awkward conversation about sexual fluids and how they can be transferred I started babbling on about sweat pores (yaaa don't ask). But I feel like overall with the help of my counterparts we nailed the lesson and the vast majority of the class left with more knowledge. I must say it was highly rewarding work, planting trees is fun and all but there is something great about watching a kid finally understand what your talking about and know that after today he/she is better informed for the rest of his/her life. Good stuff guys....

So from there we all headed from the bush that is Basse to city that is Kombo. We the peace corp had a date with his excellency President Sheikh Professor Alahajie Dr. Yaya A.J.J Jammeh. It was one of the more bizarre, surreal nights of my life.It started out with us heading to his home village Kanilai where he has a huge farm and hotel and other really nice first world buildings. We were escorted in by a parade of dancing people, there were drums and music and people in funny costumes. We got the whole works. We eventually made are way into the hotel and had lunch there, which was awesome, and then from there headed into this small stadium like enclosure. When I say stadium I mean more like a high school football field. We all sat down and awaited for his excellency to arrive so the program could begin. He took a while, like the program was supposed to be over by eight so we could start the grand dinner but in true Gambian fashion he showed up at 7:30. He did however show up in style, he screamed into the stadium in a nice, black SUV. He came to a violent stop and then proceeded to accidentally kill the car. It was awesome, everyone started singing and dancing in the stadium and then he came over and sat down on a couch that was literally about ten feet away from me. He was joined by the ambassador for the U.S. and our country director. He allowed all of us to come and shake his hand, which was cool.

The program began with a couple speeches and then some speeches by some volunteers in each one of the local languages. You can the prez was digging the local language speeches it was the only time I did not see him looking bored. Then some more people spoke about how awesome the Peace Corp is and how valuable we were to the country. It was kinda cool to hear all the praise we were getting from Gambians. Nice to know your appreciated you know? A bunch of the volunteers put on a skit that they preformed at a girls camp the previous month. It was about environmental awareness and the president also really loved that as there were a lot of jokes in there that only people living in Gambia would understand. Good stuff so far, so after all this happens the president gives his speech. It was a good one I guess, his accent is kind of thick at times but it was funny. He talked about getting Gambians to volunteer there time and going over to do work in Somalia. He also showered us with praise. Then he said he had a surprise for us all. Turns out he bought every single one of us dresses or full Gambian caftans (traditional male dress). Mine that he gave me was in one word: AWESOME. You just have to look at the pictures to know, its the difference between a button up shirt and a full out suit. Most people got the button up and I got the suit. Jammeh loved it so much on me and the two others who got it that we got to go up and take a picture with him. It was exciting, I was kind of like a little giddy school girl during that little episode.

After all this we all boogie over to the dining area for dinner and a documentary one of our volunteers put together. We had an epic dinner that was full of all kinds of delicious meats and other things we never get in village. Dinner got over at 2 a.m. at which point people started dancing. Jammeh got out there and shook a jig and then proceeded to point at people. If he pointed at you it meant he wanted you to dance and if the president wants you to dance you really have no choice but to dance. It was really hilarious watching him point to people and then watching them break out in dance while he calmly enjoys the whole scene. A lot of the volunteers got to dance with him and the whole scene was really crazy when you thought "this guy is the president of the Gambia" at one point he pointed at the cooks and the all came storming over in their full chef garb and chef hats. They then proceeded to all swarm on him and dance. His body guards got upset and told them to dance at a respectable distance. Side not I tried to put my arm around the president during one of our pics together and I got my hand swatted away by his body guards "NO TOUCHING!" it stunk we could have totally looked like BFFs. Anyways the night ended and we all went to bed and then awoke to fresh bacon. Good times folks, good times....

