Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Whilst having dinner last week with my love, my JC friend Chesney, NY Diva and the man-child (MC) I am trying to hook her up with, we were casually chatting when MC says "Well, Lindsay, you are so conservative." To which there was deafening silence, I looked at Ange and NY and just bust out laughing for several minutes. MC says that I act very proper and subdued. Clearly he just doesn't come out of his room enough. Another reason to NOT be addicted to WoW.
And as if that was not enough, I picked up my spring teaching evaluations the next day and was glancing through the written summary comments. I literally had to stop in the middle of the sidewalk and crack up when I read one comment: "She seems very conservative about the topic of sex in general." WHAT??? Are you kidding me?
In response to the class eval comment I decided there may be two explanations:
- As a teacher I think it is really important to reserve your opinions for the most part, and I think it is particularly important when talking about an issue that has so many diverse opinions. I tried to make all students in the class comfortable enough to share their viewpoints in a safe environment where they won't be judged. I think that when a professor goes on and on about their personal feelings it sends the message that their opinion is the only opinion that counts and that they are trying to force it on you. If someone asked me straight up I would tell them, but for the most part I kept my personal opinions to myself and tried to let the students engage each other in thoughtful dialogue and debate. Maybe this is what made the student think I was conservative on the topic. Although I still find it a bit perplexing since I also tried to push students to their limits of comfortability and was always bringing up hard to discuss and controversial topics. So if I were really conservative I don't think those would make it to class. Who knows?
- The student must not have been in class the day I talked about my friend who started an amateur dominatrix business and the time she invited me to observe and participate in a session with a client. The students were absolutely fascinated. How anyone could have sat through that class and come out thinking I am conservative is beyond me. Morale of the story: don't skip class and pay attention!
Monday, June 29, 2009
After a minute I hear "HEY! Hey, how are you?" I look over and there is a 30-something year old guy looking at me. Now the way he was saying hey how are you sounded like he knew me. I meet lots of people with Mercy through our work with the foundation so I didn't want to accidentally offend someone by not recognizing them so I was very friendly with "Oh hi! I'm great, how are you?" Then the guy says something else, but I didn't catch it. So I take a few steps closer (he was a few pumps away) and say "Sorry, I didn't catch that." And he says louder "I SAID ARE YOU MARRIED?"
Oh jesus. I didn't know I was being hit on. Here I am searching my brain trying to figure out who this guy is and he's just thinking "heyyyyyyyyy." So I quickly wave my ring finger hand and say "Uh, yeah." And he says "DAMN! The hot ones are always taken!" How the hell do you respond to that? So I just say, "Ok, thanks, bye!" And finish the pump and jump back into my car. Then I cracked up and called my love and then my sister to tell them the story.
Now, the first thing Hilary says is "What the hell? You always get hit on at gas stations!" AND IT'S TRUE! I rarely get hit on, but whenever I do, it's almost ALWAYS at a gas station. Weird.
The above story was pretty funny, but an even funnier story was when I got hit on by a recently paroled guy (because he told me this) who said to me "I ain't tryin to knock yo boots, I just want your digits so I can holla at you!" Uh yeah, no thanks. No boot knocking, no digits. Peace out.
Maybe it's the smell of gas fumes that confuses people and they lose their mind and can't help but hit on the first lady they see. Who knows?
Friday, June 26, 2009
Still sad about MJ. In interesting related tid bits...his death nearly crashed the entire world wide web. Just another testament to his popularity. Crazy. My sisters are in Michigan doing some prep work for Hilary's upcoming move to MSU for Vet School. After they got there they decided they should invest in a greatest hits cd. 6 stores later they were still empty handed. All MJ CDs were sold out in every store they visited. Ange was looking at itunes this morning and all of the top downloaded cds and music were MJ. Luckily, I already have the greatest hits so I'm all good on that front. I'm a real fan, not a Johnny-come-lately.
Went and saw My Sister's Keeper tonight with my aunt. So freaking sad. Bring lots of tissues. I went through both sleeves of my t-shirt, my hem and collar as well as 3 tissues. My aunt used slightly more. Was much better than the book, particularly since the changed the ending from the ridiculous one that Picoult wrote. I love Jodi Picoult's books, but they are all the same. Soooo good until the last 20-30 pages. Then she tries to tie up every loose end and make everything hunky dory again. Doesn't happen in real life, and is semi-annoying. She is a fantastic writer except for that flaw. Every book I've read of hers does the same thing. Hate it.
Anywho, that's all for now. Nothing much.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
I was recently reading an article about GM going out of business and people hoping to get a deal on a car. Now it's one thing to get a deal, but it's another to think you're going to get a brand new car for half price.
I remember talking to my real estate lady a while back. This was before times were this tough, but it was still considered a "buyer's market." She said that some people think this means you can demand a really (dumb) low price and expect to get top notch stuff.
