A scary travel day… and a sad time for Peace Corps…

Quite the travel day today: Jumped on a gelli gelli (a public transport van here in The Gambia, capable of holding up to about 30 passengers) with 2 other volunteers. Before it pulls out of the parking garage, the engine starts revving very hard and doesn’t stop. The noise gets louder and louder. Smoke starts coming from the engine, and the driver can’t turn it off. Everyone is told to get out fast, and people panic trying to get out of the gelli. Mothers toss their babies out the window to other passengers outside. I’m jumping over seats to get out. Thankfully, the gelli didn’t explode, but the chaos that it caused felt like that it just could have… OH, then we get back on the gelli and continue on our trip… then it dies and breaks down completely, and we have to hop on another gelli. Made it to the Peace Corps house safely… THANK GOD!!!

On a sad (and ironic) note, I found out recently that a Peace Corps volunteer died in Uganda due to an automobile accident (link below).  Also, in Ghana, another volunteer died recently due to health issues… I think an unknown illness (link below).  My heart and condolences goes out to the family and friends of these fellow PCVs!!!




Pictures of the Gambia: Janjanbureh

I’ve decided that I want to start posting more pictures of the Gambia – images of the country, it’s people, daily life in the towns and villages – but I’m not trying to make this a photo blog… well, maybe I am, kinda, a little.  Anyway, for now, here are pictures taken last Sept (or was it last Oct) of Janjanbureh, also known as Georgetown, also known as MacCarthy Island.  People loved changing its name over the years.

The Gambia 001 The Gambia 002


Random Moment of the Day #8

RANDOM MOMENT OF THE DAY:  I noticed my host mom was washing the spoon that I was going to use to eat dinner.  Then I realized she was washing it using the water that the ducks in my compound were drinking out of.  Le sigh…

On a different note:  A donkey in my compound nearly went into my house this evening. He was just standing outside, not knowing where to go. Thankfully, that ass didn’t enter my house.

Snake in the Compound…

It’s happened before, and it’s happened again… snake in the compound!  Last time (it was actually in training village last July), I found 3 snakes in my hut.  This led to Peace Corps moving me to a different host family and different house.  This time, however, I’m at site, and the snake was not in my hut, but rather my host mom’s hut.

So… I said goodnight to my host mom and headed inside my hut to take a bucket bath.  My host mom went into her own hut where the kids were sleeping.  (My host dad was away visiting relatives so he’s not around tonight.)  From my house, I suddenly heard my friend/neighbor in the compound talking to my host mom outside.  I opened my door to find out what’s going on, and my host mom tells me something is inside her house.  She didn’t want to disturb me, and so that’s why she called my friend.

My neighbor finds big stick, I go into my hut and grab my machete, and we end up searching my host mom’s hut.  After a couple minutes, we end up killing a small snake slithering inside.  Well, actually, my friend was the one that killed the snake.  He spotted the snake first and started whacking it with the stick.  Then he took my machete and started chopping it as if it was a vegetable on a chopping block.  Whack!  Whack!  Whack!  I had never used my machete before, but I must say… it’s pretty damn sharp!!!

We took the snake pieces out of the house and looked around to make sure there were no other snakes wriggling about.  Soon, other village people came to our compound to see what happened.  After a couple minutes, people slowly went back home.  My host mom, though a little frazzled, went back inside her hut despite saying she didn’t want to sleep there tonight.  I went back inside my hut, and started inspecting my room for any slithering creepy crawlies.  And finally, I was able to take my bath 🙂

But questions remain… what kind of snake was it?  And was it poisonous?