So next up I got my training clinic for refs and in January I will be headed to Dakar, Senegal for a international softball tournament. I will post a new post then...anyways hope all is well in Merica....till next time!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

(Insert Generic Blog Title Here)

What to write about? I am at the point now where this whole experience has become quite normal for me. So when I sit down to reflect about what I have done and where I have been it all sounds terribly boring. I think to myself "there is no way they will want to hear about that," when in truth you all might find it very interesting. I already updated my blog on what I am doing with basketball and I have more or less been sticking to that. Had another camp just finish and come September after Ramadan I will hold my reffing clinic. I guess that is one thing coming up, Ramadan shall be starting soon. No I wont be fasting, sorry but I drink too much water to even think about attempting it this year. I am curious to see how it goes though, I will be working and living with people who will be fasting all month long. They can only break fast in the early morning and late evenings. This includes water not just food, so ya its tougher then it looks. I will be heading on my first vacation come end of August though. Me and about seven others are heading to Guinea Conakry, we will be hiking some mountains over there. Should be exciting, they have thick forests, waterfalls, and REAL mountains there. Not the hills people call mountains here.

As far as work goes I just got done working on my cashew orchard for my village. Still a lot of work to be done on it but at least the seeds are in the ground, now all we need is rain. Its been a pretty dry rainy season thus far. Also got a village tree nursery going, that one goes a little slower as I am still experimenting with what works and does not. Lets see went on a couple of moringa treks, which is where we bike around the country planting moringa beds. For those of you that don't know moringa is a tree that grows here that is CRAZY healthy for you. It has many many uses and is great for feeding malnourished children. I helped plant over 5,000 of these trees, the goal for this year is 50,000. Also got an HIV trek coming up where we bike around teach students about HIV and STD's.....yep staying as busy as I can and I love it.

Lets see what else? I am now a quarter of the way through my service, pretty crazy really. Its been a roller coaster so far. I have gone from absolutely loving it here to getting ready to call peace corp and telling them I am going home and then back to loving it and then back again to hating it. However I finally feel though that things are stabling out for me. Things are flying now, heck we got new volunteers in country so I am not even the newbie anymore.

Ill finish with a list of goals I want to accomplish before leaving:
-Become good at live trapping (really want to eat some of the wild bush meat here..monitor lizard, bush fowl, bush pig, hyena, you know the usual)
-Leave 30 trained basketball officials behind.
-Read at least 120 books (currently sitting at 20 so I need to pick it up)
-Travel to four new countries
-Leave behind 100 healthy cashew trees for my village to make bank off of.
-Meet the president
-To leave the country with an advanced understanding of the language (due to my recent basketball involvement my language progress has halted)
-Oh and figure out what I want to do with my life when I get back!!!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Basketball is kind of a huge deal here"

So I dont know if you heard but I kinda had the best week ever here in Gambia. Oh whats that you did not hear? Well let me fill you in on what went down. So I came into kombo to take part in this basketball clinic that was being put on by the embassy. Over the phone I was told "there will be about 80 students and 20 or so coaches that we will be training." In reality we ended up training about 35 coaches and over 300 students....ya basketball in Gambia is a much bigger deal than I anticipated. It was GREAT these coaches were so passionate and willing to learn more about the game and the students were just happy to be bouncing a ball that did not have lumps in it. In addition there were some suprisingly talented players out there. I enjoyed myself immensely despite the language barrier and the excess amount of people. Seriously guys basketball here could really take off, we had some games on Friday and there were an amazing amount of fans present there to cheer on their favorite players (more than Crescent games). Everyone was dancing, cheering, and having a great time.

Now that alone did not make the best week ever. The man who coached the clinic was good ole Tommy Davis. For those of you that have never heard of him he was an ex NBA player who played in Europe and is now the coach of a proffesional team in France. This dude is straight up awesome, he invited us to hang out at his hotel on a daily basis. I know that may not seem much to you guys but this is a five star quality hotel we are talking about here. So like I hung out at the pool and on the beach and uh a man living in a mud hut this was the high life. On top of that the embassy thanked us for helping out by buying us lunch at the most expensive resturant in the Gambia....oh M G that lunch was amazing. The coffee was real, the food was delicious, and the dessert was to die for.....I mean at this very moment I am struggling putting my feelings into words.

Ya awesome week....and I know some of you back home may be struggling to find the  'awesomness' in all of this but trust me it is there you just need to live here for five months to find it. On top of all this the embassy found out I was a basketball offical in America. So now they want me to basically spearhead this project in training basketball officals around the country. Their hope is that with my help and training we can establish a national Gambian Officals Association. Which you know is prett epic when you think about it, me being directly responsible for the training of dozens of officals who will one day be officiating a sport which I am really confident will explode into a national phenomenon. Whatever I am super excited about all this, I arrived here under the assumption that I would play little to no basketball and here I am helping coach the national team and training motivated officals who are eager to learn more about the game.