I have been seeing examples of this all week. I have a few items up for sale on Craigslist. I've sold plenty of things on the site in the past and I've seen my fair share of ridiculous emails. But it seems like it is an overwhelming majority of people are acting stupid these days. I've had 6 things listed and so far only sold one. This is a rarity for me. I am reasonable person. I don't like piece of shit stuff for exorbitant prices. So why do all the crazies out there have to find my stuff and send me irritating emails?
A few case examples:
- I have a grill for sale. Nice model, needs a new starter. Tank and cover included. Price $50. I get an email that says "My best offer is $15. Please respond." Uh, seriously? Less than a third of the price? You don't even get a response to that under normal conditions. And your short and snappy attitude? And no name? Eff off idiot.
- I had a guy email me about a solid wood armoire I am selling for $100. After answering his question about whether or not it was solid wood and not particle board (which I said in the ad mind you) he emails me and says "I'll take it, but I'm not paying more than $50 for it. I can pick it up Saturday. Let me know if that is ok." NO, it isn't. At least his prior email was semi-polite so I sent him an email that said "No, $50 is not acceptable. Thanks anyway."
Anyway, if you are in need of a gas grill, a lawn mower, an old tv, a real wood armoire, or a dog cage let me know!
Some random bits and pieces:
- MJ was a HOOSIER! Yay for Indiana!
- I had a Michael Jackson Barbie-type doll when I was little. Complete with sparkly glove.
- My roommate in college and I were both MJ fanatics. We used to rock out in the dorm and dance wildly to all the great tunes he had.
- I scared Nubian Diva to death and made her think we were going to be forcibly removed from Target one day after work. It was right after the 25th Anniversary Thriller CD was released and I was browsing the CD section and noticed that they had a double greatest hits cd. I was shocked and appalled that the cd did NOT have PYT on it! How could you have a greatest hits CD without PYT??? Preposterous! So I decided to sing some A cappella PYT. She said that crazy white girls could get away with that kind of thing, but she would get kicked out for sure if she pulled a stunt like that. Anytime I want to make her laugh I just have to launch into "I want to loooooooooove you...."
- Ange & I were very seriously considering going to London in August to see him in concert. I am a member of the Michael Jackson fan club (told you I was a fanatic!) and had gotten a secret code for pre-sale tickets and when the day came I actually secured some! I guess fortunately now, we decided that we weren't quite rich enough for a UK tour and didn't go through with the purchase. I was holding out that he was going to make it to the US...
- I just ran to return a DVD to the video store and not one, but two cars drove by BLASTING MJ songs. It's funny how small things can make you feel connected in a global way.
Monday, June 22, 2009
So Ange has been craving fish for days. And we were spending a few days at my house (we rotate between houses every couple of days) so we couldn't grill out at her house. So, yesterday Ange decided to buy a grill for my house. Nothing too fancy. Just a nice medium sized charcoal grill that looks so cute on the porch. But before we could cook, the grill had to be put together.
So Ange put the grill together while I got to work on the food. Yes, I can cook. I just prefer not to. So I chopped veggies, made jello, and soaked corn. Ange completed the grill, rolled it outside and fired it up. An hour later we had grilled corn on the cob, grilled mushrooms, cucumbers, and squash, and grilled salmon. It was D E L I C I O U S! Such a good day, such yummy food! I love summer cookouts!
Here is my little cutie being a great fix-it girl! Notice that Caramel is being very helpful in the background.
Friday, June 19, 2009
On the trip I was considered staff/faculty. That means I'm supposed to be an older and wiser sage. (haha, right). I was clearly older than the students and have advanced farther in my life both personally and professionally. However, I was still different from my counterpart Emil because I am actually much closer in age to the students than I am to him. So I was stuck in this weird limbo area of being the "grown up" but yet "cool and hip enough" that the students still wanted to hang out with me on a more casual/friend level. Now it doesn't sound that ground-breaking but it was, at least to me. Before making decisions about situations I had to step back and remind myself "I am not a student" and take that under consideration before acting or reacting. In order to remain a neutral authority figure I had to make sure I didn't fall into any social group and that I could remain friendly with everyone. Even if I hadn't been in this specific situation it would have been hard because I tend to have the worst poker face ever. If people irritate me or I find something ridiculous it's very hard to not show that on my face.
I think the place where it came into play most was mediating between groups of students and trying to remain a neutral party as best as I could. In a group of 28 students there are bound to be cliques and personality clashes abound. As a faculty member I needed to make sure that the cliques and personality clashes did not boil over to the point that it interrupted the purpose and flow of the trip. Yet at the same time, I was friendly enough with many of the students that it was hard to remain a completely neutral party when it came to students acting annoying or ridiculous. If I wasn't as awesome and cool as I am then they wouldn't have spoken to me as much as they did and probably wouldn't have shared as much information with me as they did. I know this because there was lots of stuff that they told me that they didn't tell Emil who was also there, but in different position as me. I was both inside the "inner circle" as well as being on the "outside." Very much in limbo.
