Stitches, CCC, and HIV/AIDS Bike Trek Training…

So I’ve had a lot of time on my hands these last few days… I’ve been at
the PC Transit House since Sunday, and it is now Wednesday.  The reason
I’ve been here was because I bumped head on an AC unit at the school where
I’m teaching.  This happened last Thursday.  The bump hurt a lot, but it
was my fault.  I was looking at my phone to see the time (since I was
heading to teach a class) and didn’t realize I was walking straight into a
big metal box perfectly aligned to the height of my noggin.  The funny
thing, though, is that some teachers saw me hit the AC unit.  Staggering
and embarrassed, I walked to the teachers and they kept saying “Sorry sorry
sorry” (one thing I’ve learned here is that Gambians love to say “sorry” to
everything, even if it isn’t their fault).  There was some bleeding so the
Principal told me to go to the hospital, which was just 2 doors down, and
while there, the nurse that saw me recommended stitches.  Panicking, I
called the PC Medical Office.  The PC doctor spoke with the nurse and both
both agreed I needed 2 small stitches.  Fast forward… I got the stitches
at the hospital, I traveled to Kombo (Kombo = Banjul and the surrounding
areas near the coast), and the PC doctor had to redo one of the stitches.
Now I’m here, in the PC Transit House for the last few days, sitting on my
ass and feeling guilty for being here instead of at site.  The good thing,
though, is that I have been able to get some errands done and have been
able to visit the American Corner (which is where CCC in Kombo meets)…
and this is a great segue way to another topic, a club at my high school
called CCC.

As I said, I bumped my head last Thursday, but I didn’t come into Kombo
until Sunday.  Why did I wait so long to travel to Kombo?  Well, it’s
because last Friday, the US Ambassador and a bunch of Kombo students were
scheduled to visit my school.  The Kombo students are a part of a club
called The Competitive College Club.  There are many branches of this club
worldwide, not just in the Gambia.  It’s sponsored by the US Embassy, and
it’s main goal is to help educate Grade 12 students that are interested in
going to US universities about the application process.  CCC helps students
prepare for the SATs, helps them research prospective
colleges/universities, advises them about the college application and
student Visa processes, etc.  It doesn’t guarantee that the students will
get in; it just advises and helps them apply.  The Kombo kids were visiting
my town because CCC just started in my school recently.  I think there are
about ten Grade 12 students that are in CCC in my high school, and these
are usually the Top Ten students of the entire school.  The US Ambassador
wanted to meet some of these students and also the schools involved.  He
met with my principal and spoke to all the students, giving them words of
encouragement and advice.  I had met the Ambassador only briefly during our
Peace Corps swear-in, but meeting him again last Friday was a different
experience altogether.  We chatted about the school, Peace Corps, our work,
where we were from in the US, sports, food, the Gambia, etc.  It felt a
little more personal this time around.  And since I’m here in Kombo  and to
make it feel like I’m not wasting my time here, I’ve been visiting the
American Corner and was hoping to meet with some of the CCC folks as well.
Turns out they are still on trek visiting other schools up-country, but I
was able to get some good info about the club and some pamphlets and
brochures about the SATs.  Hopefully I can get CCC at my school going
quickly when I get back to site.

Two weeks ago, I also had the opportunity to participate in the HIV/AIDS
Bike Trek Training weekend in Soma.  It was a 2 day training event where
several Peace Corps and local Gambians from various villages discussed
HIV/AIDS and how to educate Grade 8 and 9 students about the virus and
disease.  The Bike Trek is scheduled for November 5-9th, spanning the Lower
River Region (LRR) and Central River Region (CRR).  PCVs and local Gambians
will be biking to schools in these regions to discuss and educate students
about HIV/AIDS.  I was the only volunteer in my PC cohort (aka the new
group of volunteers) that got to participate in the training.  I think it’s
because I pestered the organizers a lot about joining, or maybe I was just
the most vocal in my group.  Either way, because I’m a newbie, I can’t do
the entire 5 days of bike trek; the compromise: I do 1 day of teaching.
Since I live near the village where the graduation ceremony will be taking
place, I think I’ll attend that day too.