So there are a lot of great pictures on facebook of the clinic for those who want to see some proof that this is in fact what I am up to here. I am just way to lazy to post them here so deal with it. Anyways that is what is going on in my life and I could not be more excited about it. Hope all is well in Merica.....cheers.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Its hot...

Ya its pretty hot right now but the rains are coming soon. So I am going to do my journal entries again cause I think they are fun. But first a quick update on life in general. I did in fact get chased by a baboon and let me tell you that I almost pissed my pants. I see baboons all the time but I now have a VERY healthy respect for them. I have my first project, a cashew orchard in my village. Could make my village a ton of money so I am really hoping this works out. I was planning on trying to do it next rainy season but the village wanted to sowe this rainy season so despite the fact I really dont know what I am doing I am knee deep in this one. Fingers crossed!!! So I am in Kombo (the city) for a little while. Got to get some stitches taken out and also get a dog bite looked at. The dog bite has potential to be rabid so I have to stay here until I can get more details. Also we have an inservice training next week. Anyway enough of that boring stuff. JOURNAL ENTRIES!!

Journal Entry 303:

Today I had one of those "I have come a long way havent I?" moments. It started at 6:30 when I woke up to go throw my daily ritual of throwing rocks at the guiennea fowl on my roof. You see I sleep outside now (too hot to sleep indoors) and those buggers are noisy. Once they had flown away I went back to sleep for another half hour. Now that by itself might not seem terribly unusual but I left out an important detail. i did all of this and was not the least bit grumpy. Its just a part of my daily routine now. Those of you who know me, know that 6:30 am and not being grumpy never occur at the same time for me in America. So thats the first IHCLWHI? moment. The second occured when I opened my door to go and greet my family. I stepped outside and looked down to find a small child dragging a fresh goat head tied to a strip of fabric. Four months ago I would have thought "What....The....Duece....that is so wrong!" but instead my first thought was "Awesome, there will be goat in the rice bowl today." Yep I have come a long way.

Journal Entry 139:

Earliar I wrote about the young girl who ran in fear from me. I was shocked at the time that as a teenager she was still so frightned. Well today I met an old man who reacted in much the same way. I wont go as far as to say that I was the first whiteman he had ever seen but it was still hilarious. I was walking out of the bush on a rarely used trail. I had an axe over my shoulder as I had just got done helping my host brothers collect some fire wood. Now I must admit I was not a pretty site at that moment. I had three months of untrimmed beard growth (Its at four now) and I was quite dirty. He was absolutly terrified, his eyes got huge as I rounded the corner and he limped over to the nearest mango tree and hid behind it. At first maybe I thought he was peeing or had some sort of business over there, that is until he peaked his head around to see if I was still there. When he saw I had not moved he quickly disappeared back behind the tree. I just laughed and laughed hard. He must have thought I was a lunatic, got to love it.

Hope you enjoy it, leave any suggestions for future posts.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Why is this road made out of dirt?"

I find it difficult to sit down and just write about whats been happening the last month. How do I sum things up for the readers back home? In one sense not a whole lot has happened these last couple months. In another though so much happened in that I am living in Africa which you may be suprised to find, is in no way similar to America. Instead of rambling I have decided to just copy some journal entrys. I went back and read a couple and I think they sum of my experience pretty well.

Journal Entry 433:

Had an interesting conversation with my host dad today. I was hanging out with my dad today, reading a book like I do everymorning before I break my fast. Lately I have been reading Nightwatch by Terry Pratchett (great read). I set it down to crack open some groundnuts. My father picked it up and started examining it. "The Bible?" he asks. "Nightwatch," I reply. He looked confused. "It was written by Terry Pratchett" I explain  "he writes novels." My dad knows enough English to know what I am saying, yet he still appears confused. I show him the picture of the author in the back of the book. He starts to laugh "This man looks just like you!!" (he doesent look a thing like me). He stops laughing. "Wait, this one man wrote this whole book by himself?" he asks. I tell him that it is true. The look on his face suggested that I had just succesfully blown his mind. (side note: if you try hard enough you can blow a Gambians mind on a daily basis. Tell them Americans have been to the moon or that Tupac is dead, works everytime.) "So these are Christain stories?" he asks. I tell him no, how am I supposed to explain the adventures of Sammy Vines to this man. Long story short my father had only seen one type of books in his life. The Koran and books relating to the Koran. He had only heard of one other type of book in his life, The Bible. He basically assumed that all books were copies of these texts or that all other books would be religious based. It was an enlightening conversation to have.