This year has been a very interesting one in terms of personal growth. I've done lots of "professional adult" things that I've never done before. I've enjoyed it all and I haven't felt resistant to it at all. But it has been really interesting for me to think about and reflect upon over a longer period of time. It's one of those funny growing up things that everyone deals with. I hope I can continue to do it with some grace and dignity and not totally make a fool out of myself while navigating through the life cycle.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Emil met Yabo several years ago on his first semester-long stint in The Gambia. Yabo works for the University and he was assigned to Emil to be his personal driver. This is often what happens when you are a semi-respected guest of any reputable organization. You get your own driver who will take you wherever you need to go. So over the course of the 3-some months that Emil was there he got to know Yabo very well. Yabo has had many jobs over the years, including a few stints as a driver for some of the high-end hotels. Because of this, Yabo has become very enlightened in the ways of the toubabs, and has taken this knowledge and used it. Which makes him a very good driver. He knows that we are time oriented and therefore is never late (in fact he's almost always early). He knows that we like to be happy and unbothered so he's always trying to make sure things are running smoothly and that we aren't being accosted too much by bumsters and merchants. He also knows that we are inquisitive and value honesty so he will give us interesting tid-bits of information and will tell us the truth if we have questions. He also realizes that we like professional people so he always acts in a manner that is befitting his role and responsibilities.
Now let me introduce Al-hajji, AKA Jethro. Jethro was our other driver. Our group was so large that we had to have two small buses to cart us around. Yabo was in charge of the blue bus and Jethro was the driver for the red bus. Prior to this job assignment Yabo had never worked with Jethro. They lived semi-near each other and when Yabo was looking for another driver with a van someone referred him to Al-hajji.
Now a quick little lesson. English is one of the official languages of The Gambia. However, most people, particularly in Banjul speak one or both of the main tribal languages (Mandinka and Wolof). There are two primary purposes of the schooling in The Gambia. One is to learn English, so that people can succeed in the heavily tourism-based economy. Secondly, to learn Arabic, so they can read the Koran (the country is approx. 90% Muslim). So, it was shocking to us on the first day when we realized that Al-hajji did not speak a word of English. Emil said it was the first Gambian he had ever met between the age of 6 and 60 that did not speak English. The only thing we could figure was that Al-hajji had never been to school in his life. Amazing. Apparently it was shocking to Yabo as well. When we told him he was like "What??? No!" but sure enough, he did not. Culturally I thought this was interesting. I'm sure when Yabo approached him they spoke in Mandinka and it never crossed his mind to ask him if he spoke English, because, as I mentioned, EVERYONE speaks English. You would think that in the course of conversation Al-hajji would have mentioned the fact that he didn't speak English since I'm sure Yabo mentioned that he would be working with Americans. BUT, as we came to find out, Al-hajji was not the brightest bulb in the pack anyway, so actually NO that did not occur to him to mention.
Now I could give you about 20 different and equally hilarious Jethro stories, but one day sums up the differences between Yabo and Jethro rather succinctly.
The day back from up-country was a memorable one for sure. The morning started off well. We were all happy to get the hell out of there. The north road of the country was recently paved and made for nice travel. We were happily singing along to Celine Dion (Patron Saint of The Gambia) when everything began to unravel. We were stopped at at check point briefly before moving on. Being in the blue bus I have only heard this story through word of mouth, but it still is a good one. Apparently while going through the checkpoint some guy jumps on the back of the red bus (which happens a lot...there is a ladder and people were always jumping on it to ride with the toubabs) but this guy looked slightly deranged. Emil is of course like "Dude, get off" to which the guy replies "No problem! (Favorite saying of the Gambians) I'm just going right up here." So Emil lets him stay. Well right after the check point Jethro pulls to the side of the road and jumps out. Lack of communication skills leads Emil to believe that he was pulling over so the dude could get off and maybe that Jethro had to pee. To Emil's amazement he walks over to a guy selling a bed and buys it. Now when I say "bed" you have to remember that we are in Africa and it wasn't like he was buying a Sleep Number or something. It was a traditional wood bed made of palm branches and thatched together with twine. He brought it over to the van and deranged man helps him load it up and tie it down securely. The whole time Emil is thinking WTF? At this point we in the blue bus realize that the red bus is no longer behind us and we pull over and wait to see if they appear.
Back at the red bus they have the bed secured and the deranged dude jumps back on. Emil is like "Uh, you said right up here?" And the guys says "Actually, I'm going to Farafenni." Yeah, Farafenni is not "right up here." Farafenni is like 200 km from where we were. So Emil is like "Dude, you can't ride all the way to Farafenni on the back of our bus." And dude is like "No problem!" and somehow Emil signals to Jethro to stop the bus so they can get deranged dude of the bus. Emil and deranged dude are yelling at each other at the back of the bus and Emil keeps firmly pushing deranged dude off the bus and deranged dude keeps jumping back on. They finally think that deranged dude has given up and they begin to drive away when deranged dude runs like mad and jumps on the back of the bus. At this point Emil is getting pissed. And at the same point we in the blue bus are like "Where the hell are they?" and start calling him. I didn't get through to him so Yabo tried, talks to him for a second, hangs up and looks at me and says "He said they are having some problem with a man, but I don't know what he is talking about."
