Monday, July 16, 2012

Thoughts on USA

Soon, I will be returning to the motherland for some much needed R&R. I still have a lot of work to do before I leave, including a five day basketball camp for the youth in the area the week before I leave. This means as much as I wan't to I cannot check out quite yet. But oh man am I looking forward to friends, family, delicious food, nice weather, trees, video games and fast internet.

Life is good here, I am happy and content. Honestly after my vacation in America is finished I am not sure when I will be back. I am looking at extending my time here for another year. One year got me to the point where I became comfortable here. Two years allowed me to start doing meaningful work. Three years allows me to finish that work. If I don't extend I am looking at other jobs abroad, not ready to enter the work force or go back to school. 

Aside from family and friends there is really nothing waiting for me back in America. I am still really young and have the rest of my life to go and start a career, family, life. The thought of settling down right now is an awful thought. There is so much out here in the world left to be explored and experienced. So many different types of people to meet, conversations to be had, food to be tasted. Basically what I am trying to say guys is that I plan on being abroad for a while. Catch me in America when you can.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Blah blah blah PEACE CORP Blah blah blah AFRICA

SOON! soon.......

In August I will be headed back home for twenty two days. This upcoming event has been on my mind since I bought my tickets last week. Merica, such a foreign place these days. The more I think about it the more I realize that there is very little that I miss there right now. Except for you that is, you my faithful reader from America.  I miss your company and when I get back you will hear all my stories in full detail, complete with hand gestures, goofy facial expressions, and hopefully a lot of laughter. With that being said I am looking forward to some good ole junk food.....anyone want to cook a Digiorno burger while I am home?

Life in The Gambia is comfortably normal. Work has been painfully slow the last couple weeks but such is the nature of this line of work. Things are about to pick up nicely with a couple cashew training coming up. In addition there are some big basketball camps and tournaments coming up which I am stoked for. That is when I am at my happiest in this country, when I get to share my love of basketball with others. Outside of work things have been fairly busy. Since Hotel Tila Kandita (my house) opened up back in February I have been experiencing a steady flow of guests. As of today I have not had my house to myself in three weeks. Volunteers need a place to stay when they are in the capital and I got plenty of room. As I constantly tell people who tell me they don't want to burden me; the only time in my life I have had my own room was my mud hut in Dobong Kunda (besides Larry the damned rat who always mooched off my food), I am well trained in sharing space.

In other news I have decided to enter the local dating scene and have been going on dates with some of the locals here in the capital. It has been a very enjoyable and interesting experience thus far. Its like going on a date with an American yet somehow different. For example one women became very upset once she learned that I drank beer, this was something for her, coming from a strong Islam background, that was really hard to come to grips with. Another girl had a man studying in Sweden that her family has promised her to. They are not 'dating' just supposed to get married someday. Fun stuff like that you would rarely come across in the states. At the moment I cant see any of these relationships going anywhere but its been an rewarding experience.

Slow, that has become the opposite of my life. Its nice and time tends to fly but if there is one thing I learned to value in village it was taking the days one at a time. I learned how to slow things down and I can't tell you how valuable that is. That is my goal for the next two months before I head back to the motherland, slow things down once again. I keep thinking about how I am running out of time here. I keep coming up with lists of things I want to do before I leave. However just like during my first three months when I kept thinking I had too much time here left, I need to stop focusing on time and just live. Take it easy peeps, hopefully I will be seeing all of you soon.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Guess I am a city boy again

Well folks I live in the big city now. Life is a whole lot different now that I have internet, power, a shower (still cold), sidewalks to walk on, English speaking neighbors, a overhead fan, a job, and white people within a twenty second walk of me. At times it is almost surreal that the city and the bush village can be this different. They are two different worlds occupied by the same people. The other night I am sitting out with my new neighbors, it was similar to village in that they were chattering away in the local language and there were ten kids running around causing mayhem. Then my new ‘host sister’ came up and sat in my lap and started talking to herself. This to felt very normal as my host sister in village who was about the same age would often do the same thing. I would normally zone out as it was always in inaudible mandinkan. However it quickly became clear that things were not the same, Katty Jatou was talking to herself in English. She was talking about her fingers and what their roles were. I was blown out of the water once I started to listen to her. I started talking to her to get an idea of how good her English was. By the end of the night I concluded she could speak English better then about ninety five percent of my village. She is three years old!!
Work is going well; we recently finished installing four cashew processing facilities in various locations across the country. This is a pretty big step in getting the Gambian cashew industry on the world map. The key now is to get the people in charge of these facilities to be efficient and productive with the equipment so that investors will be willing to invest their cashews in them. For the next three months we will be training and monitoring them in hopes that they can get to a level that is considered competent. It has been interesting going back to a situation where I have to wake up in the morning and go to work. The weeks go by just as fast as they did in village the big difference now is that I appreciate weekends again. I had more or less forgotten that weekends used to mean something to me. Now I once again cherish and look forward to them. In village I would get a text reminding me I needed to head to the city soon and then think to myself “That time again eh? What day is it? Tuesday?” then I would look down at my phone and realize it was in fact Saturday (true story).