Journal Entry 212:

Today I was walking in my village and came across a girl of maybe 12 to 13 years of age. She was doing dishes by the pump. As I walked towards her she causually glanced up at me. Her eyes got huge as she was clearly astonished to see me. Her look of astonishment was quickly replaced by a look of pure, unfettered fear. She started to run away and only stopped when she looked back to find me laughing hysterically. She gave me a cautious smile and I left her alone. Now I am accustomed to children running and screaming in fear of me but that was the first time a girl of her age had ever reacted that way, which leads me to believe I was the first white man she had ever seen in person. Got to love being a twobob (white man) Speaking of being called a twobob has gone from cute to infuriating at times. You see the children here (who are not terrified) run after you yelling "Twobob! Twobob! Twobob!" and in the urban areas "Twobob Minty! Twobob Minty!" (white tourists love to throw candy at children). I loved the attention at first, but now its a constant reminder that I am a stranger. Its funny when you think about it though. Its like a blackman walking down the streets of Port Angeles with a group of white children chasing him yelling "blackman, blackman!" or singing "black man is here, black man is here!" (yaaa they do that to). Or its like a mexican strolling through Seattle with a group of twenty white children screaming "Hey Mexican, Tortilla....Mexican Tortilla!!!!" Hahaha oh man its so funny to think of like that. The best way I have found to combat this is when you have a group following you, turn around and say in the local language "Where is the white man?" and then look around as if your ready bolt when you see him. They stop and usually become extremely confused. I can just hear them thinking "He is right here.....right? He is white.....isent he?" The smarter ones will piont to you at which point you say "I am not white, look I am as black as coal!" 9 our of 10 times they are speachless "Wait a sec did he just say he was as black as coal? Is he speaking Mandiken? He thinks he is he?" I can usually walk away at this point with a bit of peace of mind.

So there you have it folks a day in the life of Alajie...I mean Seth! Now last blog entry I asked you guys to post some questions and I will now respond to them. Someone asked about the wildlife here and the other asked about funny stories from the bush. I will answer both of those questions with one story. After I touch a bit on wildlife first. Gambia used to have all the works: lions, elephants, zebra, etc...but thanks to our good friend deforestration and desertification they no longer dwell here. However there are hippos (have yet to see but trust me I will), Hyenas (wake up to them fighting in the night every once and a while), crocs (no desire to see one) and lots of monkeys and birds (gorgeous birds). And a whole bunch of baboons.

So I was walking down the road toward this camp. There was a bunch of babbons trying to figure out how to get into this small water tank. They look occupied and I had a lot of my fellow trainees around so was not really afraid of them. Now its common knowledge that baboons are not really afraid of humans. As we were walking this medium sized baboon crossed in front of me. He slowed down and made eye contact with me. He was no more than five feet in front of me and my gaurd was up as was his. Finally after what seemed like minutes he made a move as if to charge me. Now on my person I possessed a hat (pretty useless right?) a nalgene bottle (its pretty hard and would hurt to get wacked by) and a knife (sharp!!!) I think you already know what I did. I grabbed my hat off my head and was prepared to fight with it. Luckily for me and my hat he was just teasing me. He only came foward about a foot or two before heading back into the bush. It was a test of dominance and we both knew the winner. He smelt my fear. I swear I heard him laughing as he strutted back into the bush.

Anyways hope this is not too much to read, hopefully will have another update in a month time. Tell me what you think....and please post any questions you may have.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dobong Kunda here I come.