So back at the red bus the students are all getting agitated and start yelling for Emil to kick the ass of deranged dude. Emil has realized that the dude isn't right so he is trying to offer the guy some money so he can catch a bush taxi to Farafenni (which the students did not like...some bleeding hearts they are! They said "You wouldn't give money to someone trying to hijack your car in the US!" They tend to be a little dramatic.). As Emil is trying to reason with the guy he starts running away and Emil thinks "Well at least I got him to get away from us." As he turns back to the car he sees Jethro walking towards the back of the bus holding a tire iron and looking menacing. So much for being big and scary Emil. Sad note: as they were pulling away they saw deranged man sitting on the side of the road sobbing. Seriously, not right.
When they catch up next to us I wish you could have seen Yabo's face. He looks up at the bed and is like "WHAT THE HELL IS THAT???" Then he sighs loudly and on we go.
As we get near the ferry we get stopped at another police check point. The lady was being a royal pain in the ass and was checking every last inch of Yabo's licence and insurance. She then walked around the car checking it out. Then she asks for his fire extinguisher. Sidenote: there are only two seat belts in the entire van but god forbid we don't have a fire extinguisher. Seriously? So dumb. So she is inspecting the fire extinguisher and literally bends the cap back so hard that we hear a loud popping sound. She totally broke the fire extinguisher. And NO JOKE, she looks up and says "Your fire extinguisher is broken." I think if we hadn't been there Yabo would have slapped her. Instead he says "YOU JUST BROKE IT. We all saw and HEARD it." And she says "Oh, well you should replace it. Move along." As we were driving away he says "Lindsay, I promise you, if you guys were not in the car I would have stopped and quarreled very fiercely with that woman." Which is the difference between Yabo and Jethro. Jethro bought a freaking bed while with the toubabs. Yabo sucked it up when he had an actual grievance when he was with the toubabs.
Like I said, there were many other stories that I could have told but I thought this one was both hilarious and a perfect illustration of the differences between them.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
There are a few things you should know about me: I hate being in situations where there is no escape, I hate sweating for no reason, and I hate bugs.
I mean, it's not that I'm some giant girly girl that can't hack it when times get rough. But this place was just beastly. First, there was no electricity. And I don't mean, parts of the camp had no electricity, or that we ran on generators. I literally mean Little House on the Prairie NO ELECTRICITY. No A/C, no fans, no lights, nada.
Now, I didn't have a thermometer, but I would say that the temps were between 95 and 100. Now, it gets that hot in Indiana, but we have electricity. And A/C. And places I can go to remove myself from the hellish heat. But at JangJan Bureh I was trapped. There was absolutely no where I could go and nothing I could do to make myself cool down. The thought of being paralyzed with no options was almost as bad as the situation itself. Hi, my name is Control Freak.
The camp was made up of little mud huts with low roofs that seemed intent on making a bad situation worse. The heat got trapped in the huts and wouldn't leave. This made the 95-100 degrees seem like heaven. It was probably 110 degrees in the hut. And like the story of my life, my hut was the absolute farthest hut on the property away from the river. So even if there were the smallest breeze, it would never get to me in a million years. The last night we were there is rained for a short bit (early rainy season) and I was hoping it had cooled off my hut even just a tiny bit...but no. It was still a billion degrees.
The entire time I was at JangJan Bureh I didn't stop sweating. Like I said, I hate sweating for no reason. If I'm working out? Or working in a hot, sweaty Nigerian clinic and I know that when I'm done I get to go back to my hotel with crisp A/C? Totally can hack it. When I'm laying in my hut trying to sleep and sweat is just pouring out of me and soaking my bed? Absolutely not.
Everyone was hot and everyone was taking a million showers a day to try and cool off. Of course, story of my life, my shower didn't work properly. It was barely a trickle. By the time the water hit my feet my hair would be almost dry. I think someone could have spit on me and it would have been more refreshing. However, I gritted my teeth and tried to bear it. BUT, I actually had to pack up my stuff and take a shower in a student's room because my shower just stopped working at one point. Turned it on, nothing came out. Again, this is the story of my life.
In general there are just way too many bugs on the planet. There are even more in Africa. And I think the amount of bugs in The Gambia is just criminal. I have always thought of mosquitos as being my mortal enemy #1, but the flies in The Gambia gave the mosquitos a run for their money. Now combine both unbearable amounts of mosquitos and flies with the above-mentioned lack of electricity and stifling heat. I wanted to die. I actually thought that I might. And this is how I came to have two near-nervous breakdowns on the trip.