Seeing white people on a regular basis is also a new phenomenon. Not going to lie, I do enjoy being able to go and grab lunch with an American every other day. My fellow volunteers are good company and good people so I enjoy being able to see them once a day as opposed to once a month.  This last week I had a volunteer stay at my house for eleven straight days. It would appear my place has become a transit house, which I have to say I don’t mind. After living upcountry I see how convenient it is to have a friend with a house in Kombo. I also get to meet different people from all over the world here doing various forms of work and research and that has been an enjoyable experience as well. In addition I get an opportunity to be a lot more active here. I play Frisbee twice a week, basketball on Wednesday, salsa dance classes (which I start soon), as well as other random activities. There are also local gyms I can go to as well. I figured since I lost thirty five pounds now is the best time to start putting on muscles and get in shape again, which you know, I have not been in shape since high school.

I do miss the home people from Dobong Kunda however. They call to make sure I am fitting in ok and to make sure I have good neighbors. I am excited to head back up country and visit them; they are people I hope to never forget. Making new Gambian friends here in Kombo though as well, my neighbors are great people and I have started hanging out with other people I have come in contact with. It is important to me that I do not get too caught up in a twobob rush and only interact with them. I try to make time to spend with Gambians as often as possible, sharing my culture with them and hearing about theirs is still an important goal, one I would like to continue to pursue. In addition to the exchange of culture, I find it important not to lose my mandinkan skills. People really appreciate it when you can speak the language and more than once it has gotten me out of sticky situations. This last Sunday I went to the beach and found people to relax and speak Dink to. It was a great experience, they loved having a white person to speak a local language with and I was able to spruce up on my language. This also is one of my favorite things about this country, that I can go to the beach approach the first person who smiles and greets me (normally the first person I see) and sit down and have a genuine conversation with them. In America too often our first response is “What do you want from me?” as opposed to here where it tends to be “What can I do for you?” (Unless you are at a shop trying to buy groceries, there is no known word for customer service in Mandinka). This of course is not to say you don’t come across people who see your skin color and immediately treat you like a cash cow, those people are abundant and easy to identify. They are normally the ones who do the approaching. But the point is if you show them kindness and are genuine, they will return the favor.

Anyway thanks for reading, until next time.......... 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Snap shot of my service.

Its been one year now and it has been somewhat of a roller coaster. I was reading through all my journal entries the other day and realized how far I have come. I want to post three short journal entries that kind of give you an idea of whats gone on in my head since the start.

March 27th 2011

Today was a pretty awful day I would say. Starting to have some serious doubts about whether or not two years is feasible. You see every morning that I have woken up here has been more or less miserable. It is hot from start to finish and I sit around the whole day doing nothing. This morning was no different, I woke up and took a walk to try and take off the morning edge. Got back around ten hopefully ready to start my day. When I got back the baby was screaming, it was hot, and the goats would just not shut up. Not to mention my dad blabbing away to me as though I were some sort of pro in Mandinka. I could not stand the thought of staying in village for the whole day so I bolted. I took off to Bansang where I was hoping to use the Internet and send an email to my family. I wanted to just complain about things here to them, you know get some weight off my chest. Half hour later I find the cafe to be closed. I was so upset and on the verge of breaking down. I was able to cool down on the way back but my feelings about my service remain the same. I came here to work not sit around and brew tea all day. I left behind a pretty good life in America and I did it for a reason. Chilling for two years was not that reason. I understand how important the cultural exchange is and I have been doing nothing but that since coming here. However it does not take two years to exchange culture. If things don't improve I am going to seriously look at calling it quits, I cant stay painfully unhappy for two years its just not healthy.

July 23rd 2011

Life is improving. Things have been tough the last couple months trying to find purpose and work and though I am still not positive what I am doing here I am at least becoming content and happy on a daily basis. I have a good family and have made some amazing friends. Plus it looks like there might be something to look into with basketball here. I am getting to the point now where two years does not seem so daunting as it has since I began my service. More and more I am having "hey two years will be easy" moments then the ever depressing "two years is going to take forever" I realized something as I was thinking back to my first couple months here. I was taking the wrong approach to my service, all my thoughts were negative focusing on the Why-I-Cant-Do-This and starting every thought with "when my two years are up" as if it were some sort of prison sentence. Positive thoughts have been helping and at this point in my service I am happy I made this choice and would do so again in a heart beat, despite all its difficulties.

January 6th 2012

Well it has been exactly a year since I touched down in the Gambia. Have to admit it feels good, there was a point in my service where I thought for sure I would not make it this far but here I am. I look back on this year and realize how much I have grown and how far I have come. I am forever changed by this experience and the changes are good ones. I have learned so much here. New skills, new cultures, new people, new lifestyles. I know things were rough at first but I am now having the time of my life here. I am well adjusted, confident, and absolutely loving every second on my time here.The relationships I have made stand out more than anything. I have met some of the most remarkable people in my fellow volunteers. In addition and most importantly the relationships I have made with Gambians have been life altering. I wish I could say that I taught them more then they taught me but I would be lying. I came into my service thinking that I would be doing the teaching but that role was quickly reversed. The best part is I am no where close to finished. There is sooo much more I am ready to learn from them, so many conversations yet to be had and so muchwork still to be done. Throughout my service I have posed myself with this scenario. Peace Corps hands you a plane ticket to America and says "If you would like you can go home, your service would be finished, you can keep all the benefits and even call yourself a RPCV or if you want you can finish out your service." For the first time I can say truthfully that I would elect to finish out my service. I am not ready to go home yet.