Goat on Roof…

I don’t know how the hell this happened, but when I woke up this morning and stepped out of my house, I saw a GOAT on the roof of my neighbor’s house.

Seriously, how does a goat get on a roof?  And it wasn’t a mountain goat we’re talking about here… just a regular, annoying, eating-every-plant-in-sight goat.

Needless to say, my host mother and I were just staring for several minutes.


HIV/AIDS Bike Trek quick recap…

From Nov 17 to Nov 21, 30 Peace Corps volunteers biked to 4 villages in the North Bank and Central River Regions of the Gambia in a Peace Corps event known as the HIV/AIDS Bike Trek.  Partnering with the National AIDS Secretariat (NAS), the Agency for the Development of Women and Children (ADWAC), and local Gambian students, teachers, and village community members, PCVs taught grade 8 and 9 students about HIV and AIDS in Njawara (NBR), Njaba Kunda (NBR), Panchang (CRR), and Kaur (CRR).  Started in 2010, this annual event focuses on increasing students’ knowledge of HIV and AIDS and strengthening their public outreach skills so that they can have an impact on the fight against stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and AIDS.  By educating Gambian youths before they become sexually active, this project also hopes to reduce new infections rates and prevent HIV/AIDS from becoming a national epidemic.  Over the course of the trek, the project reached over 500 students, but by having many volunteers present and staying in these 4 villages for several days, entire communities and schools were sensitized about HIV/AIDS.

I was in charge of the NBR team, and another PCV was in charge of the CRR team.  Aside from just lecturing about HIV/AIDS, there were many games, skits/dramas, singing, and dancing during the trek.

There are hundreds of photos and videos to still sort through, but here’s a taste.  Below are photos from the NBR team.

For more information on the bike trek, check out the Facebook website:  https://www.facebook.com/HivBikeTrekPCTG

Storms, Falling Fences, and Flying Roofs

Two times in the span of a week, my corrugate fence and grass roof has been damaged by strong wind and rain storms.

The first time it happened was last Wednesday, July 3rd. It was early evening, around 6pm. From afar, there was darkness. My host family knew a storm was coming, so they were getting ready for it by moving everything inside… the animals, the buckets of water, the sitting mats on the floor. In the Gambia, storms tend to begin up country in the east and move their way west to the coast. I was standing outside in my backyard looking at the easterly distance. Clouds were forming, and close by, bearing straight towards me, was a cloud of brown and grey. Unlike other storms where clouds were grey, dark blue, or near black, seeing the brown clouds gave me an unsettling feeling. And it was moving fast.

I decided to go inside and just as I was about to close the doors, a huge gust of wind, dirt, leaves, and sticks knocked my door shut. And then I heard a loud crash. That instant, I knew my corrugate fence had fallen down and was now banging at the wall of my house. For a good 15 to 20 minutes, the winds kept pounding away. Then, the rains began. It didn’t start off as a trickle. No. It was as if someone turned on a shower and started spraying my house. Winds, rain, flapping corrugate… I was a bit shocked and nervous about what would happen next. And then I found out. Drip. Drip. Drip. My grass roof started dripping small drops of water onto my rice bag ceiling (ok, it’s not really rice bags… more like cement bag). Thankfully, however, the drops weren’t frequent and so my ceiling was able to stay fairly dry throughout the night. Later that evening after the rains stopped, my host dad, my neighbor, and I assessed the damage. It was bad, but not too bad. My fence had fallen and a few of the wooden sticks holding it up had been unearthed. Corrugate that was once fastened to the sticks were now just dangling by one or two nails. The top of my grass roof looked like the hair of a person who stuck his head out the window of a moving car.

The following morning, the 4th of July of all days, my host dad and I fixed my corrugate fence. We repositioned all the sticks to the ground and made sure they were better secured, and then we nailed all the corrugate into place. My host dad had some extra smaller, thinner sticks, and we used those to temporarily lean against my fence so that it would not fall should another strong wind come try to knock it back down. The better solution is getting more strong sticks, fixing them to the ground, and nailing them to the corrugate, but for now, since there are no extra sticks available, this would have to do. Later in the afternoon, my host dad, another neighbor, and I worked on re-roofing my house. I’ve never seen how grass roofs were made, and this was a cool thing to witness. I didn’t really do much because my host dad wanted to make sure that it was made correctly (and I’d probably mess it up), so I just took pictures and videos of my dad and neighbor tying up bundles of straw together.

Then, they rolled it up, went up to the roof, and unrolled it at the areas where there was damage.

Afterwards, a straw cap was attached and everything was tied together with the existing grass roof. So that was that. My roof and fence were fixed, and all’s well that ends well. Right? WRONG!