Luckily I am not a complete baby and was able to realize that I was at my breaking point and was able to remove myself from the general group and have my pity party by myself (or by myself with Ange on the phone). I mean, pretty much everyone was miserable, but I try to at least keep a positive outlook for the sake of the students. Students in general are weak and whiny, but in reality, they are very, very resilient. They will make it through just fine and then have all these revisionist memories about how awesome it was. So as the leaders our job is to make them get through it with the best attitude possible. Emil is much better at this than me. This is something I have to work on. In general I can do this, but when I'm suffering it's realllllly hard for me to pretend to be positive.
Of the entire trip I'd have to say this was the biggest disappointment for me personally. I feel like I did a pretty good job for a first-timer, but looking back at it I am saddened that I wasn't hardier during the four days up-country. Saddened, but realistically, looking back at it, I don't know that I could have done any better given what I went into it with. In the future if I were to do it I think I could hack it a little better. I would do some serious investing in some battery operated fans. Even the slightest breeze would have made the world of difference. And really, there was nothing to do in JangJan Bureh which made it even harder. It's one thing to be hot and busy, but it's totally another to be hot and bored. I think one day would have sufficed. The only problem with that plan is that it's way the hell out in the middle of nowhere. So logistically one night would be difficult.
The biggest realization that I had on the trip is that I would not be as awesome of a Survivor player as I had once thought I would...
Let's see...how do you blog about 3 weeks of activities in an efficient way? I'm gonna go with bullet points and random pics!
Monday May 18th
- Left the house around 1 pm. Chaotic as usual. I can never leave the house like a sane person. Got to the airport, kissed my love good-bye and headed in to haggle with the United people about their lame-o baggage fees. Got a deal on the luggage fees if they checked my luggage all the way to Dakar (had two separate tickets). Took the risk. Left Indy at 2:43 pm. Arrived in Dulles, met up with the JC kids & Emil, went through security and left at 10 pm.
- Arrived Paris at some ungodly hour in the morning. With all the time changes I can't say exactly when this was. Paris is 6 hours ahead of Indy, but 2 hours ahead of Dakar. Crashed out and slept for 2.5 hours on the benches in the waiting area for our flight. Realized I didn't pack a toothbrush. Bought a piece of shit toothbrush at one of the shops for $5.83. Got on to our flight to Dakar and slept some more. Arrived in Dakar around 7 pm. Made our way through immigration and customs. Loaded the tour bus, bought SIM cards for our phones, traded some money, headed to the Fana Hotel. Helped students get checked in, took a shower, ate dinner, called my love, fell into bed.
Wednesday May 20th
- Woke up fairly early. Had breakfast, loaded on the tour bus, took city tour of Dakar. Climbed a hill to look at a lighthouse and see a cool view of Dakar from the top, climbed back down. Drove downtown, saw a church, the President's house, and Independence Square. Went to the ferry depot, got on the ferry, went to Goree Island. Had lunch on Goree Island. Visited the slave house. Walked to the top of Goree Island to look at cannons. Had an hour to be accosted by merchants. Loaded back on the ferry. Took the tour bus to Pink Lake. Stopped at world's worst bathroom. Almost ran over and killed someone in the parking lot. Got to Pink Lake, checked in, ate dinner, had first group discussion, watched Emil treat the students to hookah (gross!), laughed at some of them, went to bed.
- Got up, had breakfast, loaded into WW2 Jeeps to take a tour of the Pink Lake area. Drove around Pink Lake oogling the salt workers taking salt from the lake, visited a Fulani village, jeeped around the sand dunes, stopped at the beach, headed back to the hotel. Ate lunch, lounged at the pool, watched students take camel rides, laughed at their reactions to the camel rides, took a nap, ate dinner, watched the students smoke a hookah again, went to bed.
- Got up at the ass crack, loaded the bus, ate breakfast, started on our long ass journey. Drove and drove and drove to The Gambia. Stopped at a bathroom that almost made Emil and the other guys throw up. Nearly hit and killed a pedestrian. Stopped in Kaolack, grossest city on the planet. Got to the border, got our visas, changed money, entered The Gambia. Drove on some bumpy ass roads, got to the ferry depot, crossed The Gambian River, rolled into the Hotel Fajara. Checked in, realized the hotel had some issues, worked on said issues, headed to dinner at Francisco's. Pleasantly surprised by the restaurant. Ate dinner, went to bed.
- Woke up and had breakfast. Went to our first official appointment at GAMCOTRAP. Saw a very interesting presentation on FGM. I knew that it was not something that I didn't agree with in the first place, but feel even more strongly so now. We then went to lunch. Emil took some students to an afternoon soccer match where he thought it would be a good idea to spring for homemade mango pops served out of BAGS. When everyone came back and reported that to me, I knew we'd have some sick people soon. I hate sports so I stayed at the hotel to straighten out all remaining issues and worked with a few students to inventory the donated medical supplies they had collected. Went to dinner, went to bed.