So I would like to talk about my permanent site, Dobong Kunda. Training is finished and I head back to village soonish. I’m pretty excited to be able do what ever I wish now. No more schedules, no more waking up early, and no more supervision. The village itself is hard to explain for you peeps back home. Its a smaller village, with only about sixty compounds (living areas). Umm ya, I live in a round mud hut with a grass roof. We have two shops and a blacksmith in the village. Things are pretty basic there (no electricity or running water in my compound), the nice thing about my village though is that its only 3k away from Bansang, which has a fairly decent sized market and all the basic stores. The village people are pretty chill, my alkalo (mayor) fell asleep during my meeting with him.

My host family is awesome. My dad is a marabou, which is basically an African fortune teller. But he is not really a fortune teller, its more like its hard to explain but I guess you could say its like a Muslim mystic. Oh and he is awesome, he refused to let me pay for a mattress he gave me and will tell everyone he sees that I am his new son. The family is smaller which is nice because it means I will get to sleep in. He only has one wife and has two kids. One is a little two year old girl named Animata, who may be the cutest little child I have ever met. The other is my namesake, Alajie. He was born three days before I came to visit. The father also has about six students staying with him that he is teaching the Quran to.

Lets see language is going to be fun, very few people speak English in my village so I am going to have to get good and Mandinka. On top of that my family in particular is Jahanka so I will have to learn the finer points of that language (they are extremely similar). The one positive is that my work counterpart does speak English pretty well in addition to also knowing Spanish. So I will be able to communicate pretty well with him at the very least.

Already lined up a coaching gig at the local school in Bansang. They have a basketball court and one of the volunteers has already recruited me to help him out with his basketball  program thingy he has going. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this opportunity. I know it wont be coaching in any way, shape, or form like it is in America but its still teaching people basketball.

Life is great here, my village has so much open space to explore and work with. I live close to the river so I am hoping to take up fishing. I have a lot of support on any future projects and I am overall just really enjoying everyone I am surrounded by, both PC volunteers and Gambians.

The people here are amazing. They are incredibly hospitable and love to chill out. They will spend a half hour at a time greeting each other. This is so refreshing come from a culture where we refuse to even make eye contact with one another. Did I mention they like to chill out? Seriously I came to the right country. Its funny there is this thing called Gambia Maybe Time (GMT)...get it? Greenwich mean time....GMT....anyway the point is, if you say be there at five then you should expect people to start showing up around five thirty, five forty-five. People just come and go as they please. People don’t let time control the flow of their lives and I love it.

Well I am sure I could go on and on and on with the post but you would be bored out of your mind. There is so much to talk about so in the future, if you guys could maybe post comments asking me specific things you want me to post about it, that would be great. That way the blog will be less babbling and more pointed. Anyways I am off to take a nap. Peace out. Cheers. Salud. Foo Waatido.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Quick and Dirty

They now call me Alajie Bombo Mussa Ceesay, which roughtly translates to "Man who took a Hajj, Crocodile Man, Moses....Ceesay" I am no longer Seth, I no longer respond to Seth, I only respond to Alajie......I was absolutly shocked when I saw a white guy in my village the other day, I was thinking to myself "What in the world are you doing here?" Yep im pretty much Gambian now.

The langauge learning goes great, I can finally tell someone "I farted" "You are as fat as a donkey" and "I am the best dancer" so I am pretty satisfied with my progress.

I will admit that the food is rough. Rice, bread, and fish is what I have evvvveeerrydaaay, whenever I get a chance I will tell someone how amazing hamburgers are. Every once and a while when things are rough I will stare at the picture of a hamburger I have hanging up in my room. I will just stare at it and imagine what it tastes like, drool will slowly drip from my mouth....ya I am only a month in guys. No worrys though, I did something about my burger craving and went and got some beef grounded up and made some little burger sliders...twas great!

Got super sick last week, there was a point were I was afraid I would never experience a solid poop again. But yesterday morning I finally had a solid movement and you would not believe how excited I was, I seriously started dancing.

Training goes great, I found out my permanment site.....Dobong Kunda.....which is by Bansang.....for those who want to look at a map. I will be doing beekeeping, poultry managment, and really whatever I feel like taking on...maybe some teaching, hopefully sports....awesome right? I am really excited to get done with training and go to my site. Anyways all is well folks.....sorry it was so quick and dirty but I had a certain brother who was complaining and what not. :)

Once I get to my site I promise a nice and detailed post, until then I am off to practice my Mandinken!!! Cheers! or uhhh Fooooo Waaatido!!