HIV/AIDS Workshop March 2013…

On March 25 and 26, Joe, Daniel, Kelsey and I ran a HIV/AIDS Workshop held at the Peace Corps Office.  [See below for photos!]  The workshop was intended for PCVs during their In-Service Training (IST), and they were told to bring their village/work counterparts. The four of us had been working on the HIV/AIDS curriculum for several months. Last November, right around the time of the HIV/AIDS Bike Trek, the four of us were chosen to be part of a Task Force in charge of designing and implementing this HIV/AIDS Workshop. It was quite exciting being chosen for the job, but I knew that it would entail a lot of work. The four of us met several times between November and March – brainstorming, planning, organizing, and writing the curriculum that would become the 2-day workshop.  Although the Bike Trek curriculum was used as the starting point for writing the curriculum, we added several new topics, revised others, and removed some sections entirely.

Kelsey and I were in charge of Day 1, giving the participants background information about HIV/AIDS. It was very challenging because the HIV/AIDS knowledge of the PCVs and counterparts spanned such a large spectrum. Many PCVs knew a lot about HIV/AIDS, whereas most counterparts had little or incorrect knowledge. The goal was to find the middle ground, and try to inform everyone without being overtly technical or too simplistic.

Joe and Daniel were in charge of Day 2. This day was more focused on application of the knowledge gained from Day 1 and also strategies for disseminating this knowledge in the village/community setting.  Participants were informed that Day 1 was more informational, whereas Day 2 was more interactive.

Below, I’ve listed the schedule of the activities for the 2 days. Overall, it was a successful workshop and everyone felt that they learned a lot, especially the Gambian counterparts.

Day 1:

  1. Introductions and Icebreaker
  2. Group Agreements / Question Box / Goals
  3. Let’s Talk About Our Body
  4. What Do You Know About HIV?
  5. HIV Basics
  6. What Do you Know About AIDS?
  7. Types of HIV
  8. Transmission
  9. Treatment
  10. Prevention
  11. History of HIV/AIDS
  12. Gambian Statistics
  13. Open the Question Box

Day 2

  1. High / Low / No Risk Activity
  2. Counseling and Testing
  3. Stigma and Discrimination
  4. Cultural Barriers Group Activity
  5. Communication Starters in Village
  6. Role Play Scenario Activity
  7. Dissemination Strategies
  8. Create HIV Message Activity
  9. Resources Available to PC Volunteers
  10. Closing Activity
  11. Open the Question Box

Here are photos taken from both days of the workshop.  Enjoy!


Note to the reader:  I would love to learn more about ways to educate people about HIV/AIDS.  If anyone out there has advice, tips, or any other useful information, feel free to share 🙂

Paper planes…

Today, I made paper airplanes for kids in my village…

Ansata came over in the afternoon again, bringing with her the posse of little kids that tend to follow, and she wanted to play Dam.  I wasn’t in the mood to play the board game (more like “ground game” since you play it on the dirt).  Instead, we started chatting about random things that I can’t really recall at the moment, but the topic of planes came up. So I had an idea. Paper planes!  I had a hunch that they never made them before and that it would be a cool thing to introduce to them.

I brought out some paper, and I showed Ansata how to make the same paper airplane that my sister and cousins showed me how to make when I was a kid.  First off, let me just say that teaching kids how to fold pieces of paper (having never done it before) is a bit tricky. Even though you end up showing them how to do it (in other words, you make one and they make one with you at the same time), you end up basically making their paper plane.

Nonetheless, I made 2 paper planes and then off to the air they went! It was a bit breezy this afternoon, so they didn’t fly as best they could, but the kids still loved it.  They were amazed that it could fly such a long distance in the air.  To me, it wasn’t really far… just like 3 to 5 meters, but to them, it was as if it flew miles.  Another idea… PAPER AIRPLANE FLYING CONTEST!  I took a stick and drew a line on the sand.  Everyone had to stand behind the line.  Then, one by one, each child threw the plane to see how far it could fly. Where it landed, the child had to place a little rock or pebble indicating its landing point. The child who was able to throw the plane the farthest wins.  Again, they loved this idea. They played this game, they tried to beat each other, they teased each other if they didn’t throw the plane well, they teased each other if they won…

… just another day with the little kids in my village…