- As predicted had several sick students in the morning. Diarrhea galore. Told a couple students to stay behind and rest and try and get the bowels under control. The rest of of went to the Women's Botanical Garden & Kachikally. Another student barfed as soon as we got to Kachikally. Sent her back to the hotel. Went to lunch. Visited the Bakau Craft Market. Took students to Wish You Were Here Theater Performance (in conjunction with The Gambia Performing Arts Summer Intensive). Down time before dinner. Dinner. Bed.
Monday May 25th
- Today was President Jammeh's birthday. Lots of stuff closed. Decided to visit downtown Banjul for a few hours. Went to giant market. Watched one of the students hoop it up with a very tall Gambia. We did something in the afternoon I'm sure, but for the life of me, it escapes me. That evening we attended a party at the home of one of the semester program director's home hosted by the semester students. Had lots of good food and fun.
Tuesday May 26th
- After breakfast we took off for a long day of appointments. First stop was the US Embassy, where one of our Juniata Alum works. Very cool and informative tour. From there we took a quick walk down the street to visit the Peace Corps Office. Found out that The Gambia has the most PC Volunteers per square mile in the world. Learned a lot more about PC. Went to lunch. After lunch we visited The Point newspaper, which is the leading anti-government daily paper. After the tour we met with with Aloa Ahmed Alota who is both a Point Journalist and one of the authors of A Living Mirror: The Life of Deyda Hydara. Felt bad because it was hot and students were tired. Cut the visit a bit short to save everyone from being tortured. Went back to the hotel to collect the two sickest students for their doctor's visit. Had a good visit at the Doctor. Got students their meds, tucked them in to bed, went to dinner.
Wednesday May 27th
- Got the two sick students on the mend so they could come with us for the day. Visited the Gambia Is Good Farm. Had a great time looking at sustainable agriculture and eating yummy food. In the afternoon we went to visit our driver Yabo's house & family. Danced with the local ladies, laughed and had fun. Visited a Soccer Academy in the town and donated lots of soccer gear. Emil took some students to the ritzy part of town to watch the Champions Game (some soccer thing). I held down the fort for the people who did not go. That night we went out to the Club. Had fun watching students drink and make out with each other. Collapsed into bed about 3.
Thursday May 28th
- Slept in. Visited the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital. Pretty nice by African standards. Students were slightly appalled. Had lunch. Some students went back to hotel, took others to the Batik Market. Went back to the Bakau Craft Market. Got some cool wraps. Went back to the hotel to relax before dinner.
Friday May 29th
- Had a "Free Day." Some students went with Emil on a tour of University of The Gambia. They were underwhelmed. Some students went to the beach. I went to have tea at one of the Juniata Alum's house (Emily). Emil joined us and then I started feeling like I was coming down with something. Went back to the hotel and realized I was coming down with a respiratory infection. Yuck, hate being sick. Loaded up on antibiotics. Ate dinner, went to bed.
- Woke up at a leisurely time, packed up vans, killed time until 1 pm. Hit the road, stopped by Francisco's to pick up sandwiches, got on the road. Bumped along getting profusely more sweaty until we hit Kanilai, home of President Jammeh, stopped for a drink and to eat our sandwiches, got back on the road. Bumped along for several more hours, arrived in Tendaba, checked in to the nature camp. Took a nap, got up and ate dinner. Hung out on the dock enjoying the breeze. Nearly assaulted by creepster, tried to enjoy the village bonfire and dance, turned off by kids fighting to secure a toubab to beg for goods, went to bed.
Sunday May 31st
- Woke up, ate breakfast, went on guided walk through the town. Visited the primary school, some random man's hut where I had to give him 100 Dalasis (not sure why) visited the nursery school, went to a mango farm, went to a peanut factory, hiked through rice fields, returned to the camp. I took a nap while students went on a river ride. Got up, relaxed on the pier, watched students come back looking bored to death (they were warned), ate dinner, hung out and chatted, went to bed.
Monday June 1st
- Made the executive decision the night before to leave at the ass crack so we could avoid traveling in the heat as much as possible. Paid off. Drove and drove, sweated and sweated, crossed a ferry to the north road, enjoyed the north road much more (less bumpy!), fell asleep, awakened by Yabo screaming about a red monkey and nearly had a heart attack, arrived at JangJan Bureh for our second stay at a "nature camp." Monkeys everywhere. Ate lunch. Realized I might die in the 100 degree weather with no breeze, no electricity (hence no AC or fans) and poor water flow. Took a self-imposed time-out in my hot ass hut to pull myself back together. Sweated and felt miserable. Fed monkeys. Ate dinner. Walked back to my room and found a student waiting for me. Her roommate's birthday was that day and she was getting a happy birthday evening from another student on the trip. Let student crash in my room. Sweated all night, barely sleeping. Woke up to realize a) I had fallen asleep and b) some asshole was waking me up with the loudest music I'd ever heard. Somehow fell back asleep.