OK, that’s it for now.  I can’t wait to get back to site to see my host
family again and to see the new baby girl in my compound.  I’m excited.  I
wonder what her name will be.  Children are not given names until the
Naming Ceremony, which happens 7 days after the birth of the child.  Which
also means… big party in my compound coming very soon!  Till next time…
Haa yeeso!

My Site…

It’s been about 20 days since I moved to site, and it’s been a challenge adjusting to life in a village and also working in a nearby town. The commute from village to town isn’t too bad if I’m able to ride my bike and the dirt roads are not too sandy. If it’s slightly wet and damp because of the rains, the 2 km bike ride to town goes quickly; when it’s been hot and dry, I have to walk my bike part of the way to town; when it’s wet and rainy, I give up on biking altogether and just walk with my umbrella.

My host family is very nice. My host father, more like guardian or host brother, is young, just 29 years old and is one year younger than me. His wife, my host mom, is also young but I’m not sure about her age. I’m assuming they’re about the same age or she might be slightly younger. They have a 2 year old son, and today (of all days when I’m not at site) my pregnant host mom delivered a baby girl. I’m so happy for them! I love my host family. They are so generous and kind and thoughtful and caring and considerate.

Permanent site…

It’s 12:53am.  I’m moving to my permanent site in the morning.  I’m moving to the Northbank.  Terrified.  Scared.  Excited.  Lonely.  Lots of emotions going through me right now.  I’ve been feeling weird all day and all night.  I’m the only one in my cohort going to the region.  We’ll see how things go…

Day 1 as a volunteer…

Day 1 as a PCV: Today, we shopped at Serekunda Market for things to bring to our site (chairs, laundry wash basins, propane gas tank, etc). Then it rained… and thundered… and rained… and we waited… and watched… and the street became a river of water 6 inches high… more like a flash flood… and so I took off my shoes and socks… and walked through the dirty muck to get back into our vans.

Some of the things purchased:

  • Bed Foam Mattress = D500
  • Foam Pillow = D50
  • Large Metal Trunk = D350
  • Broom = D35
  • Plastic Chairs = D225 (x2)
  • Gas/Propane Tank and Burner = D1200
  • Non-Stick Frying Pan = D400
  • Cooking Pot = D250
  • Wash Basin = D90 (x2)
  • Hand Fan = D15
  • 3 Plastic Cups = D20
  • Mug = D25
  • Floor Mat (Small) = D80
  • Plate = D30
  • Kettle = D60
  • Spoon = D17 (x3)
  • Fork = D17 (x3)
  • Butter Knife = D35 (x2)
  • Cooking Knife = D20
  • Machete = D95
  • Total = D3932 (approx $131 USD)

Swear-in day…

It’s finally happened! I’m an official Peace Corps Volunteer! Yesterday was graduation, or swear-in, whatever you want to call it. We went to the US Ambassador’s residence, which was right by the beach. It was a hot morning, but cloudy. People started to slowly trickle in at around 9:30am. The program was scheduled to begin at 10am. The US Ambassador was there, the Peace Corps Country Director and all the staff were there, a representative from the Ministry of Education was there, and many current Gambian PCVs were there. Like any graduation ceremony, they had speeches and introductions. Lots of congratulations all around from the staff. We had Muslim and Christian prayers. There were speeches in each of the languages learned: Mandinka, Wolof, Pulaar, and Serehule (and I got to be the speaker for the Pulaar group). Then we all stood up to swear the oaths. It was a moving experience. Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer. Now, it was happening. I got a little bit teary-eyed to be honest. It was really happening. We were each called up to receive our certificate. One by one, we walked up, said our thank yous and shook hands with the dignitaries. Then it was done. We were official volunteers!

Afterwards, we ate food… chicken yassa and chips (French fries)… so good… and it was in a huge bucket… a bucket of chicken and fries. It puts KFC buckets of chicken to shame!!! At the end, the last thing was the “traditional” swimming in the ocean in our asobis. (Asobis are traditional Gambian clothes worn by a group of people. During training, we all bought the same patterned cloth from a store and had tailors make traditional Gambian clothes for everyone.)

It was a good day. A very good day.