Today (July 8), biking back from town and heading home, I saw darkness in the distance, AGAIN! Ok, so it’s dark, it doesn’t look too bad. And there were no brown clouds in the sky. That’s a good thing! But wait, the darkness was moving towards me fast. And I was moving towards it on my bike! Bam! I’m still at the outskirts of the town and halfway to my village. I still had about a km to ride before reaching home, but the winds were kicking up so much sand and debris that I had to walk my bike. A man rushing to his home called me and told me to come to his house, and I did not argue. Just in the nick of time! The winds decided to kick it up a notch and even the corrugate roof of the man’s house started to rattle and lift off its supports. And just like last time, the rains eventually arrived, pounding on the corrugate roof as if rocks were falling onto it instead of water. I sat in the man’s house with his family for who knows how long. 30 minutes? 1 hour? I’m not sure. I even was served lunch and ate in the food bowl with his family. I was there for some time! And the entire time, I kept wondering… is my house and fence ok? Finally, the rains stopped. I thanked my hosts numerous times for their hospitality and generosity, and I rushed home on my bike. By the time I pulled into my compound and entered the compound doors, I realized that I was watching a rerun of last week’s storm. My fence was partially knocked down, but thankfully, mostly still standing. However, the top of my roof had flown and was now on the floor next to my house. My host mother was outside assessing the damage, and she was even kind enough to tell me that she took everything that was in my backyard (my propane gas tank, my bucks and soap) and put it into her house for safe keeping. And my neighbors were already at the scene making a new grass rooftop for me! I was afraid what the inside of my house would look like. I unlocked the door and to my relief, everything was pretty much OK. My rice bag ceiling prevented the rainwater from making a mess of my house. There was a small puddle of water trapped on top of the rice bags, so I poked a small hole to drain it into a bucket. There was also dust everywhere – on my shelves, trunks, bed, the floor – but at least my things were undamaged. To keep it short, my neighbors fixed my roof, and I fixed my fence. Everything now seems back to normal, but we’ll see what happens after the next wind and rain storm.

Easter in The Gambia…

Today was Easter… not a huge holiday here in The Gambia, but still a holiday observed by many in the country.  I didn’t have any Easter Eggs or any real Easter-related decorations, so instead, I made colorful paper origami cranes and gave them out to kids in my village… along with some “minties” (aka candies).  It was a hit!  🙂  Although, many kids were sad when I ran out of candy…

Happy Easter!Easter in Yallal Ba-1 Easter in Yallal Ba-2 Easter in Yallal Ba-3

Quick recap of the last 2 months…

I have not updated this thing in ages with anything substantial… and tonight… I’m not really in the mood to write much. However, I will just give a very quick rundown of what has been happening in my life as of late.

Last December, I had my IST (In-Service Training). It lasted 1 week from December 17-23. Then I stayed in Kombo for Christmas with the rest of the Peace Corps folks. On December 28-29, there were a 2-day GAD Day workshop for volunteers and their counterparts, and I took my counterpart Lamin from the hospital. Then on December 30th, Joe, Sarah A., and I flew off and away to the Kingdom of Morocco! For 2 weeks, the three of us along with my friend Jordan (in the UK) explored Morocco. We went to Casablanca, Meknes, Volubilis, Chefchaouen, Fes, Marrakech, and a 3-day desert tour to the Sahara (via the Atlas Mountains and visiting places such as Merzouga, Todra Gorge, Ouarzazate, and Ait Benhaddou). (Note: I’ll do my best posting Morocco pictures and a better blog update about Morocco when I get more time.)

Upon arriving back in the Gambia, I went straight to work at the Senior Secondary School teaching computers. To my surprise, my counterpart at the school was no where to be found. He was MIA, and he remained MIA for 2 weeks! Finally, he returned on the 3rd week of classes, and low and behold, the day he arrived, he told us that he was resigning and going back to school to study. Hurray for me! 😦 Needless to say, my work at the school had increased. I had to stop going to the hospital and currently, I teach all the computer classes at the school. Almost every day, I’m at the school from 8am to about 7pm. Some afternoons, I head back home to eat lunch with my host family, but then I head back for evening classes. I’ve been doing this for over a month now, and I’m pretty exhausted. I’ve had to cancel some Friday classes because I just had to get out of site and relax in Kombo with the Peace Corps peeps.

For now, I’m hanging in there. If I don’t get a replacement counterpart soon, I know I’m going to burn out. The best thing I can do for myself at the moment is just skip some classes. It’ll force the school to find a replacement faster, and it will give me some breathing room. Term 2 is barely halfway through. Wish me luck on the 2nd half.

Random Moment of the Day #4

RANDOM MOMENT OF THE DAY: My village played a football game in their league Finals. To get to the other village where the Final was being held, people from my village and I had to ride atop a huge big rig truck. We won the match and the championship, and rode the big rig truck back home, screaming and celebrating all the way.

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.