Tuesday June 2nd
- "Woke up" (not that I was deeply asleep). Realized blasting music was famous Gambian musician Jaliba who was giving a concert across the river. Sat pondering the injustice that across the river they had a sound system so powerful it could wake up an entire camp of people from sleep yet we couldn't get electricity to cool us down in our huts. Ate breakfast, loaded up two river boats to take our 7 hour round trip river trip to see the hippos. Relaxed and enjoyed the breeze made by our moving boats. Saw hippos. Ate lunch on boats. Returned to the camp. Sweated some more. Dropped off donated medical supplies at local clinic. Sweated more. Had another near-nervous breakdown. Ate dinner. Collapsed into bed for an unsatisfying night of sleep.
Wednesday June 3rd
- Got the hell out of dodge early in the morning. Stopped at Wassu Stone Circles. Dropped off school supplies at a school. Waited for Jethro to buy a bed then chase a man with a tire iron (more on this later), got to the ferry depot, got back to the Fajara Hotel, found our rooms in slightly better condition, took a nap, got 2 students medical attention for a rash and an eye infection, had dinner, went to bed.
Thursday June 4th
- Went to the Daily Observer, the pro-government newspaper. Went to local radio station. Cracked up that the on-air DJ now goes by "DJ Barack Obama" and laughed more when he played 4 Celine Dion songs in a row (he really liked "slow jams"). Stopped by an art cafe. Went to lunch. [Something here] That night was one of the student's 21st birthday. Threw a wild out of control party. Watched students drink themselves into oblivion.
Friday June 5th
- Woke up late-ish. Ate breakfast. Met with Student Union at U of The Gambia. One student threw up on the sidewalk on the way into the building. Helped student wash away puke with water bottle. Sat with him in the van until he felt better. Went back in with students. Went to lunch. Headed out to SOS Children's Village, an "orphanage" with a unique twist. Loved on babies, had fun. Went back to the hotel. Dinner, then bed.
Saturday June 6th
- Got up at a leisurely time. Discovered more mosquito bites. Cursed monster mosquito. Ate breakfast. Got on buses to go to the beach. Drove through extremely stinky fishing villages and nearly gagged to death. Got to beach around 11:30 am, ordered lunch, laid in sun for hours. Lunch finally ready around 3. Lounged in sun for a while longer. Split group in two. Emil went with students to reptile farm, I stayed with beach bums. Went back to the hotel around 5:45. Waited for other group. Other group returns to tell us that they got caught in traffic because Jammeh was dedicating a building. Jammeh saw the toubabs on the side of the road, stopped the caravan and shook all of their hands. Dealt with the crushing depression of those who didn't go to the reptiles and hence, did not meet Jammeh. Ate dinner, went to bed.
Sunday June 7th
- Had a "free day." Woke up leisurely. Worked on packing. Killed monster mosquito that had invaded my room for several days. Took pleasure in seeing the blood splatter. Met up with Emil and students. Drove into Banjul proper to visit market and get last minute goods. Came back to the hotel to drop off some students and pick up others. Had lunch. Went to Bakau market for last minute goods. Went back to the hotel, handed out presents to cleaning staff. Arranged for secret drop off point for other to be left behind items. Hung out in my room and finished most of packing. Went to dinner. Hung out and chatted, went to bed.
Monday June 8th
- Got up at the ass-crack and tried to bring left behind items to drop point. Scared to death by sketchy man sleeping in supposedly locked room. Hide items elsewhere. Ate breakfast, loaded bus and drove to the ferry depot. Got stuck at the depot for 4 hours. Drove like maniacs to try and catch up on time. Arrived at the Fana Hotel 12 hours after leaving Banjul. Took showers and ate dinner. Headed to the Dakar airport. Ripped my dress. Went through security. Realized my luggage tags had the wrong numbers on them. Went back to the check-in desk to argue that they put the wrong numbers down. Got my way. Hoped my luggage would make it. Went back through security. Boarded plane at 10:40pm. Flew to Paris.
Tuesday June 9th
- Arrived early in Paris. Said by to Emil (on his way to Berlin). Took a nap on the benches again. Got on flight to go home. Arrived DC. Excited to be on US soil. Excitement quickly died when I had a 4 hour delay because of hellacious storm. Finally got home around 11pm. Ahhh, love :)
Friday, June 12, 2009
So one thing you should know about Africa (in general). Although you would think there is some post-colonial resentment about white people's invasion of Africa, Africans are no fools and they know who brings the money and the goods. Irony of life is that white people (and foreigners in general, but white people are easier to visually spot) are put on a pedestal when traveling in Africa. Everyone (well nearly everyone...I'm sure there are a few exceptions) wants to compliment and get to know the white people, just in case on the off-chance you like them and want to share your wealth with them. It doesn't really matter if you would be considered wealthy in your home country, the fact that you are in Africa means you have substantially more money than the average African will make in their entire life.
Africans are very perceptive and can almost immediately figure out who in a group of people are the important people. Sometimes it's easy; say, a much older Professor in a group of young students. But sometimes they sit back and wait and see who else might be running the show. This was the case for the last three weeks. Emil was easy to identify as the "Chief" based on his obvious life experience in comparison to the 19-23 year olds (that's my nice way of saying he was much older :)), and the fact that he generally has the attitude that he knows what he's doing since he has spent a lot of time in Senegal and The Gambia in the past 5 years. It would take them a few more minutes before they would realize that I was the "Big Boss Lady" in the group. They could deduce this by the fact that Emil would direct important info to me, students would look to me with questions, and also by the fact that I pretend to know what I'm doing, even if I am not always entirely sure (this is another post altogether...note to self).
Chief was also known as "Prof" by people who knew he was a Professor. This was especially prevalent in The Gambia which is a very small country and people tend to remember you if you are a frequent visitor. We had people coming up to us in random places, like the Ferry Depot, and talking to Emil and saying "You come every year! I always remember you!" and totally being spot on.
Chief and Big Boss Lady are the generic ways of showing respect in The Gambia. In lieu of knowing your name, they want to show you that they know you are an "important" person, even if that importance is just that you have more money than they do and they are hoping the by being nice and showing deference that you may bestow some gifts on them. Although it sounds cynical to us here, in Africa it is rather endearing and sweet in the context.
In The Gambia there is a local word that means "white people." It is "Toubab." No one knows for sure where the term came from, but according to Wikipedia here are the roots:
The name has many suggested sources, including: a corruption of the Arabic word Tabib meaning doctor; a verb in the Wolof language meaning "to convert" ( the early doctors and missionaries during colonial times, being whites coming from Europe ); or that it is derived from the two bob (two shilling) coin of pre-decimalisation United Kingdom currency. Another explanation is that is means 'from the sea' as the first whites arrived by ship.
What Wikipedia doesn't explain is the context and emphasis in which it is used (although they do note that it is not a derogatory term). EVERYWHERE, and I mean literally everywhere you go you can hear people shouting "Toubab!" The best is children. Kids are so overjoyed that they are seeing a white person they just can't help but scream "Toubab!" with the most overwhelming sense of glee you have ever seen. You can tell when someone has told them not to scream toubab at white people. They are literally quivering with excitement and usually they are not able to contain the excitement and an overwhelming urge to squeak out "TOUBAB!" usually escapes their lips. It happens more in the rural areas than in the capital, but every time it cracked me up.
More interesting was to the see the evolution of how the students felt about the term. I remember when I first went to China how we were always called "Lao Wai" which basically means "foreigner" but again, was used more for people who were visually NOT Chinese (white or black people mostly). It was interesting to see the social acclimation amongst the student on this trip.
At first you typically think it's kind of funny. First it's a funny word. Second the tremendous usage of the word (both in frequency and vigor) is surprising. It's something we are so unaccustomed to in our PC life. We would never dare think about calling someone out because they are visually different.
After a while you start to get irritated with it. Again, coming back to our societal expectations about how we address people, particularly those that are different, we can't understand why they keep calling us out. It usually around the point that you are dealing with other issues of culture shock and so in general hearing yourself called out all day long is just something that irritates you on top of everything else you are trying to cope with.
Finally, most people come to peace with the word and embrace it as just another funny quirk of this new culture you are learning about. Towards the end of the trip students were referring to each other as toubabs and on the off chance we would see other white people they had to contain their urge to jokingly yell "Toubabs!" to the strangers.
I think this pattern of adjustment happens for a lot of things. In particular on this trip the same thing happened with the street vendors who were trying to sell cashews to us every 10 feet, cab drivers honking at us to get our attention and hoping to get us to take their cabs, and a variety of other things that we are not used to in our culture. At first students are curious, then they are irritated, and finally they think it is funny and they accept that it is just a different way of doing things than they are used to.
This was one of my favorite parts of the trip; being on the "other side" of things. I have much more travel experience than most the students on the trip, and have done tons of thinking and processing about different cultural experiences that I have been fortunate to enjoy, but this is the first time I have been able to help lead a group of students to a new place with the express purpose of helping them learn about a new culture. In Nigeria I am often leading people through the process but in a less focused way. We are in Nigeria for a completely different purpose and my goal is to just help the volunteers survive the trip and have a positive experience while helping provide medical care to 3,000 people. Naturally I do a lot less of the touchy-feely "let's learn about a new culture" stuff than I did on this trip. So it was a new and rewarding experience for me. I have more observations about the trip, but I thought this was a good one to start with.